Every year we are told that movies aren’t as good as they used to be – and every year, we get enough good movies that picking a top ten/fifteen/twenty list for the year is hard work. Of course, there weren’t as many cries of ‘why don’t they make movies like they used to’ because not only were records set at the box office (thank you 3D, IMAX and #D IMAX), but the total number of bums in seats was higher than it’s been since 2009.
The biggest surprise for me this was that two superhero movies were among the best I saw all year. I love superhero movies, but could never have expected this. Not again, anyway. The bigger surprise was the number of indie flicks that not only impressed me when I saw them, but stayed with me ‘til the end of the year.
Anyroad, that’s enough preamble. Follow the jump to read my Favorite 15 Movies for 2012.
15. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – a Brat Pack’s worth of British seniors relocate to a dilapidated hotel in India for their twilight years and face cultural differences with varying degrees of success. What could have been a maudlin exercise in futility instead turns out to be a delightful excursion into new worlds for them and us. The all-star cast (Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Dev Patel and more) make the sweet script by Ol Parker sing under the direction of John Madden.
14. The Sessions – a quadriplegic writer (John Hawkes) wants to lose his virginity before he dies. Enter a cheerful, forthright sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) who immediately sets out the difference between her occupation and prostitution before helping him find not just the pleasures of sex but also real love. Funny, passionate and poignant.
13. Cloud Atlas – a love it or hate it opus about the interconnectedness of all people across time and space. The core cast plays several different characters (of many races, genders and ages) in a visual feast that confirms the Wachowski Starship (formerly the Wachowski brothers) to be genuine cinematic visionaries.
12. Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D what’s better than going to a circus? Watching it unfold – seemingly around you. The barely there story fades into a surreal experience in stunningly effective 3D.
11. Seven Psychopaths – from the odd mind of playwright Martin McDonagh, this meta movie follows a screenwriter named Martin as he seeks to write a revenge movie with no violence as a revenge movie with way too much violence unfolds as his life. McDonagh’s follow up to the equally brilliant In Bruges is vulgar, crass, noisy, sloppy, subtle, sneaky and too smart by half. Just the performance of McDonagh’s dialogue by Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken would get this film onto this list, but there’s so much more here.
10. The Dark Knight Rises – the second best Batman film (behind The Dark Knight) takes on the American class system (yes, there is one) and presages the Occupy Movement (its similar events were filmed well before the real thing happened) and plays into (and off of) themes that run through Christopher Nolan’s trilogy (family, loss, why we fall, etc.) and gives us both a better physical foe for Batman in Bane and an equal in intelligence (Selina Kyle) before tying into the mythology begun in Batman Begins. A terrific film that just happens to be about a masked vigilante.
9. Django Unchained – Quentin Tarantino does to slavery what he did to fascism in Inglourious Basterds – he kicks its @$$! Django Unchained is primarily a hybrid of spaghetti western and Blaxploitation movies with elements of Hong Kong action movies (mentor/students, with student ultimately surpassing mentor). It is funny, brutal, violent and poetic.
8. Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story – Tomi Ungerer is a renowned artist and author, having written and illustrated award-winning children’s books (featuring counter-cast heroes like a boa constrictor and three masked robbers) and much more adult volumes as well as producing sculptures, inventions and standalone art works. In Far Out Isn’t Far Enough, he tells his story in an intercut series of interviews that are interspersed with information and insights from people who seem as enthusiastic about his work as he is.
7. The Avengers – Joss Whedon’s magnificent monstrosity of a superhero movie that plays as true to the Marvel Comics universe and brings together a group of heroes who should never be in the same room together to fight an alien invasion precipitated by the god of mischief. The Avengers builds on the previous Marvel movies that set up this world and then brings new stuff into it. Great dialogue, great action sequences and the first genuinely involving interpretation of The Incredible Hulk. Old-fashioned fun created with modern techniques, The Avengers is the best superhero movie yet.
6. Safety Not Guaranteed – a magazine staff writer and two interns investigate the person who placed a mysterious Classified ad (‘Wanted: someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. You must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.’). Each of the trio gets something different from their efforts.
5. Les Miserables – there are a checklist of technical reasons to not like Les Miz, but somehow the movie just swallows you whole. Part of it is, no doubt, that the actors are singing live in each take, which allows them to make genuine acting choices. Mostly, it’s that this Victor Hugo story (which inspired the TV series The Fugitive) is timeless and the film is simply greater than the sum of its parts.
4. Silver Linings Playbook – the word dramedy was invented for films like this – a poignant romantic comedy/drama featuring a bipolar man and his growing relationship with a depressed young widow – all while the man’s family hovers round about. Because the film treats mental illness with respect and compassion, we are able to relate to every one of the main characters on some level. The script, direction and performances are of award-winning quality throughout.
3. Robot & Frank – When his son presents Frank with a robot companion, he is not pleased. But Frank, who is suffering from advancing Alzheimer’s, becomes engaged with the robot when he discovers that it will go along with his plans to pull off a tricky heist because it will help him slow the Alzheimer’s by giving him something to do that he enjoys (Frank being a retired master thief). This is a gentle, ever so slightly off-kilter film that works because it stresses the importance of even the unlikeliest friendship.
2. Argo – The story of how a fake movie saved six employees of the American Embassy in Tehran when it was overrun during the 1980 revolution in Iran. The details of the CIA-Canadian operation are mostly accurately depicted (with some character compression and a fictional nail-biting ending) and the film works as both character study and thriller. We know how it ends and we’re still on the edge of our seats. Ben Affleck’s best directorial effort (and one of his best acting performances) to date.
1. Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson’s little gem about first love and the adults who have completely forgotten what that was like. Moonlight Kingdom is one of those minor miracles that seem to come out of nowhere and strike all the right notes (thanks to a cast that includes Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Ed Norton, Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand and introduces Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman) – and therefore resonate with everyone who sees it. This is Anderson’s best film. It’s also the best film I saw all year.
Honorable Mention: 21 Jump Street, The Amazing Spider-Man, Arrietty, Bernie, Brave, Cabin in the Woods, Chronicle, Frankenweenie, The Hunger Games, John Carter, Killer Joe, Lincoln, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Pirates: Band of Misfits, Rise of the Guardians, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Skyfall, Ted, This Must Be The Place
Unexpected Pleasures: Coriolanus, Dredd, Haywire, Hope Springs, Pitch Perfect, Wreck-It Ralph
Biggest Disappointments: Flight, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Prometheus, Take This Waltz, The Three Stooges
Bottom Feeders: The Devil Inside, Project X, Taken 2, A Thousand Words, The Words