2012 IN REVIEW: Neither the Best, Nor the Worst Films I Saw
This same section of my 2011 in Review had 17 films listed on what I, at the time, called “The Films I Liked.” 2012 being the first full year that I was blogging, I made a concerted effort to see as many films released in the year as I could afford. And, wouldn’t you know it? This list has 31 films on it — films that I realized I didn’t always entirely like, too, but were not necessarily worthy of being put on any kind of definitive “Worst of…” list that I could come up with. I could have been a pessimist and just put all the bad movies on the naughty list or something, but I’m feeling especially upbeat right now, and so I’ve decided to rename this list as a list of the films that were “Neither the Best, Nor the Worst Films I Saw.”
As the name would imply, these are a mix of films that range from bad to good, but never awful nor excellent. Some of these films are possibly even films that I may not even feel much of anything towards, so I just put them here because I saw them and they met the criteria for making this year in review — that is, they were released (at least widely) in 2012, and I saw them at some point before writing this, either theatrically or on DVD.
There is one exception I made for this list, and I will be making it again for another film in a future list, and that is for the film that is marked with an asterisk (that’s the little star symbol that looks like this: *). It featured previously on my 2012 IN REVIEW: Films I Didn’t See list, and yet I finally saw it now that it’s on video, and I felt that it was good enough to comment on here. I won’t be making that exception for every film I’ve since seen from 2012 since starting this year in review, but I’m making some exceptions and marking them as such.
Anyway, without further delay, here are the films that were neither great nor awful, the good films on down to the bland ones that I saw from 2012:
The Grey (Jan 27)
He’s gotten a lot of flack lately for starring in some pretty crappy films, but when he gets the chance, Liam Neeson can still be a great actor in some pretty great films. Case in point: The Grey, a fairly reserved survival thriller about a group of oil drillers stranded in a frozen wilderness after their plane crashes. They not only have to survive the elements, but also the locals: a pack of wolves who are not shy about defending their territory from the perceived invaders. There are strong performances overall, especially from Neeson, and, despite some of the wolf special effects coming off as eerie but cheap-looking, the terrifying atmosphere, where the men are slowly picked off, one-by-one, helps to make their plight all the more real. The movie was certainly a pleasant surprise for me.
Chronicle (Feb 3)
In seeing the corny-looking trailers for this film, I was all ready to write this one off. In trying to sell its story about teenagers filming themselves doing stupid things after acquiring superpowers, including lifting up girls skirts and such, the film’s trailers undersold what is actually a surprisingly strong and entertaining variation on both superhero films and the found footage filming style. Sometimes it goes a bit heavy on the characters’ moodiness and drama, but, overall, Chronicle was a surprisingly refreshing and entertaining film.
21 Jump Street (Mar 16)
I have next to no knowledge about the 1980s TV series that spawned this movie beyond the fact that Johnny Depp starred in it and that it involved detectives going undercover as high school students. The fact that someone thought this warranted a modern day remake in the form of a film adaptation seemed to doom the project from the start. 2012 was a good year for films, however, and some of the dumb ideas actually paid off. Turns out 21 Jump Street was a great starting point for a hilarious buddy cop film with original characters taking part in a revival of the same program featured in the TV series, and the film has a lot of fun poking at the ridiculousness of the idea while embracing it, making this one of the more impressive TV-to-film adaptations ever. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill make for a surprisingly great comedy duo, with Tatum in particular making 2012 a banner year for his redemption as an actor, at least in my eyes.
Casa de mi Padre (Mar 16)
This one’s admittedly a matter of having a particular taste for films that try to be so bad that they are kinda bad, but that’s okay, because that’s actually what makes it kinda good, you know? Spoken almost entirely in Spanish with subtitles, this spoof of B-movie westerns and telenovelas is hysterically ridiculous, as one would expect with a film that stars Will Ferrell as a Mexican ranch handler. It starts off slowly with just bad staging and writing, then escalates gradually to a ridiculous level, with the puma battle (complete with obvious animal prop) and the film’s incredibly awkward sex scene (complete with a hilarious body double) being particular highlights for the style of humor that you should expect. It’s not for everyone, but for those looking for some stupid humor to satiate their late night viewing habits, this may be the answer.
