Sunday, March 31, 2013

Top Ten Films of 2012

I know! I'll start here!

As I expanded upon in my first post, I'm hopelessly in love with two things: films and my own opinions. Ever since I was young I loved movies, and ever since I was in high school, I loved film criticism. The idea that something you like to watch could somehow mean you were smarter than someone else blew my mind. So I spent most of my high school studying movies, which ones were good and which ones were bad, and what made them good or bad. Some would say that engorging myself on the subjective opinions on others is kind of a stupid way to spend one's time, and that I'm completely missing the point of appreciating art. But what do they know? Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder until you watch an Adam Sandler movie. Then everyone's like "okay, this is bullshit." Except for Adam Sandler.

But anyway, I decided that when I finally got a blog I would do film reviews. I changed my mind about that when I realized that would get actually pretty annoying if I had to see and comment on every movie, and also people, in all honesty, would not really care. But I had to do a top ten list every year. It's the ultimate celebration of film criticism: completely pointless and banal, but just really fun to do anyway. Obviously, if you don't see you're favorite film here, it probably just means I didn't see it, as I have neither the money nor time to see every movie that comes out.

Honorable Mentions

2012 was a great year for movies, period. Perhaps one of the best years in the past couple decades. And I saw a lot of great movies, but most of them did not make the list. I liked Ted a lot when I saw it, and I'm really proud of ol' Mr. MacFarlane for finally making a movie, but it wasn't really that great the more I thought about it. I was impressed that I was able to actually care about a rude, swearing CGI creation, but it wasn't the funniest movie I saw all year. That would be 21 Jump Street. Looper was pretty good too, but not great. I did like it, I really did, but I have a tendency to favor narrative over other things in the movie (Lit major, what can you do...), and as beautiful and well-acted as it was, there was still too much slow-pacing, weird story choices (why are we out at this farm?) and plot holes for me to really get too into. Maybe I'm just an idiot and I need to see it again. Let me know in the comments (but not really, I don't think anyone's even reading this).

The most honorable mention I can think of, and I suppose the winner of 11th place, is The Raid: Redemption, otherwise known as the most balls-to-the-wall batshit nuts action movie I've seen in a long-ass time. It's too short on plot to be as good as most of the movies here, but, honestly, it's harder to find and much more fun to watch than almost anything else here,  so definitely give it a watch if you can.

10. We Need to Talk About Andrew

 At first glance, Chronicle seems to encapsulate everything that's wrong with movies right now. It's a shaky, "found footage" movie, it involves teenagers with superpowers, and it came out in February. All of those should be red flags, and indeed I was not really interested in it until I had to watch it on a long plane ride. Needless to say, this movie surprised me. Actually, "surprised" isn't the right word, "shocked" is a bit more appropriate. I was genuinely not expecting a movie like this to be so difficult to watch.
Chronicle tells the story of three high school age teens who suddenly get telekinesis when they find a weird space rock thing (the writer cleverly does not elaborate on the rock too much). Two of the kids enjoy just fooling around with their powers, but Andrew, the third kid wants more. In spite of the commercials, Andrew is not you're run-of-the-mill angsty emo teenager. His life sucks, and we feel for him. So it's only natural that he want to use his powers to make his life a little better, and maybe do the same for others too. But this is not superhero movie, it's a fair, honest look at what would really happen if teenagers got all "God mode". Surprise: it isn't pretty.
It's also kind of neat that most of the cast and crew are younger than thirty, including the director, Josh Trank, and the writer Max Landis, whose responsible for the famous "Death of Superman" video on youtube.

