Phil on Film Index

Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in Review - The Lead Performances of the Year

Best Lead Actor

10 – Deon Lotz (Beauty)

Watching Deon Lotz in Beauty is an uncomfortable experience. We are observing a voyeur as he fixes his gaze on the beautiful young man he has become obsessed with, and that obsession gradually overcomes him until it bursts out of François in a shocking scene towards the end. Lotz gives an understated performance that suggests the internal turmoil François is experiencing as he fights emotions and desires that he has long repressed. It's a skilfully judged and ultimately shattering piece of acting.

9 – Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust & Bone)

Marion Cotillard had the showier role in Jacques Audiard's Rust & Bone, but the performance that really impressed me came from her lesser-known co-star. Ali is a tough character to like at first – he's a deadbeat dad who scrapes a living from shady security work and bare-knuckle boxing – but through his relationship with Cotillard's disabled Stéphanie he reveals other aspects to his character. Schoenaerts is tough and tender, and his forceful presence anchors a movie that often seems on the verge of splitting in two.

8 – Liam Neeson (The Grey)

Liam Neeson has spent the last couple of years wasting his talent on witless action movies and blockbusters, but he reminded us what a fine actor he is in one of the year's biggest surprises. The Grey begins as a survival thriller, following a group of plane crash survivors as they are menaced by a pack of wolves, but as the film takes on more existential overtones Neeson's performance comes to the fore. He bears deep emotional scars as a man pining for his absent wife, and when the supporting players leave the stage, Neeson's turn only grows in stature, reaching its zenith in the poetic and moving finale.

7 – Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi)

Much of Ang Lee's Life of Pi unfolds with just one man on screen, so it was essential that the director found an actor capable of holding the audience's attention for the duration. The unknown Suraj Sharma steps up to the task magnificently, perfectly expressing the wide range of emotions that Pi experiences during the course of his bizarre ocean odyssey. It's a testament to the visual effects team, of course, that Pi's relationship with the tiger Richard Parker feels so real, but most of the credit must go to the charming actor who plays the role with such a sense of truth.

6 – Melvil Poupaud (Laurence Anyways)

Louis Garrel was lined up to play the title role in Xavier Dolan's third film but pulled out at the 11th hour, which is a blessing for the film as it's impossible now to imagine anyone but Melvil Poupaud in the part. The strength of Poupaud's lead performance – as he portrays Laurence's transition from awkward cross-dresser to confident older woman – is so vital to the film, as it keeps his style-conscious, shallow director grounded in a sense of emotional reality.  

5 – Robert Pattinson (Cosmopolis)

Eyebrows were raised when David Cronenberg cast Robert Pattinson in his adaptation of Don DeLillo's novel, but surely we should know better than to second-guess this great director by now. Pattinson's work here is the cinematic revelation of the year. His unsettlingly blank performance – he first appears like a ghost or a vampire – is perfect for the emotionally dead Eric Packer. As the film progresses, he gradually seems to become more human, blood flows into his veins, his old life falls apart and he steps towards an unknown future.

4 – Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)

How can I separate them? Freddie needs Lancaster like Lancaster needs Freddie, and the ying/yang nature of their relationship generated some of the year's most astonishing scenes. Phoenix's astounding animalistic performance couldn't be more different from Hoffman's calmly manipulative approach, but watching their torturous, antagonistic love story play out on screen is a mesmerising experience. I loved seeing Phoenix manically run from the scene of the crime early on in the film, and I was fascinated in those brief moments when Hoffman allowed Dodd's mask to slip, but it was in their scenes together than the movie came to life. The processing scene, in particular, is dynamite.

3 – Denis Lavant (Holy Motors)

Denis Lavant didn't just turn in one of the year's best screen performances in Holy Motors, he turned in several of them, as a variety of distinctive characters whom Monsieur Oscar transforms himself into during the course of this film. An old lady begging for change in the street, a flower-eating leprechaun who kidnaps a model, a dying man, an assassin hired to kill his own doppelganger – the manner in which Lavant immerses himself into each of these roles is thrilling to behold. Holy Motors acts as a kind of summation or apotheosis of Lavant's long collaboration with Leos Carax. It's the performance, or performances, of a lifetime.

