Friday, January 11, 2013

Top Fifteen Movies of 2012

by Alex Hajna

It’s that time. The time where everyone makes their top ten lists, and none of them matter, because they’re all just one person’s opinion (polls excluded). So, naturally, I’ve done one of my own. It consists of my favorite movies of 2012. Not what you think should be on the list, but what I think. Not what should be at the Oscars (although some will be), but what I think were the best of 2012. They are merely my favorite films of this past year. The movies I enjoyed the most. Now that I got that disclaimer out of the way...

The norm is to make a top ten list. Well eff that. This year was the one of the best years for movies in all of my life, so I’m doing a top fifteen. Is that cheating? Maybe. But ten is just too damn hard. There were movies I didn’t want to put into my top ten, but I just couldn’t exclude them, either. These movies damn well deserve to be on a list.

Hit the jump for the list.

Before I start, let me make it known that I haven’t seen every movie that’s been released this year. I’ve seen most of them, but there are a few that I haven’t seen, and some of those have been on top ten lists. These include: The Sessions, Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Moonrise Kingdom. So if you think they deserve to be on my list, that’s nice. I haven’t seen them. So they’re not on there.

Let us begin.


Two words: Emma Watson. Literally the only reason I would have ever thought to go see this movie. I’d heard the book was good, but knowing what it was about didn’t sway my enthusiasm even a little bit. The trailer looked decent, but again, if Emma Watson wasn’t in it, I honestly don’t think I would’ve seen this movie. But thanks to her draw, I saw it. And boy, did I not regret it. I still believe that the main reason I liked it as much as I did is because Emma Watson was in it, but even if she wasn’t, this still would’ve been a decent film. And the fact that it’s written and directed by the guy who wrote the book makes it even more impressive, and heightens my appreciation for it even more. It could have very easily gone wrong; for example, he might’ve held on to things in the book that meant a lot to him, but wouldn’t work on film. But because he has a good grasp on how the film medium works, he pulled it off spectacularly. He even changed a big part about the main character’s personality, which takes balls. The man knows what he’s doing. Also, Emma Watson.

14. ARGO

Ben Affleck is three-for-three now. With Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and now this under his belt, he’s on his way to being one of the best filmmakers of our generation. The man has recieved some flak in his time, but those days are long behind him. He’s got three excellent movies in his filmography (four, if you include Good Will Hunting). When a certain Chris Nolan had that record, we were praising him for it. Most filmmakers are lucky to get one critically-acclaimed and audience-acclaimed movie in their career. It’s a shock Affleck didn’t get a Best Director nomination this year.


I will admit, I was hoping this movie would be higher on the list. It was one of my most-anticipated movies of the year, so I was slightly let down by it. But even so, it’s on my list. And out of the [approximately] 65 movies I’ve seen this year, this got number 13. So I’d say that’s pretty good. I would have liked to see Original Screenplay and Makeup nominations for this, but this movie doesn't exactly scream "Oscar!"


Another shock at the Oscars this year: no nomination for director, Kathryn Bigelow, especially considering she’s fresh off her win for The Hurt Locker. But alas, the Oscars never fail to surprise. Or to snub. Sure, the last half hour was incredibly overly-embellished, and there was pretty much no suspense in the climax of the film (because we know what’s going to happen), but the movie was still very well done. It’s a hard feat, to tackle such a sensitive subject in an effective manner, especially when you have to change the script halfway through shooting, because your main antagonist was pronounced killed in real life. So I’d say Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal succeeded at what they were trying to accomplish, and then some. Plus, Jessica Chastain is an absolute delight. She’s definitely the front-runner for Best Actress this year.


This movie could’ve gone wrong. Not only is it based on a true story, but it’s about an event that happened to thousands of people, and we’re following five of them. What makes their story so great? They’re not the only survivors. Turns out, their tale was definitely worth telling. It’s probably not too different from anyone else’s, but the will and determination of each family member -- even the kids -- was inspiring, to say the least. It’s a story of tragedy, with a message of hope. That’s definitely hard to pull off without being corny and cliché. This movie pulled it off. And I think that has to do with Ewan McGregor’s and Naomi Watts’s absolutely compelling performances. I’d have liked to see McGregor get nominated, but it was a long shot. And I would have thought a Visual Effects nomination was inevitable; everything looked and felt completely realistic. Oh well... At least Watts is being recognized. 