Mirror Mirror (Mar 30)
Not nearly as bad as its reputation would suggest, this Tarsem Singh-directed goofy comedy actually beats out its more action-packed, Kristen Stewart-featuring Snow White and the Huntsman in terms of enjoyment. It’s not a great film, don’t get me wrong, but Lily Collins and Armie Hammer make for charming enough leads, and the dwarves are just a bit more fleshed out as individuals than their axe-wielding counterparts. Though Julia Roberts is far more Mad Hatter as the queen than she is an intimidating ruler and schemer, the lighter family-friendly tone of the film helps to keep this from getting too serious about itself, so I can live with that. It’s also quite a pretty film to look at.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (May 4)
An ensemble dramedy about several elderly retirees heading off to India to get a new star or perspective on life, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel relies upon the strength of its star-studded cast of veteran English actors to carry the film. And, wouldn’t you know it? They carry the film with aplomb. The film is a bit of a sentimental grab-all of emotional beats, but given the large pool of talent playing mostly endearing characters here, you can’t help but be entertained. Perfectly serviceable entertainment, even if you’re not nearing your retirement age.
Men in Black III (May 25)
Who expected this one to be a big piece of poop? After seeing the second film a single time back when it was in theatres, I was ready to write off this third entry, but, being as how I tend to get antsy when I haven’t been to the theatre in a while, I decided one Saturday morning to go check out this third entry, which I had actually heard a great deal of good about. Lucky me, my morning excursion led to one of the more pleasant surprises of 2012 – namely, the fact that even a series that hasn’t had an entry in 10 years (and hasn’t had a good entry in even longer than that) can still find new life with the right concept and the right script. Replacing Tommy Lee Jones with Josh Brolin as a younger Agent K in the 60s for a majority of the film turned out to be just what the series needed, along with some fun new concepts – Andy Warhol’s secret identity, the fifth dimensional being Griffin – a genuinely weird villain played by Jermaine Clement, and a surprisingly effective emotional conclusion. The film even worked on the second time through, as I introduced my roommate to the flick some time later. He liked it too.
Moonrise Kingdom (May 25)
I’m not going to fawn over this movie as much as some have been recently, but I can certainly appreciate the love some felt towards Wes Anderson’s most recent quirky film and understand why some felt that it was overlooked for a Best Picture nod. A strange sort of storybook romance, Moonrise Kingdom is certainly one of the more endearing films I saw in 2012, following a sweet but odd child couple who don’t understand why everyone else in their lives want to keep them apart when they’re so right for each other, rightfully pointing out that many of the same people who want to keep them apart are so miserable in their own personal relationships. Even if you don’t take the romantic route and think that these two children will make it to adulthood to have their own weird but endearing little kids, it’s certainly a refreshing reminder for those who forgot what it was like to fall in love.
Snow White and the Huntsman (May 30)
This was certainly almost on my worst of 2012 list until I decided to restrict that to just 10 films. That being said, it mostly got bumped off because I saw far worse films than this one, and it honestly wasn’t all that horrendous. Heck, even Kristen Stewart managed to not be entirely distracting. (Perhaps it was the fact that she was doing something incredibly bad behind the scenes and was happy for it. She’s kind of evil in that way.) Ultimately, the action was kind of okay, as was the look of the film. Charlize Theron was kind of nutty and over the top as the evil queen, and I can’t decide whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, but I did find that the warrior dwarves all kind of homogenized together into a single unit, and I didn’t care much for them, despite the big names attached. It’s kind of a shame that the studio decided to let Stewart return rather than going forward with the plan to just focus on Chris Hemsworth’s far more interesting and charismatic Huntsman. I would have liked to have had a warrior go through action movie retellings of classic fairy tales.
