Below you will find the articles I wrote about my favorite films of the year all combined together in this one place.
My Favorite Films Of 2012
This is a multipart column I am really looking forward to. I am going to get a chance to honor my favorite films of 2012. Since this blog is new and I didn’t get to review any of these films before, this year’s list will probably be a little longer than future years will be. The list will be in eight parts counting down to my favorite film of the year which will be in the final column. To judge what I really consider my favorite films I used a simple criteria. They were films that I knew I would want to revisit again and again and films that already are or will be part of my movie collection. In other words, movies that I’m going to spend my hard-earned money on. I will say that this is been the strongest year in quite some time as far as a number of films that I am truly passionate about. All in all, I would say the top 20 on this list are outright classics for me while many of the others could prove to be as well after multiple viewings.
To see where each of the films stood in relation to other critics and two other fans, I’m going to include their rankings on the Rotten Tomatoes and Internet Movie Database websites. That will be followed up by my thoughts on the film and a favorite performance or moment which I will try to keep spoiler free.
40-Pirates: Band of Misfits-Not nearly the masterpieces that the earlier works of Aardman Animation (specifically Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit) were but even second tier work from this remarkable studio is worth multiple viewings. In under 90 minutes, the film offers a ton of great sight gags, typical dry British humor, and some wonderfully politically incorrect moments. The top one for me was seeing the elephant man as the butt of the joke; something that the typical animated family film would never dare to do. There is little story here, but the abundance of eye candy and activity going on in all corners of the screen largely makes up for the lack of it. An excellent voice cast rounds off the experience.
Rotten Tomatoes: 86% (119-19)
39-Bernie-I went into this movie knowing nothing except that it was a Richard Linklater directed film starring Jack Black. My total ignorance of the subject matter (which is very rare for me) allowed me to be surprised again and again by developments all the way through to the end credits. Therefore, I’m going to give next to nothing away here. I’ll just say that it is a consistently offbeat, quirky comedy that deftly blends the line between fiction film and documentary filmmaking. Jack Black gives a complex, amusing performance as a small-town mortician, Shirley McClain is wonderful as the crotchety old woman the town can’t stand who befriends him, and Matthew McConnaughy has never been funnier than he is here as a self promoting D.A.. Best of all, however, are the many small roles portraying the people of this small town in Texas. A marvelous, entertaining surprise of a film.
Rotten Tomatoes: 92% (110-10)
38-The Raven- I enjoyed this critical and commercial flop as a guilty pleasure. I am someone who loves the writings of Edgar Allen Poe and while this film doesn’t come close to doing them justice, it does pay respect to some of the author’s greatest works. John Cusack is quite good as Poe, portraying him as a mixture of a misanthrope and romantic hero wrapped up in one. The killer is inspired by Poe’s novels so his grisly murders and methods are entirely appropriate. Although the finale is somewhat uninspired, the journey to get there is worthwhile. At the very least, if this film gets a few people to discover one of the great short story writers, that is a good thing.
Rotten Tomatoes: 22% (27-97)
37-The Woman in Black- A good old-fashioned ghost story anchored by a strong lead performance from Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame. Indeed, Radcliffe’s contribution is vital as the entire middle section of the film features him alone in an old house. It’s actually a bit reminiscent of Tom Hanks in Castaway and Will Smith in I Legend in the sense that it’s up to him to carry all the action by himself for long periods of time. The back story of the ghost is serviceable if unremarkable. The real strength (and always a key to any ghost story) of the movie is the sense of atmosphere provided by a disturbed town, a creepy house, and a misty swamp. They provide a great backdrop for all the real and imagined scares in the film. There are several jump out of your seat moments, and Radcliffe’s character and his back story provide some heart to the horror. It also has one of the best openings of the year, an unsettling triple suicide.
Rotten Tomatoes: 65% (112-60)
36-The Secret World of Arrietty- Another work of art from the Walt Disney of Japanese animation Hiyao Miyazaki. While Miyazaki did not direct this film, he adapted the screenplay and his fingerprints can be felt all over it. All his trademarks are here including a complex and compelling heroine, a love and respect of nature, and an attention to every detail that suits the story perfectly. The movie is based on the series of books called The Borrowers about a species of miniature people who live in houses unseen by humans. Amongst the film’s many triumphs is successfully capturing the feeling of wonder that a young boy would experience upon the discovery of something so magical. The young boy also has a tragic back story which adds even more layers to the whole proceeding. The author of the original series, Mary Norton, reveled in attention to detail in every aspect of her creation’s lives. I don’t think she could have asked for a film version that would respect that vision any more closely. Every frame is a work of art and the home of the borrowers is filled with little touches that will require multiple viewings to take in. My favorite Miyazaki film since Spirited Away
Rotten Tomatoes: 94% (109-7)
35-Cloud Atlas-Whatever problems people have with it, no one can say that Cloud Atlas isn’t ambitious. The film follows six separate major storylines that take place in the past present and future. Actors like Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, and Halle Berry all play multiple roles in multiple times. On first viewing, I found myself alternately entranced, frustrated, enchanted, and bored. Some of the scenes were hilarious, others were heartfelt, others were executed with immense wizardry and imagination, while others fell flat and left me cold. When I see a film that leaves me in such a schizophrenic mood, I always try to wait a few days and let it all sink in before making a judgment. In this case, I will say that while I am still conflicted I have been thinking about the film a great deal which is usually a sign that it is one I will come to love or at least admire. Amidst the messier moments, repetition of ideas, and overall pretention, there is simply too much wonder and imagination to be overlooked. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see this film on many critics best and worst films of the year. It is that divisive an experience. Finally, should you see it, do not miss the ending sequence which reveals all the parts the different actors played, some of which I didn’t spot at all during the film.
