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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Hype Starts Here's Top 40 Movies of 2012 (40-26)

        I have a history with using the lowest slot of this list on something pretty damn goofy, and 2012 will prove no different. BD2 isn't exactly a good movie, not in a traditional sense, but ogling at its lunacy (Bella takes down a cougar!), and howling at its utter absurdity (CGI baby! Rampant decapitations!) provided for two of the craziest, most hilariously enjoyable hours on my entire cinematic calendar.
39. Red Lights
        Rodrigo Cortés is a name to watch. The up-and-coming auteur helms this story of a renown magician (Robert DeNiro), and the pair of investigators determined to expose his parlor tricks (Cillian Murphy and Sigourney Weaver). A modern day response to Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, RL is a stylish mystery with atmosphere to spare, and even if it doesn't clear the sky-high bar set by the director's previous chilly triumph, Buried, Cortés is here to stay.
38. John Carter
        Poor John Carter never stood a chance. 2012's biggest bomb, the mega-budgeted sci-fi affair splits its time between a Civil War-era Arizona, and the charred-red surfaces of Mars. Visual similarities to an unloved Star Wars prequel, a near-unheard-of star (Taylor Kitsch), and a loopy plot that plays liberally with time, space, and mortality: These are just some of the reasons that John Carter was destined to fail as a big cash rake, but they're also why the flick is such a pip when you actually give it a chance. Big, bombastic and engaging, here's to hoping that former Pixar wiz Andrew Stanton can find a bigger audience next time he decides to go live-action.
37. Skyfall
        Skyfall is BY FAR the highest-grossing James Bond movie of all-time, and even I (almost) get the hype. Daniel Craig's embodiment of the character is one of cinema's finest active action heros, and Director Sam Mendes has no shortage of crazy stunts and set-pieces to run him through, each captured with texture, sweat, and beauty by cinematography god Roger Deakins. To be fair, I'm not the series' biggest aficionado, so I can only imagine how the many allusions to past glories surprised and delighted 007 lovers world-wide. But I do dig on kinetic action, Javier Bardem hamming it up, and the propulsive, proficient popcorn playfulness that is Skyfall.  
36. Seven Psychopaths
        A man sits down to make a movie, loses himself (and his parent film) within layers of guarded meta-ness, and everything goes bat-shit crazy in the end. It's a formula that's been re-vistited time and time again, from foreign classics like 8 1/2 and Day for Night, to modern mind-benders like The Player and AdaptationSeven Psychopaths traverses some trodden ground, but differentiates itself with an inescapable feeling of gleeful madness. The cast, headlined by such nut-bin luminaries as Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, and an especially excellent Christopher Walken (mesmerizingly subdued... by his standards, anyways) have an absolute field-day with Martin McDonagh's zany script. If you've got patience inner-flick reflexivity, and a taste for dark, dark humor, this is the movie for you.
        It's easy to get hung up on what The Hobbit did wrong, and forget considerable spectacle on display. Yes, the crazed frame-rate and maddeningly elongated structure will forever separate this film from the launcher of that, 'other,' trilogy, Fellowship of the Ring, but that alone shouldn't diminish this trip back to Middle Earth. The tale of Bilbo's (Martin Freeman) journey to Smaug's lair shared that same sense of scale and enormity, Howard Shore's score still blowing about like a powerful wind, director Stephen Jackson cooking up one stellar action sequence after the next. A solid 20 minute stretch near the end stands as some of the most electric cinema I saw all year; best of all, methinks it only gets more exciting from here.
        The 2012 film which most-fully embodies the term, 'mixed bag,' but then again, wasn't that always going to be the case? CA is all over the damn place, flipping between swash-buckling adventures in the 1800's, to a post-apocalyptic landscape in a distant, unspecified future, levels of quality wildly divergent. Through it all, a medium-sized cast, headlined by Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, contorts themselves into a variety of characters and stories with the help of prosthetics, CGI, and any other movie magic that you can think of. Cloud Atlas' ambition is towering and not to be scoffed at, and even if each segment doesn't work on the exact same level as the last, the ones that prove fully operational (Ben Whishaw's olden-times composer, the Blade Runner thrills of the near future) are mysterious, emotional, positively thrilling.
33. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
        Perks comes from a school of films which are, undoubtably, the most difficult to grade/rank. Through ten minutes, I was honestly considering turning the thing off (an extreme rarity for me), but then something happened; high school misfit Charlie (Logan Lerman) actually makes some friends (Ezra Miller and Emma Watson). The interplay between the three is downright precious, and for every eye-rolling scene of indulgent voice-over journalling, there's at least one completely magical, transportive sequence, such as Miller and Lerman's rooftop awkwardness, or that impossibly nostalgic tunnel drive. It didn't have me the whole time, but when it did, I couldn't possibly have been happier.
32. Cosmopolis
