With the Academy Awards but a smattering of days away, I thought it best to finally crank out a list of my top 25 films to grace the silver screen in 2012. Let me start by stating that I haven’t yet seem Amour or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (though I do love me a film chock full of elder British thesps!) So here they are, the films that stayed with me the most from a fairly strong year at the movies…
1. The Sessions
Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, this light-hearted yet affecting true-life chronicle of polio-afflicted poet Mark O’Brien (played by John Hawkes, in a career performance) and his search to experience sexuality through a surrogate (Helen Hunt) is my pick for the best film of 2012. Chock full of great supporting performances from William H. Macy, Robin Weigert, W. Earl Brown, Adam Arkin and Moon Bloodgood, the film’s heart is the tender and sweet relationship between the two leads. Funny and hanky-grabbing at the same time, I was beyond shocked to see Hawkes was left out of the Best Actor race this year (Wookie Phoenix — I’m looking at you!)
2. Pitch Perfect
My favorite comedy of the year, this goofy free-spirited a cappella college laughfest features a spot-on skewering of the singing sect of college life, and a breakout performance by Rebel Wilson, who really shows her chops as an improviser. Definitely check out the out takes on the Blu-Ray or DVD.
I’m not a big fan of “found-footage” movies like Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity, etc., but Chronicle is something different and special. This “Chronicle” follows three high schoolers who happen upon something other-wordly that endows them with super powers, which are documented through shaky video cam footage shot themselves. It’s a chilling, mesmerizing and different super hero / arch villain story. The effects are super effective, and the performances by the trio of leads — Dane DeHaan (also great in Lawless), Michael B. Jordan and Alex Russell — are fantastic.
4. Promised Land
I was beyond surprised by this feel-good drama penned by Matt Damon and John Krasinksi (who also star), plotted by Dave Eggers, and directed by Gus Van Sant. Damon plays a consultant for an energy company who make their living fracking the land looking for natural gas. Along with his partner (a hilarious turn by Frances McDormand), they attempt to buy up the land in a small town but receive resistance from a local professor (Hal Holbrook) and an environmental activist (Krasinski). Also starring Rosemarie DeWitt, Titus Welliver and Lucas Black, it’s a super effective character study, complete with a truly mind-blowing twist in the later half.
An underrated animated film featuring 3D stop-motion technology and a great score by Jon Brion, it manages to be both funny and scary at the same time. A Sixth Sense for the grade-school set, it’s a great supernatural thrill ride with some fantastic voice work by Kodi Smith-McPhee, Casey Affleck, Anna Kendrick, Jeff Garlin, Elaine Stritch, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Tucker Albrizzi and John Goodman.
6. The Cabin in the Woods
It’s a shame this one sat on the shelf as long as it did — one of the best meta horror films I’ve ever seen, it’s Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard at their bloody best. Playing with every horror convention ever made and featuring an absolute bat shit final twenty minutes, it constantly surprises you with its playfulness despite the gory surroundings. Five minutes in you know you’re in good hands as Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford shoot the shirt at a vending machine. Featuring a young Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Kristen Connolly, Amy Acker, Tom Lenk and Sigourney Weaver. Not for the squeamish, but you’ll be glad you stick this one out.
A mind-melting time-travel sci-fi action drama from Rian Johnson, Looper features Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the same person, a “Looper” who’s job it is to shoot bag-headed people who arrive via time travel from the future and dispose of the body. But what do you do when that person on the other side of the gun is yourself? This slick, thoroughly engaging film takes a turn about halfway through and changes gears in a really interesting way. Plus, the disappearing-body-parts segment in the first part of the film is truly disturbing and memorable.
Argo Fuck Yourself! ….is what Ben Affleck should be muttering to the Academy, who failed to nominate him for best director for his outstanding true-story political drama chronicle the rescue of American diplomats in Iran. A ridiculous ensemble cast (Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler, Victor Garber, Scoot McNairy, Titus Welliver, Tate Donovan, Bob Gunton and countless others) all add to the story without being distracting, and Affleck ratchets up the tension admirably in the second half.
A big step back in the right direction after the so-so Quantum of Solace, Skyfall is masterful under the deft hand of Sam Mendes. Daniel Craig continues to prove the naysayers wrong as a nitty gritty version of Bond, and he’s got a great match in a truly memorable villain in Silva, played with aplomb by Javier Bardem. Plus, Adele’s theme song is aces.
10. Silver Linings Playbook
At first, I kinda hated the film, which starts with a lot of uncomfortable scenes between an unbalanced Philly fan played by Bradley Cooper, coming home after a stay in a mental institution, and his parents (terrific Robert DeNiro and Jackie Weaver). But the time spent in the illness is necessary to establish the depths of problems with Cooper and his love interest / sparring partner Jennifer Lawrence. David O. Russell’s film becomes truly cheer-worthy as the two find normality in each other. Plus, Chris Tucker returns to film in a way that makes you want to see him in more stuff (and yes, you can understand the words coming outta his mouth!)
11. Zero Dark Thirty
Props to Kathryn Bigelow, who manages to make a 2 and half hour man hunt with lots and lots of dead ends super intriguing and effective. When the breaks in the case final do come, it’s exhilarating, as is the final 30 minute raid of Bin Laden’s fortress. Jessica Chastain continues to prove why she’s in so much demand these days as the excellent center of the film.
12. The Avengers
Any movie that can finally make The Hulk a breakout star deserves accolades! Joss Whedon does a masterful job with this Marvel Super Hero Team-Up, so much so that it shattered box office records. The action sequences are well done, and the banter and interplay between the heroes lives up to the hype.
