Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Best Movies of 2012

Now we come to our final countdown, the best movies of the year - or rather, at least what I thought were the best. Of course opinions will be divided, but to hell with it, I'm here to force mine down your throats!


11. Lincoln

Steven Spielberg’s biopic on Abraham Lincoln is a monument of stately, comfortable filmmaking from one of the masters of the business. Everything about this is well-made, polished to a professional sheen that does justice to this great man and really brings him to life on screen for the first time ever. This is a long movie, but it’s incredibly lavish and detailed, with that classic Spielbergian charm that shows he is still the master of thoughtful, uplifting cinema. Daniel Day Lewis is fantastic as Lincoln and the story, about the passage of the 13th amendment, is carried with maturity. The portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln is also very much worth noting.

10. ParaNorman

Children’s’ movies might get a bad rap, but that’s slowly changing with movies like UP, Ratatouille, How to Train Your Dragon and now ParaNorman. The story is pretty basic, just a tale about a kid who can see ghosts who gets called to save the town from a witch, but basic is the way to go sometimes, and ParaNorman is great because it has well written characters who play off each other quite nicely, stunning visuals (though this is the norm for movies today) and subtle, flowing messages that can resonate with children as well as adults. A clever, deft and energized romp that should not be missed.

9. Dredd

Great action movies are almost as hard to come by as great horror movies these days. Dredd is a great action movie, in the style of Die Hard and Terminator if they were done up in a 2010s style. I’ve never read any of the comics about Judge Dredd, but this movie explodes with huge action scenes, delicious gore and a rocket-speed pace that doesn’t let up. It’s got a cool setting, cool villains and doesn’t pull any punches. This movie is like a metal-plated fist to your gut.

8. Killer Joe

This is the most irreverent movie of the year with how outrageous and indecent it is, and Matthew McConaughey delivers as the titular character with one of my favorite performances all year – he is possessed with a manic, quick-witted furor that almost carries the whole movie on its own, if not for standout performances from Emile Hirsch and Thomas Haden Church, too. This is a bloody good time of a movie that speeds through its runtime like a coked up Hell’s Angel with an attitude problem, unraveling a story of betrayal and greed without any sugar coating. Killer Joe revels in its unholiness and I love it for that very lack of restraint.

7. V/H/S

The best horror movie of the year, and an almost revolutionary experience compared to the sad sacks at attempts the last few years have given us. V/H/S’s strength lies in absolutely genius scares and inventive storytelling. It’s a found footage film that actually uses that to its advantage with some creative framing – a family vacation tape and a webcam chat log – and, here’s a shocker – no obvious jump scares! Yes, instead we get brilliant storytelling that unravels itself in short, sweet bursts of sheer gleeful evil and mayhem; stories that set up their atmospheres and settings quick and then deliver a hell of a punchline with great end twists and fascinatingly gruesome concepts. This is seriously awesome, and horror devotees who love the genre for its imagination will find much to love here.

6. Wreck-It Ralph

A sheer joy to behold, Wreck-It Ralph is the best children’s movie I’ve seen in a long time, hearkening back to the kind of grace and power that 2009’s UP possessed in spades. The key to making a great kids’ film is making sure you tell a great story first and then make it kid-friendly second. And Wreck-It Ralph is good at that because it has hugely memorable characters, a great setting – seriously, arcade games! That’s so cool I’d give it a good rating even if the movie was lame. And a tight, fast-paced, electrically charged plot that never stops moving and is constantly inventive and clever. There are laughs to be had, there are emotive moments and there are fist-pumping action and car chase scenes. Wreck-It Ralph is a treasure of a film.

5. The Avengers

Joss Whedon is one of the best storytellers of our generation, weaving Shakespearean drama with modern sci-fi intrigue, explosive action and even some wry comedy here and there. The Avengers is his new big-screen blockbuster, the big movie that every superhero fan was waiting for, and it’s pretty much the summer blockbuster to end all summer blockbusters. Huge, sweeping action scenes are really only icing on the cake of the characters themselves, who are acted brilliantly and written brilliantly, with Whedon’s strong writing tying together a series of films dating back five years. Important for how conceptually brilliant it is, but also incredibly entertaining, and one of the more satisfying movies of the year. A mighty thunderbolt of a film, down from the heavens.

4. The Amazing Spider-Man

I love Spider-Man and have since I was really young, and this was a revolution for me because it proved we could have a really, really good Spider-Man movie. Not that the Raimi stuff was bad, but Marc Webb’s reboot is just so much better in every way. Everything about this is just grade-A stuff and flows like a charm. This is really Andrew Garfield’s movie as he proves he is a dynamite actor, with a ton of range and bursting emotional power, too. Emma Stone as well delivers maybe my favorite performance of hers yet. The action kicks ass and the story has emotional power and can resonate with audiences today just as well as the original comic book could back in the 60s, with the updates made and the clever, snappy directing. This is a smooth, well put together film that I will never tire of watching.

3. The Hunger Games

This was a real surprise for me, because I thought the first book of the series was good, not great – I really didn’t expect much from this movie. I mean, how many times has a YA book series actually produced something meaningful to cinema? Well, this is my mea culpa – The Hunger Games is a big, sweeping and epic hammer of a film that completely washes over you in waves with how much is going on, submerging the audience in the world entirely. You will feel every chaotic action scene rattle in your bones and the world the movie creates will seem as real as your own every day life, and twice as terrifying. First rate acting from Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson only adds to the vitality and strength this movie has in spades. Truly a story more meant to be seen than read, The Hunger Games is one of the best movies of the year.

2. Chronicle

I knew nothing about this movie when I went into the theater, and it floored me. A powerful, individual tale of three young men in the suburbs who come across a mysterious rock in the ground that gives them superpowers – only for one of them, with an unstable family life, to start losing his mind and using the power for criminal means. The three lead actors are all really great and sell their characters superbly – I fully believed they were who they said they were. The story is a very compelling take on troubled teenagers and the sci-fi twist makes this probably the most original film I saw all year. For its depiction of the unfortunate marginalized kids who just can’t get anywhere even despite their efforts, Chronicle is a powerful film that you shouldn’t miss. Essential.

1. Moonrise Kingdom

I never expected to love a Wes Anderson film, but here it is anyway – Moonrise Kingdom. This is just a lovely movie, with charm, grace and power, as well as a wry, fine-tuned dry sense of humor. There’s so much going on here that it’s too much to comprehend on one viewing alone, but at its core this is a love story, and one of the best love stories, in any medium, I have witnessed in a long time. The thing is that Moonrise Kingdom is not just a love story about two kids getting together, but about family in general – about the ties that bind us together and the fissures that break us apart, and about solace found in unexpected places. With a powerful story told by first rate actors all around, this is funny and romantic and everything in between all at once, integrating everything into a melting pot so well that you stop picking apart the different aspects and just accept it as it is: a force to be reckoned with. And for all the estranged and the lonely out there, this is a light in the dark. Magisterial, unforgettable and powerful.

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