Prometheus (June 8)
It seems like some people were expecting the wrong thing when it came to Prometheus. Despite Ridley Scott continuously emphasizing that this was merely set in the same universe as the Alien franchise, and not exactly a prequel, I still think that most people expected something along those lines and came out disappointed as a result. There are still some issues with the film, and certainly some of the character development could’ve been stronger (whiny scientist boyfriend, too-curious-for-their-own-good bickering scientists who get stranded in the cave), and I certainly could’ve done without Guy Pearce’s distracting contribution in the latter half of the film, but what’s there was still pretty awesome from a spectacle standpoint, and we still got a lot of fun Easter eggs that tie this inevitable series to its more famous older sibling. Noomi Rapace was a good lead as the scientist who has her religious beliefs challenged, and the movie’s ambiguous android, David, is a pleasure to watch, with Michael Fassbender being both fascinating and moderately disturbing in the way he goes about interacting with his human crewmates. I enjoyed it and look forward to the sequel!
Safety Not Guaranteed (June 8)
Your Sister’s Sister. Darling Companion. People Like Us. Zero Dark Thirty. The Do-Deca-Pentathlon. Jeff, Who Lives at Home. And, of course, Safety Not Guaranteed. All films that Mark Duplass had some hand in that were released (or given wide release) in 2012. Oh, he also featured in the TV series The Mindy Project. Certainly it was the year of Mark Duplass. I suspect it won’t be long before he’s much more well recognized by his name alone, too. Safety Not Guaranteed makes a good point of showing off why he’s such a rising star, producing and starring in the film as Kenneth, a potentially deluded but ultimately sweet-natured presumed time traveler who charitably placed an ad in a newspaper seeking a partner to go back in time with him as he seeks to fix a tragic event in his life. Aubrey Plaza plays Darius, the journalist who sees this curious ad as her big break and goes to turn him into an amusing article, only to grow more and more affectionate with him as she gets to know him. The film is packed with existential indie film stuff, for certain, but it’s still a surprisingly moving little film that would no doubt make for a good date night movie.
Brave (June 22)
Pixar didn’t knock it out of the park this year to make up for the disappointing Cars 2, but what they did produce, Brave, was a pleasant and refreshingly simple fairy tale about a rebellious princess coming into her own and maturing into a strong but more selfless person. The film’s core plot surrounding Merida’s mother was surprisingly well hidden in the advertising until the film actually came out, and even then, I still encountered people who saw it sometime after release who were pleasantly surprised to find that the film wasn’t at all what they expected. Gorgeously animated and featuring an endearing cast of characters, with the film having the audacity to actually make the main character heavily flawed and spend a majority of the film picking up the mess she made, Brave was a welcome return to quality filmmaking for Pixar, even if it wasn’t some emotional magnum opus that people were unreasonably expecting.
I can sometimes be a sap for emotional manipulation and have no problem with competently crafted sentimentality and other mushy stuff. This film received mixed responses from critics, but I thoroughly enjoyed it for what it was: a silly, sentimental comedy about an unlikely relationship that forms just two weeks prior to the apocalypse. That unlikely relationship, forming between Steve Carrel and Keira Knightley, proves to be surprisingly touching, and the film’s more emotional beats had a surprisingly strong impact on me, emotionally (okay, I cried heartily during a few scenes…). You may say that this clouded my judgment a bit, but I’d say that the film fulfilled its intended purpose, and that I was completely endeared.
Beasts of the Southern Wild * (June 27)
You might recognize this as being on the list of films I didn’t see. What changed between then? Well, I actually saw this film soon after writing that, and I quite liked it, so I decided to make an exception to my own self-expressed rule about adding movies to this list I had already added to previous lists. Beasts of the Southern Wild was nominated for Best Picture, and I can certainly see why. The film’s lead, Quvenzhané Wallis, a little girl with a big name, was only five at the time of being cast, and yet she now stands as the youngest actress to be nominated for a leading role Oscar. And she deserves it. The first time actress expresses a maturity in her performance that not even many adult actors can achieve, and that’s reason enough to watch this American South fantasy.
Magic Mike (June 29)
Years ago, we had the “gay cowboy movie” in Brokeback Mountain. This past year, we got another guys-doing-things-you-don’t-normally-talk-about-seriously movie in Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh and Channing Tatum’s collaborative effort to tell a fictionalized recounting of Tatum’s years as a struggling male stripper before he became famous as a Hollywood actor. The film is not quite as exploitative as one would expect, given its subject matter, and does right by those who are less interested in the… visuals on display… by actually telling a compelling story about a man who does his craft well but aspires to be more than what he’s seen as by others, including those in his own profession, and the film is quick to point out the dark sides of selling one’s body for a living. Ultimately, whether or not you are fine with his profession of choice, it’s still a well-told underdog story, and it’s certainly better than any movie that can unfairly be summarized as the “male stripper movie” would be expected to be – though I liked The Full Monty much better.
Ted (June 29)
The idea of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane directing his own debut feature about a foul-mouthed talking teddy bear sounded less than appealing, especially as I had myself largely given up on Family Guy as a source for laughs and always forgot that the superior American Dad existed. (What’s a “Cleveland Show“?) I waited for this to come out to rent, and I’m glad I did. It’s not a film I would have needed to see in theatres, but for enjoying at home with a friend, Ted was a surprisingly enjoyable and restrained effort for providing MacFarlane a chance to go crazy with the foul subject matter for foul subject matter’s sake. While he certainly does go there several times, I appreciate that he actually concentrated on making an enjoyable movie rather than just tossing out dirty joke after dirty joke, thinking it’s funny simply because it’s coming from a character who is a cuddly stuffed animal. If you’ve ever watched Family Guy it’s still not exactly the most original film in the world and shares that series’ comedic timing, as well. As with American Dad, however, I think it’s just easy to forget that MacFarlane actually has the capacity to still be funny now and then.
The Amazing Spider-Man (July 3)
A lot of people complained that this was too soon for a reboot, but given the fact that Spider-Man 3 sucked big time, making it even longer since the last time we got a decent Spider-Man film, I was ultimately all for this reboot that was, nonetheless, Sony’s attempt to retain the film rights to a franchise that could’ve nearly been lost to Marvel’s new owners, Disney. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are great together as the awkward Peter Parker and brainy Gwen Stacy, and the film’s versions of Aunt May and Uncle Ben are welcome as they serve as much bigger players this time around than the previous series’ more speech-prone portrayals. The subplot about Peter’s parents does seem to get lost in the context of the film’s overall story, though it feels like the filmmakers decided to build up to this conclusion over a number of films, rather than resolving it in one. Probably for the best, as the Lizard was kind of a disappointing villain this go around, and I’m not sure throwing in more plotting would have helped.
Killer Joe (July 27)
Featuring one of the most dysfunctional families ever put to screen, this violent and vulgar NC-17-rated film based on a play about a family who hires a corrupt cop as a hitman to kill off the father’s ex-wife (and the adult kids’ biological mother) in order to collect the life insurance is pretty much as disturbing as you can get when it comes to dark comedies. Matthew McConaughey plays the hitman, Joe, who weasels himself into the lives of the Smiths, a white trash family who is completely willing to offer up the not entirely intelligent daughter as easily accessible collateral for Joe’s less than respectable services. The Women Film Critics Circle nominated the film for both “Worst Female Images” and “Worst Male Images,” which, in my mind, both misses the point and kind of justifies the film’s existence in the first place – these aren’t nice people, you know. The film (and presumably the Tracy Letts play it’s based on) doesn’t exactly exalt the characters for their actions. Killer Joe is a good film with great performances (especially from McConaughey, who has finally redeemed himself in my eyes), but it’s also not a film that I would necessarily be eager to re-experience any time soon, too.
The Bourne Legacy (Aug 10)
Inconsequential. That’s the biggest criticism I have for this film. It has no bearing on the original trilogy of films actually featuring Jason Bourne, and it doesn’t really expand upon the mythology in a satisfactory way, either. That being said, it wasn’t entirely a bust, as many would have you believe. The action was fun, and the shaky cam has been stabilized for those who were turned off from the more hectic style of Paul Greengrass in the previous two. I had a decent enough time watching it, but for those of you who didn’t think this was necessary, at least you can always just remember that this film was just inconsequential and ignore it completely.