        Wherein vampiric heart-throb Robert Pattinson attempts to move straight from the 8th grade to a Master's degree in Astrophysics from Harvard. No, our favorite glittering immortal can't quite keep pace with the film's stellar supporting cast, but then again, a bar set by Samantha Morton, Juliette Binoche, and Paul Giamatti is a mighty high one, indeed. The heartthrob stars as Eric Packer, an up-start Wall Street hotshot who spends an increasingly psychedelic day riding around in the back of a limo, stopping for one episodic oddity after another. Director David Cronenberg (mostly) reigns in the outbursts of extreme violence that have often characterized his work, but the icky, icy feeling that something is very, very amiss remains powerfully intact. A sleek, trippy, unsetting day in the life of an enigma with money pouring out both pockets.
31. To Rome with Love
        I love Woody Allen. There, I said it. The guy just blows my whistle, and while there's no mistaking Rome with last year's lovely, breezy, nostalgic wunderkind Midnight in Paris, it still bares the unmistakable stamp of its legendary creator. The woodman's latest splits its time between four different tales of the eternal city, steeped in a myriad of themes including opera, reality TV, infidelity, familial relationships, and lust (Woody, much?). The results are mixed, but the stuff that works, such as an ever-nervous Jesse Eisenberg being advised in the ways of love by a conscious of sorts played by Alec Baldwin, or Roberto Benigni waking up on another ho-hum morning to roaring celebrity, work like an absolute charm. Not among the best of Allen's storied career, but certainly not among the worst, Rome is a delicious little trifle for anyone who likes their comedy with a little bit of intellectualism, and a whole hell of a lot of neuroses. 
30. 10 Years
        I never stopped thinking that I had 10 Years pinned down, and I never stopped being wrong. Writer/director Jamie Linden, in his debut as ship captain, has an amazing way of directing your attention and expectations in a certain direction before whipping them around into another. His film implements the, 'one crazy night,' format often employed by coming-of-age flicks on a high school reunion, but truly broad strokes stop there. The cast, marvelous and expansive (Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, Justin Long, Lynn Collins, and Anthony Mackie represent the tip of the ice burg), are allowed to explore their characters to great length, the script mostly opting against moments of easy comedy in favor of introspection and small, earned revelations. Intimate, winsome, and true, from front to back.
        Through about a half-hour, I really did not like Life of Pi. Ang Lee's earnest, overly-simplistic, and absurdly manipulative adaptation of Yann Martel's even more earnest, overly-simplistic, and absurdly manipulative source novel is all kinds of on-the-nose about its piousness and faux-intellectualism... and then comes the crash. The majority of the film is spent on a tiny life-boat with a medium-sized boy, and an enormous tiger, all products of some to the best special effects ever dedicated to celluloid. Read into it's, 'deep,' philosophies all you want; my eyes will be glued to one of the most miraculous visual accomplishments I've ever seen.
        A romantic comedy headlined by a pair who's most notable acting credits have all occurred on NBC comedies? The foremost ingredients of CaJF would have you believe you're in for a goofy laugh-fest, but not so fast. The film's titular pair has already been happily married and amicably divorced by the time the movie's opening credits are over, but their Best Friends Forever status still has them spending almost every waking moment together. Co-written by Rashida, 'Celeste,' Jones, the flick takes a tough look at some bitter truths of modern romance, and while the film does occasionally strike the funny bone, it's far more intent on making you swallow its bitter pill. A downer, to be sure, but one with strong performances, assured craft, and a message worth delivering.
27. Killer Joe
        Killer Joe is nearly impossible; nearly impossible to recommend, and nearly impossible to get out of my head. The sordid trailer park noir revolves around the Smith family, and the plans and troubles of its most rambunctious member, Chris (Emile Hirsch). Needing a tall heap of cash to avoid big trouble, Chris and family hatch a plan to murder papa Smith's ex-wife, and collect her life insurance policy. To perform the dirty deed, the clan enlists Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a local officer with high prices, steely eyes, and a finger on the trigger. All-timer William Friedkin directs with energy and fire, and though the film often explores cringe-worthy, cover-your-eyes-and-peer-through-the-fingers levels of grotesquery, McConaughey is an absolute revelation, and his parent movie is a visceral kick in the teeth.
        There are many film fans and buffs who like the bemoan the devolution of film, claiming that movies are becoming more akin to theme park rides that narrative features. I completely see where they're coming from, but every once in a while, a roller coaster just plain rocks. You know the story of Peter Parker, high school nerd turned super-human crime fighter by a nasty spider bite? The story was, after all, just told a mere decade ago, and while the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire incarnation remains definitive, Amazing is a downright feast for the eyes. Andrew Garfield is good, and his chemistry with Emma Stone is even better, but the real draw here is the visuals, all sleek and icy, allowing audiences to take flight with the web-slinger himself, all wrapped up in the year's finest 3D rendering.

Hype Starts Here's Top 40 Movies of 2012:

Other End-of-2012 Movie Articles:
Oscar Recap
Early 2013 Predictions

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