moviebuff801: Top Ten Films of 2012

Posted: January 31, 2013 by moviebuff801 in Lists

Now that this year’s PGCMA’s are over and PG Cooper has announced his Top Ten Films of the Year, I thought it only appropriate that I hop on the bandwagon and provide my own list.  So, here they are, and keep in mind: these are based on my personal opinions.  So if you disagree with any of the choices, I ask that you please keep it civil.

10.  Looper

Writer/director Rian Johnson didn’t particularly impress me all that much with either of his first two efforts, Brick and The Brothers Bloom.  So, if you had told me at the start of 2012 that his next feature film would wind up on my list of the Best Movies of the Year, I would’ve probably waved you off with an “Oh, come on!” smile.  But Looper more than earns a spot on this list.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a hired killer in the year 2046 and part of a group known as “loopers,” who kill targets sent back to them via time travel from thirty years in the future by the mob.  But when Joe’s latest target turns out to be his own future self (Bruce Willis), things start to get very dangerous, not to mention very complicated.  First, I have to give Looper props for having the most interesting and creative original concept of any movie I saw in 2012, not to mention one of the best original screenplays, period.  In any lesser or more uninspired hands, Looper could have easily turned into something less-than-satisfying.  But Rian Johnson, who clearly favors story and character development over all the flash and bang of a conventional Hollywood thriller, turns this film into something unexpectedly smart and compelling.  The story takes a few turns that the trailers don’t imply, demonstrating that Johnson has enough faith in his audience to expect them to not check their brains at the door.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis both give equally great performances, with Willis especially hitting a few emotional notes we rarely, if ever, see him hit.  Emily Blunt also shows up halfway through the film and does nice work as a single mother caught in the middle of all the chaos.  The film also has the rough and gritty feel of sci-fi cult hits such as Blade Runner and Dark City at certain times, and I have a feeling that years from now, Looper will be regarded alongside titles like that.  Overall, Looper is an endlessly engaging movie that ranks with others like Moon and Inception as one of the most original and entertaining sci-fi films of the past few years.

9.  The Dark Knight Rises

Easily one of the most divisive films of 2012, in general, I think the one thing that everybody who’s seen The Dark Knight Rises can agree on is that no matter what “camp” you find yourself in, it’s a very passionate camp at the end of the day.  I know this film is considered not as great as The Dark Knight, BUT I still loved it and I still stand by my placing it on this list.  And for the record, yes, I liked it more than The Avengers.  Set eight years after the 2008 record-setting and record-breaking superhero epic, The Dark Knight Rises picks up with a retired and weakened Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), whose shouldering of the guilt of the crimes committed by Harvey Dent/Two-Face all those years earlier has thus eliminated the need for Batman in a now-peaceful Gotham City.  But that peace is soon broken by the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy), a ruthless and masked terrorist leader whose deadly strength is matched only by his horrific intellect, an intellect which forces Batman out of retirement in order to save his city.  Just like his previous two outings with the Caped Crusader, director and co-writer Christopher Nolan delivers a summer blockbuster with equal emphasis put on story, characters and spectacle.  In every sense of the word, The Dark Knight Rises is a true epic, encompassing everything that has not only made Batman Begins and The Dark Knight so good, but also every other superhero movie worth their salt that has been released in the past ten years.  From moment to moment, my investment in this film never wavered.  Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman all deliver their best performances in the trilogy here, and newcomers like Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (that’s two appearances for him on this list) also leave lasting impressions with their respective characters.  And in a year of memorable movie moments, the scene where the National Anthem is used to chilling effect in order to foreshadow a forthcoming act of terror still gives me goosebumps.

Now, SPOILER ALERT, I want to talk briefly about the ending to this film, which has most Batman fans up in arms because it has Bruce Wayne hanging up the cape and cowl, thus leaving the legacy for John Blake (Gordon-Levitt) to continue.  Personally, I have no problem with this.  First, it’s not like this is a development that comes out of nowhere.  As was established in The Dark Knight, Wayne was clearly willing to stop being Batman if he believed it would serve the welfare of Gotham, which this clearly does.  By the end of this film, he’s fixed all the main problems in the city, which was his intention all along, as well as making Batman become a symbol, which is clearly the case, too.  Second, I feel that Bruce Wayne deserves happiness after everything he’s been through in this trilogy, and besides, he’s leaving the safety of Gotham in what he truly believes to be capable hands.  I think it’s a natural character progression and a satisfying emotional point, one of many throughout the film.

