Before I begin my list, I'd like to stress that ranking films you love in a numbered list is often arbritary and debatable. It's hard to say before the number one spot which films are better than others, but here goes.
10) 21 Jump Street- The key word I would use for describing my enjoyment of this film is surprise. I was surprised at just how clever and refreshingly meta the script was. On paper, a comedic version of 21 Jump Street sounds excruciating and forced. This movie plays with the fact that Hollywood is running out of ideas and toys with the expectations of the audience. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill's comedic banter invigorate this movie with hilarious, crude and somehow sweet moments of cinematic gold. This movie is no masterpiece, but brilliant comedies are not recognized by critics and awards shows often enough. 21 Jump Street is a rare comedy that holds up on multiple viewings and consistently entertains.
9) Life of Pi- Ang Lee's latest directorial effort features some of the most visually creative and gorgeous sequences I saw in 2012. It is one of the few films that uses 3D perfectly and it is genuinely immersive. Like other great films, the film is overflowing with symbolism and just the right amount of ambiguity. Somehow, the simple tale of a boy lost at sea with a tiger touches on faith, morality and the human spirit without being pretentious. Also, it's good to see largely unknown Indian actors like Suraj Sharma and Irrfhan Khan get top billing in a big-budget Hollywood movie.
8) Seven Psychopaths- Playwright turned screenwriter Martin McDonagh gave us one of the most entertaining films of the year with Seven Psychopaths. McDonagh assembled an impressive cast, with great actors like Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Colin Farrell and Sam Rockwell all doing some of their best work. This film has clear influences from Tarantino, but it manages to be tighter and more creative than many of Tarantino's own films. All I can say is this movie will surely entertain those moviegoers who love dark humor, bloody violence and killer dialogue.
7) The Grey- January is usually a rough month for movies, but The Grey broke the start of the year curse. Liam Neeson seems born to play the grizzled John Ottway, a man coming face to face with death. This film was a modest box office success and received mostly positive reviews, but it deserved even greater praise in my opinion. It is equal parts morality drama, horror film and survival thriller. This movie is thrilling, thought provoking and tragic and I was gripped from start to finish.
6) Moonrise Kingdom- Wes Anderson's sepia toned, surreal and sweet comedy-drama posits that children have a better perspective on things then all those pesky adults. Moonrise Kingdom is a touching love story between two children set in small town New England. This film has possibly the best cast of any movie made this year. Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Francis McDormand, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton are just some of the top notch performers who bring their A-game to this film. Crucially, the two child actors at the center of the story are genuine and impressive. Exquisitely shot, wonderfully acted and beautifully scored, Moonrise Kingdom is a gem.
5) Looper- This film is a great example of effective science fiction. The world of the movie is fully realized, the script is tight and there are no easy answers. Without giving away the plot twists of the film, I was constantly thinking about the morality of the characters and the justifications they give for their violent actions. Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt play the same character, but at different ages (time travel).They appear together in one of the year's best scenes. The two have a tension filled conversation in a diner and so much is revealed about the character they are playing. Top all this off with a compelling ending and you have an excellent science fiction film.
4) The Dark Knight Rises- Plot holes and slight overlength aside, no film was as viscerally entertaining this year as Christopher Nolan's conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy. I saw this movie four times in theaters and once in IMAX. Nolan's focus on practical effects rather than overuse of CGI, lends weight and impressive scale to the film's action sequences. Besides the large-scale brawls and explosions, this movie has a real story to tell and is way smarter than most action films that are made today. Tom Hardy creates a menacing hulk of a villain with the masked terrorist Bane and Christian Bale gives us everything we could ask for from an actor playing the caped crusader. I laughed, I got goosebumps, and yes, I cried, all during a film about a guy who dressed up like a bat and fights crime.
3) Skyfall- The best Bond movie ever made features Daniel Craig's best performance as Bond and the best cinematography a Bond film has ever boasted. The film manages to both explore the character of Bond in interesting and creative ways and wow the audience with appropriately extravagant action set pieces. Javier Bardem is a memorable Bond villain and Judi Dench is finally given more screen time as M. True to Ian Fleming's original novels, the movie has a tragic ending. It's very refreshing to see a Bond who doesn't get away unscathed. The Bond films have never been better and I can't wait for the next Daniel Craig Bond outing.
2) The Cabin in the Woods- I don't want to give away the joys of this film to those who have not seen it yet. All I will say is this movie is not what you expect it to be. It is subversive, bizarre and totally original. For me, it was one of my favorite experiences in a theater this year. Horror buffs will love this movie's attention to detail and will bathe in its gory delights.
1) Argo- Somehow Ben Affleck has gone from being a bad actor (except in Good Will Hunting) to one of the best directors working today. His first two directorial efforts, Gone Baby Gone and The Town, were both solid thrillers, but Argo is his best work by far. In Argo, Affleck casted a string of great characters like Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman. I don't know how Affleck was able to do this, but Argo manages to be incredibly intense and uproariously funny without forcing either tone too much. I love this film because it recreates history brilliantly, it celebrates the joys of moviemaking and satirizes Hollywood itself. Argo is quite an achievement and I can't think of any other film this year that engaged me on every level like this film did.
As I look back at this year as a whole, I find that there were not any films I truly fell in love with, even when I greatly enjoyed them. 2011 was a year that produced some films that I absolutely adored. I look at films like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Tree of Life, The Guard and 50/50 and I can't really find any films that equal their greatness this year.
I wouldn't call 2012 a bad year at the movies, just an average one. Some films heaped with critical praise like Lincoln, Django Unchained and The Master proved to be good but not great in my opinion. The biggest problem I experienced with films in 2012 was overlength. Films like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Django Unchained and Lincoln all could have been great films with some tighter editing. 2011 produced some masterpieces in my opinion, but I didn't see one in 2012. I am still holding out hope that Zero Dark Thirty will be a great film, but I have yet to see it.
I hope you enjoyed my reviews in 2012 and I look forward to blogging more often in 2013. Have a happy New Year and keep enjoying the movies!