Rotten Tomatoes: 64% (120-68)
34-Rise of the Guardians– I am not sure what to what extent genius director Guillermo Del Toro was involved in the creation of this animated feature, but there is no question it focuses on themes that permeate his own films. For example, Del Toro is very interested in myths and legends and making sure that everything has a proper back story. He respects fantasy creations and wants to give them depth, and that’s what this film does for Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and Jack Frost. We get to see the inner workings of these characters and what makes them tick. And we also get an entertaining story, exciting set pieces, constant eye candy, and a touching subtext about the importance of belief and maintaining childlike innocence in a cynical world. The voice work is top-notch with Jude Law standing out as the villainous bogeyman. Definitely one of the stronger efforts from DreamWorks animation thus far.
Rotten Tomatoes: 75% (91-30)
33-The Amazing Spiderman-This movie grew on me as it went along. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing completely different takes on superheroes. I think it will actually free things up when filmmakers realize they don’t have to be tied to what was done before indefinitely. Do I like this as much as the Sam Raimi movies? No, for me it’s not even close. However, this version has a lot to offer. Like the movie, Andrew Garfield’s portrayal grows on you as the movie comes along. This is helped by a great supporting turn from Emma Stone as his love interest Gwen Stacy. It was also nice to finally see the Lizard (who has been speculated to be a villain in the Spiderman movies for quite some time) finally get his day in the sun. Add in some solid action sequences, and a new mysterious back story for Peter Parker and you’ve got a solid first installment in a new series of Spiderman movies. I, for one, am interested enough to return and see more of the secrets of Peter Parker’s past revealed and how it all might be connected to a new incarnation of the Green Goblin. Also, knowing Gwen Stacy’s fate in the comics, I’m curious to see if this could turn into a tragic trilogy.
Rotten Tomatoes: 73% (200-74)
32-The Silver Linings Playbook- This delightful quirky romantic comedy from David O Russell is about two dysfunctional people who help to bring each other back into the world. The film has much of the offbeat humor and strange situations of some of Russell’s earlier efforts such as Flirting with Disaster. The difference in this movie is that it also features a great deal of heart; an important center that seems lacking in some of Russell’s previous comedic works. A great deal of credit for that heart has to go to Bradley Cooper (who I’ve never been a fan of till this) and Jennifer Lawrence who headline the film. Although the two of them are very troubled the audience is rooting for them all the way. The supporting performances are impeccable with Robert DeNiro getting one of his best roles in a long time. One of the funniest and most original comedies of 2012.
Rotten Tomatoes: 91% (157-16)
31-The Impossible- A film based on the true story of a terrible tsunami disaster in 2004, The Impossible follows one family through the tragedy and its aftermath. There is one flaw in the film or it would be much higher on this list of honor. It is blatantly manipulative from start to finish in ways that were not necessary, and it’s supposedly true storytelling relies on some coincidences that strain credulity to say the least. Despite this, the movie is so well acted and directed that it overcomes these flaws and still remains a powerful work. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts are stellar as always, but the real triumph for the three young actors who give very naturalistic performances as the children of the family. Tom Holland is a particular standout as the eldest brother who must grow up and show bravery far beyond his years. He has deservedly attracted some awards notice for his work. Beyond the actors, the real star is director JA Bayone, who delivers one amazing shot after another throughout the film. The tsunami sequence itself is one of the most realistic and terrifying disaster set pieces ever committed to film. One of the shocking things is its suddenness. One minute the family is playing in the hotel’s pool, and the next a giant wave of water washes them all away. The disaster itself and its harrowing aftermath are a technical triumph that make for an unforgettable film experience.
Rotten Tomatoes: 79% (69-18)
30-ParaNorman- I adore stop motion films and I’m glad they’re making such a great comeback. In 2009, we got the classics Coraline and Fantastic Mr. Fox. This year brings us to more stop motion classics. The first on my list is Paranorman. This is about a kid who can see dead people, which is used not only to showcase entertaining encounters with ghosts and corpses, but to set up a story about outsiders and misunderstood individuals which gives the whole project a soul. I love that not only is Norman misunderstood, but that the motivations of the undead that start to take over his town are not all that they appear to be to the townsfolk in the viewer. In the end, nearly everyone is sympathetic to one degree or another once their point of view is understood. ParaNorman has a point to make, but don’t misunderstand. This film is also a lot of fun, filled with sight gags and witty dialogue, and understands the appeal of things that go bump in the night. Almost all the stop motion films made so far (with the exception of Fantastic Mr. Fox) seem to deal with corpses, ghosts, and monsters. If they all continue to be as innovative as this one and the other film that appears on my list, all I can say is keep them coming.
Rotten Tomatoes: 86% (126-20)
29-Safety Not Guaranteed– One of the more original and offbeat comedies of the year. The story follows a group of journalists as they track down the author of a very unusual newspaper ad. The ad is from a man who claims to have time traveled and is seeking a partner to travel along with him. The movie does an effective job of keeping us guessing about whether we are watching a movie about a disturbed individual or an outright science fiction film. On the path to finding out, we get a wonderfully quirky romantic comedy featuring two leads with outstanding chemistry who play their parts to perfection. Safety Not Guaranteed is a funny, heartfelt gem that most people missed in theatres that is definitely worth checking out.
