There were a lot of movies I was anticipating this year, and very few of them failed to deliver on those expectations. While I do try to not get caught up in the hype, and avoid movie trailers and other promotional materials, some movies just demand sheer anticipation based on the subject matter alone. That was the case with many of my top ten, which are films that I’d looked forward to seeing – in some cases for years – and left the theater after all that time feeling more than satisfied, and ready for more.
I always enjoy rounding out a top ten list, and some years it’s easier than others. This was a year where the core of the top ten remained the same for quite a while, while other parts of it jumped around as the year went on. As far as films that just missed out on the list, there are a handful, and I’ll touch upon them briefly as honourable mentions – and films worth seeing.
Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson is a fantastically fun director, who’s got a unique way of telling his stories and shooting his films so that the audience is always involved and seeing things in unexpected ways. His tale of young love is crafted beautifully, superbly acted, and just fun (and funny) all around.
Dredd – On the opposite end of the genre spectrum, Dredd is pure, non-stop action that will leave your screens blood-soaked once the chaos comes to an end. This is a film that failed to draw audiences while in theaters, but will hopefully find a home on Blu-ray and DVD, as this is the type of film that action aficionados crave, and the type of Dredd story that was meant to be told.
The Cabin in the Woods – The Cabin in the Woods was written by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, in a year that Whedon was finally recognized worldwide for his natural talent as a writer and filmmaker. This is a movie that takes the horror movie clichés and flips them upside-down, taking an original – and really brilliant – look at the genre.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – I’m a huge fan of giant, epic films that see mankind try to stop the end of the world from happening, and yet here’s one that’s the exact opposite. This film begins with that giant, epic mission failing, and only 21 days remaining until the inevitable end of the world. Watching people deal with this impending doom in their own ways really makes this film special, and the acting done by Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley is spot-on.
Casa de mi Padre – I’m a big fan of Will Farrell, and even if you aren’t, Casa de mi Padre is a film you should at least give a chance. What will turn most people off to this film is the fact that it’s foreign, with the entire film being spoken in Spanish, with English subtitles. Let me tell you that this doesn’t detract from the comedy at all, and the fact that Farrell learned to speak fluent Spanish for this film really shows dedication. The film is a spoof of Spanish novellas, and it really hits the nail on the head on all fronts. There are plenty of visual gags to go along with the incredibly funny dialogue, and the storyline is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. It’s the funniest movie I saw all year, and definitely one you shouldn’t miss.
Now we move on to my top ten films of 2012, which are a mixed bag in terms of genres, and no doubt a mixed bag in terms of films people agree and disagree with. Placement for the top ten is always the hardest, as it can be a constant struggle simply deciding whether a film should be placed in fifth place, or sixth. Sure this may seem odd, as there’s no major difference in the placing to most – especially after the top three or five – however, it’s something that is difficult nonetheless, which I’m sure my fellow writers here on IP Movies can agree with.
Now, let’s get on with the show…
10. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Some may think that this film is undeserving to make my list at all, while others will argue that it being number 10 out of 10 isn’t giving it enough credit. Personally, I feel it deserves to be here (which is why I put it on the list), and I think many others – even those who dislike it now – will find more to love in it after the next two films are released and the trilogy is seen as a whole. The major complaint with the first film in The Hobbit trilogy is that it was too slow, and that the pacing was off. Honestly, I never felt that once while I watched it.
What I did feel was a sense of nostalgia for the world Peter Jackson brought to life over a decade ago, and halfway through the film I remember thinking, “I wish there were 10 more movies lined up, and not just two,” because while this quest may not be as exhilarating as the one in Lord of the Rings, the world is just incredible, and I’m always eagerly anticipating what will happen next. Luckily, we won’t have to wait as long this time around for the next installment.
This will likely be the most surprising entry on my list. I’m a huge fan of the Alien franchise (even the often-loathed Alien 3 is superb in its director’s cut format; Resurrection on the other hand…) and while this was hyped as a prequel to this much loved series, many saw it as a disappointment. Personally, I love it as an addition to the Alien universe, and much like Star Wars has an extended universe, that’s exactly how I see this film – an extension to the Alien mythos more so than a prequel.
