January 13, 2013

Top 20 Movies for 2012

I have been putting this off long enough. Frankly, I am not sure why I always take so long to get this list together. Anyway, it is finally here, my countdown of my favorite films from 2012. Now, let it be known that I have not seen every film released to theaters. Yes, I see a lot but this list is not about the "best" movies of the year, it is about the best movies of the ones I saw in theaters this year. Nothing more, nothing less.

It has been an interesting year that has seen me learn more about myself as a movie fan. My tastes have developed and changed considerably. I am becoming much more comfortable with being a genre film fan with particular interest in horror films. I am learning to worry less about what others think about a film and more about what I think o a film. I still love seeing other opinions and thoughts, but they have less impact on my own. With that said, this list is probably different from a lot of those you may have already seen. Hopefully you will find this list to be at least moderately entertaining.

I would also be interested in the films you liked in 2012 and let's keep any discussion civil, thanks!

20. The Amazing Spider-Man. You know, I was a little skeptical about restarting the franchise so soon, but I did respect Sam Raimi for walking away rather than be compromised by the studio. At least more than what had happened with Spider-Man 3. Anyway, Marc Webb really did a good job with this restart. The movie is exciting, interesting and is worthy of watching. They make enough differences to keep it interesting while keeping it true to the origin of the hero. I may even like it more than Raimi's first outing.

19. Dredd. This is certainly not the Stallone version of the comic character. This is the Judge Dredd movie I wanted. It presents the character the way he should be. It is an over the top movie that doesn't shy away from the violence. It gives us a character who is pretty much devoid of personality, yet still shines as someone to cheer for. This movie is a good old blast of ultra violence. It is a movie that goes to the edge and then gleefully jumps into the abyss. More people should have seen this on the big screen.

18. Moonrise Kingdom. This is different than your standard Hollywood film and I really liked it. There is something about the way everyone takes a matter of fact approach to everything. The story has rebellion, hope, wonder, and danger as these children act out and experiment in their innocence as the storm or adolescence bears down on them. Right there you have the big thing for the movie, innocence and its impending loss. It is abut getting in these last moments of childhood before everything changes. The adults recognize this and as much as they want to protect them, cannot stop it from happening. This is a wonderful, delightful, weird, movie that has a mesmerizing quality to it. It finds ways to work in a variety of fashions. I often wondered just what it was that I was watching, and thinking back I am still not entirely sure.

17. Haywire. This movie feels like a Cliff's Notes version of an action movie. Normally, this is not a good thing. However, there are exceptions to every rule and director Steven Soderbergh has crafted one. You see, Haywire is a movie that has been boiled to the bare essence, to its benefit. The story is secondary to the way the story is told, the way everything is executed. There is something about the flow of Haywire that is a thing of beauty for me. It has a somewhat lyrical flow that is a lot of fun to watch. There is some good choices made in the audio design with music dropping out during key action sequences, interesting angles, and just an overall unique style. There is a combination of style and stripped down substance that makes this work as a whole that is more than the sum of its parts.

16. The Man with the Iron Fists. This movie is awesome for being awesome. It is slickly produced and realized love song for the martial arts epics of the past. Tells a simple story but pays attention to the details of the genre. This is one great slice of old school martial arts exploitation cinema. A variety of weapons, styles, and personalities are on display as they fight their way through the simple tale of riches and love. If you have a soft spot for old school Shaw, this is a must see.

15. Sinister. This is a movie that starts by nibbling around the edges of a person's psyche before pulling out the jackhammer and going for gold. It is a found footage movie where it is the character in the film finding the footage. It is rather ingenious in that regard, a twist on the usual idea. You should sit there and feel the claustrophobic dread close in on you in the darkness. Is it a perfect movie? No, however it gets a lot right and is just so darn effective. It just works. Once you are on board, and that did not take long for me, you are trapped in the nightmare.

