I saw 94 new films released in 2012. That's the lowest number of films I've devoured in a single year since the early 2000s. My heart just wasn't in it this year. Why is that? Well, for the first half of the year (with a few exceptional exceptions) I suffered one horrendous disappointment after the other. In a dork temper tantrum I let some movies slip by my radar. In year's past I would have been rushing out to see The Master on 70 mm. I would have kicked down doors for John Hawkes' quadriplegic indie smash, The Sessions. I would've driven miles to hear the rockin accordion music of Holy Motors. But having my heart broken by John Carter, Prometheus, Brave, etc kinda took the wind out of my sails. Thankfully, as the year came to a close and I started choking down as many movies as I could, I found a great many films that I absolutely adored and I'm quite pleased with my Top Ten list. It should be noted though that I'm not all that confident in the order of films past slot number 5. These lists are always arbitrary, but this year it feels even more so.
But before we jump into this year's awards I want to take a quick look back at 2011. As is often the case, opinions change over time. I'm still madly and completely in love with Martin Scorsese's Hugo & Joe Cornish's Attack The Block, but as 2011 blended into 2012 there was one film I watched over and over again, and with each subsequent viewing, loved it more and more. So the first Dorkie of 2012 must go to...
The "Hey Girl" Revised Best Film of 2011 Award - Drive: I watched Nicholas Winding Refn's violent crime drama several times in 2012 (and the day I bought the blu I watched it back to back with itself). It's slick, cool, and painful. There's barely a narrative, and it does play a little like style over substance, but Ryan Gosling keeps it from devolving into boring drivel. He's got the puppy dog eyes for Carey Mulligan & family, and when their sweet daydream is threatened those eyes go rabid, the fists clench, and a whole bunch of scum gets pulverized. Albert Brooks is the twinkling, knife plunging psychopath at the top of the beanstalk, and his Chinese food conversation with Gosling's Driver ranks right up there with my all time favorite suspense conversations. I mean no disrespect to Hugo or Attack The Block, but if I'm gonna be honest, Drive turned out to be my favorite film of last year. So keep that in mind when nitpicking the below...
TOP TEN FILMS OF 2012
10. Killing Them Softly - A lot has been made about the politics of this film. And it does hit the economic crisis nail on the head incessantly and, yeah, pretentiously. But I don't care about that. This film is just so perfectly ugly. Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn are the dimmest bulbs of gross criminal stupidity I've ever encountered at the movies. Break out the Darwin awards, we've got a couple of real winners. And the resulting horror that's bestowed upon poor goombah Ray Liotta, I don't think I've seen a beatdown as brutal as the one bestowed upon that whiney schmuck. Brad Pitt does his uber cool routine and that's always fun. James Gandolfini is also wonderful as the sadsack hitman drunk of booze and hookers. But for me Killing Them Softly is perfectly summed up in that three second shot of Ben Mendelsohn trying to contain a car full of shit exploding canines. So gross. So sad. So much depressing fun.
9. Moonrise Kingdom - In some ways, this is my least favorite Wes Anderson film. However, that still qualifies it as one of 2012's very best. Anderson has perfected the beauty of his camera. No one can shoot an absolutely artificial set as lovingly as this man, and no one can pepper those dioramas with adorably fictitious approximations of truthful characters. Everything feels crafted, but magically, Anderson mines real emotions from his creations. The love story between Sam & Suzy is more heartfelt than any dozen Hollywood romcom pairings, and their runaway adventure feels just as perilous as the most ridiculous Romancing The Stones.
8. Dredd - I know what you're thinking. "Brad, how can you possibly put Dredd on your Top Ten and exclude The Raid: Redemption?" Well, the simple fact is that this is Judge Dredd. I repeat, this IS Judge Dredd. Not one trace of "I Knew You'd Do That" Stallonery. Ok, ok. So maybe this Dredd is not as fascist or as horrible a human being as he should be, but Karl Urban perfectly captures the voice, the frown, and the attitude of Mega City One's greatest lawgiver - it's a performance as perfect as his DeForest Kelley possession. And the film relishes in the brutality of action cinema; bullets tear through bodies and walls while the collateral damage gets chucked from the balcony. This is the nostalgic Hard R Action Film I keep hoping from The Expendables.