2 – Jean-Louis Trintignant (Amour)

At the heart of Michael Haneke's Amour there are two titanic performances from legends of French cinema. Jean-Louis Trintignant is the husband who has to watch as his wife deteriorates following a stroke, and as we watch him care for her, doing whatever he can to make her comfortable, we bear witness to an inspiring and heartbreaking act of pure love. Trintignant's Georges closes ranks around his wife, even excluding his own family, and devotes himself entirely to her. He can be a harsh, cantankerous character at times, but what shines through in the actor's performance is his humanity, and the quiet devastation that he hides from his ailing wife's eyes.

1 – Thomas Doret (The Kid With a Bike)

No male character made a deeper emotional impact on me in the past year than Cyril, the 11 year-old protagonist in the Dardenne brothers' latest masterpiece. As with most of the lead characters in the Dardennes' films, however, it was by no means love at first sight. Cyril is headstrong and volatile, occasionally violent, and he's a nightmare for the authority figures who try to keep him under control. But all he really is underneath the feisty façade is a little boy looking for a parent to love him, and we come to care deeply for Cyril in a way that we rarely do for movie characters. There's never a moment in Doret's performance that feels contrived or false; he simply makes Cyril a living, breathing character before our eyes, and our heart breaks for him.

Best Lead Actress

10 – Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

Jennifer Lawrence's acclaimed performances to date have shown us a young woman determinedly standing up to whatever the world can throw at her, but Silver Linings Playbook gave her new notes to play. She plays Tiffany with an unpredictable screwball energy that enlivens the whole picture, but never loses sight of the pain the character has suffered in the past. It's a dazzling whirlwind of a performance, with Lawrence giving it a fiery, sharp-edged undertone that sets it apart from all other recent romantic comedy heroines.

9 – Charlize Theron (Young Adult)

The character Charlize Theron plays in Young Adult is a monstrous creation. Mavis Gary is cold, narcissistic, selfish, cruel and Machiavellian. Theron gives a carefully nuanced performance that shows us how truly desperate and lonely this character is for all her posturing, but she doesn't try to soften her or make her more likable for the audience. It's a smart and adventurous piece of acting from this terrific actress; a performance that can make you cringe and laugh in equal measure, often simultaneously.

8 – Cécile de France (The Kid With a Bike)

Why does Samantha take an interest in Cyril? Why does she take him in and persevere through his violent outbursts? Perhaps because she is simply a good woman who can't bear to see a young boy suffer without reaching out to help. Cécile de France's performance in this role is one of 2012's quietest but most deeply effective pieces of acting. As ever in the Dardennes' films, it feels like the actor is living the role, not just playing it, and her deepening love for the boy is evident throughout. For the simple act of opening her heart to this troubled child, Samantha is one of the year's most heroic characters.

7 – Nina Hoss (Barbara)

Barbara is a gripping exploration of paranoia and suspicion in 1980s East Germany, and director Christian Petzold is smart enough to let Nina Hoss's face tell much of the story. As the doctor with a past that hangs over her like a dark cloud, Hoss is reticent and remote, fearful of getting close to anyone or opening up in a world where revealing too much about oneself can be costly. Hoss is an intelligent, watchful presence and Petzold (in their fifth feature together) utilises her unusual beauty to brilliant effect.

6 – Nadezhda Markina (Elena)

Elena is a dutiful wife, trying to do the best she can for her family in trying circumstances. She has married into wealth but her husband frowns upon Elena supporting her own lower-class family with his money. When the situation pushes her to take a desperate action, Andrei Zvyagintsev shoots the critical moment in a single take, which is where the brilliance of Nadezhda Markina's performance comes to the fore. The variety of emotions captured by subtle changes in her face and body language in this sequence is staggering. It's a shocking rupture in the film, but Markina manages to maintain our fascination with – and sympathy for – Elena.