14. Silent House. Here is a movie that works on a few levels. The story itself is simplistic, does not offer all the answers or enough reasoning, but it does offer interesting ideas and clues to play around with to fit in. It is a movie that does not require a lot of plot as it is one that relies on style and performance to carry the bulk of the weight. The faked "one-take" style is beautiful. Yes, there are cuts here, but they are skillfully hidden and while I could see where the could be, nothing was noticeable or distracting. Besides the single take, there are other nice touches such as the often shallow focus and points where the camera becomes purposefully obscured. It is a very nicely executed look that accentuates the atmosphere. Performance is the other half of the puzzle. Elizabeth Olson delivers a knockout performance, successfully taking us from fine to curious, to scared, to frantic scared for your life scared in a natural, realistic progression that I believed every moment. I was quite impressed with her portrayal of this growing fear, the tears, the sobs, the frantic running, the mute screams, everything. Very impressive.

13. The Avengers. The movie is a big popcorn movie. It is big, loud, funny, filled with action and personality, and flat out entertains. It is a movie that understands what it is, what the goals are, and what needs to be accomplished. It sees the goals and goes out and gets them. This is a movie about what happens on the screen, it is not about subtext, it is not about commenting on the human condition, it is about superhero action. Writer/director Joss Whedon did a fantastic job crafting this film. It may, at its heart, be pure entertainment, but even entertainment requires a skilled hand to keep it all on track. This movie, more than any other is one that could have completely crashed and burned. This movie has so many characters and personalities that it very easily could have gone the route of Spider-Man 3, X-Men 3, or even (gasp) Batman & Robin. It did not.

12. The Raid: Redemption. This is a pure exercise in genre filmmaking. It is much more about creating hard hitting action than trying to comment on society or the human condition. It is art in the execution. Story is not always a necessary piece of the puzzle when creating cinema. Yes, there is a story, but it is just enough to get you into the movie. It is just lip service to get you from point A to point everyone gets the snot beat out of them. The tag line essentially lays out all you really need to know: "1 Ruthless Crime Lord, 20 Elite Cops, 30 Floors of Chaos." This is a pure action movie, all it truly cares about is the execution of the violence. Where some see repetitive fights and shootouts with little else to cling to, the genre fan sees inventively vicious fights, a team of talented martial artists and stuntmen, and a nice build from the initial blows to the final showdown. The story is of little consequence when the orchestra of fists play this well.

11. The Grey. This is a contemplative, haunting, thrill ride that sees a reluctant hero struggle with personal demons while also struggling with mere survival in a harsh landscape. Sure, it is pushed forward with what is probably not the most realistic portrayal of a pack of wolves ever shown, but as a metaphor it works quite well as the external manifestation of our hero's internal turmoil. This movie has its share of thrills, but it is not really about the thrills, they certainly serve their purpose, but there is more to the subtext. What makes this whole exercise work is the emotional complexity of Neeson's Ottway and the seemingly insignificant element of his wife, it adds a level of poignancy to his character, thus deepening the overall effect of his struggle. There is a definite atmosphere of unrelenting dread. Even if you just watch it as a survival horror tale, it has this ability to get under your skin and get you up on the edge of your seat.

10. ParaNorman. This is an exciting film filled with action, chases, zombie invasions, and plenty of creepiness, while also having plenty of heart. ParaNorman brings creepy, sweet, smart, scary, and funny all together in one package. It is certainly family friendly, but at the same time, it does not shy away from being a bit edgy and frightening, pushing the limits of the PG rating. Don't let this scare you off from showing to children, I believe all but the youngest will by fascinated by it. ParaNorman is a really wonderful film that is rather topical and certainly has something to say. It explores the idea of bullying and how people, mainly adults, can be rather ugly when faced with things they do not understand. The tale cuts through everything and proves to be very touching, surprisingly effective, and quite funny.

9. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. I may be the only person to love this movie. Let me be straight with you, if you don't like this movie, I don't care. If you hate this movie, I don't care. I feel downright giddy as I watch this explosion of nonsense unfolding before my eyes. It is a pure stream of consciousness craziness that could only have been told by Neveldine/Taylor, the duo behind the creative, absurdist insanity of the Crank movies. They take their hyperkinetic sensibility and filter it through the supernatural themed comic book and B-movie schlock and throw it up on the screen for all to see. The end result is something to behold, more of an experience than a movie. I love it.