7. Lincoln - There is no other film on my Top Ten that I'm more surprised to see than Steven Spielberg's latest bit of hero worship. But this is not the sweeping, cram-it-all-in biopic I was expecting. Instead, this is an epic political exploration of Lincoln's life during the month of January 1865; the screenplay's focus allows for a mythologizing (and humanizing) of Abraham Lincoln we've never before experienced on film. I don't think I really understand the man behind the president anymore than I did before, but there's definitely a curiosity there now that didn't exist before. Daniel Day-Lewis does indeed deliver another transformative performance, and it manages to scrape nobility, paternity, and adorability (seriously, how cute is his storytelling). Plus, you've got this amazing entourage of character actors parading throughout the film. David Strathairn, James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson, John Hawkes, Hal Holbrook, Jackie Earl Haley, Bruce McGill, Jared Harris, Michael Stuhlbarg, Walton Goggins - most of them decked out in the most amazing facial hair! And then there's Tommy Lee Jones, kicking ass yet again as the film's heart and soul. I am so happy (and surprised) to announce Lincoln as one of Steven Spielberg's finest efforts.
6. Skyfall - Since Daniel Craig has taken over the mantel each James Bond film has found its way onto my Top Ten (yes, even Quantum of Solace). I'm not exactly sure when it happened (it certainly wasn't in childhood), but 007 has become one of my Must Have franchises and Skyfall ranks right up there with From Russia With Love and Goldfinger. Director Sam Mendes and Cinematographer Roger Deakins have delivered the most beautifully shot film of the series (those Scottish Moor frames like the one above belong on my wall), and Daniel Craig gives his strongest and most complex turn yet. Also Javier Bardem is Craig's first true Bond villain, chewing up the scenery as the sexually torturous, snaggletoothed Silva. Several folks out there in Internetland have drawn comparisons to Heath Ledger's Joker and I do see a lot of the Clown Prince in Bardem's beastie...but it's more of the Caesar Romero variety. He's just having so much fun being bad. And I have just as much fun watching him smile and sneer his way through bloodshed. And as much as I love the globetrotting adventure, I was thrilled to finally get a flick in which Bond had to fight for the Queen while actually on her soil.
5. Looper - I had to dwell on this one for a while. And I needed at least two viewings of the film before I settled on its quality. It just wasn't what the trailers had promised, and I really wanted a kick ass time travel story from the director of the genre obsessed Brick. Looper delivers on the time travel stuff, but it skirts the pesky minutia to the fringes of the screenplay and instead focuses on a very human horror story less in common with The Terminator and more akin to the emotions found in the very best Twilight Zone episodes. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis are phenomenal as young & old Joe, and their bitter, snarky conversation at the center of the film is filled with as much self-depricating humor as it is tension. This is excellent sci-fi, but it's even better actory melodrama.
4. The Dark Knight Rises - This also gets my vote for the most unfairly maligned movie of the year. Is it as good as Batman Begins? No. Is it as good as The Dark Knight? No. Do I wish they handled a few points differently? Hell yes. But dammit, Christopher Nolan's Caped Crusader Trilogy is one of the greatest gifts ever given to comic book fanboys and The Dark Knight Rises is still an excellent conclusion to a super hero saga. I love Tom Hardy's Bane. Something I cannot say about his comic book counterpart. I love the voice. I love the swagger. I love the Break The Bat sewer fight. The first film was Bruce Wayne's coming-of-age, the second film was the cost of his creation, and the third film is his legacy bestowed on Gotham. And the film is so damn big! How can you not appreciate the scope of that third act. Hundreds of extras clashing in the streets of Gotham; Batman & Bane punching it out on the courthouse steps, and a "Somedays You Just Can't Get Rid Of A Bomb" countdown to doom. This is David Lean level spandex, and we're going to be obsessing over these three films for the rest of our lives.
