With just hours left in 2012, the big winner of year is looking to be Hollywood. This was the year that broke the downward trend of audience attendance and saw a significant boost. Writers and directors are listening to their fanbases and bringing movies that audiences are really looking to see. While I didn’t see every movie this year, I saw 18 movies in the theaters, and here are my top 10. Here they are, plus the 8 that didn’t make the cut, including my pick for the worst movie of 2012.
David Ayer’s gritty crime thriller was, at the root, a story of brotherhood. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as two of Los Angeles’s finest felt genuine and full of heart, which contrast starkly with the violence and degradation of the gangs they battle in South Central. The police are portrayed more like soldiers, warriors, in a seemingly never ending battle with immoral drug cartels. It is gripping and powerful.
The clunkiest part of the film is its found footage style of filmmaking. Early in the film, Gyllehaal’s character explains that he’s filming for a video project for school, but there are enough tracking and establishing shots in the film to make the viewer question who is shooting it. If Ayer balanced his “found footage” shots with regular film shots, it would have worked better. Found footage film making is a gimmick that puts the viewer into the story by sometimes sacrificing plot and great shots.
The other thing that didn’t work with me was the ending. Without spoiling the ending, End of Watch resolves in a way that should have been even more tragic than it actually ended for the characters. Frankly, I wanted a happy ending, but this cold conclusion could have been pushed even further.
End of Watch is receiving Oscar buzz and it deserves it, whole-heartedly. Gyllenhaal and Pena need to walk away with nominations, at most. Pena, especially, is fast becoming one of the great character actors of our generation.
Josh Trank’s Chronicle is really number 11 on my top 10 list of 2012. It is an original tale of power that falls in the hands of teenagers, and the choices they make. Three teenagers find a mysterious power source that gives them telepathic powers. What is this power source? We don’t know, and while I would criticize this, it actually was more fitting that we never know what this entity was. And as teenagers do, they use their powers to their advantage and do pranks. But it was Dane DeHaan’s chilling portrayal of the bullied documentarian, Andrew, that really stole the show. Becoming an apex predator, he uses his powers for far more sinister means, leading to one of the more intriguing action sequences of the year.
The flaw of the movie is, once again, the found footage concept. This was one of the best found footage films I’ve ever seen, At one party scene, two characters have camcorders running, giving us two perspectives of the conversation so we can see what’s going on. Trank, in his directorial debut, really was creative and inventive with the found footage concept. But with talks of a Chronicle sequel, I simply don’t feel as inclined to see it. For me, found footage films can never be a franchise (I’m looking at you, Paranormal Activity), because it becomes the same headache inducing film.
I know I seem unfairly critical of Chronicle, but it urge everyone to check this film out. Trank is the fitting director to reboot The Fantastic Four (coming March 6th, 2015) and Venom (he was rumored for the director’s chair), and Dane DeHaan will be perfect as Harry Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Speaking of,
9. The Amazing Spider-Man
Did this movie need to be made? Absolutely not. Five years after the disastrous Spider-Man 3 (and a decade after the critically acclaimed original Spider-Man film), Sony decided to reboot their franchise. It was a risky move, retelling the same story audience probably still remember (reruns of Sam Raimi’s trilogy still air every weekend, if you can find it) with an all-new cast. Even more, Sony cancelled Raimi’s Spider-Man 4 to make a cheaper reboot. It seemed almost like a disaster waiting to happen.
But then Sony hired Marc Webb, fresh off his hit (500) Days of Summer. And then they hired Andrew Garfield from The Social Network, Hollywood darling Emma Stone, and veterans Martin Sheen and Sally Field to appear as Peter Parker’s aunt and uncle. Garfield’s Parker nailed the wisecracking humor and action of Spider-Man, and Rhys Ifans did a decent job as the Lizard.
Were there flaws with this movie? Of course. The biggest being the film’s false advertising, drawing even me in with “The Untold Story” of Spider-Man’s parents. What the film ended up being was an updated retelling of the origin story. If anything, the advertising for the film was setting up for the story told in the sequel (Which is already nearing the top of my must watch list for 2014, due to Jamie Foxx and Chronicle star Dane DeHaan being cast as Electro and Harry Osborn, respectively) that was only touched upon in the film’s awkward post-credits sequence. There was also not enough time with Denis Leary’s Captain Stacy (who issues an arrest warrant for Spider-Man, even though courts are the ones who do that, as we all learned from countless episodes of Law and Order), and tons of plot holes that were just waiting to be filled by a sequel: A silhouette of Norman Osborn, who is apparently dying, just screams WE’RE CASTING A GREEN GOBLIN SOMEDAY, as well as the mysterious person (played by Michael Massee) talking to Dr. Conners in the post-credits sequence, and just who was Irrfan Khan’s character anyways?
