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.
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.