9. Kill Me, I'm Irish!

Seven Psychopaths is a film written by an Irish screenwriter named Martin about an Irish screenwriter named Martin trying to write a film called Seven Psychopaths. Because you write what you know, I guess. In the film, Martin, played by Colin Farrell, suffers from a debilitating case of writer's block, so his psychotic friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) and his other psychotic friend Christopher Walken (Christopher Walken) try to help inspire him by bringing him into contact with a bunch of other psychotic people. Unfortunately, Billy ends up stealing a dog from a psychotic gangster (Woody Harrellson) and the trio gets into a lot of trouble and may end up dead.
Martin MacDonagh, who also directed In Bruges, one of my favorite movies of all time, does another swell job here, and its great to see him break out into Hollywood more. Like the trailers suggest, the movie is very violent, very crazy, and very, very, funny. But Martin is a bit more introspective than just that. Like his last film, Seven Psycopaths delves into the nature of violence, and even delves into the nature of delving into the nature of violence. It crosses a lot of the same ground In Bruges does, perhaps too much to be brilliant, but its still lots of fun.

8. Superfriends
Yep, here it is. I don't think I have another movie that will split people more. Half the people reading this will hate how far down I put it, the other half will hate that it made the list at all. But, fuck it, this movie is rad. The Avengers tells the story of how the superheroes from four different Marvel movies all come together to fight the evil Loki (because only the oldest villain in the history of western civilization is good enough for this movie) before he takes over...well you know. And that's it. That's the plot.
And "rad" is a perfectly acceptable compliment for a film. This year brought up a huge debate over why Avengers is so great when like Transformer 3 is so bad. Both films revel in just being nothing more than over-the-top summer action. But when it comes down to it, Avengers counts as a great movie because of just that: it's great. The acting's great, the special effects are great, that Joss Whedon dialogue is great. The fact that its about a bunch of flamboyantly-dressed individuals fighting aliens shouldn't really matter as long as you actually care about them and like seeing them onscreen.

7. Syfy Channel: The Movie
The Cabin in the Woods tells the story of four teenagers: a jock, a nerd, a slut, a virgin, and a comic relief who all take a vacation in an empty shack out in the middle of nowhere, and then are viciously set upon by undead monsters who try to kill them. Along the way, they make stupid decisions, spout stupid dialogue, and stupid things happen.
Did I mention this movie is fucking brilliant? I don't really want to give away what makes this genuinely scarier and funnier than practically every horror film of the past twenty years, but suffice to say, there is a twist. For one thing, the Jock isn't really a jock, the Virgin isn't a virgin, the slut isn't a slut, and, best of all, the Cabin isn't really a Cabin. You probably already know it by now, and it's revealed in the brilliant first scene, but still. I want to preserve it for that one soul out there who hasn't seen it. Long story short, the idea is fantastic, the direction is great, and the dialogue is smart (when it's supposed to be). It's very clever, and its speaks volumes about not just horror films, but culture in general. Those monsters they keep talking about? They're us.
6. The Dark Brit Rises

In Skyfall, James Bond dies.
Okay not really, but in the first twenty or so minutes, after a rousing motorcycle chase, he gets shot and then everybody thinks he's dead. When he comes back, after taking like a year off to drink Heineken (R) he finds that MI6 is under attack by an older, and maybe better, agent than himself, Raoul Silva (an especially effeminate Javier Bardem). Bond must then fuck, kill, punch, screw, kick shoot, and have sex with lots of people to stop Silva before he kills Bond's boss, M (Judi Dench).
As you may, or may not, be aware, Skyfall is not the first James Bond movie. There were a couple before it. It may not even be the best. But it is one thing: definitive. A more appropriate title would have been "James Bond: The Movie." And it's not just because Bardem is a great villain, and Sam Mendes is a great director, and Adele's song is fantastic. It's because, after fifty years, this is the most we've gone into Bond's head. It's the most personally destructive and intimate Bond. He falls, he gets shot, and at one point he even cries. Also, with all respect to Berenice Marlohe, the real Bond girl here is the unbelievably sexy Dame Judi Dench, who steals the film with her fiercely restrained maternal figure, M.

