The 8 Ball 01.22.13: The Top 16 Films of 2012 (#16 – #9)
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!
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Welcome back to the 8 Ball year in review, loyal readers! Over the last couple of weeks, we have cleansed our palettes with a look at the worst films of the year, and now it is time to look at the best. From violent revenge films and giant budget superhero extravaganzas to quiet love stories and more, 2012 delivered great films in just about every genre. It has been said many times how good of a year 2012 was for film and it is very true; this week and next week, we will look at those films that truly rose to the top to be the best of a very good year.
Caveat: The only real caveat for this list is that there were a scant few movies that I did not have the opportunity to see that could have made this list such as The Master, The Impossible and The Sessions, as well as some documentaries (Bully, Searching for Sugar Man) and some foreign films (The Intouchables, Holy Motors). I am fairly confident otherwise that I saw most of the films which had a good shot of making this list.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Raid: Redemption
Safety Not Guaranteed
Wes Anderson is a filmmaker who inspires a very particular kind of reaction, depending on who you are. Each of his films, from 1996’s Bottle Rocket all the way through to 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, make use of idiosyncratic characters and Anderson’s own off-beat sense of humor to create stories that are emotionally poignant but often require patience to appreciate the way they are intended to be. For many, his best work is 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums, a dryly witty affair that mixes comedy, sentiment and drama in such a way that it can be difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. Moonrise Kingdom may not quite reach the heights of the Tenenbaum clan’s tale but it comes closer than any film he’s done since. Anderson’s screenplay, co-written with Roman Coppola, contains the precocious children and emotionally-stunted adults that are a hallmark of his films but treats them in a more warmly textured way. The young romance that forms between Kara Hayward’s Suzy and Jared Gilman’s Sam is incredibly sweet without being saccharine, and the strange convergence of events they bring about makes for a lot of great humor. Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand and Bruce Willis are all excellent in their roles and fit Anderson’s particular cadence well (no surprise on Murray’s part; this is his sixth Anderson film). This may not bring Anderson too many converts but it is his second-best film to date and another triumph in his resume.
Let’s be frank in regard to Lincoln, ladies and gentlemen; anything less than a great film out of this would have been quite the disappointment. Few people would have heard the idea of Steven Spielberg directing Daniel Day-Lewis in the role of one of the greatest, most revered presidents in United States history and thought anything less than an Oscar sweep. And it certainly looks like it might pull it off. Whether it truly deserves all those nominations is a hotly-debated topic among some, but there are some aspects about it that no one can deny. Getting the obvious out of the way, Day-Lewis’ performance as the sixteenth president is nothing short of astounding. Set the purely physical aspect aside. It is Day-Lewis’ presence that really impresses, even for someone with as honored a resume as his. Lewis is able to take the many parts that Lincoln had to be and combine them into one portrayal in a way that made us believe it, and he did so with flying colors. Day-Lewis’ Lincoln is able to be a master negotiator when he needs to; there are times when he seems downright fatherly with the way he tells his stories. And then there are the moments where a fire burns inside of him and he unleashes a startling force of personality that takes you aback. It all melds together beautifully. But Lincoln is more than just a single fantastic performance. The acting by Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook and more are uniformly excellent; the script manages to build suspense around the efforts to get the Thirteenth Amendment, an event that we all know the outcome of. Tony Kushner’s script may have Lincoln academics irritated but in terms of basing a political drama it is top-notch. The production aspects are pain-staking in their authenticity and while there are some times where the story bogs down for brief moments, on the whole it is a welcome return to form for Spielberg.
Forget all the slasher films, the psychological thrillers and the ghost stories; for me, no one film in 2012 scared me more than Michael Haneke’s Amour. For my money there is nothing more frightening than watching the love of one’s life slowly degenerate in mind and body without the ability to do anything to stop it. That’s the story of this French film, which is deservedly nominated for a host of Oscars this year. Haneke is a filmmaker who always instills a gut reaction of one kind or another in those who know his work. Whether we’re talking about the thriller Caché, the psychological torment of both versions of Funny People or the haunting drama of The White Ribbon, Haneke’s films are far from what one would call “popcorn films”; they twist and challenge the viewer in often-uncomfortable ways. Amour does that as well, but in a different way. This film is easily Haneke’s most emotionally honest and heartfelt film to date; while the events that take place in the film are not always easy to witness, they are handled with a delicacy and humanity that blunts the discomfort without lifting the emotional core of the film away. Haneke’s script is careful and precise in its dialogue, while Jean-Louis Trintignant and especially Emmanuelle Riva are riveting as Georges and Anne, the elderly couple who find themselves in a difficult situation following a stroke on Anne’s part. This is a love story and an exquisite one that asks some important questions of the viewer regarding the nature of love and devotion. This is not a film I am likely to see more than once, but I almost couldn’t imagine not having seen it at this point.
