Favorite/Least Favorite Films of 2012

January 1st, 2013 by Max Allan Collins

Barb and I go to a lot of movies, and see a lot more on blu-ray. In terms of this year’s theatrical releases, we probably saw around 70 of ‘em. Though I retired as a film critic some time ago, I’ve decided to come up with lists of my favorite and least favorite films of last year. Feel free to post your agreement or disagreement, but please keep in mind that all results are final.

By the way, if it looks like I see a lot of genre films, I do. But I see all kinds of movies, and in 2012, mostly genre films were what stuck to my mental ribs. These are not “best of”/”worst of” lists, remember – just my personal favorites, with a few words about why.

FAVORITE FILMS OF 2012

1. JOHN CARTER – the film unfairly reviled by critics, many of whom appear to be reviewing the lack-luster initial trailer, is a stunning, exciting, and surprisingly faithful tribute to Edgar Rice Burroughs. Fine cast with what should have been a star-making role for FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS’ Taylor Kitsch (also good in the similarly underrated BATTLESHIP).

2. LINCOLN – despite some sentimental, arch faltering in the final reel, Spielberg’s examination of the political battle Lincoln waged to keep the slaves truly freed is a political junkie’s dream. Daniel Day Lewis makes Lincoln human without tarnishing his mythic image.

3. HITCHCOCK – is a sharp, funny look at the making of PSYCHO, with Ed Gein as Hitch’s Jimminy Cricket and Helen Mirren as the real woman in the great filmmaker’s life. Funny, touching, oddly suspenseful, and as easy on the eyes as Scarlet Johansson playing Janet Leigh.

4. SKYFALL – immensely entertaining Bond film that manages to stay on track with Daniel Craig’s 20th Century 007 while paying 50th anniversary tribute to what has come before. Falls short of greatness due to the peculiar inability of Bond to accomplish anything.

5. MEN IN BLACK 3 – the rare third film in a series that is the best in that series. Josh Brolin doing Tommy Lee Jones is priceless, and the film is an excellent time-travel story, clever, funny, exciting, with touching elements and an effective use of 3D.

6. DREDD – a critical and commercial flop, but an outstanding comic book movie with terrific 3D and a Mad Max feel. Britain’s favorite tough cop/judge takes on a building full of bad guys on lockdown.

7. THE RAID – REDEMPTION – has the same plot as DREDD (an apparent coincidence), but with even stronger action sequences and some surprising humanity for a bodies-pile-up Asian martial-arts crime fest.

8. ARGO – a funny, suspenseful slice of history that shows Ben Affleck at his understated acting best even while demonstrating his considerable directing chops. Alan Arkin steals his umpteenth film, with the help of John Goodman.

9. LIFE OF PI – a meditation on storytelling, and another stellar 3D film (other strong 3D films this year: PARANORMAN and FRANKENWEENIE). I’m not sure I agree with its message, but what a thrilling, fascinating ride, and easily the year’s best film visually (which is kind of a big deal, because, uh, films are visual).

10. PREMIUM RUSH – amazing action film that makes bike messengers into the equivalent of the drivers in DEATH RACE 2000, with location-staged stunts that put all the CGI crap to shame. Sharp, clever script, terrific performances – Joseph Gordon Levitt’s best role in his break-out year.

Runners up:

JACK REACHER – good old-fashioned mystery/action flick, though I wonder if anyone connected with it (including Lee Child) realizes just how indebted this all is to Spillane. Strong performance by Tom Cruise.

THE AVENGERS – Josh Whedon’s clever dialogue and sharp characterization makes a terrific film out of what should have been a lousy one. A joint sequel better than all the other films leading up to it.

PROMETHEUS – confusing and inconsistent, but still a worthwhile return to the world of Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, with a strong protagonist in Noomi Rapace.

BATTLESHIP – a terrific science-fiction action film, with well-drawn, sometimes flawed characters; attacked on a basis of its Hasbro game source, and a study in the inability of many reviewers and even audiences to take a film on its own terms/merits.

HIT AND RUN – quirky road-trip/action movie, a throwback to the days when movies had plots and clever dialogue, and actresses were as smart and fetching as Kristen Bell.

