I was challenged by a fellow writer to compile a year-end list, so here are my picks for what I think were the Top Movies of 2012. Regrettably I didn’t see every movie that I wanted to before writing this, but here are my top ten from what I did see this year.
10 – The Master
I know what you’re thinking “But Michael, my dear friend, why would you put a movie on your top ten list that you originally only gave 3.5/5? Despite being incredibly and intentionally vague, there is no denying that Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master is an attention-grabbing film with mesmerizing performances. Stars Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams have all deservingly received Golden Globes nominations for their performances in the film. Don’t be too shocked next week if The Academy Awards give the same kind of recognition to this film about followers and leaders.
9 – Prometheus
I might be one of the only people that I know who thoroughly enjoyed Prometheus. Ridley Scott’s prequel/don’t call it a prequel to Alien had many a movie-goer up in arms about continuity, plot twists and illogical science. While I am usually a pretty anal fanboy when it comes to these sorts of things, I found myself on entertainment auto-pilot for Prometheus. Sure, the biological nature of black goop which makes snake-aliens, zombies and acts as an STD of sorts is incredibly far-fetched, but so is cloning Dino DNA from a mosquito caught in amber. I liked Prometheus so much because it was creepy, shocking and fun in the same ways that Alien and any other successful sci-fi movie is. It may have left some questions unanswered, but like Lost, some fans won’t ever be satisfied with the answer, so why not be satisfied with uncertainty?
8 – Celeste and Jesse Forever
Celeste and Jesse Forever is the hilariously sad or depressingly funny movie that you probably missed out on this year. It is the story of two best friends (Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones) who get married and realize that though they may be perfect friends, they might not be such a perfect marital unit. The screenplay was co-written by Rashida Jones, and it is as witty as it is profoundly sad. Samberg and Jones play hilarious roles that have you crossing your fingers for their marriage to be salvaged. Celeste and Jesse Forever was a gut-buster when it laid on the humor and a true tragedy of tears when it dealt with the heartbreak of splitting up. Andy Samberg is one of my favorite SNL alums, and though Jones took most of the spotlight, he was still had a memorable performence. I’m hoping to see more films like this in his future.
7 – Wreck-It Ralph
Disney and Pixar may have underwhelmed audiences with Brave, but Disney Animation Studios delivered with Wreck-It Ralph. The film had the soul and wit of great Disney/Pixar collaborations like Toy Story and honored classic video games like Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. I was a big fan of the video game’s larger (but mostly unexplored) behind-the scenes world of fraternizing game characters. I wouldn’t be upset if Disney decided to give a sequel to Wreck-It Ralph to see more of that kind of interaction alone. The movie is funny for kid and adult alike, and sends a great message about destiny and purpose for the lost soul in us all.
6 – Flight
I’ve said it before, but Flight surprised me. What I thought would be gimmicky Oscar bait turned out to actually be well-deserved Oscar bait. Denzel Washington puts on his game face for this very serious and sad depiction of alcoholism. We watch Washington’s character sink lower and lower into his drinking problem, as he loses everything and everyone around him. Flight was a brutal portrayal of an alcoholic’s (very) slow coming to terms with his addiction. It was a film that was hard to watch because of how real the danger is.
5 – Argo
A lot of people would argue that this should be in the number 1 spot on this list, but to them I say “Write your own damn list.” Like The Town, Argo was another great example of Ben Affleck’s comeback as a successful actor as well as writer/director. Along with Affleck’s talent, the story really sells itself: the CIA commissioned a fake movie to save Americans trapped in Iran? Hell yeah. Granted there were some embellishments in Argo, as there are in many true story adaptations, but the message of the importance of international cooperation shined through. The film had a palpable and uncomfortable tension that is reminiscent to many of the troubles we have seen in the Middle East in the present day. With five Golden Globe nominations I’m thinking Argo is going to clean up big at the Oscars this year.
4 – Skyfall
Skyfall, the James Bond movie that wasn’t exactly a James Bond movie, was a big success. Daniel Craig’s third outing as 007 was fast-paced and fun the way that a Bond movie should be. While some fans may prefer a Bond that is an instrument of a perfect precision, I enjoyed Craig’s shell-shocked and rusty 007 “returned from the dead.” Skyfall was a reminder that no one is immortal and no one is without their flaws, including James Bond. There was also no mention whatsoever of Vesper Lynd, which is good; I think we got our fill of a weepy Bond last time around. Skyfall also daringly gave us a peek behind the curtain at James Bond’s past, with the gun-slinging finale at Bond’s childhood home. Skyfall was just as much of a beginning as it was an end, setting up some new takes on old favorites for future films.
3 – Cabin In The Woods
Hot damn did I love this movie. After years of being in production hell, Joss Whedon’s horror/comedy Cabin In The Woods was finally released last year. It is so hard to recap the plot without giving things away, so I’ll just speak in generalities. Joss Whedon takes all of the familiar horror movie clichés and turns them on their heads in an amazingly unique way. The film isn’t very gory by recent horror movie standards, and is actually pretty hilarious. Even if you don’t consider yourself a horror fan, I encourage you to see Cabin In The Woods. Whedon fans especially won’t be disappointed.
Sorry, no full review for this one 😦
2 – The Dark Knight Rises
If you are at all surprised that this is in my top five, you don’t know me very well. The Dark Knight Rises capped off Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga that began in 2005 with Batman Begins. Many fans were worried that it wouldn’t be able to come close to The Dark Knight, and some critics would confirm that it didn’t; but I am not one of these critics. The Dark Knight Rises was the best kind of sequel: it was influenced by its preceding movies, but it very much felt like its own story. Sure, Bane is no Joker, but I think that Tom Hardy was brilliantly menacing as the oddly-voiced mask warrior. This was also the first Batman movie where Batman only appears in cape and cowl for less than a third of the film – the fact that it was still awesome is a testament to Christopher Nolan’s talent.
1 – Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson’s delightful Moonrise Kingdom was just plain fun. The story followed two young outcasts who fall in love and run away from their mundane lives. Hot on the trail of our romantic duo are their parents, the police and a group of violent-natured boy scouts. The joy of Moonrise Kingdom, like most Wes Anderson films, is its subtle humor. In the hands of any other director, this story could’ve become an over-the-top popcorn blockbuster starring the latest kid graduate from The Disney Channel. Instead Anderson picked kids who could act, and gave them excellently wry material to work with. The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is a Wes Anderson film that is definitely not for everyone, but I think that Moonrise Kingdom is perfectly accessible for people who have no clue who Anderson is. The whimsical world of Moonrise Kingdom is one with seriously mature youngsters and childish adults, and can be enjoyed for its intricacy or merely at face value. Do yourself a favor and check this one out.