Top 26 Films of 2012
Note: I still have yet to see Zero Dark Thirty, The Master, Anna Karenina, Life of Pi, Promised Land, Flight, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Rust and Bone, among others, so this list might undergo some alterations, but this is where it is at this point in time. My anticipation would be that the above films might knock some of the bottom films—especially the bottom five or so—out of the picture altogether, and move some things around up top a slight bit. Still, without further ado, here’s my list:
The latest from Clint Eastwood is a little difficult to swallow in many ways. Underneath the sort of predictable plot is a rather intriguing story, it’s just that it takes too long to get there. Instead, Eastwood does his old man thing and Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake are forced to work a romantic comedy out of this plot. I think if there hadn’t been a need to explore that side and delve deeper into the father/daughter relationship that the film so desperately wanted to be about, this would be a much better outing. Generally entertaining, just not up to Eastwood’s standards.
I was actually pretty excited about this movie going in, as Jeremy Renner is one of my new favorite actors, and I enjoyed Matt Damon’s Bourne films quite a lot. This one, while keeping with the tradition laid out before it, doesn’t take much in the way of risks, leaving us with something that feels a lot like The Bourne Identity with new locations and new actors. Lots of fun, for sure, but seems like we’ve done it before.
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films are obviously important pieces of cinema, so I was excited to see that he was going to complete the story, of sorts, by going back to the beginning. Then it was going to be two films. Now it’s going to be three. I think this film—the first—suffers for the lengthening, as the lack of focus in this installment rings pretty true for me. It’s entirely too long, especially considering they’re adapting a 300 page book into three films, and adding material not in The Hobbit just seems unnecessary. It’s visually stunning, to be sure, but the story isn’t focused enough, and I sort of feel like we’ll look back on the trilogy when it’s over in the summer of 2014 and realize Jackson could have done this with just one film.
Did not expect to like this very much, but it turned out to be a ton of fun, and even managed to have a bit of heart to go along with it. The sound mixing was a little off, as Tom Hardy and company were mumbling throughout the film and were often difficult to comprehend over the sound effects, even when everything else was quiet. The story is certainly interesting, but I wonder if it doesn’t bite off more than it can chew. While it seems that Shia LeBouf’s character is the lead here, the meanderings between the brothers makes it difficult to really tell, making the film a little worse for the wear overall.
While not as big a fan of this romp as I thought I might be based on things I’d heard prior to seeing it (phew, that was a mouthful), I still really enjoyed this movie. It had some interesting things to say about bullying and being true to yourself, which is something that I believe movies aimed at children should be doing. Visually, it has a very cool look, and I continue to marvel at the patience of stop motion animators. I know I couldn’t do it. Overall, ParaNorman is a good movie with things to say, so it certainly should not be missed.
Oh, Les Mis. I’ll admit, I didn’t know exactly what I was walking into when I went to see this on Christmas Day. I knew it was a musical, but I had no idea it was basically an opera. This was not a problem for me necessarily, but what issues I did have with the film are pretty glaring. While I thought the women in the film—especially Anne Hathaway, who should be in the running for a Supporting Actress Oscar, I’d say—were quite excellent, the two main characters, played by Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, lacked something for me. I know that both of these actors sing well, but I don’t feel like the singing required here was within their normal style and I think the film suffers because of it. Both are competent actors fully capable of playing these parts, but in this case, where the singing is pretty much the only way they express the character, I just felt like the performances fell short. The sets and costumes and art direction are all fantastic, but the two lead actors really lost it for me.
This is a quirky one, and a movie that had a lot of traction earlier in the year. So much so that I watched it later in the year with very high expectations. I don’t think it lived up to those, but I did appreciate the tone of this film. I wasn’t sure if it wanted me to take it seriously, or if there was supposed to be a sense that the filmmakers were giving me a sly wink all the way through. In any respect, I enjoyed this one enough to give it mention here.