The Amazing Spider-Man was an obviously rushed film, but it paid off well with humor, action, heart, escapism, and intriguing set-pieces. Had they spent another six months on the script, it probably would have been moved up on the list, but I think Webb and his crew are preparing to make sequels that will easily top this film. Anything short would be a let down.
And now, a film that didn’t make the list: Men In Black 3
Sony’s other film of the year that didn’t need to be made was Men In Black 3. Did we really need to go back to the world of secret policeman protecting Earth from aliens? Probably not. Pre-production was also a noteworthy disaster: With a bloated budget, writers were literally scrambling to write the next line of the film as the actors were performing them. And for a film with a time travel element, that is a big no-no.
And the pay-off was…decent. Men In Black 3 is not the worst movie of the year by far. It has fun moments, and Josh Brolin as, well, Tommy Lee Jones, is pretty spot-on. (Jones, who usually plays his gruff self, is practically here a walk-on role). And the plot was, for a lack of a better word, silly. But the film was full of logical absurdities that made me and friends leave the theater trying to sort out. And the climatic revelation of why Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K was such a hard-ass was completely unnecessary. It wasn’t something that needed to be explained, and the revelation itself created more questions than answers. Characters we also enjoyed in the first two films were practically ignored.
I would recommend this film on a rainy day and you find it on Netflix. It’s a silly movie, but the weakest of the trilogy.
8. The Hunger Games
Based on the hit novel, Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games was a runaway hit with critics and audiences, and I couldn’t agree more. The cast, especially Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, and Woody Harrelson, were spot on and fantastic. The world of Panem was incredible, and the story was captivating.
I’m one of the few people in the world who hasn’t read the book, but I do know that certain parts of the book were left out, including – without spoilers – what really happens to the dead in the Hunger Games arena, which would have made things far more interesting than how they turned out. I also wanted to see a bit more with the riots caused by the deaths of one of the integral characters in the game, as well as more from President Snow (played by perfectly-cast Donald Sutherland). The three remaining film sequels arrive Thanksgiving weekend in 2013, 2014, and 2015.
7. 21 Jump Street
This is the film that shouldn’t work. A comedy reboot of a serious but cheesy soap about policeman going undercover as high school students should be a critical and commercial failure. But the directing team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller (who last made Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs and are next making the Lego movie) and the comedy duo of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum made one of the year’s best comedies. Tatum, who had his breakout year, knocked this film out of the park, showing off unexpectedly great humor and action and being a foil to Jonah Hill. There were more one-liners and quotables in this movie than any other movie this year. Other performances, from Ice Cube, Rob Riggle, and Dave Franco were perfect. The cameos in the film, without spoiling the film, were also awesome. It’s really a must-watch movie experience.
And now, a film that didn’t make the list: The Vow
The Vow is Channing Tatum’s other big hit of 2012, a romantic drama based on the true events of a man helping his wife remember their love after suffering amnesia following an accident that wipes all memory of their relationship. Romantic dramas, in my opinion, all feel the same. The Vow is no exception, there are a lot of sweet and cliched scenes that just reminisce of The Notebook or Dear John. The Vow may not be this generation’s Ghost, but it is still a great story of love and destiny that really put a smile on my face, even if Rachel McAdams’ acting felt a bit phoned in at times. It’s not just a great date movie, it’s a touching story that I’d recommend to everyone.
6. Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist Spaghetti Western is one of the more intriguing films of 2012, but when aren’t Tarantino films (that aren’t called Grindhouse) the most fun you’ll see? Though Jamie Foxx is the star, he’s regularly quiet, leaving the dialogue to the charismatic Christoph Waltz. He is always perfect, as is perennial bad-ass Samuel L. Jackson as Calvin Candie’s equally sinister house slave. And Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie is the most fun to watch villain since Waltz’s own breakout role as a Nazi officer in Inglourious Basterds. This is a fun, comical, and action-packed way to end 2012.
The flaw with the film is that a lot of scenes could have been edited out to make it a smoother ride for the audience. This is Tarantino’s first film without his longtime editor, Sally Menke, whose sudden passing in 2010 shook Hollywood, and while Fred Raskin stepped in and helped deliver this incredible action film, it will take some time for the chemistry to work out. Tarantino is rumored to be working on a new cut of the film, so this could end up working out well for viewers. But Tarantino’s newest film is one of his best films ever made.
