Saturday, February 23, 2013

End-Of-Year: Top 15 Films of 2012

Just a day later than planned, but still a full day before the Oscars so I'm pretty much just on time with this much-awaited list of my favorite 15 films of 2012. And they are...

15. Wreck-It Ralph - Akin to Disney's Enchanted a few years back, after watching this film, you ask yourself why no one has ever thought about making this movie before. Why not have a film that goes inside the world of video games with cameos from arcade icons Pac-Man, Sonic, and the cast of Street Fighter? But apart from that novelty, the film would be nothing without a great story and this film had that in spades with "Wreck-It Ralph," a villain who wants to be a hero finding his inner good guy when he meets quirky racecar driver outcast Vanellope. Their friendship and parallel self-discoveries elevate the film and really provide the heart. The animation is quite great, but it's the voicework from the fun cast that deserves much kudos.

14. Seven Psychopaths - As a big fan of writer-director Martin McDonagh's earlier film In Bruges, I was highly anticipating this sophomore effort which thankfully lived up to my already high expectations. The snappy, witty, meta dialogue was expectantly enjoyable as was the game and talented cast headlined by performances by Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, and Christopher Walken. Colin Farrell, who I'd like to think of as McDonagh's muse, plays the main character, a struggling screenwriter who is trying to write a story about seven psychopaths and his wacky, hilariously violent journey in trying to complete his vision drives this wacky tale that is ever so re-watchable.

13. The Impossible - The spectacle of the tsunami and its devastating aftermath is reason enough to see this film (the theater audience I saw this with was captivatingly silent during this part), but its the way the film personalizes the horrors and tragedy that makes this film so great. Most of this is due to the wonderful actors headlined by tour-de-force performances from Naomi Watts and young Tom Holland, a mother and son struggling to survive. Some of their scenes were almost too hard to watch, but they make it impossible to look away from the screen even one second. Ewan McGregor, with unfortunately not much to do, still killed in his few scenes. Talk all you want about how emotionally manipulative the film is, but I for one loved this heart-wrenching and inspiring real-life tale.

12. Searching for Sugarman - This absolutely wonderful documentary about a long-lost music icon should be seen not only by music lovers, but by everyone who has ever had a dream and not been able to achieve it because of one reason or another. In the center of it all is a 70s rock musician known as Rodriguez whose music was largely ignored in America, but made him a star in South Africa unbeknowst to him. The documentary chronicles South African fans detailing the influence Rodriguez's music had on their lives and their quest to learn more about, or perhaps track down the mysterious Rodriguez. The payoff is at once uplifting as well as bittersweet which the film doesn't sugarcoat, which I appreciated. It's a human interest story for the ages and I implore again how much everyone needs to watch this little gem of a film.

11. Moonrise Kingdom - Calling a Wes Anderson film "whimsical" is like calling a Tarantino film "bloody" or a Joe Wright film "pretty," but it truly is the perfect word to encapsulate Anderson's latest film about two youngsters falling in love and escaping together into the wilderness. The two young actors, Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, were perfectly cast and fit seamlessly into a film bursting with quirky personality. Anderson's films do tend to have a specific look and feel to them, which in this case complemented the setting, a New England summer camp in 1965.

And now my top ten...

10. Anna Karenina - I'm a huge Joe Wright fanboy and my love for him seemingly grows for every period film he makes starring Keira Knightley so I always knew this film would be something I would enjoy. The decision to use theatrical trappings as a framework to tell this classic Tolstoy tale is simply inspired making the film a sumptuous treat for the eyes. The acting, with the exception of the miscast Vronsky, was superb from Knightley's pitch perfect turn as the titular character to Jude Law's more subtle, but equally impressive role as the cuckold husband. The costumes, the music, the production design, the dialogue... it was all just oh so romantic, luscious, and enticing.

9. Chronicle - Found footage films aren't usually my cup of tea, but I was intrigued by the ambiguous marketing and the promise of some X-Men-like stories of super-powered humans as well as the presence of Friday Night Lights alum Michael B. Jordan. I'm glad I checked it out, because what I discovered was a movie way more clever and way deeper than it really had any right to be. Three boys suddenly finding themselves with super powers is cool and all, but its the film's commitment to painstakingly show us what this fantasy scenario really might do to the boys, their relationships, and their view on the world that is worthy of praise. Dane DeHaan especially impressed me in a role that called him to be shy, charming, explosive, angry, sad, smart, and foolish sometimes in the same scene.

8. The Cabin in the Woods - It's been 3 years in the making, but Joss Whedon's genre-busting horror film finally came out and it's one of the theatrical experiences of last year I won't soon forget. Just the sheer boldness of the film which really does take every single preconceived ideas you have about horror films and flip them every which way is something to be admired. All of that plus the trademark Whedonesque humor ever-present in the film helps alleviate the sometimes truly horrific things happening on screen, but isn't that just Whedon to mix his horror with his comedy with his meta musings? The twists and turns the narrative takes all the way to the end really calls for repeat viewings. Plus, how cool was its posters?

