Just as the Mayans Predicted, Nate’s 2012 Wrap-up of the Best, Worst, and Weirdest in Film
Welcome to the party, and yes I’m fashionable late as ever. This is the latest I’ve ever finished one of my annual wrap-up articles for the year in cinema, but it’s not my fault. 2012 was one stellar year for movies. It started strong with early releases that really surprised (The Grey, Chronicle, 21 Jump Street, The Cabin in the Woods), and carried on from there. I had 30 films that I rated at a B+ or higher; some years when I’m compiling my Top Ten I even have to duck into the B pluses just to round out ten. Not this year. This was a year of satisfying studio films, broad comedies that hit their mark, and artistically daring films that resonated with audiences. Of the nine Best Picture nominees this year, only two had grosses below $90 million. I saw over 120 movies released in 2012, and now I bring you my highs, lows, and peculiar observations.
Before getting under way, I like to re-evaluate my top ten list from last year to rearrange the order, slotting in late releases that I didn’t have the time or ability to see. There was some upheaval this year, more than normal, thanks to some sensational late films and myself cooling on some others.
2011 Top Ten List 2.0
10) The Adjustment Bureau (no change)
9) Margaret (new)
8) Rango (formerly 7)
7) Young Adult (formerly 5)
6) The Myth of the American Sleepover (no change)
5) Rise of the Planet of the Apes (formerly 4)
4) Bridesmaids (formerly 3)
3) We Need to Talk About Kevin (new)
2) The Descendants (no change)
1) Take Shelter (no change)
Also, last year’s worst film, 11/11/11 (slashes and not dashes, now) would have been supplanted by the appalling Adam Sandler-plays-twins movie, Jack and Jill. I was anticipating bad, I was anticipating outlandishly bad, but nothing can prepare you for how stunning and jaw-droppingly awful comedy Jack and Jill truly is. Jack and Jill is so odious, torturous, reprehensibly bad that it feels like one of the joke movies that Sandler made in 2009’s Funny People. You feel like the entire movie is one long joke put on by a contemptuous Sandler. I think my good pal Eric Muller had it right; we’re on the tail end of Sandler’s deal with the devil. Simply, Jack and Jill is why the terrorists hate us.
And now on with the show.
PART ONE: BEST/WORST FILMS OF 2012
10) Django Unchained
Django Unchained is a bloody, rollicking, talky, messy, exciting, surprising, uncomfortable yet satisfying movie and probably one of the oddest crowd-pleasers in recent memory. Like Inglourious Basterds, this movie is really a series of sit-downs that simmer with tension. The man has gotten so good with establishing the particulars of a scene, what the characters desire, and to push it to its breaking point when it comes to tension. While I don’t think anything approaches the highpoints of Basterds, this is still a movie that luxuriates in beautifully played tension and the danger lurking underneath Tarantino’s finely crafted words. It doesn’t whitewash the evils and viciousness of slavery, but at the same time Tarantino knows how to serve an audience and their demands for big characters, big set pieces, and big vengeance. Django is a sturdy Western/blaxploitation film, and whatever other genres Tarantino feels like tossing into his cinematic blender. Whatever you classify it as, Django Unchained is another Tarantino original specialty and his tremendous talent comes through loud and clear, even with a few false endings and self-indulgences at play. It looks great, has a great soundtrack, and presents great acting talent reciting Tarantino’s great words like they were prized possessions. It’s a bit long and a bit overdone, but when you’re enjoying yourself, who wants to leave the party early?
9) The Cabin in the Woods
The Cabin in the Woods is a brash enterprise, a blast of entertainment and a breath of fresh air in a genre that typically teeters into self-parody. The movie becomes a funhouse of horrors and the frenetic carnage and chaos elevates the energy level. I cannot think of a movie that ended in such a whirling dervish of excitement and deep, demented satisfaction. This is one movie that doesn’t just end with a bang; it ends with every bang you can think of. Horror fans are going to be hopping out of the theaters, foaming at the mouth, desperate to tell every one of their friends what they just witnessed. You may think you know given what’s already been revealed via the trailers, but really you have no idea how deep this thing goes and to what ends. Unless you just happened to be me, which at last count there was only one of (my evil twin long since slain… or was he?). I say this not as some point of pretentious bragging, but it’s because I wrote a horror screenplay a year ago that also satirized the genre tropes. I won’t go into spoiler detail, but both of our bad guys were called into question as being bad, from a greater good standpoint, and the killers had more on their minds than simply punishing dumb, horny teenagers. Well, after watching Cabin in the Woods, I know that screenplay goes back in the shelf now where it will live in eternal slumber thanks to core similarities. But if somebody’s got to be wielding the knife, at least it’s my man crush Joss Whedon.
8) The Invisible War
This is a shocking, sobering, and eye-opening documentary that deserves to be seen by every American. You owe it to the brave men and women who serve this country, to see this movie. The ugly truth needs to come out and be finally dealt with. When I left the theater, I was radiating unquenchable fury. You could have harnessed my rage as an alternative resource. A lot of people blithely say they support the troops but we as a nation are letting these brave men and women down. The system is letting these people down, protecting rapists, training them to be better rapists, and then setting them loose upon the civilian population to continue their heinous crimes. Kirby Dick’s excoriating advocacy documentary is powerful, furious, but sensitive to the victims and their horrifying ordeals. It declares that we can and should do better. In April of 2012, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta watched The Invisible War and two days later made some changes. He took the decision to prosecute away from the commanders. It’s a start, but there’s a long way to go to fixing the military’s patronizing view of women. These victims deserve recognition and justice, which has long been denied them. You won’t see a more challenging, infuriating, and compelling documentary of this year. It’s hard to watch at many points, and I cried at five separate occasions, but this is a movie that needs to be watched. I invite all readers to visit the Not Invisible site and consider joining the advocacy of this noble cause. You say you support the troops? Prove it.
