Time for my annual wrap-up of movies that came out this year. Not surprisingly, many of them were viewed on an airplane screen or my iPad since I rarely get to the theater now-a-days. But oh well. I wouldn't have seen a fraction of these films if not for occupying time while on a trip.
THE TWELVE BEST...
These are my favorite movies from this year that I actually saw...
#1 The Avengers.
I'm such a comic book whore that I even like comic book movies when they suck. Which is mostly. But when a comic book film doesn't suck, it is an event to be savored. And The Avengers gave audiences plenty to be happy about thanks to writer/director/genius Joss Whedon. Respectful to the source material at an unheard of level, The Avengers got absolutely everything right. Arguably the best comic book movie of all time, and easily the best film I saw this year.
#2 The Dark Knight Rises
The end of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is bittersweet. Yes, it was fantastic, but it left you wanting more. Much more. I don't know that it was the perfect story to go out on, but it was a definite win for Batman fans around the world.
Some call this the best James Bond film ever made. I don't know that I would go that far, but it was a damn good movie that looked amazing. My favorite thing about it, however, was that it was so fresh, new, and exciting... but unquestionably classic Bond all at the same time.
#4 Django Unchained
Everything you love about Quentin Tarantino... but drenched in more blood and violence than usual. Which is saying a lot, if you know what I mean. It's also the most disturbing Tarantino film to date, but not for the reason you might think. Add to that a performance from Samuel L. Jackson that's so brilliantly heinous that you want to crawl out of your own skin... and you've got my fourth favorite film of the year: a Western comedy/drama that's ultimately about slavery and the evils that men do.
Most times, filmmakers don't even bother to try and get the "science" right in a science fiction film. When it comes to depicting time travel in the cinema, it's usually a thousand times worse. But along comes Looper, which not only did a good job being terrific sci-fi, but a fantastic job being a great film. Smart, entertaining, thrilling, and wonderful to look at... this is a movie both geeks and everyday filmgoers can enjoy.
It's a very good movie indeed when you can already know how the story ends... yet be on the edge of your seat the entire time you're watching. Director/Lead Actor Ben Affleck takes a true story from the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and crafted one of the most smartly suspenseful films of this year or any year.
#7 The Cabin in the Woods
Nothing quite like taking the horror genre and then completely knocking it on its ass... but that's exactly what Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have done here. If you haven't seen it, I guarantee that you have no idea what you're in for, no matter how many horror flicks you've seen. Smart, scary, humorous fun that redefines a genre and gives audiences everything you could want in a movie.
#8 Life of Pi
This is a beautiful, imaginative, and entertaining work... but Ang Lee wasn't content to stop there. Much like the book upon which it was based, the film is also inspirational in a way that doesn't seem overly-forced or heavy-handed. Even after seeing the movie, I still don't know how they managed to turn a philosophical indulgence featuring a tiger on a raft into something so accessible and entertaining. Try to see this in the theater if you can, because there isn't a television big enough.
A lot of critics thought this film was shit. They call it offensive, unoriginal, and not funny. I, on the other hand, found it brilliant, unique, and hysterical. The titular character was nothing short of a triumph in computer generated effects. Sure, I thought last year's Paul was a better CGI buddy film, but that didn't stop me from loving Ted. And laughing. A lot.
#10 Moonrise Kingdom
Usually when a filmmaker is defined as "quirky" they end up producing embarrassing, unwatchable shit that makes me want to get punched in the face. But Wes Anderson isn't defined by anything, he just lives "quirky." And totally makes it work in his films. Moonrise Kingdom is no different, taking a charming coming of age romance and infusing it with characters so surreal and wonderful that the movie lingers long after you've finished watching it. I get why some people don't "get" Wes Anderson but, for those who do, this is a magical film.
#11 Sleepwalk With Me
As a long-time Mike Birbiglia fan who loves his brand of comedy, even I was shocked at just how good a film Birbigs managed to create. It's a warm, touching, sweet, and really funny movie that most everybody can relate to in one way or another. It's also neurotic and a little crazy but, unlike Woody Allen films (which I loathe), not annoyingly so. Sleepwalk With Me is humor with note-perfect delivery by a smart comedian at the top of his game. Totally worth a look on video if you missed it in theaters.
#12 Men In Black 3
A film that should have been a complete disaster ended up being a terrific addition to the franchise and added to the story in surprising, wonderful ways. That, along with a masterful performance by Josh Brolin as a Young Tommy Lee Jones, put MIB3 on my Best List, bumping other films that were probably more worthy. Assuming Barry Sonnenfeld takes his time to come up with something this good, I am hoping that MIB4 will come out sometime down the line.
