Tuesday, February 5, 2013

My Top Ten Films of 2012

I have not yet seen Amour, Holy Motors, Anna Karenina, Rust & Bone, and some of these other movies making top ten lists, but of the 99 titles from 2012 I have seen, these were the best.

Best of the Miscellaneous

BEST PERFORMANCE IN A BAD MOVIE - Tom Cruise in Rock of Ages.  Whenever he wasn't on screen, the movie was terrible, but whenever he was, we knew we were basking in the light of one of the coolest guys on the planet.

BEST COMEBACK - Channing Tatum.  We should have seen this coming, since he was the funniest part of The Dilemma.  He was so good in 21 Jump Street that the producers of GI Joe 2 ordered reshoots to not kill his character off in the opening scene.  He managed to star in a movie about male strippers and carry over $100 million domestic, and he kept his chick-flick card in "premium" by starring opposite Rachel McAdams in The Vow.  He'll also co-star in his third Soderbergh collaboration (Side Effects) next year.

SECOND BEST COMEBACK - Matthew McConaughey.  Bernie, Magic Mike, Killer Joe.  Three different characters, save that each wears a cowboy hat at some point.  (Yeah, he was good in The Paperboy too, but the less said about that, the better.)

The Master - If PTA had just given this movie an ending, showed some progression, then I would have loved this.
Prometheus - I rewatched Alien and Aliens after this movie. (I was surprised how closely their rhythms matched).  But they both gave answers.  Basic. Brief.  That's all we ask.  This movie leaves things too ambiguous.  It also casts Guy Pearce as a 90-year-old man.  Why not get an actually old actor who isn't buried under Pruneface make-up?  And So-and-So's death at the end is one of the dumbest I've ever seen.  Other than that, I look forward to the sequel.

The Amazing Spider-Man
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Hope Springs
Jeff Who Lives at Home
Premium Rush
Rise of the Guardians
Snow White & the Huntsman
The Three Stooges

Honorable Mentions (my 21-26, alphabetically):

5 BROKEN CAMERAS - This documentary is filmed almost solely by a Palestinian farmer who became a world-known activist as he documented Israelis taking over their nearby land, then setting up walls and fences and tear-gassing the residents anytime they came too close. It's definitely one-sided but it's not common that we see the Palestinian point of view.

21 JUMP STREET - This movie is one of those surprises. When the trailer debuted I thought it looked awful, but it was arguably the funniest movie of the year.

THE HUNGER GAMES - I recognize its flaws but I don't mind them. Didn't mind the shaky-cam; didn't mind the fact that these people don't look that hungry; didn't mind that Katniss only kills people in self-defense.  I've seen it three times now and hope the sequel can fix the problems of Book 2.

PITCH PERFECT - This does for a cappella what Bring It On did for cheerleading.

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN - Strange journey of a documentary that made me think it was going one place and went somewhere else entirely, to the point I checked Wikipedia while watching the DVD to see if this really happened and isn't some Bansky-style hoax doc.  It's mainly about a couple South Africans who are trying to find out how their favorite musician Rodriguez died.  Rodriguez was a musician in the early 1970's who flopped in his native US, but he was as big as Elvis in South Africa.

THE SESSIONS - John Hawkes is one of those actors who elevates any film he's in, and he gives another tremendous performance here as a man left virtually quadriplegic by polio who sets out to lose his virginity. It's filled with humor and heart.

More Honorable Mentions (my 11-20, alphabetically):

ARBITRAGE - Richard Gere's best work since Chicago, this movie accomplishes exactly what Bonfire of the Vanities could not.  Gere's a millionaire hedge-fund manager cheating on his wife, but somehow we still root for him as he tries to keep his house of cards from falling.

THE AVENGERS - About as good a movie as it possibly could have been, finally Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk and Thor are in the same movie.  Good job by Joss Whedon in keeping the action moving, the dialogue crackling and giving everyone their moment.  Didn't really see why this movie needed Hawkeye, but...

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS - Joss Whedon's puzzle pic is a terrific send-up of pretty much every horror film ever made.

CLOUD ATLAS - This deeply ambitious project may not achieve all its goals, but I found it breathtaking on the big-screen.  It follows six stories across the centuries, with each one loosely - very loosely - connected to the next, and it weaves through each story so that once you get the rhythm, you never get lost.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES - The conclusion to the best superhero trilogy ever made might not be as good as the first two installments, but it's still pretty darn good.  Anne Hathaway was able to mine sexuality I didn't know she had as Catwoman, and all the regulars (Bale, Caine, Oldman, Freeman) get their moments.