7. Looper - To be honest, the time traveling aspect of the film has got to be the least interesting part of this smartly crafted, wonderfully original, and action-packed film. For me, the most praise-worthy elements are the nuanced performances by the cast and the script's willingness to not handhold its audience. On the surface, it's a film with a really cool premise, but underneath, like most very good sci-fi films, it touches on something deeper, a universal truth. In this film's case, it's redemption through sacrifice or perhaps even simpler, actions have consequences. It's just a stunning, imaginative work from Rian Johnson, a very exciting new-ish director who recently won a DGA for his work on Breaking Bad!

6. ParaNorman - This gorgeous stop-motion film is my favorite animated film of the year perhaps because I saw a lot of myself in the lead Norman who feels a bit like an outcast. He does see dead people after all! But there's just chock full of things to love about the film. The music, the look, the great plotting all coalesced into one very beautiful film about acceptance, bravery, and friendship. And yet by the time you get to the end, you don't feel like you've been hit in the head with all of these Important Life Lessons since they all came forth organically out of this fun zombie kiddie flick. Of course, I can't not mention that this film also features the first gay character in an animated film, which yay! It also contains one of my absolutely favorite sequences on film this year.

5. Zero Dark Thirty
- Apparently there's some kind of controversy about the use of torture and/or use of classified government information, but for me I just want to praise writer Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow on the amazing job they did to expertly craft such a thrilling and suspenseful film of the greatest manhunt of all time. Not to say that they lucked out with their ending as they were making the movie before Osama bin Laden was actually captured, but the capture certainly helped give their film that narrative drive and a climax for the ages. All of this wouldn't have worked though without the central figure of Maya played by the consistently excellent Jessica Chastain. Exhilarating and contemplative, this film was the whole package.

4. Life of Pi - This epic film, headlined by master director Ang Lee and brilliant newcomer Suraj Sharma knocked me out. I literally couldn't believe what I was seeing on screen while watching in theaters. Supposedly the source material was dubbed "unfilmable" so of course Lee was able to literally make movie magic and deliver this breathtaking piece of cinema. The technical achievement alone makes the film worth while with its stunning vistas and brilliant life-like special effects, but it's the very human element of Pi's emotional, spiritual, and physically draining journey that grounds the film. All of that plus a thoroughly thought-provoking finale makes you just want to examine everything you ever believed in.

3. The Avengers - Joss Whedon's billion dollar baby has the honor of being my favorite summer film and while it didn't take my top spot for the year, it remains one of my most enjoyable theatrical experience of the past year. Of course I'm a huge Whedon fanboy, but even someone not familiar with his ouevre had to have been impressed by the seamless way he was able to bring together the various actors from different movies to make one magnificent ensemble (in fact my favorite ensemble of the year). The action sequences were, excuse the pun, marvelous not just because we got to see shit get blown up, but because Whedon's direction and script uses these sequences to illuminate his characters! What a crazy concept, right? Plus the film is just tons of fun. Now, I can probably talk endlessly about what I love about the film, but I'll just end it by confessing that I still have never tasted shawarma.

2. Argo - It's not often my favorite Best Picture nominee is also the front-runner to win, but I'm glad this political drama-Hollywood satire-espionage thriller film is getting its due. As I just mentioned, the film is pretty much three great films all smashed into one, but it also never feels disjointed or awkward. I give all the credit to the filmmakers who really were able to craft this real-life story of a covert operation to rescue Americans from Iran into not just a thrilling and nail-biting film, but also one that is uplifting and surprisingly funny at times. The cast, full of unknowns and TV actors plus Affleck himself, were simply extraordinary. Everyone say it with me now, Argofuckyourself!

1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - I joke that this film is like a live-action ParaNorman with the main character feeling like an outcast haunted by ghosts (of the past) and getting into hijinks with the most unlikely people. You can't un-see it now, right? In any case, I actually read the coming-of-age best-selling YA novel the film is based on when I was roughly the same age as the characters in the book so to say the story affective me would probably be understating it. And with author Stephen Chbosky writing and directing the film version, most everything that I loved in the book made its way to the big screen. The cast in the film is quite divine with the main trio of Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and especially Ezra Miller doing a tremendous job in conveying every highs and lows of adolescence without ever really falling to cliches. Lerman especially had to somehow come across as passive, a wallflower one could say, but also engaging and he really did pull it off. This film is heartfelt, fully realized, truthful, simply lovely and is my favorite film of 2012.

And that's all I wrote. Well, not exactly. There were so many films that I wanted to include in my top 35, but they just missed out such as The Paperboy, Cloud Atlas, The Deep Blue Sea, Killer Joe, Magic Mike, Farewell My Queen, How to Survive a Plague, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Compliance, etc. They aren't flawless films, but all of them SHOULD still be seen. Anyways, onwards to Oscars and then 2013!

More year-end film posts:
- Favorite Films #16-35
- 2012 Film Winners
- Favorite Posters of 2012

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