The 2012 movie year has now come to an end for me. Going over my notes and looking at my article from this time last year I can say that 2012 was a very good year for movies but not quite as good as 2011 was. Last year I saw over 50 movies that were well above average to excellent. This year that number is down to 41. Still not a bad number but when you calculate in that I see close to 150 movies per year that means that more than two-thirds range from good to bad. Of those 41 I found 17 of them to be superb, of the highest caliber of film making for the year.
Last year’s best list caused a real stir amongst readers, friends and family who thought I was out of my mind for choosing Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life as 2011’s best movie. Let me warn you now that my choice for the best film of 2012 will be no less surprising or shocking, perhaps controversial and I expect the usual suspects to try and have me committed yet again.
Before naming my favorites I like to do a little review of the year with both good and bad news. Let’s start with some good news. The summer of 2012 was a fairly strong one this year despite the dismal failures of such expected hits as Battleship and Rock of Ages. The comic book adaptations were strong as The Dark Knight Rises brought to a conclusion the best movie trilogy since the original Star Wars series. The Avengers brought all of the superheroes together and it made for a fabulous summer adventure. Even The Amazing Spiderman was fairly entertaining despite being one of the most unnecessary movie reboots of all time. Did we really need a re-telling of a movie that was just ten years old? The first hour of this film was so close to being identical to the original I am surprised a cry of plagiarism couldn’t be heard crying out of the hills in Beverly and the beaches of Malibu. The film redeemed itself with a strong second hour.
More good news? We had new movies from such top directing talent as Woody Allen, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, William Friedkin, Lawrence Kasdan, Ang Lee, Richard Linklater, Christopher Nolan, David O. Russell, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Zemeckis.
The biggest directorial news of all? The omission of Ben Affleck from the list of nominated directors for this year’s Academy Awards. Argo proved to be a compelling, edge of your seat thriller despite the fact you know how it ends before it even starts. Only an accomplished director could pull that off. Ron Howard did that with Apollo 13. Come to think of it, Howard wasn’t nominated for his film either. Affleck has announced himself as a major director and the Academy’s snub seems even more shocking (and likely slightly embarrassing) now that Affleck has collected every major director’s prize in other award presentations.
2012 was not a great year for film comedy. Sure fire comic actors such as Will Ferrell, Jonah Hill, Adam Sandler, Paul Rudd, Kevin James and Billy Crystal all delivered comedies that were anywhere from fair to just awful. Ferrell (Casa De Mi Padre,The Campaign) and Rudd (Wanderlust,This is 40) made two disappointing comedies each and seeing that they are two of the hottest comedy actors around, that makes it even more astounding. For me the funniest film of 2012 was The Dictator starring Sasha Baron Cohen. Yes he and his films are shocking and offensive but I give Cohen credit – he will try anything to get a laugh and usually he hits the target more often than he misses. Runner up for me would be Seth MacFarlaine’s Ted, though I don’t love it as much as the public seemed to. I thought it ran out of steam in its final act.
Scary movies also had a tough time in 2012. I can’t say I honestly saw one movie that really scared me. Sinister, starring Ethan Hawke as a writer whose family is being tormented by something paranormal almost worked on me but Hawke’s character kept searching his house for the bumps in the night and never once (in many scenes) did he turn on a light. When you take believability out of a scary set up, the moment is ruined. Paranormal Activity 4 became the first in the series to show signs of wear and tear. For me the best horror film of 2012 was not one that was so much scary as it was the most original horror film I have seen in years. Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods starts out as a simple enough (even clichéd) story of some teenagers going to a cabin in the woods to party but the script throws curves into its story and takes you to many unexpected places including an eye popping final 20 minutes that has to be seen to be believed…but it worked.
More good news? There were 15 new movies released for kids in 2012, many of them animated. That number does not include the re-releases of Beauty and the Beast, Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc.
Ok let’s throw a little bad news into the mix. In 2012 there were 34 movies released in 3D and, truthfully, that number seemed low. Every week it was as if a new movie was coming out in the 3D process and, frankly, I only saw one movie in 3D that actually utilized the 3D the way it should be and looked great….Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. For some reason Hollywood has taken it upon themselves to re-release old movies that were originally in 2D and now have them in 3D. Not only were Beauty and the Beast, Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc re-released in 3D but so were James Cameron’s Titanic, George Lucas’ Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace and Tony Scott’s Top Gun. Of the six I only saw Titanic and there wasn’t one shot, not one moment that looked remotely to be in 3D. This is just a scam to get audiences into the theater and have them pay more money to see a movie they could see at home. I don’t mind the re-release of older movies at all. When I was a kid growing up in the 1970’s movies were re-released all the time. Walt Disney would bring one of his classics out of the vault every summer. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid got at least 3 re-releases that I can recall. So did Jaws. MASH was re-released a few years after its initial 1970 release and was re-rated from R to PG. The same with Midnight Cowboy which went from an X rating to an R. So I am all for re-releasing older movies to be seen on the big screen again by movie lovers, both veteran and new generation. What irks me is the 3D inclusion for no reason except to pad the prices. Studios should be ashamed of themselves.
