Oh early spring film releases. The Oscar films have gone wide, the crappy horror/comedy/romantic movies are getting ready to do well for an opening weekend before exiting quickly and the critical community is organizing their obligatory top ten lists. Now, given that this is my first top ten list on an actual site, I figured that I had to go all out in terms of stockpiling on film consumption for the year. With a total view count of 94, I have a WIDE selection to choose from and it was a tough decision. I’d honestly say that out of those 94, I’d sincerely recommend 54 of them, hence why there are so many honorable mentions and surprises listed below.
The few that I’m missing aren’t the biggest misses for me; I wanted to see a few of the more common Oscar buzz specific films of the year like The Impossible or Amour, but I think I’ve had my general fill in regards to the usual Academy picks. Overall, the best thing to me about 2012 had less to do with the absolute best of the year and more with the wide array of surprises. As I said, I’ve listed a few of them below my top entry, but 2012 was chock full of surprisingly entertaining efforts that deserved more attention. Some of them are even in my top 10, which means that we should get started!
2012 might as well be dubbed “The Year of Matthew McConaughey.” Not only did he comeback from his slump of awful romantic comedies with strong supporting roles in efforts like Bernie and Magic Mike, but he also pulled off the performance of his career with Killer Joe. Alongside a strong supporting cast and the usual twisted nature of director William Freidkin, (The French Connection, The Exorcist) McConaughey pulls off one of those rare performances that manages to make a despicable character quite charming, mainly because he’s the most respectful psychopath in a backward trailer trash suburb of Texas. He knows just how to balance this southern gentlemen charm with the inner spirit of a caged animal. The tone of the entire film pulls a similar balancing act as well, with certain sections feeling like a disturbed thriller and others bordering on the darkest of comedies, culminating in climax that everyone will remember, whether they like it or not.
The found footage genre had a rocky year in 2012. With disastrous retreads like The Devil Inside or Paranormal Activity 4 hitting screens, it’s hard to think of anyone doing something fresh with the format. Enter Chronicle, a superhero origin story that uses the found footage gimmick as a stylistic way of capturing grounded teen characters as they deal with gaining superpowers. Everything from emotional hormonal turmoil to the innocuous screwing around is covered in a way that few big budget superhero films manage to seize, which makes the characters all the more relatable. Director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis deserve so much credit for managing to craft a found footage film that develops main characters in a endearing fashion that few found footage films genuinely accomplish.
Another in a long line of Liam Neeson action movies… OR IS IT? Actually, it isn’t, but that’s exactly why Joe Carnahan’s latest feature rocks so hard. Instead of taking the totally insane route of having Neeson simply beating the tar out of four legged fury monsters, Carnahan decided to use that basic set up as a means of exploring themes of survival, faith and acceptance of death. Sure, there’s a constant threat that these wolves will attack to make it an engaging thriller, but the struggle that Neeson and his group of fellow men go through from the horrific plane crash at the beginning to the cold unfeeling bite of the Alaskan snow storm serves as a far more terrifying threat. The way these men face their fates in this harsh environment is often simplistic, but in ways that never ring false and often hit on the core values that scare people in times of crisis. It’s both an edge of your seat survivalist thriller and an existential look at what it means to stay alive.
With a film as ambitious as Cloud Atlas, the biggest miracle is that it’s actually coherent. With six major plot threads that extend across centuries and the filmmakers behind bombastic failures of story like The Matrix sequels behind it, I never had much hope for Cloud Atlas as a structured or engaging experience. However, the spectacle of a failure I was expecting was nowhere insight. Instead, the film was a captivating experience through the parallel lives of all these recurring figures in various historical contexts that perfectly illustrate the film’s touching central themes; that humans are bound to repeat themselves and no matter what they do, their actions have the potential to change the world in some fashion. Add in some fantastic performers in a multitude of roles, an operatic score that constantly feels gorgeous & one of the most ingenious editorial constructions of the last decade and you’ve got yourself one perplexing marvel of a film.
The fact that this even exists is honestly a miracle. Think about it; the idea of a film interconnecting all these Marvel Comics superheroes together in one self contained universe after a series of solo efforts is tough enough, but the idea of it also going off without a hitch seems almost impossible. The perfect balance of the characters, the drama staying totally consistent and the effortless energy that keeps the pace from being too bogged down in pure character building adrenaline just speaks to the talent of someone like writer/director Joss Whedon, who never ceases to amaze for the entire 143 minute running time. It’s witty, it’s action packed, it’s full of insanely well done character moments… it’s what every blockbuster should strive for.
