Monday, 31 December 2012

Best Films of 2012

Once again, the following list should really be dubbed the best films I’ve seen in 2012, or better yet – “favourite” films of 2012, as there are a number of which I haven’t been able to get my hands on, or that haven’t been released over here in the UK. I feel that Lincoln, Django Unchained and Beasts of the Southern Wild would have all found a place on the list, but oh well, gotta make do with what we have. So here goes:

10. This is 40
Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jason Segel, Megan Fox, Chris O’Dowd, John Lithgow

This is hilarious. Ignore the reviews and go and see it for yourself. The "sort-of" sequel to Judd Apatow's Knocked Up follows the marriage of two of it's previous supporting characters, Pete (Rudd) and Debbie (Mann) and their children, Sadie and Charlotte (Maude and Iris Apatow - as in Judd's offspring). Detailing the hardships of marriage as well as turning 40, I found this to be one of Apatow's most enjoyable films yet.

9. The Master
Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Jessie Plemons, Ambyr Childers, Rami Malek

Although the film didn't live up to my expectations, The Master is still really strong film. Beautifully shot and amazingly acted, the film is a healthy contender for the on-going award season. Phoenix stars as a wayward WWII vet that finds guidance in the creepy and charismatic author Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) that deeply mirrors the controversial religion Scientology. Full review here.

8. The Cabin in the Woods
Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Kristen Connolly, Jessie Williams, Amy Acker

Another title which I wasn't originally crazy about, but after a second viewing I realised it is in fact a horrific yet intentionally fun and hilarious horror film. Helmed by Joss Whedon creator of TV's 'Firefly' and 'Dollhouse', as well as the 'Buffy' and 'Angel' franchises and Drew Goddard, ('Lost' & Cloverfield) Cabin follows a group of teenagers heading off into the woods for a SUPER-FUN Spring Break. Naturally as teenagers do, they get hacked off one by one. Un-naturally, there is a whole other force at work which is sure to shock and surprise everyone. Full review here.

7. 21 Jump Street
Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Dave Franco, Ice Cube, Brie Larson

A remake/adaptation that is this good gives me hope for Hollywood cinema. Written by Michael Bacall (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) 21 Jump Street sees rookie cops Morton and Greg (Hill and Tatum) go undercover to tackle a high school drug ring. Unlike most things with Jonah Hill in, hilarity actually ensues.

6. End of Watch
Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, America Ferrera

Probably the most unseen or unknown film on the list is also another cop title. End of Watch sees Gyllenhaal and Pena star as Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala, two Californian cops who decide to secretly film their goings-on while out on the job in South L.A. Cue copious shoot outs, overtly obvious racism and a budding yet not-soppy love story between Taylor and sweetheart Janet (Kendrick). The film is harsh and unapologetic in it's content but still finds the time to be heart-warming in it's tone.

5.  Brave
Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters

Disney and Pixar's latest effort is one of it's greatest and underrated achievements. Merida (Macdonald) is a Scottish princess, who is much more focused on archery and forging her own destiny than crowns and ruling a country. Under the thumb by her loving but controlling mother (Thompson), who fails to ever see eye-to-eye with her daughter, Merida finds a spell to "change her mother" to make her accept her own choices. Of course, this wouldn't be a Disney film, or any film ever made, if something didn't go drastically wrong. While being a largely magical and fantasy based film, Brave is also an honest depiction of the complicated issues between mother and daughter without rubbing the subtext in our faces.

4. Looper
Joseph Gordon Levitt, Bruce Willis, Paul Dano, Piper Perabo, Emily Blunt

I was blown away by this. "It'll never live up the hype" I said about this, as well as the final 3 entries on my list. I've never been so happy to be wrong, as Looper is a crowning moment for Sci-Fi cinema. Set in a future dystopia (obviously) where time travel is possible, Joe (Levitt) is one of many "Loopers" - someone who kills people sent back in time by their corrupt bosses after they've fulfilled their time and duties for them. However, after recognising his future self (Willis) and failing to assassinate him, Joe goes on the hunt for his older-self and on the run from his mob-employers, as failing to eliminate those sent back ends in death for the Looper. Those that have seen the trailer and not the film, should give this one a go especially, as it is one of the only titles in recent memory that has a whole narrative that is carefully left out of pretty much all promotional content. Prepare to be awed. 

3. The Avengers
Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson

The second film on the list to be headed by creative geek/mastermind Joss Whedon. It's been a great year for him. This. Is. So. Good. (Full review here.)

2. Skyfall
Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe

'This is the end' Adele coos over the gripping title sequence to the latest instalment to the Bond franchise. Directed by the ever amazing Sam Mendes, (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Revolutionary RoadSkyfall's themes are mainly to do with conclusions and new beginnings. Focusing heavily on the past of Bond's senior, M (Dench), MI6 find themselves confronted by Raoul Silva (the fantastic Bardem), a former agent who wants revenge on M for betraying him. It's the most ambitious Bond title so date, and arguably the greatest.