END OF WATCH - Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena have great chemistry, the kind where I actually hope the next MTV Movie Awards mentions them.  Probably would have made my top ten if it didn't have 400 F-words.

LES MISERABLES - I liked it.  It definitely had its problems but it also hit some emotional buttons and had some of the best raw acting captured on film this year.  I view it as a companion piece to the stage play.

LIFE OF PI - Visually arresting, narratively challenging work from Ang Lee.  Just one of the most gorgeous movies of the year.

MAGIC MIKE - Steven Soderbergh has abandoned high-minded fare, but he hasn't slipped in quality. This is like Flashdance for male strippers, but with substance and a story.  Tatum's a charming lead, and McConaughey shows up again in a role that would get him a Best Supporting Actor nod in a weaker year. And hey, Alex Pettyfer has finally been made a credible actor.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK - Loved this little gem.  Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence give career-best performances, and Robert DeNiro is the best he's been in a long time.  Casting is the heavy lifting for a film like this, but the chemistry generated afterwards needs to be there, and they have it.

And now...

    ... My Top Ten

10. DJANGO UNCHAINED - Quentin Tarantino is an artist because he makes movies that he would want to see, and he invites audiences to join him on this ride.  Jamie Foxx is fine as Django, a slave seeking to rescue his wife, but it's the supporting cast that chew all the scenery and have all the fun: Christoph Waltz as a good-guy German bounty hunter, Leonardo DiCaprio as a sadistic plantation owner, and especially Samuel L. Jackson as the devious house negro Stephen. QT brings his 1970's exploitation mentality to slavery, but once again, adds more levels than the casual viewer might expect, or might miss due to the cartoonish gore.

9. SKYFALL - It's the best Daniel Craig Bond yet, and easily makes the top five of best Bond films ever.  A large part of that is Javier Bardem as a former agent seeking revenge on M, and it makes it a more personal mission.  We see more of what's behind the aunt-nephew-like relationship of M and 007.  Love the theme song!

8. WRECK-IT-RALPH - Even 8-bit characters can have heart.  This is another home-run for Disney, and it's very Pixarian in the way it weaves together multiple strands to a plot and populates with funny supporting characters and clever throwaway gags.

7. LOOPER - Rian Johnson's futuristic thriller plays with the problems of time travel and keeps twisting the story down paths we don't expect.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt does an amusing impression of young Bruce Willis.

6. LINCOLN - Good ol' Abe finally gets a movie, not counting all the others. One smart decision this movie makes is to not try to tell his life story but focus on one aspect of his presidency and let it illuminate all others.  We see him as president, husband, father, commander-in-chief, cajoler, taskmaster, politician and friend.

5. CHRONICLE - Breathes new life into the found-footage genre, and the superhero genre. Three teens find "something" in the woods and shortly thereafter they develop super powers, one stronger than the others.

4. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER - The best John Hughes movie since Hughes was making them himself.  The three leads are all great, but Emma Watson announces herself here as a true star.

3. ZERO DARK THIRTY - This straight-forward account goes through the ten years between 9/11 and Usama bin Laden getting killed. We see it through the eyes of Maya (Jessica Chastain), a focussed analyst who makes capturing or killing UBL her life's mission.  We get no backstory on her, and so we're like the characters on screen, knowing only what is presented to us (that, and what we remember from the news the past few years).  Pretty sad Kathryn Bigelow wasn't nominated for this.

2. MOONRISE KINGDOM - The most magical tale of the year, and unjustly ignored by most during this awards season, but awards are about publicity and campaigning, and well, that's fine.  This probably surpasses The Royal Tenenbaums as my favorite Wes Anderson movie. (I'll have to see how I feel in a few years).  While it has famous adults (Edward Norton, Bill Murray, etc.), the film's two young star-crossed puppy-lovers are the central reason it works so well.  And hey, Bruce Willis made it into two movies in my top ten!  Didn't see that coming.

1. ARGO - Despite its historical - shall we call it "playfulness" - for dramatic effect, Ben Affleck has delivered a milestone as his third directorial effort. It's no accident that he won the Golden Globe for Best Director and had he been nominated, I'm confident he would've brought the Oscar home for this too.  He stars too, but he always seems generous with his on-screen co-stars.  Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, Clea Duvall, Tate Donovan, Chris Messina, etc., etc., all come together for one great whole, with a story that's suspenseful even though we know how it ends.

So there it is. Did you see any of them?

My worst ten of 2012 are here.

UPDATE: I rented The Perks of Being A Wallflower, and it deserves to be in my top ten. Somewhere.

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