Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Top 10 Films of 2012, or Ten Films that Wouldn't Have Made My Top 10 list in 2011.

Accepting the award for best still of the year is Holy Motors, because the still from Killer Joe was NSFW.

There were a lot of films that I liked in 2012, just not very many that I liked a lot.  There's currently a twenty way tie for tenth going on but, by the time I finish this opening paragraph, I promise I'll pick one.  My list is fairly predictable, but I'll try to spruce it up with witty/childish/gangsta commentary.  I had tried to make the list better by watching plenty of non-Hollywood films but, unfortunately for 2012, that meant that I watched twenty bad movies in a row.  As always, the list does not include documentaries, because then this would just be a list of ten documentaries.  Before we get started, here are some personality awards (because fat kids deserve recognition too):

The Highest Highs and the Lowest Lows Award - TO ROME WITH LOVE

The diagetic opera staged around a man who can only sing while showering was the highlight of my year, and Roberto Benigni spontaneously becoming famous for no reason isn't too far behind.  Unfortunately, To Rome with Love also included an absolutely painful segment, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page, that ruined what could have been another of Woody Allen's recent greats.

The Best Movie That No One Thought Would Be Good Award - DREDD

If you didn't see Dredd, you're probably writing me off as a lunatic right now, but as far as action movies go, Dredd ranks with the best of the year.  There isn't much plot but, as we saw with the Sylvester Stallone version, plot can sometimes be a bad thing.  2012's Dredd consists almost entirely of Judge Dredd and Psychic Dredd blowing up a building run by a drug gang.  And since Skyfall was garbage, you might as well watch Dredd.  Or The Raid, which is the same movie but better.

The Supporting Actor of the Year Award - MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY

I'm not kidding when I say that Matthew McConaughey's role in Magic Mike should have gotten him nominated for Best Supporting Actor.  He wouldn't be my favorite to win, but yo, McConaughey owned in that movie.  Add that to his performance in Killer Joe, and I'm starting to think that I may have been able to sit through How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days if he had fed Kate Hudson some KFC.  I haven't liked McConaughey this much since Tiptoes, and that's purely for the sheer strangeness of Gary Oldman playing a dwarf.

And here is your top ten:

10.  Life of Pi
Life of Pi actually wasn't one of the films locked in the twenty way tie for tenth.  While that battle was going on, it was comfortably placed at ninth, which goes to show you how little the order of any of this actually means.  Life of Pi is kind of like The Impossible except Naomi Watts is played by a tiger, which is always an improvement. You'd think it'd be harder to pull of a film consisting almost entirely of a boy trapped on a lifeboat with a tiger, but it comes off with relative ease here, because tigers are scary and there's a carnivorous island to break up the monotony.  The frame narrative in which Pi recounts the story of his survival is relatively obnoxious, but it's necessary in order to hit home the thesis of the film.  I'm a bit skeptical on the effectiveness of the film's final argument, but that's because I'm a cynic and thus I got a cynical ending.

9. Chicken With Plums
If you watched Chicken with Plums without knowing anything about it, you'd probably think it was directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet.  The narration is incredibly similar; running off on tangents and describing characters and events with a whimsical charm not dissimilar to Amelie.  If you've seen a Jeunet film, you know that this is certainly not a bad thing.  Chicken with Plums is funny, ludicrous, and touching at the same time.  The story's protagonist, Nasser Ali, has been having a rough time as of late.  Ever since his beloved violin was broken, he can't find another he deems suitable to replace it.  Finally, he decides he wants to die, and he confines himself to bed, waiting for death to come.  Of course, this isn't just a movie about a dude lying in bed.  While Nasser Ali waits for death, we are told the story of his life, his family's life, and the story of his lost love.  If you want to watch only one French film this year, I recommend this one.  After all, Amour really is just a movie about a woman lying in bed.

8. Django Unchained
Here is my original review of Django Unchained if you want more thorough sarcasm.  There's really not much to say about Django.  Christoph Waltz kills it in the first act, Leonardo DiCaprio is fantastic, and Jamie Foxx is underwhelming when left to his own devices.  It's really funny, it's too long, and has very little to offer other than a raucous good time at the cinema.  It's the second of three Best Picture nominees on this list, and the least likely to win.  We all know Argo has it locked up anyway, with an outside chance that Zero Dark Thirty wins based on CIA intervention and threats of torture.

7. The Cabin in the Woods
 Apparently, some people didn't watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel religiously, and thus didn't know what to expect from a "horror" movie written by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon.  I have a completely scientific theory, backed by little to no empirical evidence, that people don't like to be surprised by the genre that a film inhabits.  Sorry if you were expecting a horror movie, bro.  This shit is funny.  Cabin in the Woods is a very engaging deconstruction of the horror genre that comically develops in just the right direction, although I think there were better choices for the cameo at the end.  I don't think Cabin in the Woods is quite as successful as Tucker and Dale Versus Evil was, but we really don't need to fight about it, it's all good fun.  It is important to note that this film is fiction, the world's governments are much better at human sacrifices than the film would lead you to believe.