I think people wanted to see Xenomorphs take over the ship and attack the crew once more, and I can’t really blame them, as that’s always awesome and fun. But Prometheus did so much more than that, while also adding in the necessary attack on the crew. Questions were asked about our existence in general, and how humankind came to be, and while clues and hypotheses were dangled in front of the audience at times, concrete answers never came, and that irked some people the wrong way. I wasn’t one of those people, and I loved the direction the film took. Of course, with co-writer Damon Lindelof not returning for the sequel after taking the brunt of the blame by fans for the ambiguity of Prometheus, who knows if the eventual sequel will be as intriguing. Only time will tell in this instance.
Here’s a fantastic piece of science fiction that will likely only gain affection with me upon repeat viewings. Writer/director Rian Johnson has put together an absolutely awesome science fiction story that really nails it on all cylinders. Joseph Gorden-Levitt stars as a younger version of Bruce Willis’s character Joe, and with the help of some make-up and special effects, as well as some flawless Willis mimicry from Gordon-Levitt, the resemblance is uncanny at times.
The story itself is just loads of fun, and Johnson does a great job of explaining only what he has to, without over-complicating the whole time travel angle by trying to spell it out for viewers. For those afraid that Hollywood is out of original ideas, Looper is an example of originality at its finest. While not everything has to be unique to be good, Looper proves that the pot is still deep in terms of quality storytelling and shouldn’t be missed.
7. The Grey
Liam Neeson has reinvented himself over the years and has become one of the coolest action stars on the planet. Of course, it helps that he’s also a superb actor on top of it all, and he brings that to his action roles, thus elevating them to another level completely. In January, The Grey was released, and while the film has the poetic tagline, “Live or Die on This Day,” audiences simply saw it as “Liam Neeson vs. Wolves,” and really, who doesn’t want to see that?
The Grey is a beautifully told story of survival in many ways: Man vs. nature, man vs. beast, and man vs. man. The film is intense, and the wolf attacks are brutal, and yet it’s not aimed to be this gory film about wolves eating people. No, writers Joe Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers really tell this story in a poetic way, while also keeping things real and gritty when push comes to shove. Carnahan also directed the film, which is beautifully shot and flawlessly paced. While many arguments about how wolves wouldn’t just attack people were brought up after the film’s released, it’s touched upon quite early why they’re doing what they’re doing, and if you want to deny the plausibility after that point, then all you’re doing is denying yourself the pleasure of seeing one of the most intense, well-crafted films of the year.
When The Town made my top ten list in 2010, I stated that Ben Affleck was the next Clint Eastwood, and now I will once again reiterate that point. I’ve always been a fan of Affleck, but he’s really proven himself as a director that will be making spectacular films for the next 20+ years if he so chooses. Argo is a film that will no doubt be up for Best Picture at the Oscars, and Affleck will no doubt be up for Best Director – and deservingly so. This is a brilliantly put together film that really hits everything out of the park in terms of development, shooting locations, acting and pacing. The film is based on true events, however, even if you know how it’s going to end, it’s the incredible journey mixed with laughs and sheer intensity that Affleck takes you on that keeps you engrossed throughout.
5. Les Miserables
While Tom Hooper’s The King Speech is seen as one of those Best Picture winners that won’t stand the test of time, his visually stunning work on the musical Les Miserables is one that will – whether it wins the top Academy prize this year or not. Les Miserables is a musical done on an epic scope, and it’s one that isn’t afraid to take chances. Hooper decided he wanted to have the actors sing live on set, instead of lip-syncing along like most musicals do. While it’s understandable why most musicals follow the lip-sync route, the scenes and songs in Les Miserables are just too filled with emotion, and to get that range from the actors while they try to match up their movements to pre-recorded songs just isn’t possible.
Not only does this add to the emotional intensity of the scenes (one has to look no further than Anne Hathaway’s much talked about “I Dream a Dream” rendition that will no-doubt garner her an Oscar nomination – and also likely place her as a frontrunner to win it) but it also adds a sense of realism to the entire film since pretty much 99% of it is done in song. Had they pre-recorded it, there would’ve been a detachment that audiences would’ve easily noticed; however, Hooper risked quite a lot going with live recordings on a film as epic in proportion as this, and it paid off in the form of being one of the year’s best.
After four years on the shelf due to studio problems, James Bond is back, and it was more than worth the wait. Sam Mendes took over the directing chair this time around, and his presence is felt on all fronts, with the dramatic tones and visuals being just as important as any action scene. When Bond was “rebooted” back in 2006, Daniel Craig took over the role and completely embodied the character in a way he’d never been portrayed before – and it worked. For Craig’s first two films as Bond, the hero was challenged mentally and emotionally, bringing a realistic element to the character that resonated with audiences. This time around, Bond is tested physically like never before due to the fact that he’s, well, getting older.
