As most of our regular readers may have figured out from our quarterly “Most Anticipated” articles, my movie preferences heavily favor the genre films. I’m a fan of spectacle, big action, larger-than-life characters and borderline-ridiculous premises. I’m always happy to see great performances on screen, but as long as I’m having some sort of visceral response to the film in question, it works for me. I’m not artsy or indie, I don’t have access to festivals and screeners; I’m out there in the ticket lines and sub-par theaters like the majority of the blue-collars out there. It’s a foregone conclusion that you will disagree with me, so be sure to vote for your own top ten here. You’ll find my ten favorite movies from 2012 after the jump.
As a kid who grew up on the horror films of the 80s and 90s, I love a good spoof as much as the next guy (though more in line with Scream than Scary Movie). It also helps that I’m a fan of Joss Whedon, whose fingerprints are all over this film. Outside of Chris Hemsworth, the central protagonists are relatively unknown actors who set up familiar archetypes and then turn them on their heads early in the film. Even the characters’ costumes clue the audience in to the unexpected shift in personalities. The reveal of the supporting actors’ true purpose in the film put Cabin on my radar and the completely insane third act cemented its spot on this list.
Not only was I incredibly excited to head back to Peter Jackson’s version of Middle Earth, I was looking forward to experiencing The Hobbit in the much-touted high frame rate presentation. While the technology has a long road of maturation ahead of it, I respect Jackson for sticking to his guns and bringing 48fps to the masses. The Hobbit was a lighter and more frivolous version of the Lord of the Rings films, but it was also a lot of fun. Somehow the writers managed to tie The Hobbit into the more dramatic Lord of the Rings trilogy in a way that payed homage to the old fans and stayed spoiler-free for newcomers. I’ll happily add The Hobbit to my fantasy adventure shelf alongside Willow, The Neverending Story and The Princess Bride.
8. The Grey
What a fantastic return to good old-fashioned guy movies that pit man against nature. The Jack London fan in me will always have a soft spot for nature, but how can you not root for Liam Neeson and his broken bottle knuckles, especially against those terribly animated wolves? The Grey was a great high concept piece that featured some surprisingly strong character turns by Frank Grillo and Nonso Anozie. And talk about straying from the expected plot arc. At the end of the day, for all of his survival knowledge, skills and tenacity, Ottaway (Neeson) fucked up. All on his own (and without the aid of helicopters and high-powered rifles), Ottaway mans up and takes on the alpha male in a great showdown that closes out what’s sure to become a classic action/survival movie.
For its relatively small budget, Chronicle packed a surprising amount of punch. Of all the superhero movies that came out in 2012 (and there were quite a few), Chronicle was an original film (ie not adapted from a previous work, though obviously influenced by Akira) that borrowed the “found footage” trope from the horror genre and applied it throughout the film with some clever camera work. Chronicle is arguably the best origin story out there because audience members couldn’t exactly pick up a comicbook to find out how the kids got their powers. Speaking of those kids, this film put Dane DeHaan on the map in a good start to what looks to be a long and lucrative career.
It’s hard to say which superhero picture had the most pressure heaped onto it in 2012, but an argument could easily be made for The Amazing Spider-Man. Having never directed a big-budget action picture and tasked with emerging out from under the shadow of Sam Raimi’s blockbuster trilogy, director Marc Webb definitely put his signature spin on everyone’s favorite web-head. His instincts paid off. The Amazing Spider-Man was a superhero film that appeased the majority of comicbook fans while drawing in other audiences thanks to the romantic chemistry between the leads of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. The picture was less of a straight superhero actioner and more of a romantic dramedy with superheroic elements, which was unique enough to earn a place in my top ten.
5. Life of Pi
Hands down, the most visually stunning film of the year goes to Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. I haven’t read the source material, so I don’t know how faithful an adaptation it is, but frankly I don’t care. It was a beautiful journey about the art of storytelling and the life-long process of discovering one’s true self. 3D was absolutely made for Lee to use and I hope he continues to elevate that filmmaking tool; I also hope his next picture doesn’t take him ten years to finish. Some were left unsatisfied by Life of Pi’s ending, but this film stood out in my experience as one of the very few that kept me thinking and engaging in discussions long after the viewing was completed.
4. Cloud Atlas
The word “ambitious” has been thrown around a lot in discussions concerning Cloud Atlas and it remains an entirely appropriate description. Name another film that weaves in six plots, has award-winning actors portraying multiple roles that cross gender and racial boundaries and employs the visionary filmmaking of the Wachowski siblings and I’ll change my descriptor. Cloud Atlas and Life of Pi could have swapped spots on this list because each of them are films that will stick with me long after the year ends. Whereas Life of Pi turned the focus inward, Cloud Atlas asked tough questions about how we are related to others across time and space. Perhaps my favorite aspect of Cloud Atlas was the unabashedly bold intellectual demand it placed on its viewers, something that other movies asking similar questions (see: Prometheus) failed to do.
It’s tough to have a year with a Quentin Tarantino film and then have that film not appear on your top ten list. However, that would have been the case if I was around to make a list in 2009, as I was not a big fan of Inglourious Basterds. Django Unchained was a much tighter film, even if the thruline in question was every bit as zany. I haven’t had a ton of time to process the film and I do have some issues with it, mostly regarding its third act and lack of empowerment for Kerry Washington’s character, but goddamn…the performances of Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio take the white cake, while Jamie Foxx is my new favorite “Western” hero. I’d love to see a spin-off of “The Adventures of Dr. Schultz and Django,” but will probably have to settle for a second helping of Django Unchained.
In a year rife with adaptations, reboots and sequels, it’s refreshing to get an original take from an up-and-coming filmmaker. I’m a fan of both Rian Johnson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (whose Premium Rush was underseen and underrated for the fun popcorn flick it was) and I hope they continue to create original content going forward. My favorite part of Looper wasn’t even the action itself, but rather the world(s) that Johnson created, the freedom to stay away from explaining every facet of time travel and the [spoiler] inclusion of a powerful telekinetic as a central plot point that wasn’t ruined by the marketing. It’s bound to be one of my new favorite sci-fi films from here on out…at least until Johnson returns to the genre.
1. The Avengers
It’s the one movie I’ve seen more times this year than any other (four at last count) and one of the few movies I’d be willing to watch repeatedly in the future. I don’t think it can be overstated how difficult it was to unite four separate, independent superhero franchises under one banner. Whedon managed to do it in a way that made it look effortless (assemble, disassemble, reassemble) yet worked incredibly well in its simplicity. Though the film came out in May, I had a chance to see it again on the big screen recently; the jokes still land, the stakes are still high and the payoff is still worth it. It’s just fun. It’s a comic book movie in its purest form: big, colorful spectacle. And The Avengers is such a wonderful indulgence that I’ll be happy to revisit it for years to come.
- Argo - Possibly the best plotted/acted/directed film I’ve seen this year, but it doesn’t stick with you after the fact.
- ParaNorman - My favorite animated film this year if only for Laika’s use of stop-motion animation and cutting-edge technology.
- The Dark Knight Rises - Though highly anticipated, it fell a bit short of my expectations.
- Dredd 3D - Criminally underrated; I hope this pic finds new life on DVD/Blu-ray/VOD.
- Les Miserables - A fantastic ensemble of multi-talented performers, but its length prohibits me from repeat viewings.
Films I Missed:
The Master, Seven Psychopaths, Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook