Thursday, January 31, 2013

Top 10 Movies of 2012

10. Pitch Perfect

Movies get bonus points for coming out of nowhere and surprising me, which is exactly what Pitch Perfect did. I like Anna Kendrick and a capella singing just fine, but neither would typically be enough to get me to the theater by themselves. What I do love are movies about contests that We've Just Gotta Win and this one is hilarious (especially - but not only - thanks to Rebel Wilson).

9. The Dark Knight Rises

Not as great as The Dark Knight, but it's a good finale to Christopher Nolan's trilogy. It proved once and for all that Nolan's Batman is not the comic-book Batman, but I'm okay with that. I not only like the way Nolan finishes the series, I wish the comics would wrap up the same way.

The thing I was most excited about for this film though was seeing Catwoman and it didn't disappoint me on that level. Anne Hathaway narrowly edges out Julie Newmar as my favorite Catwoman (only because Newmar's version had a touch of crazy that I don't think the character needs).

8. The Cabin in the Woods

Embraces most of what I love about horror movies while making fun of everything I hate. The ending isn't perfect, but the rest of it sure is.

7. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I'm a sucker for elderly British people and stories about second chances. This was right in my wheelhouse on so many levels.

6. Skyfall

I haven't actually talked to anyone who's called Skyfall the best Bond movie ever, but I've heard that such people exist. If I were to meet someone with that point of view, my response would be, "Really?" Because I don't think they're thinking that through very well.

Skyfall is a lot of fun, it's gorgeous, and it works both as the 50th anniversary of the Bond series and as the finale of the trilogy started in Casino Royale. I especially love it from that last perspective. Say what you want about Quantum of Solace's dumb story and boring villain, but one thing that film did right was continue the story of Bond's relationship with his country as personified by M. Skyfall pays that story off in a beautiful way while also reintroducing elements from the pre-Casino Royale films that I didn't realize how much I'd missed. It's also got a great villain and covers its themes in interesting ways. It's a great Bond film.

But the best ever? No way. It owes too much to the early Connery films to seriously consider letting it surpass them. I'm not even sure I like it as much as The Living Daylights or Casino Royale.

5. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

My including The Hobbit this high on the list is all the evidence anyone needs to verify that this Top 10 is my personal one and not an attempt at the 10 Objectively Greatest Movies of the year. If I were being objective about it, I'd agree with the critics who point out that Peter Jackson is indulging his every whim at the expense of telling a tight story. There's a reason that he released a Theatrical Cut of the Lord of the Rings films and then an Extended Edition for DVD. A lot of people simply don't have the patience to sit through scenes that legitimately could have been deleted to improve the pacing.

That said, I'm solidly in the camp of people who will only ever watch the Extended Editions of Lord of the Rings. I love all that extra stuff. I love seeing Middle Earth that fleshed out. I absolutely don't mind seeing Jackson do the same thing with The Hobbit. But I also can't be too harsh on those who do mind it. Jackson risked alienating those folks when he chose not to release a shorter, theatrical version, so it's fair for them to say it didn't work for them.

Even for me, it's not perfect. With Lord of the Rings, I love pretty much every change Jackson made to Tolkien's novels, but I miss the Bilbo that was blustered out his front door and into adventure by Gandalf in the book. Jackson's Bilbo begins his journey too eagerly for my taste. He's too heroic too early. It felt right as I watching it, so maybe I'll re-evaluate after I've seen all three films, but it feels like Jackson needed to speed up Bilbo's character development in order to make him more likable in this installment of the trilogy.

That - and the fact that it is the first installment in a trilogy instead of a complete story - keeps The Hobbit from being higher on my list.

4. Mirror Mirror

I've already written about Mirror Mirror a couple of times, so I'll spare us all another review. I really, really love this movie though.

3. Les Misérables

I knew I was going to have problems with this movie from the first time I saw the trailer and teared up listening to "I Dreamed a Dream." And I was right. Through the whole film, if I wasn't crying over the human misery, I was crying from the joy of hearing those songs again.

I've seen Les Misérables on stage a few times. It's my favorite musical and the reason I think Phantom of the Opera is over-rated. So I'm very familiar with the songs, but I don't own a cast recording and can't listen to them any time I want. I've never cared about hearing the songs outside of the context of the story as presented by actors.

