Here after the beginning of a new year it’s customary to take a look back at the year that was. Since this is a site about everything film, I suppose it would be fitting to have a retrospect regarding the best movies I saw as opposed to a ranking of all the different brands of peanut butter I ate in 2012 (youtube video forthcoming). Since I ceased working in a theater, my viewing of new movies has decreased as the price of admission has gone from free to wtf. Therefore if you see a shocking omission from my list, then I probably just haven’t seen it yet or perhaps you just rank The Oogieloves a bit too highly. I know that everyone has been waiting for my Best of 1901 list (Edison dominates), but until I finish that, here is my Top 10 (or so) of 2012.
The Raid:Redemption – A film nearly identical to Dredd in plot structure. Nearly all of it follows law enforcement trapped in a single high-rise building run by a druglord, only here we are in the present. High on action, low on plot, The Raid is for the adrenaline challenged. The action sequences and martial arts in this film will make your head spin. I haven’t been this impressed with an action film out of southeast Asia since Tony Jaa’s Tom Yum Goong. A tough cut from my Top 10, but I felt the need to mention it, it’s just that good.
10 – PARANORMAN
Paranorman is easily my choice for best animated film of 2012. This supernatural family film created by Laika, the same film studio that brought us the amazing film Coraline, makes the undead accessible in a fun way to the youngest audience possible. Perhaps just me being a dad seeing my daughter enjoy this film so much landed this on my list, or perhaps its the fact that I enjoyed it just as much as she did. Paranorman has a fantastic collection of voice talent relaying a fun, witty script. A story that pleases both kids and adults usually falls into Pixar’s bag of tricks, but they aren’t the only magicians on the stage.
9 – EXPENDABLES 2
A lot of people laughed at Stallone when he was talking about resurrecting his action movie career while he was pushing 60 by continuing the action movie franchises that made him a household name. After solid Rocky Balboa and Rambo sequels those people weren’t laughing anymore. Stallone proved that for the most part today’s younger action stars are pussified. The old, aging action stars now rule the box office (currently Bruce Willis now reigns with his newest Die Hard installment). Having a who’s who cast of legendary action stars in one film is an easy win. In Expendables 2, Stallone actually improves on the first movie by expanding the roles of Willis and Schwarzenegger (a major gripe from fans in the first movie) and getting an infinitely better villain in Jean-Claude Van Damme. Expendables 2 has a great combination of balls-out action, one-liners and laugh out loud moments. Easily one of the best action movies of the summer.
8 – LOOPER
Continuing with my old man action star theme is Bruce Willis and Joseph-Gordon Levitt starring in Rian Johnson’s sci-fi film, Looper. The film takes a new look at time travel with its real-time consequences. Gone are the days of Marty McFly slowly disappearing as his parents don’t hook up. If a character is injured in the past the scar instantly appears on their future counterpart. Looper’s innovation to time travel logic doesn’t end there. The future counterpart also has immediate memory of the injury. No time travel movie will ever be perfectly plausible or satisfy every physics nerd on the planet, so I give credit to Johnson for coming up with a new twist. For more on Looper check out my review here.
7 – MOONRISE KINGDOM
Wes Anderson has done it again. The man makes the most consistently entertaining films of any filmmaker working today. Anderson has the directing talent and writing ability to attract A-list actors into his quirky dramedies. Moonrise Kingdom is no exception, drawing Bruce Willis and Edward Norton (in a delightfully square performance) in the fold. Even more crucial to this coming-of-age film are the performances of the two young leads, Jared Gilman & Kara Hayward, both of whom are first time actors. It is almost unfathomable to think of these two young stars holding their own with legends like Bill Murray, but they steal the show. If you’re a fan of Anderson’s work, chances are you’ve already seen this. If not, then its time to hit your nearest Redbox.
6 – PROMETHEUS
This was the film I could not wait to see in 2012. Fanboys can cream all over The Avengers all they want, for my money I’ll take Ridley Scott returning to the genre he re-invented over 30 years ago. The Alien universe had been in a relative slump having to most recently duke it out with the Predators franchise. The visual design and attention to detail in Prometheus is remarkable. Prometheus being most likely the first part of an origin story for the xenomorph species, left viewers scratching their heads with more questions than answers. If nothing else Prometheus sparked more debate than any other summer blockbuster in recent memory. To be honest, this film would probably not have made my list if not for re-watching it on blu-ray. I was drawn in all over again. With rumors of linking this series with Blade Runner, it seems that the buzz from Sir Ridley’s work has only begun. More thoughts on Prometheus can be found in my review.