All in all, The Dark Knight Rises is an epic, exciting, emotional and ambitious conclusion to the greatest superhero trilogy ever made.

8.  Life of Pi 

I’ve never read Yann Martel’s beloved novel Life of Pi, on which director Ang Lee’s latest film is based.  But even so, the sheer magnitude of the story and its messages weren’t lost on me, as this film pulled me in deeper and deeper every minute.  The majority of the film finds a teenager named Pi (Suraj Sharma) stranded in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger referred to as Richard Parker after a ravaging storm claims the lives of the rest of Pi’s family.  In terms of story set-up, Life of Pi reminds me of Robert Zemeckis’s Cast Away, but Ang Lee’s film is a much more miraculous achievement, not to knock Cast Away, though.  For one, Life of Pi has a wondrous visual scope, with sometimes breathtaking imagery worthy of being paintings in an art museum.  But more importantly, the film’s emotional core is tenderly and expertly handled by Lee and screenwriter David Magee, whose script makes the film’s hour at sea a captivating stretch in every sense of the word.  Suraj Sharma’s performance is more than worthy of the burden of carrying most of the movie by itself, and the way his dynamic with the tiger blossoms is really quite extraordinary, especially in how powerful and heart-tugging its resolution ends up being.  Also doing great work here is Irrfan Khan as the older Pi, who recounts the events that we see play out.  By the end of this movie, I felt as if I’d experienced something truly remarkable.  Life of Pi is a real experience, an experience not to be missed, and I can confidently say that its 11 Oscar nominations were not wasted.  If you haven’t yet seen this film, then I absolutely urge you to.

7.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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If I were to give out a prize for the Biggest Surprise of the Year, then that honor would most definitely have to go to Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  Why, you ask?  Well, because this film is simply remarkable in the way it captures and portrays everything that goes along with growing up in our formative high school years.  Chbosky’s eyes and ears for realism and honesty are incredibly fine-tuned to all of those definitive moments in our lives that occur during these four years, as well as everything that make teenagers tick, and not for one second do we ever doubt his abilities as a storyteller.  The film follows Charlie (Logan Lerman), a high school freshman who befriends two free-spirited seniors named Sam and Patrick (Emma Watson and Ezra Miller), who gradually coax Charlie out of his shell and welcome him to the world of young adolescence, or “the island of misfit toys,” as Sam refers to it.  If you were a teenager in high school in either the ‘90’s or the 2000’s, then odds are you’re going to find something in here to relate to.  But if you don’t fall into that category, this film is still great anyway.  Logan, Watson and Miller all deliver sympathetic and fragile performances, ones that get to the heart of what it fundamentally means to be a teenager in a society like this.  Chbosky’s adapted screenplay from his own novel is surprisingly smart in how it has a real, heartfelt human story at its core.  This story is thankfully not inhabited by hipster clichés, but instead by real characters with dark, sometimes haunted pasts, and they’re all brought together in a way that’s equal parts funny, charming, sad and profound.  By the end, I had connected with and was moved by this film in a way that I wasn’t expecting.  And I hope the same goes for those of you out there who’ve either seen it already or will see it soon.  This movie is as beautiful as it is real.

