Top Movies of '12 So Far

While it is hard to believe we have already reached the halfway point of 2012 it is true, which means we have a good pool of films to choose from already in our favorites for the year. While looking back through the reviews I've written this year I could not yet justify a list that included ten films and so I have decided to go with the more challenging list of five. Granted, I have not yet seen a few films that have been released in bigger markets that I'm sure would stand a chance of making the list such as Benh Zeitlin's beautiful-looking Beasts of the Southern Wild that I have heard nothing but great things about as well as Wes Anderson's latest Moonrise Kingdom and a pair of indie comedies starring Mark Duplass that have been getting rave reviews. While both Safety Not Guaranteed and Your Sister's Sister will hopefully be making their way to my neck of the woods very soon I was able to create a list of a few blockbusters and a few others that have flown under the radar that I have enjoyed immensely this year. While a few such as Joe Carnahan's achingly lovely The Grey and Josh Trank's inventive mash up two tired genres in Chronicle land just outside the list I have narrowed them down by knowing a good number of these will withstand the Oscar hopefuls that will come out later this year and likely populate my end of the year list. For now, these are the reigning champs, but if the second half of 2012 is anything like the first there will be stiff competition for the top spot.

The first film on the list is one of much debate. Not just for the story and the mystery surrounding it, but of quality. Some people have loved it, finding it a worthy connection to their sci-fi/horror classic that is Ridley Scott's Alien. Others have written it off as another in Scott's late career that displays lovely visual stylings with very little substance. I, on the other hand, was never overly fond of Alien only having seen it in a film class and a rental just before viewing this supposed prequel. As for the visuals, yes they are stunning, Prometheus is absolutely gorgeous and invokes a dark tone that is consistent with the bleak and mysterious undertones of the story that has been severely underestimated by those who have written it off as standard B-movie action archetypes. I was rather disappointed with parts of the script myself (especially the ending) after the first viewing but the more I've thought about it the more complex it has become and the more questions I have come up with. There have also seemed to be more conclusions that could be drawn for each of the questions that have come up as well. Not just from reading others theories on different aspects of the film, but from thinking of the possibilities of where the next film in this series might go. Where I hope it might go is to give us a more concrete and inventive answer to the large, main question that it asks. The entire running time of the film the audience is looking forward to answers that the film continues to ask. Instead there is little in the way of revelation and more in the terms of philosophy and hints at ancient mythology than to write a chapter of its own. It is the one aspect of the film that kept it from perfection in my perspective. I only hope the inevitable sequel lends itself more to firm ideas rather than speculation.

The next film is another of the years biggest blockbusters so far and it just so happens to be one of the better films. One of my favorite films in fact. I would like to have ranked it higher, but despite it being a faithful and fervent adaptation of the source material it fails in the regard to make the strong impression upon us that the character of Katniss did in the book. Given, talented actress Jennifer Lawrence only has a mere two and a half hours to relate what a an entire novel of words did I can only hope that with the following two films Lawrence will stretch her ability to flesh out Katniss fully. The supporting cast is stellar and the three young leads certainly have what it takes to turn this into a serious analysis of the world we live in and a film that makes its audiences not question the story it is telling but the implications it means to make is something to be cherished, especially when in the realm of blockbuster films. The books are of a certain commentary on the world today and the type of entertainment we can find enjoyable. Will fans of the book think the movie is better? Probably not, but that has never been a fair judgement. Where the book gave us the internal thoughts and reasoning's of our characters the movies give us the how. What is so appealing about The Hunger Games film is that while it certainly delivers the "how" of author Suzanne Collins world it is able to tap into the "why" as well and give us hints of what is to come while setting everything up in this first chapter with satisfying results. I thoroughly enjoyed the book series and do believe that director Gary Ross crafted a fine adaptation, likely the best one could have made, and for that reason it finds itself among my favorites of the year so far.

