Seeing as it’s already the middle of March, I think it’s time I shared with you and the rest of the world my favorite films of 2012 because if I procrastinate any longer it’ll be 2014. As is the case with every year, I wasn’t able to see every film I wanted to before putting my list together, many of which came from directors I really love, such as The Master and Hara-Kiri, for example. But hey, that’s the name of the game, and everything I did miss will be caught up with in the coming weeks, so I got that going for me. Anywizzle, I tossed together what I think it a pretty solid list of 20.5 films that I loved as well as a bunch of honorable mentions, so I’ll shut my hole and let the list speak for itself.
20. Young Adult
Driven by fantastic performances from Charlize Theron and an equally strong Patton Oswalt, Young Adult was one of the biggest surprises of 2012. The deceiving marketing kept Young Adult way off my radar, but when enough trustworthy people had very good things to say about it, I knew I had to give it a chance. And boy am I happy I did. Young Adult is an honest unflinching look at self-inflicted loneliness, and the character of Mavis Gray is one of the ballsiest I have seen in some time. Not only is she frighteningly crass and unlikable, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for her, because she is so totally pathetic as a human being.
19. REC 3: Genesis
I’m a huge fan of the first REC and, save for the second act, really enjoyed REC 2, so it’s fair to say I am a fan of the REC formula. With that said, I was more than willing to see the series take a different turn and was really thrilled with the results. The humor worked well enough, and I enjoyed the break from the found footage style of filmmaking, but what I think I really enjoyed about REC 3 most is the pure fact that I felt like I was watching a modern, proper sequel to Lamberto Bava’s Demons’ movies. From the totally awesome wedding reception setting to the visual of a chainsaw wielding, demon slaying bride, REC 3 brought a true smile to my horror loving face.
18. The Tall Man
Following up his 2008 masterpiece, Martyrs, Pascal Laugier’s The Tall Man is a gorgeously crafted film that was a victim of dishonest marketing that made the film out to be much simpler than it actually is. The Tall Man starts off as a seemingly stereotypical dramatic thriller, only to take numerous, and very surprising, twists and turns, delving into a tale that, to put it broadly, questions a township’s ability to care for their own well-being, specifically the well-being of their children’s future. It’s certainly not the horror film it was wrongfully marketed as, but the numerous hours I spent thinking about the film as well as the many conversation I had with my boo about its themes made The Tall Man a surprisingly thoughtful and enjoyable watch for me.
Ridley Scott’s not quite (but totally is a) prequel to Alien was a mixed bag for me. I found it to have some flaws (none of which involve helmet removal or space snakes, though), most of which were character and consistency related. Regardless, the minor issues I had with the film were not enough to spoil what I found to be a thoroughly epic and utterly gorgeous visual masterpiece. Prometheus succeeds as a true science fiction spectacle, however, it also delivers some masterfully crafted moments of tension and horror. It’s certainly not Alien, and to even make the comparison is quite unfair, but the positives are far too great for me to not give Prometheus a place on my best of the year list.
16. Fritt Vilt 2
It seems as if every year I have a film on my best of the year list that, for some ridiculous reason, hasn’t seen a North American release. This would be the case with Fritt Vilt 2 (which is apparently on it’s way to DVD), a 2008 sequel to the successful and quite solid 2006 Norwegian Slasher film. Fritt Vilt 2 is what I consider a rarity, doing something that very few sequels have been able to do: be better than the first film. From the beautiful snow-covered mountain backdrop to the desolate halls of a hospital on the verge of closing down, Fritt Vilt 2 successfully secludes its characters from the safety of the world, leaving them vulnerable to a little classic stalk and slash. While the movie succeeds as a slasher film, the biggest strength lies within the characters, who are not only intelligent, they feel real, with real problems and concerns. Also, much like the first film, the presence of strong female characters are abound, and I don’t mean your basic, typical slasher movie final girl, either.
I have no real relationship with Judge Dredd. I never read the comic nor have I seen the Stallone film, therefore my only real knowledge of the character comes Anthrax’s ‘I Am the Law’, and that’s about it. With that said, as a genre film fan and a comic book fan, Judge Dredd and the word he inhabits has always been of great interest to me, so I was naturally very excited by the prospect of a film adaptation that looked to be taking itself seriously while also delivering the action goods. And boy does Dredd deliver on all fronts. The characters are as hard-nosed as the action on the screen, and the film is surprisingly well put together, with some truly dazzling visual moments strewn throughout. Dredd is a pure tough-guy action movie, and something that I never would have expected to come out of a big theatrical release.
I’m writing this post-Oscars and, seeing as it’s at number 14 on my list, I can’t help but feel that Argo has gotten a little more love that I feel it deserves. However, that is not to take away from what a great film that Argo truly is because, flawed or not, Affleck delivered a real nail biter filled with wonderful performances and a story that draws its viewer into the character’s plight. Following films such as Gone Baby Gone (Affleck’s best film, in my opinion) and The Town, Argo cements Ben Affleck as one of the best new American filmmakers, and someone whose career I look forward to watching evolve in the years to come.