8. Seven Psychopaths. I went into this based on a fun looking trailer. I had no idea it was from Martin Mcdonagh, the man behind the excellent In Bruges. This fact became apparent rather quickly, as soon as they opened their mothers as a matter of fact. The movie is pretty brilliant. The film focuses on a writer, played by Colin Farrell, who is working on a screenplay for a film of the same title and the issues that arise when his friend dogmas a gangsters pup. It is a brilliantly layered screenplay with fascinating characters. It is vulgar, wild, sensitive, and just really entertaining.

7. Skyfall. This film certainly has elements that mirror other recent films, but that is sort of the beauty of it. I am not sure I can explain it, but there is something about the way the film is crafted from start to finish then at feeds off the familiar to build something else. What I found to be more interesting is how Skyfall looks at the current place of the spy in a world that has gone high tech, where much more stock is placed on information gathering in central locations using modern technological advances than is placed on what a single person can do traveling around to gather intel. The other aspect that I like so much is how personal the film gets. There is a lot of interesting stuff that comes up about Bond's past, his childhood, and his relationship with M. This material brings some nice heft to the proceedings. There is a lot going on that helps elevate this beyond your typical spy/action yarn.

6. Looper. Looper is a time travel movie that embraces the paradoxes that usually accompany them. It takes the time to set up its rules and it plays by them to the end. It is another fascinating creation from writer/director Rian Johnson. It is a movie that makes time travel work, but also gives us characters to care about who do interesting thins and are forced to make difficult decisions. It is a fantastic film that rewards the viewer.

5. Django Unchained. I love Tarantino. I am not sure anything will change that. The guy is a student of the underbelly of cinema, a champion of exploitation and grind house and makes no attempt to hide it. He takes these influences and whips them into something new and fresh. This film is a relevant tale of love and revenge told in a fresh, exciting, and humorous fashion. It is a movie to savor, to relish, and just flat out enjoy. This is Quentin at the top of his game.

4. The Dark Knight Rises. Christopher Nolan has made something special with his Batman cycle. His trilogy of films have had an amazing build from start to finish, each film taking us through a very specific phase of Bruce Wayne/Batman's existence. In a way it is rather operatic in nature. This trilogy has carved an indelible mark into the Batman mythos, one that is not likely to be forgotten. This is a movie that can be nitpicked to death. I don't care. It is a fascinating big picture tale that is full of big ideas. It is one to be enjoyed.

3. Prometheus. Prometheus is a movie that seems intent on asking questions while not really answering much. Generally speaking, I like to see something resolved within the movie's runtime, but this time that does not happen and I found myself to be all right with it. I found that Prometheus speaks to humanity's thirst for knowledge and never ending stream of questions. It is a bigger movie than anything in the Alien franchise, it has an existential feel, a way of looking at big questions like where we came from, who created us, and the real big one of "Why?", while at the same time delivering some great visceral thrills of an action and horror in nature.

2. Life of Pi. This movie is a work of art. I wish I had actually written a full review of it. It is a movie wonder, survival, of faith, belief, and mystery. It is a movie I did not expect a lot from and found myself blindsided by its beauty. It is a story of a young man who is forced to survive in dire circumstances and is left having to somehow process and interpret the results. It is a beautifully told and realized film.

1. The Cabin in the Woods. This is one of those rare movies that takes genre conventions and boundaries and proceeds to smash them to bits. The Cabin in the Woods takes your expectations and turns them completely around, then when you think you have a handle on things, it twists them away again. It is a shot in the arm of a genre that is stuck in a rut filled with sequels, sub par remakes, and PG-13 ghost stories. This is genre filmmaking at its finest, it pays homage to where we were and forges ahead in new directions to show the possibilities. It is made by people with a love for the genre and a desire to bring everything they like under one roof. Now, as much as i love this movie, i am not so blind to think everyone will agree with me. This is a weird movie that plays mix and match with genres and covers a lot of ground. It is a horror/science fiction hybrid with healthy doses of comedy, gore, and jump scares. It helps to be into that sort of thing, and I am. This is simply a great movie and it is a shame that it took so many years for it to reach an audience. It is a movie crafted by those who clearly love the genre. The end result is something genuinely unique and original. This movie has laughs, scares, thrills, intelligence, and is perfectly suited to watch over and over.

That about sums it up. I know, you don't agree with any of it. Good thing it's my list! Stay tuned for my forthcoming worst of list.

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