But because I love those songs - and the story - so much, I've longed for a version with actors that I could own and watch whenever I want. In other words, I've been wanting this movie for about twenty years. And it was everything I hoped it would be. (Even Russell Crowe, who isn't an especially strong Javert, but has a perfectly lovely singing voice outside of that.)

The only reason Les Misérables isn't higher on my list is because I can't separate it from my feelings about the stage production. I don't know how I would've felt about it if I wasn't already in love with it from the moment it was announced.

2. The Avengers

Oh, wait... I mean the other Avengers movie about a red-headed spy in a black catsuit.

I seriously reconfigured my Top 3 movies I don't know how many times right up to the point of writing this post. There was a long time this year that I couldn't imagine any movie bumping The Avengers from first place.

A lot of my love for the movie is because it never should have worked. If I've learned anything from a lifetime of movie watching, it's that movies are never as awesome as we hope they'll be. From the moment Samuel L. Jackson appeared at the end of Iron Man, we were all thrilled by the notion of an integrated universe of Marvel superhero films all leading to an all-star Avengers movie. But admit it, you didn't think it would deliver, did you? I certainly didn't. It couldn't possibly live up to the awesomeness of its premise.

Except it did. It totally did.

And, in the process, it gave us the Hulk movie we'd all been waiting for.

1. Looper

Outside of its being really stinking good, the reason Looper is number one on my list is because it's not based on something I already loved. I had to give it bonus points for being a completely original story about characters I'd never heard of before. And what a story.

I dig a good, tightly plotted time-travel story as much as the next person, but what I really love are stories that make me think and re-evaluate my opinions about people. I can't talk about how Looper does that without going into spoilers, but it's so much more than just a fun, scifi movie and deserves to be Number One.


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

A good list indeed. I had "Cabin in the Woods" and "Avengers" for my top two. They were really aggregate versions of what I look for in horror and action respectively.

I was rewatching Dark Knight Rises the other day, thinking that it might not hold up as much as I did in the theaters when it was new, but its about the same. The first and final acts were fantastic, but the whole second act with Bane and his odd ultimatum "Live! ... Under pain of death". It really is the "Return of the Jedi" of it own trilogy. Good, but possessing the most flaws.

"Looper" has been sitting on my TV in its Netflix envelope for over a week now, with no real rush to get to it. I've just had too much experience it the past with sci-fi movies, especially ones that involve time travel having a great premise/hook, but then squeeze the life out of that idea by making a "chase movie" and trying to insert the plot in afterwards. See Minority Report for an example. Or better yet, don't

Michael May said...

Looper's not like that. Time travel is the marketing hook, but in the movie itself it's just a necessary tool in exploring Rian Johnson's theme. That's what I love so much about it.

Kal said...

Looper was terrific and the perfect vehicle for Bruce Willis who does these kind of stories the best. I like this one the more I think about it.

Avengers got me to love Scarlett Johanson and that is more a magic trick than anything that appeared on screen.

dave said...

Great List.

I had this:
1. Avengers
2. Looper
3. Dark Knight Rises

Cabin in the Woods finished pretty stupidly which kind of wrecked a brilliant movie.

Honorable mention to Safety Not Guaranteed which I loved.

Michael May said...

I heard someone interpret the end of Cabin in the Woods in a way that helped me with it a little, but I still don't like it and my initial reaction was exactly the same as yours.

Unfortunately, I don't remember the specifics of the interpretation that helped me; just that there's a way of looking at it that it makes thematic sense. But still, not at all satisfying.

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

As for the end of cabin in the woods, I'd like to believe that the woman behind the whole thing is the real Sigourney Weaver and not just a character played by Sigourney Weaver.

Michael May said...

Works for me! :)

Neal Kristopher said...

GREAT Top Ten.

I have seen most of these and totally agree. Just finished Looper tonight and the idea itself is totally ludicrous but it's the real story and the quasi-futuristic world Johnson created that wins it for me. I adored the mix of future tech, dirty noir life and goofy anime touches like the giant guns. And that poster is phenomenal.

Mr. Pale Steps Out


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