The Campaign (Aug 10)
I wouldn’t call this movie hilarious or a classic or anything, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this film was pretty funny. The combination of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis had the potential to be either the funniest thing ever or the most obnoxious thing ever, and I think we can all be thankful that this film at least managed to somehow at least find itself sitting somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.
The Expendables 2 (Aug 17)
This movie set out to do one thing, and one thing only: Combine action hero actors into one film and watch things go boom. Of course, that was the goal with the first film, as well, and that was a surprisingly boring film that didn’t capitalize on its premise. Luckily, they learned with the sequel, which is bigger and way more fun than the first. The climax seriously involves Chuck Norris showing up to special Western music while Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger banter and share a moment of forced nostalgia crossover that’s the right amounts awesome as it is goofy when they trade catchphrases from each other’s more famous roles. Not a great film by any means, but it fulfills its purpose respectably without any delusions of being anything more than it is.
ParaNorman (Aug 17)
I wasn’t nearly as blown away by this film as some others were (horror spoofs, even in kids movies, aren’t exactly the most original concept anymore), but I can understand why people were upset that this wasn’t even acknowledged by the Golden Globes and the Oscars, even despite it being the first stop motion film to use 3D printing as extensively as it did. The movie feels like something Pixar would’ve concocted had they decided to go a little older and a little darker, and there’s a fantastic climax that hits all the right emotional and dramatic notes, too. I kind of feel bad that I didn’t like it nearly as much as others as a result.
Lawless (Aug 29)
Despite some strong performances from Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy, this movie’s ultimate downfall would be Guy Pearce’s narcissistic deputy who takes so much pleasure in hurting the criminals he tracks down and who suffers from some serious OCD issues. As a result, the rest of the film feels like it’s trying too hard to make you root for the moonshiners, a profession that, in this post-Prohibition era we live in, is not exactly a hard sell to make, whether or not they were criminals at the time. It wants to be so much more than it is, but in trying so hard, it ultimately stumbles along the way. Still decent, though.
Finding Nemo 3D (Sept 14)
Standing as the only Pixar film I hadn’t seen in theatres, I was excited to hear that they were re-releasing this and was even looking forward to seeing the 3D conversion. Finding Nemo was already a great film, but I came away from the 3D presentation ultimately realizing what a proper conversion could provide a film such as this, as well. The ocean suddenly feels even more vast than it already had, which enhances the feeling of being lost as Marlin seeks out his son. If anyone you know still has doubts about the 3D conversion process (perhaps it’s even you?), I highly recommend showing them this film’s 3D presentation if you can. If the jellyfish scene or the giant whale doesn’t convince them of the process’ worth, then I don’t know what will.
Frankenweenie (Oct 5)
Tim Burton’s best film in a while is ultimately still not exactly a masterpiece. It’s still fun, don’t get me wrong, but he’s still yet to redeem himself in my eyes (he’s gone the opposite direction of Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey, I guess is the message I’m starting to convey with this whole redemption thing). Let’s make something great that isn’t based on pre-existing content, Mr. Burton. Just because you based this on one of your own original short film doesn’t make this original by association. (And it’s still an homage to Frankenstein, at that!)
Flight (Nov 2)
Robert Zemeckis makes a welcome return to live action filmmaking after over a decade of nothing but bad-to-mediocre motion capture animated films before Disney shut down his motion capture company. (Thank God that Yellow Submarine remake fell through!) The film handles the subject matter of substance abuse in a mature manner and makes very few apologies for its troubled lead character, the drunken pilot nicknamed “Whip,” played incredibly by Denzel Washington. People apparently went in expecting an action film thanks to the trailers highlighting the incredible plane crash footage (fittingly bookending Zemeckis’ mo-cap career with Cast Away’s own astonishing plane crash), but hopefully people came out appreciating the film being so much better than a simple spectacle movie.
