Originally this list was only going to be five movies because there were only five movies I saw this year that truly blew me away. But then I thought that was dumb so I extended it to six when I added The Dark Knight Rises. Then that seemed stupid too, so I made it eight and now I’ve just decided, screw it, let’s just do a Top 10 like a normal human being.
Still, the bottom five are movies I feel a little guilty about putting on the list either because a) they’re too flawed or b) they’re not highbrow enough. But I guess I’m not really known for my highbrow Top 10 lists, so whatever. Of course I’m almost certain Argo would be on this list and I’m determined to see that movie before the Oscars, but nobody reads these things once it’s February so tough shit for Ben Affleck. Sorry bro, you’re not making it onto the greatest Top 10 Movie List of the year because I was too lazy and poor to see your movie and my parents had already seen it by the time I came home for the holidays.
I also have some random categories for the other movies I saw to be put under. This might end up extending to a third post. Alison says nobody reads things over like, 1500 words. And now she’s my fiance, so obviously she’s always right. Duh.
Oh yeah. Spoilers. Shoulda seen that coming.
Like The Grey, Drive and pretty much every movie ever made that doesn’t have a simplistic plot even a baby could understand, Hollywood had no idea how to market this movie. So like the aforementioned films, they sold it as a retarded sci-fi action movie with one of those big dumb high concepts that never make sense when you think about them for more than a split second. Mike from Redlettermedia made a good observation, saying that when he saw the trailer he was reminded of In Time, that idiotic Justin Timberlake film where people have “time” on their arms that determines how long they live. Concepts like that always fall apart when put into practice, but frankly In Time’s premise was stupid from the get-go. It made no sense, and that’s why no one saw it.
Now, time travel is a solid concept, but building a realistic near future universe around it is hard especially as by all accounts, time travel is fucking impossible. It didn’t help that the movie inexplicably has Bruce Willis playing an aged Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and consequently has the latter donning contacts and creepy prosthetics to try and make this hard sell easier to swallow. I saw this trailer multiple times and each time I shook my head and grumbled under my breath like the curmudgeon I am, convinced that once again, Hollywood was running my favorite genre into the ground. But then I found out Brick helmer Rian Johnson was directing and then everyone and their mom started screaming about how amazing the movie was, how it was the greatest time travel movie, etc., etc. Plus it was rated R, so it had that going for it.
My cousin Danny and I barely managed to see the movie, having both lost our tickets prior to the showing and being forced to negotiate with Arclight management mere minutes before the lights dimmed. But we did manage to make it into the theater and we both enjoyed the film. I was completely engrossed with the story and the characters throughout, but it lost me a little with the ending, which I still have issues with. The problem was the movie had been hyped up so much that the story at least, did not meet my expectations. The world met my expectations but not the tale that inhabited it. This is because in my brain “best time travel movie” translated to “a time travel movie that makes sense and doesn’t have plot holes” which Looper most certainly is not. There’s even a scene where Bruce Willis tells JGL not to think too hard about the science behind it all as he’ll just get confused. The film is actually a pretty by the books time travel story with a very classic ending and structure. The universe is unique, the story is not. But it’s a solid story and it’s a simple one and 2012 was the year of the simple story, and at the end of the day a story that satisfies is better than no story at all. Like The Grey, Looper is almost a character study and JGL and Willis do an amazing job of bringing life to that character.
5. The Cabin in the Woods
Relegated to movie hell for years following the collapse of MGM, 2012 finally saw the release of Joss Whedon and LOST/Cloverfield writer Drew Goddard’s horror farce, thankfully bereft of a shitty 3D post transfer. And once again, Hollywood had no idea how to market it. It took a lot of convincing to get Alison to see this movie because the ads made it look so boring and trite. In the end though, I’m glad they marketed it so terribly because knowing so little about what the movie is about is what makes it so effective. So if you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading and skip ahead to the next film on the list.
The Cabin in the Woods has an amazing premise and Whedon and Goddard do a great job of parceling out clues throughout the course of the film. It features all the tropes and cliches of the slasher genre but turns them all on their head. The hero is actually the stoner, and he’s the one who figures out what the villains (who aren’t even really villains) are up to. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford deserve some kind of comedy Oscar for their work here because it’s just that hilariously brilliant. Now that I think about it, acting is surprisingly great across the board, particularly pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth and Dollhouse alum and ridiculously named Fran Kranz as the aforementioned stoner.
