TOP 10 OF 2012

2012 was a great year for film and there were many surprises along the way. Out of my ten most anticipated films for the year, three have made my top fifteen which means I was genuinely surprised by and absolutely fell in love with twelve films this year that I never expected to or knew nothing about a year ago. I have grown accustomed to ranking films on a five-star system. Four stars has become the standard for the above average film, ones with exceptional qualities that make them better than anything else playing at the given moment. I think I gave out more four-star ratings this year than ever before and there were several other films I would have liked to include on this list. The Avengers was fantastic, especially the first time but after repeat viewings the magic does seem to wear a bit thin. It is nothing short of everything a summer blockbuster should be, but it doesn't have the staying quality to land a spot on my top 10 list. I also enjoyed overlooked films such as Sound of my Voice and other tentpoles like the summers much hated-on Prometheus (I don't care! I was fascinated and it looks amazing!) as well as the latest entry in the James Bond franchise. I wasn't as crazy about Skyfall as many people seemed to be, but my investment in Bond isn't the greatest and I was entertained and satisfied as I left the theater, but it didn't stay with me. There were animated films like Paranorman and Wreck-it Ralph that were fantastic, awards bait such as Argo and Life of Pi won't make my list but that doesn't mean I didn't appreciate them as films or enjoy watching them. 2012 was a great year for films, but the ones I have chosen to put on my list are the ones that I could watch over and over again or left an impression on me I wasn't able to shake and needed to see again, immediately to confirm the legacy they will leave. So, without further adieu...

21 Jump Street

Comedies never get enough of the love they sometimes deserve in these year end lists, but I love a year that produces a comedy I can really get behind and still feel credible when including it on something like this. I enjoy much of the mainstream comedy that comes out as I embrace actors like Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn (yes, I liked The Watch) or Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell. They are each to their own but I love even more when they come together and create a great comedy team. Though this year comedy will be remembered for Ted more than anything else I feel as if 21 Jump Street has provided us with more sayings, more moments, more quotes that will live on for much longer. This is truly one of those movies I can put on any time and enjoy it. I've probably seen the film at least ten times since it appeared in theaters back in March. Going back to comedy teams, the main reason this film worked so well was the chemistry between leads Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. This was the year of Channing Tatum and 21 Jump Street helped solidify that as well as make him appealing to more than just women. Hill continued to ride his success after his Oscar nomination and with a sequel in the works already I can't wait to see what these guys get into next. Read my full review here.

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty is still sinking in but even so I still can't stop thinking about it and am already reconsidering my four-star review in that it should certainly rank higher. My initial reaction was that it was not the grand masterpiece I expected it to be or wanted it to be. That is was a good, solid movie, but nothing to write home about necessarily. As I wrote my review though and as I considered all the facets of the film, the scope and skill it took to create it I began to second guess myself. This is certainly the film I make reference to in the opening paragraph when I say I need to see it again to have a better sense of the legacy it might leave. I believe Zero Dark Thirty will certainly be a film that stays with us for a long time as it isn't just the movie about Osama bin Laden but a tense, political thriller that doesn't manipulate its audience into what point of view they should take but instead presents the facts as they are and lets each individual make up their own mind. Led by the powerful and unyielding performance of Jessica Chastain (which fully deserves the Oscar win) and the stern, confident direction of Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty is a haunting reminder of how the issues of an entire nation can resound just as loudly within the individual. My full review here.

Silver Linings Playbook

I was surprised to see Silver Linings Playbook garner so much attention. Sure, it has a prestige director and a wonderful ensemble cast, but it still seemed so conventional and not in the way of Awards contenders. Silver Linings Playbook is certainly an awards contender but take all of that away from this small film and what you have is a very basic, honest story told within the boundaries of common archetypes but not shackled by those conventions. It is a very funny, charming film led by a wonderful performance from Bradley Cooper and anchored by an equally strong showing from Jennifer Lawrence. Cooper plays Pat as a man determined to reconcile things with his ex-wife after spending several months in a mental institution and as we go on the journey to being a better man with him we become a part of his life and wrapped up in the relationships he has with his parents (Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver) with the Philadelphia Eagles, and eventually with Tiffany (Lawrence). As I said in my review this is a story about the characters and its a film that has an effortless tone that captures a very real, very authentic tone to it. It is another film I could easily see myself going back to again and again because not only is it a fine example of filmmaking but an affirming piece of happily ever after. My full review here.

