Yes, it's yet another "year-end" list for you to chew on. As a member of the Detroit Film Critics Society and Online Film Critics Society, I saw well over 130 films in 2012. Usually these lists include some type of preamble (like this one), where the person compiling the list puts his/her choices into context, spouts his/her credentials and otherwise preemptively braces themselves for impact, from the positive or negative reaction that his/her list will have on the audience at large.
Of course, these lists rarely have any lasting resonance. They are meant to be easily digestible, read mainly as a means of comparison to see just how closely a particular critic falls in-line with your own personal preferences. Most movie-goers will read these lists with hopes of finding their favorite films listed among the obscure, mostly irrelevant (to them), independent or foreign films that seem to populate many critic's year-end lists. Others will scour over the choices waiting to pounce. "You picked that?!? That movie sucked!"
Surely, my list will produce similar cries of foul and maybe a few agreeing cheers, perhaps both well warranted. They are subjective picks and I assure you that these selections are not meant to be "controversial" or to "raise eyebrows" (OK, not entirely true...I did leave Silver Linings Playbook off completely, just out of spite). These are simply my favorite films of the year, reputation and stature be damned (sadly, I did not get to see the critically acclaimed films Amour or Holy Motors for consideration on this list).
So without further ado, sink your teeth into this: My Top 25 films of 2012:
25. Contraband. The year's first good film released way back in January, this was a smart and funny action caper starring Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster and Giovanni Ribisi. (Read the review).
24. Pitch Perfect. Here's a movie that seemed built for Razzie Awards, but with a very funny script from 30 Rock writer, Kay Cannon, and memorable performances from Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson, it was the most pleasantly surprising film of 2012. (Read the review).
23. Killer Joe. There's simply no way I'll ever be able to get that chicken wing scene out of my head. (Read the review).
22. Hope Springs. Barely a peep about this movie during awards season, but Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell combine for one of the best ensemble performances of the year. People may be tired of hearing Streep mentioned for awards, but this was another nomination-worthy turn. (Read the review).
21. Room 237. A fascinating film-lover's documentary that dissects and over-analyzes Stanley Kubrick's classic 1980 film, The Shining. Was it really a film about the Holocaust? About the annihilation of American Indians? Does it contain hidden clues that Kubrick, in fact, filmed the moon landing in a Hollywood sound stage?
20. Life of Pi. A visually stunning 3D masterpiece, director Ang Lee deserves merit for making a film about a boy trapped on a life raft with a Bengal Tiger a compelling and bearable spiritual journey. (Read the review).
19. Argo. If there was doubt before, there is no longer: Ben Affleck is among the best young directors in Hollywood today. The film itself didn't resonate with me as much as it did with many others (mainly due to a slow mid-section and a mostly forgettable cast of hostages), but the last half hour was a masterful display of suspenseful cinema. (Read the review).
18. Bernie. Half-documentary and half-movie, Jack Black has never been better. It's a disturbing, darkly funny and unique in how it mixes genres to tell the story of a kind, church-going funeral director whose real-life story is too bizarre not to be true. (Read the review).
17. The House I Live In. There were great documentaries in 2012, but none perhaps were more eye-opening and important than this one. Documenting our country's "War on Drugs," we see just how convoluted and broken our system is, not to mention how racial suppression has guided most drug laws throughout history. (Read the review).
16. Ted. Upon re-watching this film with my fiance, I realized that Ted is mostly a guy-flick. Preying on my love of cheese-tastic 80's nostalgia and peppered with the naughty wit of The Family Guy's Seth McFarlane (this was his first feature film), Ted is a hilarious adult fairy-tale and an instant classic, according to this Neanderthal. (Read the review).
15. Searching for Sugar Man. The third (of four) documentaries to crack my Top 25 List, the power of this film is in its incredible story. A total flop in the states and still living in near-poverty until recently, the musician known as Rodriguez never knew that he was a massive hit in South Africa. Like, bigger than The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. How that happened and how he found out is truly amazing. (Read the review).
14. ParaNorman. An animated horror story where we surprisingly care deeply for the characters. Inventive, funny, scary, it's one of the most delightful, thoughtful and well-made animated films of the year. (Read the review).
13. Les Miserables. To some, this was an epic fail, but to me, it was just epic. Anne Hathaway's blockbuster performance alone is reason to see the movie, but there is much more to like. The music and visuals were stellar, as was Hugh Jackman and newcomer Samantha Barks. Never having seen the play, I found this to be a deeply moving movie-going experience. (Read the review).
12. The Imposter. The last (and best) documentary on my list, there is no other film like The Imposter. The premise is too crazy to describe here. But seek this film out. The subject matter alone makes it interesting, but how the film is crafted also sets it apart.
11. Boy. Obscure and quirky, from the writer/director of Eagle vs Shark and Flight of the Conchords, Taika Waititi, this was one of the most infectious films of the year. A young boy living in New Zealand circa the 80s, "Boy" is a huge Michael Jackson fan who dreams that his dad is overseas doing amazing things. Much like the highly touted Beasts of the Southern Wild, Boy tackles some serious issues (though not nearly as deep and desperate as the subject matter presented in Beasts), but shown through the eyes of a small child, the story is uplifting and inspirational. (Read the review).