7) Pirates! Band of Misfits
Delightful from beginning to end, Aardman’s stop-motion animated caper Pirates! Band of Misfits is hands down the best animated film of the year. Its wry British humor is mixed with inspired slapstick and a child-like sense of folly as the Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) and his motley crew try to prove themselves to their pirate peers. Then they run into Charles Darwin, discover their parrot is really the last remaining dodo, and have to face off against a double sword-wielding Queen Victoria. The imagination on display is remarkable. Even the puns are funny. The pacing is swift, with gags flying so fast you’ll likely want a second viewing to catch them. The voice acting is spot-on and Grant anchors the film with his gleeful impulsivity. The story is simple but well executed and fun. I absolutely loved this movie. Its action sequences are well orchestrated, its comedic sensibilities are silly but often satisfying (a monkey butler who speaks in pre-written cards, a member of the crew that is merely a fish with a pirate hat on), it’s self-aware without being too self-conscious, and the animation is wonderful. Kids will miss the references to, among others, Darwin, Jane Austen, and John Merrick, but adults will appreciate the nods. Pirates! Band of Misfits is a wildly entertaining family-friendly animated adventure that has it all.
6) Safety Not Guaranteed
It’s so nice to discover a movie that lifts your spirits, that touches your heart without reaching for the treacle, and delivers a funny experience without compromising its modest aims and modest tone. Safety Not Guaranteed obviously plays a deliberate dance with the audience, vacillating between moments that make Kenneth seem crazy and moments that make you question whether he’s legit. The movie reminded me in a lot of ways with the underrated 2000 flick Happy Accidents, which featured Vincent D’Onofrio as a romantic suitor who also might be a time traveler or just plain nuts. By the perfect end, I was so hopeful and overjoyed and left the theater soaring on my good vibes. I can’t guarantee everyone will find the same level of engagement in the romantic relationship, but I believe that the movie is inspired, clever, and authentic enough to deliver a crowd-pleasing finish. It’s earnest without being hokey. Safety Not Guaranteed is a charming movie that seems to work a spell on you while watching; you get so invested in watching lonely people find meaningful human connections that you are compelling the movie to end under some happy scenario. Director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly deserve to make waves in Hollywood with what they’re able to accomplish with a tidy budget and some clever yet earnest writing. This beguiling love story is all about stretching out of your comfort zone and taking a plunge into the unknown. Just like Kenneth, we’re all looking for a partner worthy of that plunge (not necessarily a romantic partner, mind you). Take the plunge and go see Safety Not Guaranteed, one of the best movies of the year. Not bad for a movie potentially based upon an Internet meme, huh?
Argo establishes Ben Affleck as a dependable, versatile, actor’s director. Affleck has proven to be a director who immerses himself into his stories, and his fingerprints are on every frame, every performance. He just nails it. The pacing is tight, the suspense builds to near unsustainable levels, and the tones are expertly juggled to prove complimentary rather than distractions. Best of all, Affleck lets Chris Terrio’s terrific script take center stage. The incredible true-story of Argo is the biggest selling point for the movie, and Affleck doesn’t try to gussy up a whopper of a tale. Argo really is three movies expertly rolled together into one; a Middle East thriller, a Hollywood satire, and a D.C. procedural. It’s a bonus that every one of these segments works but it’s even more surprising, and rewarding, that the different segments all snap together without breaking tone. Credit Affleck the director for making sure his movie parts don’t overpower one another. The film has even more unexpected resonance given the recent spur of violent protests in the Middle East, notably the deadly attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi. Argo doesn’t sensationalize the hostage crises for cheap popcorn entertainment. Nor does it glorify or denigrate the Iranian’s outrage over the U.S. giving sanctuary to the deposed Shah. For a very political subject, the movie takes a very muted political stance, relying on the facts of the situation. The movie finds a rare poignancy in its appeal to the power of international cooperation. By the end of the movie, you might even tear up when you hear the actual hostages and government officials recount their struggle and ultimate triumph. Argo is that rare breed of a movie that seems to have everything. While it’s not perfect, it’s clear that Affleck is here to stay as a top-level director.
4) Cloud Atlas
There’s so much to unpack, dissect, discuss, debate, and contemplate with this movie, and every hour I think of some new connection that dovetails the plots. Cloud Atlas is a thrillingly artistic mosaic, a giant puzzle that begs for closer examination. Unlike the films of Terrence Malick, this is a dense, challenging work that is also accessible and entertaining. We get a kaleidoscope of the human experience told in beautiful flourishes. There are a lot of demands with Cloud Atlas, and ultimately it may demand multiple viewings to completely sort out one’s opinion on this gigantic picture of gigantic feeling. The individual stories of Cloud Atlas may not be terribly profound but collectively this movie is something special. I anticipate it will be trendy to mock its sincerity and ambition and New Agey spirituality (not that a negative opinion is automatically invalid). We live in a cynical world. It’s rare to find a movie that has so many things to say with such intense earnestness. It’s even more rare for that movie to be good. Due to the sci-fi elements and time hopping, The Fountain and 2001 will be natural film comparisons, but In some ways Cloud Atlas reminds me more of another divisive film, 2001’s Moulin Rouge. Both were sincere movies about the genuine power of love and human connection, told with such artistic flair, drive, and ambition, and both attempt to transform the traditional tropes of storytelling and drama into a brave new 21st century collage of sight and sound and sprawling spirits.