And now a film that didn’t make the list: Prometheus
Ridley Scott’s return to the sci-fi horror genre was long anticipated by audiences. The man behind the classic Alien franchise was back to make a film in the vein of Alien. And what we got was…well, i’m still not quite sure exactly.
Prometheus was a film with big concepts and big ideas that really captivated me, but the execution was skewed. Rather than exploring the alien’s plan, we instead got a horror tale, and through some post credit scenes, the birth of the “perfect” alien race Sigorney Weaver will battle decades in the future. Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, a cold Michael Fassbender are interesting, though every character makes choices that don’t make any sense and left us scratching our heads. A lot the film sets up for a sequel that probably wasn’t necessary had the film stuck to its philosophical and existential premise. The film is, however, visually stunning. But Prometheus could have been a much better experience than it was.
5. The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan’s conclusion to his Batman series was probably one of the most anticipated film events of the year. 2008’s The Dark Knight was so acclaimed, it won Heath Ledger a well-deserved posthumous Academy Award for his role as the Joker. So how can you top a modern day classic?
Set eight years later, The Dark Knight Rises undoes all of the hard work the characters created and builds an anarchistic city led by the brutal but thoughtful Bane, played superbly by Tom Hardy. Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman was also an incredible addition to the series. The action sequences are legendary and the conclusion is fitting, probably one of the best endings to any film series that wraps everything up nicely.
The film is flawed, of course, making this Nolan’s weakest film. But a weak film from Nolan is stronger than most films in the past decade. There are a few flaws in logic (how can you bend a broken back with ropes? Did Bruce Wayne need to romance Miranda Tate? Why does Gotham keep changing across the series?) as well as the questions about the sometimes convoluted aspects of this grand scheme. (Why bother raiding the Stock Exchange in the first place? How can Bruce Wayne, with no resources, break into a fortress even the US military can’t break through?)
And yet, the cast, story, and action sequences sent a chill down my spine as to how incredible they were, especially the climax, where we discover the future for these characters, the most fascinating and talked about being Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character (who might not be as seasoned enough for what is next for him, but would be impressive to watch). The Dark Knight Rises is truly a must-see event.
And now a film that didn’t make the list: Looper
Rian Johnson’s time-bending thriller is visually stunning and actually quite interesting, but something felt amiss from it. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s appearance, wearing make-up that must be Oscar nominated to make him look like a younger Bruce Willis, is pretty incredible, and the film is visually elegant. The character of Joe, played by both men, isn’t a very likable character, a drug-addicted killer who grows into a revenge filled old man on a convoluted quest to stop a future crime boss that needed to be elaborated on more (one scene that you never see but is implied just made me wonder how any actor could have handled the emotional aspect of the act he commits).
Looper is the more easily comprehensible time travel film of the year, but there are a still a lot of gaps in the time travel concept that were confusing, including the final resolution. The inclusion of telekinetic powers could have been better elaborated and explored as well, but it is actually the most realistic vision of such a world. It’s a fun movie, but it isn’t the best movie of the year.
2008’s Quantum of Solace was the most boring train wreck for the 007 franchise. The plot was a convoluted and incoherent mess (a forgettable villain trying to monopolize the water in a South American country and use the profits to finance some sort of plot…I think?) that impressed no one.
But James Bond’s return in Skyfall was a critical and financial success, breaking records in its native Great Britain. And it is well deserved – with a dynamite script, incredible direction from Sam Mendes, a brilliant cast, and a marvelous theme song from Adele, Skyfall is not just the best 007 ever made, but one of the best movies of the year. And speaking of cast, if Javier Bardem’s role in particular as the flamboyant villain Raul Silva doesn’t garner any awards, then I can’t imagine what would top it. Even more so, this is the first 007 movie to actually explore James Bond’s life before becoming an MI-6 agent, hinting at a young boy changed by tragedy into the man he is. It is powerful, action-packed, and not to be missed.
And now a film that didn’t make the list: Red Dawn
What makes Red Dawn such a disappointment was that the film was completed back in 2009, before Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson were household names. But when financial difficulties kept this film away – and the Chinese invaders were digitally converted into North Koreans – first time director Dan Bradley could have devoted more time to making this more than just a typical action film. The concept – a surprise North Korean invasion of a United States devastated by an electromagnetic pulse – really could have been more like its 1980’s predecessor, and been a film with a lot of great themes..