10 LEAST FAVORITE FILMS:

1. DARK SHADOWS – sloppy, campy version of the old TV show that fixates on Johnny Depp’s every twitch while neglecting what little story there is.

2. ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER – sluggish, flat-footed, humorless take on a wacky idea with the potential for outrageous fun, directed with a disregard to the laws of physics and spatial relationships. Ineffective 3D (yes, yes, yes – I go to a lot of 3D movies.)

3. THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN – dreadfully painful and wholly unnecessary reboot, with an unlikeable, inconsistently played Spiderman, and career-worst performances from the likes of Emma Stone (as 17 year old!), Martin Sheen and Sally Field. This is the place to go if you are in the mood for having your intelligence insulted.

4. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES – the inexplicably beloved conclusion to an inexplicably beloved trilogy, drearily “dark” in the most juvenile sense, with a plot more absurd than the Adam West BATMAN film from ‘66. Emperor’s New Clothes or mass hypnosis? You tell me.

5. EXPENDABLES 2 – the idea of bringing back ‘70s and ‘80s action stars for some good dumb fun is fine by me, but this dumb? This sloppy? As a periodic deus ex machina, Chuck Norris enters to save the day and disappear again – to the theme from GOOD, BAD AND THE UGLY?!? Huh?

6. HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA – frantic and annoying, with uninspired use of 3D. I used to really like Adam Sandler. Ed Gorman will be glad to learn I was apparently misguided.

7. LOOPER – ambitious but poorly thought-out time-travel science fiction, often unnecessarily unpleasant, and poorly structured. Are we BLADE RUNNER or THE OMEN? Might want to choose.

8. THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY – a wonderfully entertaining 45-minute After School Special that is unfortunately three hours long. If you want to spend fifteen minutes watching hairy dwarfs eat, this is your picture. And speaking of deus ex machina, if you like a story where the heroes never save themselves but are always bailed out at the last minute by a CGI effect, you’re in for a real treat.

9. LES MISERABLES – not as miserable as me. I am a musical comedy junkie, but the “songs” on display here are either unmemorable or annoyingly catchy, with obvious rhymes that probably would make Stephen Sondheim run screaming into the night. That said, the actors are game and mostly very good. But the direction is abysmal, with huge count-the-pores-and-nose-hairs close-ups taking up 90% of the screen time, and sing-songy sung dialogue bridging the nothing songs. Best of all – it’s another of these three-hour cringefests!

10. CONTRABAND – Marky Mark is a bad guy who has reformed but now is pulled back in for one last job on some kind of freighter. That’s all I remember, except for when I woke my wife up for us to leave forty minutes in.

RUNNERS UP – too many to mention. But a special award to THIS IS 40 for beginning well and systematically spending the next three hours (yup, another of those) making me care less and less about the characters. The director, whose wife and children are among the stars, seems to have assembled all of the footage he shot and neglected to edit it into an actual film.

10 Responses to “Favorite/Least Favorite Films of 2012”

  1. Falls short of greatness due to the peculiar inability of Bond to accomplish anything.

    Much like GOLDFINGER, wherein the only thing Bond gets right is electrocuting Oddjob. Well, and converting a lesbian.

  2. I’ve only seen two of your list, John Carter and Men In Black 3, and agree heartily with both reviews. John Carter reviews seem more concerned with the cost of the movie than content. Either that or they’d never read Burroughs. I am happy to say that I convinced several people that had been convinced by those bogus rants to watch the movie. They became fans.

  3. While it’s true Bond is a captive of Goldfinger’s for a good share of that film, he is not as ineffective as Bond in SKYFALL. In GOLDFINGER, Bond bedevils Goldfinger by making him lose cards and golf, he escapes custody for a while and learns Goldfinger’s plan, he gets a message out to Felix Leiter about the Fort Knox heist, and he kills Goldfinger on the plane. In SKYFALL, he allows an assassin to go through with a hit before confronting him, he pointlessly allows a young woman (with whom he dallied) to be executed, and does not save M from the villain. The latter is his third-act mission, and may be a case of Dame Judi wanting to quit…but if so, why make saving her the point of his elaborate STRAW DOGS finale? No, SKYFALL is visually striking, and effective moment to moment, but it doesn’t add up, and falls short of the upper-tier Bonds, despite its billion-dollar box-office.

