Friday, January 4, 2013

DAMN Good Movies -- My Top 10 Movies of 2012

Another year is officially in the history books, so I thought I'd pass along a few random thoughts about my personal favorite films of 2012.  For those not familiar with my typical disclaimer, this list only contains films I actually managed to see in theaters or on home video, so if you don't see your favorite here, that's probably why.

1.  Skyfall -- Most likely to be overlooked come Oscar nomination time, Sam Mendes' fiftieth anniversary for the James Bond film series resulted in one of the best Bond movies ever.  Everything clicks here, from Adele's old-school opening credits theme song to Javier Bardem as Silva to Dame Judi Dench's showcased exit as M.  This was also one of the most personal OO7 movies ever, easily since Bond married and quickly lost Tracy di Vicenzo in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  Ultimately though, the film serves a vehicle to bring in a new Q, Moneypenny and M, finally completing the origin story of James Bond that began with 2006's Casino Royale.

2.  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey -- Unfairly maligned by a number of so-called film critics, Peter Jackson's long-awaited return to the Middle-earth realm of J.R.R. Tolkien was entertaining and worthy of his previous work.  In a more lighthearted outing, Jackson incorporated various story ideas from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings appendices and crafted The Hobbit into a full-fledged prequel trilogy.  Cameos from stars Elijah Wood, Christopher Lee and Cate Blanchett enhanced the film without overpowering the focus on Young Bilbo and the new Dwarf characters, and the nostalgic score by returning composer Howard Shore was certainly welcome as well.

3.  The Avengers -- Fans of comic books have dreamed for years of what a superhero movie by director Joss Whedon would be like.  After the failed attempt to launch a Wonder Woman film franchise, they finally got their wish with The Avengers and Whedon more than delivered.  The responsibility of uniting the Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America film depictions was huge, but Whedon once again showed his mastery of character interaction and drama balanced with comedic timing.  His grasp of group dynamics is note perfect, but his sense of cinematic vision and imagery still seems limited to a standard television budget.

4.  Django Unchained -- Quentin Tarantino manages to drop N-bombs just about every other sentence in his latest film, but reminds the sensitive politically correct that yes, people did talk pretty horribly about black people in 1858 Mississippi.  The movie isn't one of his best and could've easily lost a good twenty minutes, but still manages to be solidly entertaining thanks to some standout performances by Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio.  It's also reassuring that Tarantino still doesn't play it safe, as far too many directors do these days, as he turns in another brutal, bloody and fascinating tale of revenge.

5.  Lincoln -- This Steven Spielberg film is bound to get some Oscar buzz, some of it deservedly so, some of it...not so much.  As a historical docudrama, it mostly succeeds to fill non-historians in on President Lincoln's final days in office and the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that abolished slavery.  The performances are solid, primarily from Best Actor lock Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens and James Spader as W.N. Bilbo.  The problem is, Spielberg centers his film called Lincoln around the 13th Amendment more than Lincoln himself.  He seems more interested in showcasing all the political wheeling and dealing, to the point where he outright skips Lincoln's assassination to make room for it.

6.  The Dark Knight Rises -- As the end to Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, this film is satisfying enough but has a number of things to annoy diehard Batfans.  Batman is still a fugitive from Gotham City police after eight years, Commissioner Gordon has become a coward afraid of revealing what happened in The Dark Knight, "loyal" butler and mentor Alfred Pennyworth abruptly leaves the moment Bruce decides to return as Batman, and Bruce Wayne is more than eager to retire as Gotham's protector despite all the supposed trauma of his parents' murders that drove him to train for years just to become Batman.  Regardless, it was still great fun to watch Tom Hardy terrorizing Gotham as Bane, Marion Cotillard revealed as Talia al Ghul, and Anne Hathaway as arguably the best on-screen Catwoman.

7.  Looper -- One of the more creative efforts of 2012, this movie by Rian Johnson feels like an adapted Philip K. Dick story.  The idea of young mob assassin tasked with killing his older self sent back in time is a great story premise with some intriguing timey-wimey concepts.  One particular standout involves a horrified older man who gradually begins losing body parts one by one as his younger self is dismembered.  Ultimately though, the drama of Old Joe vs. Young Joe is pushed aside for a secondary plot involving a telekinetic boy destined to grow up and become a powerful tyrant. 

8.  The Amazing Spider-Man -- The decision by Sony Pictures to have Marc Webb reboot their Spider-Man franchise from the ground up just five years after the last outing with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst was a strange one, but for the most part, it worked.  Andrew Garfield was very effective as a more scientific and wisecracking Spidey, and Emma Stone made a surprisingly good Gwen Stacy despite being a more natural Mary Jane Watson.  Unfortunately, Rhys Ifans' Lizard turned out to be a disappointing villain with a pointless scheme of transforming New Yorkers into lizard creatures like himself, especially compared to more impressive menaces like Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin and Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus.

9.  Prometheus -- Probably the most frustrating movie of the year.  On one hand, you've got Ridley Scott directing a prequel to Alien (!), with a solid cast of actors and some stunning costumes, cinematography and special effects.  On the other, you've got a terrible, nonsensical script by Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts filled with plot holes and poor characterization.  The first half actually builds pretty nicely, but ventures into shark-jumping territory the moment Noomi Rapace undergoes an automated surgical procedure to remove a gestating alien baby and then starts running around in action scenes with a stapled abdomen.  Yeah, I know.

10.  Chronicle -- The first real highlight of 2012 was this "found footage" gem by Josh Trank.  At first, you think this movie is going to be about three high school guys having fun and pulling pranks on people with their new telekinetic superpowers, sort of like the old Scott Baio movie Zapped!, but then the tone shifts halfway through and becomes a fresh, realistic take on the superhero genre.  The script by Max Landis is pretty sharp for the most part, although any regular comic book reader could see one character's descent into supervillainy almost inevitable.

All in all, a pretty solid year for movies. Bring on 2013!

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