The last act of the film is what really blew me away. I love monsters and creature features so seeing a movie that put all the critters into one giant, gore-filled sequence felt like nerd Christmas to me. It was great recognizing a monster and going, “oh there’s Pinhead! There’s a bunch of zombies!” In fact, I can’t wait to watch the movie again on Blu-Ray and pause to see the full array of the grotesquerie the filmmakers created. A movie that blends horror and comedy better than even Wes Craven’s Scream. Horror masterpiece, plain and simple.
So this is the first of the bottom five “weak entries.” I loved Skyfall, but if I’d seen all the good movies that came out this year it probably wouldn’t be on here. But I didn’t so screw it. Skyfall is great, easily the best Daniel Craig Bond film and probably one of the best entries in the 50 year-old franchise. Like Dredd, The Grey and Looper it tells a very simple story but it tells it very, very well. It also seamlessly blends the feel and iconic imagery of the classic films with the more modern, Jason Bourne-esque feel of the past two Craig films. And like most of the films on this list, it is, at its heart, a character piece, though not of Bond. Though we do visit his ancestral Scottish home and meet his Alfred Pennyworth-esque caretaker, the actual protagonist of the movie is M, played with much panache by Judi Dench. You know an actor’s good when they give it their all even in a big Hollywood action film. And again, unlike a lot of movies that come out these days, particularly the big spectacle ones, I actually felt an emotional connection to the film and even teared up a bit when M died.
Franchises excel when they’re put in the hands of new blood. One of the Harry Potter franchise’s best entries is The Prisoner of Azkaban, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. Skyfall’s Sam Mendes breathes new life into Bond in much the same way, and his penchant for beautiful cinematography and great performances elevate Skyfall above most of the big, stupid bullshit Hollywood is constantly shoving down our throats. In addition to Dench, Javier Bardem is great as the villain and I loved that the story was as simple as the aforementioned entries on this list. Javier Bardem wants revenge. He wants to kill M. Bond has to stop him. End of movie. It did creep me out a little that Hollywood is still only creating gay characters who either a) are villains, b) die or c) both a and b, but here it was handled respectfully and was nothing more than a character trait. They didn’t obsess over it, it was just part of who Bardem was playing. Plus, any movie that implies James Bond is bisexual is amazing in my book.
7. The Dark Knight Rises
Where do I even begin?
Look, I was hesitant to put this on the list and like I said, I kinda just threw it on there because I didn’t see enough movies this year (or any year for that matter). I’ve seen it three times now and it’s not a movie that improves with subsequent viewings. But it’s not a bad movie either, it’s just a very flawed movie and doesn’t really hold up to The Dark Knight and arguably not even to Batman Begins. But I still love it. It’s riddled with plot holes, it’s often stupid or campy, but I just can’t change the way my heart feels about it. It made me cry. Twice. I made an emotional connection to it. I was invested in the characters, even the new ones. I cared about them. I wanted to see them succeed. It didn’t matter if the terrorist plot they were trying to avert was utterly preposterous, because the side of my brain that goes “hey, wait a minute…” in movies was being overshadowed by the part of my brain that feels things.
Look me in the eye. Look me in the eye right now and tell me straight: did you make an emotional connection to Django Unchained? Did you honestly feel anything for any of the cartoon characters that inhabited that movie? Or did you just “like” it because it was big and bloody and grandiose? The Dark Knight Rises may not be subversive like Django, but it achieves what movies of this type should achieve. It tells a big, dumb action story but allows you to get engrossed in it regardless of the countless plot holes because the characters are just so enthralling. When Hans Zimmer’s score hit its final flourish and JGL rose up on that platform I felt my heart flourish and that is a physiological reaction that 99.999999% of movies do not elicit in me. It may sound dumb, but that to me is the true signifier of a film’s quality. If it makes your tear ducts release salt water or increaseS your breathing or your heart rate that means its transcending the logical parts of your mind and tapping into your Freudian subconscious, your motherfucking reptile brain and that is something so few attempts at “art” can achieve. So yeah, Cronenberg may be right. This may be a stupid comic book movie and not Fellinni’s 8 1/2. But for nearly three hours it transported me to another world, and I can forgive its blemishes for that.
So, as this is going over 2000 words, I’m going to save the bottom three for the final post. I realize now that I probably should have done this list in reverse order, but it’s been a while since I blogged so I’m still getting back into the swing of things, okay?
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I am no fan of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained but I’m busy writing a very, very long essay dissecting why I find it so mediocre. Feel free to troll me about it, though! Practically everyone on the planet adores it and the only people I know who don’t are two out of the three people I saw it with and the people who sit next to me at work. Please leave me a long, detailed explanation in the comments for why it’s a good movie!! And please don’t use the “it was entertaining” or “it was subversive” arguments because they’re fucking stupid!! K thnx bye!!