Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Last Stand

“How are you, Sheriff?” Arnold Schwarzenegger’s grizzled lawman Ray Owens is asked in the central firefight of “The Last Stand" after hurling himself through the front doors of a bakery. “Old," is his deadpan reply as he staggers to his feet and brushes the debris off his dusty leather jacket. It’s one of several self-deprecating remarks made by the 65-year-old Austrian macho man turned America’s greatest hero in a film much touted to be his big, shining comeback. Like all of them, it’s a sly quip at his advancing age, and, after nine years out of the Hollywood limelight and eight years engaged in Californian politics, aged Arnie certainly has: the skin around his skull is wrapped tight as a drum while his joints move with the unoiled stiffness of the Tin Man.

And yet, in his first time anchoring a movie since 2003’s “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” the Governator’s long-underused action chops remain firmly, stubbornly intact. We got a whiff of them last August in “The Expendables 2,” in which he chomped on cigars and pulled car doors from their hinges, but here we’re given the full-blown package: as the action hero of “The Last Stand,” he fires .44 magnums, dives off rooftops, races supercars and bludgeons badguys to a bloody pulp, and not for one second do we doubt he could do it all — not even when he complains about his dodgy hip. Arnie’s back, and it’s with open arms that we welcome his return.

The film itself, it’s a decent enough Friday-night shoot-em-up which, like its star, works best whenever in action mode, which is thankfully often. Arnie plays the pencil-pushing sheriff of the sleepy Arizona town of Sommerton Junction, which sits quietly in the middle of nowhere, a couple miles north of the Mexican border. It’s the kind of town where everyone knows one another, and so sleepy is it that undelivered milk warrants a 4:00 am emergency phone call to the sheriff.

It’s a peace violently disturbed — on the sheriff’s day off, no less — when international drug cartel Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega, “Vantage Point”), in a stupendously complex action sequence involving a giant magnet and a man in an orange tracksuit, escapes from FBI custody while being transported from Las Vegas. Chased by FBI Agent John Barrister (Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland”) and taking Agent Ellen Richards (Genesis Rodriguez, “Casa de mi Padre”) as a hostage, Cortez makes a run for the Mexican border in a modified Corvette ZR1, and the only thing standing in his way is Sommerton Junction and its hard-ass sheriff.

Cortez’s mechanically enhanced supercar is capable of reaching speeds over 200 mph, providing ample opportunity for high-octane road stunts — the film’s most ludicrous moment comes when Cortez somehow manages to up-end a police jeep while driving backwards at top speed. It is with this that “The Last Stand” feels geared towards the “Fast and the Furious” crowd, but there’s something unashamedly old-school about the film as Sheriff Owens gathers together a ragtag crew to do battle with the fast-approaching fugitive.

Among the sheriff’s merry band of protectors are his tenderfoot deputies (Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzman and Rodrigo Santoro), who set up a barricade of cars and buses and await with their guns at the ready. There’s also a gurning Johnny Knoxville as gun nut Lewis Dinkum, whose makeshift museum of vintage weaponry sure does come in handy. Knoxville’s name has been splattered all over the promotional material, but “Jackass" fans will be saddened to learn that, while he does get a hand in on the action, his role is smaller than the trailers and posters deceptively suggest.

The film builds towards a thrilling, ear drum-shattering shootout between the Sommerton police force and Cortez’s henchmen, led by intense Eurotrash badguy Burrell (Peter Stormare, “Lockout”), and then finally towards a climactic bare-knuckle brawl on a bridge that stands atop a canyon. It is in this brawl that Arnie finally bellows his long-missed growl, a mightily garbled “RuUaAaaRgh!” that, much like the rest of Arnie’s scenes, is sure to induce sweet, beautiful nostalgia for long-time fans — we’ve cherished that scream ever since “Conan the Barbarian.”

“The Last Stand” is the English-language debut of South Korean director Jee-woon Kim, whose Sergio Leone-inspired spaghetti western “The Good, the Bad, the Weird” was appropriately titled. The animated wackiness of that 2008 hit is present here, as are its western motifs: the story, after all, is basically a modern-day update of Fred Zinnermann’s  “High Noon.” This is a likable actioner, fully aware of the inherent daftness of its plot and completely devoid of any pretension. Andrew Knauer’s script is lunkheaded and disappointingly provides little in the way of catchy one-liners — the most memorable of them being the hardly classic “I’m the sheriff” — but Arnie’s goofy charm tied with Kim’s stylish direction make this more of a “Commando” than a “Collateral Damage.” Welcome back, Arnold. We’ve missed you.


Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Django Unchained

“The spaghetti western is one of the greatest genres, as far as I know, in the history of the world cinema and definitely in the history of the Italian cinema. The fact is that they've never been truly appreciated.” So says Quentin Tarantino, the exploitation maestro whose encyclopedic knowledge of cinema is legendary and whose appreciation of the spaghetti westerns that arose from Europe in the mid-60's is undeniable: so enamored with the genre is he that has twice picked Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western masterpiece “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” — said by Tarantino to be “the greatest achievement in the history of cinema" — as his number one choice in Sight & Sound Magazine’s Greatest Movies of All Time poll, once in 2002 and then again in 2012.

It is a passion that has spilled over into many of his own works: think of the infamous ear-slicing scene in “Reservoir Dogs,” inspired by a similar mutilation in Sergio Corbucci’s “Django”; how about Uma Thurman’s vengeful bride-with-no-name in “Kill Bill,” modelled after Clint Eastwood’s nameless drifter from Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy; and then there’s that knuckle-gnawing opening to “Inglourious Basterds,” which owes a gold bullion or two to that of Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West.” And after 21 years of playfully referencing the genre and its many defining motifs, Tarantino finally gets round to making his very own spaghetti western, or, as Tarantino himself has put it, a “southern,” in the wildly entertaining “Django Unchained,” connected to Corbucci’s 1966 work and its many sequels in name and brio only.

But while Tarantino’s eighth feature — or seventh, if you count volumes one and two of “Kill Bill” as one whole — boasts the sweeping desert landscapes, gunslinging badasses and blood-soaked savagery that quickly became archetypes of the genre, “Django Unchained” is a spaghetti western unlike any you’ve seen before. For one, it takes place in the Deep South rather than the Wild West, traversing the plains of Texas and Mississippi. Secondly, the dialogue, as is expected from Tarantino, is front and centre rather than kept on the sidelines. But most crucially of all, what sets “Django Unchained" apart from the typical spaghetti western is that the titular antihero is not a mysterious stranger battling local bandits, but a black slave unchained and set free with a longing in his heart and vengeance on his dinner plate.

Jamie Foxx (“Ray”) is Django, a slave whom we meet in 1858 as he marches for many miles across the dry and sweltering deserts of Texas in a chain gang, his tired feet shackled and bruised, following a wagon that will take him to be auctioned off. That is, until another wagon trundles out from the dark of the woods with a giant plastic tooth on a spring bobbling back and forth on its roof like a bobble-head. The wagon belongs to Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, “The Green Hornet”), a German dentist-cum-bounty-hunter who requires Django’s assistance in identifying and tracking down his latest targets, Django’s previous owners, the elusive Brittle Brothers.