Rotten Tomatoes: 94% (106-7)
28-The Grey- While this film is ostensibly a survival story about a group of people stranded after a plane crash and being pursued by wolves, it is also a dark tale about the search for meaning in life itself. Liam Neeson leads the group of survivors as they try to outwit the gang of wolves and battle themselves and their own inner demons at the same time. In between the skirmishes of man and beast, we get conversations about family, God, and the purpose of existence. The film is effective on both fronts. At first, I was indifferent to the fate of this group of semi-misanthropes, but as I got to know them and their humanity shone through, I found I had grown fond of each and every one of them despite their many flaws. The set pieces involving the wolves are terrifying, realistic, and appropriately metaphorical. My favorite moment is an encounter in the dead of night where only the bright yellow eyes of the wolves are visible. The uncompromising ending fits this jet black movie perfectly. Overall, a brutal but rewarding experience.
Rotten Tomatoes: 79% (144-39)
27-Sound of My Voice- if anyone had told me a few months ago that my favorite film about a cult leader would not be The Master but this low-budget, possibly sci-fi film, I would never have believed it. The plot involves a couple of would-be reporters who infiltrate a cult run by a mysterious woman who claims to be from the future. Brit Marling is brilliant as this leader, believably conveying the manner in which these types of individuals control their flocks. In the way she speaks, she alternates between a kind, nurturing leader and a manipulative one who demands total obedience and confidence from her subjects. I can almost see how real-life individuals fall susceptible to people like this no matter how crazy what they spout actually is. Sound of My Voice is full of interesting twists that take the story in unexpected directions. The most intriguing is a bizarre ritualistic greetng at the beginning of each cult meeting. When the meaning behind it is exposed, it makes you realize you might’ve been watching a fantasy film after all. Overall, a disturbing gem of a movie.
Rotten Tomatoes: 75% (73-24)
26-The Raid: Redemption-This movie won the Midnight Madness award at the Toronto Film Festival and it’s easy to see why. The plot is as simple as can be. The police are conducting a raid on an apartment ruled by a drug lord and inhabited by thugs. Halfway to their objective, the police end up trapped with every person in the complex trying to finish them off. The only escape is to fight their way out. That, in a nutshell, is pretty much the whole movie. There is an attempt at character development here and there but mostly it is an all out, slam-bang, action slugfest. And I have rarely seen action done this effectively. There are fights with guns, knives, machetes, and fists and it is all done so effectively that the viewer can practically feel every blow. One of the villains is so eager for fisticuffs that when he has a police officer at gunpoint he puts his gun down so that they can slug it out hand-to-hand. Does that sound hard to believe? Not when you meet the character known as Mad dog and see the way he fights. I’m usually not a huge fan of pure action movies, but the nonstop adrenaline, brilliant editing, and incredible stunt work makes this a welcome exception.
Rotten Tomatoes: 84% (114-22)
25-John Carter- A critical and commercial flop and already on several critics worst 10 lists, John Carter seems to be receiving more than its share of animosity. Honestly, it is a mystery to me. While there are definitely problems with the film such as pacing and a lack of chemistry between the two leads, there is a ton to admire. The two sequences that bookend the film truly serve the story and give it added depth. Taylor Kitsch imbues the title character with the proper amount of despair over his past to make his actions unpredictable and intriguing. Most important of all, John Carter creates a new universe with settings, creatures, and characters that we have never seen before. My favorite is a strange doglike pet that can follow John Carter all around the planet with such speed that it almost looks like it is teleporting. There are also some impressive set pieces that include John Carter taking on an entire army and slaughtering them with ease and the gladiator scene that pits John Carter against giant monsters known as white apes. To use baseball parlance, John Carter may not be a homerun but it is far from a strikeout. I want to see filmmakers swing for the fences, even if it only turns into a double. I’ll take a movie only a tenth as good as this over the average by the numbers romantic comedy or talking animal computer animated feature that we are subjected to nearly every week
Rotten Tomatoes: 51% (111-105)
24-Wreck-it-Ralph- This is easily Disney’s best effort with computer animation to date. While it doesn’t have the pure originality of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it is deserving of many of the comparisons to that classic film. Just as we never thought we would see Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse together, Wreck-It-Ralph allows us to see videogame characters from different companies on the screen together for the first time. It also doesn’t make the mistake of letting those characters dominate the storyline. It uses them as an opening to create wholly original videogame characters to tell a funny and enjoyable tale of a villain who wants to become a hero. The voice work here is superb but I want to say a special word about the contribution of Sarah Silverman. What impresses me about her role is that unlike so many movie star voice actors she doesn’t rely on her regular voice to do all the work. Instead she comes up with a totally different voice and style than her own, invoking the work of voice artists of the past instead of the effective but somewhat lazy style that we see in most animated films today. Also, besides being very funny, she makes her character sympathetic and moving. The relationship between her and Ralph gives the movie some real heart amidst all the pell-mell action taking place all around. I liked this a lot on the first viewing and feel it might ultimately end up even higher on my favorite film list after multiple viewings.