3) The Grey
I would not have expected director Joe Carnahan to deliver anything that could be described as nuanced or meditative, but lo and behold The Grey is a survival thriller that’s as thoughtful and emotional as it is viscerally exhilarating. The Grey is the first great movie of 2012 and I’m astounded that it was released in January. The action sequences, though to be fair they’re really more suspense pieces, are the most nerve-wracking I’ve endured in years. The sound design for this movie is exceptional, probably the best use of sound to fashion anxiety since 2007’s No Country for Old Men or even Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. The Grey has plenty more on its mind than making an audience jump. It also wants to make the audience think and, in the end, feel genuine emotion. The men are fighting for their survival but having an existential crisis all the same, trying to supply meaning to the horrific, find reasons to keep fighting. The Grey is a startling movie; horrific, jolting, thrilling, moving, beautiful, philosophical, and extremely captivating. Carnahan has crafted an exciting movie that transcends genre. There were moments so tense that I was chewing on my knuckles. There were moments so intense I felt like I had to look away. And there were moments so poignant that tears welled up in my eyes. I look forward to watching this movie again and finding even more at work. No grey area here, this is one truly excellent movie.
2) Zero Dark Thirty
This, ladies and gentlemen, is what essential, invigorating, quality filmmaking is all about. Much like The Hurt Locker, here is a movie that transcends politics and genre. Zero Dark Thirty is a nerve-wracking thriller, it’s an intelligent crime procedural, and it’s an engrossing and powerful work of relevant art. It operates on such a high level of artistic achievement that little else from 2012 even comes close. This thorough, intense, provocative, thought-provoking, morally ambiguous, thrilling, and generally tremendous movie is taken to a whole other level with its concluding act, brilliantly recreating the raid that took down Osama bin Laden, the most cathartic and satisfying ending of the year. You’ll be liable to whistle in awe at how accomplished Zero Dark Thirty is. Of course audiences should not accept everything they see in the movie as unimpeachable gospel, as dramatic license is needed to help shape a formidable narrative. This is still a movie that desires to entertain and yea does it entertain. I look forward to the American public getting a chance to experience the same riveting theatrical experience that I had with my critical brethren, as well as the sense of catharsis and relief by film’s end. Zero Dark Thirty forgoes sensationalism for modulation, eschews moral righteousness for ambiguity, and expects the audience to keep up with its retinue of information. And you’ll be grateful to be given the chance to tag along.
And the best film of 2012 is……..
1) Silver Linings Playbook
I’m smitten big time with Silver Linings Playbook. I’m completely in the tank for this film. Future viewings (already planning one soon) will probably highlight certain minute flaws I’ve failed to notice the first go-round. And even if those flaws become more apparent (yes the final dance is something of a contrived climax) I simply do not care. The movie’s many virtues far exceed any shortcomings that could potentially arise. It plays to some familiar rom-com elements but it goes about its business with its own funky charm. The acting, writing, and directing are all on such a heightened level of excellence, it’s amazing just to watch all the parts work together so masterfully. The characters are so interesting and beautifully flawed, and the actors are so in tune with one another, delivering bar-raising performances that take the movie into another realm of enjoyment. It’s a movie that gave me such rapturous emotional peaks, a deeply satisfying crowd-pleaser that doesn’t just nail the big moments, it crushes them. I wasn’t just won over by this movie; I’ve become its disciple. I preach the gospel of Silver Linings Playbook. Here is a rapturous feel-good movie that doesn’t feel like it’s pandering or dulling its edge even after it takes some conventional turns. Bradley Cooper is terrific, Jennifer Lawrence is astounding, and together they form the couple you cheer for. Silver Linings Playbook is everything you’d want in a stellar movie. I can’t wait to watch it again and get caught up in its wondrous spell once more. This one was a hard call, do I go heart (Silver Linings) or head (Zero Dark Thirty). After seeing Zero a second time, and Silver Linings five more times (thank you legally obtained screeners), I’m going with heart.
Honorable mention: Moonrise Kingdom, God Bless America, The Impossible, 21 Jump Street
10) Act of Valor
Why should a movie be any better because it has real Navy Seals pretending to be actors rather than actors pretending to be Navy Seals? Is this movie brought to a greater level of excellence because the characters know intuitively how to hold a gun properly? Was the slight difference in posture the difference maker? I suppose there is some curiosity seeing real Navy Seals go through all their training, but you know who else could be trained? Actors! Which these fellas are not. When you get down to it, the audience that made Act of Valor a hit this past spring reminds me a lot of the audience that went to see the nearly four-hour Civil War movie, Gods and Generals. These are audiences obsessed with the details of realism. They’ll pore over the details of costumes and tactics. Whether the movie is actually any good or not, the characters engaging, the plot entertaining, is all immaterial. It’s the details they came to see. Hence the real-life Navy Seals, the missions inspired by real Seals, and the live ammunition on set. That’s what makes a movie to them. For me, I need more than realistic details; I need people and a story, and if it’s an action movie, then there better be well-developed action. It’s not like Act of Valor is a documentary people. It’s all pretend. Kathryn Bigelow’s movie about the hunt and execution of Osama bin Laden uses actors and has an Oscar-winning director and screenwriter. Let’s see if anyone can tell the difference.