Red Dawn isn’t the worst film of 2012. Sure, the villain was two-dimensional and an cardboard cutout, the Marines that appear later in the film are annoying with their tough guy nonsense, and there are unanswered questions about some characters in the film. But this film does have the unfortunate honor of featuring the worst product placement scene in film. It takes place midway in the film. I won’t spoil the scene, but until this point, the film was just your standard action film. This scene, taking place in a restaurant is not only comical in its absurdity, but it creates so many logical flaws, that the film literally stops. How does this restaurant still even function in a war-torn nation? How could the patrons still be so calm? It was strange and absurd, completely ruining the film. I almost want to recommend the film for this scene, but I’m convinced that if this scene were not in the film, which provides nothing for the plot, this might have a higher place on my list. But certaintly still not within my top-10 films.
3. Wreck-It Ralph
Here is the best animated film of 2012, as well as one of the best video game films of all time, a fun action comedy full of heart, humor, and one-liners fit for all ages. Not to sound cliche, but I laughed and nearly teared up on some occasions There is something for everyone in this incredible film (There are references here from candy and video game puns to old movie references.) The worlds of the video games, all connected by a “Game Central Station” (inside of a surge protecting plug outlet) was imaginative and clever. The cameos by the video game characters are great, There are lessons and humor all around, it is easily Disney’s best non-Pixar film in years. If you haven’t seen it yet, you must. In theaters, the film also included a short film called Paperman that was just so touchy and sweet, it nearly brought a tear to my eye.
And now a film that didn’t make the list: Haywire
Here comes truly the worst of 2012. Haywire made its wide release in January, and Steven Soderbergh’s film was a complete bore. The plot – a female agent being chased – had some interesting action sequences performed by Gina Carano, whose MMA fighting style inspired Soderbergh to make this bad movie. Her fight scene with Michael Fassbender was fun, but every single actor, from Michael Douglas to Antonio Banderas phoned it in. The plot was uninspired, the chases dragged for too long, the camera angles on windows and glass to obscure the actors talking was ridiculous, and the film ended abruptly. It was the worst action movie and I can’t understand why Steven Soderbergh gets such critical acclaims.
Seth MacFarlane’s directorial debut, about a grown man with a living teddy bear, became a critical success, bringing MacFarlane a new level of stardom. The 2013 Academy Awards host once saw his greatest success, Family Guy, get cancelled twice by Fox. But the animator/singer/dancer/comedian/roaster/writer-director/voice actor picked a great cast – Mark Walhberg and Mila Kunis headlining – and created a movie that was very much his own. It was full of obscure pop culture references, offensive humor, sexual crudeness, and yes, emotionally touching moments that made Ted the best comedy of 2012. With a sequel on the way and more from MacFarlane, we won’t hear the last from the Thunder Buddies for life. The unrated extended cut, now on Blu-Ray and DVD has even more laughs, so pick it up today.
And now, the worst movie of 2012: Magic Mike
Yes, another Steven Soderbergh film, and this one was completely atrocious. The fact that it was a critical hit astounds me. A semi-autobiographical story of Channing Tatum’s pre-acting career as a Miami stripper, the film was uninspired. The stripping sequences, like the action scenes of Haywire, were fine, but to build a plot around it didn’t seem fascinating. Cody Horn, in particular, gave a bland and boring performance as Magic Mike’s love interest that made Kristen Stewart’s acting look Oscar-worthy. Soderbergh’s bad direction, with oversaturated colors and unnecessarily obscured shots don’t read as experimental filmmaking. They read as bad filmmaking. Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaghey gave the best performance here, but nothing to run out and go see. The fact that Tatum wants to direct a sequel and a Broadway production of this tale means that this won’t be the last we hear of Magic Mike, but I certainly won’t invest any time or money in it. Do not waste your time.
And the best film of 2012, 1. The Avengers
Marvel’s great experiment – bridging all of their superhero films since 2008 into one big action film – paid off in dividends. The biggest film of all time was a major success for Joss Whedon, cult filmmaker and Marvel’s go-to creative director for Phase 2 of their next bunch of superhero films. He delivered a fun, funny, creative, and ambitious action film that balanced characters out well, for the most part (Hawkeye was probably the most underutilized character, but hopefully more can be developed about him in a future project). The Avengers was a comic book and film lover’s dream, and it only sparked even more interest in the superhero genre. It’s a film you can watch over and over, including its two post credit scenes (one that is a great segue for a sequel, the other a perfect epilogue to a group of heroes). The Avengers is my favorite movie of 2012, and one of my favorite movies ever.
Here’s to a 2013 full of interesting and ambitious films, and a Happy New Year!