Rotten Tomatoes: 86% (101-16)
23-Sinister- I found this film to be the scariest of 2012. In fact, the film’s title aptly describes my feelings about the overall experience. It is sinister. The tale is really a mystery as much as a horror film initially. Ethan Hawke plays a true crime novelist who is down on his luck who takes his family to a town where a terrible serial murder took place. He neglects to tell them that he moved them into the house where the crime occurred. While investigating the case, he stumbles on a box of super eight tapes which when played reveal a series of horrific mass murders all carried out by an unidentified assailant. As he investigates, mysterious and disturbing events begin to take place, many involving his own children. Slowly he begins to believe that some terrible creature is behind it all. This is not a fun house horror movie. It is one designed to disturb and scare you, and the atmospherics worked for me all the way through to the nightmarish conclusion. One example of these ghoulish touches are just the names the unknown killer applies to the super eight tapes. One tape which shows an entire family being drowned in a swimming pool is labeled Pool Party. Another in which a family is burned alive is labeled Barbecue. Simple touches like that unnerve me a great deal and Sinister is resplendent with them. The film got mixed reviews but those who liked it seemed to feel much as I did.
Rotten Tomatoes: 62% (75-46)
22-Killing Them Softly- Well received critically, Killing Them Softly was a flop with audiences and was only the second non-horror film to ever receive an F Cinemascore. I found it to be an offbeat no holds barred look at the way small-town hoodlums conduct their business. Brad Pitt is superb as an indifferent hitman who is alternately polite and ruthless. The supporting cast led by Richard Jenkins and James Gandolfini shine as well. Amidst the brutality, the film also has an enjoyable black humor to it that is quite inventive. One scene shows just how difficult it can be to have a conversation with a heroin addict. Another might be my favorite sight gag of the year which illustrates the dangers of blowing up a car by setting it on fire. The title comes from some of the clever dialogue in the film. When explaining his methods for murder, Brad Pitt says he hates to get up close to the victims and hear them cry for mercy. He likes to do it from a distance and kill them softly. He also has a monologue right at the end of the film which finishes things off on just the right sardonic note. Incidentally, the only other non-horror film to receive an F Cinemascore was Solaris. I enjoyed that as well.
Rotten Tomatoes: 77% (126-34)
21-Flight-Robert Zemeckis return to live-action filmmaking after three straight motion capture efforts is quite a success. I will confess that based on his previous work I was surprised just how strong an R-rated film this is. Indeed it must’ve pushed the boundaries of the rating to its very limits. The trailer gives a good indication of the basic plot in which an airline pilot saves a plane from a horrific mechanical failure through ingenuity and guts and then faces possible criminal charges because he failed a drug test. What isn’t shown is just how disturbed and out-of-control Denzel Washington’s character really is throughout the entire film. This is not an admirable man by any means and Washington really captures this. He manipulates and lies throughout the film to protect himself from trouble. In fact, until the end, as entertained as I was, I was wondering if this was going to finish on a morally indefensible note. However, Zemeckis stuck the landing by finding the right note to the finish. Denzel Washington gives one of the best performances of the year, Robert Zemeckis provides one of the best set pieces of the year, and John Goodman provides invaluable comic relief as a lowlife drug dealer. A solid drama from beginning to end.
Rotten Tomatoes: 77% (128-38)
20-Moonrise Kingdom- With his films Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and the Royal Tennenbaum’s, Wes Anderson has directed perhaps my favorite trio of comedies of all time. He really has created a universe all his own and Moonrise Kingdom continues this tradition. In some ways, this coming of age story about two youngsters running away on an island to be together is practically a fantasy film. The humor comes from the efforts of the fantastic ensemble cast (which includes Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, and Edward Norton) to track down the elusive duo. The heart of the film comes from the two children who have decided to leave the disturbing realities of their lives behind and make their own way by finding a utopia. I’m anxious to see this film again because I find Wes Anderson’s films grow better and better on multiple viewings and tend to make me adore the characters more and more. It’s easy to notice the wonderful framing and continuous long takes on the first viewing. It’s all the little subtleties that he includes that make his films comic classics. Funny, bittersweet, and full of memorable performances, Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson at the top of his game.
Rotten Tomatoes: 94% (190-12)
19-Brave- There’s no getting around it. For me, Brave represents one of Pixar’s weakest and most conventional films, rating just slightly ahead of the first Cars movie and well ahead of the second. However, the rest of Pixar’s efforts are so superior and original that being near the bottom of their list still equals one of the best animated efforts of the year. While it doesn’t have the pure originality of an 80-year-old hero, a robot who can’t talk, or a rat who can cook, it does give us our first Disney type heroine from Pixar and she is a more than worthy addition. The animation is beautiful, clever comic touches abound, and as usual the Pixar magicians make even the least significant characters come alive with just a few gestures and words of dialogue. And as the film moves along it veers off from a purely basic action adventure mode into something more interesting and innovative. Medira must be brave not only physically but mentally which is always more interesting. When she passes the test, it makes for a satisfying conclusion to another well told tale from Pixar. On a personal note, I must confess that I saw this film in a theater filled with unruly patrons so I’m looking forward to seeing it again shortly in a more relaxing environment.
Rotten Tomatoes: 78% (165-47)
18-The Perks of Being a Wallflower- A funny, heartfelt coming-of-age story with real soul and depth. Much of the credit for its success must go to the trio of young performers who make up the cast. Ezra Miller shows incredible range after his turn as an evil mass murdering teen in We Need to Talk About Kevin by playing an extroverted gay rebel with a flair for life. Emma Watson proves that she is going to have a long career beyond Hogwarts after her likable turn as a free spirit trying to live down past mistakes. The biggest revelation of all is Logan Lerman who failed to impress me much in previous roles but who comes up huge as the troubled loner who finds friendship and love for the first time in his life. The three have marvelous chemistry which helps the characters pull through some very rough situations. The film feels real and alive in a way few movies about teens do, and navigates a difficult landscape triumphantly.