The two set off on horseback, and a loyal mentor-student relationship is born as Django is taken under the wing of Schultz and trained in the ways of the bounty hunter — after the Brittle Brothers are dealt with, Schultz comments that Django may just be the “fastest gun in the West.” Waltz, whose SS officer Hans Landa in “Inglourious Basterds” was a truly terrifying creation, is eccentrically charming here as the devilishly cunning, disarmingly cheerful Dr. Schultz, who’ll gun down a crooked sheriff in front of the whole town and calmly explain why to the marshall. Foxx, meanwhile, flaunts a cool charisma and a badass swagger once Django starts to grow in confidence and begins his journey to becoming the ultimate gunslinger.

The film is driven largely by Django’s desire to reunite with his beloved wife, the beautiful slave Broomhilda (Kerry Washington, “For Colored Girls”), who was cruelly taken from him and sold to an unknown plantation. The name Broomhilda, as Schultz explains, is taken from an old German fairy tale in which a disobedient princess is placed at the top of a mountain surrounded by hellfire and guarded by a fire-breathing dragon. The one who walks across the hellfire, slays the dragon and rescues the princess is a hero named Siegfried. Django, according to Schultz, is a “real life Siegfried,” and, true to the tale, the two embark on a perilous quest to rescue Broomhilda from that fearsome beast.

The mountain surrounded by hellfire, it transpires, is a Mississippi plantation called Candyland, and the dragon is its owner, the odious Calvin Candie (a brown-toothed Leonardo DiCaprio in a rare, and brilliantly loathsome villainous role), who may not breathe fire but who is rarely seen without smoke blowing out from both his nostrils. It is in Candie’s grand estate that Tarantino stages a sequence comparable in mounting intensity to the 20-minute cellar-bar scene in “Inglourious Basterds,” as Django, Schultz, Candie and Candie’s guests casually talk around the dinner table and as Tarantino slowly but surely ratchets up the suspense with a blend of riveting dialogue and sharp, suspicious glares. All seems to be going splendidly for our heroes, but then... uh oh. Your fingernails will dig into your armrest when Candie brings out his toolbox.

Django and Schultz gain entry to Candyland by masquerading as potential purchasers of one of Candie’s Mandingo fighters — muscle-bound slaves who engage in fights to the death for the sick amusement of their sadistic masters (inspired more by the notorious 1975 film “Mandingo” than historical fact). Their plan: casually request that Broomhilda be a part of the transaction along with the fighter of their choice, and ride off into the sunset with her in tow. But, as one would expect, things don’t quite go according to plan at Candyland, thanks to one watchful individual who sniffs out their deception.

That individual would be Stephen, Candyland’s Uncle Tom-esque house slave, as played by Samuel L. Jackson, who subverts his tough guy image with a startling performance as a snowy-haired, crippled old fart staunchly loyal to his beloved master. He’s a betrayer of his own race, happily aiding in the torment of his fellow slaves and utterly appalled at the unexpected sight of a “nigger on a horse" and the idea of a “nigger” staying in “the big house.” His presence, along with that of the noble white man Schultz, is crucial in proving that “Django Unchained” is not an anti-white film, as some have absurdly claimed; rather, it is an anti-racism and anti-oppression film made by a filmmaker angry at the horrors of America’s past and those who inflicted it.

And what a violent past it evidently was: in “Django Unchained,” blood doesn’t just spurt out from fresh bullet wounds; it explodes out like water from a fireman’s hose and splatters across all objects in close vicinity (the sight of a slave trader’s bean juice cascading over a cotton field achieves a lurid sort of beauty). But, while much of the violence is comically, almost cartoonishly outrageous and as Tarantino giddily indulges in jet-black comedy (as in one wickedly funny moment when a KKK clan take issue with the functionality of their handmade masks), he never loses sight of the barbarism that was faced by slaves on a daily basis: runaways are devoured alive by attack dogs, misbehavers are tied up and lashed with whips, and Mandingo fighters are forced at gunpoint to pummel one another to the brink of death, all presented with unflinching brutality and later avenged with unashamed glee.

With this, “Django Unchained" solidifies itself as a companion piece to “Inglourious Basterds," in which Jewish-American killers and a Jewish mademoiselle inflict bloody vengeance against their Nazi oppressors, eventually resulting in Hitler being defeated with a machine gun to the face. Like that fascinating WWII flick, this is pure revenge fantasy, foaming at the mouth with fury and ruthless in its payback. But “Django Unchained” is even better than “Basterds:” it’s much more focused, unfolding in a linear manner rather than through parallel narratives, and in Jamie Foxx’s Django, Tarantino has his most developed character yet. Plus, it’s great seeing the spaghetti western — sorry, southern — back on the big screen and in such a mesmerising package, helmed by an American movie-maker at the top of his game and, like the eponymous ex-slave, unchained.


Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Les Misérables

Look out at the Toulon dock on the right day in 1815 and you shall see a magnificent sight: a monster sailing ship being dragged to dry land by ropes exhaustively heaved by a raggedy chain gang who are thrashed by waves as they sing a song of slavery. This is the big opening to Tom Hooper’s epic musical “Les Misérables,” and it’s as perfect an introduction as one could possibly concoct: staggering in its weight and colossal in scale, the vast war vessel is like the film itself, if a little less melodious, while the prisoners’ grumbled rendition of “Look Down” is, like most of the upcoming numbers, less merry than it is appropriately miserable.

And in a curiously rhythmic discussion between pitiless prison guard Javert (Russell Crowe, “The Man with the Iron Fists”) and prisoner 24601, aka Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman, “Real Steel”), we are given a succulent sampling of the uniquely authentic musical stylings that are in store: as Javert explains the terms of Valjean’s release after 19 years of hard labour (for the minor offense of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving niece) and Valjean pleads in vain to be treated like a fellow human being, the two sing their conversation, belting out each syllable with operatic, vein-popping force, a trait carried on for the entirety of this sprawling musical juggernaut.

Based on Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s enduring stage musical, which was itself taken from Victor Hugo’s classic 1862 novel, Hooper’s follow-up to his Best Picture-crowned drama “The King’s Speech,” while bigger and bolder than that 2010 Brit hit, is another unashamed crowd-pleaser, but for wholly different reasons. For while “The King’s Speech” charmed worldwide audiences with its real-life tale of triumph against the odds, “Les Misérables” wows with its grand assemblage of soul-baring solos and rip-roaring duets. Viewers will be hard-pressed to drive home from the theatre without a tune in their heart, or at the very least a verse or two stuck in their head.

The film tells a stirring story of love, hope, freedom and rebellion set against the turbulent backdrop of post-revolution France. Granted parole, Valjean is faced with prejudice as an ex-con in Digne, refused food and shelter by those he begs. Given a generous gift of silverware by a kindly bishop (which he initially steals in desperation), he breaks his parole and vows to reinvent himself as an honest man in the town of Montreuil-sur-Mer, where, under a new identity, he becomes the respected owner of a prosperous factory and is promptly elected mayor.

But when he catches the watchful gaze of a suspicious Javert, who can’t help but spot an uncanny resemblance between the mayor and prisoner 24601, Valjean finds himself on the verge of exposure and at risk of incarceration. Valjean goes on the run once again, setting in motion a nine-year pursuit and taking with him the young Cosette (Isabelle Allen), the newly orphaned, illegitimate daughter of an employee whom he did wrong and rescued before her untimely death. As they hide together in Paris, with Valjean raising Cosette as if she were his own, talk of an anti-monarchal uprising bubbles among the poor and the squalid in the back alleys of the French capital.