13. Beasts of the Southern Wild
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this southern indie flick told from the perspective of an exceptional five year old girl named Hushpuppy (the Oscar-nominated Quvenzhané Wallis), but the depiction of this beat-down bayou community is so magical and encompassing you can’t help but to be mesmerized by it (just don’t sit too close to the screen — it’s hand-held camera work will get to you if you haven’t taken your dramamine). It reminded me in parts of George Washington by David Gordon Green, a film I liked quite a bit when it came out a decade or so ago.
14. Jeff Who Lives At Home
The Duplass Brothers wrote and directed this sweet indie about a pair of brothers (Jason Segel and Ed Helms) and their mother (Susan Sarandon) on a particularly memorable day for them in New Orleans. After a perplexing phone call looking for “Kevin,” Jeff (Segel) sets out on a quest to track down this Kevin, only to encounter his family and a his true destiny along the way. Also starring Judy Greer, it’s ending was a great emotional pay off to everything that came before.
15. Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino can make a movie all right. This ultra-violent Western is chock full of vintage Tarantino — long stretches of monologuing by characters resulting in an explosive sudden act of aggression, shocking viewers while entertaining along the way. Christoph Waltz is the real heart of the movie (and he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, as he should have been), and the rest of the cast all have stand-out moments (Jaime Fox, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson especially, plus nice turns by Walton Goggins, Jonah Hill, Don Johnson and James Remar, in two roles!)
Some found Steven Spielberg’s epic chronicling of our most celebrated president Abraham Lincoln to be a bit stuffy and slow, but I found it to be incredibly intriguing, anchored by Daniel Day Lewis’ towering performance, and nice work by its recognizable ensemble cast (Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Strathairn, Bruce McGill, Lee Pace, Hal Holbrook, James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson, Walton Goggins, Jackie Earle Haley and John Hawkes, among others). Plus, there’s no vampire hunting in this one (thank God).
17. The Raid: Redemption
One of the most violent action movies I’ve ever seen, it’s also incredibly creative and exhilarating to watch! Imported from Indonesia, it follows an idealistic cop named Rama (Iko Uwais) and his unit as they try to take down a vicious crime lord in his high rise tenement. Their cover gets blown, and they have to work to fight their way back out, as its chock full of baddies. An American remake is already in the works, but I’d stick to the original.
I admit I’m a bit biased going into this one, as Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models hold special places in my heart, but I was very pleased with David Wain and Ken Marino’s hilarious take on counter culture and communes. Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston star as a NYC couple trying to figure out where they belong in the world and their experience at a Georgia commune called Elysium. The residents are all hilarious (Justin Theroux and Alan Alda are true standouts, and there some super funny moments with Kerri Kenney-Silver, Joe Lo Truglio, Malin Ackerman, Kathryn Hahn and Jordan Peele). Just give Paul Rudd a mirror and tell him to improvise and you’ve got cinematic gold. Definitely delve deep into the deleted scenes and line-a-rama on the Blu-Ray/DVD.
19. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Written and Directed by Stephen Cbosky (who also wrote the book the film is based on), Perks is an affecting and spot-on drama dealing with the awkwardness of finding yourself and your place in High School. Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller play the three main kids and all are fantastic, as are Mae Whitman and Paul Rudd in supporting roles. Though I did have a hard time swallowing that absolutely none of them could identify “Heroes” by David Bowie.
20. The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan’s final chapter in his Batman series is pretty satisfying, despite some logical leaps (Batman is broke and somehow hitches a ride from India back to Gotham? Um….ok). Tom Hardy’s Bane is a formidable villain (though the sound design made it so it seemed like his voice was coming from the heavens and not his face mask thingy) and Anne Hathaway makes a great Catwoman. And look — there’s Matthew Modine!
21. Ruby Sparks
An inventive and off-beat literary love story starring Paul Dano as a struggling writer who invents a love interest — who appears off the page! Written by and starring Zoe Kazan, it’s an interesting meditation on love and how much influence we have on each other. It also features wry supporting turns from Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas as hippy-dippy parents.
Nick Cave, musical badass, scripted this southern 30s moonshine crime drama directed by John Hillcoat (The Proposition and The Road) following the Bondurant brothers, real-life bootleggers played by Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke, who battle against vicious criminals to keep their business afloat. Gary Oldman shooting a tommy gun is an indelible image, and Dane DeHaan stands out as Shia’s naive but well-meaning best friend. Oh, and Guy Pearce chews scenery like its his last meal.
23. Wreck-It Ralph
As a child of Nintendo, Genesis, Atari and such, this sweet-natured and funny animated send up of video game culture and being yourself was truly fun to behold. John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk and Jack McBrayer all do great voice work, and the large amount of video game character cameos were super enjoyable. Viva Q-Bert!
24. John Carter
I admit it. I liked John Carter. A lot. I don’t understand the savage beating it took from critics as well as perplexed audiences, but I found it to be a rollicking good time. Based on the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter suffered from a misguided advertising campaign (the original title, John Carter From Mars, would have been much better). Directed by Pixar vet Andrew Stanton, this world-jumping homage to pulp novels and old-fashioned serials stars Taylor Kitsch as the title character (a bit out of his comfort zone, but not bad) and his adventures on the red planet. Worthy of a rental. Does anyone rent anymore?
25. (TIE) 21 Jump Street and Seven Psychopaths
Ok, I’m cheating a bit here, but I wanted to include both of these, as I enjoyed them both a good deal. 21 Jump Street showed us that Channing Tatum is actually a great comedic performer (“Fuck you, science!”), and Seven Psychopaths featured some great dialogue courtesy of playwrite Martin McDonough (who is also responsible for In Bruges, one of my favorite movies ever) and yet another weird and hilarious turn by Christopher Walken.