5 – Lola Créton (Goodbye First Love)

Goodbye First Love covers a decade in the life of its characters but Lola Créton, who plays Camille, doesn't alter much physically in that time. Nevertheless, something does change in her, something almost imperceptible that Mia Hansen-Løve's camera manages to find and draw out of her. Créton is achingly vulnerable and a slave to her tempestuous emotions, but this fine young actress charts her gradual maturation with the most subtle but resonant details. Her role requires her to suggest Camille's inner conflict without recourse to dialogue and she achieves this wondrously.

4 – Suzanne Clément (Laurence Anyways)

Laurence Anyways is a story about a man who wants to become a woman, but it's also the story of the women who loves that man, and how she copes with the changing nature of their relationship. Suzanne Clément had a small role in Xavier Dolan's debut film but this performance is a real announcement of her talent. Fred is torn by her love for Laurence and her insecurity about what that love means, and she portrays Fred's gnawing self-doubt brilliantly, exploding with pent-up rage in one extraordinary scene. Dolan's camera loves her, and she responds with a thrillingly intense performance.  

3 – Golshifteh Farahani (About Elly)

The film suggests that it's about Elly, but really it's about Sepideh, who is played by Golshifteh Farahani. She's the one who decides to play matchmaker and invite her single friend Elly on a group weekend away, and she's the one whose lies create a bewildering web of deceit when a tragic twist turns their brief vacation on its head. Sepideh is a well-meaning character but every decision she makes somehow seems to make things worse, and Farahani is particularly brilliant in the film's gripping climactic scenes, when the full moral weight of the drama is resting on her shoulders.

2 – Aggeliki Papoulia (Alps)

Aggeliki Papoulia was a standout performer in Yorgos Lanthimos' incredible breakthrough film Dogtooth, and her second collaboration with the director showcases another extraordinary piece of acting. In a film about people who play roles for a living, Papoulia has the most demanding task of all, playing the nurse who gets so deep into her surrogate life that she starts to lose sight of her own real life. She is brilliant at delivering dialogue in the flat, almost robotic register that Lanthimos demands, and when she breaks down towards the end of the film – desperately reciting the lines she has learned – it's almost like watching a machine malfunction, its sole purpose in life having been snatched away.

1 – Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)

People often talk of actors being brave in their performances, but how can we talk in such a way again after watching Emmanuelle Riva in Amour? This is a performance of extraordinary courage; a woman in her 80s giving herself fully to an elderly character's slow decline towards death. Watching her in distress is all the more devastating because we see at the start of the film what a luminous presence Riva still possesses, but in the scenes of her body gradually failing her she doesn't display a hint of vanity. This is an astounding, dignified, peerless piece of work from a great actress, and it's a performance that I don't think I'll ever be able to forget.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 in Review - The Supporting Performances of the Year

Best Supporting Actor

10 – Yayan Ruhian (The Raid)

As Iko Uwais fights his way to the top of a tower block in The Raid, few of the henchman he defeats make a last impression, but Yayan Ruhian's Mad Dog is a formidable foe. A man who lives for hand-to-hand combat and doesn't like guns because they're too quick and easy, Mad Dog is at the centre of the film's most spectacular sequences and Ruhian brings an intensity and relish to the role that steals the movie.

9 –Christopher Walken (Seven Psychopaths)

I'm not a fan of Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths but the writer/director did at least create a role perfectly tailored to Christopher Walken's unique gifts. As one of the film's psychopathic characters, Walken provides a stillness that contrasts refreshingly with the more manic turns around him, while his distinctive cadence makes the most of McDonagh's dialogue, and he even invests his role with an unexpected note of pathos. It often feels like Walken's Hans is the one element of the film that's grounded in reality.

