2012 was an exhilarating year for film, especially with the latter half providing a lot of gems for both moviegoers and critics. However, making my final list was like pulling teeth. Because there were so many movies that I liked this year, this year was the first time that I had difficulty trying to decide which flicks were worthy to make my top ten. The films ranged from time-travel and historical epics to big-budget superhero films and movies made with a minuscule budget. We also were greeted with the latest films from Oscar-winning directors Kathryn Bigelow, Ang Lee, Sam Mendes and Steven Spielberg.
Close, but not cigar: Before we get into my top ten films of the year, I have reserved this spot for five movies that nearly made the final cut. Instead of relegating them under the honorable mention section, these five films deserve special kudos for being as great and memorable movies.
“Life of Pi” – Director Ang Lee’s take on Yann Martel’s novel about a young man (Suraj Sharma) stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger is not only a powerful film, but it also a visual feast for the eyes. Lee tells this spellbinding and ferociously epic story by mixing art with entertainment to create a mesmerizing opus of color and CGI. He has also managed to use 3D on a level matched by only a few movies like “Avatar” and “Hugo” in order to create a spectacular film.
“Lincoln” – While Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is not a grand epic biopic, the film will give moviegoers a glimpse of the politics in circa 1865 and a look into the making of an important moment in history that deserves to be told on the big screen. Daniel Day-Lewis delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as the 16th President of the United States and playwright Tony Kushner providing an eloquent script. Day-Lewis, Kushner and Spielberg work together to make “Lincoln” not only as a compelling portrait of a great American leader, but also as a smart and informative political movie that offers a glimpse into an important aspect of American history.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” – While “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is an endearing coming of age story about a loner who befriends the coolest kids in his school, it also manages to recreate the experience of being in high school for better or for worse. Based on his own book, first-time director/screenwriter Stephen Chbosky manages to balance the funny moments in the movie with some of the more darker and serious scenes that involve drugs, death and homosexuality. With terrific performances from Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller, along with a classic soundtrack to boost featuring David Bowie and The Smiths, the film can find itself a place among other classic movies about high school like “The Breakfast Club” and “Dazed and Confused.”
“Project X” – “Project X” is a hilarious and relentless movie that pulls off the most unbelievable high school party to ever grace the silver screen that features a lawn gnome filled with ecstasy and a beloved house-pet tied to several balloons. While it has the usual the cliché moments that are always included in other movies, Murphy’s law (“anything that can go wrong will go wrong”) is in full effect and taken to the extreme as the party culminates with nearly the whole neighborhood being set on fire by a flame-throwing maniac.
“21 Jump Street” – “21 Jump Street” is truly the funniest film of the year with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum playing two cops who go undercover as high school students. They are a match made in comedy heaven with Hill bringing the funny as usual while Tatum’s first venture into a full-fledged comedy is quite impressive. Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) do a fantastic job with this movie being their first live-action feature as they have a great eye for comedy filmmaking, along with a fantastic end credit sequence.
The Top 10 Movies of 2012
10. “The Cabin in the Woods” – “The Cabin in the Woods” is the cleverest take on the horror genre since Wes Craven 1996 horror satire, “Scream.” The movie starts out like any other horror movie with doomed teenagers staying at an isolated cabin for the weekend. This hilarious horror flick features a fantastic screenplay from Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon as they turn the genre on its head with great quotable dialogue (“The harbinger is on line two,” “I’m drawing a line in the f–king sand here. Do NOT read the Latin”) and an interesting premise that includes ancient evil gods, a unicorn, Sigourney Weaver, and a zombie redneck torture family.
9. “Skyfall” – After the disappointment that was “Quantum of Solace,” “Skyfall” felt like a step in the right direction as it is not only a great action film, but it is also one of the best Bond movies of all time. With director Sam Mendes at the helm, he does everything to his ability to recapture the essence and spirit of the Bond films from spectacular action sequences to beautiful and exotic landscapes captured beautifully by cinematographer Roger Deakins. Along with new additions to the franchise like Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Naome Harris, we also get one of the most intriguing Bond villains in the form of a bleached-blonde psychopath played by Javier Bardem.
8. “Amour” – Some people are opposed to the way Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke put his characters through the ringer in films like “Cache” and “Funny Games.” However, he has never made a movie that is as beautiful and heartbreaking as this movie. Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) is an elderly happily married couple whose life changes when Anne suffers a small stroke with her health deteriorating each passing day. Haneke stays out of the way of the story, allowing Riva and Trintignant to dominate the film with their powerful and emotional performances. (Opens in South Florida on Jan. 25).