3. The Grey - The first film of 2012 to rock me to my core, and for the longest time I thought it was going to forever sit handsomely on the top of the heap. Liam Neeson gives his greatest performance as the suicidal wolf puncher forced to fight for life in a winter wastelands after his company plane disintegrates over Alaska. Part To Build A Fire, part Quint's Indianapolis speech from Jaws. All man. But it's not all grizzly wolf attacks and campfire bravado. Buried in its heart is the year's most painful love story, and a heroic one-man battle against despair.
2. The Avengers - The most rousing theatrical experience I had all year. As a long time comic book geek, Joss Whedon's Avengers was a straight up revelation. We've had a lot of super hero flicks in the last couple of decades, but none has so perfectly captured the medium as well as this Damn Yankees Marvel mashup. And I really didn't think there was a hope in hell of that happening. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America. They're a bunch a fun flicks. But they're nothing great. The Avengers is Great. It juggles a large ensemble of icons, gives each of them they're moment, and even redefines a few of them better than anywhere else in pop culture - Bruce Banner's "I'm Always Angry" is a declaration we've been waiting eons to hear from the four colored variety. The real question is where do we go from here. Can an Iron Man 3 or Guardians of the Galaxy possibly realize the promise given with the credits' tag? I have hope. They've already proved the impossible, just do it again Marvel.
1. Django Unchained - Quentin Tarantino pulled it off. He's been dancing around the Western his entire career, and now that he's finally submerged himself fully into the genre he's manufactured one of its greatest products. The film acts as a revenge fantasy for its audience while the screenplay focuses on a hero's quest worthy of Joseph Campbell's analytics. Similar to Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino gives us the opportunity to face humanity's worst atrocities through the filter of blood drenched cinema and delivers a smiley faced triumph more successful in addressing our historical shame than 25 Amistads or 50 Glorys. That very idea might disgust some viewers out there, but sometimes the best way to understand history is to couch hard lessons in popular entertainment. But enough of that preachy soapbox mumbo jumbo. Django Unchained really does work as a straight up Western adventure - it ain't High Noon, but it's a great companion for the nightmare worlds of the Spaghetti Western.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (in alphabetical order): Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Cabin in the Woods, Haywire, The Hunter, Kill List, Lawless, Paranorman, Seven Psychopaths, 21 Jump Street)
Best Director - Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained): Earlier this year when I was sitting in Hall H at the San Diego Comic Con listening to QT yammer on about his latest opus, I remember having serious doubts as to whether or not he was going to be able to pull off this goofy looking Southern. The footage shown there was a mash of comedy and violence, something not unfamiliar to the Tarantino fan, but I couldn't connect-the-dots between the Blazing Saddles buffoonery of those pseudo-Klansman bickering over eyesight and the explosive bags of blood bursting from Django's victims. And how about all those big ego actors he'd be dealing with: the scenery butchering Leonardo DiCaprio, the too cool for school Jaime Foxx, the gargantuan gesticulating of Christophe Waltz, and the mean ass staredowns of Samuel L Jackson. Could all these guys possibly gel together in a love letter to Sergio Corbucci? But everything fits. The good, the bad, the weird, the ugly, the seriously f'd up. Sure, you're gonna wince but only in the places the man wants you to wince. Part of me thinks it's still too early to make this declaration, but after a couple viewings of Django, I think it might be his greatest achievement.
Best Leading Male Performance - Liam Neeson (The Grey): If you've read more than three or four posts from this blog than you know we here at ITMOD are crazy for Neeson. And in particular we are crazy for old man killing machine Neeson. Films like Taken, The A Team, Unknown, Taken 2 = Grizzled Gospel. And I was as pumped as the next movie maniac to see Lee Marvin Neeson bottle punch the hell outta a pack of shark wolves. But that's not what we got. Instead we get heaps of introspective narration, furrowed brows, and an epic internal battle for survival equal to the external struggle. And Neeson owns the heartbreak as well as the ferocity.