PS Ben, I would like it if you used your brother more. Thanks.
13. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
I hate fish. I hate fish as much as that guy in the Magic Bullet commercial hates broccoli (what an asshole, by the way). Why on earth would I ever care about a movie about a guy who makes, like, the bestest ever sushi ever of all time?! What was done in Jiro Dreams of Sushi sexualized, no, sensualized a food I despise in a way that captivated my every being. No matter how many times Jiro and his sons were shown, in slow motion, preparing their specialty dishes, I couldn’t help but drool over the presentation. It really is pornography for food, but like really classy pornography. Incredible slo-mo food boners notwithstanding, the driving force behind this magical documentary is the subject matter, which focuses on a man who has dedicated his entire life to a craft that he is truly passionate for.
12. The Avengers
Even though I’m a big comic book guy and have, for the most part, enjoyed the onslaught of comic book adaptations that’ve been churned out over the last 10-15 years, I really wasn’t all that jazzed about The Avengers. I had this instant feeling that the film would be an utter failure, but after the immediate positive word that hit when the film was released, I couldn’t resist seeing it for myself, and boy was I not at all disappointed. Outside of the totally hokey Loki (sorry, but he is), there are so many great things to say about what Joss Whedon did with The Avengers, but what it comes down to is the final act of the film, which may have given me the biggest comic book geek boner I have had since the introduction of Wolverine in the first Bryan Singer X-Men film.
11. Seven Psychopaths
While not quite at the same level as the absolutely fantastic In Bruges (which is a high standard, to be fair), Martin McDonagh came out swinging with his sophomore effort, Seven Psychopaths. What makes Seven Psychopaths such a great movie very much mirrors what made In Bruges so great, in that the mix of genre sensibilities is so refreshingly enticing. The film has moments of genuine emotion and heartfelt character development mixed with outrageously graphic violence as well as a sense of humor that puts 95% of Hollywood comedies to shame. However, the cream of this psychopathic crop is, without a doubt, the brilliant performance by Sam Rockwell, who manages to outshine a cast that is, in its own right, wonderful.
10.5. Safety Not Guaranteed
Damn it! I didn’t get a chance to see Safety Not Guaranteed until after this list was almost completely written (which means I’m writing this from the future!), so I’m just gonna jam this thing in here at a place where I think the film falls. Safety Not Guaranteed is the definition of charming; a romantic dramedy that has surprisingly deep characters who stray far away from the trappings of their archetype. Safety Not Guaranteed is a thoughtful film with thoughtful characters and wonderfully satisfying conclusion, and I really look forward to what Colin Trevorrow does next.
10. Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
While Stacy Peralta’s Bones Brigade: An Autobiography is a superbly made documentary that tells a story captivating enough for just about anyone, my feelings for this one are greatly impacted by the fact that I skated for about ten years, many of which are chronicled in this film. The intense swell of nostalgia that was brought upon by watching what is, essentially, my youth splashed across the screen was really quite touching and oddly poignant for me. Many of the people featured in this doc were idols of mine, and I truly loved having the opportunity to hear each of the individual stories and learning more about what drive each of Bones Brigade members as well as the sport itself. It’s incredible how many fascinating stories have come from just this one skateboard company (granted, they were big dogs); stories that anyone can enjoy, even people who don’t care about a board with four wheels.
9. Cabin in the Woods
One of the biggest and most entertaining surprises of 2012 for me was the Drew Goddard/Joss Whedon collaboration, Cabin in the Woods. What was seemingly a “teens getting killed in the woods” type of horror movie began to pique curiosity with its Rubik’s cube poster art and trailers featuring what appeared to be elements of sci-fi; things certainly not found in your typical “teens getting killed in the woods” horror flick. However, what was to come in the film’s final act was something that I believe many of us did not see coming, and much like the other 2012 Wheddon joint, The Avengers, it’s what happens in that last act that had me exiting the theater with the biggest grin across my face. Featuring an orgy of movie monsters of all shapes and sizes, from werewolves and giant spiders to killer clowns and faux Cenobites, Cabin in the Woods lovingly delivered a horror movie orgasm for the ages, and one that will not be matched again by a theatrical release anytime soon.
8. The Grey
I really had no expectations for The Grey. The trailers made it out to be a hokey, stereotypical action flick (which I CAN love and appreciate), but the truth of the matter is that The Grey is poignant, beautifully crafted and touchingly sentimental, things not all too common in manly man cinema. And that’s another great thing about this one; not only is it an emotionally driven film, it very much harkens back to the classic tough guy cinema of the 70s. The Grey is a full-on survival film that forces a group of carefully written male characters to face an infinite amount of horrors, and together, through thick and thin, they do just that. From the frigid weather and the lack of food and water to the internal demons that these men both singularly and collectively face, The Grey throws the worst at them, and then tosses them to the wolves to make things all the more horrifying.