Rotten Tomatoes: 86% (111-18)
17-Chronicle– This found footage film is a triumphant debut for 25-year-old director Adam Trank. The premise is simple and straightforward. A trio of high school boys attending a rave stumble upon a mysterious tunnel which leads them to have direct contact with what appears to be an alien artifact. The next thing they know they have been gifted with telekinetic abilities which begin to seem newly limitless. As the film moves on, it has the feeling of a superhero comic with concurrent stories showing the birth of a hero and villain simultaneously. The special effects are inventive and original. My favorite might be where the budding villain uses his powers to float an ordinary house spider through the air before finally breaking it into pieces. There are a number of triumphant set pieces. A scene at the local mall with the kids gleefully experiment with their powers is hilarious. The flying sequence involving a football and an airplane is thrilling and electrifying. And the way things start to fall apart for the three of them in the final act gives the film a horror like quality leading to the inevitable confrontation in the finale. It’s crystal clear why this director has already planted the job of rebooting the Fantastic Four franchise. There is enough talent here to have real hope that we are looking at a future Chris Nolan, Tim Burton, or James Cameron. The debut is that good. Only time will tell if Trank delivers on this very promising beginning.
Rotten Tomatoes: 86% (137-23)
16-Les Miserables-Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s I saw the musical that this film was based on nearly 10 times on Broadway, so I was eagerly anticipating this first ever adaptation of the play to see if it could live up to my memories. Overall, it was a monumental success. The movie is very faithful to the play (nearly all the songs from the show remain intact) which can sometimes be a bad idea (see The Producers as an example) but in this case works quite well. The performances by all the major players are outstanding. Russell Crowe is not a natural singer but his performance wins you over as the film goes on. Standouts include Samantha Barks as Eponine, and Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen as the villainous Thernardier’s who provide some comic relief. Most of all, however, there is Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine which is likely going to result in her getting some Oscar gold come February. Sometimes the quick scene cuts which works so well in the play come across as a bit distracting, but this is forgivable because the emotion and the music from the play come through loud and clear. Director Tom Hooper also expands the boundaries of the play with some impressive set pieces including the opening where Jean Valjean and other prisoners are forced to pull giant ships into port and the rousing finale. One of my favorite movie musicals of the past 10 years.
Rotten Tomatoes: 71% (114-46)
15-Dark Shadows-Before I say a few words about this film I have to confess it. I love each and every one of Tim Burton’s films from his most revered to his most reviled. Dark Shadows was a critical and commercial flop and I loved every single minute of it. As with all of Burton’s work, the movie looks great, has an incredible ensemble cast, and exists in its very own special universe. The five-minute prologue alone establishing the origin of Barnabas Collins was worth the price of admission alone. For those who don’t know, Dark Shadows is based on an old soap opera where vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and the undead show up all around. Burton understands these roots and gives us a comic take on the soap opera formula without sacrificing the dignity of the characters. Depp’s vampire is sympathetic but also totally devoid of pity when he needs to feed. The rest of the cast is made up of amusing grotesques. A real discovery is newcomer Bella Heathcote who plays a mysterious girl named Victoria who comes to the Collins family to work as a nanny. I also can’t help a Twilight comparison. The issue of whether to become a vampire takes up about 10 hours of screen time in those films. The same issue is settled in 10 seconds of screen time in Dark Shadows. The ending (mistakenly seen as setting up a sequel by some critics) follows the soap opera model perfectly, setting up a new dilemma for the characters just as other problems are solved. Weird, witty, and wonderful, Tim Burton hit all the right notes for me (if no one else) once again.
Rotten Tomatoes: 38% (86-139)
14-Seven Psychopaths– I have to start by telling you how this movie begins. A couple of hitman are in a park talking about murder and the upcoming assassination they are about to perform. I’m thinking to myself that I am looking at two of the seven psychopaths we’ve been promised. However, as they speak a man in a ski mask comes up behind them and shoots them dead and leaves a couple of playing cards on the corpses. A sign pops up on the screen announcing “psychopath number one”. Right then, I knew I was in for a wild, joyous, entertaining ride. In this regard I was not let down, because each introduction to each new psychopath was filled with the same kind of energy and imagination promised by the extraordinary opening sequence. This was flat-out the most fun I had at the movies in 2012, and it’s easy to see why this kind of film won the midnight madness award at this year’s Toronto Film Festival. The movie invokes comparisons with Spike Jonze’s Adaptation but quite honestly doesn’t have the same serious issues on its mind as that film. For some critics, that seemed to be a problem. For my part, when I am as entertained as this, I don’t need depth. The fantastic ensemble cast is perfectly suited to this material, particularly Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, and Christopher Walken. For every sequence that doesn’t work, there are five that do. My favorite moments: The origin story of the Amish psychopath and Sam Rockwell’s script revision for the finale of the movie. You’ll have to see the film to understand what I’m talking about. If you like crazy material, you won’t regret it.