Best Leading Female Performance - Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild): Was it me, or was 2012 an absolutely horrible year for female roles? Maybe I'm just not watching the right movies, but as far as I could tell there was only one option for this category and it was six year old Quvenzhane Wallis. Narrowly missing my Top Ten films of 2012, Beasts of the Southern Wild centers on the ferocious performance of its young lead; a child enraptured by the wonders and terrors of her environment. And only at the age of six could an actor give such an honest portrayal of excitement, fear, sadness, and joy. When she shows her father that she's capable of "Beasting It," it feels like a genuine accomplishment. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a mesmerizing fantasy - Mad Max's Where The Wild Things Are.
Best Supporting Male Performance - Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained): Was there an uglier character portrayed on film this year? Hmmmm...well, Sam Jackson's Stephen might be the only other contender. Although part of the appeal of Leo's plantation monster is that we've never seen anything as loathsome from the Titanic star before. He's been stretching his muscles of late with his Scorsese marathoning and the broken hearted Cobb, but Calvin Candie really is a horse of a different color. And that color is "Let's Beat The Living Crap Outta Him Before He Gets Us." But Leo gives the beast a few glimpses of weakness - there's that sad-child fireside conversation with Stephen and his creepy pecking kisses with his sister; DiCaprio never lets the veil of Master slip for long, but when he does its bitterly telling and its those lapses that only strengthen Candie's threat of violence. So maybe it's time to stop referring to him as the "Titanic star."
Best Supporting Female Performance - Charlize Theron (Snow White and the Huntsman): Ok. So I can't really say I loved this film, or even liked it...but I did enjoy the crazybrains hell outta Charlize Theron's ridiculously affected mad bitch queen. From her bonkers villain voice to her wailing screams of contemptuous hatred for Kirsten Stewart...um, I mean Snow White. Of course, Theron's placement here definitely benefits from the crappy year for lady parts, but I also really did appreciate the joy that Theron is obviously having at playing such a cartoon. Too bad the rest of the cast wasn't in on the joke.
Best Poster - The Dark Knight Rises: Midnight release IMAX posters were all the rage this year. John Carter, The Amazing Spider-Man, Skyfall. IMAX pulled out all the stops for these little one sheets, but my absolute favorite was Tom Hardy's big ugly mug print. And as an added bonus, we get a little Batman cowl Olly Mossed into Bane's brow. Creepy, moody, and celestially gigantic.
Best Mimic - Josh Brolin (Men In Black III): By the time of its release I don't think anyone really cared about another Men In Black sequel. I most certainly did not. And as a film it was serviceable. Popcorn. Chow it down, forget it. But what I haven't been able to dismiss this year was yet another badass Josh Brolin performance. Similar to what Karl Urban did in 2009's Star Trek, Brolin nearly possessed the spirit of his subject - Tommy Lee Jones. He's so dang good in the movie that when Jones is absent for nearly the entirety of the flick you barely even notice cuz he's talking right outta Brolin's mouth. Truly remarkable.
Quote of the Year - "Fuck You Science!" (21 Jump Street): Here was another shock of 2012. That god awful looking 21 Jump Street remake was actually pretty damn funny. Channing Tatum & Jonah Hill are a couple of nimrod buddy cops atempting to navigate the bizzaro world of modern day high schoolers - not just jocks, nerds, and goths anymore. And I found myself shocked at how much I related to their plight, this ain't Kansas anymore Toto. But where 21 Jump Street won me was during Tatum's drug freakout, and his all out assault on the chemistry whiteboard. And this beautiful quote led to the next Dorkie...