7. Zero Dark Thirty
Kathryn Bigelow follows up her fantastic 2008 film, The Hurt Locker, with another military tale, this time with her target being focused on Osama bin Laden and how his death by the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs came to be. The acting is superb, with great performances from all involved, most notably Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke (and Scott Adkins!). The way the film is constructed is engaging in a way that actually made me forget that I already knew how it was going to end. With that said, what really struck me about Zero Dark Thirty was its final act, which is irresistibly tense and beautifully crafted. It’s a true payoff to a long, hard-fought journey that is hard not to be invested in due to how well made the film is as well as the subject matter contained within.
6. Oslo, August 31st
Whenever I hear a small amount of buzz about lesser known films, I tend to avoid learning too much about them so I can erase the opportunity for expectations. I like to go in open and ready to be swept away, and that is exactly what happened with Oslo, August 31st. What really got me about Oslo is how it feels like it’s going nowhere for almost the first two acts, then, slowly but surely, it all began to come together. Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, I was faced with the weight of one man’s internal struggle to live an unfulfilled life where heartache and pain are constant. By the time the credits rolled, I was as invested as I could be, and all that would come beforehand made complete and total sense.
5. The Raid
2012 was really the year of the action film, and if any film was proof of that, it was Gareth Evans’ The Raid. Following up his impressive rookie effort Merantau, Evans reunites with martial arts actors Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian to bring to life one of the most impressive and insanely violent martial arts film of the past ten years. The Raid was, without a doubt, one of the best cinematic experiences I had in 2012, and nothing is cooler than actually seeing a low-budget, Indonesian action film at a multiplex. Pure, unadulterated satisfaction.
4. The Hunter
I had no idea what The Hunter was about before giving it a watch, yet the film was still somehow able to completely surprise me with how different it is from what I expected of it. What would appear to be a sort of macho tough guy type of film on the surface (and it sort of is that, in a way) turned out to be a very touching and, surprisingly, sad film at times. The film is beautifully shot and the Australian mountain locations are absolutely breathtaking. The slow pace is befitting to the reflective nature of the lead character, played wonderfully by Willem Dafoe, while also working as a great build up to some very unexpected conclusions for a handful of characters; conclusions that really hit me on an emotional level. Lastly, I can’t talk about The Hunter without mentioning how much I loved the two kids in the film, specifically Morgana Davies, who plays the incredibly adorable Sass. I believe we all know kids can very well break a film, and in the case of The Hunter, they make it.
3. Django Unchained
It’s almost a given that any new Quentin Tarantino film is going to make my best of the year list, and quite frankly, it’s not a surprise considering I am an unabashed QT fanboy. Now, admittedly, Django Unchained didn’t quite blow me away like Inglourious Basterds initially did a few years back, but it’s a film that has stuck with me since seeing it and has certainly grown stronger upon reflection. This is especially true with the character of Dr. King Schultz, an immensely deep character whose evolution throughout the film is as fascinating as any character QT has ever written. And it doesn’t hurt that Christoph Waltz is fucking brilliant. Anyway, the beauty of Tarantino’s films are in how they marinate and grow better and better with subsequent viewings, and I really look forward to a future spent loving Django Unchained more and more with each viewing I take in.
2. Moonrise Kingdom
It seems like I’m one of the only people who actually likes this film, let alone loves it, and I really think that’s unfortunate because, for me, Moonrise Kingdom is such a genuinely sweet and imaginative film. Unlike most people, I was completely engaged by the lead characters, Sam and Suzy, and I think they were both brought to life by great performances. Again, for me, here is another case of kids making a film, but regardless of the two leads, Moonrise Kingdom is filled with fantastic performances by numerous great actors, many of which are doing things outside of what one would expect from them, and that’s especially the case with Edward Norton and Bruce Willis. I’m a pretty big fan of Wes Anderson’s films and really love the specific aesthetic that he brings to the screen, and Moonrise Kingdom is just a perfect culmination of his years building a fantasy world where only his characters can live in.
1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
I suppose I’ll have to once again mention how important a child’s performance is in the success of a film heavily featuring one, and no film features the power of childhood innocence better than Beasts of the Southern Wild. This is also another film that, despite the mostly positive critical reception, many people didn’t seem to care about, but I guess that speaks to my specific tastes in cinema. I tend to gravitate towards emotionally driven character pieces, and no film hit me more emotionally than Beast of the Southern Wild. The exploits of Hushpuppy as she goes on her imaginative journey through the hardships of life are as inspiring and touching as they are saddening. Beasts is a truly heartfelt film set in a world where happiness doesn’t come easy, but it’s still there to be had, despite the odds stacked against the characters. In a lot of ways, Beasts is a great companion piece to 2010’s Winter’s Bone, which forces viewers to look at a world that many of us never knew existed, while also focusing on a strong, independently minded female character who will stop at nothing for her family.
And with great honor, I would like to give a few honorable mentions. And by few, I mean a lot:
Invisible War * Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning * Premium Rush * Queen of Versailles * Jeff, Who Lives at Home * The Dark Knight Rises * Citadel * Killer Joe * The Pact * Dead Season * Screaming in High Heels: The Rise & Fall of the Scream Queen Era * Excision * Silent Night * The American Scream