It’s that time again. When I started contemplating an end of the year movie list a few weeks ago I had two thoughts, both of which turned out to be wrong. The first was that I hadn’t seen many movies this year, and the second was that it had been a bad year for movies, at least for me. As it turns out, I saw a respectable 61 films, and had no trouble creating Top 10 lists. Last year I limited myself to the Top 5 of 2011 because I didn’t feel I’d seen ten movies that were worthy of the list. Not so this year, people!
Favorite 2012 Releases:
1. The Cabin in the Woods – Sure, I’m biased in favor of Whedon and company, but I really think Drew Goddard and Joss crafted an amazing film. It’s sort of scary, extremely funny, and a brutal commentary on filmmaking, horror, our culture’s idolization of youth, and whether the human race deserves to survive.
2. Bernie – Jack Black plays against type as a sweetheart of a guy who is also capable of a truly terrible act. See my full review here.
3. Moonrise Kingdom – It’s as if everything Wes Anderson has ever done was leading to this. The serious dreams of childhood, the weary disappointments of adulthood, the small graces that make life not just bearable but sweet – they’re rendered in almost mythic proportions in Moonrise Kingdom. Too precious? No, just precious enough, I think.
4. Brave – I’ve just written about Brave at length, so I won’t repeat myself. It’s lovely to look at, it’s funny, and it’s got substance.
5. Looper – Wow! Bruce Willis was in two of my top-5 movies this year! Who would have thought, right? Looper is gripping sci-fi, and like many movies on my list, it’s about big ideas. My one complaint is the the makeup job which attempts to turn Joseph Gordon Levitt into a young Bruce Willis is garish and distracting.
6. Life of Pi – I have mixed feelings about some of the things that Life of Pi says, but I can only marvel at how it looks. It’s spectacular. The CGI and 3D are not gimmicks that hindered my immersion in the world of the movie: it was all seamless, beautiful – and profound.
7. The Avengers - With this first rate superhero movie Joss Whedon became an A-list director. That’s as it should be; Whedon’s fan base has long known what he’s capable of. What I’m saying – in case I’m being too subtle – is that we told you so, and we’re enjoying being right. Also, Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk? Brilliant!
8. The Dark Knight Rises – Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film is dark, operatic, and not so much cynical about society as convinced of it’s complete corruption. Anne Hathaway is a worthy Catwoman, and Joseph Gordon Levitt is wonderful as perhaps the last honest cop in Gotham.
9. Starbuck - A goodhearted Quebecois movie about a sperm donor whose life becomes far more complicated when his young adult progeny sue to learn his identity. Here’s my full review.
10. Wreck-it Ralph – Loads of vibrant, imaginative fun. I suspect I would have enjoyed this even more if I’d misspent my youth in video arcades (well, there was that one long love affair with Time Pilot 84, but other than that…). The underlying theme – of whether we can choose a different life for ourselves, can transcend our programming – is one that matters to more than just Ralph.
Favorite Earlier Releases that I saw in 2012
1. Tree of Life (2011) – Can’t explain it; won’t try. You should see it, preferably on the big screen. Host a movie night somewhere, gather a crowd, and see what happens.
2. Higher Ground (2011) – It’s very strange to see your subculture accurately depicted on screen. Higher Ground shows the evangelicalism that I grew up in, and it was both a pleasure and a pain to watch.
3. Sunrise (1927) - F.W. Murnau’s silent masterpiece about a young couple nearly destroyed by adultery. Irresistible performances and groundbreaking technique.
4. I Know Where I’m Going (1945) – There’s an old song that says “You can argue with your maker, but you know you can’t win.” That notion has never been asserted more magically or charmingly than in this romance-adventure, set in the Hebrides.
5. Attack the Block (2011) – When aliens invade South London, it’s the neighborhood delinquents who defend their home turf. Don’t be fooled by the youthful protagonists: this is a serious, high-stakes action film.
6. Trouble the Water (2008)- New Orleans residents Kimberly and Scott Roberts documented their harrowing experience with Hurricane Katrina and provided a heartbreaking record of the disaster (both natural and man made).
7. Tangled (2010) – My daughters were right: this is a really good princess movie, and the songs are super singable.
8. The Innkeepers (2011) – A spooky haunting story in the tradition of The Haunting or The Shining. Far more atmosphere and suspense than gore or jump scares, and that’s how I like it.
9. Drive (2011) – I don’t even know why I like Drive so much. It’s intensely violent, and as Baph says, it’s not really about anything. It’s pure cinematic style, and somehow it works.
10. Brighton Rock (1947) – A review is forthcoming, but for now I’ll just say that it’s about a dead eyed teenage British gangster, played by Richard Attenborough (long before he was Santa).
Worst Movies Viewed in 2012
1. Paul (2011) – I didn’t laugh once. Seriously. Not once.
2. Lovely Molly (2012) – An awful, nasty, vicious horror movie that made me want to punch the filmmaker. But the lead actress is talented.
3. Pumpkinhead (1988) – It really bothers me that his head doesn’t look like a pumpkin. I sort of feel ripped off. On the other hand, I laughed more than I did when I watched Paul.
4. Land of the Dead (2005) – Social commentary is obscured by the fact that the movie is illogical and boring as heck.
5. Trouble with the Curve (2012) – It’s got a great cast, but it’s as if someone made a bar bet to write a script in which every single scene is a movie cliche’. Well done, guy who won that bet! You did it!
The 2012 Releases I’m Still Hoping to See
1. This is Not a Film
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
3. The Amazing Spider-Man
6. This is 40
7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
9. The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure (just kidding)