Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Best Movies of 2012

I didn't manage to see a few movies I know I really should have, most notably Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty. Still, I managed to do a better job of getting out of the house and seeing good stuff than I usually do. Here was the best.

Best of 2012

8. The Dark Knight Rises

It was always unlikely that people were going to love this as much as they did The Dark Knight, and when the movie finally came out it seemed practically predestined to have a mixed reaction. I liked it a lot though; Tom Hardy's Bane is a wonderfully scary villain, Anne Hathaway is a pitch-perfect Catwoman, and it's just fun watching the elaborate schemes and action scenes Christopher Nolan puts together, even if it's easy to poke holes in their logic later. I kind of wish it was a bit more grounded, but it still manages to be the third part of the first ever superhero film trilogy that's good the whole way through.

7. The Cabin in the Woods

Usually when a movie sits on the shelf for a couple years like this, you expect bad things. But based on the people behind it and the seemingly reasonable explanation for its delay, I was pretty sure I'd like The Cabin in the Woods, and I turned out to be right. It's a horror movie that basically applies the reasons people like horror movies to the story itself, and what results is a movie that is at times genuinely frightening, but more often hilarious in the way it plays with and subverts expectations. I imagine you might get more out of it if you spend a lot of time with the genre, but even if you don't there's a lot of great moments and surprises.

6. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I was okay with Peter Jackson and company splitting The Hobbit into two parts for their film adaptation, since I knew they were adding material from the countless additional notes and writings of Tolkien, and it's not uncommon for studios to do that these days. Three parts seemed like a stretch, though. Still, I couldn't help but find myself again wrapped up in the world of Middle Earth, and enjoyed all of the time the movie took developing its new characters and really telling the story of the book without many gaps. Who knows if I'll get tired of it before the end, but I thought the first Hobbit movie was very well cast, as faithful to the book as you could hope, and just a pleasant thing to watch.

5. The Raid: Redemption

You hear a lot of people tell you how much an action movie kicks ass. It's hard to tell just from a description how much it actually kicks ass. You kind of have to take it on faith that it kicks ass. Believe me when I tell you that The Raid stands above most other movies when it comes to whether it kicks ass. No one's in it that you've heard of, and they use an Indonesian fighting style with less of a history than kung fu, but the movie still kicks ass. There's not much else to say about The Raid, which takes place entirely within a single apartment complex and doesn't have much of a story, but it doesn't need anything else because it really, really kicks ass.

4. The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson sure has changed a lot over the course of his career. You can definitely trace a line from movie to movie, but while movies like Boogie Nights were certainly different, it was still essentially understandable and often very entertaining. The Master is one of the most challenging movies that I've ever seen. I know basically what it was going for, and I know the three central performances were great, and I can remember specific scenes that were as entrancing and gripping as any that have been filmed. But I still find it difficult to love, and I don't get the feeling the movie really wants to be loved. It wants to be considered, and it deserves to be examined for a long time. It's an important movie, but you should only see it if you know what you're in for.

3. Lincoln

I'm not sure what else there is to say about Daniel Day-Lewis. He's probably going to win his third Oscar as a lead actor soon. He doesn't just say his lines well in this movie, he essentially reinvented the way I'm going to picture Lincoln looking, sounding, and acting for the rest of my life. He leads a truly outstanding cast in a movie that avoids overly lionizing the man, the war, or the time period, as it instead focuses on all of the political dealings and double-dealings that led to the passage of the 13th Amendment. Steven Spielberg doesn't try to do too much, he just lets the actors handle the great script and just seems to know where the camera should be. It's one of the best films in his long and profoundly good career.

2. Looper

Looper is one of those movies that comes along once in a while that you wouldn't expect to get made in the current Hollywood system. It's an R-rated science fiction movie with a budget large enough that it doesn't look cheap. It's also a really, really good one. Joseph Gordon Levitt (this is his third movie on the list, by the way) is more convincing as a young Bruce Willis than you'd guess based on the slightly distracting makeup, and he does a great job of making you care about this honestly pretty unbelievable world, where the mob gets rid of annoyances by sending them back in time to be executed. The story takes turns you don't expect, and in the end it's really not the action movie it looks like it's trying to be. It might be better than that though, with characters you get attached to and a story that can make you think about a lot of different things. Just make sure to take Bruce's advice when it comes to time travel logic.

1. The Avengers

It's not the edgiest or most sophisticated choice, but darn it if this isn't the best time I had in a theater in 2012. Pulling together the heroes from four different movies and making them argue, bounce off each other, and finally come together to achieve a common goal seems like an almost impossible task, but they nailed it as well as I could hope. And it's even more satisfying because it was done by Joss Whedon, someone who went from a beloved but relatively unknown creator of cult television shows to the director of one of the biggest movies ever. The cast is great, the dialogue is smart and funny, and the story is solid enough to hold up a bunch of sci-fi silliness and exciting action scenes. I'm really looking forward to what else they can do with this suddenly gigantic franchise.

Delayed Entry

This is the best movie that wasn't released in 2012 but I didn't see until then.


Rian Johnson directed Looper, one of my favorite movies in 2012, but I actually liked his first movie more, the low budget thriller called Brick. Joseph Gordon Levitt stars as a hard boiled 40s detective stuck in a modern teenager's body, holding together a film that inserts Film Noir elements into a high school setting much more effectively than you'd think possible. It's really one of the best neo-Noir films ever made, and I'd even hold it up to the real classics of the genre. The story hits every note perfectly, and it's incredible how Johnson manages to match the cadence and rhythm of Noir dialogue to phrases and topics high schoolers would discuss. Inventive filmmaking from start to finish.

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