9) The Watch
If scientists could take time away from, you know, curing diseases, and craft the perfect blend of “meh” in a lab, I would be The Watch. The humor of boys misbehaving and talking tough doesn’t ever seem to get further than the initial concept. The movie ends up becoming a more crass version of Ghostbusters, with an especially fascination for the male member. This is a very penis-obsessive movie. Usually guy-centric sex raunchy comedies will definitely feature strong discussion/comedy revolving around male genitalia, but this is one of the few movies where complete storylines hinge upon penises (weird imagery, I’ll admit). Sitting through 105 minutes with little laughs, irritating characters, and poorly conceived action in place of genuine comedic payoffs, well it’s not exactly a recipe for a successful summer comedy. And yet, with all its obvious faults, I couldn’t hate the movie as others have. It’s certainly not likeable but it does go about its business with a certain swagger, albeit misguided. Cocky loudmouths failing at entertainment are still marginally better than artists who don’t even try. It sounds like I’m reaching, and I am, but The Watch, certainly a bad comedy, may eventually be worth a watch when, you know, it’s on TV and you can half-heartedly pay attention to it while you go about your day.
8) Rock of Ages
Where Rock of Ages goes wrong, and where Les Miserables succeeds, is thinking of how best to translate the experience of the stage to the medium of film. Director Adam Shankman does a pitiful job staging his musical numbers, with lackluster choreography that rarely takes advantage of the sets and characters. Worse, Shankman feels like he strays from the tone and angle of the stage show, sanitizing the rock and roll lifestyle and looking for ways to squeeze in bland happy endings. In other words, he doesn’t capture enough of the essence of the original stage show to please neophytes and fans of the Broadway show. It has the misfortune of two of the blandest leads I’ve ever seen in a musical. Julianne Hogue (Footloose) and diego Boneta (Mean Girls 2) are both physically blessed specimens of human genetics, but oh are these kids boring boring boring. Their love story is completely malnourished and you couldn’t scrape together one interesting thing about them combined. Les Miserables is a grand movie musical smartly adapted to the opportunities of film. Rock of Ages is a sloppy, neutered, criminally boring mess poorly developed and poorly translated to the silver screen. Let this be an educational resource for future generations. Take note, producers, and learn from the mistakes of Rock of Ages and the accomplishments of Les Miserables.
7) The Devil Inside
I heard all about The Devil Inside earlier this year, when supposedly midnight screening audiences were so incensed that they practically became a riotous mob, throwing items at the screen, loudly booing, some even destroying theater equipment. If that doesn’t sell this movie, then I don’t know what will. I wasn’t expecting much from this faux documentary about one pretty girl’s (Fernanda Andrade) search for her crazy mom who may or may not be possessed by demons. She enlists the help of two exorcists and a camera crew and goes searching for answers. Never mind that the movie is absent any scares outside the sudden jump variety, ignore the empty characters and nonsensical plotting and poor pacing and choppy editing, as well as some bad Italian accents, and let’s get down to what makes this movie so notorious — the ending. Just when it appears that The Devil Inside is gearing up for a climactic showdown between good and evil, just when it seems like the movie is finally getting somewhere, it ends in the most abrupt, ludicrous fashion (note to self: when transporting possessed people, stow them away in the trunk). You’re left dumbstruck, shocked that the filmmakers cheated you out of an ending. It’s a nonsensical and cheap thing to do, and I can understand why it inflamed audiences (it still made over $50 million, so I think the filmmakers are feeling fine). Only those easily spooked by demonic possession would find this movie scary. Everyone else will just find it upsetting, not because of its content, but because of its lack of a workable conclusion.
6) The Odd Life of Timothy Green
The Odd Life of Timothy Green is certainly odd but probably not for the reasons that Disney or the filmmakers had in mind. It feels like it exists in an alternative universe where everyone lacks any common sense, curiosity, or relatable human emotions. Nobody acts like a recognizable human being in this film, not for a single second. These people are all zombies, cowed into the cult of Timothy, the magical and, ultimately, messianic figure. But allow me to declare the emperor has no clothes. This Timothy is not worthy of the adulation he receives. He walks around like an ecological Forrest Gump, spitting sappy platitudes and changing lives with the insipid nature of all these easy messages. I wish I could say there was one genuine moment in this movie, but I cannot. It takes a magical premise and suffocates it with unearned solemnity. Why can’t a movie about growing a kid in your garden try and be, you know, fun? Well, I suppose embarrassing music recitals and kids getting hit in the head could be mistaken for fun, but I prefer a well-developed story, characters I care about, and a genuine sense of enchantment to go with the supernatural. If we can make a movie about a kid with leaves on his ankles, then we can turn any sort of half-formed maudlin pap into family entertainment. Kids deserve better than The Odd Life of Timothy Green, and, for the record, so do plants.
