It’s been a hell of a year for movies. There were a lot of great films…and also a handful of terrible films. It has also been a year where I have grown into my new hobby, which is media criticism/commentary. As a result, I’ve seen more movies in theaters in 2012 than I’ve ever seen in any other year. Here is my list of favorites.
This movie went over most people’s heads and deserved far more viewership than it actually got. In a bold attempt to remake the absurdly god-awful Stallone film Judge Dredd, this movie was a straightforward charge into a dystopian fascistic future, this time taking the side of the jackbooted thuggish and morally questionable government and throwing them into a Die Hard/The Raid scenario with blazing action, creative violence, and just plain fun. Lena Heady is a lot of fun as the crazy drug addicted villainess, Karl Urban is awesome as Judge Dredd, and he never takes his helmet off even once. Dredd was the kind of super hardcore action movie that wouldn’t make you a stupid person for turning your brain off and most importantly, it knew how to entertain. The words “I am the law” are spoken, but not in a screaming pitch. This movie delivers better action than both Expendables combined and did the comic justice.
Like #10, this Seth MacFarlane comedy also probably went over a lot of people’s heads, but it could not more highly recommended from me. While some of it was quite clearly aimed at his own Generation X, that didn’t stop the film from being a breathlessly hilarious thrillride from premise to execution and all the way to the end. Mila Kunis rivals Jennifer Aniston in Bruce Almighty in acting performance as the person who isn’t just there to be “the girlfriend”. Ted himself is a terrific character, as is Mark Wahlberg as the childish 30 year old who has to finally grow up, and if you have Comcast, the On Demand package includes Flash Gordon which is the perfect counterpart. Ted is an R rated children’s movie, and without question, the best of its kind. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and fix that.
8. The Dark Knight Rises
You don’t have to be a professional critic to understand that this movie is flawed. It is rather awkwardly paced and has a mcguffin that couldn’t be campier. And of course, it could never live up to the greatness of The Dark Knight. But I forgive the movie for all of that because of how well executed the finished product turned out to be. The cinematography of Gotham was outstanding, the open city Bat chases were a lot of fun and the buildup to the epic finale was immensely satisfying.
However, best of all by a long-shot was the acting. Christopher Nolan as a director, as great at making movies as he is, relies on talented star power more heavily than almost anyone else. And here was where it truly paid off. Gary Oldman and Michael Caine alone would have been enough to save the film but in addition we were given a truly terrifying Bane from Tom Hardy and the single greatest Catwoman in the history of Batman. Anne Hathaway managed to pull off the seductive attitude and sexy outlook of Catwoman that we all love in spite of a camera that worked against her (another element of Nolan filmography). I understand the reasons NOT to like the film, but frankly, I loved it and was immensely gratified at the end.
It’s likely that this movie was of greater interest to your parents than you but I could not recommend it too highly. This isn’t just Ben Affleck’s best movie; it’s also one of the best historical dramas I’ve ever seen. Basing itself on a declassified CIA operation, Ben Affleck directs and stars in a film that starts out by giving a balanced telling of the events behind and leading up to the Iranian Hostage Crisis, and then proceeds by showing how the CIA with the help of the best northern neighbor any country could hope for, got a small group of Americans who had escaped the embassy prior to the takeover, out of Iran by posing as a development team for a sci-fi movie called “Argo”. Putting a damper on the inherent complexities of the sovereignty problem in favor of a more direct mission-oriented spy thriller, Argo is a terrific film with a third act that will keep you on the edge of your seat all the way to the very end. And the fact that this movie is based on a clandestine mission that actually happened just makes it all the better. This movie will probably get a few Oscar nominations just because Hollywood really likes Ben Affleck and is always thrilled to see a talented actor become an equally talented director. Argo proves it.
This movie is great for a lot of reasons. The best one is because of the acting performances, particularly from Daniel Day Lewis, who is, in my opinion, alongside only Marlon Brando as the greatest actor of all time. On the outside, the film is Stephen Spielberg’s foxy attempt to sneak a political message to President Obama in a film that is assured to win its just share of Oscars. But as a film itself, it is a deeply moving piece of historical drama that shows us how the ironic political attitudes in our nostalgic past weren’t as simple as our sensibilities have made them out to be. One of Honest Abe’s greatest and most landmark achievements (the passing of the 13th Amendment abolishing all slavery) was successful precisely because of severe dishonesty.
As an actor, Daniel Day Lewis pulls off an uncanny anecdotal charm Lincoln had on people around him that made him a natural leader. No other actor could have made the legend himself so human. And it was a bonus that the attributed dialogue, much of it drawn from actual speeches, made for a truly rich film that will deserve the inevitable Oscar glory.
5. Django Unchained
Speaking of slavery, what better way to grab my attention than a slavery revenge film by Quentin Tarantino? I’ll happily admit to having a bias about one of my all time favorite film directors, but Django is phenomenal.