As I understand it, this movie sat around for a while after it was shot. I’m not really sure why, as you would think that a movie with Judd Apatow’s name on it these days would be a selling point. I was actually pleased to find that this movie wasn’t quite as dependent on the gross out humor that Apatow is famous for, instead presenting a rather sweet love story about people who can’t quite get the timing right. Granted, the ending is predictable, but Jason Segal and Emily Blunt really make the characters work, and the ending is really fantastic, even if you saw the bare bones of it coming the whole time.
With this and In Bruges, Martin McDonagh is setting himself up as a wacky, fun filmmaker who, in the midst of it all, has a few things to say about human nature along the way. Probably one of the zanier movies I saw all year, McDonagh has a Tarantino-esque style to his dialogue and action pieces, but somehow it seems very much his own. In many ways, this movie is also the funniest movie of the year, as its absurdity keeps you guessing, as you’re trying to follow the plot. The actors are really great here, especially Sam Rockwell and Colin Farrell, and of course, the always dependable Christopher Walken.
Somewhere, Quentin Norris is crying about this movie. Still. Whether or not you thought this movie “needed” to be made is, to me, rather irrelevant. It was made and so as viewers we can decide either to watch it and enjoy it, watch it and hate it or not watch it. These are opinions and we are entitled to them. For my money, this might be the best Spider-Man movie yet. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are major steps up from Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, and something about having Mark Webb at the helm really allows for the humanity of the story to come through in a way that Sam Raimi’s versions didn’t (save for maybe Spider-Man 2, but it’s not close otherwise). Did the world need another Spider-Man origin story? Probably not, but I, for one, enjoyed the film we got.
A lot of the early hype of this year was floating around another Mark Duplass film, Safety Not Guaranteed, which I saw and thought was interesting, but struggled with putting it here or not. In the end, this movie was more thoughtful and enticing than Safety because of the humanity of the story. The feeling of loneliness felt by each of these characters is a tribute to the work of the actors (Duplass, Emily Blunt—again really brilliant, and Rosemarie Dewitt), and in that way, it is really well done. The story starts to get a little strange towards the end, but the acting is so top notch, it is a film that is impossible to overlook.
Pixar stumbled a little bit last year with Cars 2, but of course for Pixar stumbling doesn’t take much of a misstep. With Brave, however, the company is back on its game, presenting a truly human story through a fairy tale that feels very traditional but with modern twists. Their first female heroine is a major win, and the landscapes created by those computers just seem to get better with each film. Glad to see Pixar back on top.
I do not understand what people disliked so much about this movie. What I saw was a very moving story about two people who didn’t want to be alone as the world is literally coming to an end. The romance of it all felt a little disconcerting at first, but after consideration and really taking in the finale of the story, it makes perfect sense. Steve Carrell continues to prove that he is an engaging and thoughtful actor who, if he so chooses, could make these comedic dramas his thing for the rest of his life (also see last year’s Crazy Stupid Love for further proof). It’s not the most technically sound film, nor is it going to wow anyone with its special effects or visual elements, but the story, and the actors (Kiera Knightly should not be overlooked here, she’s quite charming and funny) make this a movie worth seeing.
I’ll be honest: up until Inglorious Basterds, I was more or less not sold on the so-called brilliance of Quentin Tarantino. I found his directing style over the top and his violence unnecessarily graphic, to the point where it’s unbelievable. While Basterds, with its curious pseudo-historical plotline and great performances from Brad Pitt and Chrisoph Waltz, brought me into the QT camp, Django is throwing me for a loop. It might be Tarantino’s most unflinching film yet in terms of content. It certainly covers territory he’s never treaded on before, and it definitely never bats an eye at the langague (which, in spite reports, feels to me like it’s historically accurate) and the violence in the film. And Leonardo DiCaprio is in top form, with a lunacy hidden underneath until just the right time. If nothing else, Django is vintage Tarantino, and definitely is entertaining.
Here’s another film I did not see coming. From the looks of it and from reading a little bit about it, I was intrigued enough to pick it up at the Redbox and I’m very glad that I did. This is a film that all writers should see, because it is really about the power of words and the power a writer has to create “life.” Paul Dano is really excellent as the lead character here, a novelist who had a break out hit with his debut and now can’t seem to figure out how to write novel #2. So he creates Ruby and she, through the ever-adorable Zoe Kazan, comes to life. The film is about as quirky as it sounds, and although it makes a few moves that feel uncomfortable and odd, it really has a lot to say about this idea of creation and the power that is has. I was really moved by it, and think any writer friends I have would feel the same.