The "Hey, I Don't Hate Your Guts Anymore!" Award - Channing Tatum: 2009. GI Joe Rise of Cobra. One of my most hated summer blockbuster atrocities ever. That hate quickly bled over to its loathsome meathead lead. And for a couple of years I kept precious guard on that hate. But a funny thing started to happen in January of this year. First, I really enjoyed Steven Soderbergh's jazzy actioner Haywire, and Channing Tatum had a solid, if small role in that film. Then Matt & I did that gutbusting double feature of Casa Di Me Padre & 21 Jump Street. Twenty minutes into the second film and I was rollicking with laughter, most of it caused by People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive. And then the next thing I know I'm streaming Tatum's personal stripper odyssey, Magic Mike...AND really enjoying the heck outta the Frankenstein monster parallels. So, like Tom Cruise and Nicolas Cage before him, Channing Tatum moves into that weird category of actor I once hated but now adore. Can't wait for GI Joe 2.
DVD/Blu Ray Release of the Year - Johnny Guitar: Yep, yep, yep. There were a lot of brilliant home releases scrabbling for your dollars this year. Criterion unleashed the glory of Godzilla. Universal spent top dollar on its astounding JAWS transfer. Shout Factory unveiled Scream Factory and gifted the world with the miracle that is the Halloween III Special Edition. But the discovery that impressed me the most was this gorgeous Western melodrama released late this summer from Olive Films. Despite some serious prodding from fellow film geeks over the years, I had never before seen this brooding gem. Joan Crawford stars as a saloon owner who refuses to be bullied outta town by the local land baron royalty. In walks Sterling Hayden's guitar strumming stranger to champion her stubborn cause. But this is Joan's movie. And she's burning rage. One of the most unique entries in the genre.
THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS OF THE YEAR!
5. Brave - This is not a bad movie. It's a good movie. It's just not the great movie I was hoping, - expecting from Pixar. Brave had one of the most stirring trailers of 2011 and it promised a rising adventure involving a rebellious lass and a quest to slay a tyrannical monster bear. In actuality, it's less about a girl discovering womanhood through manly man-man swordplay and more about a daughter learning to understand her mother's worries and vice versa. Meh. Not bad. But I wanted the kickass myth maker.
4. The Amazing Spider-Man - What a bunch of drivel. I kinda liked it in the theater, but watching it on the small screen, I pretty much hated this needless reboot. Andrew Garfield coulda been a decent Spidey, he definitely plays the jackass wisecracker under the hood pretty well. And Emma Stone is a decent enough Gwen Stacey to idolize. But despite the appearance of chemistry, there is none. It's just awkward stumbles with the occasional "ums" and "ahs." No real dialog is ever exchanged between them. The film promises an untold story, but despite hints of Parker family tragedy it's all tease and no payoff. Just more CGI jumpy hoppy effects and a whole lotta snore set pieces. And for those trying to tell me this is better or grittier than the Sam Raimi stuff, I remind you of those ridiculous New Yorker Construction Cranes and the absolute goofballness of C Thomas Howell.
3. The FP - I had high hopes for this Alamo Drafthouse release. I was completely giddy over the idea that a post-apocalyptic society would fight its gang wars using Dance Dance Revolution cage matches. The trailer had that whole "So Bad It's Good" thing going for it. Well, it turns out it was just bad. And not even that bad. Just kinda crappy forgettable. Oh well.
2. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance - Ah, if you were reading this blog earlier in the year than you found two Dorks obsessed with the idea of the Crank brothers directing Nicolas Cage's Johnny Blaze. I mean, just think of the levels of insanity you could have gotten from the guys who imagined Chev Chelios' gangland massacre marathon? Instead, we get a fairly predictable entry in super (anti-)hero cinema. There are flairs of whacko creativity and some amazing rollerblade camera work, but there's none of that zealous Crank antagonism. It's just bland.
1. Prometheus - No other film in 2012 crushed my spirits quite like Ridley Scott's Alien prequel. While attending my first San Diego Comic Con in 2011, I went Beatles fangirl squeel crazy at the footage they unraveled in Hall H. It was beautiful, enticing, and seemingly totally in the spirit of the 1979 original. Sitting in the theater, finally witnessing the atrocity on the big screen, I finally realized the illusion of Hall H. Everything shown there looks amazing. But it's a magic show, just like regular run-of-the-mill trailers can be. In actuality, Prometheus is an absolutely gorgeous science-fiction spectacle with an equally, unbelievably dumb script. The characters are shallow. The ideas seemingly epic, but actually teeny tiny. It's all questions, questions, questions and no answers, just a shoulder shrug.