Monsters Inc 3D/Finding Nemo 3D — I'm not a fan of 3D films, but fully admit that it totally added to the experience of viewing two of my favorite animated movies. Pixar uses 3D with such subtle perfection, even though they could probably get away with just slapping the shit everywhere... but they don't, and that's why I love them.
The Secret World of Arrietty — Oh shock... Hayao Miyazaki is involved in yet another animated masterpiece. This fantastic interpretation of The Borrowers rings true on every possible level and adds yet another film to Miyazaki's stunning filmography. He keeps saying he's going to retire... oh how I hope he doesn't. Nobody... not even Disney... is making films like this any more.
Shut Up And Play The Hits — I'm a fan of James Murphy's music, and this remarkable film follows him over 48 hours, both before and after LCD Soundsystems's last show ever. I wish more of my favorite bands would have films like this... knowing them better somehow makes me appreciate what they do all the more.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi — I fully admit that this film held no surprises for me. I've been to Japan many times and have studied the culture for decades. And yet... there's something about seeing this very Japanese film that encompasses what I love so much about the Japanese people. Yes, I know a documentary about sushi doesn't sound that exciting, but it's what's going on around that which makes this film such a treasure.
Robot and Frank — The performance by Frank Langella in this film appears so effortless that it's easy to forget the entire story hinges on his ability to deliver when playing against a hunk of plastic and metal. If I had to pick a word to sum up this film, it would be "charming." And don't we all need a little bit of that?
Chasing Ice — Probably one of the most important documentary films ever made, Chasing Ice tells a story nobody wants to hear... beautifully. The consequences of disappearing ice on our world are so unpleasant that most people choose not to think about it. This film is like a slap in the face that all humanity needs.
Gayby — So a single woman decides to have a baby with her gay best friend before the time on her biological clock runs out. It's a concept that's so clichéd as to be annoying, and yet... hilarity ensues and you just don't care. Surprisingly quality filmmaking in a genre that isn't known for it... an unexpectedly funny surprise.
Safety Not Guaranteed — While I didn't love this film as much as the big critics did, I enjoyed it quite a bit. The acting was all top-notch and drove the story to a wonderful conclusion I honestly didn't see coming.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen — Kind of a romantic comedy... but not offensively so. For the longest time after seeing the film, I debated with myself over whether I liked it or not. Was it too predictable and lame to be a good film? Does the story come through just enough to save it? Ultimately, I decided I wouldn't debate the film with myself if it wasn't worth debating so, yeah, I liked it.
DIDN'T SEE, PROBABLY WOULD HAVE MADE MY LIST...
Zero Dark Thirty — This film flew completely under my radar until everybody I know started raving about it. I was gutted that I couldn't find a theater playing the film when I had opportunities, and it will probably go down as my greatest cinematic regret of the year.
Lincoln — Having read two Lincoln biographies, I just didn't make this film the priority it deserved to be. Now I'm regretting not having seen it on the big screen because I would have undoubtedly enjoyed it given my fascination with our 16th President.
Silver Linings Playbook — I saw an interview about this film and became convinced I'd enjoy it. That being said, I have no problem waiting for video rental to see it.
Wreck-It Ralph — When I was at Disney World back in September, this movie was being heavily promoted. Ordinarily, I'd be skeptical, but the retro video game love provided pretty much assures I would like it.
ParaNorman — Another cartoon I passed on. Just like MegaMind and Despicable Me, this animated feature will undoubtedly be something I regret not seeing on the big screen.
Frankenweenie — A Burton film that I was looking forward to for the longest time. Unfortunately, I never found time to see it in a theater.
NOT QUITE AS BAD AS I WAS LED TO BELIEVE...
Dark Shadows — Yes, the film sucked if you were looking for a reboot of the classic television show. Yes, it's not one of Tim Burton's best works. Yes, the story was weak and some of the characters weren't given much to do. But, despite all that, Johnny Depp as Barnabus Collins was pretty damn entertaining to watch. I did not love this film. But there was just enough entertainment at play to make me glad I saw it. I have no idea why everybody else was in such a tizzy over it, but I couldn't throw a stick without hitting somebody rambling on about how much they hated it for weeks after the movie debuted.
OVERRATED BUT NOT TERRIBLE...
Chronicle — From the way comic book fans were gushing about this film, I thought I was destined to love it. Instead I found it to be one of the most whiny, predictable, boring pieces of super-hero cinema ever made. All efforts of trying to portray the realistic consequences of super-powers was clichéd and uninteresting to me. Still, it was a comic book film, and I was glad I saw it.
