Ben’s Top Ten Movies of 2012
Another year gone by, another round of movies I feel the need to gush over! This year I did much better at seeing many of the top films in the theater, thus I didn’t miss quite as many as in 2011. For instance, one of my absolute favorite films of 2011 turned out to be “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol“, but I didn’t actually see it until around May, so I feel the need to give it a mention here. With that said, don’t expect to see a few of the more highly regarded 2012 films here, such as “Lincoln” or “Django Unchained“. I simply haven’t seen them, so don’t take offense to them not being included. What follows is the top 10 films I personally saw this year. Enjoy!
Honorable Mention: 21 Jump Street
It actually says quite a bit for how well-done this remake of an 80’s Johnny Depp television vehicle is that it ends up on my list. I’m notoriously hard on comedies, but “21 Jump Street” won me over with its ability to skew genre conventions while reveling in them joyously. It’s funny, it’s exciting, and it features likable performances from leads Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. In the end “21 Jump Street” provided me some big laughs and deserves a mention on this list.
Prometheus is perhaps the most beautiful, well-made, atmospheric mess I’ve ever seen. There are inherent flaws in the logic of the plot as well as moments when the motivations of the characters are seemingly nonsensical. What saves Prometheus is the absolute masterpiece of direction and cinematography. This is truly a believable world in which the suspense and tension builds up effectively and the engaging story never stops challenging the viewer. A missed opportunity to be one of the best science fiction films of our time, but still 2 hours that will leave you pondering its mysteries long after.
See my full review of Prometheus here: https://lifexinxrewind.wordpress.com/2012/06/10/review-prometheus/
9. Wreck-It Ralph
It may strike some as a little too much “Disney does the Pixar formula”, but there are so many clever ideas and subtle moments of greatness that “Wreck-It Ralph” was by far my favorite animated film of the year. The story, moral, and formula are easy enough for most children to have a great time, but the details are nailed perfectly. There are enough brilliant references to gaming lore to please the older crowd, but much of the fun comes from the ways that the writers clearly had a great time being creative with the material. A joy from start to finish and one of the best Disney movies in years.
8. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
While I found “The Hobbit” to be inferior to the masterworks that are The Lord of the Rings movies, there’s still a lot to like in the tale of Bilbo Baggins joining a group of Dwarves (and our old friend Gandalf the Grey) for an epic adventure. The action was a little too familiar, and the story definitely cuts out just as it gets going (part of the problem of making one book into three films), but there’s more than enough moments of wonder and excitement to make the extended running time breeze by. Wise choices were made in how to use previous (or is that future?) characters in small but effective chunks, and once again Andy Serkis steals the show as Gollum, providing one of the most effectively chilling scenes in the entire series. It also benefits at times from being a less serious, more whimsical affair. It will be easier to judge once the entire trilogy once it’s over, but this first entry is still sure to please fans of middle-earth and is a strong blockbuster.
7. Safety Not Guaranteed
“Safety Not Guaranteed” came out of nowhere as the best independent film I saw in 2012. It features some familiar faces but is driven by the smart, interesting, often hilarious screenplay which manages to be emotionally resonant as well. The characters feel real and their interactions are genuine, and it contains some of the off-beat wit that the freedom from major studios can provide. The plot, which involves an ad placed in the classifieds looking for a time-travel partner, could have easily gotten silly, but it’s all grounded in real world people and emotions. The most unique feel-good film of the year is easily “Safety Not Guaranteed”.
A huge flop that itself is a remake of the Sylvester Stallone 90’s cheese-fest, it would be natural to not expect much from “Dredd”, the 2012 film that stars Karl Urban as the title character. Much to my delight, it delivers as both an exhilarating action roller coaster and a fascinating piece of movie-making. The heavily stylized violence is both brutal and uncompromising , with some incredible visuals a distinct knack for an intense, anything-could-happen atmosphere. Very smart decisions were made to avoid the issues that doomed the original, giving lovers of the comic a proper representation of the anti-hero. Typical action tropes are woven in without feeling forced, allowing the audience to identify with situations while still feeling like a unique take on the genre. While I could have done with a bit more thematic exploration of this future, I cannot fault the result. “Dredd” is not for the faint of heart, but takes the straight-forward action hero and injects a wonderful visual style that begs to be viewed in the best quality.
5. The Hunger Games
Having never read the source novel, nor having seen “Battle Royale”, the foreign film in which many point to spawning the original concept, I found The Hunger Games surprisingly thought-provoking and containing more depth than we are used to getting from a summer blockbuster. I have since seen (and loved) “Battle Royale”, but my opinion remains unchanged. “The Hunger Games” might have toned down the violence, but it features excellent pacing, an interesting story, and great performances. Sold to audiences as the next big series for the “Harry Potter” crowd, I can’t complain if this is what we can expect. I personally cannot wait to experience the rest of the series.
