While the large majority can come to an agreement on whether or not a film is good or bad, or pinpoint a particular element that exemplifies skillful filmmaking, for me, the reviewing process is still very personal. Some moviegoers prefer horror while others go for romance, some don’t mind a tearjerker while others would rather keep their emotions to themselves, and then there are the times when you just happen to walk into a movie and it strikes a chord because you just experienced something similar. Well, I certainly can’t speak to your big screen preferences, but I’m thrilled to share mine, a top ten that I’ve populated with quality films that have thrilled, entertained and/or moved me enough to make them some of my best memories of 2012.
Wouldn’t it be fun to grow up on New Penzance and run off into the woods with a cute boy and kitten in a bag? Well, I’m a little too old for a Khaki Scout, but at least I can live vicariously through Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop’s budding young romance in “Moonrise Kingdom.” While I do recognize most of Wes Anderson’s work as quality filmmaking, I often have trouble adjusting to his wildly unique characters and environments enough to establish a genuine connection to the material. However, in the case of “Moonrise Kingdom,” Anderson’s bold and beautiful style is as evident as ever, and while he paints a picture of an amusingly heightened reality, Sam and Suzy’s relationship is so charming and honest, it grounds the film just enough to offer up the best of both worlds and that left the doors wide open to come in and become wholly immersed in this world.
Great Quote: “Your girlfriend stabbed me in the back with lefty scissors.”
I love my sister very much, but, of course, we butt heads a bit – quite a bit, really – so the fact that “Your Sister’s Sister” had me running home after the credits, eager to tell my sister how much I really care about her leaves an indelible impression. Lynn Shelton presents a simple, well-structured script and keeps a light hand on the camera, letting her immensely talented cast shine big time. The large majority of the film plays out through one-on-one chats and table scenes, so compelling conversation is key and Shelton and co. deliver. Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt have the ideal degree of chemistry, all establishing their own connection with one another while also highlighting the group vibe, giving their relationships an incredible amount of depth, making them enjoyable and moving to see progress. “Your Sister’s Sister” will make you smile, laugh, and want to drink a bottle of tequila with a good friend all while melting your heart away.
Great Quote: “I really think your face is gonna annoy me right now.”
Emotion is great and all, but there’s nothing more frustrating than a movie that makes you cry via manipulation. When “The Impossible” began with that text reminding you it’s based on a true story only to fade to black, leaving just the words “true story” glowing on the screen, I was sure it would be 103 minutes of melodrama, however, not only did the film go on to earn each and every tear, but also became one of my favorites of the year. Moviegoers love Hollywood-style disaster films. I know I most certainly do! But rather than give “The Impossible” a boost, that sets it up to fail. Say what you want about Juan Antonio Bayona’s choice not to go with a Spanish cast, but, as a viewer, it in no way devalued the experience, letting Bayona’s representation of that catastrophic event tell the family’s story in the most respectful, exhilarating, and heart wrenching way possible. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor are fantastic, but this industry needs more Tom Holland!
Great Quote: “Even if it’s the last thing we do.”
I’m not going to lie; I was thrilled to death to catch “Magic Mike” for the commercial appeal alone – Channing Tatum and his sexy cohorts rocking it out as male strippers – but it’s so much more than that. After a dirty dancing and six pack-filled promotional campaign, it was easy to forget that “Magic Mike” is a Steven Soderbergh movie, and Soderbergh doesn’t hold back in the least reminding you with the full feature, ultimately making “Magic Mike” a mesmerizing big screen anomaly. It’s got the feel of a grand scale charmer, but there are countless nuances that scream deliberate and proficient filmmaking while also being so subtle. It isn’t until the credits role that you sit back and realize what a nice surprise the experience was and how deeply connected you were to the characters as people and not just the thrill of their profession.
Great Quote: “The law says you cannot touch, but I think I see a lotta lawbreakers up in this house.”