 6. Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook may actually be the most flawed film on this list, but it has enough heart and warm butterfly feelings to make it to number six.  I can be romantic too, dogg.  Bradley Cooper is fairly nauseating in the lead role, spouting some nonsense about finding the silver lining in bad situations.  He's quite obsessed over reuniting with his ex-wife, and the anticipation of this seemingly inevitable awkward reunion made me cringe.  Thankfully, Bradley Cooper saves us the traditional third act blowup, and we're left with sugary feel-goodness instead, which the rest of the film offsets nicely with strong bursts of humor and a hint of emotional levity.  It never quite reaches the status of actual drama that it seems set on imitating, but in this case that's a good thing, as the moments that stand out are comedic or light-hearted romance.  There's always some appeal in the discovery of happiness amidst the despair of living, but it's all outweighed by the scene in which Jennifer Lawrence scolds Robert DeNiro, which is probably my favorite scene of the year.

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a perfect capsule of adolescence, reminding us of a time when playing the right song in a car full of the right people could make being molested by your aunt okay.  Spoiler alert!  C'mon guys, it's been a book for years, don't you read?  Anyway, by the time molestation enters the picture, everyone's all like, "Uh, okay.  No one really needed that bit about molestation tacked on at the end, but it's okay because we're listening to this mysterious song that we don't know the name of, even though its obviously David Bowie, who we've never heard of even though we're obsessed with eighties music."  What was I saying?  Anyways, the main character is obnoxious, but his friends are interesting enough to keep you intrigued.  Here is my original review in case you need to hear some more about teen angst.  I liked this quite a bit, but I feel a little bad about it.

4. 21 Jump Street
This may have actually applied to the "Best Movie that No One Thought Would be Good" category, but 21 Jump Street was so good that I may have forgotten that there was a time when it wasn't supposed to be.  Our boy C-Tates really came into his element here, finally manifest as the lovable, sarcastic lunkhead we always knew he could be.  Jonah Hill is as Jonah Hill as ever, but what makes 21 Jump Street really stand out is that it's hardly a reboot at all.  It does, of course, share the same premise of its source material, but it quickly diverges into its own territory.  C-Tates and J. Hill show up to their first day of high school, and quickly realize that high school values have shifted.  Being smart is cool, diversity is celebrated, and being a stupid jock is, well, stupid.  And it's all the fault of Glee.  This small, yet original idea holds the film up, and the result is a smart, original comedy.  We need more of those.

3. Cloud Atlas
Tom Hanks as a literary gangster is not the strangest role in this movie.
I know.  I'm surprised as you are.  I thought this looked like a huge pile too.  Many of you probably thought it was a huge pile, and I don't feel strongly enough to argue.  However, I will say that Cloud Atlas is one of the few films of 2012 that did impress me.  Multiple narratives are always tricky to pull off, especially when they span different time periods and feature characters that represent different incarnations of the same souls.  Still, I found each of the narratives engaging, and the themes were evident, yet not heavy-handed as they so easily could have been.  This is the only three hour film this year (and there were many) in which I did not find myself checking to see how much time was left.  The film is a self-professed symphony; each narrative is a different instrument designed to be something greater than its parts when they all come together.  Whether that works depends on how meta you like your coffee, but it worked for me.  There's some weird (some people will say bad) mixed in with the good, and it sometimes feels a little messy, but I should probably watch it again because writing this mini-article makes me want to re-rank it at number one.

2. The Grey
In case you are confused, The Grey is not about Liam Neeson fighting wolves.  The Grey is about a man who wants to die but chooses to survive when that choice is seemingly taken away from him.  This film has been largely overlooked, as it came out in January–a death sentence to most films hoping for awards buzz–but it is certainly one of the strongest dramas of 2012.  The Grey is largely a survival tale: A plane crashes into the Alaskan wilderness, wolves attack, grown men scream like little girls; you get the idea.  Liam Neeson leads a band of survivors who, apart from the cold, have some very large wolves to deal with.  This could have easily turned into the action film the trailer wanted you so desperately to see, but The Grey takes the high road.  It's an examination of human nature, the misery of existence, and the steps we take to avoid our bleak realities.  Doesn't that sound fun?!

1. Take This Waltz
Dear Michelle Williams,

Can you please find a man that you are satisfied with?  We all know you never loved Dawson.  Ryan Gosling?  Not good enough.  Seth Rogen?  Well, I guess I understand that last one.  But seriously, Michelle.  Seth Rogen was pretty adorable in this movie.  He made you a whole lot of chicken, put in the effort to produce long-term jokes, offered to carve out your eyes with a melon peeler... he's obviously adorable.  But no, we meet one cute boy at a public humiliation and we're all antsy in our pantsy.  Shame on you, Michelle.  Your dissatisfaction with all things male does tend to produce good films, so I can forgive you.  Blue Valentine was the best film of 2010 (no matter what my list said back then), and while Take This Waltz is nowhere near Blue Valentine in terms of quality, it's number one for 2012.  For now.  The order of my lists change as often as the boy on your arm.