See my full review of The Hunger Games here:
4. The Cabin in the Woods
Let Joss Whedon loose on a horror script and the result is apparently “The Cabin in the Woods”, simultaneously the most unique horror film I’ve perhaps ever seen and the greatest homage to the conventions of the genre. It puts four teens in said creepy cabin in the middle of nowhere, but if you think you know how this story goes, think again. The most fun I had at the theater this year was “The Cabin in the Woods”, the funniest and most kick-ass movie you would ever expect from the tired premise.
See my full review of The Cabin in the Woods here: https://lifexinxrewind.wordpress.com/2012/04/18/review-the-cabin-in-the-woods/
“Skyfall” is easily one of the very best James Bond pictures. It is filled with enough fun and wit to please general audiences but also features plenty of clever references to the series as a whole, done in a tasteful way as to not be tacky or overbearing. It continues the more serious and emotionally involved storytelling that marks the Daniel Craig films while still making sure to feel like a genuine Bond picture. This is not only a great homage to 50 years of Bond, it is a fantastic action flick in its own right.
See my in-depth look at all 22 previous James Bond films in my countdown post here: https://lifexinxrewind.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/james-bond-ranking-50-years-of-the-worlds-most-famous-spy/
2. The Dark Knight Rises
One of the most anticipated films of our time did not disappoint, as Christopher Nolan did it again and kept his track record basically perfect. Although this entry has a lot more in common with “The Dark Knight” than the original “Batman Begins”, welcome efforts were made to tie all three films together into a cohesive trilogy. The new villain Bane manages to be a menacing success without making us yearn for Heath Ledger’s Joker, and new additions Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt steal their scenes by providing fantastic performances. “The Dark Knight Rises” not only ups the stakes with some exhilarating action, but also hits the right notes to be the most emotionally affecting entry to the universe and ends the trilogy on a superb high. This has easily been one of the best trilogies ever made.
See my full review of The Dark Knight Rises here:
Surprisingly, “Looper” was an easy choice for my favorite film of the year. Essentially unheard of when the year began, it blew me away on multiple levels. The always reliable Joseph Gordon Levitt is convincing even under an odd makeup job, and Bruce Willis is fantastic in one of the best performances of his career. The details are absolutely nailed, from the believable futuristic world to the subtle details of the character moments sprinkled throughout. The greatness of “Looper” lies in how easily these moments are to miss because the plot and characters are so fascinating, and the world-building so inventive. I had much to ponder even days later, the mark of a production with enough depth to practically require additional viewings. Even if you find yourself not caring about any of that, the action scenes will keep you hooked with their often brutally realistic depictions. “Looper” is not only my favorite film of 2012, but ranks with the best of science fiction.
See my full review of Looper here:
As usual, I also wanted to take the time to mention two other categories.
Most underrated movie of the year: John Carter
I considered putting the Liam Neeson vehicle “The Grey” here, as I have seen a ton of scorn for a film which I found to be quite well-made and affecting. But considering I may be one of the only people on the planet that didn’t hate John Carter, there was really no other option.
And that’s totally okay. I have heard all the complaints and criticisms of “John Carter”, and I can’t really disagree with most of them. The pacing is odd, the plot reveals take place at moments that undermine their effect, and the whole thing feels too similar to other popular films. What can I say? I found it a consistently entertaining mash-up of many of the best tropes of the science-fiction adventure genre, providing a good story with a character I grew to care for and just the right amount of comic relief. By no means did I find this a fantastic film (I only gave it a 7/10), but it’s far from the complete waste of time most would have you believe. The big thing that set the production apart from most misfires is that the creators genuinely cared about what they were doing, and the sense of fun and adventure they had for the project comes across on screen. With realistic expectations, it’s well worth the watch.
Most overrated movie of the year: The Avengers
Disclaimer: I LIKED THE AVENGERS. Let me repeat that. I liked the Avengers. It’s place in this entry right after I just spend a paragraph praising the universally panned “John Carter” is sure to set off some fuses. So to hammer it home, I did enjoy this movie, and “The Avengers” only narrowly finds itself left off my original list. But it must be said, after the countless glowing reviews, ridiculously high Rotten Tomato rating, and endless social media hype, that The Avengers is not the crowning achievement of the super hero genre, nor was it close to being one of the best films of the year. Did it fit in with the other Marvel productions? Absolutely! It was enjoyable, sure, at times managing to be very funny and featuring some breathtaking spectacle. Alas, there are simply too many nagging issues to place it in my top 10 or giving it anything more than a moderate thumbs up. The numerous plot holes (or cop outs) bugged me a bit, as did the less original decisions (such as the big bad enemy invasion looking like they came right out of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” series, or said army being dispatched ala “Star Wars: Episode One”). The running time also made the film feel stretched too thin, spending too much time with blatant fan service. I’m at least very happy to say that this years most overrated movie was at least a good flick. The overwhelming hype and its place as the #3 grossing movie of all time may have doomed “The Avengers” to be thought of this way, but to say it’s that much better than the other Marvel films that led up to it? A bit a stretch. Alas, an enjoyable stretch.
see my full review of The Avengers here:
Thanks for reading as always, and I can’t wait to see what 2013 has in store!