5 – CLOUD ATLAS
Regardless of what they call themselves, the Wachowski Brothers or Wachowski Starship, since The Matrix trilogy ended I was beginning to wonder if they would ever resurface. I just pretend that Speed Racer didn’t happen. Cloud Atlas is as ambitious a project as any in film history with an intertwining plot spanning thousands of years. A feat that was first attempted in 1916 by pioneering filmmaker D.W. Griffith with his epic film Intolerance, and more recently and successfully by Darren Aronofsky with his masterpiece, The Fountain. Cruelly, Cloud Atlas continues the trend of these epic stories falling flat in theaters. With a reported budget of 100 million funded almost entirely by private parties, Cloud Atlas has no chance of making a profit. But this film was an experience, and I am very glad I saw it on the big screen. In my opinion, The Wachowskis come as close as anyone has to achieving a dream-like logic akin to David Lynch while still holding loosely to a three act structure. A film that attempts to portray something bigger than it’s human creators and succeeds deserves recognition. The fact that this film was nearly unrecognized by most major award committees for its score and make-up effects is a travesty.
4 – LIFE OF PI
Life Of Pi was considered to be unfilmable due to the main character’s (Pi) close interaction with a Bengal Tiger (Richard Parker) on a small life boat. The magic of visual effects has the ability to make the impossible possible. Special effects are getting so good I couldn’t even tell the real tiger from the CG one most of the time. The movie is not all about special effects, though there is no shortage in an nail biting shipwreck sequence. Life Of Pi is about storytelling at is core and how each person interprets a story changes its meaning. Even though we are told a story from another person’s point of view, we still project ourselves into it. It is this self projection that determines if we believe the tale or dismiss it as fantasy. This film glides over the line between fantasy and reality better than any I’ve ever seen. Ang Lee deftly handles the complex story, showing us just enough to make our own decisions. I see another Oscar for directing in Lee’s future.
3 – DJANGO UNCHAINED
Well what can I say, 2012 is the year of directors. Tarantino finally gets around to a genre I’m sure he’s been wanting to get to for a long time, the western. His not so subtle stylistic nods to the genre are apparent in nearly all of his films. Westerns are few and far between in theaters nowadays, but if they are all of this quality then I can handle only getting one a year. Tarantino brings his undeniable cinematic style and tweaked humor to a revenge story centered on a bounty hunter (Christophe Waltz) and a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) that he acquires in order to collect a sizable reward. Easily the best onscreen duo for Tarantino since Vincent & Jules. Leonardo DiCaprio steals every scene he’s in as a Calvin Candie, a flamboyant, southern gentleman who happens to own a plantation and Django’s wife (Kerry Washington). Oh, and Sam Jackson is a funny motherfucker. Tarantino throws a lot of racism onscreen, which judging by the media’s reaction to his “overuse” of the N-word they apparently forgot that this film was set around the Civil War-era. Still more outrage over slave “action figures” for the film. Lighten up, people. It’s a movie, and a damn good one at that.
2 – CABIN IN THE WOODS
And the Oscar for Best Bong Prop in a movie goes to…..Cabin In The Woods!! I watch more horror films than anything else it seems. So if one has climbed this far above all the others it’s something special. Cabin In The Woods is unlike every other horror film that’s being churned out into theaters. Cabin takes every cliché in the big book of horror movies and wraps it up into a smirking film that’s smarter than I ever expected. The “horror film” part of CITW with teenagers on a vacation in an isolated cabin essentially takes place in a bubble, while the “corporate” section of the film takes place in an office building of sorts. Mission control, as it were, attempts to contain the action of the horror film. Unfortunately for everyone at mission control, and unbeknownst to them, they are still in the horror movie we, the audience, are watching. It’s only a matter of time before the death and mayhem reaches everyone in the film. CITW doesn’t hold back on any level and is easily the most fun I had watching a movie last year.
1 – THE GREY
Liam Neeson gives the best performance of his career in The Grey. The range of emotion shown throughout the course of this movie by Neeson is astounding. Whoever decided to dump this movie in January is a moron. Sure it’s weather appropriate but that’s about it. Poor marketing and advertising left this buried under the 2011’s Oscar nominated films. The Grey is an emotionally exhausting film. It actually took a toll on me watching it. It is one of the most incredibly tense films I’ve seen in recent memory. Director Joe Carnahan puts the audience in the snow covered boots of seven survivors of a plane crash in Alaska. A harrowing ordeal in itself, but they are being stalked by a pack of wolves who begin picking them off one by one. One of the great things about The Grey is its portrayal of fear. There are many scenes where the men have campfire going and the wolves begin surround them. The wolves stay at the edge of the darkness with only their eyes being visible, still wary of man despite being the hunter. The men stay by the light of the fire, never daring to venture out to fight an unseen danger. The barrier of darkness between the two packs is fear, and it works both ways. The one who survives is the one who conquers the fear that surrounds them. The Grey was an unforgettable film for me. I am a fan of Carnahan’s work but I think the emotion that Liam Neeson brought to this film put it far beyond my expectations and the result is a film about survival unlike any other.