The results are in. Radio Times’ esteemed and frankly frazzled film team have each voted for their personal favourite films of the year and the votes have been collated under the watchful eye of an impartial international observer. It’s up for further debate, as are all such lists, but whatever your views on the relative merits of Joss Whedon’s Avengers Assemble over Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt, the final list presents a healthily broad sweep of movies. Here they are.
1. Skyfall (Sam Mendes, UK) The highest all-time grossing film at the UK box office, “Bond 23” has, as we speak, taken £94.28 million here, beating previous record holder Avatar’s £94.03 million. At last count, Sam Mendes’ electrifying recharge of 007’s batteries was well on the way to its first billion dollars. But behind all the accountancy, what we have is a Bond film which sets a new bar for the franchise: thrilling, wry, spectacular, emotional, it had the lot, and in the series’ 50th year, this was all we asked.
2. Marvel Avengers Assemble (Joss Whedon, US) The superhero blockbuster it was OK for critics to like, this gangbusting extravaganza was in reality the long-planned coming-together of five high-quality establishing “origins” stories: Iron Man (and Iron Man 2), Captain Amercia, The Hulk and Thor, and Buffy/Firefly creator Whedon had the right qualities to choreograph it all with wit, visual imagination and a barnstorming sense of occasion.
3. Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland UK) An amazing achievement for British writer/director Peter Strickland, whose first film, open-air Romanian revenge saga Katalin Varga gave few clues that its follow-up would be a disturbing, claustrophobic, studio-bound paean to 1970s Italian horror movie-making, in which Toby Jones’ English foley artist starts to unravel while creating sound effects for an unpleasant “giallo” schlocker.
4. The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, US) Back to the multiplex for what turned out to be the triumphant conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s rebooted caped crusader trilogy – after Batman Begins and The Dark Knight – in which Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne is removed from his crime-fighting duties while Tom Hardy’s masked villain Bane takes Gotham hostage with a nuclear reactor. A truly epic tying up of loose ends.
5. The Hunger Games (Gary Ross, US) Aimed squarely at the “young adult” market in thrall to Suzanne Collins’ bestselling novels, this first adaptation introduces the uninitiated to Katniss Everdeen (a breakout mainsteream role for Winter’s Bone star Jennifer Lawrence), an action heroine for the dystopian future she lives in: a dirt-poor teen in a two-tier society chosen to take part in an exploitative televised sport in which only one survives. Slick and gloomy, although its 12A certificate works against its violent theme.
6. The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists (Peter Lord, Jeff Hewitt, UK/US) Another winner from the Midas-like Aardman Animation studios (although we didn’t much like Flushed Away), this leap onto the pirates bandwagon casts tabloid-nemesis Hugh Grant as the rogueish captain who gets mixed up in a prize for Scientist of the Year in Victorian London when his parrot is identified by Darwin as a dodo. Silly, colourful, and with stop-motion enhanced but not undermined by CGI, Aardman even took out a leper colony scene to avoid offence.
7. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, US) An unforgettable fable from the fertile soil of the US indie sector, this unexpected glimpse inside a fictional Catskill Mountain cult premiered – where else? – at Sundance, and drew praise for the performances of John Hawkes as the sect’s seemingly benign, peaceful leader and Elizabeth Olsen as Martha, the troubled young woman who finds solace at a retreat where vulenrable female inductees seem to replace one life of abuse with another. Disturbing, ethereal and never predicatable. Feature debutant writer/director Sean Durkin is one to watch.
8. The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark) In a rich year for foreign-language cinema – with Michael Haneke’s Amour and Nuri Bilge Ceylon’s Once Upon A Time In Anatolia just outside the Top 10 – Dogme 95 co-founder Thomas Vinterberg vividly depicts a small, close-knit rural Danish community torn apart by an accusation of child abuse. Mads Mikkelsen (also brilliant this year in A Royal Affair) hits a career high as the primary school teacher at the eye of the storm.
9. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, US) Although not quite the masterpiece that was towering US auteur Paul Thomas Anderson’s last film, There Will Be Blood, this lightly disguised, 1950s-set look at the birth of Scientology remains a superb piece of work, in which Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymor Hoffman engage in a sort of acting slamdown, as, respectively, the post-traumatic US sailor and the charismatic cult leader who forge an unlikely symbiotic relationship. Expect Oscar nominations for both.
10. The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy) A touching, unflinching, realist drama about a troubled boy, Cyril, in a foster home – shades of runaway Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows – who is abandoned by his father and latches onto a kindly hairdresser who may, or may not, offer redemption. Believable performances by Cecile de France and Thomas Doret make the Dardennes brothers’ latest quiet triumph unmissable.
Among other exceptional 2012 films that received a number of votes from different writers but didn’t make the Top 10 were Rian Johnson’s original sci-fi fable Looper, the aforementioned Turkish police procedural Once upon a Time in Anatolia, Michael Haneke’s touching octegenarian love story Amour, Ben Wheatley’s super-confident British black comedy Sightseers, the Danish historical drama A Royal Affair, Gothic animation Paranorman and Indonesian action sleeper The Raid. Mentions too for a couple of documentaries we loved this year: The Imposter and Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap.