THE BEST MOVIES OF 2012
By L.L. Soares
This time around, Michael Arruda and I decided to write two separate lists listing our favorite films of 2012. It was just getting confusing trying to do both of our lists in one column. So, without any bells and whistles, here are my Top 10 Movies of 2012:
It’s funny how the last movie I saw in a theater in 2012 (and the movie I was most looking forward to all year long), also turned out to be my favorite film of the year. I’m a huge Quentin Tarantino fan, because I love his style of filmmaking, and he hasn’t let me down yet. A new Tarantino movie has become something of an event for me, and I had a great Christmas afternoon sitting in a movie theater, watching DJANGO UNCHAINED.
Intense, gory, violent, often funny, terrifically acted, wonderfully scripted and directed, I just can’t praise this movie enough. Tarantino mashes up two staples of 1970s grindhouse cinema—the Blaxploitation film and the spaghetti western—and in the process transcends everything that inspired it. At its heart, it’s just a great revenge drama and a love story. With Jamie Foxx as the biggest badass of 2012.
THE KILL LIST (2011)/MOONRISE KINGDOM (TIE)
Technically, THE KILL LIST is a 2011 film, but it got a limited release in America in 2012, and that’s when I saw it, so it’s going on this list. A hitman drama with a very strange twist. This movie was also incredibly violent, but also incredibly satisfying. Beyond that, I don’t want to say much about it, except that it was one of the most original flicks I saw in 2012. It was going to be my Number 1 choice until I saw DJANGO UNCHAINED. Directed by the very talented Ben Wheatley.
We didn’t review MOONRISE KINGDOM here, the latest movie by Wes Anderson (who also directed some other movies I love, like RUSHMORE (1998) and THE ROYAL TANENBAUMS (2001)), probably because it didn’t fit in the with the usual genre-driven stuff we focus on here, but it was easily one of my favorite movies of 2012. A strangely innocent movie about two young teens who run away from home to live in a tent together, it was chock-full of quirky characters and terrific performances (from people like Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bob Balaban and Anderson regulars Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray). I loved every moment of this wonderful, whimsical, original movie.
JOHN CARTER had to be the most criminally underrated film of 2012. It will go down in history as one of the biggest box office flops of all time, and it cost some Disney executives their jobs, but I still say it’s one of the best movies of the year. Based on the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who also created Tarzan, John Carter of Mars is a character who should have been adapted for the movies decades ago, but something always went wrong, preventing that from happening. The biggest obstacle was always bringing Burroughs’ world of Mars to the big screen without looking cheesy. Modern-day special effects finally made this possible, but by the time this came out, a lot of people thought it was derivative of science fiction epics like STAR WARS, when in fact, the original books were the forerunner to hundreds of movies that stole –er, paid homage –to them.
This was the real deal, and it captured the spirit of adventure in Burroughs’ novels (the book this movie was based on, A Princess of Mars, was first published in 1912!). Unfortunately, most theater-goers had no idea, because the marketing campaign for this movie was abysmal. If anyone is responsible for this movie’s failure at the box office, the biggest burden of guilt has to fall on the publicity department at Disney. First off, removing the OF MARS part of the title left most people scratching their heads and wondering “Who the hell is John Carter?” And none of the promotional material linked JOHN CARTER with its creator, who also gave us Tarzan.
The movie is pretty faithful to the source material. The acting is really good, especially Taylor Kitsch in the title role. And this movie should have made him a star. Directed by Andrew Stanton – his first live-action film after helming animated movies for Pixar like FINDING NEMO (2003) and WALL-E (2008). Everyone involved deserves high praise.
THE AVENGERS and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (TIE)
There are going to be a few ties in this list, since there were so many good movies that came out in 2012, and it was tough to fit them into 10 slots (there are also a bunch of Honorable Mentions, as you’ll see).
2012 was, without a doubt, the year of the superhero. And as a long-time fan of Marvel Comics, it was a thrill to finally see THE AVENGERS hit the big screen. I grew up reading the adventures of Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk and Captain America (by themselves and as members of THE AVENGERS – even if the Hulk only appeared in the first few issues) and Joss Whedon gave us a movie version of “Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes” that was a ton of fun from beginning to end. As a Hulk fan, I was thrilled to finally see him done right in a movie, and the big green guy stole every scene he was in. The main villain could have been a bit more menacing (we’d already seen Loki in the THOR movie and I would have preferred someone else facing off against the Avengers besides him and a bunch of generic space aliens), but all in all, it was a really enjoyable experience. Kudos to director Joss Whedon.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES started off on a depressing real-life note, when a nut shot up a movie theater in Colorado during one of the first screenings, and I thought this would doom the movie, but DARK KNIGHT RISES was able to endure and get the praise it deserved. Darker and more introspective than the lighter AVENGERS, I think DARK KNIGHT was the better film, capping off Christopher Nolan’s above-average Batman trilogy. Tom Hardy turned out to be pretty terrific as the main bad guy, Bane (even if I still think they could have made his voice more understandable with that mask on – you had to really listen to decipher some of his dialogue), and Anne Hathaway was a kick-ass Catwoman. The thing about this movie that impressed me most was that it stayed with me after I saw it, where THE AVENGERS was like a great feast of junk food that was almost forgettable once the credits rolled. DARK KNIGHT haunted me, and I found myself thinking about it more as time went on. I even think it’s the best of Nolan’s Batman movies.
Two very different takes on the superhero story. Both successful in their own way.
THE RAID: REDEMPTION and THE COLLECTION (TIE)
Two indie films make up my number five choice.
THE RAID: REDEMPTION was my favorite action film of the year, featuring cops invading a multi-story building full of criminals, to arrest the kingpin on the top floor. But to get there, they have to survive being under attack, continuously, floor by floor. Not big on plot (although there are a few twists along the way), THE RAID was pure, undiluted action. Nothing like the (often disappointing) brainless big-budget blockbusters it competed against. And the fight scenes were amazing pieces of choreography. Made in Indonesia and directed by Welsh director Gareth Evans, THE RAID was like a bullet-ridden, bone-crunching ballet.
THE COLLECTION was that rare sequel that transcended the first film (in this case, the 2010 movie, THE COLLECTOR). Without the hypocritical moral “message” of the SAW movies (this one was made by some of the same guys who made a bunch of the SAW films), THE COLLECTION was a non-stop journey through a house of horrors, courtesy of a sadistic bad guy who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when he had to. So violent and gory that it pushed its R-rating to the limit. Sure it got dismissed by a lot of critics as just another “torture porn” flick, but they missed the boat on this one. THE COLLECTION was suspenseful, and entertaining as hell. I just had a helluva great time watching this one. Directed by Marcus Dunstan.
Two movies that seemed like adrenaline-stoked roller-coaster rides from start to finish.
One of the best horror movies of 2012, SINISTER actually had some disturbing plot points and intense imagery, and it made me like an actor I’m not always a fan of, Ethan Hawke, a little more.
Hawke plays a true crime writer who brings his family to a house where the horrific murders of another family happened not long before. He thinks it will inspire him to write the book of his career. Then he finds a box of home movies in the attic. They’re actually snuff films of the murderer’s past crimes. Hawke can’t stop watching the movies, and they’re driving him mad. A great idea, done very well. And one of the few truly creepy horror films of 2012. Directed by Scott Derrickson.
THE COMEDY and CLOUD ATLAS (TIE)
Another tie of two very different movies.
THE COMEDY is more of an anti-comedy as Tim Heidecker (of the “Adult Swim” series TIM AND ERIC’S AWESOME SHOW, GREAT JOB!) plays a completely obnoxious bastard who offends everyone he meets and somehow doesn’t get his teeth knocked out on a daily basis. Despite the fact that the lead character is almost completely unlikable, I found myself really impressed with the fearlessness of this one. Directed by Rick Alverson.
CLOUD ATLAS couldn’t be more different than THE COMEDY. It was an epic involving multiple characters in multiple time periods (with several actors playing multiple characters, led by Tom Hanks and Halle Berry), ranging from the 1800s to the post-apocalyptic future. The movie jumps constantly between stories and time, yet you never get confused, and it’s fascinating throughout. It did poorly at the box office and most critics attacked it. I thought it was terrific. Directed by Tom Tykwer (RUN LOLA RUN) and the Wachowskis (Andy and Lana, who gave us THE MATRIX movies) and based on the novel by David Mitchell. Along with JOHN CARTER, CLOUD ATLAS was one of the most (unjustly) underrated films of the year.
KILLER JOE and V/H/S (TIE)
Yet another tie.
KILLER JOE features probably the best performance of Matthew McConnaghey’s career (so far), as a crooked cop who moonlights as a hitman. A family of hick morons hires him to knock off the estranged mom for the insurance money, then try to stiff him. Joe then has to set them straight. Along the way he takes their daughter as sexual “collateral” and they fall in love. Directed by the legendary William Friedkin from Tracy Letts’ play (and screenplay).
There have been a lot of horror anthology movies lately – which is fine by me, because I’ve always enjoyed them – but V/H/S might just be the best of the bunch so far. Featuring five films by different up-and-coming directors, I found all of the tales to be pretty satisfying (not one real clunker in the bunch) and the movie as a whole to be very enjoyable.
In some years past, a movie like SAVAGES would have topped my list, showing just how good 2012 was in cinema. SAVAGES is Oliver Stone’s best movie since the 90s, based on the book by Don Winslow, with Taylor Kitsch (from JOHN CARTER), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (from 2010’s KICK-ASS) and Blake Lively as three very different stoners in a ménage a trois, trying to get through life growing and selling the best pot in the land. And the Mexican cartel that decides to make a hostile takeover, led by drug kingpin Salma Hayek in one of the best roles of her career, and terrific performance by Benicio Del Toro and John Travolta.
THE GREY/BRANDED (TIE)
Liam Neeson may seem a little old to be an action star, but that’s the way his career decided to go, and he is damn good at it. THE GREY might be the best action flick he’s made so far. After a plane crash in Alaska, a man named Ottway (Neeson) who was hired to keep wolves away from an oil company camp, has to use his wits to stay alive against some brutal fellow survivors, the harsh elements, and a hungry pack of the same kinds of wolves he used to hunt. With an intense final scene that some people didn’t like, but I thought was perfect. Directed by Joe Carnahan.
BRANDED is a really strange movie about an advertising guru, working in Russia, who has a strange epiphany and is able to see marketing brand names and logos as grotesque monsters fighting for control of the populace. This movie was so damn weird and different that it just caught me completely by surprise. Based on the trailers, I was expecting some kind of “alien takeover of Earth” story – but it has nothing to do with that. By the time we get to Misha (Ed Stoppard) building an altar he saw in a dream and slaughtering a red cow on it (which allows him to see the “real” world as it truly is) we’re entering some serious Alejandro Jodorowsky territory. Co-starring Leelee Sobieski, and directed by Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulrayn. This one was so strange, that, looking back, I’m shocked it got a theatrical release at all (I actually saw this in a multi-plex!), even if it was a limited one.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (Yep, there are a lot of them):
Paul Thomas Anderson makes the best unwatchable movie of 2012. What do I mean by this? The story of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a confused, violent young man, fresh out of the Navy who comes into the orbit of a larger-than-life L.Ron Hubbard-type religious guru named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Quell wants desperately to take control of his life, and Dodd wants someone totally disconnected from the world to use as a guinea pig for his new religion. Hoffman and Phoenix deliver some amazing performances in this one, especially Phoenix who I think should be a shoe-in for an Oscar Nomination. They why isn’t it in my Top 10? Because it’s incredibly long, slow, and hard to sit through. When I saw it, I left the theater angry because it had been such an endurance test. But I can’t deny its moments of brilliance. A movie I want to praise, but I find difficult to recommend.
BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW
Really low-budget flick about a company that seeks to infiltrate the human mind. I couldn’t tell if it was a brilliant movie that was hampered by its budget, or an interesting idea that was just done badly. I’m prone to believe the former, as this movie really stayed with me over the months. With some really great imagery. Directed by Panos Cosmatos.