7. “Argo” – With his third directorial feature, “Argo,” director Ben Affleck has proven that he is one of the best film directors working today with a film that is just as funny as it is suspenseful with several scenes that will keep you on the edge of your seat. As a filmmaker, Affleck also managed to strike the balance of the film with three distinct storylines that are separated in tone and film stock whether it is the life-and-death situation in Iran or the broad comic relief coming from John Goodman and Alan Arkin as Hollywood-types that help Affleck’s CIA agent stage a fake movie in order extract hostages from Iran in 1979.
6. “Looper” – Writer-director Rian Johnson’s (“Brick”) third film is a high-concept futuristic thriller that reunites him with his “Brick” star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays a hit-man whose job is to eliminate victims that are sent from the future. Things become messy when he finds himself on the run from his employers after failing to eliminate his next target: his future self (Bruce Willis). “Looper” is one of the most original and thought-provoking sci-fi films in recent memory that also features terrific performances from JGL and Willis. The movie features some unique action sequences along with a couple of heartfelt moments as some of the film’s characters are forced to confront complex moral dilemmas.
5. “Moonrise Kingdom” – If you are a fan of Wes Anderson, than you will certainly enjoy this film for this is Anderson’s masterpiece. Set on the New England island of New Penzance in the 1960s, two 12-year-olds fall in love and run away from home. As his first period film, Anderson tells a tender love story set around the time of his youth by portraying an accurate and heartfelt depiction of childhood and being in love for the first time. The film has a terrific array of wonderful and unique characters that populate New Penzance from Bruce Willis’ sad-sack police captain to Edward Norton’s by-the-book scoutmaster.
4. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” – This Sundance award-winning film is one of the most original films to come along in a while. For his first feature-length film, director Benh Zeitlin used a miniscule budget and non-professional actor to tell a story set in exaggerated version of post-Katrina Louisiana where a six-year-old named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) who lives with her debilitated father (Dwight Henry) on an island nicknamed the Bathtub. Zeitlin creates a world of beauty and mythic wonder that that can disorient, dysfunctional and wondrous. For non-professionals, Wallis and Henry delivered top-notch and better performances than nearly half of the actors in Hollywood this past year with Zeitlin managing to draw an amazing Oscar-worthy performance from her.
3. “The Dark Knight Rises” – It can be said that Nolan has created one of the greatest film trilogies of all time with the satisfying conclusion to his Batman saga, “The Dark Knight Rises”. Written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan, the screenplay has a lot of themes going for itself with some of the story reflecting the current economic state that we are in and glimpses of an Occupy Wall Street-like movement. Nolan also creates wonderful and compelling action sequences with the use of practical effects in place of CGI with an amazing third act that is compacted with so much action that it to puts the action sequences from “The Avengers” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” to shame.
2. “Django Unchained” – For his seventh film, Quentin Tarantino takes on a genre that he has adored for quite some time: spaghetti westerns. Putting his own unique to spin to this genre, the film is about a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) who teams up with a slave (Jamie Foxx) to save the latter’s wife (Kerry Washington) from the clutches of a ruthless plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his butler (Samuel L. Jackson). By using a serious subject like slavery as a backdrop for his film, Tarantino has concocted another fantasy revenge film with the protagonist shooting his way through evil people that used slavery as means of fortune. With Foxx, DiCaprio and Jackson delivering great performances, it is Waltz who steals the show as QT’s dialogue rolls off Waltz’s tongue eloquently.
1. “Zero Dark Thirty” – Following the Oscar success “The Hurt Locker,” Kathryn Bigelow reteams with writer Mark Boal with this thriller that recounts the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden. Akin to films like “Zodiac,” this meticulously structured procedural features a fantastic ensemble that includes Joel Edgerton (“Warrior”), Mark Strong (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”), Jason Clarke (“Lawless”), Jennifer Ehle (“Contagion”) and James Gandolfini (“Killing Them Softly”). However, Jessica Chastain delivers an incredible performance as she carries both the film and story from start to finish as a young and relentless CIA analyst whose life is consumed by her job. The movie culminates in the last half hour with the Navy SEALs team’s raid on bin Laden’s compound, which happens to be one of the most intense and suspenseful sequences to grave the silver screen. (Opens in South Florida Jan. 4).
Honorable mentions: “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Café de Flore,” “Cloud Atlas,” “Frankenweenie,” “Holy Motors,” “The Invisible War,” “Marvel’s The Avengers,” “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory,” “Safety Not Guaranteed,” “Silver Linings Playbook”