They don’t make movies like this anymore. This movie is literally 98% dialogue. Dialogue about politics. And yet somehow, it’s still one of the most compelling movies of the year. A lot of people find it boring, which I can understand. But I think the main reason they thought that was because they were going in expecting a Steven Spielberg movie about the Civil War, with battles and glamour. That couldn’t be further from the truth. This isn’t a movie about the war; it’s a movie about what was going on in the White House during the war. It’s a movie about one small part -- arguably the most important part -- of Abraham Lincoln’s life: the passing of the thirteenth amendment. It should be a boring movie. It basically sets itself up to be. But in the hands of Spielberg, accompanied by the intense performance of Daniel Day-Lewis as the title character, this movie became an instant classic. It’s the frontrunner at the Oscars, with 12 nominations. And I won’t be surprised if it takes home every single one of those statues.


My main draw to this one was the fact that Leo DiCaprio was playing the villain. I love me some Leo, and he’s never played a character like Calvin Candie before. I was more than a little intrigued. But the movie entertained on all levels. There wasn’t a dull moment. Albeit, it was a bit too long; there was a point where I thought it was over, and it went on for another 25 minutes. But that’s just a small gripe. Sure, there were things that could’ve been cut out to shorten the movie, but they were still good scenes. Like I said, I was never bored. The only real crime this movie commits is Tarantino’s poor attempt at an Australian accent.


I have a soft spot for originality. However, most original films -- as in, not a sequel or prequel, not based on a book, television show, or video game, and not a remake or reboot -- don’t turn out very well. They’re usually romantic comedy pieces of garbage, or artsy farsty shit like ‘The Master’. This movie, however, struck gold with the perfect combination of originality and f*cking-awesome-ness. It deconstructs horror films (and the current formula for storytelling in film, in general), and turns it on its head. It may not be the number one movie on my list, but it’s going to be one of the first movies I recommend in the future.


Who would ever think a movie by the director of ‘Hulk’ would be, not only one of the best movies of the year, but one of the frontrunners at the Oscars. Sure, he also made Brokeback Mountain, but that was more of a performance-driven film. This one, however, was the perfect storm of great direction, great acting, great art direction/visual effects, and a great story. I had a bad feeling that this movie would be boring, due to the fact that it’s about a kid on a lifeboat with an animal. But holy sh*t, was I wrong. Despite the fact that three-fifths of the movie takes place on one lifeboat, following one kid and his tiger, somehow this movie keeps moving, never leaving a dull moment behind. And the tiger...holy sh*t, does that tiger look real. If nothing else, this movie should win the Visual Effects Oscar, solely for the damn tiger.


The Lord of the Rings trilogy is my favorite movie series of all time. As one movie (and I think you can count it as one movie), it’s safe to say, it’s one of my favorite -- if not my absolute favorite -- movies of all time. So, needless to say, I was excited for this movie. If not for The Dark Knight Rises, this would’ve been my most anticipated movie of the year. However, I wasn’t a fan of the idea to split one average-sized book into three movies. I was understanding when they were making it two movies, because things could definitely be added to make the story a bit more interesting (the book lacked any tension of any kind), but when they announced it was going to be three movies, I was skeptical. Splitting one story into three is basically telling the beginning in one movie, the middle in the second, and the climax in the third. How could that work? Well, it turns out they pulled it off beautifully. I will say, they dragged it out a lot; they could’ve shaved a hefty twenty-five minutes off of the film, and threw it into the extended edition Blu-ray. But that’s probably my only gripe. It definitely got me excited for the next chapter, ‘The Desolation of Smaug’.