A very strange film from France about Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), who travels around Paris in a stretch limousine and pops out now and then, in full make-up, as a variety of odd characters. But he’s not some prankster playing games; he takes this all very seriously. From an old woman beggar, to an assassin, to a monster who kidnaps model Eva Mendes from a photo shoot (after licking her armpit) and drags her down to the sewers. This is one messed up movie. And I loved it. Written and directed by Leos Carax.
KILLING THEM SOFTLY
Brad Pitt as hit man Jackie Cogan, sent to wipe out three guys who robbed a Mob-connected poker game. With terrific performances by Pitt and James Gandolfini, as another hit man on his last legs (Gandolfini is amazing here), and a solid cast that includes Ray Liotta and Richard Jenkins. Based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by crime fiction legend George V. Higgins (who also wrote “The Friends of Eddie Coyle”). Directed by Andrew Dominik.
GOD BLESS AMERICA
I’m a sucker for very dark comedies, and Bobcat Goldthwait has become a really great director of this kind of stuff. This one is about a man who finds out he is dying and decides to spend his final days ridding the world of obnoxious reality television stars. An indictment against the horrible crap we try to pass off as entertainment, and popular culture in general, this one will have you thinking long after it’s over. Starring Joel Murray (Bill’s brother) and Tara Lynne Barr.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
Joss Whedon’s spin (he wrote the screenplay with director Drew Goddard) on the clichés of all those “kids go to a deserted cabin and are picked off by madmen” movies that we’ve seen a hundred times before. With some interesting twists and even some laughs. Not a perfect movie, but a really entertaining one. With memorable performances by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as two corporate drones behind the scenes, and Fran Kranz, who steals every scene he’s in as Stoner dude Marty.
One of the best science fiction movies of 2012, I was completely surprised by this one. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a guy who kills criminals sent back in time from the future (talk about disposing of the bodies!), until the day when his intended victim is an older version of himself (played by Bruce Willis)! One of the smartest movies about time travel in a long time, with great performances and a suspenseful script. Directed and written by Rian Johnson.
Another of those “found footage” faux documentaries, this time about three high school kids who gain incredible mental powers after coming into contact with a meteor. With moments early on that are pretty funny as the kids learn to use their powers, becoming more scary as one of the kids starts to go insane and use his powers for violence. A really effective little film, directed by Josh Trank.
THE TALL MAN
Pascal Laugier, the genius who gave us the horror masterpiece MARTYRS in 2008, makes his first English-language film starring Jessica Biel in a surprise-filled plot about a mysterious figure who steals children in a small town. Not as good as MARTYRS (how could it be?), but fascinating in the way that nothing is as it seems to be by the time we get answers at the end.
THE MOTH DIARIES
At an exclusive all-girls school, Rebecca (Sarah Bolger) slowly comes to the realization that her new roommate, Ernessa (Lily Cole) is a vampire. A lot more interesting than it sounds, with some really nice imagery and some truly spooky moments. Another movie that stayed with me long after I saw it, and that grew on me more and more over time. Directed by Mary Harron, who also gave us 2000’s AMERICAN PSYCHO.
A great little movie based on a real crime, concerning the manager of a fast food restaurant who gets a phone call from a man claiming to be a policeman, who tells her one of her employees is going to be arrested for stealing. The caller claims to be unable to get there in person for a while, and gets the manager and some fellow employees to do some pretty awful things. A movie that really questions blind obedience to authority. Disturbing stuff, with great performances by Ann Dowd as the manager and a fearless performance by Dreama Walker as the abused employee. Directed by Craig Zobel.
This was one of the most ambitious films of the year. Ridley Scott’s prequel of sorts to his film classic, ALIEN (1979), it was one of the movies I was looking forward to most in 2012 (probably the movie I most wanted to see other than DJANGO UNCHAINED). I gave it a decent review when it came out, but it really didn’t live up to my high expectations. While it’s well made, smart (except for a few odd missteps) and visually arresting, it just was nowhere near as memorable as ALIEN, and the more 2012 went on, the more I realized how many other films I enjoyed a lot more.
© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares