Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 Film Year In Review

EDIT: Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was a 2011 film... I posted a longer review in 2012 and forgot to take that out...

***For those who won't read my intro, this is every movie I have seen this year with a summary at the end with my thoughts on the best of the year

I began writing movie reviews and general comments on film in 2008 and have since completed over 200 such pieces of varying length, credibility, and believability. I can say without doubt that 2012 was easily the best year for movies over that time span.

I managed to view 37 new releases in 2012, a slight decline from previous years in numbers, but a distinct rise in quality of choices as witnessed by my personal rating system, in which I awarded 20 of those films with a 4 or higher our of 5. 

I have become a lot more selective over the years with the movies I choose to see for many reasons, including the cost and time involved with going to a theater (which to me is really the best way to watch any movie) as well as just moving towards a much more intolerant view of poor quality films.  So yes, I do pick and choose what I will see based on what I think I will probably enjoy - this is a distinct benefit of not trying to write for profit in that I don't have to sit through 10 horrible movies and then write about them just so I can find one really good one. 

From time to time I will rent from Red Box or catch an older release on TV or the occassional download to my computer, but nothing holds the magic of sitting in a dark theater and watching the lights come up, the sound pulsing, and the anticipation of what is to come.  The movie theater itself represents a special sanctum to me, a place I can go and turn off all the ADD items in my life and just sit back and let the work of the actors, director, screen writers and all the unseen people who make a movie come to life wash over me until the final credits roll.  There really is something special about finding that one film that speaks to you and stays with you on some level for the rest of your life.

I have always been accutely aware that all people have different tastes and expectations when they watch a movie.  That knowledge is the driving force behind my style when it comes to writing and speaking about films.  I don't have to like Transformers as a movie and I'm going to try my best to explain exactly WHY I don't like it and WHY I don't think it is a good movie, but I'm going to do it with an understanding that a lot of people DO like that kind of movie.  My hope is that throughout the years, if you've cared to read some of what I've written, that you've come to understand my point of view and whether you agree with it or not, at least understand that I am trying my best to interpret what I watch for you to have a better understanding of the movie and to decide for yourself if it is worth your time.

So, with all that said, let's get to the films! I've decided to recap the entire year, month by month when I saw a movie, with a summary at the end.

As is so common in the first month of a given year, not much worth seeing was released, or, if it was, I put it off in lieu of trying to catch up with the previous year and all the award season type films that really don't get wide release until January.

I didn't see a single 2012 release in January, but I did see some of the very best films of 2011, and I want you to know that if you missed these you should see them as soon as possible:

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Gary Oldman is simply awesome as an aging MI6 agent forced out of his position only to be called back, unofficially a year later to help dig up info about a potential mole at the top of The Circus working for the Russians. A bit difficult to follow at times but beautifully shot and one not to be missed.  Upon second viewing I upped this one to a 5/5 and have since seen it a few more times with each viewing offering more and more.

Take Shelter (2011)
Michael Shannon is amazing. He really is one of the best actors of our generation and I love that he takes on so many smaller projects. Take Shelter is the story of a man slipping into madness, but trying to keep it together and keep his family together. In small town mid-America the impending doom of storms haunts this man, whether real or imagined, and in building out a storm shelter in the back yard he pushes his career and his family to the brink of insanity. A truly remarkable performance in a very realistic setting, this is one of the very best films of the year.


I saw three films in February and I was very pleased with each of them.  Perhaps the most surprising was The Grey - a film that wanted to be a 2011 release but was ultimately a 2012 and when it started to receive a lot of critical praise it was talked about being re-released late in 2012 to make a push for the award season.  Ultimately all the buzz has died, but this was a terrific film with a very solemn yet ultimately uplifting premise.

In terms of action it was Safe House that did it for me. Ryan Reynolds took a turn at a more serious role and pulled it off just fine opposite a decent performance by Denzel Washington in a slightly more subdued role than he usually puts on.

Daniel Radcliff made his move away from Harry Potter going for a period piece about a strange haunted house in The Woman In Black and though it wasn't anything special it made for a decent enough viewing with some intriguing storylines mixed in with a bit too much cliche of the genre.

I saw two big blockbusters in March, each aiming at a very different audience, and each succeeding in the end.

Jennifer Lawrence made her big debut to the general public as Katniss in the worldwide sensation The Hunger Games, and while I appreciated the overall film it never came around for me and I said reluctantly to see it, but I also understand the general younger audience who loved the books it was based on were going to love the film no matter what, so in that regard it obviously worked. If you aren't aware yet, Jennifer Lawrence has a hug career ahead of her, and it can all be seen in her gritty and strong performance in the spectacular 2009 Winter's Bone.

David Fincher gave the US his version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara taking up the main characters of a film released a few years earlier in Swedish and one, for my tastes, that was far superior to this version.  With that said, this was a great movie and worth your time - I just can't write about it and not mention that I find the original subtitled film to be a better representation of the story.

  April was sparse and I saw a pretty crappy movie called The Raven in which John Cusack runs around all Edgar Allan Poe like and tries to copy things from the movie Seven.  It was pretty terrible all around.

I saw two non main stream films in May, including the fascinating Bernie with a very different turn for actor Jack Black, normally known for his quirky comedy roles, here he takes on a mockumentary based on real life strange events and he nails it in every way.  I hope he gets a Oscar nomination for this one.

The strangest film of the year, for me, was the Indian piece Department, one that I will never ever reccommend but at the same time I will say to give it a chance if you want to try something different.  This is not a typical Bollywood style film but it has many of the same characteristics, mkaing it that much more strange.  The crazy camera angles keep you guessing as to what will happen next and strange pacing and hysterical over-acting make this one a fun time, if nothing more.

My June was spent catching up on a lot of older Red Box movies... recapped briefly here:

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) - Excellent - must see
Rampart (2011) - Bordered on being really good but overall ended up decent enough
Coriolanus (2011) - I don't know - it had moments, but ultimately just a blood bath
A Dangerous Method (2011) Promising in many areas but it never really passed the threshhold for me and I won't think much about it anymore.
Hall Pass (2011) Did I laugh a few times? Sure.  Was it a good movie I want to see again? No.
Footloose (2011) A terrible remake of a pretty bad 'iconic' film equals disaster.

July actually offered up a decent mix of blockbuster action and indie type drama which, though not perfect, did offer up some good times.

The best of the bunch was Prometheus, the sort of follow up prequel/sequel or whatever to the Alien movies.  This was a film I originally liked, but was not blown away by, and I really did try to think about it and understand what worked for me and what didn't.  Ultimately it took a second viewing for me to change my opinion and I now think this is one of the best of the year.  What intrigues me the most is that this could be a movie told from multiple perspectives.  Who is this movie about? Think about all the characters in this film and almost everyone of them can lay claim to being the central figure.  The ultimate search for our beginnings is a fantastic film.

After seeing Prometheus I walked in Snow White and the Huntsman and promptly walked out after 30 minutes.  I didn't get it.  I didn't like it.  I didn't give it a chance I suppose so I can't comment more.

My guilty pleasure of the year no doubt belongs to Oliver Stone's Savages, a film I really can't say if it was a masterpiece or a tabloid piece, but I don't care, since I had a lot of fun and have since seen it again and think it holds up well.  Lots of sex, action and blood - not always a good thing - but here it is perfect.

My biggest dissapointment of the year without a doubt was Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom.  The movie was ok, certainly not bad and definitely not in the category of bad movies, but I love Anderson films and had high expectations for this one which were not delivered.  I enjoyed the first two thirds just fine but was left without any air in my tires by the ending and just had to shake my head in sadness.

I saw 3 films in August, including the blockbuster end to the Nolan trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.  I'm no fanboy of comic book movies, but clearly Nolan took his trilogy to a new level of film making and story telling, and since a numbered rating means nothing I won't say whether it was a great film or not, but I thought it was pretty good.

The Bourne Legacy succeeded in putting together a plausible scenario for why we don't have Jason Bourne to watch anymore and instead get Jeremy Renner running over mountains and popping pills, but it failed on too many levels for me to have liked it.  I hope they try again and I hope they do better.

Will Ferrell and Zack Galifianakis are pretty funny in The Campaign and I say see it, but just be aware that it doesn't hold up for a full length movie and I wish they had stayed away from the eventual obligatory potty humor and stuck more to the smart script that made the first half so much better than the second half.

September brought 3 of the best movies of the year and a 4th film that I thought was excellent in its own way, and that is where I'll start, with Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master.  This film has been called all kinds of things ranging from worst film of the year to best and it is usually a polarizing film such as this that can lead to the best discussion.  I really enjoyed this one, though I will stop short of calling it one of the best of the year, as it had just enough idiosyncrosies to keep me from loving it. 


