Saturday, July 06, 2013

My Favorite Movies of 2012

I wrote this around Oscar season and never posted it. Shame to let it go to waste, I guess.

I saw a lot of movies last year, and here’s how I rank them …

31. “Snow White & the Huntsman”—Kristen Stewart (who I like very much) was miscast and laughable as a “warrior princess,” while Charlize Theron wildly overacted. The only redeeming part of this dreck was budding superstar Chris Hemsworth.

30. “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”—Yep, the Hollywood marketers put one over on me; the trailers made it look like this was gonna be a rom-com a guy could love, a la Judd Apatow, with the collection of male comedians stuck on babysitting duty. Instead, they were barely in it and all their scenes were in the trailer. Call it the “Inglorious Basterds” of chick flicks.

29. “Taken 2”—Awful. Just … awful.

28. “Lockout”—Guy Pearce was fun (nice mini-comeback year for him, by the way), but the rest was utterly forgettable.

27. “Dark Shadows”—All the best parts were in the trailer.

26. “Ted”—Like all Seth McFarlane humor, the same joke over and over again wears out quickly. And this was a lot longer than a 20-minute episode of “Family Guy.”

25. “21 Jump Street”—Could qualify for Pleasant Surprise of the Year. Much better than I’d ever thought possible.

24. “The Expendables 2”—As a whole, this was a better movie than the first one; but it was just missing that over-the-top, laugh-out-loud action factor. Jean-Claude van Damme was awesome, though.

23. “Pitch Perfect”—Fun movie that’s already gaining cult-status. How can you not love Anna Kendrick?

22. “This Is 40”—This is not Judd Apatow’s best work. It’s the type of movie where if you think about it afterward, you can come up with any number of little complaints. But it was never so annoying that I ever wanted to turn it off, and I was engaged all the way through.

21. “Moonrise Kingdom”—Perhaps Wes Anderson just isn’t for me. This movie was too cute and clever by half.

20. “The Hunger Games”—Up until the last 15 minutes of the movie (which were way too rushed), this was as good an adaptation of the book as I could’ve hoped for. Jennifer Lawrence … wow, what a great year she had.

19. “Wreck-It Ralph”—The first half was some of the best animated work I’ve seen in years; it was exactly what I hoped for out of a movie celebrating the history of videogames and hit all my tickle spots. Unfortunately, the second half drifted off into standard kid’s-movie fare. Still, overall a good experience.

18. “Skyfall”—Yeah, that’s right: I liked “Twilight” better than “Skyfall.” This movie is a train wreck compared to the other two Daniel Craig films. It drops everything the first two built and goes off on a tangent that goes nowhere. I don’t want to see a self-conscious, unconfident, mopey James Bond. This is the type of movie that gets worse and worse the more you think about it. Craig, Judi Dench, and Javier Bardem are so good they salvage it from being utter rubbish, but it’s nowhere near the level of the other two.

17. “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 2”—Snicker and snipe all you want, but these movies did exactly what they were supposed to, and they’re much better than anyone gives them credit for. Looking back on the series, the only one I didn’t like was “New Moon,” and that’s basically because that book is nearly un-adaptable. “Breaking Dawn—Part 2” was a perfectly enjoyable two hours at the movies, and the filmmakers did well by these characters in the end. Just like the rest of the films in this franchise, the beginning was a little shaky and stilted, but then it hit its stride and the conclusion was engaging and rewarding. Well done.

16. “Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike”—Everything about the second installment was better than the first, except perhaps Samantha Mathis as Dagny Taggert. But Jason Beghe more than made up for her with his sparkling turn as Hank Rearden.

15. “The Bourne Legacy”—Matt Damon, who? Jeremy Renner rules.

14. “The Amazing Spider-Man”—I couldn’t have been more down on this movie going in, but it won me over almost immediately almost purely through the remarkable work of star Andrew Garfield. He is a better Peter Parker than Tobey Maguire, and the rest of the movie supported him nicely. Really, except for that cheesy crane scene and a bit of the been-there-done-that vibe, this was a fine entry in the franchise.

13. “Lawless”—Tom Hardy had himself a year, huh? He’s magnetic here as the elder brother in this clan of young moonshiners. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, but two very specific things held it back: Guy Pearce’s character was just too over the top evil, and the climax was overdone and didn’t stay true to the rest of the movie. Otherwise, it’s a really good flick.

12. “Argo”—With this one Ben Affleck proved his great directing skills aren’t limited to movies set in Boston. Has there ever been a bigger surprise behind the camera than Affleck? I’d given him up for dead long ago, but now he’s debuted with three straight excellent directorial efforts. “Argo” is my least favorite of those, but it’s still a really good movie; it just never hit that “next level” for me for some reason. Bonus points, too, for the purely coincidental timing of “Argo” and the Benghazi disaster.