The Master — The critics were practically blowing themselves over how awesome a film this was, so I put quite a bit of effort into making sure I saw it. Only to find that it was cinematic garbage tied to great performances masking as some kind of deep character study. The critics had no choice but to love it because this is the kind of crap that makes them feel smarter than all the people they write for. Meanwhile, I just sat there wallowing in the mediocrity of this movie, but still happy to see the performances which were quite good.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — WTF?!? I mean, seriously, how could Peter Jackson manage to condense the fucking massive Lord of the Rings trilogy into three films... but not keep a short story like The Hobbit as a single film? I probably could have forgiven stretching it out to two films... but THREE?!? There's so much boring padding attached to this movie that I'm shocked you can even find the story in there. Yes, it's beautifully shot and the performances and all that are great... but holy shit was it repetitive and slow. Granted, I am not a massive fan of The Hobbit novel, but I was still excited to see it after falling in love with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I immediately regretted it. Here's hoping somebody with some fucking sense in their head will edit all three films down to the story it should have been in the first place so I can love it without shining a LOTR lamp on it.
The Amazing Spider-Man — I just don't get it. Half of the film we had already seen in the Sam Raimi trilogy, the other half wasn't anything to write home about. I didn't think the humor worked. The romance was dead. The tone seemed too dark for the character. And Garfield just wasn't as good as Maguire in the role. Yes, it's a shitload better than Spider-Man 3 (one of the worst super-hero films ever made), but I think it's pretty weak compared to the first two films. About all I can say is that the special effects were really well-done, and I liked the fight sequences. Such a pity they didn't bother to tie all that together with something bigger and better than what's come before. All I can hope is that all the foreshadowing pays off in the sequel. It had better, because I want the time spent watching this to mean something.
Prometheus — I am such a huge Ridley Scott fan that I would have his baby if he asked me to. His films are some of the most beautiful, inventive, imaginative stories in cinematic history. The man defines genre entertainment. So when I learned that he was creating a "not-really-a-prequel" to Alien, one of the best films of all time, I lost my fucking mind. So imagine my disappointment when Damon Lidelof turned in another fucking disaster of a script filled with cool elements, but no explanations of story points, and plot-holes so fucking big that you could shove a planet through them. Holy crap was this a jaw-dropping film to look at... even in 3D... but for fuck's sake, WHERE WAS THE GODDAMN STORY?!? Because of my love of Ridley Scott, I actually went out and bought the 4-Disc Blu-Ray Super Deluxe Home Video Package for Prometheus because there was a sticker on the front which said "QUESTIONS WILL BE ANSWERED." And, yes, some questions are. BUT ISN'T THAT SOMETHING YOU SHOULD FUCKING TAKE CARE OF IN THE ACTUAL FUCKING FILM?!?? You honestly expect people to hunt down and watch a bonus disc and listen to a commentary track to know what the fuck was going on and why the characters acted the inexplicable way they did? Really? Fucking bullshit. Damon Lindelof should be ejected from Hollywood for this overrated mess.
Cloud Atlas — The book by David Mitchell was difficult and demanding, but ultimately brilliant and rewarding to get through. With that in mind, I couldn't figure out how it was going to be turned into a film. But the Wachowski siblings (along with Tom Tykwer) somehow managed to do exactly that... but I'm not sure if it's successful or not. Parts of the movie are just mind-bogglingly amazing and have you convinced that no film ever has managed to do this before. Other parts are just boring, confusing, and so unsatisfying that you wonder how in the hell such talented actors bought into it. Ultimately Cloud Atlas is completely lacking the structure and cohesiveness of the book, but is still something I'm glad I saw. I just don't think it deserves the accolades some critics are hoisting upon it. Nothing here is life-changing, so move along.
Flight —Denzel Washington is so damned talented that I don't even bother to question whether or not I should watch his films. The guy can act his way out of just about anything... including a shitty script... so why should I? Well, Flight is why. Yes, Denzel is his usual amazingly talented self. Yes, I actually did enjoy the movie overall. But to heap such astounding praise on a movie that's not really sure of how to handle a character that's drunk and high all the time... and instead goes for long stretches of BORING to fill the gaps... isn't my idea of fun.
The Grey — I get what the filmmakers were doing. I understand the message that was trying to be communicated. And Liam Neeson remains one of the most talented actors in Hollywood. But The Grey fell way short of my expectations... being more boring than entertaining... as the filmmakers tried to bash me over the head with some great message for humanity. In the end, it just didn't work that well for me even though I thought the film itself was pretty good.