This kick-ass blaxploitatious spaghetti western movie is every bit as suspensefully charming as Inglourious Basterds was, every bit as deliciously violent as Kill Bill, and every bit as hilariously and racially profane as Pulp Fiction. Even better, it’s pretty much the first of Tarantino’s linear films to have an actual progressive character arc. From starting out as an illiterate slave who has never even been on a horse before, Django grows into a reflexive gunslinging one man army with a talented tongue and a bad attitude. And Leonardo DiCaprio plays the single greatest villain all year…even better than the bad guy in #3 (NO PEAKING!!!). And like all Tarantino movies, the violence is beautiful and fun, but the movie would more than survive without it. This movie is a lot longer than I was expecting, but take my word for it; it rocks. Go see it, and most of all, don’t forget: the “D” is silent.
4. Cloud Atlas
This film boldly went where no film has gone before: a sextet of stories with separate characters, separate tones, separate plots, and separate time periods shown all at once with the film jumping back and forth between them, and connecting them all through thematic juxtaposition and the same exact set of actors cast throughout the entire film playing different characters in different story and wearing some of the best makeup I’ve ever seen. Some have said that the film is pretending to be smarter than it actually is, but that doesn’t stop every section of it from being fascinating, compelling, and intellectually enriching, whether it’s an ocean journey, a scandalous musical apprenticeship, a political thriller, a prison break adventure, a sci-fi action chase with robots and lasers, or a post-apocalyptic dystopian future. For the record, the first and last stories are my favorite. Cloud Atlas is movie innovation at its absolute finest. Its premise alone justifies the length, but you’ll never be bored with this film. It’s cool enough from the beginning, but once you “get it”…it’s even better. One of my biggest regrets this year is only seeing this movie once.
007’s latest adventure stands out as a gem of its own right by being the perfect hybrid of big, bold, and booming action we’ve come to expect from James Bond films, clever and relevant commentary about the modern world we live in, a villain who actually reminds me more of Moriarty from Sherlock than he reminds me of The Joker, but goes down alongside Dr. No, 006, and Ernst Stavro Blofeld as Bond’s best villains, and finally, a genuine human heart from Daniel Craig that made Casino Royale such a great film back in 2006. What else can I say? Great opening action scene, great theme song, great cinematography of Scotland which falls short of the best only by #1 (NO PEAKING!!!), great action, and REALLY great third act. Skyfall is the movie that not only elevates Quantum of Solace, but it confirmed the confidence in my decision to place the Daniel Craig James Bond Trilogy as my #8 favorite trilogy of all time. It’s on par with Casino Royale and Goldeneye and second only to #2 (this one you can peak) as the best sprawling action movie of the year.
2. The Avengers
It’s been five years, five movies – four of them good and one of them great, and one studio – all of that building up to this movie; an impossible level of hype for a movie that belongs to a genre that not everyone actually likes. But The Avengers, thanks not only to the cast but also Director Joss Whedon, knocked it out of the park in the biggest superhero box office grand slam in history.
I’ve been waiting my whole life to see a movie like this hit the big screen and blow me away and I could not have been happier by the end result. The Avengers is a landmark achievement for nerd culture and the superhero genre in general – proof that not only is a workable sprawling superhero action blockbuster possible, but that it can actually be fun! It isn’t just one of the best movies I’ve seen this year, or one of the best superhero movies ever made; it’s one of the best movies ever made period. Thanks, Joss. Thanks, Marvel. And thank you for making this movie the success that it was.
1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
I understand that this is controversial, but I could not be more confident about this film. Talk about impossible hype – this film started out in a worse position than Dark Knight Rises; forced to be compared to the one-of-a-kind The Lord of the Rings, whether it invited the comparison or not (although ironically it did), and released in a year where one movie (#2) had already smashed records to become the highest grossing opening weekend film release of all time and the third highest overall grossing film of all time, beaten only by…y’know, those two overrated James Cameron films, a baseline of source material so structurally difficult that it not only requires three films, but also requires drawing from extemporaneous material (ROTK Appendicies and Unfinished Tales, and a production history that created as much ginger as it did rapture, the tightrope this film was walking couldn’t be thinner.
And yet, in spite of all that, An Unexpected Journey worked spectacularly. My return to Middle Earth was better than anything I could have asked for. Peter Jackson overcame every challenge inherent to adapting this impossible book into film form and made it into a blast of a film.
With an opening act that was as unbecomingly lighthearted as it was hilarious, a well-paced adventure with breathtaking New Zealand cinematography, superb acting performances by Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, and Andy Serkis, the Riddles in the Dark chapter of the story pulled off to meticulous perfection and the juxtaposition of escape scenes, the bold experimental usage of a relatively new set of technology that knocked my socks off, fantastically fun action sequences from open chases to a battle of giants, this movie is an absolute joy ride from start to finish and without question my movie of the year.
Act of Valor
The Cabin in the Woods
The ones I didn’t get to see
Zero Dark Thirty (not my fault)
The Man with the Iron Fists (sort of my fault)
The Bourne Legacy (my fault)
Movies I’m most excited for in 2013
10. Thor 2: The Dark World
9. Monsters University
8. Star Trek: Into Darkness
7. Jurassic Park 3D
6. Pacific Rim
5. The Great Gatsby
4. Man of Steel
3. Oz: The Great and Powerful
2. Iron Man 3
1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
See you at the movies next year!!!
UPDATE: January 10, 2013, I finally watched The Cabin in the Woods, which is why it was moved up to honorable mentions.