  4. patrick_o says:

    Well, I have several disagreements with these choices. I was a fan of three of the movies you chose for “worst”. THE EXPENDABLES 2 was ridiculously stupid but it realized this. I found it a love poem to the stupid action movies of the 80s, and all it was missing was more Jean Claude Van Damme. It wasn’t great but it was plenty of fun. I thought the Spiderman reboot was as good as could be hoped– which was pretty decent– although it was a very unnecessary reboot and was basically done so that the studio wouldn’t have to pay through the nose for Tobey Maguire and still get to keep the movie rights to the character.

    My big disagreement with you in the “worst” column is over THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. I was a fan of the Nolan approach to Batman, and I liked the third movie’s more silent, contemplative approach, with a tremendous climax to finish things off: a really spectacular end to the series. Although I have some issues, I found the good far outweighed the bad and left me satisfied that the story arc was concluded. Plus Tom Hardy seemed so amused throughout the film as Bane: most of my enjoyment stemmed from his smart-ass lines.

    I agree with you more over the “best”. But still, I’m afraid I’m the only person in the world who *hated* Hitchcock. I found the whole Ed Gein thing so unnecessary, and the visions-of-Ed-Gein angle was poorly done to say the least, as the movie seemed to forget that a man called Robert Bloch ever existed and that he wrote a story and that was the story Hitch was making, not the Ed Gein Epic. I also didn’t like Alma’s constant intrusions in a bad romance angle, complete with cheesy lines straight out of a made-for-Valentine’s-Day movie. PSYCHO is one of my all-time favourite movies, and I was hoping the story of its turbulent production would get more respect than this. For crying out loud, the movie implies that Alma directed the Arbogast murder and yet it doesn’t even lift a finger to scratch its head over the Saul Bass shower scene controversy!!! It invents fictional troubles in places where the real troubles were ten times more interesting, and that for me was the movie’s greatest failing. It’s worth seeing for Hopkins’ performance and for the resurrection of Anthony Perkins — there’s no way that can be James D’Arcy!!! — but more of a DVD rental, I’d say.

    But hey, what do I know? I’m just some random person on the Internet that you wouldn’t know from Adam. I respect your opinions, I just felt like throwing mine out there.

  5. Thanks for weighing in, Patrick. I am fully aware that I am a lone voice in the wilderness, where DARK KNIGHT RISES and the other Nolan movies are concerned; I have disliked them all but am enough of a Batman fan to always go…and this one was the weakest. I’m glad you enjoyed Bane’s wisecracks — I couldn’t understand a word of his dialogue. HITCHCOCK, obviously, works for me, and I think Bloch is actually fairly well represented — a repro of his book is prominently in many shots, as is the story about Hitchcock buying up all the copies around town. This sharp-edged valentine was not about to talk about how Hitchcock bought the book for a song, not letting Bloch know who was buying it (but Bloch’s career took off after that, remember). The Saul Bass controversy would have been out of place here, and Alma directing Arbogast was to me a way to indicate what a collaborator she’d been from the beginning. I loved the Gein stuff. As for EXPENDABLES 2, I was prepared to enjoy a good dumb action flick — I went to every Chuck Norris feature in the theater back in the day. I loved and love those movies. But this was sloppy, crappy stuff, from the young guy showing his family photos right before he gets killed to the idioctic “I’ll be back lines” from Arnold, with Willis managing to be smugger here than anywhere else in decades of smuggery. Does that mean I won’t go to EXPENDABLE 3? Of course I’ll go — dopes spring eternal. I kept spending good money on Nolan’s BATMAN movies, didn’t I? Keep in mind, repeating the same action and expecting a different outcome is one of the definitions of insanity….

