Monday, January 14, 2013

Year in Review: Top 10 Films of 2012

Looking back on 2012 in film, I cannot help but notice how average it was. The Best Picture nominees are solid or great films, but not masterpieces. The majority of the films were watchable, but not transcendent. This resulted in a significantly-reduced number of films I watched, since there just weren’t the quality films getting released every week like normal. Check out my breakdown of the year, as well as my personal (and most likely incomplete) top 10 of 2012:

Films seen: 89
Thumbs up percentage: 53.93%
Actor of the year: Matthew McConaughey (Bernie, Killer Joe, Magic Mike, Mud, The Paperboy)
Actress of the year: Emily Blunt (Arthur Newman, The Five-Year Engagement, Looper, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Your Sister’s Sister)
Performances of the year: Joaquin Phoenix – The Master, Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty, Edward Norton – Moonrise Kingdom, Emma Watson – The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Most underrated film: Bernie
Most overrated film: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Biggest surprise: Chronicle
Biggest disappointment: The Dark Knight Rises
Best ensemble casts: Django Unchained, The Master, Moonrise Kingdom
Best screenplays: Argo, Looper, Django Unchained
Bottom five of the year (from bad to worst): 360, The Campaign, Men in Black 3, Red Lights, Virginia
Most anticipated unseen films: Amour, Frances Ha, On the Road, Rust and Bone, This Is Not a Film

Honorable mentions: The Do-Deca Pentathlon, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Moonrise Kingdom, The Raid: Redemption, Wreck-It Ralph