Seven Psychopaths

There is no irony in the fact Seven Psychopaths lands in the number seven spot. I had it drifting through many different places before settling on the spot between SLP and Moonrise Kingdom without even realizing it was number seven. Enough with that though, in 2008 I fell in love with Martin McDonagh's In Bruges. In his first film since he delivered what was one of the best times I've had watching a movie in a long time. Seven Psychopaths is certainly an acquired taste of a film as it is an extremely meta black comedy with many layers of inside jokes and references for those that love film yet it still delivers the kind of action/comedy experience promised by the trailers and these actors. The cast is phenomenal here, led by a sprawling Colin Farrell and his safe-minded screenwriter he is taken through the ringer by his best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell). Add on top of that Woody Harrelson as a dog-loving mob boss and a perfect performance from Christopher Walken and you have not one good reason to see this film, but plenty. McDonagh didn't lose his knack for writing witty and intelligent dialogue either as he deconstructs every Hollywood scenario that we expect from our movies these days and puts it through his unique looking glass. My full review here.

Moonrise Kingdom

I am not the biggest of Wes Anderson fans but I usually enjoy his films without ever having the experience of feeling like what I watched will make a difference in the way I look at him. He seems to be a very nice, very smart, somewhat odd, but quirky fella who likes to highly stylize his pictures with a definitive stamp. We know a Wes Anderson movie when we see one and if ever he has produced a movie that feels something a little more close to home, a little more personal and given it his stamp of approval it is Moonrise Kingdom. So different from any other film this year, it tells the story of young khaki scout Sam and his pen pal Suzy (newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) who soon develop feelings for one another as they run away together and trek through the wilderness on an island off the coast of New England in the summer of '65. The sweetness, the heartache, the innocence of it all feels so fresh and honest you literally come out of the movie and can't stop smiling. It is at first glance a story of boy meets girl while at the same time taking us through the story of the most universal emotion. Anderson also rounded up a few frequent collaborators (Bill Murray, Jason Schwartman) and some new friends (Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Ed Norton, Tilda Swinton) to play the wonderful supporting cast that brings his world to life in his most fantastic of ways. My full review here.

Cloud Atlas

People seem to have been either put off or confused by Cloud Atlas. There seems to be a strong wave of misunderstanding around this film in that it wasn't exactly what people wanted it to be or that it was simply too weird for them to even bother trying to work out. Truth be told, it isn't that complicated of a film if you have the starry-eyed wonder to take it in and feel fascinated not exactly by what is being delivered, but how. The Wachowski siblings along with Tom Tykwer have made a film that spans thousands and thousands of years and tells six different narratives. The film is certainly a lot to digest but it is never boring and it is a massive achievement in editing. I found it to be perfectly layered in a way that each of the multiple storylines compliment each other, build on one another and allow the audience to get the intended effect from each story that is being told. Having Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, and Ben Whishaw among many others playing multiple roles throughout the course of each story was also a daring movie but one that again helps to re-enforce the themes at work. The film looks wonderful and has a moving score. It is a film that is easy to criticize but more satisfying to embrace and explore. It is a film everyone may not necessarily understand or "get" right now, but one that I believe will live on far longer than many other films that came out this year. My full review here.

Searching for Sugar Man

I have not yet written about this film and it is out of character for me to include a documentary on my top 10 list, but there is something completely different about this one. I just recently came across Searching for Sugar Man after hearing rumblings of it during the summer but never having the opportunity to see it. I will soon have a full write up on the film coming out (it is released on DVD & Blu-Ray Jan. 22) but it left such an indelible mark on me that I have yet been able to shake it. In what is truly a story so unbelievable it could only be true director Malik Bendjelloul has explored the mythos of late-60's singer/songwriter Rodriguez whose career never took off in the states after two failed records but inadvertently became bigger than Elvis in South Africa. The stories surrounding the singer, his death, his music and his lyrics is all truly fascinating. You don't necessarily even have to be a music lover to enjoy the film, you could love a good mystery or maybe yearn for a true type of period piece and this documentary delivers more than something satisfying, it makes you ask questions of mortality, destiny, and justice. I went in not knowing anything about the film, its story, or even who it concerned and I would recommend that for any viewer. It certainly makes the intrigue and viewing experience all the more satisfying. I will try not to say more than this other than once you do see it, I dare you to be able to stop singing. Silver magic ships, you carry, jumpers, coke, sweet Mary Jane...

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

If Moonrise Kingdom reminds of a simpler time in life then The Perks of Being a Wallflower brings back the high school experience in spades. Stephen Chobsky, who wrote the novel, also adapted it for the screen and directed a movie that moved me more than any other film this year. Whether it is due to the wonderful cast that brings these characters to life with such honesty, such humor that we find ourselves feeling a part of their inner circle or because it is comfort food to anyone who ever felt a little outside the circle in life at all. The film is a celebration of being different, but that sentence is far too cliche to represent the film. It is that coming-of-age tale that includes every emotion that comes along with real life. The whole movie could be described in the same way. The performances of Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and especially Ezra Miller only serve to make these facts more true. There is no better way to say it than I flat out loved this film. Of course, I genuinely love every film on this list, but Perks is something of a different beast. It stays with you, it makes you want to return to it, but most importantly it wants you to go out and live by what its saying. My full review here.

