Happy new year everyone! I’ve been away from the blog for a little while but I’m looking forward to catching up on all of the reviews you’ve been posting on your blogs in the last few weeks. I hope you all had a great break and I’d like to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who’s taken the time to read this blog over the last twelve months!

2012 was a great year for cinema and with awards season looming, I thought I’d take a look back at the year’s film highlights. This is a personal list so I’ve chosen the films I enjoyed the most, that inspired me and left me wanting more. As I’m in the UK, I’m also working with the UK release schedule, so some of you might have seen a few of these as far back as 2011! So here goes, my big countdown of 2012. Click on the film titles if you would like to read my full reviews.

20. Lawless

Based upon bootlegging legends surrounding the Bondurant brothers in depression-era Virginia, there’s plenty of room for embellishment and drama in Lawless. John Hillcoat’s film features top notch performances from both Tom Hardy and Jessica Chastain, along with original songs from the film’s screenwriter Nick Cave.

Zoe Kazan’s creative, sharp and intelligent script is the foundation for this entertaining and addictive romantic comedy. As the film takes a darker turn, Paul Dano excels as the controlling and increasingly desperate boyfriend, Calvin.

18. Brave

The first feminist Disney film, Brave might not be the funniest Pixar offering but its story is one of the most forward thinking. Focussing on the often intense mother-daughter dynamic, Brave offers true independence for its heroine. Brave also makes plenty of bold visual advances.

Ben Affleck might have cemented his position as an acclaimed director with his intense and suspenseful historical drama, Argo, but for me, Headhunters is the must see thriller of the year. Rapid pace, interesting characters and unpredictable, high impact action sequences make Headhunters a complex, immersive and frequently horrifying thriller.

Christopher Nolan concludes his trilogy with finesse. With some great additions to the cast that includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy, The Dark Knight Rises has a convincing villain that provides a credible threat to Christian Bale’s Batman. Plus there’s that incredible score from Hans Zimmer.

Ralph Fiennes’ outstanding directorial debut is a powerful and relevant re-telling of Shakespeare’s rarely performed tragedy. Set in the modern day and filmed in Serbia, cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (Hurt Locker) brings his experience of filming modern warfare with superb results. Surprisingly easy to follow, the meaning of the dialogue is conveyed beautifully by an accomplished cast (Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain, Vanessa Redgrave).

14. The Angel’s Share

Ken Loach gives us a meaningful feel good film for hard times in this comedy drama about a group of young people on community service who find hope in the world’s love of single malt whisky. Comic and moving in equal measure, The Angel’s Share won the Jury Prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.

13. Rust And Bone

Marion Cotillard gives a knock-out performance in this French drama about a woman who loses both her legs. It’s a story filled with pain and hope, beautifully shot by Stephane Fontaine (A Prophet).

As a study of cult behaviour, Martha Marcy May Marlene feels infinitely more powerful than The Master. Olsen is mesmerising as the deeply troubled victim of cult leader, Patrick’s (John Hawkes) mind games. Backed by a striking and eclectic soundtrack that features songs performed by John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene is terrifyingly dark.

11. The Hunt

A well timed film about public reactions to accused pedophiles, this Danish film from Thomas Vinterberg follows an innocent man tortured by his community. Mads Mikkelson oozes skill and screen presence in this complex role.

This stylish, meaty and darkly comic crime drama from Andrew Dominik (The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Tom Ford) features a scene stealing performance from James Gandolfini as a washed up hit man called in to clean up after a card game is robbed. Subtle and deliberate, Killing Them Softly is intelligent and thought provoking.

This beautifully told story about long distance romance is written and directed by Drake Doremus who elicits impeccable improvised performances from his competent cast (Felicity Jones, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence). Doremus creates a sense of intimacy with his characters that makes for an uncomfortable but satisfyingly honest film about the anxiety and despair of separation.

8. Jeff, Who Lives At Home

Jason Segel and Ed Helms are perfectly cast in this film about a stunted twenty-something and his (seemingly) successful brother. Family members reconnect as Jeff searches for the purpose of his life. Backed by philosophical rumination from eclectic sources including M. Night Shayamalan, Jeff Who Lives A Home is an unusually comforting film about the meaning of life.

7. Samsara

This series of moving images captured on 70mm film and set to an incredible musical score makes for a rare, mesmerizing film that’s beautiful and inspiring. Director Ron Fricke takes his audience on a journey through birth, sexuality and death in this cinematic masterpiece.

The events at the heart of this documentary are worthy of any big-budget blockbuster. With re-enactments that are stylish and captivating, The Imposter’s mystery is unfurled with care and attention to detail that builds breathtaking suspense.

This deeply moving debut film from Dexter Fletcher sensitively explores fatherhood on a South East London estate.  Charlie Creed-Miles gives a remarkable, heart-wrenching performance as Bill, the single parent returning home from prison, and Fletcher gives us more than a few stand out scenes that linger in the memory. There’s also enough comedy in Wild Bill to temper the harsh realities of its characters’ lives.

4. Moonrise Kingdom

Wonderfully imaginative, Wes Anderson captures the innocence of youth and its fabulous possibilities in this quirky childhood romance. Gorgeous cinematography from Andersons’ long time collaborator, Robert D. Yeoman, and a striking score from Alexandre Desplat (Rust And Bone, The Tree Of Life), combined with striking performances from Bruce Willis, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton, make Moonrise Kingdom a captivating and intoxicating visual feast.

3. Shame

Michael Fassbender takes on a deeply troubled character in Steve McQueen’s study of sex addiction and sibling relationships. Impressive direction and cinematography – including that single, long take of an anguished night-time run and those lingering close ups of Carey Mulligan’s mesmerizing piano version of New York, New York – combine to make Shame a courageous, perception changing film that’s constantly gripping.

2. Beasts Of The Southern Wild

An impressive directorial debut from Behn Zeitlin, Beasts Of The Southern Wild features an incredible performance from five year old child actor Quvenzanhe Wallis. Beasts Of The Southern Wild’s beautifully constructed story, with intricate and complicated characters, explores the impact of environmental change on a community living a much simpler life.  The film delivers its messages effortlessly, avoiding condescension, while the struggles of its characters are deeply moving.

Francois Cluzet’s considered performance as the quadriplegic looking for a new care worker is matched only by Omar Sy’s superb comic timing as the unemployed young man he trusts. Cluzet and Sy spar perfectly, giving us characters we long to spend more time with in this remarkably upbeat film about male friendship. The intelligent script from Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano (who also direct) navigates difficult issues with ease, making a familiar story about learning from each others’ experiences shine like new. Hilarious and touching, rarely has a story been better told than this.

I didn’t get chance to see all the films released this year (check out Every Film for the man who took on that challenge and almost won!). Here are the top 5 I wish I’d found time to see. I’ll be checking them out on DVD very soon.

5. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia
4. Berberian Sound Studio
3. Holy Motors
2. Amour
1. Tabu

So there it is, my 2012 top 20. I’m looking forward to another great year of cinema in 2013 – happy viewing to you all!