Saturday, February 9, 2013

My favorite movies of 2012...

Okay, so I know that a year-end best-of list is a little tardy given it's early February, but here's the deal. I'm not a movie critic, so I don't have the option to see every movie that's released in time for Oscar consideration before the end of the calendar year, plus I don't live in New York or Los Angeles, so many of the "big" movies don't make it here until some time in January. So humor me, please!

We saw 45 movies that were technically released in 2012. The truth is, we saw very few awful movies, a lot of reasonably good ones, some really good ones, and some pretty freaking fantastic ones as well. I couldn't pick just 10, so you'll have to settle for a list of my 15 favorite movies from last year. For the most part, I tried to review every movie I saw, although I didn't get to a few I saw earlier in the year. When I did write a review, you'll find a link to the full blog post.

In random order, my favorite movies of 2012 are:

Les Misérables: Well, of course. It was one of two movies I had been anticipating since they first announced the casting, and despite all the hype, and the fact that I have seen the musical more times than I can count, the movie more than lived up to my expectations. Beautifully filmed (at times even a little disturbing), spectacularly sung and acted by nearly everyone in the film (cough, Russell Crowe, cough), and it made me sob more than a few times. Almost certain to net Anne Hathaway a Best Supporting Actress Oscar later this month, I hope it makes a star out of Samantha Barks, who made her film debut as Eponine. Read my original review.

The Hunger Games: This was the other movie I absolutely couldn't wait to see, having devoured all three of Suzanne Collins' dystopian trilogy. Director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) brought Collins' vision to life so vividly, with exceptional performances depicting characters exactly the way I pictured them. Jennifer Lawrence dazzled as Katniss Everdeen, the girl who was on fire, while Josh Hutcherson overcame the objections of tween girls all over the world as he skillfully inhabited the character of Peeta Mallark. Cannot wait for movie number two, Catching Fire, later this year.

Argo: Ben Affleck really came into his own as a director with this gripping, tautly emotional thriller about six State Department employees who escaped the Iran hostage crisis to take shelter in the Canadian ambassador's residence, and the daring yet outlandish effort undertaken to rescue them. Well-acted and terrifically directed, the movie is tremendously suspenseful even though you know what will happen. Affleck should have been nominated for a Best Director Oscar (he should have for The Town as well, but the film deserves every accolade it receives. Read my original review.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Maybe it's because I identified far too well with the desire to fit in but never really feeling that way through most of high school, or maybe some of the wounds I have from those years have never quite healed, but this movie utterly knocked me out. Stephen Chbosky's adaptation of his fantastic novel is poignant, funny, tragic, and enlightening, with fantastic performances from Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller and, in her first post-Harry Potter "grownup" role, Emma Watson. May hit a little too close to home, but so worth it. Read my original review.

The Dark Knight Rises: Once you strip away the tragedy of the Aurora movie theater massacre, you realize that Christopher Nolan once again struck cinematic gold from the purported end of his Batman trilogy. It's the return of the players we love—Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine—along with the introduction of a new hellacious villain (Tom Hardy's Bane has the soul of darkness and the voice of Darth Vader), a new hero (the always amazing Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and some twisted new characters, including Anne Hathaway and Marion Cotillard. Beautifully done, bleak, violent, and hopeful. Read my original review.

Lincoln: Not thinking about Daniel Day-Lewis' breathtaking portrayal of our 16th president, which is so authentic you expect him to step off the penny, Steven Spielberg's movie is still a triumph. Whether it's because of passionate performances from Sally Field (as Mary Todd Lincoln) and Tommy Lee Jones (as abolition-supporting Thaddeus Stevens), the dialogue which is funny and surprisingly on target for today's politically charged world, or the way you get so invested in the film you still hope it ends differently, the movie is far more than a long history lesson. Far more entertaining and emotionally compelling, too. Read my original review.

Moonrise Kingdom: This charmer from the king of quirk, Wes Anderson, should have been on the list of Best Picture nominees at this year's Oscars. A sweetly odd little movie set in 1965 on an island off the coast of New England, the movie follows young Khaki Scout Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), a foster child struggling with fitting in with the other scouts, as he disappears one night to meet his pen pal, Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), who has run away from her tumultuous home life to meet Sam and set off on a new life together. Anderson gives the runaways' encounters the right amount of humor, awkwardness, and poignancy, that moment when you realize there is someone out there who feels exactly the way you do. The movie definitely has its slapsticky moments, but it also has a lot of heart. Read my original review.

Django Unchained: Combining an homage to the old spaghetti westerns with the blaxploitation theme Quentin Tarantino loves to revisit, Django Unchained is amazingly violent (more so than Inglourious Basterds but less so than Kill Bill), hysterically funny, surprisingly astute, and unbelievably foul-mouthed. The story of the unlikely pairing of bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (the always magnificent Christoph Waltz) and Django, a slave (Jamie Foxx), on the hunt for Django's wife, who was bought by the odious plantation owner Calvin Candie (a loathsome Leonardo DiCaprio), the movie is a little too long but it's still worthy of a place in the Tarantino pantheon. Read my original review.

