The typical disclaimer bullshit: This is a list of my favorite movies of the year. The ones I enjoyed watching or affected me the most. That is my sole criteria: entertainment value, in one form or another.
Also: I still have these movies left to see which, based on critical praise, friendly recommendation and personal excitement, have the potential to make the list: CLOUD ATLAS, PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, FLIGHT, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, LES MIS, SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS. Others that have an outside shot that I’m just not that excited to see, but will at some point: HOLY MOTORS, AMOUR. Thus, please consider this list as I do: a living, breathing document that is subject to change. In other words, yes, it’s basically as important as The Constitution.
Honorable Mentions: WANDERLUST, PROJECT X, SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED, TED, PITCH PERFECT, ARGO, THE BAY, V/H/S, SKYFALL, JACK REACHER, PROMISED LAND, THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI
Nearly Goddamn Made the Top Ten:
HUNGER GAMES: Didn’t read the book, so I had no baggage to bring in with me. Just loved it. I will not get started on Jennifer Lawrence because I’m afraid the discussion will become inappropriate.
MAGIC MIKE: A Person: “Hey Geoff? Did you know that one of your favorite movies of 2012 will be about male strippers? And it won’t even be a comedy!” Me: “Who are you? Nevermind – just go fuck yourself, because you’re very stupid.” – A conversation I could have had at the end of 2011, in which I would have, in fact, been the very stupid one.
ZERO DARK THIRTY: Probably the best-made movie of the year, all things considered. And it was great; just didn’t stick with me, though. And I thought it would.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK: Very much DID stick with me, but what also stuck with me is that it somewhat – and only somewhat, just barely crossing the line – turned mental illness into a bit of a cartoon. Thought it could have been just a TAD more honest. But still great. Also contained the Movie Moment of the year that I enjoyed most. SPOILER WARNING: I do not think this movie had a happy ending. I think this movie ended with a bunch of broken people thinking they’d fixed themselves, and reveling in the short moment where they still had that illusion. Very bittersweet. And wonderful. END SPOILERS
Requires Special Mention:
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER: This is movie #11, and I SO BADLY wanted to bump another Lincoln-themed movie off my list to get it on there, just to piss you off. But that would have been lying. Still, this movie was about as fun as anything I watched all year, and I loved the hell out of it. I heard a lot of people bawl, “Oh, but it took itself SO SERIOUSLY.” The fuck it did. It had fun with the fact that the characters IN THE STORY took it seriously, which is what is supposed to happen in a movie like this. I firmly believe that most people predetermined they were going to hate this before they even got to the theater, and thus the wave of self-fulfilling prophecies in the critical reaction. Don’t listen to that noise. This is an anachronistic fairy tale joyride.
INDIE GAME: This just very recently carved an incredibly special place in my heart, immediately recalling the classic KING OF KONG. Though I know comparatively very little about indie gaming (or gaming in general, these days), I found myself transported back to the months, weeks and days before GOING THE DISTANCE was released, and the profound nervous excitement you feel when you’ve given a chunk of your soul away for mass consumption. It was a terrific time in my life and it was a lovely experience to revisit with the talented, troubled, infinitely interesting artists in this film. A real gem. Check it out.
THE TOP TEN
10. LINCOLN (Stephen Spielberg, Tony Kushner)
I mean, it’s so easy to make a historical drama a deafeningly boring slog, and too often, writers and directors seem all to happy to take that road. Which makes it all the more thrilling that Spielberg and Kushner didn’t. It’s tough work to take a shitload of talking and make it interesting, but Spielberg and Daniel Day Lewis deserve buckets of credit for creating a little bit of quiet calamity to keep the narrative rolling. Where WAR HORSE was all saccharine and visuals, LINCOLN has a real, beating heart to go along with a cold, sometimes even bleak aesthetic…which works perfectly with the story. Kushner deserves a lot of credit as well for having the balls to not only make the script pop with dialogue, but make it often FUNNY. This one really surprised me.
9. CABIN IN THE WOODS (Drew Goddard, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon)
You know you’re in for something really special about two minutes into this movie when there’s an asinine, totally awesome jump scare JUST TO INTRODUCE THE TITLE OF THE FILM. It’s a terrific nod to the fact that Goddard and Whedon knew exactly what they were doing with this deconstruction of everything they love and hate about the genre. And it’s that duality that makes this especially astute – the tongue-in-cheek admission that these guys (and, of course, the audience) secretly love everything they hate about the horror genre, at least to some degree. It’s why we keep going back. Also, the Just Another Day at the Office attitude of Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins – PERFECTLY cast here, and that can’t be said enough – even when the whole charade is going to shit is goddamned brilliant.
8. 21 JUMP STREET (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Michael Bacall, Jonah Hill)
The surprise of the year for me. Not that I didn’t think it was going to be good after watching the first trailer, but I didn’t think I would enjoy it near as much as I did. I saw this three times at the theater, the second and third times just because I was excited to introduce it to someone else. And that was the magic trick it pulled this year – it got me to get in friends’ faces and say, “Yeah, I know what you think it’s going to be, but it’s NOT, and you will laugh your ass off.” And then every one of them did. So I rest my case.
7. DJANGO UNCHAINED (Quentin Tarantino)
I feel like enough has been written about this movie by other, smarter people, so I’ll just leave it at this: I didn’t think it was quite as good as INGLORIOUS BASTERDS on the whole, but it had moments of such ridiculous elevation that I couldn’t help but cheer. That’s a keeper, in my book. Also, I don’t think Foxx gets enough credit in this role. There are other actors who could have brought something substantial to be sure, but I don’t think there’s anyone else who could have brought down the hammer with the raw complexity that Foxx did. It’s a real accomplishment.