Rotten Tomatoes: 84% (132-26)
13-Looper- With Looper,I can finally climb on the bandwagon of director Riann Johnson. His first feature Brick left me cold, and his second The Brothers Bloom seemed like a Wes Anderson knockoff to me. I really wanted to embrace them both but found I just couldn’t so I went in to see this time travel fantasy with a great deal of trepidation. I needn’t have worried. Looper is a complex, thrilling roller coaster ride filled with inventive touches and unpredictable twists. Despite that, it is always perfectly clear what is going on and where we are in the story and it manages to avoid the plot holes which sink many fantasy films that deal with time travel. It’s the kind of movie that has so much to offer that it practically demands multiple viewings. The two leads are pitch perfect. Time travel films (think 12 Monkeys) seem to be good look for Bruce Willis as he gives his best performance in a long time while Joseph Gordon Levitt shows once again why he is on his way to being a major star. All the technical areas are top-notch, the pacing is superb, the action sequences are well executed, and the result is a near-perfect sci-fi effort. To Riann Johnson, all I can say is that you can now consider me a convert. I look forward to whatever you come up with next.
Rotten Tomatoes: 94% (216-15)
12-Lincoln-Lincoln is a collaboration of two of the most important figures in modern cinema, director Steven Spielberg and actor Daniel Day-Lewis. Uniting for the first time, they are both in top form. There is nothing more difficult than trying to win a third Academy award for best actor, but even with stellar competition this year it’s hard to see anyone beating out Day-Lewis after knocking his interpretation of the 16th president out of the park. Spielberg is shooting for his third Oscar as well, and this examination of the difficult effort to pass the amendment to ban slavery certainly puts him in the running. The film is really about the political process as much as anything, and the most fascinating thing when observing the machinations that Lincoln must undergo to achieve his goal is how little things have really changed. There was the same greed and compromise on every issue that seems to permeate both houses of Congress today. Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner deserve a great deal of credit for taking the minutiae of trying to get a bill passed and turning it into a fascinating filmgoing experience. The rest of the credit goes to Day-Lewis who really gets to the beating heart of what made Lincoln the near legend he is today while still showing all the foibles of an ordinary man. A history lesson and a great entertainment all wrapped into one perfect package.
Rotten Tomatoes: 90% (158-17)
11-Skyfall- When Casino Royale came out in 2006, I put it in the same class as my favorite three Bond films, Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger. After the disappointing follow-up Quantum of Solace which resembled an attempt to rip off the fast-paced editing of the Jason Bourne films, Skyfall puts the series back on track with an installment worthy of being classified with the four classics mentioned above. There is much to admire here. Each major set piece is different so that they don’t blend into one another as is the case in many of the lesser Bond films. The brilliant Javier Bardem gives us perhaps the most unusual Bond villain ever, both in regards to his attitude and motivations. His conversation with Bond when he has him tied up certainly is something we have never seen before from this franchise. Bond also goes back to his roots here which is something I felt was lacking in the last few entries. There is a nod given to old characters and even the crazy contraptions from the older Bond films. I really like to see movies embrace their roots. Best of all, this movie is effective because despite its global scale it deals with the pasts of M and Bond, giving all the proceedings added depth. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the title Skyfall actually has important meaning to the overall film and to Bond himself. I credit director Sam Mendes with really focusing on bringing the lives and pasts of the main characters more into the forefront. I hope this approach continues and that the franchise gives us more installments that provide sheer entertainment while growing the characters. Oh, by the way, Daniel Craig is superb as always.
Rotten Tomatoes: 925 (253-23)
10-Cabin in the Woods-This is a special kind of horror film that seems to come along only once every couple of years. The last time I was so entertained was when Sam Raimi came back to the horror genre with Drag me to Hell. In essence, Cabin in the Woods is a movie that deconstructs the horror genre and creates a theory as to why we need horror films in the first place. This has been done well before in films like Scream and Tucker and Dale versus Evil, but this effort surpasses them all. The first two thirds of the film alternate between a group of teenagers in a cabin being stalked by a family of zombies, and a workplace environment of white-collar workers who are watching the proceedings with a mixture of amusement, boredom, and worry. The action is gory, funny, inventive, and a great deal of fun for the initiated. It effortlessly moves from moments of pure horror to moments of laugh out loud humor. However, it is in the final act that Cabin in the Woods truly soars to new heights. The final half-hour is easily the most bonkers out of this world climax this side of Evil Dead Two. It should also satisfy even the most demanding horror freak’s dreams with regards to monsters and gore. I’ve already seen this film three times, and I predict many more viewings in my future.
Rotten Tomatoes: 91% (186-19)
9-Marvel’s Avengers- The Avengers is everything comic book fans were hoping for, a thrilling adventure that starts to explore the Marvel universe on a cosmic scale. The film is a major triumph for director Joss Whedon who handles the multitude of challenges the film presents with skill and confidence. In the end, we are really treated to the best of everything. There are two extraordinary action sequences, one aboard the flying Shield airstrip, and the other the out of this world climax in Manhattan against a race of aliens. That one in particular puts viewers right in the center of a battle royale with their favorite heroes. Even more impressive than the action is the way the script gives all the members of the avengers signature moments where they get to shine through. Even Black Widow, who was pretty insignificant in the Iron Man sequel, is given a fabulous sequence in the Loki interrogation scene. One of my favorite moments is the way all the characters deferred to Capt. America’s wisdom in the climactic showdown. Even Tony Stark is able to put his ego aside and let the more experienced warrior set the strategy. The Avengers is a giant movie and the set pieces are monumental successes, but it is the small touches that make it a classic film on par with the best Marvel superhero movies such as Spiderman Two and X2.