5. Totally Not About Scientology
In The Master, former Late Show with David Letterman embarrassment Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Qquell primal, stupid, aimless, and violent man, in one of the best performances of the year, who gets drawn into a cult run by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in one of the best performances of the year. The cult leader, Lancaster Dodd, enjoys being seen as a figure of authority to everybody, but in reality, is trapped in service to his wife, who is played by Amy Adams, in one of the best performances of the year. Over the course of the film, Dodd builds a following, speaks of philosophy, and inspires many, while Quell masturbates on a beach, fights some people, and threatens to fart in a man's face. Eventually, Quell contemplates whether he should follow a man so clearly above him as Dodd, who seems to rely on the Quell more than he should.

Paul Thomas Anderson is a genius, that goes without saying, but even genius has flaws. I think I can say with conviction that The Master is the most well-made film of the year. It just happens to labor under a rather poorly paced screenplay that doesn't really build appropriately. This isn't a fatal flaw, just one that turns what would have been a masterpiece into just a really great movie. It's also totally not about Scientology. Totally.

4. Nanananananananananananana......
Yeah, it' over here. There you go. I knew you were looking for it.
It doesn't matter how many superheroes they throw into Avengers, if it's missing Batman, it's losing.
Now admittedly, there's probably a few people who had a problem with this movie, and rightfully so; it's arguably the sloppiest movie Christopher Nolan has ever made, and it's easy to disappoint people when making a sequel to the greatest comic-book movie ever made. However, it makes up for its shortcomings, and gloriously. The film is dark, borderline brilliant, and finely acted. Nolan is never content with just making a superhero movie that helps you escape from the real world; like its predecessor, Dark Knight Rises throws modern American issues right in your face, only with weird masks.
Eight years after having stopping Joker and Harvey Dent, Bruce Wayne (Bale) has retired from Batmanning, but has not retired from being an angry, depressed, asshole, much to the chagrin of those close to him, like Alfred (Caine). So when a masked man named Bane (Hardy) shows up to spark revolution in Gotham, Bruce decides to suit up and stop him, but finds himself in over his head. Stopping Bane is one thing, but getting out of the violent lifestyle he has thrown himself into is another thing entirely. The Dark Knight has a lot of silly things going on it, mainly the last half hour, but its excusable. It succeeds mainly on its new ideas with how to treat an old character, and give him a satisfying ending. It also helps that, in Bane, Nolan takes a B-level baddie who has not been very interesting since the early 90's and turns him into arguably the year's best cinematic villain, not to mention that Hathaway's Catwoman may be the second-best performance in the series. Let's just give credit where it deserves: this is the first 3rd superhero movie that was done mostly right.

3. Django: Unchained

Django Unchained is the latest in a long line of brilliant films this year with silly names. It's also the latest film from Quentin Tarantino, and that should pretty much explain it. It's gory, violent, and they say the word 'nigger' a lot. There, I said it. That is literally the very first time I have written and posted the word 'nigger'. I sincerely apologize, but saying 'the n-word' sounds kind of patronizing. I mean so does 'nigger', but not in the same way. Maybe I should just talk about the movie....
Django Unchained is story of Django (Jamie Foxx), a freed slave who, under the tutelage of German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, becomes the biggest bad ass in the west. Ultimately, his travels take him to the ranch of Calvin Candie (a hilariously unhinged Leonardo DiCaprio), the sadistic slaveowner who owns Django's wife. Over the course of the film, bullets are shot, people are shot, and bad words are said. And it's fantastic.
I really had to think about Django, so much that I overthought it. When I first saw it, I just thought that the moral of the story, which is basically just "slavery is bad" wasn't very new or refreshing, until I actually thought about it. We in America tend to either forget, or underplay, just how bad it was. That's why we love the moral absolutism of Inglorious Basterds so much, because the bad guys in that movie are Nazis, and Nazis of any kind are evil! But it's a little different when the gun is aimed at pre-civil war Americans. We get so wound up in "the south will rise again" bullshit we need Tarantino to remind us: slavery is awful and anyone (not just white people) who engages in it deserves to be shot. And then explode, apparently. If there's one problem with this wonderfully acted, smartly written, and, naturally, wonderfully directed film, it's the fact that the pacing can be a little off and it runs a little long in a few places.