It was feared by many that Hooper, with just three relatively small-scale features under his belt, would be unable to marshal the epic scope and breathtaking grandeur required for such a large-scale production. And while his direction here is a little one-note, rarely diverging from shallow-focused close-ups and sweeping, digitally enhanced establishing shots, what he has presented us with is a production as magnificent as British cinema has ever seen: a £40 million spectacle of soaring Parisian cityscapes, waving French flags and chanting revolutionary crowds, “Les Misérables" is a marvellous sight to behold, with Hooper and cinematographer Danny Cohen keeping matters looking more cinematic than stage-bound.

Hooper and his cast must be commended for their bravery in having the vocals of each musical number (of which there are many) recorded live on-set. It’s the first film since the disastrous 1975 Burt Reynolds/Cybill Shepherd rom-com “At Long Last Love” to attempt such a feat, and it lends each number with a rawness and an intensity that’s missing in its more polished Hollywood counterparts (in which the vocals are mimed on-set and lip-synched afterwards in a sound booth). Certain lyrics are strained and some high notes are wobbly, the result much more natural and dramatic than what is expected from the industry standard; heck, don’t be too surprised if this becomes the new industry standard.

Jackman, known as a song and dance man, sturdily holds a tune as he performs down to his very bones as a brutalised ex-con on a quest for redemption. In his delivery of “Valjean’s Soliloquy,” he displays astonishing emotional complexity, transforming in mere minutes from a bitter, feral thief to a man of great trust and affection, granted a second chance and a newfound faith in God. His 17-year game of cat and mouse with Javert makes for compelling viewing, particularly because Crowe depicts the ruthless lawman as a human being: alongside his booming voice and Terminator-like determination is a conflict between an emerging conscience and a rigid code of ethics that, in the third act, begins to quake and crumble.

They are supported by a great ensemble. Playing Cosette as a child and a young woman, respectively, Isabelle Allen and Amanda Seyfried (“Red Riding Hood”) both appear to emit a heavenly glow. Eddie Redmayne (“My Week with Marilyn”) charms as the courageous revolutionary Marius, whose first glimpse of the teenage Cosette sparks first love, while Samantha Barks is heart-breaking as the tragic figure whose unrequited love for Marius proves her downfall. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, so good in Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd,” provide side-splitting, panto-style comic relief as a grotesque innkeeper couple who pickpocket their guests and are essentially the Ugly Sisters of the show.

But the real stand-out here is the rightly celebrated Anne Hathaway (“The Dark Knight Rises") as Cosette’s birth mother, the frail Fantine, a worker in Valjean’s factory who, when thrown out into the street with not a single franc to her name, sells her beautiful brown locks, has her back teeth torn from their roots and turns to prostitution. Appearing on-screen for no more than 20 minutes, Hathaway steals the show and our hearts as she belts out the iconic “I Dreamed a Dream" in an unbroken, unflattering close-up, tears streaming down her cheeks, her voice breaking, her passion earth-shattering. There will surely be riots in Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre if she doesn’t win that trophy on Oscar night.

And there shouldn’t be a dry eye in the house during Hathaway’s big number, nor indeed for the remainder of “Les Misérables." During its exhausting 157-minute length, Hooper’s sprawling fourth feature will prove itself a draining venture for many, both emotionally and physically, as they are drowned in a towering tsunami of melodies and melodrama. The emotional wallop of this thing is catastrophic and the riveting numbers will echo through the hallways of your brain for weeks to come. Can you hear the people sing? I know I can.


Friday, 11 January 2013

The Impossible

The tsunami that struck the coast of south-east Asia on Sunday, 26 December, 2004, remains one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Commonly known as the Boxing Day Tsunami, it emerged from the Indian Ocean like a ferocious sea monster, birthed into existence by a megathrust underwater earthquake and growing to towering heights of up to 30 metres. In its destructive path, 230,000 were killed, thousands of homes were destroyed and the lives of thousands of families were changed forever. “The Impossible” tells the real-life story of one of those families.

It is not the first film to reconstruct the tsunami; Clint Eastwood’s supernatural drama “Hereafter" opened with a startling special effects sequence depicting its attack on the coast of Thailand. In Eastwood’s film, we were presented with a god’s eye view of the waves’ destruction before we were plunged inside the water along with a key character. In “The Impossible," there are no glorified money shots: we are immediately swallowed up by the waves, spinning and thrashing inside the waters, dragged along by the current and overwhelmed by the suddenness and the confusion of the situation. In this sequence and in the scenes set among the resulting wreckage, “The Impossible” is an astonishing triumph of physical filmmaking.

It is also an inspiring showcase of the triumph of the human spirit. Yes, “The Impossible” is one of those movies. Its focus is on the Belon family, headed by Henry (Ewan McGregor, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”) and Maria (Naomi Watts, “Fair Game”), who were vacationing at a holiday resort in Thailand when the tsunami hit. A controversy surrounding the film is that the real-life Belons have been changed from a Spanish family to a British family, and that the film’s perspective is from well-off tourists rather than the many locals rendered homeless by the catastrophe. Perhaps we will see their tale unfold on the silver screen one day (though “The Impossible” fully acknowledges the tsunami’s impact on other, less privileged victims), but for now what’s important is that the Belons’ miraculous story has been told and that it has been told with the utmost of sincerity and publicity.

In the opening scene, we are introduced to Henry, Maria and their three young sons (Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast) as they are rattled by turbulence on their flight to the luxurious beachside Khao Lak resort, where they tear open their presents on Christmas Day and launch Chinese lanterns into the night sky. There’s a definite foreboding in these early moments, particularly in a POV shot of the vast, open sea as it watches over the land it will soon destroy, but never is it overplayed, left instead to quietly gnaw at the back of our minds. As the family relax and enjoy themselves by the hotel swimming pool, an approaching rumble causes them to sense a shift in the atmosphere, as confirmed when an enormous tidal wave comes crashing towards them from behind and above the hotel.

The 10-minute scene depicting the tsunami’s attack is more terrifying than anything I’ve seen in any disaster movie. From its devastating force, palm trees are torn from their roots, vehicles hurtle down streets and homes explode into scatters of drifting debris. Bystanders are scooped up and swept away like matchsticks, breathlessly reaching out for safety and drowning in the unstoppable waves. All of this is accomplished with savage viscerality and breathtaking technical skill, but what makes this sequence so terrifying is the all-important human element: one of the film’s most harrowing images comes when Maria clings desperately to a tree, screaming wildly in terror. Another comes when she reaches out for the hand of her eldest son, the tips of their fingers just managing to graze one another.

We’re frightened because we care for these people, and it is for this very reason that we stick by them for every second that follows the tsunami’s strike. Images of the aftermath will be all too familiar for those who watched footage on the news and on YouTube: a shattered, post-apocalyptic landscape of mounted wreckage and bloodied strangers, it is stunningly recreated in real-world locations. I won’t give anything away of the Belons’ journey (though the title is itself a spoiler) other than in saying they were split in two, with Maria on one side of the land and Henry on the other (Henry looked after the two younger boys while eldest boy Lucas assigned himself as his mother’s loyal protector).

At the heart of “The Impossible” are two brave performances. Every burst of emotion from Watts is irrefutably, devastatingly authentic as she plays a woman taken to the edge and then pushed beyond it. For reasons I won’t reveal, she spends much of the film’s second half bedridden and weakening as time goes by, humbled by the determination of Lucas and never stripped of her maternal instincts. Alongside her, McGregor gives perhaps the finest performance of his career as a husband and father searching through the wreckage for his wife and son. In a phone call home, his character is faced with articulating the situation he and his family are in and, suddenly hit with the horror of it all, falls to pieces in front of our eyes. As this moment plays out, I defy any viewer not to feel a lump in their throat.