10. Smashed (directed by James Ponsoldt)
After seeing the promise of writer-director James Ponsoldt in 2006’s Off the Black, this film became one of my most anticipated of the year. Being a massive Breaking Bad fan, the fact that Aaron Paul was in it only added to my intrigue. These kinds of tiny budget indies are among my favorite types of films, and this one, while at times very funny, is a devastating and absolutely authentic look at alcoholism and its affect on relationships. It has this real fly-on-the-wall type of feel, giving the audience the perspective of the sober bystander observing the highs and brutal lows of being a drunk. The movie is sad, hilarious, but always genuine and true. It is a rewarding experience for whoever seeks it out. Ponsoldt is a director to watch in the coming years.
9. God Bless America (directed by Bobcat Goldthwait)
Each year there seems to be a movie that gets no attention butt is so off-the-wall and daring that it ends up being one of the best of the year. Two of the last four years, that movie has been directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, of Police Academy “fame”.  This movie follows a recently fired and terminally ill man who joins forces with a teenage girl to go on a killing spree throughout the country, taking out celebrities and other people who most piss them off. Usually a movie like this would be shot in way that makes it seem otherworldly, but this one clearly is in reality. Goldthwait has the balls to push the envelope, and this is certainly his best film yet. It is a painfully funny and perceptive little film. Keep an eye out for Goldthwait’s next directorial efforts. He has a way with dark comedy that is unlike any other working filmmaker right now.
8. Seven Psychopaths (directed by Martin McDonagh)
After In Bruges, I immediately was looking forward to how Martin McDonagh was going to follow up his Oscar nom. With the return of star Colin Farrell, I knew it was going to be terrific. In a lot of ways, this is actually a better and certainly a much funnier film than his last one. Seven Psychopaths is about a screenwriter who gets caught up in a criminal plot, since his friends, who kidnap rich people’s dogs and return them for cash, accidentally do so to a brutal gangster. The actors are clearly tons of fun, which you can tell in certain scenes when they almost break character because the situation is so absurd. The movie hits its climax, and then goes even further until it is so out-there that the audience is just in a constant state of laughter and giggling that will last until the credits are rolling. It is smartly-written, hilariously overcast, and superbly executed. I know it probably isn’t for everyone, but if pitch black comedy is for you, then there have been few better in the last few years than this one.
7. The Master (directed by Paul Thomas Anderson)
As brilliant as everything Paul Thomas Anderson touches is, this one could have been even better. It is magnificently-shot, brilliantly-scored, and hauntingly-acted. It is also overlong, a bit pretentious, and just a little too strange. Don’t get me wrong, the highs of The Master are the best scenes of the year. There are just not as many of them as a normal PTA effort. However, average PTA still ranks among the best of the year. Joaquin Phoenix gives the performance of the year, and should certainly win Oscar gold, but he stands almost no chance against Daniel Day-Lewis. Philip Seymour Hoffman digs his teeth into his role to create one of his best characters. I was blown away and underwhelmed at the same time with this movie. Either way, it lingered around in my mind for quite a while, which is about all you can ask for when you watch as many movies as I do.
6. End of Watch (directed by David Ayer)
This movie absolutely destroyed me. I have an incredible soft spot for cop movies, and this maybe the most realistic I have ever seen. The two lead actors are incredible, with Michael Pena giving one of the standout performances of the year. The movie is the most frenetic and furiously-paced of 2012. David Ayer does his best to make the movie seem like a documentary, some of which is even shot by the leads on a handheld camera. The cast chemistry and brotherhood built by the actors is brilliant and authentic, and the writing is among the year’s finest achievements. This cop film, above all others, just gets it. There is a host of brutal action, but that is just not what it is about. As big of a fan I am of Training Day, I just cannot rank it any higher than this film. You really care about these characters, and it is a movie that will likely never my memory.
5. Skyfall (directed by Sam Mendes)
After the extraordinarily disappointing Quantum of Solace, I was thrilled to find out that Sam Mendes was taking over the next film in the Bond franchise. Somewhat predictably, he created what may very well be the second best of all Bonds. Skyfall is a throwback. It is filled with breathtaking cinematography and a superb score. It pays its homage to the films of the past, but then it finally breaks off from tradition. The filmmakers made it clear that they want to create their own Bond legacy, rather than just adding tired additions to the end of the previously dying franchise. Daniel Craig is Bond, and the future is bright. In all honestly, if we are talking about my favorite movie-going experiences of the year, then seeing this at IMAX at the midnight premiere has got to be at the top. It is thrilling in ways that had been absent from the franchise for decades. Javier Bardem’s villain is brilliant. The performances by Craig and Judi Dench are their finest in the franchise.  Every scene does something to make it memorable and vital. It is movies like Skyfall that remind us why we go to the movies in the first place and why Bond is the coolest character ever.
4. Looper (directed by Rian Johnson)
I was beyond shocked by how good this movie was. The trailers looked very ordinary, but Rian Johnson has always intrigued me. Time travel movies are made so often, most of which are lame and unimaginative (see, I mean do not see: last year’s Men in Black 3). This one, however, creates its own rules and world to make one of the most unique thrills of the year. Johnson’s screenplay is the best of the year, without any real competition. The performances are true, which is rare in a movie like this. The actors clearly bought in and understood that the movie is more than just an exercise in science fiction, but more a brilliantly-conceived drama based around sci-fi elements. It is so in touch with its tone and so committed that I almost want to live in that world for another movie or two. It doesn’t just toy around with the time continuum paradox and try to twist you into loving it. It plays it straight, and the characters are real. It is most likely the most re-watchable movie that 2012 had to offer. There is nothing out there like it.
3. Argo (directed by Ben Affleck)
Suddenly, Ben Affleck has become the go-to guy in Hollywood for marketable, thrilling stories coming to the big screen. Argo is certainly a unique case in the industry. I am not sure I have ever seen a movie that brings out more kinds of emotions than this one. It is almost a comedy. It is certainly a thriller. It is a hard-hitting drama. It is an intriguing character study. It is an engrossing history lesson about the famous 1980 CIA ex-fill from Iran. Needless to say, Ben Affleck’s direction was the most complex of the year. The cast was terrific and committed. The final half hour is among amazing achievements of 2012. There is so much silence, yet so much tension is built. The screenplay is sensational. The technical aspects are all close to flawless. It may be a bit easier to appreciate this movie than to really love, but that is not a bad thing at all. It is Affleck’s best film and one of the elite films of 2012.
2. Django Unchained (directed by Quentin Tarantino)
Go figure, Quentin Tarantino has done it again. In what may be his most indulgent film, he has created what could turn out to be his most widely-appealing hit. If nothing else, this proves that no matter what style it is, the mass public is still desperate to see westerns. Tarantino has created some of his most memorable characters in his brilliant screenplay. It is relentless in its violence yet also playful in ways unlike all previous QT ventures (maybe a bit in Inglourious Basterds). The bounty hunter story is not exactly a step out for QT, but if anyone is making a bounty hunter film, it had better be him. He has made this story of revenge a regular thing with his movies, but never as entertaining as this. Tarantino has created his own genre of film, and that is the mark of a true auteur. He pulls out the most unforgettable and ridiculous performance Leonardo DiCaprio has ever given. The cast clearly had the time of their lives, and Christoph Waltz should be required to be in every Tarantino movie from now on.
1. Zero Dark Thirty (directed by Kathryn Bigelow)
This movie has got to be one of the most astonishing achievements in recent memory. The Kathryn Bigelow-Mark Boal combination reaped unbelievable benefits with 2009’s The Hurt Locker, and making another movie about the Middle East, let alone something so recent, seemed like a project destined to fail. It became, however, perhaps the most enthralling movie of the last few years. The story is complex, fast-moving, and so tight that I can only really compare it to something like All the President’s Men. The main character Maya, played astonishingly by the seemingly everywhere Jessica Chastain, is one of the more unlikable yet relatable characters in years. She is more Clarice Starling than Carrie Mathison. She is obsessed, but not to the point of being a lunatic. She is commanding and committed to her career. Like Starling, she is essentially the only woman in doing that sort of work, but she is the kingpin. The movie clicks along at a pace that will never wear on the patience of anyone, all intelligently leading up to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, which is one of the most breathtaking sequences I have witnessed in a theater. Every moment of this movie seems vital, and every performance rings true. I am not sure I can really relive this movie too many times, but for the 157 minutes I spent watching it on the big screen, I was left spellbound in a way that is not normal for me. It is one of the most meticulously detailed and researched scripts, as well as one of the most involving character studies and technically-sound films in years. It is the movie of 2012, and finally one that I do not feel is a default choice for my top spot.

Thoughts? Omissions? You top 10? Hit me up in the comments.

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