The Hobbit films were almost primed to fail right out of the gate. This is not to say that the films do not have the right talent behind them; far from it. But there was already one strike against them considering how highly-regarded the Lord of the Rings trilogy is in that it set expectations incredibly high for the follow-up. The series of calamities that followed–MGM’s bankruptcy, lawsuits by the Tolkiens against New Line for profits from the first trilogy, Guillermo Del Toro signing on and eventually departing the project when it seemed near-dead, a pre-production dispute with International Federation of Actors and so on–made it seem as if the project was cursed. Despite all the odds though, Peter Jackson soldiered through and eventually took up the reins himself to deliver the product we all prayed he was capable of giving us. This is a nearly-three hour film (a source of much contention among some critics), but it doesn’t feel like it’s a three-hour film because it never drags. Instead of drawing things out to expand the book into multiple films, Jackson takes the elements of the story that are told only in passing in the book and depicts them on the screen, which surprisingly doesn’t slow down the film. As a side note, it is important to note that I have only seen the film in the 24 fps format and not the 48 fps “High Frame-Rate” version, so I cannot judge that but the film itself is well-acted, incredibly faithful to the source material, often exciting and, to put it more succinctly, exactly what we hoped for. Martin Freeman makes an excellent Bilbo, Ian McKellan slips back into Gandalf with ease and the cast of dwarves are all very good. If it’s only crime is that it isn’t quite as good as Fellowship of the Ring or Return of the King, those are very light crimes indeed.
It has often been said that video game adaptations are cursed to be low-quality affairs. From Super Mario Bros. and Max Payne to the Tomb Raider films, the works of Uwe Boll and so on it seems like there are few out there that truly understands how to turn a video game franchise into a successful film. Perhaps then it isn’t surprising that the best video game-based movie would come from an original storyline not specifically related to an actual game. Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph triumphs where so many others have failed for a variety of reasons. First off, the fact that it is not actually based on a particular game means that screenwriters Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee (working from a story by Johnston, Jim Reardon and director Rich Moore) were not beholden to any expectations to “get the source right.” Free of those constraints, they were able to craft a storyline that draws inspiration from many games and pokes fun at certain video game aspects without going so far as to alienate gamers. The story of Ralph’s journey to try and prove himself a hero is a great one and the characters he meets along the way, from Jane Lynch’s Sergeant Calhoun and Alan Tudyk’s King Candy to (of course) Sarah Silverman’s Vanellope are well-written and voiced. This is quite possibly the least annoying that Silverman has ever been on a comedic level; on a side note this year I grew to respect Silverman quite a bit more between this and her work as an alcoholic in Take That Waltz. Of course the cameos by actual video game characters are all well-done and give us gamers something to appreciate, but this is more than just a movie that is great for gamers. It’s a great movie that gamers can appreciate on another level.
I know that this will be the most divisive placement on this part of the list by far. It has come to a point where we as film critics and columnists know that wherever we place Christopher Nolan’s final Dark Knight film, it will be immediately scrutinized above all other films, especially how it compares to the placement or evaluation of The Avengers. What you have to realize is this: as people who write about film, we all know and acknowledge two things about this particular film. The first is that there will be roughly 45% of our audience who will accuse us of rating it too low. The second is that there will be roughly 45% of our audience who will accuse us of rating it too highly. And another 10% who just won’t care either way. That’s exactly how divisive this film is, and in many cases–including this one–causing that level of division is the mark of a great film. I know I’m going to sound cliché and trite in using this phrase in relation to this film, but it doesn’t make it any less true; much like Jim Gordon’s words at the end of The Dark Knight, Nolan did not necessarily give us the Dark Knight trilogy finale that we wanted, but he did give us the one that we needed. Is it a perfect film? No, not at all. There are plot holes, and there are moments that could have been done a bit better. But most of these are incredibly minor and many of the more vocal complaints are somewhat nitpicky. Christian Bale gives his best performance yet and while Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy don’t match the brilliance of Heath Ledger’s work as the Joker, they are excellent in their own right. Nolan stays true to his vision and as he did with the first two films, takes what he needs from Batman mythology to craft the best movie that he can. The action set pieces are exceptional, the visual style of the film is what we’ve come to expect and this met my expectations. I know that isn’t the case for everybody, but for my money this was the right way to end the trilogy.