Director Juan Antonio Bayona previously directed the excellent Spanish ghost story “The Orphanage,” in which he displayed an eye for gifted child actors. He has discovered three more in Holland, Joslin and Pendergast, who, despite their youth, display the same haunted look of realisation inhabited by their much more experienced adult co-stars. Holland, in particular, is a remarkable find, inspiring as he embarks on a self-imposed mission to reunite lost family members scattered throughout a makeshift hospital. He reminded me of Christian Bale in “Empire of the Sun” with his unblinking confidence and the maturity that grows in his eyes. In this 16-year-old Brit, we may have a new star.

The Belons’ journey from the tsunami onwards unfolds under a thick layer of melodrama, and many viewers will no doubt find certain plot contrivances (based in reality they may well be) rather manipulative. Tug at the heart strings it certainly does, but it’s a skilled tugger: there are moments in “The Impossible" capable of making a grown man cry. And while Sergio G. Sánchez’s script has its deficiencies — count the number of times a character’s name is bellowed mournfully in the second half — “The Impossible” is a riveting drama of raw emotion with a blunt force as powerful and surging as any tsunami.


Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Top 25 Best Films of 2012

Well, it's that time of the year again when I count up the finest theatrical releases of the past 12 months, and 2012 was a fine year for cinema indeed ("Keith Lemon: The Film" not withstanding). Offering up a succulent feast of stirring political thrillers, epic blockbusters, laugh-out-loud comedies and flat-out bonkers surrealist oddballs, 2012 proved itself to be a reassuring, truly electrifying year to be a dedicated movie enthusiast. Let's hope 2013 is just as thrilling.

25. "End of Watch"

Writer-director David Ayer has been working towards “End of Watch” his whole career. In his scripts for “Training Day,” “S.W.A.T.” and “Dark Blue,” he attempted to enter and explore the mindset of the American law enforcer, with mixed results. In “End of Watch,” he nails it, providing a captivating, intimate insight into the daily lives of two workaday beat cops patrolling the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles. In leading men Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, we have a buddy cop duo worthy of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover: sitting in their squad car with them, listening to them talk and joke and trade amusing, heartfelt anecdotes proves just as enthralling and stimulating as the vivaciously visceral action sequences.

24. "Magic Mike"

It’s a pity “Magic Mike" wasn’t presented in 3D: what with its lip-smacking line-up of baby-oiled pecs and bulging leather thongs thrusting rhythmically towards the screen, it’s exactly the sort of film stereoscopy was made for. But director Stephen Soderbergh’s indie dramedy, set in Florida male strip joint Xquisite, turned out to be much more than a wet and wild girls’ night out, although the rousing routines are available by the handful: ably carried by career-spinning hunk Channing Tatum, on whose teenage experiences the film is loosely based, it’s a smartly written, maturely handled, “Boogie Nights”-lite charting of the ups and downs of seedy showbusiness. Alongside Tatum, English rising star Alex Pettyfer - so wooden in “Beastly” and “I Am Number Four” - is surprisingly engaging as a young Xquisite amateur while Matthew McConaughey steals the show as the sizzlingly seductive megalomaniac running the joint.

23. "Holy Motors"

French acting maestro Denis Lavant gives a powerhouse performance in “Holy Motors,” and surely one of the strangest of the year. In Leos Carax’s surreal, distinctly European curiosity, Lavant plays a man who travels around Paris in the back of a white stretch limo, attending “appointments” which appear to consist of him entering a parallel universe and transforming into a different person; in one appointment, he’s an elderly female beggar; in another, he’s an assassin; next, an old man on his deathbed; in perhaps the most bizarre one, he dons a skin-tight mo-cap suit and engages in a simulated sex scene, the computer-generated result of which is a clear poke in the ribs to James Cameron’s “Avatar.” There are more than a few Lynchian vibes in “Holy Motors,” a bizarre, bewildering tour de force around the ever-changing nature of movie acting. Keep an eye out for Kylie Minogue, who pops up to sing a song of heartbreak in a memorable musical number.

22. "Brave"

With their thirteenth full-length feature, the esteemed wizards at Pixar Animation Studios affectionately pay tribute to the timeless fairytales of Disney. The tale - one of kings and queens and witches and magic - focuses on Merida, a rebellious, independently minded Scottish princess whose defiance of her parents’ age-old customs results in a curse being placed upon her kingdom. The sweeping, immersive landscape of craggy cliffs and mountainous glens is vibrantly rendered and lusciously detailed by top-of-the-range computer animation, but what’s most enchanting about this spellbinding fantasy adventure is the Kelly MacDonald-voiced heroine Merida, whose spirit is as free and untamable as her flame-tinted barnet.

21. "The Intouchables"

An uplifting, fabulously funny French feelgood dramedy much-touted as an “international sensation,” Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano’s “The Intouchables” is one film that lives up to the hype. At its heart is an odd couple: Omar Sy is a poverty-stricken, high-spirited benefits cheat who becomes the official carer for François Cluzet, a lonely, quadriplegic millionaire paralysed from the neck down. The film, while undeniably painted with broad strokes, boasts a winning, crowd-pleasing charm, with Cluzet and Sy both outstanding and sharing the kind of crackling bromantic chemistry that can’t be forced and could only have been a lucky coincidence.

20. "Searching for Sugar Man"

Have you heard of Rodriguez, the singer-songwriter from Detroit so popular in South Africa his records are regularly placed alongside those of the Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley? I thought not, but then his music flopped in America, and up until recently his core fanbase believed him to be dead. Some say he set himself ablaze on-stage. Some say he blew his brains out. Others say he died of a drug overdose in a hotel room. In this powerful, poignant documentary, Cape Town-based fans Stephen Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom attempt to track down the mysterious, forgotten folk hero who unwittingly inspired a generation of South Africans and for whom international fame never came calling. Not to give away the ending, but if you’re not weeping tears of joy in the final 20 minutes you may not have a soul.

19. "The Cabin in the Woods"

“Cabin in the woods” horror movies such as “The Evil Dead” and “Friday the 13th” were simultaneously given a good firm kicking and a loving homage in this wildly subversive, deviously clever genre deconstruction that did for those “cabin in the woods” movies what Wes Craven’s “Scream” did for the stalk-n-slash flicks back in 1997 - that is to say, it skewered them. Writer-director Drew Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon brilliantly pastiched, parodied and praised the genre and its many familiar conventions in an ingeniously assembled satire that provides not just old-school popcorn entertainment but fascinating insight into why we watch horror movies. The unforgettable, blood-splattered climax, in which - spoiler alert - an army of ghosts, goblins and unicorns launch a full-scale attack on an office building was one of the most balls-out batshit crazy sequences of last year. You’ll never look at a merman in the same light again.

18. "The Imposter"

So cinematic is awards-showered documentary “The Imposter” that when director Bart Layton first screened the film at Sundance, one viewer, convinced that what they had just witnessed unfold was a scripted work of fiction, raised their hand and asked him whether or not the film was based on a true story. The story, as unbelievable as it is completely true, is as follows: in 1997, 23-year-old French con artist Frédéric Bourdin managed to convince a grieving Texan family that he was in fact their blonde-haired, blue-eyed 16-year-old son Nicholas Barclay, who disappeared without a trace three years previously. Slithering his way past both the Spanish and American authorities and living among the Barclays in their San Antonio home, Bourdin pluckily impersonated the lost schoolboy for almost five whole months, fooling not just FBI officials but the boy’s closest family members too. Hypnotically narrated by the identity thief himself and as gripping as any great Hollywood thriller, “The Imposter” is an unmissable documentary that must be seen to be believed (even then, it’s still rather baffling).