Take This Waltz is the story of Michelle Williams slowly falling in love with her neighbor.  She's become dissatisfied with her life, bored with her husband, and is seeking excitement.  Thankfully, it's not the traditional tale of infidelity–the cheating is emotional not physical–which saves it from triteness.  The interactions between Michelle and her rickshaw pulling (no seriously, that's his profession) neighbor are usually engaging, both through impressive dialogue and silent expression.  The soundtrack and cinematography step in to shape the silent moments, and some of the best moments in the film are articulated during our actors' silence.

I wouldn't say with certain confidence that Take This Waltz is the best film of the year, but I always like me an honest relationship drama.  Since we usually only get one of those a year, and they're not always that good, Take This Waltz tops this list.


The Good

Moonrise Kingdom - Wes Anderson makes the same movie again, but it's about little kids and it's still funny although I still wish that he would branch out.  He's the Tim Burton of films I actually like.
Pitch Perfect - As if Step Up, Bring it On, and Glee had a baby with all of the good genes, this one was surprisingly fun.
Looper - Joseph Gordon Levitt is Bruce Willis, and there's a lot of stuff that could have been better, but it was still good.
Lincoln - This film would have made my Top 10 if Sally Field was not in it.
Chronicle - Everyone likes to see what teenagers would actually do if they got super powers.
Damsels in Distress - This was one of the front runners in the twenty-way tie for tenth.  It's a very funny look at some very interesting young ladies.
Sound of My Voice - Another strong film from Brit Marling.  This time she shows up as a cult leader who may or may not be from the future.
Rust and Bone - A strange blend of romance and MMA, plus Marion Cotillard has no legs.
The Raid - The Asian version of Dredd is actually better and features more kung fu.
Bernie - A pseudo-documentary about Jack Black shacking up with an old lady.  And then he kills her.  Based on a true story, but not a real documentary.
The Sessions - John Hawkes hangs out in an iron lung and sleeps with Helen Hunt.  Helen Hunt falls for him for some strange reason.
Argo - Oscar bait.  It was good filmmaking but uninspiring.
Your Sister's Sister - Mark Duplass number one.  Good.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home - Mark Duplass number two.  Good.
Safety Not Guaranteed - Mark Duplass number three.  Good.
Magic Mike - Surprisingly hilarious, but descends into your standard drugs are bad narrative.
Killer Joe - McConaughey almost made his way into the top ten.  I like the way he works his drumstick.
The Avengers - It was as good as it possibly could have been: an entertaining popcorn romp.
The Thieves - The Asian Ocean's Eleven.
Wreck it Ralph - Cute.  But I would have preferred smart.
Man with the Iron Fists - Kind of awful, but in the best way.  This is what happens when RZA directs.
V/H/S - A horror movie I actually liked.  Some segments were much better than others.
The Amazing Spiderman - It was a completely unnecessary movie to make, but it was at least better than the Toby McGuire one.

The Meh

Video Game High School - This is on Netflix and its kind of funny in a Disney Channel sort of way.
Anna Karenina - I love the form of this film, just not the content.
Skyfall - Standard Bond.  At least Casino Royale happened once.
Holy Motors - Mesmerizing, but not cohesive enough to remain relevant in my mind.
Oslo, August 31 - Drugs are bad.
God Bless America - I kind of loved this movie because a fat guy and a little girl kill people for being stupid.
Beasts of the Southern Wild - Indie Bait of the Southern Wild.
Amour - Watching old people deteriorate is not fun.  It's the filmic representation of an emotion that is not that complex.
The Vow - C-Tates still made me smile.
The Hobbit - The best Lord of the Rings movie.  Actually belongs in the good column, but I'm too tired to move it.
Seven Psychopaths - Funny but forgettable.
Celeste and Jesse Forever - Cry about it a little more.
The Dark Knight Rises - An embarrassment to the other two.
This is 40 - Judd Apatow keeps making movies that I want to like.  He needs a new editor.
The Master - Another film with great form, but weak content.
The Impossible - Better than I thought.  But that doesn't excuse it for being so contrived.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia - Well made, but couldn't get a hold on me.

Alps - Dogtooth was so good, but this was so dull.
Ruby Sparks - It got a little maniacal at the end, which I always like to see from Paul Dano.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World - Good idea.  Mediocre execution.
Cosmopolis - Had some really great lines, but wasn't very good.
Les Miserables - It's better than my original review let on.  But it was still a disappointment.

The Bad

Ted - Had a few laughs, but they didn't last.
Prometheus - Seriously, don't run in a straight line.
The Five-Year Engagement - Not funny and a narrative mess.
Giant Mechanical Man - Weird, and kind of entertaining in a completely forgettable way.
The Deep Blue Sea - A period piece about infidelity.  Ain't nobody got time for that.
Wanderlust - An embarrassment.
Keep the Lights On - An embarrassment to the gay community.
The Hunger Games - Filmed by an eight year old with turrettes.
Dark Horse - Fat Horse.
The Comedy - The name is ironic.

I know I'm missing some that I saw, but that will give you an idea at least.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to see Cabin in the Woods and Django on here! Killer Joe and Skyfall would be in my top 10 for sure. I'll have to check out the Grey, many have told me it was garbage.