Bernie will likely make my top 10 films of the year when 2012 draws to a close. I loved every minute of it. I was first happy to see star Jack Black and director Richard Linklater reunite after creating a minor classic in School of Rock almost ten years ago and second to see that Black would get the opportunity to portray a character that didn't fit the bill for his standard roles that have caused him more big budget misfires than hits as of late. I literally don't think he has appeared in a quality film since 2008's Tropic Thunder (I'm not counting his voice work in Kung Fu Panda or his extended cameo in The Muppets either). I have always liked the actors personality and willingness to go as far as it takes to pull off a good joke, but Linklater seems to know best how to focus these assets into a character that supports the story rather than a character who's story is struggling to keep up with him. Black plays the odd man with such a soft spoken, southern voice and hints of feminism that raise questions about his sexuality and only add layers to a man fascinating enough on his own without adding in other questions to make us ponder his true motives. Bernie Tiede was a caring man who became too involved in the life of an elderly lady and in the end came to regret his kindness to the point that he couldn't serve the woman anymore and ultimately felt he had no other option. Was he simply too nice a guy too break an old ladys heart? Did he just crave friendship and approval so much that he killed to carry on his charitable works? They are such contrasting thoughts it's hard to even narrow down the real source of why such a thing came to be, but it did and in this crazy true story out of east Texas has come a film that re-defines a career and refreshes faith in a storyteller seeing the value of that over-used tagline "based on a true story".  
What grabs and stays with you about Sound of My Voice is not just the idea the film revolves around, but the fact that you don't necessarily know what or where exactly any of this is coming from and where it might be going. It is an ambitious film on a small scale. If you have seen the trailer then you understand the intrigue of what is going on here and you adore the tone for its subtle and scarce feelings it leaves you with. This is a brief but very precise film. It knows what it's going for and by all accounts it captures it perfectly. There is a mystery to the going-on's that can't hardly be described and there is an intelligence to the writing that at the same time makes us feel both calm yet inadequate. It is a strange feeling, but that kind of confusion, hesitation, and flat out mesmerizing effect is no doubt what director and co-writers Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling were going for. Marling, who is the new "it" girl for indie films after last year's underrated Another Earth does tremendous work here. This is an original and engaging film that not only proves you can make a good science fiction flick without green screens and space ships but that you can also make a film on a small budget that can blow you away. The film keeps you on the edge of your seat and at the end you really do want more. It is one of those movies you want to watch again as soon as it ends. You want to interrogate the film because you enjoyed it so much. It was truly an experience and for anyone that did in fact doubt Ms. Marling can surely now be silenced as she has proved herself more than a one cult wonder. This is a fantastic film and I can't wait to tell people about this movie. I'm still thinking about it. I'm still fascinated.

The Avengers has to take the number one spot at the moment. Not only is it the highest grossing film of the year, but it is a grand spectacle of a film that delivers on every cylinder I expected it to. Sure, there were things dismissed and looked over that I was hoping would be included, but knowing that this is not the pinnacle of what Marvel is trying to do, but merely a starting point makes me all the more excited. The best part about The Avengers is the fact it understands its audience and its wants and needs. This comes across, I think, because director and writer Joss Whedon never let himself forget who this was for and more importantly, what he would have wanted to see as a viewer. He is clearly a beloved fan of the source material and to be given the freedom to realize this project on screen was no doubt nothing short of pure joy mixed with just the smallest amount of pressure. For this film, this introduction to all of these heroes as a team is one not just fun, but pure entertainment. When people began making movies that were inspired by the imagination this is where they someday hoped we would be. This is that epitome of what the cinematic experience should be incarnate. It is fun, breathtaking, and completely bombastic in the best of ways. It builds to the final battle and it delivers what we have wanted from these characters for the past four years in their own regards. This is not the meeting of two enemies, it is all out warfare between an army of outcasts and a race whose purpose is yet unknown. There is something extremely engaging about how this all came together and something magical about watching it all unfold. All we can wonder is where it might go from here and with no hesitation will I commit to follow these heroes.

Though Bernie certainly falls into the category of comedy it is definitely darker than your average funny movie. When it comes to all out comedy there has been no better offering this year than 21 Jump Street. It was the first film of the year that I was genuinely looking forward to and it delivered on every level that I wanted it to. It was the test to see if Jonah Hill could regain his reputation as a reliable comedy star as well as a test to see if Channing Tatum could relate to a wider audience than teenage girls out there. Both proved to be successful as the film garnered a nice opening weekend gross of $35 million and continued to do well throughout its theatrical run. As an R-rated comedy that is something to be proud of. It would definitely make it inside the top 10 of the year so far but will it still be around at the end of the year? Maybe. I always try to include at least one major comedy on my list as most critics dismiss them as not worthy based on the fact they aren't garnering for award nominations and praise. There are plenty of other high profile comedies coming out in the second half of the year including The Watch where Jonah Hill shows up again and The Campaign as well as Ted and Judd Apatow's This is Forty. Still, I think 21 Jump Street stands a chance as it really is just an outlandish but highly entertaining comedy. It may not have followed the tone of the original TV show, but at least gave us what will likely be the best cameo of the year and made Tatum just as cool to guys as he is adored by girls. Their is flawless chemistry between its two leads and has a stellar supporting cast. If you haven't seen it, definitely check it out when it comes to Blu ray and DVD this Tuesday.  

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