17. "Cloud Atlas"

A film bold in its ambition and galactic in its scope, Tom Twyker and the Wachowski siblings’ “Cloud Atlas” tells six seemingly unrelated stories that span from the mid-1800s to the post-apocalyptic 2300s. Starring in each story are Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving and Ben Wishaw, among others, who display staggering versatility and, thanks to the magic of special effects, sometimes swap their race and gender when playing one of their characters (often, it’s difficult to tell which actor we’re watching). What’s most startling about this indefinable masterwork is how the stories, when interwoven, regularly enhance and complement the unfolding drama of each other, even when decades and even centuries apart: the thrills of a gadget-heavy chase sequence set in a neon-lit future Asia seamlessly ripple over to a 1970s shoot-out in the streets of California, and vice versa. As an epic ode to the power of storytelling, “Cloud Atlas” is sensational.

16. "Killer Joe"

As the eponymous hitman of William Friedkin’s “totally twisted deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story,” Matthew McConaughey gives the best and gutsiest performance of his career. Previously stuck in a seemingly inescapable rut of heading bright and breezy studio rom-coms (the posters for which saw him forever leaning against his grinning, twinkly eyed love interests), he gleefully reinvented himself as a slimy, sociopathic, devilishly charming contract killer in this blackly comic, deliciously depraved, adults-only dark farce that marked a glorious return to form for Friedkin. At 77 years old, the “Exorcist” director still packs the power to shock: the film’s nail-biting, finger-licking third act, which involves sexual abuse via a Kentucky-fried chicken leg, rightly earned the film fierce notoriety and put many movie-goers off dropping by their local KFC on the way home from the theatre.

15. "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Part survival drama and part mythical fantasy, Benh Zeitlin’s beautiful and imaginative Cannes hit “Beasts of the Southern Wild" is all magic. Its setting is the Bathtub, an isolated bayou in southern Louisiana, where a small, self-reliant community struggles to survive, struck by fearsome storms and seemingly about to be rampaged through by an unstoppable horde of prehistoric warthogs. In 6-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, we have a new American star: in her debut role, Wallis is a force to be reckoned with, bravely carrying the film on her tiny but sturdy little shoulders, delivering a tough, unbreakable performance that outshines that of even her grown-up co-stars.

14. "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"

Based on his 1999 teen bestseller, Stephen Chbowski’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is a timeless, astutely observed coming-of-age drama with much to say about adolescence, first love, growing up and the importance of friendship. Logan Lerman, best known for playing the title role in “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief,” shines as Charlie, a friendless freshman taken under the wing of a pair of misfit high school seniors sassily played by Emma Watson and Ezra Miller. Watson, flinging decade-long memories of her as Hermione in the “Harry Potter” series into the fire, stuns as the free-spirited Sam, while Miller, last seen as a sinister psychopath in “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” steals the show as her giddy, witty step-brother Patrick. Smart, moving and completely authentic, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is the best of its kind since the heydays of John Hughes.

13. "Lincoln"

The single greatest movie performance of 2012 is in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” as Daniel Day-Lewis dons the top hat and chin curtain to play America’s heralded 16th president. Ever the method actor, Day-Lewis sidesteps cheap mimicry, opting instead to crawl inside Lincoln’s reputed thick skin, getting a feel for him as a complex man of flesh and blood, dignity and humour, calm restraint and fierce moral fury. Spielberg, while more discreet than usual, directs this immersive historical epic with undeniable admiration for the American icon at its centre, but then who can blame him when Day-Lewis is so blindingly magnificent? Pullitzer prize-winning screenwriter Tony Kushner covers Lincoln’s heated final four months - in which he swayed the House of Representitives to pass the slavery-abolishing 13th Amendmant - with fascinating insight not just into Abe’s arm-twisting political strategies but also into Abe as a man of the people and as a man, full stop.

12. "Moonrise Kingdom"

Wes Anderson’s trademark kooky style is epitomised in “Moonrise Kingdom,” a colour-coded, unfashionably fashioned, folk song-soundtracked deadpan caper that is arguably the most enchanting entry in Anderson’s filmography. This is thanks to gifted 12-year-old stars Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, a pair of misfit runaways whose blooming, pre-adolescent romance on a New England island idyll give the film’s centre an all-important beating heart in amongst the gorgeously assembled visual quirks. Naturally, detractors of Anderson’s uniquely coordinated clockwork aesthetic, and I know there are many, will likely feel alienated by what is admittedly an unashamed exercise in hyper-stylised self-indulgence; converts, on the other hand, will find it an unmitigated, wondrous joy.

11. "Berberian Sound Studio"

The banshee-like screams recorded in the “Berberian Sound Studio” will pierce your eardrums and haunt your nightmares. Peter Strickland’s second feature, following his slow-burning revenge thriller “Katalin Varga,” is a skin-crawling chiller about the making of a fictional, “Suspiria"-inspired giallo splatter-horror called “The Equestrian Vortex,” or rather the making of its backing track. Toby Jones is the taciturn British sound engineer flown from the English countryside to an Italian post-production suite to create the film’s audio effects, itself a fascinating insight into the under-appreciated foley process: did you know that a watermelon being decimated by a mallet sounds exactly like the crushing of a human skull? Jones’ character becomes increasingly suspicious that something fishy is going on with the film’s production team, all the while he finds himself hopelessly lost within the film’s spinning, whirring reels, of which we do not see a single frame (or do we?). But is the film leaking into him or is he leaking into it?

10. "The Raid"

Who would have guessed that the next John Woo would be a Welshman? Gareth Huw Evans, born and bred in the Cynon Valley village of Hirwaun, is the man behind “The Raid," a no-holds-barred Indonesian martial arts extravaganza fitted with the rawness of “Hard Boiled,” the claustrophobic intensity of “Assault on Precinct 13,” the awesome action of “Ong-Bak” and the endless entertainment value of “Die Hard.” It’s a ballet of bloodshed in which a 20-man SWAT team work their way up the 15 floors of a Jakartra high-rise, faced on their way by a never-ending onslaught of machete-wielding, AK-47-firing henchmen. With near-constant bare-knuckle brawls and bullet-dodging shoot-outs, “The Raid” is a pulse-pounding, bone-crunching, head-cracking surge of eye-popping adrenaline and an exciting revitalisation of the action genre - as rookie cop hero Rama, Iko Uwais is the new John McClane.

9. "Marvel Avengers Assemble"

“The Avengers," or “Marvel Avengers Assemble" as it was clunkily retitled in the UK to avoid confusion with a vaguely remembered spy show from the 1960s, was, for all intents and purposes, such stuff that nerds’ dreams are made of. The ultimate superhero mishmash, it audaciously brought together world-saving Marvel idols Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Hulk, along with the lesser known Black Widow and Hawk Eye, to face off against egomaniacal Asgardian god Loki, who schemes to subjugate the planet with an army of aliens. Witnessing each character clash and communicate under the wise-cracking guide of geek favourite Joss Whedon inspires quivering, childlike glee, as does a swooping, unbroken shot that takes us gliding through the crumbling skyscrapers of NYC as each hero individually does battle against a full-scale alien invasion. Perhaps it doesn’t quite pack the emotional punch or immense thematic weight of “The Dark Knight Rises,” but hey, who’s complaining when The Hulk is punching Thor in the face?

