2012 is almost behind us, and it's about that time when every critic and blogger on the planet starts making their top 10 lists. I'm no different - I mean, hey - you don't see as many movies as I do (over 150 this year!) and not want to make your own list. Julie disagrees with me, but I thought 2012 was a great, hopeful year for movies. There were blockbusters that truly delivered, some indie gems, and, most surprisingly, a ton of solid, grown-up dramas that all over-performed at the box office. Perhaps there is still hope that Hollywood is not turning into a 24-7 superhero and sequel machine.
Now, before we get into it, let me ward off any attacks by saying that there are a handful of movies I have not seen yet, which may or may not deserve a spot in the top 10 once I finally get a chance to see them. These movies include:
- Zero Dark Thirty
- The Impossible
- The Imposter
- Killer Joe
Also, let's give a shout to these Honorable Mentions, all of which are strongly recommended and worthy of end-of-year listmaking as far as I'm concerned:
- 21 Jump Street
- Celeste and Jesse Forever
- The Queen of Versailles
- Magic Mike
- Moonrise Kingdom
- Silver Linings Playbook
Okay, enough dilly-dallying. Here are my 10 favorite movies of the year, starting at No. 10 and working our way up to the top.
10. PARANORMAN. This stop-motion animated horror movie for kids (yes, there is such a thing) is a visual treat. Fresh and funny, and mildly creepy in a fun way, Paranorman succeeds where most other movies aimed at kids and the young-at-heart fail because it doesn't coddle the viewer. The opening shot is a zombie foot stepping on a brain on the floor, as John Carpenter-esque synthesizer music plays in the background. I was instantly hooked, and the rest of the movie did not disappoint. Best animated movie of the year.
9. LOOPER. I liked Rian Johnson's previous films (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) well enough, but this felt like his coming-out party as a filmmaker to be reckoned with. Looper is a smart, twisty sci-fi tale that goes places you don't expect it to, and consistently shifts audience loyalty for its two main characters, both of whom just so happen to be the same guy. Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are great, but it's Johnson's intriguing premise and stylish direction that make this movie a must-see.
8. SLEEPLESS NIGHT. I didn't catch this one in the theater, arriving late to the party when I watched it on DVD. What a rush though. A true testament to a movie's greatness is its ability to transcend the viewing medium. Even at home with all the distractions that can offer, I was hooked in to the diabolically simple premise: crooked cop's son is kidnapped and taken to a nightclub. Cop tries to get son back. Shit goes down. This is a French film, so it has subtitles, but I promise you won't care. This is the movie Taken 2 should have been.
7. ARGO. Nothing satisfies me more than seeing Ben Affleck's career trajectory over these past few years. Maybe it's all the residual love I have for Armageddon, but I couldn't be happier to see Affleck rise to the ranks of America's premier filmmakers. Argo makes it 3 for 3 for him. Some may complain the movie takes liberties with the facts, but Argo honors the spirit of the true story, while offering a wholly satisfying moviegoing experience. Like Apollo 13, even though you know how it ends, Argo still manages to wring every last ounce of suspense out of its story and keep you on the edge of your seat.
6. DJANGO UNCHAINED. Tarantino's latest revisionist history revenge tale may not be as good as Inglourious Basterds, but few movies are. Nobody is as bold and confident a filmmaker as Tarantino. Those who keep waiting for him to fail are just wasting their time. Django runs a little long at 2 hours 45 minutes but it zips by in a flash. Tarantino is one of the few writer-directors whose scripts are equally as dazzling as their visuals. He just shows complete command of every aspect of his craft, and he manages to get Oscar-worthy performances from everyone in his cast, especially Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson.
5. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. I made the mistake of watching Christopher Nolan's epic conclusion to his Batman trilogy immediately after watching The Dark Knight in an opening night marathon. I'll admit I was a bit disappointed at first, but that's only because it doesn't quite match The Dark Knight. A tough act to follow no doubt, given the fact that it is one of the greatest movies of all time. But upon second (and third) viewings, Rises really hooked me. Nolan's grand thesis throughout the trilogy has been that Batman is more than just a man. He's a symbol. The product of group effort by those who believe. Rises nails that point home in spectacular fashion.
4. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. The less you know about The Cabin in the Woods before you see it, the better. I walked in knowing that the movie would not be exactly what it seemed on the surface, and I was prepared for that. What I wasn't prepared for was where the plot would go in the last half-hour. If you could have taken a picture of me in the theater during the scene where the elevator doors open, you would have seen a look of pure, unabashed glee. This is a rare bird - a parody that lovingly pays tribute to the genre, while also ripping it to shreds. Kudos to Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard for their clever and (very) meta script.
3. PITCH PERFECT. This musical comedy won't win many year-end awards, and I doubt you'll see it on too many people's top 10 lists. It's lightweight, derivative, and yet...I absolutely loved it. Anna Kendrick can do no wrong in my book. Pitch Perfect takes the best parts of Glee, Mean Girls, and Bring It On, mixes in its own unique sense of humor (courtesy of New Girl and 30 Rock scribe, Kay Cannon), and the result is a hip, funny tribute to competitive a-cappella singing that should please audiences of all ages. The Blu-ray was gifted three times in my household this Christmas. How 'bout yours?
2. THE AVENGERS. Joss Whedon again! What a year that guy had. With The Avengers, he had the unenviable task of taking 4 different Marvel franchises (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and Thor) and whipping them into what is essentially the ultimate superhero movie. There was so many ways this thing could have failed. What is truly amazing though is not the fact that Whedon pulled it off at all, but that he did so in such a way that had critics, fanboys, and the uninitiated all going gaga. The Avengers was a huge success, and deservedly so. Watching this at midnight on opening night was one of the greatest moviegoing experiences I've ever had - the crowd was jazzed, and every moment worked like gangbusters (Galaga, Shwarmas, Hulk smashing Loki). This would be the movie of the year in almost any other year, and, in fact, for most of this year, it held that title. But then came...
1. SKYFALL. What? A James Bond movie? Yes. Skyfall is more than just a great action movie. Heck, it's more than just a great Bond movie. Under Sam Mendes' expert direction, Skyfall is a great movie, period. The cinematography by Roger Deakins is the best I've seen this year. The supporting villainous turn by Javier Bardem rivals his Oscar-winning work in No Country for Old Men. Daniel Craig finally gets a chance to play all facets of Bond. Judi Dench's M is the Bond girl this time around. Adele's theme song is killer. The pre-credits sequence is breathtaking. Thomas Newman's score is thrilling. This is the Dark Knight of James Bond movies. Skyfall takes a film franchise that's been going for 50 years now, takes it through the wringer, and shows us why it's still relevant, paving the way for 50 more years of Bond adventures. Those are huge aspirations. No other movie this year can match it.
And here are the 5 worst:
5. Taken 2. How do you make a sequel to a movie where Neeson kicks non-stop ass, and then have him be kidnapped and locked in a cell, giving his daughter ridiculous clues as to his location? This is one miserable, cash-grab of a movie. Laughably bad, but not in a good way.
4. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2. I've had it with these pieces of shit. The budget was reportedly $120 million. There's not a cent of that on screen here. Smallville had better fast-running effects. And the twist ending? You mean to tell me that five movies have been building toward an epic battle that culminates in a dream sequence and the line, "There will be no fighting today." Unacceptable.
3. This Means War. I like Tom Hardy. I like Chris Pine. Reese Witherspoon's not bad. I'll even defend McG if the opportunity arises. Note: it often doesn't. But I could not tolerate this unfunny turd of a romantic action comedy. Exhibit A on how to take charming actors and make them hugely annoying.
2. Act of Valor. Another question: why use real Navy SEALs if you're just going to use first-person shooter camera angles, straight out of a videogame? This earnest, rah-rah, real American action flick is a bunch of malarkey.
1. The Oogieloves in The Big Balloon Adventure. Uh, have you seen the preview for this thing? Yeah. I paid money to go see it. Even my 4 year-old thought it was stupid. And he's the target audience! Still, love the fact that it boasted huge celebrity cameos from the likes of...Chazz Palminteri.
What would make your lists? Agree? Disagree? Let me know. Oh, and thanks for reading all year. See you at the movies in 2013!