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Many consider 1982 to be one of the greatest years in movie history. With titles like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Blade Runner, The Thing, Poltergeist, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and many other influential, revolutionary, unforgettable movies, it’s a year that will always be remembered as a landmark in pop culture history. And now 30 years later we have a year that could very well end up being remembered the same way.
From start to finish 2012 has been an amazing year for the medium of film. We saw winners like The Grey and Haywire kick off the year, and great ones like Django Unchained, Life of Pi and Zero Dark Thirty close it out. Major franchises, like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, came to an end, new ones, like The Hunger Games began, and others started right back up, like Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. We saw new movies from filmmakers like Wes Anderson, Sam Mendes, Rian Johnson, David Cronenberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Steven Spielberg. So where does one even begin when crafting a Top 10 list for a year like this?
Well, it wasn’t easy, but the job is done. I remembered all of the movies that I was still thinking about even weeks after my screening. I remembered all of the movies that had something important to say, or reached me on a personal level. I remembered all the movies that made me laugh and the ones that had me gripping the armrests. I remembered all the movies that I immediately wanted to watch again after the house lights went up. And from there I made my list – and you can read it below.
#10: End of Watch
Making a cut-and-dry cop drama is simple. The formula is so dry that all you need at this point is one or two hero cops, a vicious crime, and a scary villain to craft a story. But David Ayer’s End of Watch isn’t that movie. Instead, the writer/director does his part to try and turn the genre on its ear, and in doing so created not only a pulse-pounding thriller, but also a fascinating piece of cinematography and story experimentation.
Rather than just telling a simple story of cops and robbers, the movie lets the audience dive into the worlds of Officers Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena) as they work the beat in their Los Angeles neighborhood and try to keep crime and terror off the streets. Focusing on their lives beyond work, Ayer’s work allows the audience to understand the main characters as people more than just cops, and it creates a personal and emotional bond that connects movie-goers to the film in a very special way. Add in the found-footage type camera work, which gives us a look at the world through the cops’ eyes, and you have one of the most visceral, intense experiences of 2012. (Read my full review here)
#9: 21 Jump Street
It’s typical for studios to save their best films for the second half of the year, but the truth is that the funniest comedy of 2012 came out all the way back in March. While it seemed like a questionable project through production – why did we need a movie version of 21 Jump Street? – the end result is hilarious, features awesome performances from Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum and the rest of the excellent supporting cast, and with any luck it will help directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (who made the amazing Clone High and Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs) keep finding work.
Walking into a screening earlier this year I went in with zero expectations, but quickly found myself nearly falling out of my chair laughing and actually gaining a newfound appreciation for Tatum’s skills as a performer. I continue to laugh to myself whenever I think about Jenko and Schmidt taking H.F.S. for the first time (“Fuck you, science!”) and the mix of action and comedy is perfect. You can’t ignore a movie that keeps you laughing every time you see it, and 21 Jump Street is no exception.
#8: Silver Linings Playbook
There are plenty of amazing turns to choose from when determining the best acting performances of the year, but Silver Linings Playbook is one that you have to look back to multiple times in order to get a truly complete list. Backed by an amazing script with a strong core message that points out just how screwed up each and every one of us are, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence alone make David O. Russell’s latest film not only a must-see, but one of the best of year.
Based on the novel by Matthew Quick, the story follows a former teacher (Cooper) who is released after a long stay at a mental hospital and immediately sets out on a mission to regain his wife’s love – but gets distracted when an equally-disturbed young woman (Lawrence) enters his life. The story is simple, but what makes Silver Linings Playbook such a fascinating piece is the work by the gifted ensemble cast. The stars of the show are obvious, and their shared chemistry elevates the movie’s main relationship to a new level, but Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker and John Ortiz take the film even further and help further explore the important central message. As much as I love Three Kings, Flirting With Disaster and The Fighter before this year I’m not sure I would have specifically labeled myself a David O. Russell fan. Silver Linings ensures that I will from now on. (Read my full review here)
#7: Jeff, Who Lives At Home
We live in incredibly cynical times when even the best things in our world can be degraded through negativity and pessimism, but that’s exactly what’s so great about Jeff and Mark Duplass’ Jeff, Who Lives At Home, a brilliantly earnest movie packed with lovely, relatable characters and a fascinating script and an interesting look at destiny and fate.
Jason Segel, who stars as the titular home-dwelling Jeff, once again proves himself to be one of the most likeable actors in film today, and pairing him up with the harder-edged, stricter Ed Helms as a contrast is an inspired move. In spite of being a story about lack of trust and infidelity – as the main characters work to find out if Helms’ wife (Judy Greer) is cheating on him – the story winds up looking at what really ties all of us together and the truly important relationships in our lives. While a bit disconnected, Susan Sarandon’s character’s story is just as interesting, playing the Segel and Helms’ mother who may or may not have found new love in her office. Walking out of Jeff, Who Lives At Home I actually felt an undeniable swelling of happiness forming in my chest, and it’s because of that feeling that the movie has made my top 10. (Read my full review here)
As someone who paid close attention in history class I knew how the events in Ben Affleck’s Argo would be resolved in the end, but that didn’t prevent me from digging my fingernails into the armrest as I prayed that the embassy employees would safely make it through and escape the deadly Iranian territory.