Rotten Tomatoes: 92% (268-22)
8-The Hunger Games- When I went to see the Hunger Games, I was aware of the novel but had never read it and had no idea what exactly I would be seeing. I was anticipating it mainly because of the presence of director Gary Ross whose two previous films Pleasantville and Seabiscuit are among my favorites. Going in with no expectations other than that, I was blown away by the nightmare future world, the impressive young heroine, the uncompromising action sequences, and the amusing secondary characters. The choice to cast a top-notch actress (Jennifer Lawrence) in the lead was inspired, and by the time she volunteers to step in for her little sister 10 minutes into the movie I was ready to follow her character anywhere. The one-hour lead-in to the actual competition was nothing short of brilliant introducing me to this fully formed futuristic society based on control and conformity. The games themselves are rendered in a realistic manner that puts you in the center of all the action so you can really feel the terror of such an experience where murder is all around you. I thought the film finished at just the right time on just the right note and I look forward to seeing how the rest of this series turns out.
Rotten Tomatoes: 85% (225-41)
7-Frankenweenie- Director Tim Burton has come full circle with this beautiful stop motion film that is my favorite animated film of the year. It is based on a half-hour long live action short that he made for Disney way back in the early 80s. The company shelved it because they felt it was too strange and only began to show it when he left the studio and became a top director. Now he has taken that material and made a magical movie that celebrates not only Frankenstein but the entire world of film monsters. There is so much to admire here from the gorgeous black and white images to the characters of the offbeat children and the spectacle of the many creatures that parade around for the finale that it will take multiple viewings to appreciate everything fully. I’ll mention a few standouts. Winona Ryder is excellent as the girl who lives next door. It is great to see her back with Tim Burton after being parted for nearly 2 decades. The voice standout might be Martin Landau, who gives a funny and poignant performance as the science teacher who wishes to inspire his students but who takes all the blame when things go wrong. His scene at the town meeting when he tells the parents that they are ignorant is hilarious but is also a wonderful blow at the beliefs of the religious right sent with great good humor. The heart of the film is Victor’s simple relationship with his dog which provides the reasoning behind all the crazy events that take place. The finale is Cabin in the Woods for kids and is a must for monster fans of all ages, playing homage to tons of films and even short animated films such as Bambi versus Godzilla. If you’ve seen the short subject, you’ll know the exact moment I’m talking about. The film was not a box office success but I think time will give it the last laugh in the end. I don’t care much about the Oscars, but I must confess that I really hope Tim Burton gets to walk away with a statue for this wonderful treat.
Rotten Tomatoes: 89% (163-21)
6-The Hobbit-The only explanation I can give for the somewhat mixed reviews that this film has received to date is to believe that the Lord of the Rings films raised the bar so high on this project that it was just impossible to live up to expectations. Many of the reviews, however, seem to be written by people who had no interest in returning to middle earth. I’m certainly not one of those people and I was thrilled to be back in the presence of all the characters I loved in the previous trilogy and to have them joined by new ones. Just as in the other films, this film takes its time and lets us revel in the scenery as well as the little nuances of the characters. Not every fantasy and action film needs to proceed at a breakneck pace. I love the opening extended dinner scene when the dwarfs come to visit and give us moments of comedy as well as a couple of songs. I enjoyed spending time in Rivendell and witnessing the conference between the most powerful wizards and elves in middle earth. This is not to say that The Hobbit is lacking in thrills and action. There are an abundance of remarkable set pieces including an encounter with trolls, an epic battle between stone giants, an ambush by orcs and goblins, and a contest of riddles between Bilbo and Gollum which is suspenseful and funny at the same time. Martin Freeman also makes a picture-perfect Bilbo Baggins. Is this film is good as the Rings trilogy? No, but I think that the Rings trilogy is the greatest accomplishment in film history. Is the hobbit one of my favorite films of the year? Absolutely! And I can’t wait for the next installment.
Rotten Tomatoes: 65% (158-86)
5-Argo- I was impressed with Ben Affleck’s first two efforts as director, but I wasn’t blown away. I felt that both features were flawed but showed real potential. After seeing Argo, I can safely say that that potential has been realized. Argo is a thrilling, suspenseful, humorous, detailed look at the story of how six civilians were rescued from Iran during the hostage crisis thanks to some aid from Canada and some unlikely help from Hollywood. The film begins with an excellent and informative prologue for the uninitiated which helps explain what led to the hostage crisis in the first place. From there, the story never misses a beat. We see the situation from the point of view of the people trapped in Iraq, the people trying to get them out in the Canadian and US governments, the people trying to help in Hollywood, and the residents of Iran itself mostly in the form of a maid who works at the Canadian Consulate where the US citizens are hiding out. Almost every character is given a special moment to shine through. For me, in fact, the most moving moment is when the Iranian maid must make the decision about where her loyalties ultimately lie. The Hollywood scenes allow the tension to lift a bit and provide a much appreciated dose of humor to the proceedings. And Affleck is excellent in his role as the man who takes the responsibility to try to rescue these people from their plight. Even the closing credits are worth staying for as they show real life still photos from the hostage crisis which mirrors the images we just saw in the film. A total triumph for everyone involved.