6. MOONRISE KINGDOM (Wes Anderson)
I’ve started to worry about the way I react to Wes Anderson films. I was not a big fan of THE LIFE AQUATIC or THE DARJEELING LIMITED, though his style has always smoothed out the rough for me. That said, I consider THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS to be a perpetually stunning achievement, and in my own mind it’s going to be very tough for any other movie in Anderson’s future catalogue to live up. It’s unfair, but that’s the way it is. That’s why I was so thrilled to completely fall in love with MOONRISE. It’s as wonderful a love letter to childhood as you’ll find out there. And this may sound strange, but it’s true: while watching, I couldn’t shake the notion that this was Wes Anderson giving us his version of the graphic novel that he never published. I found myself transfixed by the whole affair. What more can you ask for?
5. THE MASTER (Paul Thomas Anderson)
I can totally understand if you were underwhelmed by this film. I can totally understand if you thought it was boring or pointless or that the story never ended up going anywhere. I will not argue with you. I just didn’t see it that way at all. I found it mesmerizing in the philosophical questions it posed about how troubled people evolve, break down, and then either heal or keep slowly dying. Who is the sick one in this relationship, truly – is it Freddie? Is it Lancaster? Is it Peggy? Who IS The Master? This is far, FAR from the black-and-white evisceration of cult many expected it to be; more, it’s a rumination on just how many ways it’s possible for a human being to go off the rails. And I don’t even think it’s a contest: Joaquin Phoenix gives the performance of his career, not just of the year. It’s like PTA had a remote control that twisted his skeletal structure on cue. Terrific stuff.
4. KILL LIST (Ben Wheatley, Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump)
There are plenty of “weird” movies out there that leave you hanging on simply because there’s an element to the story that’s being teased, and you start to feel like you’re only going to get something out of the experience once that tease is finally revealed. Because the rest of the movie suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks. And then the tease ends up sucking as well. That is the antithesis of KILL LIST, which ran me over like a tank earlier this year. Yes, it spends plenty of its set-up hinting at some kind of sinister undercurrent. It also bothered to have a concurrent narrative to keep you interested while you’re wondering what’s going on in the background. And just when you think the whole “hitman on his last job” thing is going to carry the plot…well, hold onto your dick (or your vagina…though I think that doesn’t work with the metaphor I’ve already committed to). Funny, irreverent, horrifying and, most importantly, SMART.
3. THE RAID (Gareth Evans)
Um, so…I heard there were people complaining that there was no narrative here. That there was no “story” to latch onto. If you’re one of those people, kill yourself. First of all, you’re wrong – just because the story was a simple Hero on a Quest platform doesn’t mean it didn’t work, and second…what the fuck more do you need? This isn’t just a throwaway firecracker of a movie you turn off your brain for. If you turned off your brain, you missed a lot of shit, because this bastard moves FAST. It’s quite simply the best action movie in years. The silat style of martial arts is batshit insane and it lends itself to a great action director very, very well; luckily, Gareth Evans is that director. Also, lots of guns and explosions. It’s pure mayhem from beginning to end, and I can’t remember the last movie that had me clapping on the edge of my seat so consistently. Do NOT see this movie after taking meth. You will explode.
2. THE AVENGERS (Joss Whedon, Joss Whedon and Zak Penn)
The perfect Summer movie. Absolutely on par with THE DARK KNIGHT as the best superhero movie ever, no matter how different they are at their core. This is what happens when people CARE about $200M franchise films. This is what happens when a director RESPECTS THE SCRIPT FIRST, knowing that the writing and character development are going to drive the narrative, not the special effects. Remember what I said before about having no baggage going into a movie because I’d skipped the source material? Same here, and to even greater effect. I never read the Marvel comics this universe is based on. I only know what Marvel’s been setting up through their films since 2008, and I dig it. If this is just the first big step in the process, I can’t wait to see where this shit goes. I don’t have the hangups of expectation or canon to hold me down. I was just free to enjoy, and enjoy I did. Perfect entertainment on every level, and the most awesome treatment ever of my beloved Hulk.
1. LOOPER (Rian Johnson)
OK, so you remember back when I joy-vomited about THE AVENGERS? Well, also remember the part from that where I was gushing over directors who respected their scripts? I think it’s no accident that eight out of my ten favorite films of the year were directed by the same person who either wrote or co-wrote the script. When that happens, there’s no disconnect, no misunderstanding of the material, just one person who understands innately WHY they want the film to be what they want it to be. And there is no clearer example of this than LOOPER, which seamlessly combines science fiction and bucolic suspense in a way exactly no one was asking for, but very clearly needed. Are there plot holes? OK, super. Have fun pointing them out to someone who cares. All I know is that I FELT this movie more than any other this year. Rian Johnson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt and Motherfucking Hero Child Actor Pierce Gagnon (seriously, WHERE DID THIS FUCKING SUPERHUMAN KID COME FROM????????) drew me into a dystopian nightmare that I was terrified to have to eventually leave. It’s gritty, it’s darkly funny, it’s actiony, it’s beautiful…but perhaps more than anything else, it’s thoughtful. It’s got a gigantic beating heart at its core for ALL it’s characters, even (and perhaps especially) the most flawed ones. Just an epic achievement that I love more and more with each viewing.
As per normal, this was fun. And as per normal, I await your slings and arrows.