Finally before listing my favorites here are a few more lists regarding 2012 movies.
10 Movies That I Liked That You Didn’t:
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer: Cabin in the Woods; Dark Shadows; Darling Companion; The Dictator; The Guilt Trip; Jack Reacher; The Odd Life of Timothy Green; The Raven; Rock of Ages.
10 Movies You Liked That I Didn’t:
Brave; The Campaign; Celeste and Jesse Forever; Expendables 2; Safehouse; Taken 2; This is 40; 21 Jump Street; Twilight – Breaking Dawn Part 2; The Vow
Movies That Deserve a Tip of the Cap:
Arbitrage; The Avengers; Beasts of the Southern Wild; Cabin in the Woods; Chimpanzee; Dark Shadows; The Dictator; End of Watch; HeadHunters; The Hunger Games; The Impossible; The Intouchables; Jack Reacher; Jeff Who Lives at Home; Killer Joe; Looper; Men In Black 3; Rampart; The Sessions; Seven Psychopaths; The Silver Linings Playbook; Trouble With the Curve; Your Sister’s Sister.
The Best Films That Didn’t Quite Make My Top Ten:
Amour; The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; Lincoln; Ruby Sparks; Skyfall; Snow White and the Huntsman; Zero Dark Thirty.
And now here are my choices for the 10 best films of 2012. I hope you have had the chance to see them all and, if not, I hope you seek them out.
10) BERNIE (Director – Richard Linklater) This is a deliciously delightful black comedy starring Jack Black in this true story about the strange friendship between an assistant mortician (Black, in an Oscar worthy performance) and a recently widowed elderly woman (Shirley MacLaine) whom the whole town hates. Soon Bernie becomes hindered by the closeness and demand of friendship from the woman and things take a dark turn. Enter Matthew McConaughey as a district attorney searching for the truth and the film becomes a witty cat and mouse game as Bernie is trying to outwit everyone around him while he is being outwitted himself. This is a very entertaining movie with Black giving the performance of his career thus far. If you watch this, and I really hope you do, make sure to sit through the closing credits for one last wonderful surprise.
9) THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (Director – Stephen Chbosky) This is the first film about teenage life and high school life that made me believe this was something John Hughes could have made. It just so happens that this film happens to be better than all of Hughes’ high school coming of age films and, as a huge fan of Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller, that says a lot. Perks is a simple story told beautifully about an introverted, incoming high school freshman who finds it hard to make friends. At first his only friend is one of his teachers but one day he runs into a lovely but odd young woman (played by the lovely Emma Watson from Harry Potter) and her equally odd step brother and soon the three outsiders have connected and form a special bond with each other. As the school year passes they come closer together with secrets and romance and fun and soon all those things lead to great pain and rejection – the same feelings we all go through – only deeper. We soon discover that Charlie, our hero, may be harboring deeper secrets and greater pain than first thought. This is a remarkably thoughtful and sensitive film that brings back tons of memories and includes a soundtrack that any rock lover will cherish. This is a film to be seen by anyone who loved going to high school, hated going to high school or didn’t care either way. This may be the best movie about going to high school and the real feelings it causes that has ever been made.
8) DJANGO UNCHAINED (Director – Quentin Tarantino) Another masterpiece from one of our great writer-directors of the last 20 years. This is a brutal, violent adventure following a bounty hunter (the brilliant Christoph Waltz) and former slave (Jamie Foxx) on two missions. The first is to capture and kill a set of three brothers wanted for murder. The bounty hunter brings Django in because Django knows these men and would recognize them. The second half of the mission (which leads into the second half of this nearly three hour film) is to find Django’s wife, now a house slave for a young, rich, brutal man (played with little restraint but brilliantly by Leonardo DiCaprio). The film is filled with Tarantino’s usual brilliant dialogue and homage to other movies (Franco Nero, who played the character of Django in an Italian film in 1966 has a cameo) and its violence but it’s the strong performances (don’t forget the scene stealing Samuel L Jackson) that stand tall in this major achievement.
7) LIFE OF PI (Director – Ang Lee) Ang Lee tackled a popular book that was thought unfilmmable and turned it into a visually stunning masterpiece. The film tells the story of a teenager nicknamed Pi, who survives a boat wreck that has killed his whole family. He is stranded in a large lifeboat on the Pacific with a Bengal tiger that he must learn to survive with or die trying. This is a beautiful movie with some of the best photography I have ever seen in a film. The 3D effects are, for a change, astounding to look at. Best of all is that the Bengal tiger is almost all CGI and rarely can you tell it’s not really there. An amazing film experience recommended for the whole family.
6) THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (Director – Christopher Nolan) Nolan’s conclusion to his Batman trilogy is a fitting and satisfying epic that should satiate any fans hunger for more. With the three films Nolan pretty well covered it all and made some terrific films in the process. While this film is not perfect (would all or almost all of the police force really go underground?) Nolan creates set pieces masterfully that help you get past a few of the sillier elements. The opening scene involving the hijacking of an airplane is amazing. Much was said before the film’s release about the villain Bane and not understanding his dialogue. I had that issue just once but upon a second viewing I picked it up. As comic book movies go this trilogy is the crème-de-la-crème.
5) FLIGHT (Director – Robert Zemeckis) Director Zemeckis’ first live action film in almost 12 years turns out to be an incredibly shocking but fascinating character study about one man’s fall from decency into a hell of sex and drugs and death. The film opens with an airplane flight where its captain (played superbly by Denzel Washington) is both drunk and high. The plane loses control (not because of the captain) and the captain turns it upside down for the crash and saves most of the passengers lives. But a subsequent investigation shows that Washington failed an alcohol test and he finds himself trying to come to terms with possibly going to jail for murder. In the meantime the captain befriends a female junkie and the two bond unexpectedly in a sub plot that is introduced slowly and then takes command of the film. This is a powerful and sad look at a man spiraling out of control.
4) ARGO (Director – Ben Affleck) Actor/Director Affleck has created a masterful suspense thriller based on the true story of a CIA operative (Affleck) who poses as a film director to go into Iran and rescue 6 hostages hiding in the home of the Canadian Ambassador. To do so real Hollywood types get involved to make the production look real including scripts and story boards for certain shots. Once in Iran the operative has to not only get to the hostages without notice but then talk them into believing enough in him to risk their own lives to escape. Affleck creates plausible situations in which to heighten the drama and then keeps us on the edge of our seats even though we know the outcome. This was the best suspense thriller of the year.
3) THE GREY (Director – Joe Carnahan) The best flat out thriller of the year was Joe Carnahan’s tale of a suicidal sharp shooter (Liam Neeson) who works on the Alaskan oil rigs and whose job is to shoot wolves that may try to attack the men working on the rigs. After the job is complete the men are flying home but the plane crashes and only a handful of men survive. Soon the wolves begin to attack and the men have to take to the open, snow covered wilderness to survive. One by one the men are attacked and killed and soon very few will remain. This was an incredibly frightening film to watch and Carnahan’s sure handedness behind the camera kept it real while keeping the action flowing. There are several memorable moments including when Neeson, just after the crash, calms a dying man by telling him he is going to die and to let go. Another is when Neeson goes through the wallets of all the fallen men to see the lives they have now left behind forever. This was an amazing film to experience and I relish anyone’s opportunity to see it fresh. As expected it is scary and somewhat bloody but the story and characters make this film rise above what could have been a B movie.
2) THE MASTER (Director – Paul Thomas Anderson) Anderson continues, with Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and this film that he is one of the best directors we have had in a long time. In this slow moving character study of two men on opposite sides of life, Anderson creates a sweet and touching friendship that is never too far away from being severed. Taking place post WWII, the film stars Joaquin Phoenix as a veteran trying to get accustomed to life after the war. He’s an odd man who flies by the seat of his pants and soon ends up in the company of a man (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who runs a religious sect with his wife (Amy Adams). The film then slowly and methodically uncovers the layers of these two men as their friendship progresses. The Master is not an easy film to watch. It’s very slow moving which makes its 140 minutes seem even longer. There are many things not spelled out and left, by Anderson, for you to come to your own conclusions. Having seen it twice and having a better hold on it, I think it is magnificent.
1) CLOUD ATLAS (Directors – Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski) I am well aware that my choice for the best movie of 2012 is not a popular one. Most people I know despise this movie for the very same reasons I love it so much. It’s different. It’s original and daring and ambitious and it did tried things no other movie has ever done. The film tells 6 stories told through different periods of time ranging from 1849 to 2321. The characters in each story are played by the same actors (including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent to name a few) and most of them are so well made up it’s hard to believe they are the same actor. Each story seems to have more than one connection to each other but I was never able to put my finger on it. Still it was mesmerizing to watch. I simply let the movie unfold in front of me once I know any rational explanation on a first viewing was likely useless. For three hours I was caught up in this epic, filled with gorgeous imagery and fascinating story lines. Much like my favorite film from last year, Tree of Life, this film does not adhere to the general rules of the narrative. It does not adhere to the general rules of character development and story structure. It tells a simple story in a beautiful, complicated manner. I loved every minute of it.