5) Atlas Shrugged Part II
You’d think after the horrible and horribly boring Atlas Shrugged: Part One that a promised Part Two might just disappear into the ether. If only we could have been so fortunate. Ayn Rand’s cautionary opus about the evils of big government is given another creaky adaptation that fails to justify its existence. I feel like I could repeat verbatim my faults with the first film. Once again we don’t have characters but mouthpieces for ideology, an ideology that celebrates untamed greed. Once again the “best and brightest” (a.k.a. world’s richest) are disappearing and the world is grinding to a halt without their necessary genius. Does anyone really think if the world’s billionaires left in a huff that the world would cease to function? Once again the main thrust of the inert drama is over inconsequential railway economics. Once again people just talk in circles in cheap locations. Once again the government agencies are a bunch of clucking stooges, eager to punish successful business. Once again Rand’s Objectivist worldview is treated as gospel and value is only ascribed to the amount of money one can produce. This time we have a slightly better budget, a better director, and some recognizable actors like Samantha Manthis, Esai Morales, Ray Wise, Richard T. Jones, and D.B. Sweeney as the mysterious John Gault. This woeful sequel will only appeal to Rand’s most faithful admirers, and you probably don’t want to hang out with those people anyway. If there is indeed a concluding Part Three, it will be further proof that Rand’s market-based screeds are not accurate. The market has already rejected two of these dreadful movies.
Cosmopolis is all flaccid pontification, empty verbal masturbation, and crushing dead weight. It was a Herculean effort for me to watch this meandering movie to the end and I know I can’t be alone in this regard. If only the characters were really characters, or the plot had any minute sense of momentum, or that the dialogue was less purposely obtuse, or if the movie felt like it was at least going somewhere or had some small recognizable shred of purpose. I won’t go as far to say you should be worried if any of your friends gush to you about how great this movie is, but you should probably keep an eye on them or see if they bumped their head. This movie is more like an insufferable lecture by the most boring people who confuse cerebral with impenetrable. If you’re not going to supply me any significant means of entry to engage with your art, then I’ll just go play with somebody else. Cosmopolis feels like the worst and most pretentious student film you’ll ever see. The rub is that a great director like David Cronenberg made it.
3) Piranha 3DD
Wow, I was not expecting the follow-up to the so-bad-it’s-excellent Piranha 3D to pretty much just inhabit the “so bad” spectrum, though I ignored warning signs at my own risk. Where did things go so horribly wrong? Much like Expendables 2, the movie’s tone shifts from tongue-in-cheek 80s throwback to meta self-awareness. The movie becomes more of a lousy comedy with some absurd violence rather than a horror movie with a nasty sense of humor. The entire premise is so labored, that a water park would become piranha-infested, and the characters are so unlikable; to dub them one-dimensional is to be too kind. The acting is abysmal even by bottom-of-the-barrel B-movie standards. The tension is next to nil and the gore effects are pretty cheesy, trading gallons of blood for ingenuity (many character deaths occur off screen, like Gary Busey’s). Then once the piranhas strike, the movie just completely abandons any sense of reality and becomes a gonzo comedy of the absurd, with characters behaving like idiots from another dimension. There’s even one character that gets decapitated by a simple string of flags. It’s at this point that Piranha 3DD drops any slapped-together sense of purpose. And yet this ghoulish mess can only barely make it to a scant 70 minutes (good luck getting through the abominably unfunny end credits outtakes). Piranha 3DD completely misfires on every level, failing as a horror movie, a horror-comedy, a comedy, a gore movie, hell, as a suitable movie. Whatever the metric, this movie blows. I’m going to start drinking heavily and forget I ever looked forward to this monstrosity on taste.
2) Project X
Project X was the first party movie I’ve watched where my sympathies lay not with the party animals but with the annoyed neighbors and parents. I just found this whole thoughtless, empty exercise to be exploitative, mean-spirited, and exhausting. Am I that old or is this movie simply that bad? Even at barely 80 minutes, this is one creaky movie that struggles to pad out its running time. The party mostly consists of two-second shots of people jumping around, girls shaking their asses, people smashing things, people vomiting, and the occasional boob flash to remind you how similar in tone the film is to the sleazy Girls Gone Wild series. The whole movie runs on the caffeinated, fist-pumping highs of unchecked male ego and fantasy, but it’s trying so hard to be the most epic party ever, and that’s the only ambition the film has. Even some of its egregious faults could be partially forgiven if the movie was any funny. It just isn’t. It’s loud and profane and anarchic but without interesting, relatable, or even defined characters, and the plot is so feeble I could sum it up thusly: Nerds throw party. Crap happens. They get to be cool. In between those momentous plot points is a lot of incoherent imagery of people dancing, women being objectified (by the camera, the filmmakers, the audience), and pounding music. The plot is so simplistic, so plainly an afterthought, that the entire hedonistic festivity reeks of lazy exploitation. Congratulations, Project X, you’ve turned me into my parents. I felt a deep sadness watching the events of Project X. I won’t bemoan it as evidence of the decline of Western civilization but it’s certainly not helping matters.
And the worst film of 2012 is……..
1) 2016: Obama’s America
2016: Obama’s America is a documentary that will convert no one. It’s constructed entirely to reinforce the alarmist notions of the president’s most fringe detractors. Director Dinesh D’Souza doesn’t deal with facts because they get in the way of his exaggerated narrative of a fictional Obama, a man who is destroying our country in a quest to prove himself to his absentee ghost of a father. There are plenty of logical inconsistencies, conjecture, and psychological projection and little evidence besides the expert opinions of people who knew a guy who knew a guy who knew Obama Sr. The basic assertion that Obama’s presidency is his attempt to live out his father’s ideals doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. It marginalizes a complex, educated man, saying he’s just a daddy’s boy, just like the film marginalizes the president’s historic election by saying it was simply an outpouring of white guilt (what about non-white people?). I repeat: this pseudo-documentary is such an intellectually dishonest, disingenuous, feeble-minded character attack. It’s slimy, snide, petty, and wallows in conjecture and fear mongering. When the denizens in my theater applauded by film’s end, I felt a great sadness wash over me. If these people thought this appalling film was effective, was compelling, was informative, and was accurate, then I fear what prism these people choose to view the world through. Because 2016: Obama’s America isn’t just a horrid example of propaganda, it’s also the worst movie of the year, bar none.