It’s a movie about a dude trapped on a boat with a tiger! How could this not be one of the great movies of the year? But in all seriousness, Suraj Sharma isn’t getting the attention he deserves for “Life of Pi.” The CGI Richard Parker is quite the achievement, but Sharma’s ability to play off a fake tiger and sell every single moment, basically carrying the entire film, is nothing less than incredible. But, of course, Ang Li deserves a major thumbs up for selling each and every element of the piece, from Pi’s wavering relationship with the tiger to the more fantastical portions of the story. Rather than putting the focus on Pi’s need to find safety before Richard Parker eats him, Li gives the adventure a noteworthy degree of dimension through Pi’s thoughts and emotions. It’s not just about survival. This experience means much more to Pi than that and that, in turn, gives the audience much more to think about, letting “Life of Pi” have a long-lasting impression.
Great Quote: “Animals have souls. I have seen it in their eyes.”
If I could be a fly on the wall during any scene of a 2012 movie, it’d undoubtedly be the elevator massacre in “The Cabin in the Woods.” Really, is there any horror movie out there that combines genre clichés with originality so well? The movie’s the ultimate two-for-one, offering up that good old secluded cabin in the middle of nowhere scenario while spicing it up with a wildly inventive and surprisingly believable reason for it all. (Or perhaps it’s more just wanting to believe, which is also fine by me.) You’re rooting for poor Dana and her helpless friends to survive, but you also want Hadley and Sitterson to take them out so they can top the Japanese. Then again, Hadley and Sitterson get bonus points for the wonderfully sadistic and entertaining ways they go about killing their victims, so their cause wins out the slightest bit. Is it going too far to call “Cabin in the Woods” horror-lover porn? I’m leaning towards a no.
Great Quote: “Yes, you had Zombies, but this is Zombie Redneck Torture Family. Entirely separate thing. It’s like the difference between an elephant and an elephant seal.”
“Sinister” had me with its sick and twisted way of saying hello, opening with a minute that feels like ten of watching a helpless family dangling from a tree by their necks. The “Sinister” mini movies alone are more than enough to keep you up at night, but then director Scott Derrickson also offers up a disturbing original story, horrifying imagery, and a powerful lead performance from Ethan Hawke to make it all feel real. From beginning to end, we’re trapped in that house with Ellison. You know something terrible is going down, but the thought of this murder inspiring Ellison’s next big true crime novel makes you want him to dig deeper. But, of course, this is a horror movie so there comes the time when you’re itching to yell at the screen and tell Ellison to reconsider his priorities. It makes for a nice surprise when he actually obliges – in the best and worst ways. I’ve got a “Sinister” poster hanging in my apartment and you know who is on it, so maybe I shouldn’t move out anytime soon.
Great Quote: “Don’t worry, Daddy. I’ll make you famous again.”
“The Hunger Games” is my most-viewed movie of 2012 and for good reason. Sure, I’m obsessed with Suzanne Collins’ books and do a great deal of writing on the material, but my love of the source has nothing to do with the film version making the list. Gary Ross took a mere $80 million (a low number compared to the major’s all-too-frequent $200 million+ budgets) and turned it into one of the highest-grossing films of the year, and one of quality at that! Ross and co. just absolutely nail the adaptation process. He never undermines the gravity of the Hunger Games, making the event compelling in and of itself, but also does a superb job of putting the audience in Katniss’ shoes, making the experience personal and upping the emotion tenfold. And who can talk “Hunger Games” without gushing over Jennifer Lawrence? Had the studio miscast the role of Katniss Everdeen, it would have been detrimental, but not only did they land the perfect Katniss, they found an actress who would ultimately go on to soar far beyond expectations. Not only is “The Hunger Games” my third best movie of 2012, but it is the most re-watchable movie of the year, hitting the same beats with a notable amount of intensity over and over again.
Great Quote: “I’m here to help you make an impression.”
