Heroes and fools assemble: The best films of 2012

By Tim Posada, 1/10/2013


Come top 10 time, it’s easy to embellish the moviegoing experience — make yourself appear more “cultured” by namedropping a French film from Cannes or finding an excruciating flick — “Les Miz”, perhaps — and waxing positive about it, proving you “get it.”

“The Avengers” from left are Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Chris Evans (Captain America), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk), and Robert Downey Jr. as “Iron Man”. (photo courtesy of Disney Pictures)

I’m, of course, referring to critics and the occasional insecure hipster determining what everyone should care about in the pretentious battle over taste. Answering to an audience can change one’s take on the year’s “best,” or simply create a tragic case of denial. Having said that, I’d like to think I remain true to myself rather than Bourgeoisie obligation, presenting a list relevant to thoughtful movie lovers and those who just go for a good time.

Many critically acclaimed films are missing here. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is thoughtful in its attempt to create a post-Hurricane Katrina story à la “Pan’s Labyrinth”, but sparse fantasy elements and disjointed pacing result in an artful film too immature to make the cut. “Lincoln” gets close, but sometimes its own self importance clouds more concise narrative choices. And I have to agree with Mr. Sam Jackson: it had a better ending 10 minutes earlier. Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom”, while fun, hardly screams, “I’m worth remembering year after year”; it’s cute — charming, but little more. And then there’s “Looper”, a fun time-travel film, at best, that’s receiving far too much attention. The best sci-fi film since “The Matrix”, calm down.

As for those below, this list best exemplifies what the most popular of 2012 offered and what we all might’ve missed along the way.

Charlie (Logan Lerman), Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) appeared in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”. (photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment)

Perhaps the most noticeable commonality among several of them is length. Rather than cut stories short, many took their time. Action films like “Skyfall” and “The Avengers” each clocked in at more than 140 minutes, while “The Dark Knight Rises”, “Django Unchained” and “Zero Dark Thirty” neared three hours. When theorists declare the end of long-form media and other critics complain that actioners run drag, this trend — especially among high-grossing films — proves people will sit longer if the story’s compelling.

From superheroes, spies and historical figures to confused teens and unbalanced young adults, these films range across the thematic board through escapism, historical reevaluation and cinematic inspiration. May we take the proper time to search for reel truth amidst disheveled reality, but let us also remember to simply unwind and enjoy the cinematic spectacle when we can.

10. “Silver Linings Playbook” (David O. Russell): Between Bradley Cooper’s lack of a vocal filter as Pat and Jennifer Lawrence’s “goth-girl-esque” charm as Tiffany, few films capture the anxiety, awkwardness and occasional joy of chemical imbalance like this one.

9. “21 Jump Street” (Phil Lord and Chris Miller/“Chronicle” (Josh Trank): What do young beat cops disguised as high schoolers and teens with extraterrestrial superpowers have in common? Their joint adolescent anxiety. Few films capture the humorous and sincere pitfalls of growing up in such original ways.

8. “Argo” (Ben Affleck): Extraction from Iran under the guise of a film crew for a sci-fi film — yes, please tell this declassified CIA ops story. And director Affleck does so with the pizzazz of a seasoned filmmaker.

7. “The Dark Knight Rises” (Christopher Nolan): Hardly a perfect film, and far less satisfying than “The Dark Knight” — still, Nolan’s conclusion to the “Batman” saga provides a memorable end to the epic battle for the soul of Gotham City, along with a complex web of new characters — like Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman and Tom Hardy’s Bane — blending well with oh-so-many familiar ones.

6. “Django Unchained” (Quentin Tarantino): “Inglorious Basterds” infuriated me. Lately, Tarantino’s films have been as predictable as the fate of protagonists in Martin Scorsese’s films, misery (save “Hugo”). But “Django” surprised me. The master of postmodern film actually tells a surprisingly chronological story that feels narratively concise and still darkly hysterical, all the while depicting a more complex Civil War provocation than “Lincoln”.

5. “Zero Dark Thirty” (Kathryn Bigelow): Rather than create a piece of American propaganda, “The Hurt Locker” director, Bigelow, hits on familiar themes of isolation and sacrifice in the treacherous search for Osama bin Laden. Don’t expect a high-octane ride through caves in the Middle East for the infamous terrorist; this is a story of emotional dedication as characters sift through intelligence files for patterns. The final assault is but one part of the decade-long hunt that claimed many lives, in body and in soul.

4. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (Stephen Chbosky): Most people missed this indie gem. Starring Emma Watson (yep, Hermione) alongside a talented cast portraying high schoolers, “Perks” functions as both a coming-of-age tale and a striking examination of teen angst following childhood abuse and trauma. It’s inspiring, like “The Breakfast Club” and “Garden State”, unless you’re an adult viewer, then it’s wonderfully nostalgic.

3. “The Cabin in the Woods” (Drew Goddard): I’m gonna use a term nobody likes: meta. Yet, that’s the only appropriate way to explain this satire on all horror films — a “metahorror” film that’s incredibly smart without the condescension, and outrageously funny. “Cabin” is a cult classic sure to enter the midnight movie circuit next to “Rocky Horror Picture Show”.

2. “Skyfall” (Sam Mendes): Never has James Bond been this vulnerable. Director Mendes adds haunting poetry to the list of gadgets up 007’s sleeve in the most epic and profitable Bond film to date. Intense: check. Well acted: check. Great villain and surprisingly sincere for an international man of mystery: check, check. I’ll drink my shaken-not-stirred martini to this Bond over the old ones any day.

1. “The Avengers” (Joss Whedon): That’s right — and why wouldn’t “The Avengers” be No. 1? Director and writer Whedon assembles some of Marvel’s best superheroes in a banter-rich screenplay, creating the most re-watchable film of 2012. An effective blend of camp and seriousness, with a final showdown between the Avengers and Loki’s army that lasts a satisfying 25 minutes: what other film can claim that kind of endurance?

Honorable Mention: “The Hunger Games” (Gary Ross); “Pitch Perfect” (Jason Moore); “The Amazing Spider-Man” (Marc Webb); “Seven Psychopaths” (Martin McDonagh); “Prometheus” (Ridley Scott); “Lincoln” (Stephen Spielberg); “Amour” (Michael Haneke); “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (Peter Jackson); and “Wreck-It Ralph” (Rich Moore).


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