Dishonorable mention: The Man with the Iron Fists, Contraband, Hitchcock, The Master
PART TWO: INDIVIDUAL AWARDS AND HONORS
Best Titles: Damsels in Distress, The Five-Year Engagement, Your Sister’s Sister, Take This Waltz, Zero Dark Thirty
Worst Titles: Project X, Salman Fishing in the Yemen, Premium Rush, This is 40, Darling Companion, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
Titles That Could Be Confused with Porn: Joyful Noise, First Position, Fun Size, 3,2,1,… Frankie Go Boom, Frankenweenie, Katy Perry: Part of Me 3D
How Dare You Reject Jennifer Lawrence: I felt next to nothing for this whiny, pitiful couple in Like Crazy. First off, they’re only together for fifteen minutes before being ripped apart, which doesn’t exactly allow me enough time to emotionally engage. And then there’s the fact that these “crazy kids” have absolutely no passion between them, no spark, no nothing that would compel them to be together against all odds. Jacob (Anton Yelchin) has a perfectly lovely, charming, and available alternative played by the lovely and charming Jennifer Lawrence. She even makes this doofus breakfast in bed. This movie felt like an entire montage of small moments that never accumulated into anything believable or compelling. I’ll take Lawrence and breakfast in bed and be grateful.
Best Time in a Theater for 2012: I never thought I would have said this, but honestly it’s got to be my preview screening of Breaking Dawn: Part Two, the final film in the Twilight series. The preview audience I was with was absolutely losing their collective minds. Women were screaming, cries of “Nooo” rang through the room; all around me was the echo of consternation and shock, women trying to absorb the reality of what they were viewing. Sitting with them, taking in their shrieks and lamentations, the general horror of what might happen next… it was a thing of beauty. To be one tiny drop in an ocean of furious estrogen, well it’s an experience that deserves mentioning. Its strange experiences like this that make me love going to the movies, and that is a combination of words I’d never thought I would write about any Twilight film.
Runner-up: The orgy of surprise and delight from The Cabin in the Woods.
Worst Casting Decision of 2012: Kristen Stewart as Joan of Arc, I mean as the titular heroine in Snow White and the Huntsman. She’s not exactly a figure of compelling strength, magnetism, or inspiration.
Runner-up: Blake Lively as the lead in Oliver Stone’s Savages (That’s right, I can hold back any Taylor Kitch comments for 2012).
Batman Deficiency: Now that Christopher Nolan completed his caped crusader trilogy, we can finally run some final numbers. The timeline between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight is about a year, as the Joker notes to a congregation of mobsters. I’ll be generous and say that the events of The Dark Knight last two months. We learn that Batman never appeared again after the death of Harvey Dent, and now we flash to eight years later with The Dark Knight Rises. So you’re telling me that we only really got a solid year of Batman being Batman? That over the course of nine years he was Batman for only one of them? That’s very little Batman-ing for a Batman franchise.
Best Board Game Adaptation (Yet): Battleship. Seriously, it was not a bad movie. Seriously.
Drugs Can Save Lives: Flight is also unique in the sense that it may be the only film I know of to posit that drugs and alcohol could save lives. Whip (Denzel Washington) is drunk and high while flying, but he saves the day because of his impairment. Ordinarily in the event of a crash or a dive he would revert to his training; every pilot in a flight simulator recreating the events crashed and killed all passengers. Instead, Whip goes by instinct, thinking outside the box, and saving the day. And what enables him to do this? Booze, sweet life-saving booze! He’s so calm and relaxed in the moment that he’s able to think straight and discover unorthodox solutions in limited time. Flight never makes this fact explicit but I think it would have made a more interesting film if this debate had been given more airtime. Yeah Whip was drunk, but not every drunk is impaired the same. I’m not excusing driving while intoxicated, but the movie presents a strange situation, fictional yes, where drugs and alcohol saved lives.
Sweet Romance but Watch Out for the Pervs: Moonrise Kingdom. Kids in their underwear. Make sure you watch it with an on-the-level crowd.
Ishtar in Space Award: Disney’s $250 million mega flop, John Carter
Best Villain: Joe (Matthew McConaughey) in Killer Joe. McConaughey had a hell of a year and his was terrifying yet magnetic as the unsavory lawman that performs hits on the side. The man’s evil was so alluring, so spine-tingling, that you almost wanted him to exact his fury on our trailer trash characters. At least when he was done with his chicken.
Runners-up: Wolves in The Grey; Queen Victoria, Pirates: Band of Misfits; Werner Herzog in Jack Reacher.