8. "Looper"

Rian Johnson’s “Looper” is an ingeniously devised, hypnotically complex, high-concept science-fiction thriller that dazzles the eyes, fries the nerves and confounds the mind. It is a film about time travel, starring Bruce Willis as an assassin from the future sent back in time to be assassinated by his younger self, as played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Its labyrinthine plotting and brain-boggling central concept reminded me of Christopher Nolan’s masterful “Inception,” a tricky act to follow, but Johnson pulls it off with grace and verve, proving himself to be one of America’s most gifted up-and-coming movie directors. This is an intelligent, ambitious, tremendously entertaining sci-fi flick with a pulpy edge and a grinning brio - for my money, it’s a classic in the making.

7. "The Dark Knight Rises"

With “The Dark Knight Rises,” writer-director Christopher Nolan once again took a veritable sledgehammer to the so-called boundaries of the mega-budget studio blockbuster. Following on from his daringly complex, dream-invading sci-fi thrill-ride “Inception,” Nolan’s eagerly anticipated, suitably epic conclusion to his earth-shattering Batman trilogy was a towering triumph in showing that tentpole Hollywood movies needn't be bird-brained to be successful. Indeed, this series ender, in which Christian Bale’s mentally and physically scarred caped crusader does battle with Tom Hardy’s terrifying masked terrorist Bane, made an absolute killing at the international box office, in spite of the fact that Nolan spends much of the film revelling in thought-provoking, meticulously explored themes such as despair versus hope, the body versus the spirit and good versus evil. Still, Nolan provides the comic-book crowd with the exhilarating superhero spectacle they so desperately crave, not least in a bombastic, bomb-defusing climax that brings the trilogy to a breathtaking, tear-jerking close. Joel Schumacher, eat your heart out.

6. "Skyfall"

In an awe-inspiring, action-packed prologue that begins on foot, moves onto a motorbike, dives onto a speeding train and then finally climbs inside a digger on top of that train, James Bond adventure “Skyfall” triumphantly vanquished the bitter aftertaste left behind by 007’s previous escapade, the arse-numbing “Quantum of Solace,” and boldly promised that great things were to come. Thankfully, that promise went unbroken: under the passionate but controlled direction of Oscar-winner Sam Mendes, “Skyfall” proved to be the greatest adventure of the MI6 agent's 50-year career, featuring a campily sinister villain in Javier Bardem’s cyber-terrorist Raoul Silva, a thrilling story of vengeance and betrayal, and, as performed for the third time by Daniel Craig, a Bond who’s broken, vulnerable and - most shocking of all - human. “James Bond will return,” promise the end credits once again. I assure you, Mr Bond, we will be there.

5. "The Master"

“The Master,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s polarising follow-up to his oil-draining magnum opus “There Will Be Blood," is as enigmatic as its eponymous cult leader. Entrancingly mysterious and bandaged in intriguing ambiguities, it is a film that invites debate over what it is really about. On the surface, it is a post-war epic about an emotionally disturbed seaman-turned-drifter (Joaquin Phoenix) who befriends an L. Ron Hubbard-like figure (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and is trained in the ways of a Scientology-like philosophical movement called The Cause. What’s really bubbling underneath that often-impenetrable surface, well, that’s a tough nut to crack, and perhaps one that is ultimately uncrackable. Many found “The Master” a challenging watch; indeed, in the screening I attended, nine of my fellow movie-goers ventured out of the room before the film had finished, never to return. Me, I thought it was a masterpiece.

4. "Amour"

Austrian arthouse auteur Michael Haneke is perhaps best known for his 1997 work “Funny Games," a nihilistic home-invasion shocker so stomach-churningly violent that at several points in the film one sadistic torturer knowingly turns to the camera and smirks at the audience. There’s none of that in “Amour," Haneke’s Palme d’Or-winning, French-language drama about an elderly woman left paralysed on one side of her body following two strokes and her husband, who, through the good times and the bad, cares for her until she takes her final breath. The title (meaning “love”) is apt: this is an unflinching, unblinking and wholly human portrayal of love, performed with devastating authenticity by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.

3. "Argo"

Even when over 5,000 miles east from his native state of Massachusetts, leading man turned big-shot director Ben Affleck wields the same unwavering confidence and unabashed brio boasted in his first two features, Boston-based crime dramas “Gone Baby Gone" and “The Town." His third feature, “Argo,” is a knuckle-gnawing, old-school political thriller and rib-tickling Hollywood satire set in revolutionary late-’70s Iran. It tells the stranger-than-fiction true-life story of a half-dozen U.S. diplomats hiding from hostage-takers in Tehran and the CIA man who stages a fake space opera production (think “Star Wars” or “Flash Gordon”) in an effort to extract them. To describe “Argo” as merely gripping would be to undermine the grasp in which it holds us: this is first-class entertainment from a director at the top of his game and whose skill continues to climb.

2. "Zero Dark Thirty"

In March of 2010, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to ever win the Best Director Oscar for her brilliant Iraq war drama “The Hurt Locker," which rightly also won Best Picture. She may well reexperience that success this coming February with “Zero Dark Thirty,” a bold, brave political thriller chronicling the decade-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden. Opening with grisly depictions of torture by the CIA on battered and bruised al-Qaeda suspects (at its most controversial, the film is stubbornly ambiguous on the subject), Bigelow’s film only grows in intensity as it slowly but surely builds towards a heart-stopping, deftly handled finale placing us inside the fateful raid on bin Laden’s secret Pakistani fortress. Jessica Chastain gives a bravura, fiercely determined performance as the CIA woman heading the mission, strongly supported by Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton and Mark Strong. For the whole of the film’s 157-minute length, Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal keep us sitting firmly on the edge of our seats, regularly planting the thought inside our heads that a bomb could go off at any given second (as in one unexpectedly explosive moment which made me leap out of my chair). “Zero Dark Thirty” is the year’s most thrillingly suspenseful film.

1. "Life of Pi"

Yann Martel’s worldwide bestseller “Life of Pi," something of a modern classic, was popularly deemed “unfilmable” when it was first published in 2001: with its tale of an Indian teenage boy named Pi drifting across the vast Pacific Ocean in a 25-foot lifeboat along with a fully grown male Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, how would one go about bringing it and its complex philosophical and spiritual musings to the big screen? With much ease, it seems, as shown in director Ang Lee’s magnificent adaptation, which tells Martel’s story and handles its physical and metaphysical elements with such grace and grandeur that one struggles to recall why a faithful and elegant transition from page to screen was considered so unassailable and unthinkable. While “Life of Pi” did nothing to make me believe in God, it did much to confirm my beliefs in the power of cinema and the miraculous possibilities of storytelling.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The Top 25 Worst Films of 2012

Yes, I’ve boosted up my Worst of the Year list from a meagre 10 entries to a ginormous 25 for 2012: you see, there was an awful lot of festering filth that stank up a theatre near you in the past twelve months, and I couldn’t just let them slip by without giving them their just deserts on this here list (that’ll show ’em!). Enjoy, and avoid the following turkeys if you can.