THE WORST FILMS OF THE YEAR!
5. Underworld: Awakening - The first film I saw in 2012 turned out to be one of the dullest. The fourth entry in the Underworld franchise (I cannot believe there are four of these things, people like me really need to stop showing up for this garbage) is also its most forgettable. And that's saying a lot considering I only remember three or four minutes from the third film's prequel.
4. The Hunger Games - So let me get this straight? The most beautiful girl in all of the post-apocalypse is loved by all the boys, and worshiped by all the population cuz she's also the greatest warrior in all of reality television. She gets dropped onto murder world and kicks ass almost immediately after a little narrative stalling. Snooze. I'm not gonna drone on about Battle Royale, The Running Man, or Lord of the Flies. That argument is moot because this is too blah to matter.
3. Battleship - If they had shaved off an hour from this bloated blockfizzler than maybe, just maybe, Battleship might have been one of those So Bad It's Good flicks. As is, all the "Chicken Burrito Her" dialog in the world couldn't save this abysmal dreck from the bottom of the ocean. With this, John Carter, and Savages (and let's not forget X-Men Origins - Wolverine!) Taylor Kitsch has proven himself to be a cure for quality - add only when you want the stench of failure.
2. The Raven - Sooooooooooooo Boooooooooooring. I love the idea of Edgar Allen Poe galavanting about Baltimore solving crimes inspired by his works of horror, but this high concept is dead upon arrival. John Cusack screams his way through his performance, while director James McTeigue struggles with the tired plot's murderous pacing. I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you want a deliciously meta take on Mister Poe than you really have to track down Stuart Gordon's Masters of Horror episode, The Black Cat.
1. Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 - Now I know I deserve the punishment of watching this film because I've paid for every theatrical Twilight experience since the beginning. So whatever vitriol I spew towards it or towards the society that accepts them as actual entertainment needs to be taken with as much respect as you would offer a peanut butter spackling crazy person. I hated this movie. I hated it more than the last film, and more than the third film, but not as much as the second or the first. Sigh. That last sentence makes my brain hurt. There is a lot of talent behind this latest abomination (from its screenwriter to its director to its cinematographer and composer), but you sure wouldn't know it cuz Breaking Dawn Part 2 feels like the accomplishment of third rate nincompoop. Of course what could possibly have been produced from Stephanie Meyers books? You can shine a piece of shit all day long, but when the sun sets its still a piece of shit. The real worry behind these films is how damn popular they are; they make me fear the future. Of course, that might be a touch melodramatic.
THE ACTOR OF THE YEAR!
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Another year, another child actor done good. His role of the year was easily that of the young Bruce Willis in Looper, but he also excelled in the 80s handicapped, brakes-are-death radical adventure of Premium Rush as well the hero worship sidekick of The Dark Knight Rises, and as little boy Lincoln. His career has been building and building these last few years, but it feels like Looper is the first real grip on mega celebrity stardom. 2013 marks his directorial debut with Don Jon's Addiction, and I'm greatly looking forward to this next phase of his career.
The Most Anticipated Film of 2013 - Pacific Rim: After stops and starts on The Hobbit and At The Mountains of Madness, Guillermo Del Toro is finally stepping behind the camera. It's been a long five year absence, and his last film, Hellboy 2, was a movie that troubled me greatly. But GDT has made some of my all time favorite films - The Devil's Backbone, Cronos, Pan's Labryinth, and Blade 2 - the idea of him tackling an honest-to-goodness kaiju vs giant robots flick? That is miraculously geeky to me. And it's possible for this not to suck - for it not to be Robot Jox cuz we live in a world where The Avengers kicked ass. So despite a year that's going to produce Star Trek Into Darkness, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, Elysium, Ender's Game, Only God Forgives, The World's End, and The Smurfs 2, Pacific Rim is the film I'm craving to see the most. Fingers crossed, and I'll see you at the movie house.