While you don’t want to think of the task of killing Osama bin Laden as entertainment, “Zero Dark Thirty” is a movie and a movie’s got to be entertaining, especially at a running time of 157 minutes. Clearly not an easy task with an issue that hits homes for many, but Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal handle every element of the process so delicately that they create an enthralling and entertaining experience while also honoring and respecting the facts. Jessica Chastain’s Maya is pleasant, but leaves just enough room to let you somewhat pity her for handing her entire life over to her job. Then again, she also manages to establish a firm enough connection between the character and the viewer, compelling you to root for her and go along with anything she says. Tack on the fact that it’s impossible to sit through “Zero Dark Thirty” without feeling the effects of the film’s true roots and you end up with the ideal adaptation, a piece that takes the true event and amplifies it with a lesser-known side of the story.
Great Quote: “I’m the mother***er who found this place.”
Top-notch filmmaking, an endlessly entertaining experience and almost overwhelmingly moving. The second I walked out of “Silver Linings Playbook,” I knew it’d be a tough one to beat. Bradley Cooper gives Pat this fantastic push and pull. You’re well aware of his diagnosis yet still hope he gets what he wants, so when Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany steps into the picture, you’ve still got your fingers crossed Pat’s wife will take him back, but are also being increasingly charmed by Tiffany. What results is this wonderful quirky, deep connection between the characters that makes one person’s arc totally reliant on the other’s, an achievement that can only result from the best of performances. Cooper is excellent, but Lawrence does it again. Even while drowning in “Hunger Games” fame, Lawrence has no trouble embodying another character to the fullest extent. Tiffany is impulsive and a bit too blunt, but Lawrence keeps her likable enough and then infuses her with a degree of vulnerability that just melts your heart and hope she gets what she wants, or, rather, deserves. “Silver Linings Playbook” is part romantic comedy, part drama, part family film and even a little feel-good sports movie, too, and, in the end, it leaves you with only the most satisfying assets of each.
Great Quote: “You say more inappropriate things than appropriate things.”
5. SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN
Stellar production design and visual effects come nowhere close to saving “Snow White and the Huntsman” from its train wreck of a script and unemotional lead. Hands down one of the slowest films of the year, what could have made for a decent 90-minute fantasy action flick turns into a miserable bore drowning in dead air and nonsensical transitions. Making the film even more of a snooze is the fact that Stewart looks just as bored acting in it as the audience feels watching it.
4. CLOUD ATLAS
Yet again, great set design, visual effects, makeup and costume work, but all of it ultimately amounts to no more than a boring gimmick. Rather than use the multi-narrative format in a way to enhance each and every story, it makes “Cloud Atlas” feel disjointed and basically just winds up repeating what the trailer told us six times over – we’re all connected. Even worse, it never even makes you believe it. You’re better off just watching the trailer and stepping in for the last two minutes of the film when they present a montage revealing which characters each actor plays – further solidifying the whole thing as a gimmick.
3. ANNA KARENINA
Pretty picture with a lame story and poor pacing all over again. “Anna Karenina” might have been my most painful experience at the theater all year. The ultimate watch-checker, I couldn’t wait for the credits to role so I didn’t have to hear Keira Knightley blather on about her romantic woes for another second more. You get to choose between Jude Law and Aaron Johnson; are you really complaining? Just pick one and get on with your on with your life. Don’t drown us all in your self-created sorrows.
2. THIS MEANS WAR
How does a script like this go on to get financed? And how does it go on to attract talent like Chris Pine and Tom Hardy? There’s nothing wrong with a run-of-the-mill romance romp for Valentine’s Day, but “This Means War” is nonsensical garbage. McG seems to have lost his sense of proper shot composition, Reese Witherspoon continues to carry on acting even without the talent she lost years ago, and Pine manages to create the least likeable leading man of the year. Thank you Tom Hardy for giving “This Mean War” at least one nice thing to look at.
1. TIM & ERIC’S BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE
This movie should not exist, plain and simple. “Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie” isn’t just unfunny, poorly made and downright ridiculous; it’s so bad it’s nearly impossible to watch. There’s nothing pleasant, charming or even relatable about Tim and Eric, and their little adventure is so preposterous, it’s impossible to get on board even if you tried. Top that of with the fact that it’s weird and grotesque to the point of being truly troubling and you’ve got absolutely no reason whatsoever to even consider allowing yourself to suffer through this atrocity.
Happy and healthy New Year, Shockya readers! Until 2013!