25. "Taken 2"

The imaginatively titled, wallet-snatching follow-up to the enormously successful 2008 B-movie “Taken,” Olivier Megaton's “Taken 2” is a revenge thriller so lousy it didn’t even have the decency to provide audiences with a satisfying bloodbath: in the UK, it was slapped with a measly 12A rating, the result being an incoherently edited, bloodless mess. Liam Neeson, reinvented as a Rambo-lite action jackson in the first film, wields a look of supreme boredom throughout, even when he and his wife are kidnapped by Albanian gangsters and as his teenage daughter is lobbing live grenades around Istanbul in an unorthodox method of locating mum and dad. In “Taken 3,” I predict the gerbil will be kidnapped.

24. "Battleship"

Well, the first problem was basing a movie on a board game. The second problem was turning the board game Battleship into a mega-budgeted “Transformers” clone and casting in the lead role the up-and-coming charisma vacuum that is Taylor Kitsch. But come to think of it, Peter Berg’s action-soaked summer blockbuster might have actually been worth all the time and money spent on it, if only for a gut-busting sequence in which the main characters decide to play a gigantic version of said board game, blindly firing torpedoes from a navy vessel at number-letter coordinates in the hopes of hitting an invisible alien ship, and, just like in the game, shouting “hit!" every time they hit and “miss!" every time they miss. Actually, it wasn’t: this was really dumb.

23. "Red Tails"

This wartime drama admirably telling the real-life tale of the Tuskegee Airmen - African American fighter pilots who overcame racism in WWII - was no doubt greenlit with only the best of intentions, but executive producer and all-round elephant in the room George Lucas couldn’t help but dirty the production with his fat, grubby paw prints: in full force is the same toe-curling dialogue, cardboard box acting and CGI-drenched shenanigans that infamously plagued his rightly derided “Star Wars” prequels, only this time what they’re spoiling is not a silly, fantastical space opera but an inspiring event of great historical and human importance. Still, “Red Tails" did provide fallen star Cuba Gooding, Jr. with his juciest role in damn near a decade, playing a major whose sole purpose in life is chewing on a noticeably unlit pipe.

22. "The Watch"

Skin-crawling improvisation runs amok along with skin-stealing extraterrestrials in this sci-fi buddy comedy about a neighbourhood watch squad facing off against alien invaders in the sleepy suburbs. While Brit comic Richard Ayoade of C4’s “The IT Crowd” amuses as a kooky, bespectacled English dweeb, Hollywood funnymen Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill (uptight, loud and insane, respectively) operate on autopilot. With proper care and attention, “The Watch” could have been the 21st century “Ghosbusters,” but Akiva Schaffer’s direction is almost completely inept and “Suberbad” helmers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s script cherishes vulgarity over wit.

21. "This Means War"

After cruelly defiling a beloved science-fiction series with the rigid “Terminator Salvation,” one-name Hollywood hack McG stepped back into more familiar territory with “This Means War,” a blockbusting, soul-draining spy romp boasting the same goofy, lighthearted tone of his “Charlie’s Angels" films. A comedy, a romance and an action film all rolled up into one big super-marketable ball, it instantly bounces its way into a big, burning rubbish heap whenever any of the three genres are activated, in spite of the best, embarrassed-looking efforts of likable leads Tom Hardy, Chris Pine and Reese Witherspoon.

20. "The Sweeney"

Far too focused on nicking the steely cool visual and aural aesthetic of Michael Mann’s “Heat” and Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” Nick Love’s mega-gritty, super-stupid big-screen update of iconic ‘70s TV drama “The Sweeney” resembles next to nothing of its fondly remembered namesake (although oft-quoted catchphrases “You’re nicked” and “You slag” are milked for all they’re worth). A well-cast Ray Winstone is expectedly excellent as growling grizzly bear Regan while Ben “Plan B” Drew’s streetsmart Carter may as well be a plank of wood with a gormless frown painted on it.

19. "That’s My Boy"

Pedophilia, statutory rape and incest between siblings make for the comedy highlights of “That’s My Boy," an especially juvenile effort from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions. Yet another Sandler star vehicle, it finds the decreasingly credible American goofball playing a silly-voiced, down-in-the-dumps, ex-celebrity man-child attempting to reconnect with his estranged, wealthy son (The Lonely Island’s Andy Samberg, wasted in a straight-man role). It may not be as insulting to its target audience as Sandler’s previous outing, the utterly contemptible “Jack and Jill," but what is?

18. "Storage 24"

“Super 8” crosses paths with “Attack the Block" and has a few too many run-ins with “Alien" in one-location creature feature “Storage 24," a film so attuned to the art of pickpocketing it’d make the Artful Dodger proud. When a military aircraft mysteriously crash lands in the heart of London, a bloodthirsty extraterrestrial is unleashed upon a gaggle of clueless nitwits - among them Noel Clarke - trapped inside a storage facility. This sci-fi Brit-flick is a joyless dud, and the slimy, computer-generated features of the villainous monster - which looks like BrundleFly’s ugly cousin - are fully revealed far too early.

17. "Resident Evil: Retribution"

Five movies in, and the “Resident Evil" franchise is still as head-thumping as ever. The inexplicably titled “Retribution" takes the action/sci-fi/horror series back to its geographically confined roots, as leather-clad action heroine Alice is trapped inside a top secret underwater facility and hunted down by villainous holographic toddler the Red Queen. Milla Jovovich laudably kicks ass in the lead role while hubbie/director Paul W. S. Anderson remains fiercely determined to recreate the experience not of playing a “Resident Evil" video game but of watching someone else play a “Resident Evil" video game. Hand us the controls, Paul.

16. "Playing For Keeps"

Tonally bamboozled, sports-centred rom-com “Playing for Keeps,” previously titled “Playing the Field,” finds “300” star Gerard Butler playing a fallen football pro who becomes the coach of the local team in order to connect with his son and, through “hilarious” mix-ups, winds up scoring with half of the players’ mothers. I know what I’d rather see Butler doing: screaming at Persian warriors and booting them into bottomless pits. Sadly, there’s none of that in a film that’s sort of a raunchy sex farce and sort of a heartwarming family film both at the same time. Altogether now: This. Is. PUTRID!

15. "What to Expect When You’re Expecting"

Cramps and nausea are among the many dangers of bloated, star-studded pregnancy rom-com “What to Expect When You’re Expecting," and there’s no beautiful miracle afterwards to compensate. This ironically sterile chick flick, which boasts the star power of Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick and Brooklyn Decker, follows nine months in the lives of five mums-to-be related only through their frequent vomiting, achey back pains, ballooning breasts and expanding tummy regions. Guess what happens at the end.

14. "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance"

Not even the anarchic verve sporadically brought forth by “Crank”/“Crank 2” helmers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor could rescue this half-hearted “Ghost Rider” semi-sequel from the fiery pits of Hell. While a googley-eyed Nicolas Cage is amusingly unhinged as the hotheaded anti-hero, this comic book actioner is plagued with a boring, middle-of-nowhere backdrop, a stale storyline and a schizophrenic tone that aimlessly veers from solemn to wacky.

13. "Alex Cross"

“Don’t ever cross Alex Cross,” warned the posters for Rob Cohen’s bum-brained detective thriller. A more useful warning: “Don’t ever watch Alex Cross." In this franchise reboot of author James Patterson’s Washington-based crime-stopper, cross-dressing comic Tyler Perry, otherwise known as sassy suburban grandma Madea, boldly replaced the unimprovable Morgan Freeman and proved himself to be much more comfortable in a flower-patterned granny gown. Meanwhile, “Lost" veteran Matthew Fox reportedly shed 44 lbs to play skeletal super-villain Picasso, a professional hitman and part-time mixed-martial artist who, in his own words, is “fascinated by pain.” Try watching this.