Life of Pi (Nov 21)
Here’s the thing about this movie – it was very well crafted in the majority of the scenes, but I found the present day sequences to feature stiff, uninteresting performances and philosophizing that was a bit too on-the-nose in presenting its message. Adult Pi’s question directed at his interviewer (and, thus, at the audience) is one of those things in a film that has to be handled subtly. I don’t think Ang Lee was subtle here in that regard. I don’t care if it was in the original book or not (I haven’t read it) – the film just flat out questions you directly. It’s supposed to make you think about interpretation and your outlook on life, but by doing so, it kind of takes out the interpretive aspect, somehow, and that kind of tarnished an otherwise enjoyable film for me. The often ethereal special effects were beautiful, even in 3D, and often quite convincing. I’m not convinced it’s Best Picture material, but I’m not going to protest it, either. Everyone else apparently adored it.
Rise of the Guardians (Nov 21)
With a fun concept and an appealing cast of characters, it’s really a shame that this film didn’t break a box office record or something. The film is also quite beautiful to look at for the majority of the film, too, but there’s just a certain something in the plotting that makes the film have less of an emotional impact than it honestly could have had. Tragedies and forgotten histories are quickly overcome, and the film’s villain, Pitch, is ultimately dispatched with a bit too much ease. It’s a fun world that would likely be better served in a sequel now that all the setup has been laid out by the still-engaging first film.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Dec 14)
This has got to be one of the biggest disappointments of the year. My roommate saw this with me in the High Frame Rate 3D, and I can tell you now, if this is the future of film, I’m happy to stay here. The effect of the HFR format made the film feel like a cheap knock off of itself, benefitting only certain CGI-heavy scenes (Gollum, primarily). He says that it was much better in 2D, but there’s still the issue with the film’s pacing, which was glacial — Rivendell was borderline excrutiating. There are so many laboriously long and ultimately boring back-and-forth between characters that I often felt like the only thing keeping me awake were the completely rude people sitting next to me who kept talking loudly and browsing the internet on their phones. The film picks up towards the middle, and, once again, the introduction of Gollum brought in some much-needed liveliness, but it was too little, too late, as Peter Jackson had already proven to me that he really shouldn’t be indulged so much in being provided three films to tell the story of a single book. What a shame. I still look forward to the second and hopefully more lively chapter, however…
Monsters, Inc. 3D (Dec 19)
It’s the same wonderful, amusing, and touching film, only in 3D. Unlike with Finding Nemo, however, Monsters, Inc. isn’t quite as well served by its 3D conversion, and I likely wouldn’t have gone to the theatre to see this re-release had I not obtained free tickets with my recently purchased copies of Brave and Finding Nemo on Blu-Ray. It still looked very good, however, and the climactic door-hopping chase is certainly served well by the 3D processing.
Les Misérables (Dec 25)
A lot of people think I’m too hard on this film adaptation of the musical adaptation of the Victor Hugo story, but I seriously don’t understand why this was nominated for Best Picture. It feels like this year’s audience-pandering choice by the Academy, and, frankly, I think it’s a mistake. Claustrophobic to the point of feeling as if the film is one long series of close-ups and shots up the actors’ noses (wasting the otherwise rich and beautiful sets) and featuring vocal performances that are presented exactly as they were on the set with no dubbing (director Tom Hooper’s idea of lending the songs emotional authenticity), Les Misérables becomes somewhat of a chore to sit through. Imagine sitting still for 2 hr. 38 minutes as Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe struggle to constantly sing every line and hit all the right notes but ultimately falling short due to what may well be exhaustion while the camera shows nothing but their face on the screen. It’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but that’s all I can remember. It’s seriously a decent film, but it’s hard for me to focus on the positive when so many around me are being far more enthusiastic about it. I guess I’m just a killjoy? Actually, I do remember one very big positive: Anne Hathaway, who is stirring as Fantine and is the one aspect of the film that I think truly deserves to win the Oscar for its category (Best Supporting Actress). Her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” will undoubtedly go down as one of the most stirring and beautifully heartbreaking performances in musical film history, and it’s even the one aspect of the film that’s benefited by the live performance and frequent close-ups. I saw the film with my sister and mom, and I think I still was the one who cried the most during that whole sequence.