As with every year, the 2012 Academy Award nominations brought a flurry of disappointment and eye-rollingly predictable choices for what are considered film’s “top” honors. So instead of dwelling on the negative like in past years, I figure this is as good a time as any to reveal the ten top films of the past year for me. I saw nearly fifty films this year, but now only ten shall reign supreme.
This list consists of the films that I personally enjoyed the most of the course of last year. This is by far a subjective list and does not represent everyone here at DestroyTheCyb.org, so feel free to leave your choices in the comment section below. Let’s get started:
#10 – Chronicle
Probably one of last year’s earliest entries on this list, Chronicle was a hell of a way to start a year of film on the right foot. While the found footage genre has begun to tire on many courtesy of duds such as Chernobyl Dairies and the growing staleness of the former mainstay Paranormal Activity franchise, director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis create something fresh and clever that allows for the vulnerability and claustrophobic tendencies of the found footage genre with the freedom of being able to move the camera in a more cinematic fashion. The cast, lead by Dane DeHaan (just recently announced as the new Harry Osborn), are talented and immediately likable, and their development throughout feels natural and genuine.
However, what stands out most to me is Landis‘ script. The slow build of the film that starts off as a three young men finding friendship through a mysterious, shared experience quickly spirals into an examination of power and what it does to those who used to be powerless. By the time you figure out where exactly the film plans to head in the final half, it has you completely invested and eager to see the outcome. It is a fun, complicated and emotional film that is rare to find in the time of the year it was released, and is an exciting introduction to a slew of young talent in Hollywood.
This will be the most controversial film on the list. One of this year’s biggest flops not named Battleship or John Carter, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World was released in late June and died a quick death, which is a damn shame since it was one of the more clever and charming apocalyptic films I have ever since. The film tends to meander along, unsure of where it is going – but in the best way possible. Writer/director Lorene Scafaria manages to use this feeling to highlight the actions of our protagonists as they try and sort out their short time left on this planet, and effectively uses it to build up the audiences relationship with our protagonists.
Even with the subject manner and the never-ceasing sense of dread you feel as the film reaches its conclusion, the film manages to remain humorous and upbeat. This can definitely be credited to the sublime performances of Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley (in probably my favorite role of hers), as Dodge and Penny respectfully. They are not trying to save the world, they aren’t super-smart or trying to find safe haven – they just want to find closure before everything comes crashing down, and this is reflected in their performances. It makes you root for them the entire film, and makes the films conclusion that much more powerful.
#8 – Django Unchained
This was the last film I managed to see in 2012, and it was the perfect way to bookend what turned out to be a great year for film. It goes without saying that whenever Quentin Tarantino releases a film, it will be on most people’s Top 10 lists, and this one is no exception. Continuing his recent foray into gritty-revenge-period pieces (which is just as weird to say as it was to type), Tarantino delves into the mid 1800s and slavery and creates something that is violent, controversial and darkly humorous – all things we have come to expect from him. The script is classic Tarantino: Bombastic and sharp with dialogue that goes on and on, some of which having nothing to do with moving the plot forward. But this is what makes Tarantino the mad genius he is, and it almost always works – especially with Django. While sometimes the subject matter and the depiction of it is difficult to watch, it never crosses the line and makes you genuinely think about the crimes that were committed during this time, and the film walks the fine line of dark humor and critique with precision.
Of course, another trademark of a great Tarantino film is the ensemble that he brings together and Django Unchained does not disappoint. Jamie Foxx brings charisma and a well-kept simmering rage to the title role that makes him likable and fun to watch as he becomes a legendary gunslinger. Christolph Waltz again finds success working with Tarantino as Dr. King Schultz, whose eccentric personality and flair for the dramatic is a fine compliment to Django’s more brooding nature. However, the man who steals the show (and was criminally not given a Best Supporting Actor nomination for doing so) is Leonardo DiCaprio as the film’s antagonist, Calvin Candie. He brings an unstable force to the film that manages to ramp up the suspense brings an already sharp film an even greater edge. It rightfully deserves to be in the pantheon of great Tarantino films, and does so with absolute ease.
#7 – Cabin in the Woods
Of all the feel-good stories film this year, Cabin in the Woods is right up near the top of the list. Shot in March of 2009, it had to endure MGM filing for bankruptcy, an attempt to convert the film to 3D and multiple release dates before finally seeing the light of day. Usually this does not bode well for a film, but it still managed to be leaps and bounds over many of the other films, both within and out of the genre. When pooling the collective genius of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (writer of Cloverfield), the end result is a fantastic deconstruction of the horror genre filled with a brilliant cast, including a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth and Fran Kranz, who steals the show as the stoner Marty.