8 – Paul Giamatti (Cosmopolis)

Diary extracts from a character called Benno are scattered throughout Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis, but in his film adaptation David Cronenberg saves the character for the end. As played by Paul Giamatti, he's a pathetic, sweaty, shambling figure desperate to do something to make his life count. In so many ways he's the antithesis of Robert Pattinson's protagonist, which is part of what makes their climactic face-off so compelling to watch.

7 – Thomas Haden Church (Killer Joe)

Ansel Smith is a guy who just wants to sit back, drink beers and have a quiet life. He's a slow-witted character, always a step behind the action, and Thomas Haden Church's hilarious line readings are perfect for this role. His increasing bewilderment at the craziness that surrounds him is a pleasure to watch, and he manages to eke out a laugh from the smallest gestures – notably his look of dismay as his one decent suit starts to fall apart at a critical moment.

6 – Jean-Pierre Darroussin (Le Havre)

It makes me very happy that Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Aki Kaurismäki have finally found each other. Surely this actor was always destined to be part of the Finnish director's world? In Le Havre, he plays Inspector Monet, a detective looking for an African boy who has entered the country illegally. But this being an Aki Kaurismäki film, he isn't searching for the child with any great sense of urgency, and Darroussin's performance indicates the depths of humanity and kindness that lurk beneath the detective's severe demeanour.

5 – Jeremy Irons (Margin Call)

"There are three ways to make a living in this business: be first, be smarter, or cheat." John Tuld is the CEO of a Manhattan investment firm on the verge of collapse and he's determined to do whatever it takes to get out clean before the roof falls in on him. He hires underlings to make him money through means he doesn't understand, but he'll cut them off at the knees if it suits him to. Tuld's dog-eat-dog philosophy of survival is at the heart of JC Chandor's smart drama, and Irons' sly, cynical, aloof performance constitutes his best screen acting in years.

4 – James Gandolfini (Killing Them Softly)

As one of the many unpleasant lowlifes who we find in Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly, James Gandolfini gives perhaps the seediest performance of the lot. He's a past-it hitman whose indulgence in booze and prostitutes have dulled his edges, but he still talks a good game and reacts angrily to any suggestion that he can't do his job. He's a despicable figure, but his fixation on a hooker he knew for a couple of weeks – a fixation he thinks is love – gives his character some texture, and his scene with Pitt in a hotel room is one of the film's highlights.

3 – Aris Servetalis (Alps)

Aris Servetalis plays the leader of the group mysteriously known as Alps. He calls himself Mont Blanc – the biggest mountain in the range – and he maintains strict control over his colleagues, with his initially meek manner hiding darker sadistic tendencies. Servetalis can cut a ridiculous figure at times, notably when he very seriously attempts to impersonate Bruce Lee, but there's an undercurrent of threat in his performance that imbues the film with an unsettling sense of tension.

2 – Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike)

Dallas in Magic Mike is surely the role that Matthew McConaughey was born to play. As the leader of a group of male strippers, McConaughey willingly spoofs his own bare-chested, bongo-playing image but he also inhabits the character to a degree that we haven't seen before. His full-bodied physical performance and drawling vocal patterns make Dallas into a distinctive, fascinating character; part impressive, part sad, part creepy, often hilarious.

1 – Mihály Kormos (The Turin Horse)

"The heavens are already theirs, and theirs are all our dreams. Theirs is the moment, nature, infinite silence. Even immortality is theirs, you understand? Everything, everything is lost forever!"

There isn't a lot of dialogue in The Turin Horse so perhaps it's unsurprising that its most verbose character has such a scene-stealing effect. Kormos turns up after just over an hour of Béla Tarr's final film, a neighbour seeking a bottle of palinka, and he informs the inhabitants of the house that the town has blown away. He then sits down and delivers a riveting monologue that prophesises an impending apocalypse, the camera slowly moving in on his stern face and piercing eyes as he does so. When the man he's talking to dismisses his statement he simply shrugs, picks up his bottle and walks away, but having been on screen for less than ten minutes, Mihály Kormos has made an indelible impact on the film.