The Dark Knight Rises

I don't care what you may think, The Dark Knight Rises, despite its flaws, deserves to be on this list. A massive, epic movie that concludes one of the greatest trilogies of all time Christopher Nolan's final trip to Gotham City yields as much a physical threat for his caped crusader than ever before while delivering more satisfaction to the fanboys than in any previous installment. Though the film was picked over and scrutinized by more people than any film has any right to be I can't say that I feel this conclusion, this final chapter to a full story as anything less than satisfying. It not only accomplishes the large action set pieces done with more skill and care than any other film this year but at its core it represents a the bleak emotions that drive and sustain our hero. The entire cast including Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy and especially Anne Hathaway deliver their performances with the right balance of who they are grounded by the realities of the world Nolan has created for them to exist in. I have probably seen this film more than any other this year, I myself could be called a fanboy, but I could still watch it again and again without the satisfying effect ever failing to wear. For me, personally, that is a mark of a great film and one of the best in any year. My full review here.

Django Unchained

The same could be said for Django Unchained. Any year that has a Quentin Tarantino film coming out is one to be excited about and his interpretation of the spaghetti western is one of his most enjoyable films to date. Much like Inglorious Basterds this movie shines a light on a dark period in history and allows the underdog the chance to have a say in how he is remembered. It is a violent, funny, epic of a film that includes some of my favorite performances of the year. Whether it be watching Jamie Foxx transform from a timid, broken down plantation slave to the horse-riding, gun-toting bad ass bounty hunter who kills bad white folks for money or the always pleasurable Christoph Waltz exuding his intelligent charm upon the unsuspecting there is greatness coming out of every corner of this film. The dialogue is classic Tarantino as are the characters he writes them for. When we reach the second half of the film the writer/director turns it up even more by introducing us to Lenardo DiCaprio's vicious and despicable Calvin J. Candie and his house slave Stephen played with an equally revolting tone by Samuel L. Jackson this film deserves as much as any other to be recognized not only for its excellent characters and the actors bringing them to life, but the man who continues to break boundaries and piss all over the conventions of Hollywood productions by coming out with something that has as much to say as any other Oscar bait film while still being completely entertaining as Django Unchained is. My full review here.

Honorable Mentions

I always like to include a few honorable mentions and this is a year that certainly deserves to have a few extra films on a list. It was hard to narrow down so many great movies this year into a simple ten when so many are so good for various reasons but these five are the ones I had the most trouble cutting out of my top 10 in no particular order.

Bernie-Director Richard Linklater (School of Rock) tells the strange but true tale of a man so nice his only way out was murder. He surrounds his main cast of characters with a Greek chorus of town members and fleshes out the story with the most absurd of commentaries. It is a strikingly odd film that even more strangely becomes as appealing and charming as its main character embodied perfectly by Jack Black.

The Master-There are several different seeds for several different ideas going on within Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master. I find it hard to believe one could not become wrapped up in the odyssey of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and his quest to find some type satisfaction from things he already knows will disappoint him. Featuring wonderful performances from Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams The Master was an experience I've never had in a theater before.

Lincoln-Steven Spielberg's restrained, straight forward tale of the last four months of the 16th President's life is a striking portrait and a fine drama as Daniel-Day Lewis will most likely clinch another best actor statue with his performance and leads a stellar ensemble cast in a fight to pass the 13th amendment. Tommy Lee Jones will likely be taking home his second best supporting actor trophy as well for his wonderful turn as Thaddeus Stevens. Lincoln is a fine film, Spielberg's best in a while and worthy of its awards attention.

Looper-Looper is a piece of time travel bonanza that is escalated by so many different elements that are so much better than you expect them to be that the entire film rises from its own genre trappings and becomes something entirely fresh. Fresh is one of the hardest words to come by when we think of the future these days but writer/director Rian Johnson proves a definitive voice in a genre full of copycats and wannabes. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis both turn in fun, willing performances elevating the story even higher.

End of Watch-a brutal, unflinching look at two cops in one of the most dangerous areas in the U.S. It centers around two partners and friends who are not related by blood but share the bond of family and hold it to be just as sacred. Both Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena give amazingly natural, fluid performances that never come off as anything more than genuine and elevate what could have been a standard cop drama to the next level.

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