Rotten Tomatoes: 95% (227-11)
4-Prometheus-Right up until the release date, people were left to speculate just how much this film was going to have to do with the Alien universe Ridley Scott created over 30 years ago. Would it be a prequel to that film, or would this be an entirely separate creation? The glorious answer is that it was both. The movie does give the roots and the explanation to the creation of the horrific alien race, but it also breaks new ground and dares to make its theme the search for the origin of mankind’s existence. The superb, daring opening prologue actually shows an alien being mix the ingredients of man together on earth in the past. We then fast-forward to the future where two scientists have made a discovery that they believe will lead them to their creators. To say anymore would ruin the experience, so I’ll just say that there are gory surprises around every turn and giant ideas being juggled around. Visually, the film is stunning in its grandeur which is not surprising considering Scott’s pedigree. More impressive is the dexterity with which he juggles the numerous ideas floating around. It is truly where we feel the presence of a master filmmaker. In a movie filled with standouts, I’ll pick out two. First, the set piece where the female scientist played by Nooni Rapace is forced to perform a gruesome self surgery on herself. Second, the performance of Michael Fassbender as an artificial person might be my favorite of the year. Every second he is on the screen is mesmerizing and disturbing. He is every bit the riddle you would expect a robot of immense intelligence to be and it gives his actions a wonderful unpredictability. Prometheus is so bold that it will be hated by many; sometimes that is the price that must be paid to make a meaningful work of art.
Rotten Tomatoes: 74% (192-69)
3-Life of Pi- For those unfamiliar with the book, Life of Pi is a story about a young boy who survives at sea for a long time on a raft with the company of a zebra, orangutan, hyena, and tiger. If that sounds like an unlikely premise for a movie, it probably explains the long road this book took before it was adapted. Many filmmakers and producers felt that it would simply be impossible to make a coherent film out of such a subject. In the end, they were all proved wrong when just the right man was found to helm the project. Ang Lee has created something extremely special here, a one-of-a-kind experience that has images and scenes that make cinema itself seem brand-new. I’ve seen thousands and thousands of films, but never one that held so many visual surprises as this one. I must also confess as a hater of 3-D that this was the first time I was impressed with the process since seeing Avatar over three years ago. However, the film is so beautiful and the images so striking that I’m sure I will be enchanted by whatever format I view it in the future. The shipwreck is stunning, and there are numerous unforgettable encounters with flying fish, whales, sharks, and especially with that tiger. It seems impossible to believe that the animal was created digitally and isn’t flesh and blood. The story also has a strong spiritual side. In fact, the narrator makes the bold promise that after you hear the tale you will believe in God. Personally, I am a strict secularist and nonbeliever. However, while it didn’t change my beliefs, its beauty and perfection did enhance my faith in the ability of the medium I love above all others to create wonder and magic. That is all I can ask. A perfect, beautiful experience.
Rotten Tomatoes: 88% (140-20)
2-The Dark Knight Rises- It’s got to be a tremendous challenge for a filmmaker to finish off a trilogy, especially coming off the success of a middle chapter which is already pretty much universally acknowledged as the standard for all superhero films. Christopher Nolan provides an epic finale that more than sticks the landing to the entire franchise. It does what most final chapters fail to do. It is not only a great film itself, but it enhances everything that came before it and adds even more resonance to the entire creation. Nothing could top the work Heath Ledger did as the Joker in the second chapter, but the new versions of the Catwoman and Bane could stand up to almost anything else. Anne Hathaway is in top form as the antihero and thief known as Catwoman, while Tom Hardy is terrifying both physically and mentally as Bane. The film is bold in ways other films are afraid to be. For example, most films would have hostile situations that lasts for a couple of hours to a day. The Dark Knight Rises envisions a scenario where an entire city is held hostage to the whims of a madman for months on end while the one hero who can stop him is trapped helpless and injured in a prison. To pull off a scenario like that is not for the faint of heart. The script gets its influences from all over the map, from Charles Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities to the recent Occupy Wall Street movement. All the characters we have met through the entire trilogy have their ultimate fates wrapped up in deeply satisfying ways. That goes for the lead character himself though I won’t reveal what that fate is out of respect for the few who might’ve missed this stunning work. The bad news that Chris Nolan’s time with Batman is over. The good news is that he is sure to bring us the same mixture of intelligence and wonder on whatever project he commits to next.
Rotten Tomatoes: 87% (254-38)
1-Django Unchained-Just like Christopher Nolan and The Dark Knight Rises, Django Unchained highlights another filmmaker who is incredibly daring and at the top of his game. In his last film, Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino had the nerve to take the events of World War II and reinvent them to suit his own universe. Here he takes on the even more controversial subject of slavery and turns it into something that is half spaghetti Western and half something that only Tarantino could have concocted. The plot involves a bounty hunter (Christophe Waltz) who teams up with a slave (Jamie Foxx) who can identify some people the hunter is tracking down. As time goes by, they develop a fellowship of sorts, and Waltz agrees to help Foxx rescue his wife who is in the custody of a brutal slave owner played by Leonardo DiCaprio. This setup results in a series of set pieces that are alternately hilarious, outrageous, violent, and brutal. There is not one time when I could guess where this film was going. Tarantino has always been masterful at plot twists and shocking sudden bursts of violence and he is at the top of his game here. The four central performances are among the best of the year. In addition to the three actors mentioned above, the fourth one-of-a-kind performance belongs to Samuel L Jackson as a house slave who is utterly loyal to his master to the detriment of everyone else. The close to three hour running time of this movie went by in a flash for me and I’m still giddy thinking about it three days later. Should a movie about slavery be entertaining? I think it is a valid question, but I only know that this is the most entertaining film of the year and it manages it without skimping on the horrors of slavery for one moment. Like every other Tarantino film, I will be watching this multiple times for years to come.
Rotten Tomatoes: 89% (126-16)
My final verdict on 2012. A great year in film that delivered the most films I loved since 2007.