6.  Les Miserables

My usual stance on musicals is that, on average, I’m not a big fan of them.  But, I’ve been thinking about this lately, and actually, I’ve given quite a few musicals favorable to glowing reviews.  So, allow me to amend that statement to this: I enjoy musicals when they’re done well.  Tom Hooper’s adaptation of the Broadway sensation Les Miserables falls into that category.  Maybe I can partly attribute my loving the film to all of the Theatre classes I took throughout high school and college.  But I’m getting off-track.  The fact is, Les Miserables works, through and through.  It works primarily because it feels unlike any other movie musical I’ve seen except for maybe Sweeney Todd.  Tom Hooper’s vision for the film is decidedly more intimate while being big, grungy while being beautiful and somehow, those combinations end up suiting each other well.  Its story is an epic one, showcasing a prisoner named Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who skips parole, is thus chased by the fierce Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), and adopts a young girl named Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), who becomes entangled in a love triangle amidst a revolution in France.  Much has been made of the way in which the singing in this film is done, where the actors all sung their songs live while filming, as opposed to recording them months in advance.  Well, I’m here to tell you that the method ends up working.  It provides a sense of emotional intimacy that not only feels natural and unforced, but also adds to the whole aesthetic that the film is going for.  Les Miserables is a very serious and gritty story, so this style of singing only serves to compliment and build on the entire tone.  On the acting front, Hugh Jackman turns in the best performance of his career as Jean Valjean, not only taking advantage of his training in the Theatre, but also exploring emotional depths that his previous action hero roles haven’t allowed him to explore.  Believe the hype about Anne Hathaway, whose incredible use of limited screentime and heartbreaking rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream” are sure to earn her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.  And even though it took me a while to warm to Russell Crowe’s performance, his version of “Stars” serves as the point in the film where he gets better, and that song has rapidly become one of my favorites from the film the more I’ve listened to the soundtrack.  The fact that Les Miserables is an obvious Oscar grab and a film that wears its heart on its sleeve is something I can’t really begrudge it for when it emotionally involved me as much as it did.  I guess you could say that I’m one of the people who heard the people sing.

5.  Silver Linings Playbook

In terms of watching a movie, there’s no better feeling than when you’re watching something fresh and exciting.  Enter David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, a film which resuscitates a genre long thought to be dead: the romantic comedy.  But this isn’t your usual romantic comedy, not one bit.  Whereas every film released with that classification nowadays seems to more often than not focus on two detestable people being just as detestable to each other before ultimately hooking up after a race through the airport, Silver Linings Playbook instead focuses on two refreshingly well-rounded people: Patrick (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence).  Patrick has just been released from a one-year stint in a mental institution after a sudden and violent burst of anger.  He moves back in with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver), and soon attempts to get back into the good graces of his ex-wife.  During this, he meets Tiffany, and the two strike up a partnership of sorts designed to help both of them out, but that partnership eventually begins to turn more into a relationship.  Just like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Silver Linings Playbook feels more like a slice of real life, rather than a recreation of it.  There’s not one major emotional moment throughout this film that comes off as either forced or contrived, and that’s really the result of a combination of three things: the performances, David O. Russell’s direction, and his writing.  Both Patrick and Tiffany have cases of mental illness, yet what Russell wisely does with his adapted screenplay, and what Cooper and Lawrence bring out through their masterful acting, is a strong desire to play against-cliché.  Patrick is bipolar, and yet he has a manic and naturally likable energy about him that contradicts the usual portrait of depression or negativity we normally associate with a mental illness.  Likewise, Tiffany is a character who seems content with using whatever disorder she may have to her advantage, which translates into a very amusing devil-may-care attitude.  We want to see these two get together, which in turn elevates our investment in the film to the point where it instills a sense of joy in us because the storytelling is so strong.  And I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to see a movie that’s overall optimistic about life in general.  I already knew that David O. Russell was a seasoned filmmaker capable of great films after seeing Three Kings and The Fighter, but after Silver Linings Playbook, I absolutely can’t wait to see what he does next.

