Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Top 10 Movie Picks of 2012

This year was a neverending journey for lovers of cinema as I was absolutely blown away by well over two dozen movies which I viewed and ultimately considered for my annual list.  This is abnormal for me considering many in my social circle call me a movie snob.  I hate on a lot of it.  I expect more than I get often times.  Despite all there was to like, I was shocked by some of the movies which disappointed me this year- one's I'd really looked forward to.

Prometheus was the first big letdown of 2012 with a overly-worked script and really no solid direction despite the look of the movie and the cheap thrill.   Ridley Scott worked himself into a corner with this pseudo prequel to Alien.  Oliver Stone hoodwinked me next.  One of my favorite directors just had to let whatsherface voice-over the entirety of his new film Savages.  No amount of cartel butchery, dope or Benecio Del Toro could salvage this heap.  Which brings us to The Dark Knight Rises.  Plain and simple, Christopher Nolan just couldn't make lightning strike twice after The Dark Knight.  The usually air-tight and razor-precise scripting he and his brother Jonathan are known for slipped a notch.  I found a few plot holes far too distracting and I'm still at odds with several elements of the ultimate leaving-point of several characters.  To be clear, none of these three are bad movies... but they certainly are not the efforts I expected from such caliber of directors.

I had an incredibly easy time choosing my number one movie of the year which was ironically the first film I saw last January.  The hard part was choosing which flicks composed the rest of my Top 10.  There were many films which got scratched from the list this year and are more than deserving of note...

There were a few TV movies I found to wonderfully produced this year.  HBO delivered in epic style Hemingway & Gellhorn starring Clive Owen as Ernest Hemingway and Nicole Kidman as Martha Gellhorn, a WWII correspondent and the inspiration behind For Whom the Bell Tolls.  This sweeping story has many incredible scenes including the couple making love amidst the falling debris of the building being bombed around them.  Also, the testosterone runs thick when Hemingway duels with a Russian General played by legend Robert Duvall.

The History Channel also released the made-for-TV Hatfields & McCoys which was amazing.  Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton helm the two families whose post-Civil War blood feud became that of legend.  Tom Berenger made the comeback of the year and steals the show as Jim Vance, Hatfield's (Costner) second in command.

The new reboot of The Amazing Spiderman was my favorite comic movie of the year.  Yeah, yeah The Avengers kicked some serious ass but I'm sold on the new Spidey (Andrew Garfield) and am very very anxious to see what's next in his Universe.

If you enjoy a decent helping of modern Shakespeare, check out Coriolanis with brutal delivery of the English verse by Gerard Butler and Ralph Fiennes who serves double duty as Director.

For a delightfully dark comedy, check out Bernie.  In the vein of Vernon, FL, the movie is woven with interviews of local townsfolk who knew the real life Bernie (played by Jack Black.)

Just for the ladies (or not,) Hysteria delivered the story of the 19th century invention of the vibrator (in the name of medical science.)

Follow the process of truth and the process of facing addiction with Denzel Washington in Flight.  This movie  is a real curve ball and not at all what I expected in Robert Zemeckis's return to live action.  Denzel has a sharp edge and really delivered another Oscar-worthy performance.

Lawless is another movie I had a very hard time with taking on and off of my list the past few months.  Nick Cave wrote the hard-as-they-come screenplay for this one following his collaboration with director John Hillcoat on The Proposition (one of my favorite movies of the past 10 years.)  It's a period piece, a tribute to moonshining, a story of brothers, a love story, a gangster movie- it has it ALL.

My favorite Sci-Fi movie of the year was Looper- hands down.  This wild and brainbending story has one of the most original scripts of the year and the most original time travel premise to date.

I found the best ensemble cast of any film I view the past twelve months in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  Some of my favorite British actors such as Bill Nighy, Judy Dench and Tom Wilkinson serve as retirees who travel to India to discover the subtle cultural charms of both the country and the hotel.

