2012 was a great year for movies… mostly. And if following movie blogs and whatnot has taught me anything, it's that nothing leads to discord and anger more than a bunch of awesome things to rank and argue about.
Because there were so many good movies, my list is a bit… Super sized, and split up into two posts. This one will cover the first 8, and the second (coming in a few days) will cover the top 10.
So… here we go. My top of the year.
Directed by Tom Hooper
Written by William Nicholson, based on the Musical, based on the Novel... ad infinitum
I was dreading this movie. Tom Hooper's one of those directors, like Stephen Daldry, that I just feel antagonistic towards for Academy-Award-related reasons. "The King's Speech" was, in my view, a crappily-directed movie saved by great performances, and while he himself talked up the risk of taking of "Les Misérables", it always felt to me like an annoyingly safe post-Oscar awards grab. Coming off an incredibly safe, formulaically-Oscar-baity movie, he turned to a story that not only had been adapted dozens of times, but also was based on a story and music that people already loved. All that said, I was pleasantly surprised. Hooper seems like a director in love with his own style, obsessed with the just-off-center, wallpaper-focused framing that grated on me so much in "The King's Speech" -- here, it's run rampant, but it works in a lot of places, somehow. It fits with the story of desperate people in a way that it couldn't in the former movie. That being said, it has a limit. While Hathaway's section of the movie is great, and her rendition of "I Dream a Dream", all in one extreme close up, works, it doesn't the third and fourth time he tries it. And, yes, some of the cinematography has that unfortunate deep-focus shakiness that accompanies a student filmmaker using a DSLR for the first time. Overall, though, the movie works -- by the skin of its teeth, and it has a lot of problems: sedentary musical numbers, running time, tendency to minimize parts of the story that should feel epic, etc. I could talk for a while about this, but I'll just move on.
Written & Directed by Leslye Headland
I was never that big on "Bridesmaids", and to me, "Bachelorette" is the better film. It feels like the darker, cynical French comedy that was softened and remade into "Bridesmaids". All the characters, pretty much, are terrible people, but watching them bounce off each other is uncomfortable and hilarious. Plus it allowed me to imagine, just a second, that "Party Down" lives on whenever Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan shared a scene.
Written and Directed by The Wachowskis & Tom Tykwer
Maybe the most ambitious movie on this list. And it's a mess. But a good mess -- a mess that is enjoyable to watch. There are plenty of really good scenes within the movie, when it speeds up, when the cross-cutting quickens -- essentially becoming a montage within a macro montage -- it can be dazzling. It had some good performances, and -- as to be expected from the Wachowskis -- excellent special effects, but overall it never gelled in the way it felt like it was meant to, and thus the final product feels muddled and meandering. Immediately after, I thought it would be this year's "The Tree of Life" -- ambitious and polarizing. And, it kind of has been, though it has become a little forgotten since its release, and like "The Tree of Life", I'm on the fence. I have issues with it, but I can admire its ambition.
Directed by Christopher Kenneally
This may be the geekiest movie I have on this list, but it was entertaining and informative. It's about the changeover in the film industry from 35mm film and HD video, and the war between the traditionalists (Christopher Nolan, cinematographers as a whole) and the HD-supporters (Stephen Soderbergh, David Lynch, etc). While it never (disappointingly) shows the two actually side-by-side, it still was a well-made documentary that turns an extremely dry, esoteric subject matter and makes it fun. Plus, it's the best thing Keanu Reeves has done in years.
Directed by Ben Affleck
Written by Chris Terrio
I know people love "Argo". I just can't, for whatever reason. It was well done, it had good acting, some great direction… but for whatever reason, I found it kind of unmemorable. The opening scene at the embassy was great, and some stuff in Hollywood with Alan Arkin and John Goodman was too -- and the final airport sequence -- but overall I just liked it. I didn't love it. The middle parts of the movie had a tendency to feel plodding, and the comedy sometimes didn't gel fully with the drama.
Written and Directed by Joss Whedon
Kind of feel the same with this one as I do with Argo. It had its moments, and I enjoyed it while I was in it, but I didn't think much about it afterwards. It was a fun ride, watching the characters argue was great, and the action battles were cool (though ironically, I don't think they were all that good beyond the Hero shot and the long-shot, just felt like a lot of CGI running around). Joss Whedon deserves credit for taking something that could have been simply egregious fan service and turning it into a well-made movie, but the ambition seems to stop there. It doesn't have that final push that would make it great (maybe a better threat than Loki and easily-killable Chituari? More about that semi-villanous shadowy organization?).
Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Fran Walsh & Phillipa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo Del Toro
"The Hobbit" feels like it's the odd mix of a couple different methods of approaching adapting the book: you have the intense epic of "Lord of the Rings", the comical adventure of the novel, and, occasionally glimpsed, a more gothic visual sense that stuck around from the del Toro days. So it feels a bit uneven stylistically, and the decision to spread the book into 3 movies makes the story feel stretched to its breaking point. Still there's a lot to like: Martin Freeman is a perfectly-cast Bilbo Baggins (just as he was a perfectly cast Arthur Dent... come to think of it, the two are very similar), seeing Gandalf the Grey again is great, and the battles manage to be exciting without feeling derivative of the previous trilogy, the final battle being the best. Despite the fact that there are thirteen dwarves, making them near-impossible to remember individually (other than Thorin), they each have a distinctive personality that makes them fun to watch. Despite those qualities... there's still the 48-frames-per-second-sized elephant in the room. Others didn't have a problem with it, but I'm not a believer. 48 FPS isn't "new" innovation -- the ability to shoot at high frame rates has been around for decades -- so much as it is an old one used to theoretically patch problems with 3D and make the movie feel more immersive, but in the end it still feels off, because it lacks the natural motion blur we'd see in real life. As a result, it feels too quick, like a hyper-reality. That being said, it fades away eventually and you don't notice it (until you do, and it takes you out of it). For now, it's an interesting experiment, but not one that I think is "the future" in any way.
Directed by Josh Trank
Written by Max Landis, from a story by Max Landis & Josh Trank
This was a movie that had no right, on paper, to being good. It mixed two genres that are feeling increasingly played-out, the superhero-origin movie and the found-footage movie. On top of that, it added in some potentially-trite teenage angst (which can easily turn out crappy. See: Amazing Spider-Man, The). But somehow, someway, the movie was great -- mostly because it focused on character-building. The film created three believable, nuanced characters, then threw super powers at them. It's character, rather than plot driven: there's no alien force that lands to take on the new heroes, nor does the source of their powers rear its head in the final act, as in so many other origin stories. As a result, when the inevitable superpower battle came, it had stakes and emotion. A very well done movie, even if it did suffer from some of the more annoying movie clichés as the movie progressed.
Well, that's it for part 1! Part 2 can be found here.