Best Supporting Actress

10 – Alicia Vikander (Anna Karenina)

Although the central love story in Anna Karenina (between an overstretched Keira Knightly and a miscast Aaron Taylor-Johnson) didn't work for me, there was a very touching relationship developing in the background of the film that proved to be its saving grace. As Kitty, Alicia Vikander brings a vital emotional weight to the film and her developing relationship with Domhnall Gleeson's Levin resonates in a way that too much of the film doesn't.

9 – Megalyn Echikunwoke (Damsels in Distress)

I'll be honest. I can't recall that much about Megalyn Echikunwoke's overall performance in Damsels in Distress, and she's largely here on the strength of one line. Throughout Whit Stillman's film, her character haughtily defines most male behaviour she sees as being "a playboy or operator move." The measured tone of her delivery is perfectly pitched, and while some might think this gag suffered from the law of diminishing returns, it had me in hysterics every single time.

8 – Amy Adams (The Master)

The Master is a film about various forms of control, and in a couple of short but telling scenes we see how Lancaster Dodd's wife Peggy may be the true power behind the throne. Adams' trademark sweet wholesomeness is the perfect cover for this character, who reveals more of her domineering strength and determination in private moments. She's also responsible for one of the most startling scenes in the film, when we see her aggressively administering a handjob to keep her husband in check.

7 – Nicole Beharie (Shame)

Throughout much of Shame, we see Michael Fassbender's sex addict having encounters with women but not connecting, and then he meets Marianne, who seems to get under his skin in a way the others can't. Nicole Beharie's relaxed, subtly seductive performance warms up the character of Brandon and provides a small oasis of pleasure in a cold film. It's a shame that Beharie was excluded from Fox Searchlight's awards campaign last year, as she gives the most memorable performance in the film.

6 – Alice Barnole (House of Tolerance)

Alice Barnole's Madeleine is a prostitute working in the 19th century Parisian brothel L'Apollonide. After her face is mutilated by a client she fears her ability to earn money through sex has been cruelly curtailed, but soon her freakish appearance becomes a prized asset, with her being paraded for wealthy clients as The Woman Who Laughs. Barnole's mostly silent portrayal of this character makes her an enigmatic, intriguing, moving figure, and her eye-watering dream sequence is one of the most striking film images of the year.

5 – Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises)

The Dark Knight Rises was a bloated, lumbering film but in Anne Hathaway's Catwoman it had at least one element that felt alive. Hathaway gave the film a vital sense of wit and sensuality (two things Christopher Nolan seems chronically averse to) and created a character who was instantly more interesting and more engaging than any of the men tiresomely shouting around her. With this film and Les Misérables, it's just a shame that these fine Hathaway performances are being showcased in such terrible pictures.

4 – Sami Gayle (Detachment)

Tony Kaye's film about America's failing school system isn't subtle, but it has a fierce emotional punch and he draws knockout performances from his eclectic cast. The best of these might be from the one of the least-known actors, teenager Sami Gayle as a young prostitute who bonds with Adrien Brody's troubled teacher. Gayle's disarming turn makes us instantly care about her character's fate, making her a fully realised character beyond the cliché her role might have been, and her climactic scenes in the film are extraordinarily powerful.

3 – Sarah Gadon (Cosmopolis)

The language in Cosmopolis is strange, cryptic and it requires a particular method of delivery, and few of the cast adapted to this as well as Sarah Gadon. She plays Eric Packer's wife, although she still hasn't yet him have sex with her, and their meetings in the film result in some of the picture's finest scenes. The beautiful Gadon's distant and playful performance makes her a perfect partner for Robert Pattinson, and she also gets to deliver one of the year's most memorable lines, telling her husband, "You absolutely reek of sexual discharge."