While the cast and script are excellent, what really puts this film over the top is its climax. While the first two-thirds of the film examine and joke around with clichés and troupes, the third act literally blows the lid off and the real insanity begins. Without ruining it for anyone who still hasn’t seen it, it is an amazing, blood-soaked finale that explains the roots of the problems that plague horror films. What’s more, it is the only film I have ever seen that I stood up and cheered with schoolboy delight…while the film was still going. Hilarious, gory, and by far the most fun in-theatre experience I had in 2012.
It was a good year to be Joss Whedon. First he had a surprise hit with Cabin in the Woods, and then he helped pull off one of the biggest coups in Hollywood history: Successfully managing the hype and constraints of four different movie series to create an uber-franchise – which could have easily toppled under its own weight. Instead, it became the highest grossing film of the year and then redefined how studios could go about their big franchises. While the feat of pulling something like this is extraordinary, it would be nothing without the actors assembled (sorry) for the task. Robert Downey Jr., Tom Hiddleston, Chris Evans and Samuel L. Jackson all knock it out of the park, but it is Mark Ruffalo who comes out on top in his debut as the Hulk. Whedon and company managed to take a character who many have tried to faithfully adapt and came short and turned him into a character that stole many newcomers hearts, and I feel that Ruffalo’s performance as both Banner and the other guy helps solidify this positive reaction towards the character.
While the story of the film may be a bit thin, it is acceptable because all the films beforehand gave us all the information we needed and it allows the audience to just sit back and enjoy two hours of superheroes fighting each other and saving the world. There is a pure, child-like sense of joy that emanates from this film, and is the film equal of me playing with my action figures as a kid. Marvel took a huge risk in attempting something like this, but in the end they come out looking extremely smart, as well as having one of the biggest hits of the year.
While The Avengers is the prime example of the fun comic book adaptation, Christopher Nolan‘s climactic third chapter represents the other end of the spectrum: The dark, brooding adaptation. While not quite as good as The Dark Knight (though as I mentioned in my review, any comparisons between the two is unfair and absurd), Rises raises the stakes even higher and gives Christian Bale‘s Batman one hell of a finale. The cast, both old and new alike, brought their best to create a proper send-off to Nolan’s Dark Knight legend, but if I could pick only one person who reflects what made this film as good as it was, Tom Hardy‘s Bane is as good a person to choose. He demands your attention with his menace and strength, yet at the same time he is extremely charismatic, proving to be a great foil. However, an honorable mention goes to Anne Hathaway who is spot-on as Selina Kyle, and her interactions with Bale are some of the best non-action sequences in the film.
The Dark Knight Rises also belongs on this list because it is bold enough to definitively conclude a popular franchise on it’s own terms rather than allowing itself to be a husk of its former self. And the ending itself is also brave enough to allow Bruce Wayne a life beyond Batman, something that is hardly ever seen in either comics or film. But most importantly, it gives audiences a sense of closure that is satisfying and emotional. In the end, it is because of these factors that I ultimately felt The Dark Knight Rises was a better film than The Avengers. I await my hate mail.
#4 – Seven Psychopaths
Yet another entry in the “Blink-And-You’ll-Miss-It” category, but Martin McDonagh (writer/director of another underrated gem, In Bruges)’s violent dark comedy is by far one of the best written films of all of 2012. The sharp wit and outlandish dialogue sprinkled throughout the film kept me laughing uncontrollably throughout, even when things begin getting bleak as the film moves forward. But one of my favorite parts of the story has to be how the film’s story begins to wrap around itself, as the original problem – before the gangsters and murderers start coming out of the woodwork – is Colin Farrell’s screenwriter desperately attempting to write his film, titled ‘Seven Psychopaths’. As he tries to write the film, even when his life begins to get turned upside down, the line between art and reality begin to cross one another, which adds a whole new layer of enjoyment to the film.
The all-star cast, featuring amazing performances from Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell and Christopher Walken (in a pleasantly subdued role), brings a sense of earnestness to a group of lowlifes who, in less capable hands, could have been nothing more than that. However, it is Rockwell who stands out by miles as Farrell’s goofy actor friend Billy, who is the root of everyone’s sorrows. He is an idiot, but a lovable one you can’t help but root for, and that is important in a movie filled with…well…psychopaths. This film is probably the best film that next to no one saw last year, which is a damn shame, and I advise everyone to rectify that immediately.