Like I said, I could go on forever about this year's movies!  Finally, here are my TOP 10 Movie Picks of 2012...

[Honorable Mention] Killer Joe (directed by William Friedkin)

After a five year hiatus from directing, Friedkin (who directed my pick for the Top Horror Movie of All Time with The Exorcist) has returned with a strangely macabre story which is sure to shock you as much as projectile split pea soup.  Writer Tracy Letts adapted his own play for this film adaptation which retains the stage atmosphere by the majority of the scenes taking place inside a trailer park mobile home.  The small but powerful cast delivering the bedlam includes Thomas Haden Church and Matthew McConaughey who plays Killer Joe.  The scene which mainly lands this sick and twisted ride on my list is Killer Joe's soliloquy he recites while forcing Sharla (Gina Gershon) to perform fellatio on a fried chicken leg.  The slogan poster says it all- A totally twisted deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story.

[10]  Being Flynn (directed by Paul Weitz)

Director Weitz adapted author Nick Flynn's (Paul Dano) autobiography for the big screen with this hilarious and heart-breaking coming of age journey.  I love how the movie is very successful at displaying the contradiction of Flynn's struggle to become a writer with the contrived convictions of his estranged father Jonathan (Robert De Niro) who is a self-proclaimed poet.  When Jonathan is forced into the homeless shelter Nick is employed by, we experience a real life role reversal as the son confronts and attempts to care for his father.  This film is a safe bet from the get-go since both lead actors never disappoint.  De Niro makes you roll your eyes and feel sorry for him all at the same time.  Ripped from real life, this is simply wonderful story in which the main character grows beyond a parent's disillusionment grand enough for both of them.

[09]  Lincoln (directed by Steven Spielberg)

How good can a movie be when the audience already knows how it is going to end?  Beyond initial casting woes, this was the largest hurdle for the director of this year's best biopic.  Largely avoiding the historically obvious and finding coy ways to handle material such as as the Gettysburg Address and the Assassination, Spielberg has made a film which conveys the struggle of a generation to abolish slavery in the United States.  The lifeblood of this movie lies within the performances of a staggering ensemble cast.  Sally Field and Daniel Day-Lewis both hauntingly portray the Lincolns but Tommy Lee Jones absolutely steals the show with his fervent embodiment of Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, a champion for civil rights.  Never one to avoid the reality and levity of war, Spielberg's opening and closing scenes serve as bookends highlighting the horrors of men faced to battle their neighbors, brothers and friends.

[08]  Moonrise Kingdom (directed by Wes Anderson)

Wes Anderson embodies the definition of a Cult film director with all of his stories and this past year's is no exception.  Despite only initially opening on four screens nationwide, his new film set an all time record for per screen earnings at the box office.  The story of Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) is endearing in a way which captures the spirit of childhood with a full range of emotion for almost any audience member.  The adolescent lovers' voyage blushes the awkwardness of young love while flying the flag of youthful rebellion at the same time.  As with all his movies, Anderson lays down a very thick coat of dry humor which audiences are either in love or at a loss with.  If you are on the same wavelength, it is a true joy and you'll agree Anderson is one of the finest directors of this generation.

[07]  Skyfall (directed by Sam Mendes)

Plenty of eyebrows were raised when Bond fans heard the news of Sam Mendes (American Beauty) taking the reins of the franchise after this new installment was rebooted following MGM's financial woes.  Skyfall marks the 50th Anniversary of 007 hitting the silver screen and boy does it deliver.  By choosing a director not traditional to the action genre, the studio was able give audiences the best of both worlds on a global scale.  Mendes seamlessly blended all the staple Bond action with some back-story and emotion very new to the series and character.  The character of M (Judy Dench) is brought full circle focusing on her relationship and motherly role with Bond.  Of course Javier Bardem never disappoints and is delightfully sinister cast as the film's villain, Silva while Daniel Craig continues to raise the bar on what it is to be James Bond.