2 – Juno Temple (Killer Joe)

Juno Temple has been turning in promising performances in films for a couple of years now, but this is her breakthrough. In Killer Joe she's the coquettish, childlike object of desire around whom the whole movie revolves, and Temple's knockout performance makes her delicate, damaged but dangerous too. The relationship between this unhinged character and Matthew McConaughey's sleazy, vicious killer is the twisted heart of this film, and together they make 2012's weirdest screen couple.

1 – Ariane Labed (Alps)

The gymnast played by Ariane Labed in Alps is the weakest member of the group and she isn't even referred to by name like the others (She is described as "The little one"), but Labed's extraordinary performance ensures she is never entirely pushed to the sidelines. As I've re-watched Alps I have become increasingly drawn to Labed's quiet yearning for acceptance and fear of failure, much of which she expresses through her eyes or twitchy body language, and the touching simplicity of her sole desire – to dance to a pop song. Her skill in making the gymnast an empathetic character is what makes the final shot of the film so perfect.

2012 in Review - The Worst Films of the Year

10 – Prometheus

For months the hype was deafening, so perhaps Prometheus was always destined to be a disappointing experience, but even if the film had snuck in under the radar I'm sure plenty of viewers would have felt let down by this shoddy and redundant Alien prequel. Ridley Scott's return to the series set out to explore the origins of the Space Jockey glimpsed in his 1979 film (a sighting surely more effective because of the mystery surrounding it), but the film's screenplay is a shocking mess that wastes a more than capable cast. From an ambitious opening section that suggested an attempt to explore mankind's genesis, Prometheus rapidly devolves into a series of grisly encounters and dull chases through corridors, with the characters paying the price for stupid decisions dictated by the screenwriters' half-considered whims. As I watched the film's rickety foundations collapse in the tired, effects-driven climax, I longed for a summer film with the intelligence, suspense and craft of...well...Alien, but few people are capable of making films like that anymore, least of all Ridley Scott.

9 – Albert Nobbs

Every actor has his or her passion project, the one story they're desperate to tell, but what on earth motivated Glenn Close to spend thirty years attempting to bring this tale to the screen? In Albert Nobbs she plays the title character, a woman posing as a manservant in 19th century Dublin. She dreams of owning a tobacco shop (we know this because she starts muttering about it in every idle moment) and she also appears to have vague dreams about marrying Mia Wasikowska. In truth, it's hard to know what exactly the perennially confused and tight-lipped Albert wants, and when a film has been in development for three decades, one might expect the lead character to be a little better defined. Ultimately, Close is overshadowed by Janet McTeer, who gives a commendably barnstorming turn as a fellow woman-in-disguise who happens to find work at the same establishment as Albert, while simultaneously making us wonder if any men in Dublin at this time were really men. McTeer reveals her secret to Albert and the audience by flashing her massive breasts in the film's second funniest scene, pipped only by a later sequence in which the pair wander clumsily out onto the streets wearing ludicrous dresses. I fear I may be making this dreadfully misguided film sound a lot more entertaining than it is, but don't be fooled. Aside from those brief comic highlights, it's a dreary and baffling picture.

8 – Seven Psychopaths

After making an impressive debut with the flawed but hugely entertaining In Bruges, Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths exposes all of his weaknesses and few of his virtues. Like Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation, the film is very much about its own construction, with Colin Farrell's boozy screenwriter repeatedly getting sidetracked as he attempts to work on a script called Seven Psychopaths, but it lacks Adaptation's organic or heartfelt qualities. The film is built upon a series of cocky, rapid-fire gags but the impact of McDonagh's often sharp dialogue is undermined by the nastiness of the film's violence and a dismaying misogyny (poor Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko and Gabourey Sidibe - all wasted) which is hardly excused by McDonagh spoofing his own inability to write female characters. Seven Psychopaths continues to try and top itself scene on scene with increasingly outlandish fantasy sequences and bloody confrontations, but it never feels like more than a collection of underdeveloped ideas in a self-consciously clever postmodern package; the kind of movie that belongs in the late-1990s and feels very tired now. The smart and talented McDonagh is capable of much better than this, and so is his cast, of whom only Christopher Walken seems to know exactly what he's doing and why.