#3 – Argo
Before I get too far into this, I have not always been a fan of Ben Affleck. In another time, I thought that he was nothing more than a hack leeching off of his buddy Matt Damon. How wrong I was. In the past few years, Affleck has managed to humble me at every turn, and you know what? I deserved it. Now, here I am outspokenly saying that he was absolutely snubbed for not getting a Best Director nomination for Argo, by far the best Oscar-”worthy” film I have seen this whole year. It was by far the prettiest live-action film I had seen, the washed out/grainy look of the film was absolutely beautiful and effectively made the movie look and feel like a movie made in the late 70s. This immerses you into this world and helps heighten the tension even more than already possible. Affleck manages to carry the film both in front of and behind the camera, as his role as Tony Mendez has a tired yet controlled demeanor about him. But he is not the only great performance in the film as Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman all bring their A-game, and even infuse some much-needed comic relief in key spots.
While Affleck might have been snubbed for Best Director, Chris Terrio was rightfully nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, as Argo was by far the best written film of 2012. The film is well-balanced, never going too far overboard with the suspense or humor, yet still making it a suspenseful thrill ride from start to finish. And Terrio managed all of this while working within the constraints of telling a true story. Thankfully, he knocked it out of the park and told a fantastic true story that does not feel at all like a history lesson. And it gave me one of the greatest vulgar tell-offs of the year.
#2 – ParaNorman
In a year that was saturated in solid animated fare, ParaNorman stood head and shoulders above all others by being a fresh and invigorating film with a pure heart…about the undead. Chris Butler and Sam Fell made a fantastic film that feels almost like a throwback to Tim Burton‘s early work, but brings in their own quirky twist that definitely makes it their own. But best of all, the team decided to use beautiful stop-motion animation to bring their vision to life, which is a nice change of pace in a time when CG animated films seem to rule the megaplex. Each character looks beautiful and carefully designed, adding that much more to the film’s style.
In a year stacked with amazing third acts, ParaNorman‘s could possibly be the best of the bunch. It is beautifully crafted and visually stunning, but that is just the beginning of why it impressed me. While most films have a message underneath, few have as much to say or as much heart talking about them like this. The movie, especially by the end addresses several important topics in the world – Bullying, Acceptance, Fear, among others – and does it in a non-condescending and truly emotional way. Some of the revelations at the end of the film regarding its antagonist are surprising and heart-breaking, and I am secure enough in my masculinity to admit that the resolution brought me to tears. It is a movie with so much heart, it seems impossible NOT to like, and was an easy choice to be one of this high on the list.
#1 – Looper
So this pick may have some bias to it, as Rian Johnson‘s debut effort, Brick, is my favorite film of all time. However, that being said, Looper is by far one of the most clever and exciting Science-Fiction films since Duncan Jones‘ Moon. Johnson’s script is satisfying different and exciting, especially considering he almost immediately tells the audience that he refuses to get into the detail of time travel, including a pivotal scene midway through that not-so politely tells the viewer to not worry about it. Beyond that, the film’s narrative is amazingly firm, and takes off in an unexpected direction at the halfway mark. It is a bold decision, as the film could have devolved into an action sequence heavy film, but instead it thankfully chose to go in a more character driven route, examining the choices people make, and how they can affect not only your future, but every one around you.
Of course, when you have a cast that features Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt, you know the film is going to be well acted, and they do not disappoint. Levitt does an outstanding job of emulating Willis’ voice and mannerisms, as well as showing off that is quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s better leading men. Meanwhile, Willis proves that even as he is getting older he can still kick some serious ass and Blunt is also fantastic as the woman who takes in Joe and becomes his unlikely ally. Hell, even Noah Segan is great as the petty and bumbling Gat Man Kid Blue. However, the biggest surprise in the film acting-wise is Pierce Gagnon who plays Cid. Good child actors are few and far between, but Gagnon is stunning. He manages to display a wide range of emotions, from rage to sorrow to bored disinterest and does not come across as fake at any point.
Looper by far was the highlight of 2012 for me. It was a smart and thrilling sci-fi adventure that was able to inspire intense discussion and prove that not everyone in the industry is completely out of ideas. It now also helps establish Johnson as a filmmaker on the rise and whatever his future holds, he has a lot more people’s attention now.
That will conclude my list of the Top 10 Best Films of 2012. Agree with me? Disagree with me? Let me know in the comments below.
And stay tuned, as later in the week I will reveal the Top 10 WORST films of 2012!