  6. mike doran says:

    Thanks to getting my year-end bonus ahead of schedule, I was able to get myself some post-Xmas gifts.
    They started coming in today.
    The first arrival (or at any rate the first one I happened to open) -
    – THE MYSTERY SCENE MOVIE GUIDE (thanx to Alibris). I had just about given this one up for lost.
    Still to come: NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU, which still has not achieved shelf space in any store in the Greater Chicagoland Area.
    Many others to follow, related and unrelated to things we talk about here.

    My movie going has dropped off rather drastically in recent years.
    Now that Saturday afternoon bargain matinees have reached $10 just for the ticket (and at least another $10 for “refreshments’), that trend will likely continue.
    Basically, I’m with you on the DARK KNIGHT pix, probably the most depressing “comic book” movies ever made. Why this trend took root continues to mystify me – probably a sign of my age (close enough to yours).

    I kinda liked SKYFALL, once I understood that what they were really doing was starting the Bond series over again at Square 1 (was that a spoiler?) If the newly assembled group can stay the course, they have a shot at a long life (maybe a decade if they do it right).

    HITCHCOCK was OK, if you like that sort of thing, i.e. self-spoofing goosed history. It was definitely better than THE GIRL, which was as wrong-headed as any biopic I’ve ever seen.
    I think I ought to mention that HITCHCOCK scored for me early on when one of the characters pronounced Anthony Boucher’s name correctly (you’d be surprised at just how many people these days seem to believe he was French ["boo-SHAY" indeed]).

    Of movies you didn’t mention, a special Dishonorable Mention for THE THREE STOOGES, which I made the grave mistake of paying $10+$10 to see in a theater. I suppose I thought I should, just to be fair, but the result didn’t even reach that level.
    *just my luck, maybe you liked it – or at least didn’t actively dislike it – ah well … *

    Think I’ll go back to watching the mail …

  7. Thanks for the great post, Mike.

    Actually, I liked THE THREE STOOGES. Not enough to put it on my favorites list, but I thought a genuine love for the real thing was present throughout. But I understand those who don’t dig it — as I said earlier in another context, Beatlemania ain’t a patch on the Beatles.

  8. Joe Menta says:

    “Skyfall” was great, but I agree with you that it ultimately has a peculiar story where Bond doesn’t actually succeed at much. Thinking back on it, I think people (including me) like it because, no matter the various outcomes, everything Bond does is at least INTERESTING. And also we get a glimpse at where the guy grew up, what his parents were like, etc. Anyway, I think this “as long as it’s dramatic, we don’t have to worry about how successful Bond is” approach was fine for one film, but I hope we get back to more traditional ground next time. Let’s see Bond outsmart some baddies, save some damsels, and annoy the home office.

    Really enjoying getting reacquainted with the Mallorys. It’s funny, I was about Mallory’s age when I first read them, so I saw things more his way. Now that I’m much older than him, I’m often sympathetic to the older, more “square” characters around him. Ha, I can now see why Mallory’s neighbors would be annoyed about someone dragging an old aluminum house trailer onto the lot next door to them!

    By the way, I was able to borrow for free “The Baby Blue Rip-Off “on my Kindle, as a benefit of my Amazon Prime status. I hope you still get some proceeds from the transaction!

  9. I haven’t re-read the Mallorys, but I will be listening to the audios, read by Dan John Miller, who I requested after he did such a bang-up job on Heller. He also read several of the disaster novels, including an incredible job on THE WAR OF THE WORLDS MURDER.

    Yes, any with Prime who wants to borrow any of my Amazon-pubbed books is encouraged to do so, because I do received payment for that. All authors do when Prime offers something free.

  10. Joe Menta says:

    Haha, you’ll be like me now– vaguely remembering that you liked the Mallory books but re-discovering them like it’s the first time. I bet Miller does a bang-up job. Perhaps I’ll save one or two of them for audio during my own re-discovery process.

    I’m hoping your own listening experience will encourage you to write another Mallory. It being such an early success of yours, you could probably toss off another one at this point while having your morning breakfast cereal (and still make it really good!).

    If you do, though, set it maybe a year at most after the last one (using the Sue Grafton model of writing her series entries YEARS apart but setting each entry only a month or two after the previous book). I like Mallory as a cocky, sort-of-young guy trying to find his way in 80′s America. Just my two cents.

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