After four years off, coming back with a story like this – whether it was intentional or just coincidence – was perfect. Craig looks older, and after all he’s been through, Bond’s body simply isn’t holding up as well as he’d like. The story that accompanies this issue is strong, and the introduction of new characters is welcome and handled quite well. It’s films like this, Casino Royale (and yes, even Quantum of Solace on a bit of a lesser level) that make me hope that Craig stays on as Bond as long as his body will allow him to, because as I said six years ago, he’s the best Bond yet, and Skyfall is right up there as well.
3. Django Unchained
I’m not a devout Quentin Tarantino fan, but I’m fully aware of his talent as a filmmaker, and I’ll gladly point out when he delivers a film as brilliant as Django Unchained. The film is easily one of Tarantino’s best, and may actually be my favourite of his thus far. While it lands in third place on the list, that’s simply a number, and I can see my love for the film growing more over time. The story of revenge and love is simple in terms of theme, yet complex, well thought out, and perfectly structured in terms of delivery.
Jamie Foxx is flawless as Django, and while the role was written for Will Smith (who no doubt would’ve done fantastic work as well), Foxx has a less recognizable look to him, which helps audiences see Django every step of the way, and not the actor. Tarantino nails the over-the-top action element, and really builds up his characters so that the various resolutions throughout have the impact on the viewer they deserve, and never feel unsatisfactory. While Foxx may be recognized at the Oscars, and Tarantino should be, it’s once again Christopher Waltz who – just as he did in Inglourious Basterds – pretty much steals the show as the man who purchases Django at the start of the film. His work as Dr. King Schultz will very likely see him once again nominated for Best Supporting Actor (an award he won for his work in Inglourious Basterds). As for the film itself, well, it’s easily one of the year’s best, and one of the top contenders for top prize without a doubt.
2. The Avengers
My top two choices won’t likely be garnering any of the top awards at the Oscars next year; however, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve their placement on this list. It’s not all about awards, of course, and these two films (which are two of the highest grossing films of all time) prove it. The Avengers is a film that had seeds planted for it as far back as 2008, when Marvel released Iron Man into theaters with a small teaser at the end of it involving Nick Fury simply mentioning the Avengers Initiative. Four years later, those seeds (along with the rest planted in Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger) have grown into what is easily one of the best superhero movies of all time, and an incredible accomplishment in filmmaking in general.
By this I mean, Joss Whedon crafted an epic that not only captured the individual feel of each superhero, but also told a story that had a threat on such an epic level that it needed all of these superheroes to come together in order to stop it. Everyone stepped up to the plate, and the fact that Marvel had the foresight to envision such an epic film in the first place (making sure to sign on all the top players for multiple films) is astounding. DC is attempting to do the same thing with The Justice League, and I hope they succeed; however, it took Marvel four years and lots of planning to build the foundation for this massive epic, and while the almighty dollar wins out in the end, I think DC would be better off following this same proven format that helped create one of the year’s best movies.
1. The Dark Knight Rises
I absolutely love the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, and The Dark Knight Rises was not only the best conclusion that this franchise could’ve hoped for, but also one of the best conclusions to a movie trilogy ever. Not everyone will agree with me, and I’m fine with that, but The Dark Knight Rises jumped to the top of my list when I first saw it, remained there after multiple viewings, and held firm all the way until the end of the year.
I still believe that Nolan deserves a nod for best director, and that the film should at least be nominated for best picture – even though I know it has no chance of winning. Odds are, though, neither of those things will happen. That doesn’t change the fact that the film still tops my list, and I can happily watch Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises as a whole, knowing that it’s an absolutely astonishing trilogy that never falters. This was the movie fans deserved, and Nolan and company delivered on all fronts.
That’s it for this year! Next year is already shaping up to be another great year in cinema that we can all look forward to. In regards to this list, feel free to leave your opinions below – whether you agree or disagree – and let me know what you think. In other news, we now know that the Mayans were wrong, and I can finally stop stalking John Cusack in an attempt to follow him to safety when the world ended. So on that note, Happy New Year, and we’ll see you in 2013!
Tags: Anne Hathaway, Argo, Ben Affleck, Casa de mi padre, Django Unchained, Dredd, I Dream a Dream, Les Miserables, Looper, Moonrise Kingdom, Prometheus, Quentin Tarantino, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Skyfall, The Avengers, The Cabin In The Woods, The Dark Knight Rises, The Grey, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Top Ten