Thursday, January 17, 2013

2012: The Year in Movies

The award traditionally given to the best film
of the year is a green guy in a garbage can.
I tend to see what most people would consider to be a lot of movies. This began about as soon as I was old enough to be allowed to go to a theater with friends, by the time I was 15 I was going to a movie almost every week. In 1997 I saw 50 movies, and while I don't make it to the theater quite as often as I used to, but innovations like Netflix and Red Box have allowed me to keep up with new releases from home, and every year I've managed to see at least 50 new releases. Every year until 2012 that is. I've seen only 47 movies from last year. Shameful. No one is more disappointed in me than me. I thought about a marathon of whatever the Red Box had last weekend, but decided against it.

The other longstanding movie tradition I have is to rank my ten favorite movies of the year. Believe it or not, this isn't actually an original idea. It turns out many movie critics keep this same tradition and hundreds of thousands of people whose job has nothing to do with watching movies do it too. I won't pretend my list is any better or more meaningful than anyone else's, but I've got this blog now, so I might as well post mine here. Feel free to tell me how much better YOUR list is in the comments.

Dishonorable Mention:

* To "Silent House," you had me, then you lost me, then you bored me, then you creeped me out (not in a good way), and then you made me wish I'd done something else with my Friday night.

* To "The Dictator" and "The Campaign," thank you for showing me I've grown up. There was probably a time in my life when I would have enjoyed each of you. Instead, I nearly turned you off.

* To "Ted," America loved you, I did not. I'm sure it's not you, it's me.

* To "The Lorax," I don't know why I thought there was some chance you weren't just going to take one of my favorite children's books and turn it into crap, but I was wrong. That's precisely what you did.

Alright, on to the films I liked...

Honorable Mention:

* "Life of Pi" - A beautiful-looking film that did a better job of capturing the book than I expected.

* "Chronicle" - You don't need a huge budget or pre-existing characters to create a good superhero movie...

* "The Amazing Spider-Man" - If you've got my favorite pre-existing superhero though, I'm good with that too.

* "Flight" - Liked but didn't love it, but the plane crash was one of the most tense movie sequences I've seen.

* "Looper" - Sci-fi movies usually don't work, but when they do, it's a treat.

Top Ten Movies of 2012:

10) Django Unchained - The over the top violence didn't bother me, though I did feel a bit jerked back-and-forth between comedic moments and scenes of intense seriousness. I could have done with about twenty fewer minutes near the end too (Tarantino really should stop appearing in his movies), and I'm not one to mind long films. That said, it made the list, so clearly I enjoyed it. Great dialogue, memorable characters, and fantastic-looking shots, just as we've come to expect from Tarantino.

09) The Cabin in the Woods - Of all the movies in the list, this is probably the least likely, in that I'm not much for horror movies. Of course, if you've seen it, you know describing it as "a horror movie" doesn't do it justice. I have to say, knowing all the options, undead hillbillies wouldn't have been my first choice.

08) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - The movie that has the best chance of climbing this list (were I to update it) over the next couple years, since, fair or not, I feel unable to decide for sure what I think of it until the second and third installments come out. I know I didn't love it as much as LOTR, but that's mostly due to the story not carrying the same weight. I was happy all the same to be returned to Middle Earth, and to know we're not finished there yet.

07) The Dark Knight Rises - My least favorite of the three films, but still a worthy finale to the best trilogy in superhero cinema. It's consistently engaging and Bane was an intriguing villain, but for me there were a few more false notes than in the first two installments. I think the first set the bar really, really high, and while this didn't quite clear it, I still enjoyed it quite a bit.

06) Beasts of the Southern Wild - It's always a treat when a movie you've never heard of until a couple weeks before you see it comes out, and then you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed this one. I'm thrilled Quvenzhane Wallis has been nominated for Best Actress. Only six years old when the movie was filmed, she made Hushpuppy one of the most memorable characters of the year.

05) The Master - I wish I'd seen it twice, because I know I would have gotten a lot out of another viewing, as I did on my second trip to "There Will Be Blood." This is quite on the same level as that one, but I'm not sure any movie in recent years lives up to "There Will Be Blood." Paul Thomas Anderson is a master of his craft, and I hope it's not another five years before we hear from him again. I'm thinking he should find a nice, light buddy comedy. He should still cast Daniel Day-Lewis and Philip Seymour Hoffman though, perhaps as wacky Middle School guidance counselors, one at a cushy suburban private school, the other at a rough and tumble inner city school, and then they have to trade jobs!

04) Argo - One of a handful of films this year that showed how much mileage you can get out of putting a strong cast together. I enjoy when movies can recreate the not so distant past without it seeming tongue-in-cheek, ironic, or kitsch. "Argo" did that well.

03) Lincoln - Spielberg's best movie in a decade. I could watch Daniel Day-Lewis act in just about anything, the man knows what he's doing (and deserves another Oscar). Another film with a great cast.

02) Zero Dark Thirty - One of the tough things about putting this list together every year is trying to assess movies I've seen so recently. In this case, it's been just five days. It's possible that in another few weeks, with more time to reflect, I'll have softened in my admiration, I don't know. As has been written many times already, it's an impressive feat to take a story everyone knows the "ending" to and keep it tense and engaging all the same. Jessica Chastain is fabulous in it.

01) Moonrise Kingdom - I am nothing if not a sucker for the filmography of Wes Anderson. I love the rhythms of his dialogue and his attention to minute details on the screen. I suppose it's because I'm almost unendingly nostalgic, even for times I didn't live through and experiences I didn't have. I'm also drawn to melancholy, apparently mistaking my middle-class childhood for something to brood about. Those are conflicting emotions, I know. I wish I didn't enjoy Anderson's films so much, because it seems a bit of a cliche, but I am what I am and I like what I like. The entire world of the Khaki Scouts delighted me, and Bill Murray is right, chopping a tree down is good for what ails you.


  1. Glad to read your assessment of 2012 movies. Can you believe that I haven't seen any of the ones on your list? We only go to about 1 movie a year and catch most of what we watch on DVD.
    I will try to check out some of yours and will certainly try to find "There Will Be Blood".

    1. Without knowing your taste in movies, I won't try to guess at how you'll respond to "There Will Be Blood." Obviously, I think it's incredible, but it's not for the faint of heart, and shouldn't be watched unless you're in the mood for something challenging and intense.