4.  Argo

I think it’s official: Ben Affleck has joined the ranks of actors turned directors whose work behind the camera has surpassed his work in front of it.  With Argo, he’s delivered three home runs in a row, but when all is said and done, this is his most accomplished work as a director to date.  Moving from the brutal streets of Boston to the hallways of Washington, the glamour of Hollywood and the city of Iran, circa the 1970’s, Argo tells the only-recently declassified true story of CIA operative Tony Mendez’s (Affleck) daring attempt to rescue six stranded American citizens in Iran as the political powers of said country become ever more dangerous.  And Mendez chooses to do so by building the entire operation around the cover story that he and the American citizens are members of a film crew visiting Iran to scout locations for a science fiction movie.  On a surface level, Argo invites similarities between it and Steven Spielberg’s Munich, and while this film may not be as thematically or dramatically deep as the latter, it’s still an incredible accomplishment in its own right.  Ben Affleck has really come into his own as a director, and on display here is a natural skill for pacing, tension, drama and entertainment … all rolled into one.  The heart of this film is the extraction of the Americans from foreign soil, and the fact that the film can successfully put in a lighter and more comedic subplot about the making of a fake movie and not have it detract from or overshadow the main storyline says wonders not only about Affleck’s capabilities as a storyteller, but also the strength of Chris Terrio’s screenplay, which is filled with great dialogue and some wickedly funny jokes.  But most importantly, Affleck makes Tony Mendez a likable character so that we can better get involved in his struggle to succeed and feel the suspense as it is gradually ratcheted up to such a level where, even if we already know the outcome of this true story, our hearts are still pounding in our chests in the Third Act as parts of the mission begin to potentially unravel at the last minute.  If you needed a reason why the Academy foolishly failed to honor Affleck with a Best Director nomination this year, then there you go.  Also worth noting is how the film has the authentic feel of a ‘70’s thriller, and yet still manages to use more modern methods to compliment and even strengthen that tone.  Overall, Argo is a masterwork from a director who’s quickly proving to be a force to be reckoned with.

3.  Flight

What a return to form for both Denzel Washington and director Robert Zemeckis.  After countless years of being delegated mostly to just either cops or federal agents in routine action movies, Denzel Washington delivers his best and most effective performance in years in Flight as Whip Whitaker, an alcohol and cocaine-addicted airline pilot who manages to pull off a miraculous crash landing in the midst of a horrific nosedive.  But the fact that Whip was under the influence during the crash soon starts up an investigation, and he finds himself finally, and painfully, having to confront his addictions head-on.  If you went to see this film based solely on the trailers without doing any further research, then odds are you were caught off-guard by how different Flight ended up being from what you thought it would be.  Yes, Flight is an unapologetically dark character study about the effects and consequences of one man’s addictions, but that’s what I found made it so great and compelling.  If the film’s central performance had been lackluster or overplayed, it wouldn’t have worked so well, but Washington’s performance is simply magnificent and more than deserving of his Oscar nomination.  He portrays Whip by walking that fine line between frankness and sympathy, and always manages to get us to root for him to make it out okay.  Not only does that wind up being a strength of Washington’s performance, it’s also perhaps the biggest strength of the film, period.  John Gatins’ expertly-written, not to mention Oscar-nominated, screenplay makes no illusions about Whip’s guilt in the matter, and yet, even though we can clearly see that he’s deserving of all the scrutiny and threatened jailtime, our desire to see Whip come out unscathed grows and grows as the film goes on.  That’s great writing.  Some may complain that the film lacks subtlety where Whip’s struggle is concerned, but as long as a film can get us as invested in that struggle as Flight does, then I can’t really bring myself to fault it for that.  After spending a decade focusing on computer animated efforts, Robert Zemeckis jumps back into the live-action foray without missing a step.  In addition to staging and filming an unbelievably intense crash sequence, Zemeckis also films and paces the rest of the film with all the intensity of an incredibly taut thriller.  And while I think the film could’ve ended more effectively five minutes before it actually did, Flight is still one of the most gripping and involving movie experiences I had in 2012.

2.  Django Unchained

On display in Django Unchained is everything that makes Quentin Tarantino one of my all-time favorite directors.  In a story concerning a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) teaming up with a German bounty hunter known as Dr. King Schulz (Christoph Waltz), and sees them slaying a bloody multitude of slave drivers and criminals before ultimately going to rescue Django’s wife from a nefariously charming plantation owner named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), is the damn-near perfect marriage of everything that’s vintage Tarantino.  You’ve got the sharply-written and verbose dialogue, the brutal violence that makes your jaw drop in shock only so that you can laugh in stunned amusement, and the deft hand at combining tension, humor, thrills, dread and anticipation – and most times, all over the span of just a few minutes – that results in a movie experience that only Quentin Tarantino can deliver.  And with flying colors, no less.  Much has been made about the stellar performances from Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio (do we ever expect anything less from them?), and while I’m over the moon that Waltz got another nomination, it’s an utter travesty that the Academy still refuses to acknowledge DiCaprio, especially when he’s brought to life one of the most memorable screen villains of the last few years.  But I also want to praise Jamie Foxx and Samuel L. Jackson.  It’s easy to say Foxx isn’t as memorable as his co-stars, but that’s because out of all of them, he has the straight-arrow and less-flashy performance.  Foxx nonetheless does the best with it and by the end, he’s become a very badass hero in his own right.  Samuel L. Jackson, meanwhile, as the head slave of “Candie Land” is amazing in the way he effectively pulls off someone who’s curiously content with his people’s status in society at this time, and has learned it’s better to give into convention than to fight it.  Leave it to Tarantino to not only write such a great character, but also ensure the actor in the part never mishandles it.  The nearly 3-hour running time of Django Unchained is undoubtedly felt as the film goes along, but at the same time, my attention and interest never wavered.  Django Unchained may not be the deepest film of 2012, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t the most entertaining.  It gave me everything I expected and then some, and by the time it was over, I was left with a feeling of childlike giddiness.