11. “Looper”—Every year needs a good, noir-ish, dystopian, sci-fi thriller, and that was “Looper” in 2012. Great performances by Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a smart script, and superb art direction mean this movie is built to last.

10. “Act of Valor”—I don’t want to hear about the acting. I just don’t. Of course the acting wasn’t great; those are freakin’ Navy SEALs up there on screen. This movie is all about the action sequences, and they are some of the best I’ve ever seen. That scene where the gunboat comes around the corner of the river … that alone was enough to put this in my top 10. “Act of Valor” is a movie college kids are gonna watch in their dorm rooms at 2 a.m. 10 years from now.

9. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”—The comparisons to Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy are inevitable, but perhaps unfair. The source material isn’t nearly as grand for this trilogy as the last; “Hobbit” is more whimsical, and Jackson captures that essence quite well. I thought the movie dragged a tad in the middle, but the first and final acts were everything I could hope for; the key scene between Gollum and Bilbo was as wonderful as any filmmaker could hope to accomplish. And Martin Freeman was the absolute right choice as Bilbo; he and Richard Armitage (as Thorin) carried the movie on their backs.

8. “Marvel’s The Avengers”—Though it gets off to a rocky start (stilted dialogue, etc.), Joss Whedon turns in what has to be considered one of the best superhero movies of all time with this massive ensemble extravaganza. Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark anchors the whole thing, but everyone else is good, too (particularly Scarlett Johannson). And the climactic battle was as thrilling a sequence as anything I saw all year. Plus, you know, Hulk smash.

7. “Silver Linings Playbook”—I was not prepared for what a hard-hitting, emotional punch this movie packs. All of the Oscar nods are more than deserved, as every actor in the film is brilliant. It is a remarkable examination of mental illness and what it takes to recover and heal.

6. “2016: Obama’s America”—This may have been a notch or two higher had it actually cost Obama the election, but credit Dinesh D’Souza for doing what the media still refuses to do—examine Barack Obama’s history to find out who he is and what he believes. D’Souza doesn’t go muckraking; he simply pores over Obama’s own written words and then puts them into true context, as opposed to the sleight-of-hand Obama used in the authoring of those books. Unfortunately, D’Souza’s work here went unfulfilled in 2012.

5. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”—This will be the movie from 2012 that everyone wonders, “How did I not see that?” Much more than just another coming-of-age teen drama, “Wallflower” is an insightful look at the damage done to innocent children. And yet, it is also filled with hope and love and humor, with brilliant performances by all the leads. Go watch this movie.

4. “End of Watch”—This is the most thrilling, captivating, intense cop movie since “Heat.” The documentary style lends immediacy to the experience, but that would’ve gone nowhere without the charisma between Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal; I’ve never been a big fan of the latter, but he won me over here, and I’ll probably watch everything he does from now on. “End of Watch” is the anti-“Crash,” showing you the best and brightest of what police officers can and should be.

3. “Zero Dark Thirty”—I really wanted to hate this movie. I couldn’t have gone into it with more negative expectations. So it should tell you what an amazing piece of work this is that it beat all those pre-conceived notions and turned into one of the best movies of the year. Tremendous performances, incredible sustained tension, and a climactic action sequence I will never forget. Bigelow did our nation proud with this one.

2. “The Dark Knight Rises”—With the completion of his Batman trilogy, Christopher Nolan has set a new bar for what “superhero movies” can and should be. “Rises” has more layers than can possibly be detailed in this short space—from the redemption of Bruce Wayne to the arc of Selina Kyle’s character (and, wow, Anne Hathaway …), to the evisceration of Occupy Wall Street, to the thrilling action—but what I was struck most by was how effectively Nolan drew the character of Wayne. By the end of “Rises,” you almost forget that he dresses up as a bat; or, more appropriately, when he does don the cape and cowl, you think of him more as Bruce Wayne than as Batman. That is an amazing achievement.

1. “Django Unchained”—I went back and forth between this and “Rises,” trying to figure out which one I truly loved more. I ultimately settled on “Django” because I cannot find a single flaw, or come up with a single thing about it I don’t like. It is perhaps Quentin Tarantino’s perfect movie. The performances he draws out of the actors here you get the feeling only Tarantino could get. He takes the best of the revenge and spaghetti Western genres, mixes in his own flair for both gut-busting humor and gut-twisting sadism, and throws in a romance for good measure. And no one—and I mean no one—knows how to make a “hero shot” like Tarantino; Jamie Foxx just basically has to stand there, or walk through smoke, or reach for his gun, and Tarantino does the rest. Even the soundtrack is awesome (as per usual). “Django Unchained” has it all.