10. Take This Waltz. No other movie this year felt as authentic and as real as this. Michelle Williams gives another incredible performance in this small film from writer/director Sarah Polley.
9. Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted. I hated both of the previous Madagascar films, so maybe having low expectations worked in this movie's favor. But wow did I love this. Containing funny, mindless entertainment with necessary life-lessons, rarely does a film - animated or otherwise - deliver goods so smoothly and effectively. It features Captain Chantel DuBois, one of the past decade's best animated villains, along with a new kind of animated character in Stefano the Sea Lion - CG all over with the facial animation of an old Bugs Bunny cartoon. This is a spectacular achievement in animation, 3D and vocal performances. (Read the review).
8. The Kid With a Bike. You've probably never seen or heard of this Belgian import, but don't dismiss this film based on its simplistic, innocent title. This film is anything but. The plot twists and deepens in surprising ways as a troubled young boy attempts to hold on to his youth while seeking out his father who has abandoned him. There are few films centered on children that aren't handled with kid's gloves. This is a great example of how this can be done effectively. (Read the review).
7. The Cabin in the Woods. This film knocked my socks off when I first saw it, wow. Wholly original and yet fully familiar, the horror genre has been re-born with one of the best original scripts of the year, from Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon. (Read the review).
6. Marvel's The Avengers. Perhaps the most anticipated film in the history of the medium, yet it blew away every expectation. It's really a massive achievement, if you think about it. The Avengers showed that collectively, the sum is greater than the parts and perhaps best of all, it finally gave us a relevant screen version of The Hulk. (Read the review).
5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Anchored by strong performances by Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller and Mae Whitman, Perks worked on many levels. It's rare that a book's writer would adapt the screenplay and then direct the movie, but that's exactly what author Stephen Chbosky did here. It's touching, funny, sad and moving. A mix of everything really. Sort of like life. (Read the review).
4. Lola Versus. Romantic comedies are rarely fresh or original, but Lola Versus flips the genre on its head. I like to refer to this film as "the Cabin in the Woods of romantic comedies," in that it successfully takes tired elements of the genre and re-invents them. Greta Gerwig gives the year's best female performance and hits cords that ring true with modern audiences. Forget "learning to love yourself" before you can love someone else. The selfish "Me-Generation" that Lola embodies - ironically - would much rather spend time fixing you, than looking inward. (Read the review).
3. Beasts of the Southern Wild. Beasts of the Southern Wild is not some kind of National Geographic special as the title may suggest, but rather it is one of the most touching, authentic and optimistic films of 2012. This tale of forgotten people in the flood-ridden portions of Louisana – told from any other point of view other than that of a child (the wonderful Quvenzhane Wallis) – would almost be so horrible that we may not be able to stomach it. How is this sort of situation allowed to go on in America, the land of the free? Hushpuppy shows that it is still at least the home of the brave. (Read the review).
2. Moonrise Kingdom. I have never acquired a taste for Wes Anderson's films. I was unimpressed with pretty much his entire filmography (blasphemy to some, I know), which includes Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, The Darjeeling Limited and most recently the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox. But I am now a believer. His quirky style finally matches tone with story. This film excels greatly in the contrasts. Every shot, every character, is portrayed as pulled from the mind of a child. Everybody speaks seriously and plays it straight, not aware of the silliness that permeates every scene. The characters, the script and even the music work together in creating a rare kind of film - An "artsy" film that also has the potential to be loved by the masses. (Read the review).
1. Cloud Atlas. OK, I know I probably already lost you. You are not accidentally reading a "Worst of 2012" list. Your eyes are working just fine. But I stand tall and proud in my love for Cloud Atlas, a film that has vigorously divided critics and movie-goers alike, you know, the five movie-goers that actually saw this box-office bomb. It's a shame though that nobody's seen this movie and I have to say that most of what I've read from those who hate it, I think, are missing the point.
I cannot stress enough, that this is not a classic “critic film,” where I am claiming to “get it,” more than anyone else, as I ride my high horse and raise my nose as some sort of elitist film snob. You don’t have to “get” Cloud Atlas to enjoy it, to love it. In fact, I would never claim that I fully understand the whole of it, nor would I fully believe anyone who would claim the same. But instead of being abstract and unreachable (I’m thinking of critically-acclaimed films of the past few years like Tree of Life or Melancholia), Cloud Atlas works on so many levels and over-reaches so many conventions and expectations. As a lover of film, I simply was in awe.
The best part about Cloud Atlas is that it works on the upper most level as compelling entertainment. It's a mystery and an adventure, a romance and a thriller. How this film is not a colossal mess - or an unwatchable jumble - is an achievement in and of itself. It actually ends up being the opposite, as there is never a dull moment. These stories are meshed together to create a symphonic masterpiece. Music, or films, are of course subject to personal interpretation. Like all melodies, there is a chance that the meaning could be lost on the individual taking it in. But that’s not to say that the individual can’t experience a wealth of sensations by just letting the music pour over them.
Let Cloud Atlas pour over you. It’s an amazing achievement in visual story-telling, a fascinating and intelligent view of the future and by far, my favorite film of the year. (Read the review).
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