While since the movie’s been released it’s been revealed that the story takes a few liberties with actual events for the sake of drama, that doesn’t change the fact that the world Affleck created in the film is intensely real and the director convinces you of its factuality, and as a political thriller it still knows exactly when it needs to break the tension and let the audience laugh a bit (John Goodman and Alan Arkin are phenomenal as the Hollywood-types who help the CIA get away with their mission). For a rather straightforward story, the movie is wonderfully paced and keeps the audience fully invested with every twist and turn of the story. Argo is only Affleck’s third directorial effort, but it firmly proves that he is very much the real deal – and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
To truly appreciate ParaNorman it helps to think of the incredible amount of work that went into making it. Animators spent months on end moving tiny pieces fractions of an inch and snapping photographs, working to put all of the images in order to create the illusion of movement and life. From a technical standpoint the movie is a true piece of blood, sweat and tears art and one of the most truly beautiful pieces to be released this year. And that’s not even taking into account the script, characters, performances or thousands of other factors that make the film one of the best of the year.
The story of a boy named Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) who has the ability to talk with the dead and must work to stop a witch’s curse from destroying his town, the film truly puts the audience in the mindset of a kid and has a powerful message not only against bullying, but in encouraging people to accept who they are, abnormal as they may be. Every step of writer/co-director Chris Butler’s script is a surprise, as conventions are turned on their ear and played with nearly to the point of parody (but it’s never overt). There are some questions regarding the movie’s suitability for young kids, as there are some legitimately creepy/scary moments, but there isn’t an adult out there who should hesitate at the opportunity to see ParaNorman.
#4: Cloud Atlas
It’s been nearly two months since I saw the Wachowski Starship and Tom Tykwer’s Cloud Atlas and I’m still trying to figure out how the movie got made. Not only is the movie contain six separate stories that could be individual films all by themselves, it also intertwines them so that each narrative is being put together at the exact same as the others. The end result should be a clusterfuck of extreme proportions, but with its breathtaking structure and outstanding editing it’s a triumph.
Admittedly it’s a movie that you have to open yourself up to and really get mentally prepared for, but if you do it will take you on a spectacular ride. Not all of the segments are as great as the others, but even when the narrative is lacking you can’t help but marvel at how the entire thing was put together. Taking advantage of the multiple timelines, the film is also beautifully directed, as the filmmakers set up unique worlds for their characters to inhabit and live through (the photography in the Neo Seoul segment is particularly stunning). Of all the movies to come out in 2012 there was none that had me thinking longer and harder than Cloud Atlas, and each time I did I couldn’t help but smile.
#3: The Avengers
The Avengers is the movie that I’ve spent my entire life waiting to see. As a geeky youngster I would obsess about superheroes and my love of film led to dreams of my favorite characters somehow all coming together for one big screen adventure. Had it been awful I would have been crushed, but instead I’ve already seen it more than ten times and think it’s one of the best films of 2012.
And thank the movie gods for Joss Whedon. The writer/director, who has spent more than a decade making magnificent television that everyone has ignored, finally got his chance in the spotlight and made a movie that is as funny and entertaining as it is dramatic and gripping. The 30-minute long action sequence where the heroes battle Loki and his army drops my jaw every time and I will forever remember listening to the movie-goers in the audience cheer when the team comes together for the first time on the streets of New York City. Watching The Avengers was like watching my 8-year-old imagination projected on the big screen, and I loved every damn minute of it. (Read my full review here)
#2: Seven Psychopaths
Walking into the theater to see Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths I have to admit that I wasn’t feeling the level of expectation that I expected. As a big fan of McDonagh’s only other directorial effort, 2008’s In Bruges, I was thinking that the Irish filmmaker’s latest would be good, but perhaps not as good. I ended up being completely wrong.
An epically weird story of a screenwriter and his two friends (Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, and Christopher Walken) who steal a gangster’s dog and must go on the run, the film is a genius meta comedy that not only impresses with fun characters and performances, but serves as a great meditation on violence and its place in our culture. The trio topping the film has some of the best chemistry you’ll see, and because of the eccentricities of the characters you never know what is going to hop out of the sack of crazy next, and having Woody Harrelson playing the shih tzu-loving madmen with the gun chasing them down is almost too much, but ends up being just the right amount. There are only two movies that I gave five stars in 2012, and Seven Psychopaths earns its place as one of them. (Read my full review here)
#1: The Cabin in the Woods
Remember what I said about thanking the movie gods for Joss Whedon? Well, this year it goes double. Not only did the man deliver us The Avengers, one of the greatest superhero titles of all time, but his pairing with director and long-time collaborator Drew Goddard also led to what I think is the best film of the year: The Cabin in the Woods.
The film is armed with a generic title and premise that we have heard a thousand times before, but it really is anything but. From the very beginning when we meet technicians Sitterson and Hadley (Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford) it becomes immediately clear that what’s going on in the movie isn’t anything we’ve seen before, and it fully explores every inch of its creative brilliance. While I still refuse to give any big details away because I still think not nearly enough people have seen the movie and I don’t want to give anything away, the explosive third act is one of the best I’ve ever seen, and inspired one of the longest jaw-drop moments I’ve ever had sitting in a cinema. The Cabin in the Woods is an unforgettable experience destined to find a cult following (if it hasn’t already), and hands down the best time I’ve had watching a film in 2012.
Great Movies That Didn’t Make The Cut: Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Wreck-It Ralph, Ted, Moonrise Kingdom, Skyfall, The Grey, The Master, The Raid: Redemption