7 – Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

People asked if it was "too soon" for a film like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which is built around the tragedy of 9/11, but that wasn't the right question to ask. The question should have been whether or not the film was good enough, smart enough, subtle enough to earn the right to incorporate those real-life events into its narrative, and on those terms it completely fails. The story involves a 9 year-old autistic boy who attempts to make sense of his father's death in the World Trade Centre by traversing New York on a quest to find the meaning behind the word "Black", found in an envelope in his father's personal effects. All of this is drawn from Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, but to make sense of such a ridiculous tale in a two-hour film would require a skill and sensitivity that appears to be far beyond Stephen Daldry's capability. He milks every moment for mawkish effect, as if determined to extract tears from the audience through sheer force, but because every development feels so forced and phony, its emotional pull remains easily resistible. Ultimately, however, it's the misuse of 9/11 that amplifies the film's many flaws and turns a bad film into an offensive one. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the kind of film that needed to be handled with great tact – instead it's the kind of film that makes a visual motif out of Tom Hanks falling from the burning towers in slow-motion.

6 – The Raven

The Raven begins with a potentially interesting idea: in the last few days before his mysterious death, Edgar Allen Poe is forced to investigate murders that have been inspired by his own writings. Unfortunately, potentially interesting is as far as this idea goes, thanks to the lousy execution by the consistently terrible James McTeague. Taking on a role that really required a crazed Nicolas Cage-style energy to enliven the whole production, John Cusack brings a dour seriousness to the film, which makes the sight of him frantically running around and shouting "EMILY!" at the top of his voice unintentionally amusing. Beneath the Poe hook, The Raven is nothing more than a familiar serial killer tale, with one nonsensical clue leading to another until the inevitable "surprise" twist reveals the true villain of the piece as someone both (a) entirely unsurprising and (b) entirely uninteresting. The Raven is a cheap-looking production, from the bland sets and lighting to the poorly conceived CGI blood that spurts unconvincingly across the screen throughout. Given how fascinating Poe was in reality, there's something particularly depressing about the appropriation of his image for such cack-handed, straight-to-video fare as this.

5 – Rampart

A dirty LA Cop written by James Ellroy, a second collaboration with the director who helped him win an Oscar nomination – it's easy to see why Woody Harrelson jumped at the opportunity to play Dave "Date Rape" Brown. He seems to be having a whale of a time at the centre of this movie, but where's our reward for spending time in this loathsome character's company? After his understated collaboration with Oren Moverman on The Messenger, the first striking aspect of Rampart is how unrestrained everything is. Both Harrelson's oversized performance and Moverman's unspeakably ugly direction (canted angles, garish lighting, 360 pans, fish-eye lenses, the lot) are constantly calling attention to themselves, but perhaps they're only attempting to distract from the emptiness at the film's heart. Rampart fails as a character study because its protagonist is an empty vessel and we gain no insight into his behaviour for all of the shouting, womanising and vomiting we bear witness to; and it fails as a drama because the murky plot grows less interesting with every layer of corruption and every additional character. Finally – mercifully – the film just ends in an abrupt manner that suggests everyone involved realised they had wasted enough of our time already.

4 – Where Do We Go Now?

I suppose you have to give Nadine Labaki points for ambition. After making a charming debut with the modestly scaled Caramel, the Lebanese filmmaker's second feature is a lively musical comedy that suggests sectarian conflict would become a thing of the past if women were in placed in charge. Sadly, Labaki's reach has exceeded her grasp to an embarrassing degree, and Where do We Go Now? is a excruciating failure. Set in a small, remote village, the film consists of a series of wacky set-pieces through which the village's female inhabitants hope to quell the religious tension driving its Christian and Muslim menfolk to acts of tit-for-tat violence. The notions include, damaging the village's only TV so they can't watch the news, drugging them into subservience with hash cakes, creating fake miracles and even commandeering a troupe of travelling Ukrainian strippers to keep them occupied. Labaki plays it all as broad as possible, but every comic sequence hits the ground with a resounding thud and her treatment of the thematically thorny subject matter is too glib for the jarring segues into tragedy to work. This irksome film quickly becomes almost intolerable, and even the appealing presence of Labaki on screen (the one place she always seems comfortable) can't mitigate for such an accumulation of disastrously misconceived ideas.