I’ve said it before, and it holds true now; I’m a sucker for a good romantic comedy. I always have been, and I probably always will. Before you go calling for my man card (which, if I were to hand it over whenever someone demanded, would have been gone twenty times over years ago), I need to point out one of the key words in that sentence: I’m a sucker for a good romantic comedy. Much of the sitcom-like set-ups that Hollywood haphazardly throws together for its rom-coms barely passes as comedy and certainly wouldn’t pass as romantic. It takes a deft touch and a strong sensibility to make a really great romantic comedy, and David O. Russell pulled it off exceptionally well here. Russell’s tale of tentative love between damaged people is funny, witty and heartfelt thanks to excellent writing and a great job behind the camera by Russell, but even more so by what goes on in front of the camera. Bradley Cooper is the kind of actor who you just knew had real greatness in him, no matter how many Hangover Part II’s, Valentine’s Day’s and All About Steve’s that he piled onto his resume for a paycheck. As the bipolar Pat, Cooper is able to channel the darkness he’s shown glimpses of in films like Midnight Meat Train and The Wedding Crashers into brilliance. Pat is a character who you both sympathize with and are put off by, while Jennifer Lawrence gives the best performance of her young career as the widow and recovering sex addict with whom Pat finds a connection. Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver are both quite good as Cooper’s parents and Chris Tucker shows up for his first film in five years, delivering decent work. Russell keeps things just offbeat enough to make the ending less than predictable, which allows us to get taken away by Cooper and Lawrence on their emotional journey. It is a great romantic comedy and even with The Fighter on his resume, it may be Russell’s greatest work to date.
Spoiler alert for the rest of the list: Seven Psychopaths is the funniest pure comedy of the year. It’s just that simple. There are films with comedic elements that are ranked higher, but it is Martin McDonagh’s oddball and madcap story of Hollywood writers, hitmen, kidnapped dogs and mentally damaged individuals that pulled the best pure laughs out of me in 2012. McDonagh, of course, was best known for 2009’s In Bruges before this, which similarly took a darkly comedic look at crime and criminals. With Psychopaths, McDonagh tops himself through the story of Marty (Colin Farrell), a struggling writer who wants to finish his screenplay but just has a vague idea and a title: “Seven Psychopaths.” Leave it to his friend Billy (Sam Rockwell), who kidnaps dogs and returns them to their owners for profit along with his partner Hans (Christopher Walken), to help him out with that. McDonagh has been compared to Quentin Tarantino and while it is meant to be a compliment, it also does the former a disservice. McDonagh is more than just the most talented of the would-be Tarantinos; he is a director of his own style and with the leash let out he really shines here. Colin Farrell does great work as the everyman of this story but it is Rockwell, Walken and Woody Harrelson as Charlie as the murderous mobster Charlie who really get a chance to bring the humor. The exchanges between Farrell and any combination of those three actors brings about laughter, while McDonagh keeps us jumping from here to there with side tales of Amish revenge, Buddhist killers and serial killer killers. This film always keeps you guessing and always keeps you laughing, elements that combine into a potent mix to make it my favorite comedy of 2012.
Note: Now that I am caught up to current, I have gone back to watch the episodes that have become available in the US since I started watching and thus were previously unavailable to me (thus why I have episodes remaining despite being caught up).
Current Series/Season: Season Nine (1971)
Episodes Watched: 593
Last Serial Completed: Day of the Daleks – The Doctor and Jo are sent by UNIT to investigate reports of a ghost appearance in a house where a critical peace conference is being held that could prevent world war. Before long they are plunged ahead 200 years into a future where the Daleks reign supreme over Earth, with a small human resistance with a way to jump back to the past their (and mankind’s) only hope for aid.
Surviving Episodes Remaining: 36
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.