We all knew this was going to be a special Bond film, what with Sam Mendes directing. And then you add cinematographer, Roger Deakins, and actor, Javier Bardem to the mix (along with Daniel Craig and Judi Dench returning); what could go wrong? The answer is, quite literally, nothing. This is probably the perfect Bond film for the times. The oldies are greats, but they’re a bit out-dated and hokey. But this movie kept the dark, gritty tone we’re used to, and incorporated the classic Bond feel we love. I still can’t figure out how they did it so successfully. It’s a fine line, and they balanced it out just perfectly. It’s a more story-and-character-oriented film, with the action being a secondary aspect, and while some think that’s a flaw, I find that to be the reason it was so god damn perfect. I hope Mendes keeps true to his word and signs on for the next Bond film.


There are people who thought this movie was...less than sufficient (i.e., NWC’s very own Scott). I, for one, thought it was great. This is another movie that could’ve gone terribly wrong: seven huge stars in all seven leading roles; one villain going up against a team of the world’s greatest heroes, and needing to be believably malevolent; keeping us invested the entire time, and balancing out each character’s arcs; and so so many more things that could have been just disastrous. But Joss Whedon and company did it the right way. They figured out how these characters would interact, if thrown together the way they were. They’re all kings, where they come from. People see them as the single greatest hero they’ve ever known. So, naturally, they feel the need to compete to be the “leader” of the group. They clash, and actually, they’re not a team until the end of the film. This is exactly where I would have liked to see the characters taken. It’s not what is expected, and it goes against the formula of the genre. Just the way I like it.


This is the biggest surprise this year, for me. I was intrigued, the moment I saw the trailer. But never in a million years, did I imagine it would be in my top three of the year. I don’t know what it was about this movie. It’s another original idea, but it’s just so original, that I was almost drooling as I was watching it. With ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, you have an original idea, taken from countless things that have been done before. With this, you have an original idea to the core. Throw in some plot twists, phenomenal performances from everyone (most namely, Sam Rockwell), and brilliantly-constructed dialogue, and you get one of my favorite movies of the 2010 decade.


What!? This isn’t number one!? No, it’s not. It’s a great conclusion to Nolan’s trilogy, but it’s not spectacular. It’s the weakest of the three films, and quite honestly, if I wasn’t such a massive Batman fan and Nolan fan, I probably wouldn’t have even had this in my top five of the year. I used to think Nolan could do no wrong, but this movie proved that he could. The plot was messy and convoluted, and Bane just doesn’t hold up, compared to The Joker. I understand why they used Bane, and I actually really like what they did with the character (Tom Hardy is now one of my favorite actors of our generation). It doesn’t doesn’t compare to ‘The Dark Knight’. Look at me...bashing it, to defend why it’s not in the number one spot. I’m making it sound like it’s not number two. This movie is still f*cking awesome. Watching it is still a hell of a good time. Even I’m surprised it’s not in the number one spot. But that spot goes to....


It’s been a long time since I was thoroughly entertained in the theater the way I was during this movie. I know people have their reasons for disliking this movie, but none of them have convinced me that this movie was anything but perfect. It’s a movie’s movie. It has everything: drama, suspense, comedy, action. It is everything: a period film, sci-fi, rom-com, post-apocalyptic, a love story... It has every element you could ever want from a movie. And, while most movies with so much going on at once would be a mess, this movie pulled it off perfectly. Per-fect-ly. I loved this movie, and I don’t care how much backlash I get for making this my number one movie of the year. I will defend this movie till the end. Cloud Atlas is the best movie of 2012, and the best movie of the 2010 decade.

So that’s my list. Take from it what you will. It’s no more important than the next person’s list, but I figured I’d share it. Composing this list was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do, because there were so many good movies this year. I spent two hours adjusting the list, moving movies up and down the list, knocking things off and replacing them, and finally came up with this. I’m pretty content with it, but I feel there are still a few movies that deserve mention. So here are some honorable mentions, in no particular order:

Silver Linings Playbook (I had the hardest time choosing between this and 'Perks'. I still don't know if I made the right choice.)
Wreck-it Ralph
21 Jump Street
Jeff Who Lives at Home
Les Miserables
The Hunger Games

Onward to 2013!

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