The top 10 films of 2012: Looper

Feature NP Horton 28 Dec 2012 - 07:45

It's our third favourite film of 2011. Nick explains why Rian Johnson's Looper was such a great sci-fi outing...

And we finally arrive at the top three, in our writers' film of the year countdown. It's Joseph Gordon-Levitt's second entry in the top ten too, as we salute Rian Johnson's Looper...

3rd place:

Looper

While 2012 has provided a whole host of cinematic treats, many of the more anticipated movies fell short. For those looking to Prometheus for an original and engaging sci-fi concept, all they got was a confused mess. But fortunately, help was at hand and we were able to embrace a new sci-fi champion – Looper.

Providing one of the most impressive and immersive original film worlds of recent years, Looper took the well-worn time travel plot device and made it seem exciting and new again. Set in a future where criminals send those they want killed into the past, Looper revolves around Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Joe being forced to hunt down and kill his older self, played by Bruce Willis.

Along the way, he also has to evade the attentions of Noah Segan’s Kid Blue, and solve the mystery of the Rainmaker, a future crime-lord who will one day destroy Joe’s world. With two amazing central performances from Levitt and Willis (who seems to excel at time-travel films), and a host of captivating supporting turns from Segan, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels and Paul Dano, Looper was the one film this year that I have recommended time and time again (excuse the sort-of pun), and the one film that genuinely felt like a breath of fresh air in a genre often filled with retreads of material we’ve already seen. For that, Looper is fully deserving of its place in our top 10.

While the time-travel is neatly done and used to expert effect, to call Looper a time-travel movie is to miss the point behind it. Sure, you can work yourself up into knots about the mechanics of it all, and deride it for going off course and being illogical, but where’s the real fun in that? As director Rian Johnson has said in interviews, he worked out the entire system of logic behind the time travel and then figured out how to use as little as possible of it – Looper is more like the The Terminator, where time-travel sets up the situation rather than acts as a puzzle to be solved.

A perfect example of this is the horrific sequence in which Paul Dano’s character is tortured in the present in order to inflict pain on his future self, who's running loose in a time in which he shouldn’t be. If you were to deconstruct this sequence, it’s not going to make a hell of a lot of sense, but cinematically, it’s powerful and memorable. It’s the prefect case of a concept being used to sell a threat, and the filmmaker choosing to do something because it looks great, rather than because it makes sense within the logic of the film. Often, this can go horribly wrong, but in Looper, it results in one of the year’s most terrifying and expertly handled sequences.

Credit must also go to Johnson’s world building. When was the last time such a fully realised fictional environment was created from scratch especially for the screen? Looper does not have 60-plus years of comic book legacy to draw from for its iconography and recognition. Nor is it a sequel or remake of a popular movie, robbing it of any shorthand it can use to sell its world.

Instead, Looper spends time introducing us to its sci-fi concepts and characters. We get to know them and how they live. Both visually and through narration, the world of Looper is crafted and layered for the audience, and the result is a fully formed and believable fiction. This has the effect of generating numerous conversations about the characters we meet – is Kid Blue the younger Jeff Daniels? Probably not, but there are enough clues to make you think twice, and the strength of these two characters makes you care.

The result is that Joe’s story is just one of several you could imagine set in the Looper universe, rather than the be all and end all of that world. The same goes for the future in which the Rainmaker holds sway; while we have glimpses of it, I’d love to spend more time there and explore. Just how does he rule, and what happened to make murders impossible? Looper invites endless debate and conversation.

If you judge a film by how it holds up to repeat viewings, then Looper must rank among the very best, rewarding the viewer with something new each time. Sure, it’s not perfect, with the telekinesis a bit out of place, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s facial prosthetics are distracting in places, but these are very minor quibbles in what is an absolute triumph of plotting, characterisation, design, and spectacle.

Looper was the film in which Rian Johnson fully delivered on the promise he showed with Brick.

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Proper Science Fiction. The films magic lies in the concept, not the special effects. Whilst it wasn't perfect it was certainly one of the best movies of the year.

"It's our third favourite film of 2011." ?? lol

This film was fantastic. Wonderfully written, great acting and a great alternate summer blockbuster. JGL is the best actor in Hollywood at the moment.

Grow up for goodness sake.

I loved this film. It definitely ties with Avengers and, probably, the Hobbit for my favourite of the year! The time-travel mechanic wasn't too much of a quibble for me. I always look at it this way: We don't have time-travel in our world (at least not yet, fingers crossed) so there's no true science or theory to base fiction around. Instead, filmmakers can create their own logic, independent of the ideas created in other time travel media (such as comparing the logic in Looper to the Back to the Future series). I find it quite easy to accept time travel as it is established in each individual work because that's just that particular person's own ideas concerning a non-existent technology.
In conclusion: Looper was friggin' great and anyone yet to watch it needs to fix that!

I am sorry but I cant agree with this at all. It was a very dark, grim depressing film. Think about it for a moment. The lead character is a killer, that kills people for money when they are sent to him, and he has no remorse at all, apart from when his own future self turns up. Its motivated by greed, he wants money no matter what he has to do to get it.
Thats the crux of the film and the message, even if he does redeem himself slightly at the end, he has still killed lots of people, even if some of them are "baddies"

The acting was all very good, true, but the film is so so so VERY depressing, and the ending is a total downer, I felt like doing myself in after watching it.

I can honestly say, I will never watch it again.

Its going on my list of films that had great reviews, but turned out to be either boring, dull, depressing or over rated crap. So far my most recent list has - Skyfall, Looper, Tin Tin and the Secret of the Unicorn. Black Swan and Pirates Band of Misfits on it. I am sure there will be others to come...
I just wish there were more films, where the good guy is good, he wins and then survives and it has something like a happy ending. Maybe I am just getting old and set in my ways though...

i also lol'd.

Excellent film. It's heartening to see a really good time travel movie.

... I love depressing films :)

In a Sci fI movie where the time travel aspect makes no logical sense I cant deny I absolutely loved it. I think the film is elevated by the rather brilliant acting on display (the child actor was an marvel) rather than the plot which doesn't quite hold up if you think too much on it. Defiantly on of the best films this year

It's pretty critical mistake on a professional piece. That, to me, is an amusing error - I don't think it's immature to highlight it.

I predict #2 is Ted and #1 is The Avengers.

Just watched it off the back of the placing.

Far better than I would have ever expected given the premise, even Willis acted! I suspect that in having a young son myself I had more empathy for the predicament than I would have had a few years earlier.

Other people seem to have described it as depressive, I found the ending quite enlightening, redemption for the lead in changing the future, the paradox would therefore be did the other 2 children get killed as he removed his future self.

Best of all a stand alone original sci-fi without a bolt on franchise.

Sorry, but this was one of the worst time travel movies. It has so many plot holes, it's not even funny. It was horrible.

I'm with you, real-life is depressing enough without having fiction making us feel worse. I don't mind a bit of dark, gritty nihilism so long as there's some form of hope or dark humour (Dexter delivers here), but when a film or series is relentlessly depressing I simply can't be bothered wasting my time on it.

Couldn't agree with you more. I found the torture scene pretty upsetting (and I actually like my fair share of gore); it was all done to excellent effect and the acting was brilliant but it was just too grim! Kinda like the Butterfly Effect.

I wouldnt even watch his on TV!

As this article explains brilliantly, this isn't a film about time travel. The time travel is used to engineer the story, rather than actually BEING the story. If you spend the entire film getting hung up on every detail of the time travel logic, you're never going to enjoy any movie about time travel.

Looper was a fast-paced, entertaining thriller with great performances. The time travel didn't always add up, but that didn't matter.

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