Best Movie I Used as Personal Therapy Session: The Five-Year Engagement (and also, to a minor degree, Celeste and Jesse Forever)
Most Disappointing Film of 2012: Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. Anderson is still a vastly talented filmmaker but I lament the path his career has taken. I adored the first four movies of Anderson’s career, but now I wonder if I’ll ever get something along the likes of Boogie Nights or even Punch-Drunk Love again. At this point Anderson has earned enough artistic latitude to tell whatever stories he so chooses. This is why my frustration has mounted because I am at a loss to why he feels compelled to tell this story and in this manner. The Master is an artistically stillborn affair. The main ideas and themes are hammered with little variation, the slight plot there is drifts aimlessly finding no sense of momentum, and the characters are kept at such distance that the film feels clinical, like we’re observing creatures under glass for study. It just so happens that none of these characters are worth the unwarranted attention. The Master made me lose faith, mainly that I’ll ever enjoy a Paul Thomas Anderson film from this point on.
Runner-up: Kenneth Lonergan’s five-years-in-the-making, Margaret.
Found Footage Done Right: The super hero movie Chronicle was a real surprise in the first few weeks of 2012, and then the enjoyable horror anthology V/H/S proved to me that the trappings of found footage are best utilized in small doses. That way instead of waiting for 80 minutes for something to happen, you only have to wait 15. Progress!
Life’s a Stage But I Don’t Know Why: Anna Karenina
Better Than You’d Think: Premium Rush, That’s My Boy, End of Watch, Hope Springs
Best 10 Minutes of 2012: The thrilling, pinned-to-your-seat tension of the fateful Osama bin Laden raid that concludes Zero Dark Thirty.
Runners-up: Anne Hathaway performs “I Dreamed a Dream” in Les Miserables; the funhouse finale of The Cabin in the Woods; the stunning recreation of the tsunami, The Impossible.
Some Lingering Prometheus Questions: (some spoilers) Why did these super aliens create life on Earth and leave maps to a planet that was little more than a weapons depot? Why would these superior beings create life hundreds of thousands of years ago and then leave clues 35,000 years ago that would lead to the destruction of their little experiment? The motivation seems rather hazy. It’s not like the aliens created life on all these planets and waited to be contacted so that they knew their little biological Easy Bake oven was done and then they could reclaim a new planet. It’s not some imperialist empire or colonization scheme; it appears to just be wanton destruction. That seems like a waste of effort. Did these aliens keep checking back, see our ancestors hunting and gathering and go, “Oh my Space Deity, I can’t believe we created life on this planet? We were so wasted. Well, just wait until they conquer space travel and then we’ll kill them with a weird biological weapon.” If your desire is to destroy life, why even have a waiting period? If these “engineers” wanted to destroy Earth why not do it when there was far less clean up? Is there some kind of parent-child relationship I’m just not getting here?
They Deserved a Better Movie: The Tuskegee Airmen in Red Tails.
Timothy Green—My Version: As a defensive means to sooth my ailing brain, I started coming up with my own version of where The Odd Life of Timothy Green should have gone. The ability to write down a bunch of general attributes and then grow a child seems too good to pass up. I desire more of this unique child cultivation process. For instance, Cindy and Jim want their kid to rock out as a musician, but they simply write “rocks” on their slip of paper before burying it. How is the magical entity that raises mutant plant kids going to be able to understand what the family intends with this vague entry? What if Timothy Green was born with rocks in his head? I wanted the film to simply turn into a comical version of The Monkey’s Paw, where every new version of Timothy Green would go horribly wrong. The first was born and then immediately suffocated because Cindy and Jim forgot to write “working lungs.” Then there would be the Timothy born with a “hunger for life” and become a cannibalistic plant zombie. Or the Timothy born with “his mother’s heart” and then upon his birth Cindy’s heart would go missing. What I wanted was a macabre trial and error game where the would-be parents had to refine exactly what they were asking for with the nondescript magical being in charge of answering hopeful parents. I want The Odd Lives and Deaths of Timothy Green and I want Cindy and Jim to have to bury all the malfunctioning prototypes in the same garden. Then, when they do perfect their perfect kid, the police find a yard littered with the corpses of children and haul them away.
Contraband Mobius Strip: There are so many breakneck plot turns thrown in with the Mark Wahlberg crime thriller Contraband that it feels like a broken blender spewing half-formed plot residue everywhere. It’s the film equivalent of the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie story (“If you give a smuggler a deadline, he’ll need a contact. If you give him a contact, he’ll need to do the contact a favor. If he does the contact a favor, he’ll have to do this one job for him. If he does this one job for him, he’ll need a crew. If he needs a crew, he’ll need… etc.).
My concluding paragraph to the awful Edgar Allan Poe film, The Raven:
And The Raven, never flowing, still is going, still is going,
On the pallid screen I silently stare at in unblinking bore,
And its plot is not that smart, missing heart and clues to start,
And it seems like the writers were tasked with an unfriendly chore,
The movie does not work; it’s dull and empty to its very core,
And so I lastly ask does this movie properly entertain?
Quoth The Raven – “nevermore.”
Maybe Jack Black Has an Oscar in Him After All: Bernie
Thank You Award (But Afraid to Agree Too Loud): God Bless America
Good Character, So-So Movie: Charlize Theron in Snow White and the Huntsman; Guy Pearce in Lockout; Michael Stuhlberg in Men in Black III; Eva Green in Dark Shadows; and Ari Graynor in For a Good Time, Call… (Somebody get this woman her own starring vehicle, stat).
The World’s Most Indestructible Man: The one memorable thing I took away from the Prohibition bootlegging drama Lawless was just how damn hard it is to kill Tom Hardy. He literally survives getting his throat slit and being shot like eight times square in the gut. And then the movie looks to be in on the joke, treating reveals of his ongoing existence as punch lines. Simply put, Hardy may be the Terminator.