[06]  Goats (directed by Christopher Neil)

Unfortunately when I made my Top 10 Stoner Movies of All Time list a couple of years back, this movie wasn't around yet or it surely would have made the cut.  The directorial debut of Neil is a breath of fresh air weaving a fun indie flick which doesn't really land under any genre.  Ellis (Graham Phillips) is leaving his home for private school- a change of life and scenery which takes him away from his new age mother (Vera Farmiga) and the surrogate guardian who's raised him- Goat Man (David Duchovny.)  As is the case with all of us, we don't choose our family or their dysfunctional existence.  Spirit walks, ganja growing, border hopping and primal screams are just a few of the surreal elements in this tale of parental roles and spiritual awakenings. This one may help you find yourself (or at least realize you're not alone.)

[05]  Django Unchained (directed by Quentin Tarantino)

No genre is safe from the hands of the hippest director of all time.  In his newest blood bath, Tarantino borrows and builds from the 1966 Django movie directed by Sergio Corbucci.  By mashing up and turning the Spaghetti Western and Blaxploitation film models on their ears, the director molds what he refers to as the "Southern" movie.  Evoking waves of controversy, Django (Jamie Foxx) embodies the rage of Black America in this commentary and exploitation of the atrocities of slavery in 19th century Pre-Civil War America.  As is his routine, Tarantino gathers an astounding cast to deliver his witty and cutting dialogue.  Get a big bang for your buck with all of the blood, gore, guns and black humor (pardon the pun.)  You'll be stunned.

[04]  Jesus Henry Christ (directed by Dennis Lee)

The story of Henry (Jason Spevack) is one you're probably hearing about for the first time here since it opened on only three screens here in the US and grossed around $8K- a disaster by any studio standards as  this gem got lost in the shuffle last year.  When a child supergenius Henry discovers he was conceived in a petri-dish, he opts to take a path of discovery in an attempt to address who he is and where he came from.  Toni Collette kills it as Henry's mother, Patricia and Michael Sheen is equally as brilliant as Henry's biological father (sperm donor Dr. O'Hara.)  Two sequences which helped land this fun film on my list are the opening sequence of the fates of Patricia's family members as well as the cyclone of Dr. O'Hara's trusty sticky notes setting him free.

[03]  Killing Them Softly (directed by Andrew Dominik)

"America is not a country- It's a business."

The adaptation of George V. Higgins' novel, Coogan's Trade drops like a hammer.  The entire premise of the film is metaphorical for America as a system and Wall Street as its business model.  A power balance is put into play when the criminal underground is sent into a recession after a card game robbery. Jackie (Brad Pitt) is brought in by the guys at the top to bail out the system with a bit of symphonic street justice.  The grit of this movie is pure visual poetry and every last actor is given a chance to shine with a intricate dialogue-driven script.  The action and violence are kept to the bare necessities allowing scenes such as Markie's (Ray Liotta) demise to be orchestrated as the high art which defines the film's title.

[02]  Beasts of the Southern Wild (directed by Benh Zeitlin)

Nothing like this has ever been created before.  Part fantasy, part statement on environmentalism, part swamp fairy tale... you tell me once you watch the epic tale of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhan√© Wallis.)  The ice caps are melting and Louisiana is coming under threat from both the flood and the mythical creatures which serve as on-screen metaphors for the wrath of Mother Nature.  Backwoods folk living by simple means are subjected to acts of eco-terrorism in a desperate attempt to save their land from turbulent results of society gorging themselves on the world's resources.  As the central character, Hushpuppy tries to makes sense of it all.  First-time actors Wallis and Dwight Henry (playing Hushpuppy's father, Wink) are absolutely stunning and deserve accolades far beyond their budding amateur fame.

[01]  The Grey (directed by Joe Carnahan)

Man vs. Nature plain, simple and brutal.  When I watched the story of a team of oil workers stranded in the Alaskan wilderness to face off with a pack of wolves, I was floored.  Filmed in British Columbia, the winter battlefield in the movie is no CG trickery and the actual filming conditions included -40 degree temperatures on location.  Strangely, the release date for the Grey was pushed back from the 2011 awards season to January of 2012- unfortunately leaving it forgotten by the Academy.  This movie lingered with me for weeks after viewing it and all year, I sought out a movie to trump it- albeit unsuccessfully.  When you watch this terrifying battle, make certain you stay after the credits for the final scene's aftermath.  There is a rare treat in a film with such balls which also has such an endearing aside involving Ottway's (Liam Neeson) wife to balance the elements of this masterpiece.  Man's greatest awakening comes when he is reconnected with the viciousness of the wild...

Once more into the fray 
Into the last good fight I’ll ever know  
Live or Die on this Day
Live or Die on this Day


  1. all good movies but imho the grey doesn't warrant the #1 spot but its your list. Btw.....after the chicken leg scene in Killer Joe I will never look at Matthew M. the same way again.

    1. McConaughey went off the rails this year and acted in three indie flicks. He was also in Bernie with a quirky part. The most extreme actually wasn't Killer Joe I found but his part in The Paperboy. A twist in the movie finds his character with a fetish for being beaten, abused and golden showered by black men in the midst of a racist 60's era. This my friend will make you never look at him the same way again... (shivers.)

      I expected many people not to agree with my #1 pick, which is usually a maverick choice on these lists. I feel is was metaphorical for so many things when the cast is taken away from all the technology and tools which isolate us from nature. All year, it just seemed that nothing stood up to brutal yet poetic tone of the film. I really do feel it is a masterpiece.

  2. Hi Brandt,

    To start with, I haven’t seen 4 of your top 10 movies.

    Nonetheless can I make a comment on two that I have, bring further attention to a film that perhaps escaped your notice, interest or admiration, and conclude by identifying some disagreement with specifics in your post as a whole.

    First, "The Grey" was a fantastic movie and it’s nice to see it get a nod from someone such as yourself. If I were to make a top ten list, it would be close to the top. "Killing Them Softly", however, was decidedly a "not good" movie. I am surprised to see it rank so high.

    As for one film which, as I prefaced, might have escaped your notice, interest or admiration, consider “Seven Psychopaths”. If you are familiar with Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”) this is a must see ... even if it is not quite as good.

    Now … for some disagreement (and I really will only comment about two movies I could possibly have cared about): Both “Lawless” and “Looper” had potential to be good movies (Looper even, I could let someone argue, was “good”) but neither were really "all that". Hillcoat has directed the very fine “The Road” (which, in my view, is better than “The Proposition”) and I had high expectations for "Lawless". It did not even come close.

    I saw your link at Sister Rose’s page. She says 2012 was an excellent year for cinema. I don't think it was, personally (although one which pleasantly surprised me was "Life of Pi").

    As for me, I'll be waiting for someone like Malick or Gonzalez Inarritu, before I get to excited about another project, or even possibly the emerging filmmaker Corbijn.

    Anyway, I enjoy reading these sorts of lists and thank you for letting me disagree with you...

    (Follow the link sometime, and we can have a more specific conversation about the specific merits of specific films).


    1. Thanks for the comments Kelly! I'm still waiting patiently to get a hold of Seven Psychopaths as I have yet to see it. As far as Hillcoats' movies, I was delighted to see him reteam with screenwriter/musician Nick Cave for Lawless. I have to say The Proposition was my favorite of his three films though. 2012 was definitely a good year for movies and I'm sorry to see you so disappointed with the lot for the most part. I hope you check out the ones you haven't seen and get something back from them!

  3. I agree with almost all of your review on the list and there are many of my favorite movies from 2012. I really like Looper and The Grey and almost all movies of the list. I disagree with you on Prometheus i love this movie and the story.

    1. Prometheus wasn't exactly a bad movie, I suppose I just had my hopes up for a bit more. The film was more of a segway into another trilogy.


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