1.  Zero Dark Thirty

Back in 2009, my Top Two Films of the Year were thus: 2. The Hurt Locker and 1. Inglourious Basterds.  How interesting that three years later, both Quentin Tarantino and Kathryn Bigelow would have films that claim the same positions on my Year-End list again, only in reversed positions.  If this marks the beginning of an inevitable pattern, then I can’t wait for 2015.  Zero Dark Thirty chronicles the arduous ten-year manhunt for Osama Bin Laden following the events of September 11, 2001 as seen through the eyes of CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain).  And during those ten years, Maya’s determination and faith in her job will be put to the test, until that fateful night on May 1, 2011.  Zero Dark Thirty is the most polished, riveting, intense and satisfying experience that any movie I saw from 2012 gave me, on par with the best procedural, political and military movies ever made.  When I compare it against director Kathryn Bigelow’s previous The Hurt Locker, I’m even more amazed by her ability to craft a film that feels so real, it’s like the camera is a fly on the wall that’s capturing real interactions and situations as they play out.  What’s more amazing is Bigelow’s flawless way of building suspense, even when we know the outcome of this story.  I know I praised Ben Affleck for doing the same with Argo, but Bigelow earns more credit between the two because her methods are more subtle.  Seriously, I could hardly breathe during the climatic raid on Bin Laden’s house.  On the acting front, Jessica Chastain is extraordinary as Maya, and this marks the second year in a row after The Debt where she’s appeared in my #1 Film of the Year.  The best thing about Chastain’s performance here is how internal she keeps Maya’s struggle, and through the “less-is-more” approach, manages to get our sympathy almost effortlessly.  Some may call this film emotionally lacking, but I found its decision to let the audience decide how they feel about everything, rather than being spoonfed it, much more effective and representative of how a story like this would play out in real life.  If it were up to me, I’d give Zero Dark Thirty Best Picture at this year’s Oscars; it’s the one film from 2012 where, by the time it was over, I was left in a daze from how great it was.  Ms. Bigelow, here’s to seeing what you give us next.  

And, just for kicks, here were my runners-up:

11. Skyfall

12. Cloud Atlas

13. Prometheus

14. Beasts of the Southern Wild

15. Seeking A Friend for the End of the World

Comments
  1. ckckred says:

    Good list. Nice to see some love for ZDT.

  2. r361n4 says:

    Amazing list, the only ones I didn’t have on mine were Flight, SLP and Looper, but they were all very close. I’m very glad that I’m not the only one who liked DKR better than The Avengers, I loved the Avengers but it’s main appeal was that it was fun whereas DKR was all-out power. Plus as much as I love Tom Hiddleston he is nowhere near as good of a bad guy as Tom Hardy

    • moviebuff801 says:

      Thanks. Glad to hear you share my love of the same films. And I completely agree with you on Avengers and TDKR — Hardy was great and the film itself involved me in the story more than The Avengers did.

  3. Niejan says:

    Great list, but why didn’t you include Lincoln?

  4. moviebuff801 says:

    Like I said, Lincoln is very good, but Spielberg has directed better.

  5. moviebuff801 says:

    What, you didn’t love any of these?

  6. cinemaconn says:

    Couldn’t agree with this list more. Well, if I was to change one thing, it would be to replace Les Miserables with Oogieloves In The BIG Balloon Adventure, but they are like two sides of the same coin.

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