Did I Secretly Make Compliance?: I’d like to share a spooky bit of personal connection to the film Compliance. There was an offhand music cue that caught my interest. When we cut to the dining area early on, there’s an Admiral Twin song playing. Who is Admiral Twin? Why they’re a brilliant pop-rock band from Tulsa, Oklahoma that I’ve been singing the praises of since 2000. I’ve won over friends with my discipleship, but the band is still relatively unknown, playing few performances outside of their native Tulsa. Given the phonetic approximations of my name with the film’s writer/director, Craig Zobel, and the inclusion of an obscure indie band that few know (but should), it seems likely that Zobel may indeed be some far off relative of mine or, more likely, myself. I must have crafted an entire film without ever knowing about it. This seems like the most probable scenario.
Where’s My Ending?: The Bourne Legacy has no ending. I don’t mean a bad ending. This movie is completely absent an ending. Not just an ending but also a third act. It’s like the filmmakers lopped off the third act and said, “If you want to see where this story ends up, you better get us a sequel.” There is no resolution for ANY STORYLINE in the entire movie. None. The good guys are still scrambling, figuring out how to blow the big bad conspiracy. The big bad conspiracy is still alive and kicking. The patsy for their wicked shenanigans is still the patsy. There is nothing that can be construed as an ending. At least the Damon Bourne movies each had a beginning, middle, and end and tied up their film plots. Sure the characters carried over and there were some larger, overarching storylines, but at least those movies felt complete. The Bourne Legacy is badly incomplete, a gaping void of a third act, and a blunder that makes me question the sanity of the filmmakers. How could you make a big budget summer action movie and not provide any semblance of closure? When the Moby tune kicked in on the soundtrack, I sat stunned, pinned to my seat in disbelief. “No, it can’t be over. They couldn’t possibly just end things here.” Oh, and they do. So enjoy 2/3 of a movie, folks.
Most Promising First Half: Looper
Most Disappointing Second Half: Looper
Runners-up: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook; Ali Corbin in American Reunion; Eva Green in Dark Shadows; Samantha Barks in Les Miserables.
Weirdest Moment of 2012: In Taken 2, Liam Neeson’s daughter (Maggie Grace) is running across rooftops and just randomly tossing grenades (vacation grenades?), so dad can hear the sounds of explosions and note how close she is. Except she never looks where she’s tossing, so she’s indiscriminately tossing live explosive devices on the innocent civilians of Istanbul. She literally could be arrested as a terrorist. If there’s a Taken 3, I think one of these innocent Turkish families should seek vengeance.
Best Onscreen Death: The merman in The Cabin in the Woods. Great payoff.
Runners-up: Quentin goes boom, Django Unchained; Frank’s first kill, God Bless America; Guy who gets shot and goes through metal detector, The Expendables 2.
Give Me Plot or Give Me Death: After sitting through the relative plot-free movies The Master, Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Cosmopolis, and Holy Motors, what I’ve long suspected has finally become crystal clear for me. I am a Plot Man. I need my movies to have a plot, a story, and some greater sense of purpose than just recreating setting or luxuriating in half-formed characters. I am just not a fan of airy, aimless movies that sacrifice story and character upon the pillar of verisimilitude. I checked my watch more often during those listed movies than I may have total for two years. And I don’t even own a watch.
PART THREE: MOVIE GRADES
I have reviews and mini-reviews for almost all of the graded movies, and I invite readers to check them out at PictureShowPundits.com for further details.A —– Argo The Cabin in the Woods Cloud Atlas Django Unchained The Grey The Invisible War Pirates: Band of Misfits Safety Not Guaranteed Silver Linings Playbook Zero Dark Thirty A- —– 21 Jump Street Compliance God Bless America The Impossible Moonrise Kingdom Seven Psychopaths B+ —– The Avengers Bernie Chronicle Goon Hope Springs Les Miserables Life of Pi Lincoln ParaNorman Premium Rush The Raid: Redemption West of Memphis Your Sister’s Sister B —– Battleship Brave The Campaign Celeste and Jesse Forever The Dark Knight Rises Dredd End of Watch The Five-Year Engagement The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey The Hunger Games The Intouchables Iron Sky Jeff Who Lives at Home Killer Joe Men in Black III Prometheus Queen of Versailles Robot and Frank The Secret World of Arietty The Sessions Skyfall Total Recall This is 40 V/H/S Wreck-It Ralph B– —– The Amazing Spider-Man Anna Karenina Breaking Dawn: Part Two The Divide Flight For a Good Time, Call… Frankenweenie The Guilt Trip Hysteria Jack Reacher John Carter Killing Them Softly Lawless Lockout The Lorax Promised Land Rise of the Guardians Silent House That’s My Boy C+ —– Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Amour Beasts of the Southern Wild The Bourne Legacy Hit and Run Liberal Arts Looper Rust and Bone Safe House Salmon fishing in the Yemen Seeking a Friend for the End of the World Wanderlust C —– American Reunion Dark Shadows Haywire Hitchcock Holy Motors Like Crazy Man on a Ledge The Master October Baby One for the Money Rampart The Raven Red Tails Savages Snow White and the Huntsman Taken 2 Ted The Woman in Black Wrath of the Titans C- —– Act of Valor Contraband The Expendables 2 The Man with the Iron Fists Rock of Ages The Watch D+ —– The Devil Inside D —– Atlas Shrugged Part II Cosmopolis The Odd Life of Timothy Green Piranha 3DD Project X F —– 2016: Obama’s America