1. The Dark Knight Rises
Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, Morgan Freeman, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Marion Cotillard. 

"No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough", says Roger Ebert.

The marriage between mighty fine action sequences and a compelling plot have never been so perfect for each other as they are for Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises. Where do I even begin with this? The cast is stellar, with not a poor performance in sight, from Tom Hardy as the unstoppable Bane to the sleek and powerful Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle aka Catwoman. The city's dark 'Occupy Gotham' setting and rise of our hero himself are mesmerising. The 165 minutes practically fly by. (Full review here)

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Best Albums of 2012

Much later than everyone else I've decided to finally detail the list of the best albums released in 2012. Or more accurately, the best albums of 2012 that I actually got round to listening to. 'Best' is a pretty tricky word, as what can be called the 'best' often comes down to taste and personal preference. So anyway, here are the best (my favourite) albums (and EPs that I heard) from 2012.

10. The Heist Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
'Who?' you ask yourself.
While the words "white" and "rapper" next to each other are a huge turn-off for a lot of people, one by the name of Washington-born Macklemore (born Ben Haggerty) partnered up with producer Ryan Lewis to build a fun and original rap album. What makes this album great is the fact that Macklemore doesn't try to be anyone else; not Jay-Z, not Eminem but purely himself. No imitations or stupid accents. Just good rap music.
      Key Tracks: Thrift Shop, Jimmy Iovine

9.  Reign of Terror - Sleigh Bells
American duo Sleigh Bells also released their second album this year, which featured thumping synths, electric guitars and even a contemporary power ballad. Together Alexis and Derek show a rare example of how bigger can sometimes actually be better.
Key Tracks: End of the Line, Demons

8. Brandy - Two Eleven
'Ohhhhhh (never-er) heyyyyyy' 
Brandy brings back the late 90s and early 00s without making her newest LP dated or irrelevant. Not even a Chris Brown assisted track can bring this album down. Two Eleven is Brandy's first release since 'Human' in 2008, an album she herself didn't even like. But Brandy is back once again on top form, deciding to forgo the blaring Pop/Dance trend to make a coherent and strong offering. Well done Brandy.
Key Tracks: Wildest Dreams, Slower, Put It Down 

7. Armor On - Dawn Richard
One of the year’s best albums is actually an EP…with as many tracks as an album has. Ex-Diddy -Dirty Money and Danity Kane singer Dawn Richard independently released the piece 'Armor On', as an opener to a proposed trilogy of albums kicking off with GoldenHeart in January. Richard is an innovator, who marries her distinctively incredible voice with the sounds of producer Druski. Every track coincides with one another, working perfectly as a strange and out-there concept piece. (Full review here)

6. Melanie Fiona - The MF Life

Melanie Fiona brought R&B back earlier this year, with an array of guests on her latest, 'The MF Life'. J. Cole, Nas, B.O.B and John Legend all assist Fiona as she put love and relationships at the forefront of the album, detailing the good, the bad, and the ugly throughout. Full review here

5. Channel Orange - Frank Ocean

I'm not gonna pretend that I've always liked and known Frank Ocean, because I haven't. In fact, I pretty much ignored most of his work, thinking he was just another over-hyped, here today/gone tomorrow internet fad. What a fool I was, as Ocean can siiiiing. 'Channel Orange' is a strong album, with Frank getting to work straight away in his falsetto on 'Thinking About You' and keeping our attention in a chokehold for the duration of the album.
Key Tracks: Lost, Pink Matter

4. Perfectly Imperfect - Elle Varner

I don't think I've ever heard Country strings and an 808 sound so good togethe..if it all, ever. Varner, who co-wrote every song on the album, worked with an intimate group of producers including Oak & Pop to produce 11 track wonderment. One of the best debuts of the last few years for definite.
Key Tracks: Refill, I Don't Care, Not Tonight

3. Born to Die - Lana Del Rey

Technically released twice this year, Lana Del Rey’s first huge release saw the starlet attract a huge amount of controversy on account of her alleged manufactured past. Nevertheless the disc released in January was undeniably great. (You can read reviews for both editions of the album here and here).

2. Music 4 TNGRS - Chester French

Ex-Harvard attendees Max Drummey and D.A Wallach released one of the freshest, multi-genre albums this year, that went disturbingly under the radar. Wallach’s voice is beautifully throaty, while the lyrical content and production infused big band style brass instruments, soothing strings and banging synths. You can read a full review of the album here.

1. Kaleidoscope Dream - Miguel

Miguel, still largely unknown in the UK, seemed to burst out of nowhere for his second LP 'Kaleidoscope Dream'. Similarly to Dawn Richard, Miguel's voice sits strongly over the distorted R&B sounds of the album, which takes prevalence over the production. The album opens with one of it's strongest tracks 'Adorn', a 'Sexual Feeling' for the 21st Century. To be honest, it's all continuously up from there, as KD fails to display a weak spot in its 54 minute runtime.
Key Tracks: Adorn, Don't Look Back, Arch & Point