WORST OF THE WORST...
John Carter — Take one of my all-time favorite books, add in a massive budget and a very talented director, then put Disney behind it all... and you're pretty much assured of a great movie, right? Wrong. This film was fucking awful. Everything wonderful about one of the most influential books of all time was systematically dumped from the movie, and the lead actors were so horribly miscast that the end result was beyond saving. I have waited most of my life to see A Princess of Mars and the rest of Edgar Rice Burroughs' brilliant Barsoom books brought to the big screen. This box-office bomb and total fuck-up has insured that I'll probably never see it happen in my lifetime. Fuck everybody who crushed my dreams with this hideous turd of a movie.
Battleship —Taylor Kitsch is on a roll. Not only did he contribute to fucking up John Carter, but he also starred in this crap-fest. You could have guessed that a film based on a board game would turn out badly... but there was no way to anticipate something this fucking stupid. I hated every damn minute spent watching this cinematic disaster, and can't help but blame myself for thinking "YOU SUNK MY BATTLESHIP" would end up inspiring anything but shit.
One for the Money — OH MY FUCKING GAWD... STOP GIVING KATHERINE HEIGL NEW FILMS! She was annoying enough when she whined her way through Grey's Anatomy, but this is the cherry on top of the shit sundae of her film career. Why somebody felt the need to remake J-Lo's character in the far, far, far better film Out of Sight, I will never know. This is bland, uninspired, humorless filmmaking at its worst.
The Watch — OH MY FUCKING GAWD... STOP GIVING JONAH HILL NEW FILMS! He drags down every project he's attached to, including otherwise genius films like Moneyball and MegaMind... so you can just imagine how he could completely sink a turd like this film. Firmly in "so bad it's bad" territory, The Watch is about as lame an alien invasion film as you could possibly imagine.
Taken 2 —The first film was mindless action fun that I found myself enjoying. The sequel is a heinous mess of a film that takes capable stars and plunges them into something less than mediocre. Just further proof that Hollywood will churn out anything... no matter how creatively bankrupt.
Total Recall —In one of the most unnecessary remakes in cinema history... the Paul Verhoeven/Arnold Schwarzenegger classic is leveled for a CGI crap-fest that looks incredible, but turns out to be lacking in just about every way possible.
Wrath of the Titans — This is worse than an unnecessary sequel, it's an unnecessary sequel of an unnecessary remake! The filmmakers had two chances to get it right and failed miserably. Has the distinction of being one of the most action-packed movies this year, yet is still mind-numbingly boring... all thanks to a woefully uninspired and humorless performance by Sam Worthington.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter — I went into this film expecting good ol' cheesy fun, and ended up getting a violent joke of a film that takes itself way too seriously. More like a mindless video game shooter than a serviceable story, this movie is a worse theater experience for Lincoln than he had at the Ford's Theater (I'm betting a lot of critics thought the same).
The Dictator — Oh look! It's a take on Borat but with a quarter of the laughs! Left me wondering if perhaps Sacha Baron Cohen is out of ideas, because Brüno before it was a take on Borat with half the laughs. Can't wait for his next film with one-eighth the laughs.
Alex Cross — Okay... this one is my own fault... I was somehow convinced that Tyler Perry could step into the impossibly large shoes left by Morgan Freeman and actually manage to carry an Alex Cross movie. My bad. Though, in retrospect, it's not entirely on him. This movie was so badly written that I sincerely doubt even Morgan Freeman could have saved it. For a psychological crime thriller, this movie sure had a lot of laughs... a pity every one of them was unintentional.
Red Tails — Okay... this one is my own fault... I let my nostalgia for George Lucas' early work convince me that he could actually be involved with a film that might be worth a shit today. My bad. What's amazing is that the idea only came from Lucas... the unbelievably cheesy characters, groan-inducing dialogue, and pedestrian situations were all written and directed by somebody else. On top of all that, the special effects for the air combat weren't even that great... AND THIS IS LUCASFILM!!! It just kills me is that the story of the Tuskegee Airman is ripe with all the elements needed for an amazing film, and yet nothing in Red Tails seems to take advantage of it. Maybe one day we'll get lucky and somebody like Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg will give us an HBO mini-series as well-crafted as Band of Brothers that is worthy of these brave men and their amazing story. Until then, we get stuck with this crap. Just astounding that George Lucas has fallen so far that he would even consider this flick worth releasing. My pick for the film of 2012 whose poster had more depth than the movie it was advertising.