When the late John Hughes stopped being relevant in the early 1990s, it was assumed that no one would be able to recreate that entertaining yet down to earth look into the dilemmas of teenagers. There have been a few blips on the radar since, but none of them have really come as close as something like Perks. The characters are all instantly relatable, even if this high school experience wasn’t the exact one you had. In fact, these leads are so familiar and engaging as characters that when they proceed to make terrible mistakes, the awkwardness situations that follow feel genuine on both the characters and audience’s part. So much praise has and should be heaped upon writer/director Stephen Chbosky and lead actors Logan Lerman, Emma Watson & Ezra Miller for crafting such a truthful and entrancing piece on what it’s like to be friends with fellow outcasts in high school, for all its perks and drawbacks.
It’s rare that I feel interested in a romantic comedy of this day and age. Most of them seem rather formulaic and hollow. Then, every once in a while, a film like this comes along to be one of the exceptions. Now, one could say that the vaguely sci-fi concept of a man seeking a companion to time travel with is the main reason why this works. However, while that is a great hook for the film, it doesn’t quite capture the impact it has on an emotion level. The chemistry that builds between Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza is consistently genuine, with the two of them feeling like very down to Earth outcasts of varying types. Plus, the sci-fi element creates this additional layer of ambiguity that manages to make the tired “mistrust the love interest” that occurs in most romantic comedies feels like a real human reaction in Safety. Honesty is rare in this very cliché ridden genre, so it’s great to see films like Safety slip through the cracks.
Oh boy! Controversial choice… for some reason. Look, I know this was criticized to death over the past six months or so. Everything from the legitimate complaints to the most neurotic of nitpicks was expounded upon in article after article, most of which ended up coming to a very simple conclusion; it wasn’t The Dark Knight. And you know what, I agree. It will never be The Dark Knight… but it’s still an amazing follow up and conclusion to the story that started in Batman Begins. It hits all the emotional points and character arcs that complete this version of Bruce Wayne’s story right on the mark, which totally makes up for any of the plot holes people seem to love picking at. The scope is expansive, the story is engrossing for the entire near three hour running time and the climax is one of the most emotionally satisfying conclusions to any trilogy, superhero adaptations or otherwise. While Christopher Nolan’s adaptation isn’t the definitive version of Batman, it’s still one hell of a cinematic reinterpretation and Rises caps off said reinterpretation beautifully.
Finally! A breath of fresh air in terms of horror! Writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard deconstructed the clichés of horror (whether supernatural, slasher or otherwise) while simultaneously celebrating them. It’s rare that a horror film manages to be this entertaining and satirically engaging at the same time, with a clever twist that never gets old, one of the more adept stoner characters in cinema history and a climax that brings every horror fan’s bloody wet dream to life. It’s hilarious, it’s gory and it’s sure to be an annual Halloween watch for any self respecting horror buff out there!
Trying to find that equilibrium between spectacle and art cinema can be a tough one to find, but damn did director Ang Lee pull it off! Lee’s visual flair here is stunning to say the least, as he manages to turn a seemingly flat visual concept like a boy lost at sea into a tremendous and innovative feat for CGI and 3D technology. The most notable element is obviously the tiger, which serves as a groundbreaking use of computer-generated imagery, to the point where it feels like a living breathing animal. Yet, instead of being mere eye candy, the script unravels in a way that constantly surprises in terms of the ideas it explores. Everything from religion, man vs. nature and the power of storytelling itself is discussed in a fashion that hits every single creative & emotional point possible. Pi works at managing to give us a beautiful fairy tale of a story that also leaves you pondering so much beyond the images. And that, for me, makes it the best film of 2012.
Honorable Mentions: Skyfall, Argo, Seven Psychopaths, Silver Linings Playbook, Django Unchained, Goon, Seeking A Friend for the End of the World, Wreck-It Ralph, Ruby Sparks, Rise of the Guardians, Dredd, Lawless, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Looper, Moonrise Kingdom
Notable Surprises: 21 Jump Street, Ted, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, Paranorman, Bernie, The Imposter, The Three Stooges, Pitch Perfect, Hotel Transylvania, The Raid: Redemption, Jack Reacher, Snow White and The Huntsman, The Collection