This is where the list started to get really difficult (and could get even more so if any of the films listed above prove to be as good as expected), because each and every one of the films from 1-11 were films that I really liked this year. The problem was that the rationale for liking them was based on different criteria depending on the film. Suffice it to say, this top 11 could be moveable.
Not only is the highest grossing film of the year, it’s also one of the most entertaining. It managed to take all that was great about the other films before it (save, of course, for The Incredible Hulk, due mostly to the change in actors) and make them work. It’s really funny throughout—especially Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark—and the action set pieces are great. It’s difficult to do an ensemble piece like this and really make it feel like all the actors and characters are an integral part of the story; but save for a few exceptions (Jeremy Renner is a little underused, for example), the ensemble plays off each other so well, it’s a joy to watch. Also, it makes me want shawarma.
If the top ten is any indication, this is the year that I realized how much I like Jennifer Lawrence. Not only is she easy on the eyes, she’s really quite talented. Her Katniss is pitch perfect, as she manages to convey the toughness of a girl who really would rather not be tough, but does so because she has to. The camera work here was at first a little off-putting, but once I settled in, I realized it was the perfect choice for a first-person narrative. The violence is mostly off camera, but it is there enough to sell the point. Also, I really felt that the way certain plot elements of the book were incorporated into the movie in order to shorten some of the necessary back story were really thoughtful (i.e. the Mockingjay pin). Overall, I was quite happy with this adaptation and am really looking forward to the rest of the series.
This is probably the most original film of the year, as Rian Johnson proves once again his superb talent as a storyteller. So far with Brick and The Brothers Bloom, I’ve loved everything he’s done, and Looper now proves to a larger audience the power of this writer/director’s voice. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is proving himself to be one of the more reliable actors working today, and Bruce Willis comes through big time here (probably his best dramatic work since The Sixth Sense), and once again, Emily Blunt is fantastic (John Krazinski is a lucky man). The best part is, the story manages to hold up in spite an impassioned desire by many to tear it apart. Johnson’s screenplay is interesting and always keeps you guessing and will certainly have you talking once it’s over.
I must say, this section is bittersweet. Christopher Nolan has become one of my favorite directors, and his Dark Knight Trilogy is arguably the series that made it okay for comic book movies to tell honest, human stories without being overly silly and goofy. I’ll admit that I was slightly let down by Rises, but I think that’s only because of the magnitude of my expectations. I absolutely believe that this film caps off the trilogy in the exact way that Nolan always intended it to, and it does so with such scope and grandness, all the while sticking with the elements of humanity and morality that have been present all along. Christian Bale is the best man ever to don the cowl and cape, and the supporting cast continues to deliver. Should Nolan be recognized by the Academy for the achievement that was this trilogy? Absolutely. If he’s not does it take away from what he’s done? Absolutely not.
Wes Anderson is really good at what he does. His style is unmistakable, and this is part of what makes his films so very good. Ever since I first saw Rushmore, I’ve been attracted to Anderson’s films, and thought that his Fantastic Mr. Fox showed just how versatile he is as a filmmaker (and it was a crime it had to go up against Up that year for Best Animated Feature, as that’s possibly Pixar’s best film ever). All the actors are fantastic in this typically quirky film that is very funny throughout, but also has a lot of heart. What makes the film are the two young actors who are at its center, though, and both are very competent and bring a lot to their roles. Anderson should very rightly be recognized come awards season, but regardless of that, he’s created one of the most entertaining movies of the year.