A movie with heart and action in equal parts, End of Watch reminded me of what a good cop/buddy movie is all about.  Leave aside some of the implausibilities of their day to day routine, and this is one of the best films of the year.

I'm not someone who watches time travel themed movies looking for every single little thing to nitpick about how this could or could not work, etc, so I have no idea if the way things operate in Looper make perfect sense or not, and I don't care, because I loved this movie and enjoyed the fast paced build up leading to a longer, drawn out stand off and eventual climactic ending.  This had it all for me and I'm not going to ruin it by wondering if the universe allows such things.

I'm not sure I had even heard of The Perks of Being a Wallflower before I decided to see it in the theater.  The credits rolled and I walked out thinking that I had just seen my favorite movie of the year.  I don't know if it was the 'best' movie of 2012, but I still think it is my favorite.  It got everything right in this adaptation of a book I never read about high school days with some pretty heavy subjects, and Emma Watson easily transitioned from her Harry Potter role into that of a young, beautiful and intelligent woman who can clearly act.

I saw 3 movies in October which were as mixed a bag as you can find: One great, one terrible and one 'what in the hell?' - let's start there with the ambitious if anything Cloud Atlas, a film that intertwines the lives of similar characters throu different peiods of time all with an underlying and overarching theme that all things are connected and always have been and always will be.  It would be easy to dismiss it as too difficult to want to follow, but I really did enjoy the way it worked out.  Unfortunately for me I simply didn't care for a few of the sub plots while I loved some of the others, making it a terribly difficult film for me to review or dissect.  I say see it sometime but don't blame me if you don't like it.

Probably the one movie of the year where my opinion is going to be way way way off from some people, I thought Seven Psychopaths was one of the most dull, monotonous, boring pieces of garbage I have seen in quite a while.  Nothing about this movie worked for me including all the times I was supposed to be laughing and just found myself looking at the time.  I don't know what I was supposed to see in this movie, but all I saw was a waste of time. I'll compare this to my dissapointment with Moonrise Kingdom, because the director here, Martin McDonagh, directed one of my favorite movies, In Bruges, and I had hopes this would be great as well, but unlike the Anderson film which was at least decent and watchable, this one lacked anything of value.

Just as Perks of Being a Wallflower made me think I had just watched my favorite film of the year, Ben Affleck's Argo made me think I had just watched the best movie of the year.  There is a distinction to me, but I don't know exactly how to describe it, just that both movies are great in different ways. 15 years later Affleck may very well be holding another Oscar.


November and December always brings about the heavy films, the ones making a push for various awards.  It can be difficult to see everything and to figure out which ones are worth seeing, but I try to get to as many as humanly possible (while also catching up on ones I missed throughout the year!)  I also took a pretty major trip during this time period and that cut into me seeing a few extra films, but luckily I was able to watch several on my plane rides.  I'll probably be over 15 for these two months alone.

I've heard some arguments as to why Spielberg's Lincoln doesn't live up to the praise it may be getting, but I don't care much for that because I absolutely loved this film dealing with the end days of the civil war and the push to end slavery as the law of the land.  Daniel Day Lewis does his usual fine work and the full cast around him keep things moving at a perfect pace with just the right amount of tension for a story in which we know most of the outcomes.

I wanted to really love Silver Linings Playbook, a story about two seriously dysfunctional people trying to figure out a way to make it in this world, but something just wasn't there.  Yes, I liked it a lot and I think it is a pretty great movie, but some of it felt a little too far out there from reality for me to put stock in.  Definitely see it, just don't automatically fall for the hype of it being the best film of the year.

A sleeper for me is the Richard Gere film Arbitrage centering on a wall street man on the edge of personal and financial ruin in a similar realm of a Bernie Madoff character.  Superbly acted and a really good script keep this one from becoming a cliche and ultimately I found it to be a great movie that was not preachy and left a lot of questions for us in terms of how different people live different lives with different motives.  Brit Marling does a fine job in a very limited role as Gere's daughter and a top executive caught int he middle of his schemes. Look for Gere to get an Oscar nomination for his nuanced performance.

The latest installment of the James Bond Franchise is Skyfall, and it is clearly one of the better Bond films in the ouevre.  I liked it a lot and am satisfied with the darker, brooding Bond we get from Daniel Craig, but I thought there were enough holes in the film's plot and in the Bardem bad guy character to keep this one from blowing me away.

Sound of My Voice is Brit marling's follow up to her wonderufl film Another Earth, and here she once again deals with an underlying theme of the supernatural while using the perspective of realism int he modern day world.  As a guru of sorts supposedly from the future she uses her charisma to lead a group of cultish figures, but to what?

Ted feels like that one comedy that makes you laugh more than you should simply because it is surrounded by so much garbage int he comedy world of film these days.  Yes, it is a funny premise and it gives some good laughs trhoughout and yes you should see it, why not? but this is nothing special and definitely didn't have enough material to work with for a full length film.

I don't know if The Amazing Spiderman with Andrew Garfield is any better or worse than Spiderman with Toby Maguire because I don't really care about these movies that much, but it clearly does take on a different tone.  Is that good? I don't know.  It was ok I guess but I don't really remember much about it to be honest.  Why did they reboot this so soon? Oh yeah... Money.  Duh.

Your Sister's Sister just doesn't feel like it would ever happen the way it does in real life.  Yes, the scenarios that happen are possible and in some cases even likely, but the way it unfolds gets a little ridiculous, and this is a movie I liked throughout, just overall I did not, and that is difficult to do.

Django Unchained is Tarantino's newest film, and in the true spirit of his work, there is lots and lots of blood.  There is also some great dialogue, his signature, but I'm not sure I really understand the entire film in terms of it being good or not good.  Does it need to be?  I don't think so.  It has moments of pure genius, such as those between Waltz and Foxx and some witty banter, or DiCaprio and his encounters with each man.  But it also has some serious WTF? moments and that is just too bad, because the film seems to become a parody of itself at some point.  Yeah, Samuel Jackson is 'funny' in his role, but is he supposed to be?  Is this just a black person's revenge film, much like people said Inglorious Basterds was a revenge film for Jewish people?  I don't know, but I do know that at times it all just felt like too much, even though I enjoyed the overall experience.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is either a very good film that a lot of people love or it the film I saw, which was boring and long and not at all exciting.  I am sure it is somewhere in the middle and I was just having an off day at the theater with my mind elswhere or something like that, but I maintain it simply doesn't hold up.  I love the Lord of the Rings trilogy but have never been a Tolkein reader, so I don't know how that affects my viewing of this film.  My opinion is invalid on this one.

Les Miserables is exactly what I thought it would be, having read it in french 15 years ago and knowing the general score, in that it had some great parts and it had some boring parts, and yes Hathaway and Jackman are great, but Crowe singing seems very forced and it is definitely....too.....long.

Sometimes a dark noir film comes along that I love for many reasons, and sometimes a film like Killer Joe comes along and has me scratching my head not knowing what to make of it.  That's all I can really say about this one.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World takes the polar extremes of a happy young woman and a brooding aging man and throws them together in a light hearted apocolyptic film.  It doesn't always work, but it isn't all that bad either. 

I really am happy that I found Safety Not Guaranteed since I think it will be a favorite of mine for life.  So much about this film works on so many levels.  The character's really get to know each other honestly and just when we think we may understand what is going to happen, things, well, they change.

Denzel Washington outdoes himself with a briliiant performance as a severely drug addicted pilot simultaneously taking the accolades and the fall for his brilliant crash landing of a plane with over 100 passengers in the movie Flight.  One of the best films of the year in every regard and one of Washington's finest acting jobs.

And so that brings me to my final thoughts on 2012.

Here are the movies I wanted to see (in no particular order), but have not, and since I want to get this list out before the end of the year, these will have to wait.  I'll be updating in January if I get to these.

Holy Motors
Rust and Bone
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Zero dark thirty
Searching for sugar man
Central Park 5
The Turin Horse
On the Road

FOR THE RECORD - I hate making a 1-10 ranking list because it becomes arbitrary.  I really liked all of these movies in their own way, so trying to say one is better than the other is just silly.  But for the sake of argument and discussion, here is how I would personally rank them, if I had to, which I don't:
My personal Best Of 2012 list:

1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
2. Flight
3. Argo
4. Looper
5. Safety Not Guaranteed
6. End of Watch
7. Prometheus
8. Lincoln
9. Silver Linings Playbook
10. Bernie

11-20 in alphabetical order

EDIT: Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was a 2011 film... I posted a longer review in 2012 and forgot to take that out - so I took it out of here

Cloud Atlas
The Dark Knight Rises
Django Unchained
The Grey
The Master
Safe House