3 – 360

Positioned late in the year as a potential 2011 awards contender, with a Toronto premiere and the London Film Festival's opening night slot, 360 finally limped into UK cinemas this August having been quickly forgotten by all the unfortunate souls who endured it. A preposterously tedious and bloated update of Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde (already immortalised onscreen by Ophüls), Peter Morgan's screenplay traverses the globe to tell a number of bland stories that occasionally cross paths with the kind of subtlety that involves two characters actually driving around Vienna's Ringstraße to reemphasise the circular nature of the narrative. The cast hardly seem engaged by such mundane material and most of them sleepwalk their way through the picture, with the exception being Ben Foster, who sweats up a storm as a twitchy sex offender trying to resist temptation in the film's most ludicrous segment. The filmmakers even seem to forget about Jude Law and Rachel Weisz's unhappy marriage halfway through the picture, and who can blame them? If you'd said ten years ago that City of God director Fernando Meirelles could turn in a film as listless and hollow as this, few would have believed it, but he is a man on a seemingly irrevocable downward slide. One can only hope that 360 is rock bottom.

2 – Ted

Seth McFarlane didn't tinker with a proven formula when he made the transition from television to cinema this summer. Ted's blend of taboo humour, pop culture references and non-sequiturs will be familiar to anyone who has seen McFarlane's Family Guy, and the character of Ted himself (voiced by McFarlane) even sounds like Peter Griffin. In fact, if often seems as if Ted exists solely to house a number of gags that McFarlane couldn't get into his TV shows, and so the film plays like a series of one-liners and references loosely connected by a threadbare, unimaginative narrative. The fact that none of this is amusing (I know humour is subjective, but the setup and delivery of many jokes here is objectively bad) is one thing, but the most dispiriting aspect of Ted is how cheap its humour is. The film trades in homophobia, misogyny and racism, and while McFarlane may claim to be an equal opportunities offender, I think the lack of satirical purpose or thoughtfulness behind his jokes (in comparison to that displayed by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, for example) is extremely troubling. He attacks gays, women and ethnic minorities for the same reason he randomly throws in jokes about Brandon Routh or Taylor Lautner – not because he's "brave" or "subversive" but because it's easy. Many comedies are unfunny, but few are as mean-spirited and ugly as Ted.

1 – Project X

Party plans going awry are a staple of the teen comedy and it seems Project X set out to be the last word on the matter. It begins with three unpopular teens throwing a party intended to earn them the respect of their peers, and it ends with widespread destruction, the event having quickly spiralled out of control. That's about all there is to it, though, numerous scenes of idiotic teenagers partying and getting drunk before they start to destroy property; and if that doesn't sound unpleasant enough, consider the fact that this is a "found footage" movie. Much of the footage is shot by an offscreen character enlisted to record this momentous night, and the rest is drawn from various mobile phones carried by the partygoers, but this unnecessary and distracting contrivance is handled with astonishing incompetence. But the most repellent aspect of Project X is its trio of leading characters, who are astoundingly obnoxious and whose responsibility-free antics play out with little or no consequences. The film has no wit, no charm, no humanity, no narrative development, no point. Enduring 90 minutes at this party is a truly hellish experience and one that makes me despair for America's youth if this is the standard of entertainment being set for them. Project X opens with a fake apology aimed at the residents of the neighbourhood we are about to see being ruined, but by the end of the film I felt like the audience deserved a real apology.

Dishonourable mentions Coriolanus; The Dark Knight Rises; The Descendants; Elles; Gambit; Grassroots; The Hunger Games; Love Crime; This Must Be The Place; Trishna