2. Argo
When most people heard that Ben Affleck was making a movie called Argo, and that it was about Ben Affleck making a movie called Argo, they probably were not as excited as I was. Even the ads specified that the man behind it was"the director of The Town", as opposed to, say "that guy who was Daredevil". But Affleck is a pretty talented actor when a good director is behind the camera, and in this case the man behind the camera is him. While he's in front of the camera. Whatever, he's quickly proving himself among Hollywood's more talented directors. Anyway, Argo is about how CIA agent Tony Mendez worked with a major film company to make a fake movie, so he could get a group of embassy workers who escaped the Iranian hostage crisis out of the country. And that's it. Pretty simple. It's also nearly perfect.

The much-debated Best Picture Winner is essentially two movies. One is an incredibly stupid ripoff of Star Wars, and one is a brilliantly tense drama about that first movie. No that's not what I mean. One is a hilarious story about people in Hollywood having to deal with other people in Hollywood while they make a cheap Star Wars knockoff that they aren't actually going to make. Alan Arkin is at his snarky, beleaguered, Jewish best as the producer of the project, as is Goodman as the team's makeup man. We also get Bryan Cranston as another CIA operative. There's a particularly hilarious scene in what's supposed to be a nerd convention. Then there's the second movie, which can only be described as the same sort of violent, tight, and viciously tense heist movie that Affleck established in the fantastic The Town. Argo is a film about how stories save people. If that seems lame, and to a lot of people watching the awards it did, the film explains itself pretty well. The film is well aware of the issues that would be brought up upon its win: the world is full of horror, and films, especially lame stupid films, seem pointless; but they can bring people together in even the worst times. I suppose you could say they help people....escape? Actually, fuck this, now I'm just confused.

1. Les Miserables
 Do you hear the people sing? Singing the songs of angry men? It is the music of the people who apparently didn't do their fucking homework. Okay, I'll calm down. Honestly, there's a lot of people, who did not appreciate all the praise this film got, either because they like musical theater too much and don't get how films work, or they like films too much and don't get how musical theater works. Yes, they sing the whole time and barely talk. That's how its supposed to be. For those who don't know, Les Miserables is based on a play, which was based on a book by Victor Hugo, about a convict who breaks his parole in order to make a better life both for himself, and others who he meets in his travels, and Javert, the policeman obsessed with tracking Valjean down and bringing him to justice. All set against the backdrop of the second French revolution.

Okay, Okay, let's be fair here: Les Miserables is flawed. For one thing, I'm not even entirely sure how to say the name, even though its one of my favorite plays. For another thing, it's long as shit, and there are actually a few moments where I got kind of tired and bored. This is especially when Valjean and Javert, two of the greatest nemeses of all, are not onscreen. Which is actually quite a lot. So what makes this film so much better than Argo, when it's probably not made as well? Is it just that it had more of an emotional effect on me? Is it just because I'm a crybaby? Well, maybe, but the point of movies, or almost all art is to illicit an emotion, and provoke thought. Les Miserables has always done both, and this is perhaps the best its ever been done onscreen. The film does the century old play almost perfect justice, and it comes out brilliantly. It's an unforgettable experience, and I'm not afraid to admit it. It's more genuinely affecting than almost anything I've seen. But the main selling point is the acting. Seyfried, Redmayne, Bonham Carter, and Baron Cohen are all great. As is Russel Crowe, despite what people may have said, be nice. Hugh Jackman and Samantha Barks, both Broadway stars and X-Men (well okay, only one), are perfectly in their element. Oh, did I mention Anne Hathaway? Best two minutes of film this whole year. Hell, best two minutes of film I've seen in years.

1 comment:

  1. TOTALLY disagree! The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall were much better than Les Miserable. Though, to be fair, I never saw Les Miz.