12. "Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie"

Say bad things about this aggressively offbeat, agonisingly moronic surrealist comedy from the internet’s Funny or Die company and its discouragingly sizable cult of toe-sucking fanatics will furiously proclaim that you simply “don’t get it." Trouble is, there’s nothing to get in the hopelessly amateurish “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie," which somehow managed to attract - and waste - the talents of supporting stars Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, John C. Reilly and Jeff Goldblum. Mindless self-indulgence has never been so migraine-inducing.

11. "The Man with the Iron Fists"

Ultraviolent kung fu/western/fantasy flick in which... well, truth be told, I couldn’t tell what was going on, and frankly, I didn’t care. “Presented by” Quentin Tarantino (never a good sign), “The Man with the Iron Fists" is an incomprehensibly plotted, CGI-soaked muddle that sort of serves as a loving throwback to the old-school martial arts movies of the 1970s. It could have been an entertaining exercise in style if debut filmmaker Rza’s direction wasn’t so by-the-numbers, and, with both a deathly solemn tone and cheesy special effects, it’s nigh impossible to tell whether or not the film wishes for its audience to take it seriously. I know I didn’t.

10. "A Fantastic Fear of Everything"

Bonkers, sub-Hitchcockian murder mystery farce in which an irrationally fearful crime novelist, played by a commendably committed Simon Pegg, creeps about his London flat in manky underpants, wielding a kitchen knife, jumping at every creak and accidentally incinerating his stenchy socks in the oven. A largely uneventful 30-minute trip to the launderette is exasperating, as is a stop-motion sequence centred on a pair of hedgehogs.

9. "Underworld: Awakening"

The reliably cheerless “Underworld" franchise reached a drab new low in this spectacularly unmemorable 3D fourquel, which - coming after the pointless prequel - picked up the story of vampire warrior Selene. She wakes from cryogenic suspension to find herself in a future world where the villainous Lycans/werewolves are extinct - except (gasp) they might not be! The soundtrack may be incessantly noisy, everything not bolted down may be hurled at the screen and leading lady Kate Beckinsale may kick sufficient werewolf arse, but viewers whose eyelids aren’t stapled to their foreheads are at serious risk of falling into a deep and peaceful slumber.

8. "Project X"

A shameless, laughless rip-off of the side-splitting “Superbad," “Project X" has none of the comedy value or surprising emotional resonance of the 2007 smash-hit - supporting star Oliver Cooper tirelessly mimics the raunchily charming Jonah Hill and just comes off as insipid and nasty. A found-footage party-hard teen movie, director Nima Nourizadeh’s dreadful debut often resembles an over-produced music video, with several sequences serving as high-octane montages of drunken adolescents swigging, dancing, chanting and fucking. The ending’s wholly unironic message - that mass popularity is life’s most important goal - is deplorable.

7. "Silent Hill: Revelation"

“Come to Silent Hill," invites bloody text smeared across a living room wall in this 3D sequel to Christopher Gans’ baffling 2006 video game adaptation. I’d really rather not, to be perfectly honest; I’ve been there before, and all I got was a lousy B-film. But this festering follow-up, centred on the now-teenaged girl from the first film, is even lousier. For one, the titular ghost town isn’t as silent as its name suggests this time round: echoing through its empty streets and abandoned buildings is a deafening drone that’s not the famous air raid siren, nor the wails of a murderous monster - rather, it is the thunderous snoring of slumbering audience members.

6. "One for the Money"

Katherine Heigl’s once-shining career (remember “Knocked Up"?) tumbled even further into the trash can with “One for the Money," a semi-comedic, totally rubbish detective story that reeks of made-for-TV. Based on the first of Janet Evanovich’s popular Stephanie Plum novels, it sees Heigl playing a New Jersey bounty hunter whose first mission is tracking down her hunky high school sweetheart, wanted for a murder he may or may not have committed. The lighthearted, screwball tone jars with the story’s darker elements, and the film never recovers from the fact that the central mystery is cripplingly dull.

5. "Top Cat: The Movie"

A deathly pale, Mexican-produced imitation of the Hanna-Barbera animated kids’ show, “Top Cat: The Movie" is a bargain-bin cartoon catastrophe that somehow managed to crawl its way onto the silver screen in the UK (in 3D, no less). This ceaselessly charmless, woefully witless cinematic copycat is so hollow at its core and dead in the eyes that even easily pleased littluns will grow weary of it, while grown-ups will find its boundless ineptitude utterly insufferable. The flash animation is hideous, consisting of cheap-looking two-dimensional characters who inhabit an even cheaper-looking three-dimensional cityscape. Nurse, put this poor animal down.

4. "The Devil Inside"

One of many spook-em-ups to cash in on the international success of the ongoing “Paranormal Activity" franchise, “The Devil Inside" is a cheaply produced found-footage exorcism horror previously bettered by the much smarter and creepier “The Last Exorcism." After 70-or-so minutes of pantomime-standard performances, inexistent direction and snoreful scares, the drab storyline - concerning a woman and her demonically possessed mother - comes to an unexpected halt, the film hysterically ending on a title card asking viewers to visit its official website to find out more. No, thanks.

3. "The Apparition"

In the alarmingly humdrum haunted house horror “The Apparition," a twentysomething couple of the Abercrombie and Fitch mould move into the suburbs only to be greeted by an unwelcome, inhuman guest. Both leads are stupendously insipid - it’s clear from the get-go that the boyfriend is up to no good while the girlfriend is treated as a walking, talking advertisement for low-cut tops and silky undergarments - and the villainous entity is a confusing combination of the spider-crawling ghost girl from “The Grudge" and the door-slamming demon from “Paranormal Activity." Killed off after 10 minutes is the only likable character: the neighbour’s pet dog. If only the leads went with him.

2. "Piranha 3DD"

A rancid regurgitation of the surprisingly excellent monster-fish B-movie “Piranha 3D,” floundering follow-up “Piranha 3DD” (that’s double-D!) is quick to drown in its own worthlessness. While Alexandre Aja’s wildly entertaining first “Piranha” saw its titular water-beasts feasting on the scantily clad party-goers of Victoria Lake, this low-rent sequel moves the bloodbath to a newly opened water park, where the grisly carnage is just as shocking, but this time for all the wrong reasons. The best thing in this meritless non-effort, aside from the never-ending onslaught of T&A, is a glorified celebrity cameo from a potty-mouthed, womanising David Hasselhoff (who isn’t even nibbled upon by the cannibalistic sea creatures). How this managed to bypass the bottom of the Blockbuster bargain bin is anyone’s guess.

1. "Keith Lemon: The Film"

Great Britain has a long, proud history of taking popular comedy hits of the small screen and turning them into absolute tosh on the big screen (“Holiday on the Buses,” “Ali G Indahouse” and “Kevin and Perry Go Large” instantly spring to mind), but this one takes the cake. In fact, it doesn’t just take the cake: it takes it, eats it, digests it, squats down, squeezes it out, picks it up and eats it again, all while furiously fondling itself and ejaculating all over its smug, spray-tanned face. In “Keith Lemon: The Film," Brit comic Leigh Francis takes his “Celebrity Juice” alter-ego, a cackling sex fiend who likes to “finger-bang” and “smash backdoors in,” and places him dead centre in a production so lazy, so repellent, so infantile and so utterly insulting that the word “film” should be ejected from its title; the words “torture chamber” would be much more fitting. Anyone caught so much as tittering during its 80-minute runtime should be shot.