Silver Linings Playbook: Pat (Bradley Cooper) has had a run of bad luck, being hospitalized as part of a plea bargain after an incident that cost him his job, his marriage, his house, and his freedom. But now he is determined to change his life and live more positively—he exercises rigorously, tries to find the silver lining in every situation, and he is determined to make himself over into a better person, so he can rekindle his marriage and move out of his parents' (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) home. When Pat meets the equally troubled and recently widowed Tiffany (an incendiary, emotional Jennifer Lawrence), he is completely thrown for a loop by her manic mood swings and her desire to be his friend, which keeps him off balance. Skillfully skirts the line between humorous (even hysterically funny at times), poignant, and introspective. Read my original review.

Take This Waltz: A small, little-seen movie written and directed by actress Sarah Polley, it doesn't necessarily break any new ground, but Polley's script and her direction, as well as performances from Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, and Luke Kirby lift this movie far above the typical woman-in-love-with-two-men plot. Scenes of absolute simplicity and simple closeups of the actors' faces are tremendously moving and provide such insight into the complexities of the characters' relationships. So worth seeing. Read my original review.

Zero Dark Thirty: Kathryn Bigelow's superb film is the story of the decade-long hunt for bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks, the tireless efforts of the intelligence community to track down leads to his whereabouts, and the operation which brought SEAL Team 6 into Pakistan that night in May 2011. Jessica Chastain gives a quietly ferocious, Oscar-worthy performance as Maya, a dogged CIA analyst who is determined to find the trail that leads the agency to bin Laden. It's a movie for which you already know the ending, but that doesn't lessen its intensity or its power. It is sad this movie has been caught in controversy around its supposed endorsement of torture; I didn't feel that it celebrated torture but it was simply a portrayal of the techniques used in the intelligence world during that time. Read my original review.

Looper: Time travel figures prominently in Rian Johnson's smart, cool, bizarre, and intriguing film. Well, sort of. In 2044, when the movie takes place, time travel won't be invented for another 30 years. However, in the future, a shady crime syndicate, led by an evil mastermind known as The Rainmaker, has found a perfect way to corner the assassination market—they ship people back in time, where Mob-employed soldiers (called loopers) are waiting with clunky, powerful guns known as blunderbusses to shoot them dead. But sometimes the looper gets the simultaneously desired and unenviable assignment of killing their future self, or "closing the loop." It's desired because that ends your contract with the mob. But, umm, in 30 years, you're, well, dead. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a looper who finds himself at odds with his future self, played by Bruce Willis. Confusing but super cool. Read my original review.

Skyfall: The best Bond movie in the franchise's 50-year history. A tightly plotted, well-acted film packed with some action sequences which will leave you breathless, along with a little more introspection than you're used to with Bond films. Daniel Craig looks and acts the part with a weary gusto, and Javier Bardem plays an unhinged villain with a campy furor, yet affecting skill, which should have netted him an Oscar nod. Don't write this off as just another Bond film. While Skyfall does bring its usual bag of tricks, there's more to the movie than meets the bloody eye. It's heart-pounding fun that makes you think and feel, too. Read my original review.

Seven Psychopaths: Twisted, violent, hysterically funny, even surprisingly tender at times, and another movie which should have been seen by more people. Colin Farrell plays a struggling screenwriter with a drinking problem and writer's block. His, well, psychopathic best friend, played by Sam Rockwell, wants to help him write his latest screenplay, but then he gets caught up in his friend's scheme of kidnapping or, as he calls it, "borrowing" dogs, then returning them to the owners and getting paid a reward. This movie gleefully skewers movies, particularly gratuitously violent ones, while turning criminal stereotypes on their ears. Farrell and Rockwell are great, but Christopher Walken, who is at times a parody of every Walkenesque character he's played, steals the movie as a man with surprising depth and intelligence, resigned to the fate that lies in front of him. Read my original review.

10 Years: Maybe it's because I'm a sap, or maybe it's because my 25-year high school reunion is imminent (albeit a year later), but I really loved this movie about high school friends gathering for their 10-year reunion. It's funny and introspective without falling prey to the typical stereotypes of reunions. But what made the movie even more enjoyable was the fact that many of the actors have worked together in previous films, so their chemistry was genuine. Channing Tatum and Rosario Dawson play the couple everyone thought would stay together, both of whom have gotten on with their lives. Chris Pratt is the bully trying to make amends with those he wronged, while his long-suffering wife (played by Ari Graynor) watches in horror. Max Minghella and Justin Long are best friends and rivals who are both jealous of the life they think the other leads; Brian Geraghty never told his new wife he used to act like he was black; and Oscar Isaac plays the successful singer whose big hit was inspired by someone at the reunion. Fun and sweet. Read my original review.

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