If there is a better singular performance in a film than Daniel Day-Lewis’ in this film, I have yet to see it. He is simply transcendent and the supporting cast is excellent as well. Steven Spielberg shows yet again what a gifted director he is; as he lets the story be told, never getting too much in the way of the film. At the heart of this grand story about a president fighting for what he believes to be right is really a story about a family man who doesn’t seem to quite know how best to handle his various responsibilities. Yet what choices he makes, he makes with dignity and stands by what he does. The film, however, is mostly about Day-Lewis’ Lincoln, and if that is the only criteria by which a film is judged, then none will stand in the way of Lincoln this year. The sets and costumes are also wonderful, but the film belongs to its title character, and very well should.
Yet another director who I am beginning to feel is going to be successful every time out is David O. Russell. His films have spanned a rather wide variety of subjects and tones, from the odd I Heart Huckabee’s to the sharpness of Three Kings to the power of The Fighter, Russell can certainly not be accused of repeating himself. There are certain elements of Huckabee’s quirks here, but definitely more reigned in than before, as this movie is about the demons inside everyone. The performances make this film as well, as Jennifer Lawrence shines again, as does Bradley Cooper—quite unexpectedly—in the role of Pat, who was just recently released from a mental hospital. It’s clear that everybody in the film has something going on outside of his/her control, and the way that Russell wields the chaos into something meaningful and constructive is a tribute to how well the director and the actors work here.
Ladies and gentleman, in case you missed it: Ben Affleck is a really talented director. In case you might have thought that Gone Baby Gone was beginner’s luck, or that The Town struck on some of that hot iron from the debut, then prepare to be floored here. Argo is based on true events, only recently declassified and made available to the public, and Affleck takes this very powerful story about fear and heroes who overcome that fear to do something great and creates a fantastic film. The tone is handled just right from the outset, although to its credit, the film never becomes overly weighty, allowing for superb and often hilarious supporting performances from John Goodman and Alan Arkin. Affleck shows that he’s grown as an actor, too, as he continues to surround himself with talented people who play to his strengths. Affleck should certainly be recognized for his achievements here, as this film is so remarkably well done it should not be overlooked.
Having not seen all of the James Bond films as of yet, it is impossible for me to call Skyfall the best Bond film ever. However, I can say that based on the half a dozen or so that I have seen, Skyfall is definitely the best of that bunch. Daniel Craig is proving himself to be a rather definitive version of the character, as he provides a spark and emotion to Bond that has not existed up until now. Judi Dench is fantastic as M here, as the fight starts to become personal for the director of MI:6, and Dench is up to the task. Javier Bardem, though, steals the show, presenting a villain who is truly terrifying. While not as scary as his turn in No Country For Old Men, to overlook Bardem’s performance as one of the best of the year simply because this is a Bond film would be a travesty. Push aside the fact that this is a part of a long running series, and this is simply one of the best films to be released this year, Bond or no Bond.
For my top 2, I really started thinking with my heart. I faithfully watch How I Met Your Mother and I really like how genuine Josh Radnor’s Ted seems to be. Radnor carried that over into his first feature film, last year’s sweet and elegant happythankyoumoreplease, which showed that the sitcom actor has a lot more to offer the film world. With Liberal Arts, I believe he topped himself, creating a film that is honest about growing old and age and the importance of living life as best you can in the moment because you never know what is going to happen next. Similar themes were presented in happy, but something about the way they come across here just impacted me completely. Radnor’s dialogue is right on, never straying too far from the theme, but creating connections between characters that feel honest and true. This is a tribute, too, to the actors, especially Elizabeth Olsen, who practically steals the film with her vivacious and honest performance. This is one of those movies that can be felt no matter how old you are, and should be, in my opinion, seen by people of any age.
I remember reading this book years ago and enjoying it. I re-read it once I found out about the film version and realized why it was such an important book for that generation. The movie version does not disappoint on any level. While Liberal Arts manages to speak to a broad audience, Perks is very much about that time in your life where you feel both invincible and completely vulnerable all at the same time. Here that time is high school, but something about the way the film (directed by the novelist Stephen Chbosky) allows you to extrapolate those feels into another time in your life. Mostly the movie just rings remarkably true. Most people have felt small and insignificant, but the power of the movie is that it looks honestly at those feelings and gives you hope. This is a rare film, and one which I am very glad to have seen, and look forward to watching over and over again throughout the years t come.