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2012 IN REVIEW: The Best Films of the Year

At last, we come to the climax of my review of the films of 2012. To those of you who continue to keep up with me, I one again apologize for the slow updates — I saw so many movies this past year and have been doing so much this past month that it’s been hard to keep up with a regular update schedule!

This is how I felt ALL WEEK!

This is how I felt ALL WEEK!

I’m currently in the process of moving, with my best friend / roommate moving back to his hometown to be closer to family, so it’s been tough keeping up with the blog, hanging out with him a few more times after seven awesome years of being roommates, while also just figuring stuff out for the next period of my life living as a single person for the first time. It’s tough, but thankfully he lives where my family lives, and it’s only 100 miles away. Lucky for any fans I may have (Hello!…?), it’ll likely result in me doing more reviews, though the higher amount of rent I’ll be paying will undoubtedly impact my ability to go to the theatre as often as I have been.

On that note, before I get to the meat of this final entry, I want to thank everyone who has been reading this blog, regularly or even sporadically. I may not know you, but I appreciate you! This may be a hobby of mine, but it’s meaningful to me and keeps me sharp. I started The Viewer’s Commentary in September of 2011, after lots of personal setbacks and a good long while of feeling stupid and even being made to feel stupid for wanting to start a blog about movies, and by the time I finally decided to just go for it and not listen to the negativity, I still didn’t really know whether I was going to still be writing in even a few months’ time. So to already be in the middle of my second year and still be having a blast getting my thoughts and opinions out there about one of my favorite subjects has truly been a great experience. To those of you who have read, continue to read, and even to those of you I know personally who encouraged me and maybe don’t even share my passion and probably aren’t even reading this now but you supported me all the same, thank you again for being there! I’m definitely looking forward to what 2013 promises to bring! (STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS! FINALLY!)

The film's villain amongst a bunch of red shirts. This isn't going to end well...

The film’s villain amongst a bunch of red shirts. This isn’t going to end well…

Anyway, enough self-reflection! You’re here for the rundown of the best films of 2012, aren’t you? I assume so, since you are continuing to read this. I’ll let you get to that, but first, let me explain how this list is working, as I’ve changed it up a bit from last year and from most other “Best Of” lists.

First off, last year I did it in multiple parts (here, here, and, finally, here – in order). None of that this time. You’re getting this all in one big wave!

Secondly, and this is related to the third alteration, there are no longer just 10 films on this list, but rather a whopping 17. Why?

Well, that’s because the third alteration I made is that I’ve decided that a lot of the best films of the year weren’t necessarily my favorites, but I wanted to recognize their greatness by putting them on this list anyway, rather than lump them in with the films that were just average. (I did something similar with the “Films I Liked” this year after realizing I didn’t necessary love nor despise a lot of films enough to put them on the worst or best of lists.)

Honestly, what the hell?!

This did not make the list. This shouldn’t make any listsBECAUSE IT SHOULDN’T EXIST!

So, while the films below are all fantastic films and deserve to be considered among the best of the year, their order has everything to do with favoritism over quality. After all, lists like these are highly subjective, and while it’s certainly possible to objectively call a film “one of the best,” ultimately by ranking such diverse works against one another, you just have to acknowledge the fact that you’re playing favorites.

 

So, yeah, anyway to review and summarize: These are, in my opinion, THE BEST FILMS OF 2012, but they are ORDERED ACCORDING TO FAVORITISM. Make sense? I hope so! If not, then just keep reading on, ’cause I think you’ll get it, anyway!

* Films marked with an asterisk denote films that once showed up on the list of The Films I Didn’t See in 2012 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), but which I have since seen in theatres or on home video and deemed them worthy enough to relist with a new evaluation. Yes, they were that good!

Amour - Jean-Louise Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva

17. Amour * (Dec 19)

Slow but methodically-paced, Amour is the first foreign language film since 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. And, after it became the last film I had to see on the list of Best Picture Oscar nominees, I just had to make a trip to the only theatre in the area showing the film, despite the fact that I fully expected to come out of there thoroughly depressed.

Having now seen it, I can safely say that the film was well deserving of its nomination, and lead actress Emmanuelle Riva is very much deserving of becoming the oldest Best Actress nominee, as well, though I also think that Jean-Louise Trintignant, who plays the husband, has gotten unfairly ignored — his role as a husband dealing with the deteriorating health of his dear wife provides the film with the only entry point for which we are allowed to see this couple’s suffering, and he is, simply, spectacular.

Amour is also one of the most intimate films I’ve ever seen, as we see the elderly couple, still deeply in love with one another after decades of being together, deal with the inevitability of the wife’s death after she suffers from a severe stroke. (That’s not a spoiler, trust me, though some spoilers are ahead.) Audiences are then subjected to a series of days in their lives, watching alongside the husband as his wife goes from requiring a wheelchair to babbling incoherently in a bed that he can no longer stand to share with her. But throughout the whole film, we always know that he’s still madly in love with her – he suffers alongside her, stays with her through every stage, but slowly comes to realize that he’s forcing her fight a battle that she no longer has the strength to fight. (End spoilers.)

Amour is certainly one of the best films of the year, but I can hardly call it my favorite, which is why it’s so low on this list. It’s devastatingly realistic and, as I said before, intimate, and it’s going to be a long time coming before I ever want to sit through it again, if ever. That being said, it’s a film that I still recommend seeing, at least once. Its beauty and startling honesty will haunt you long after you see it. I didn’t really come out of the theatre feeling depressed, as I had expected. Instead, I came out having a greater appreciation for the concept and portrayal of undying and unconditional true love.

The Impossible - Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Tom Holland, Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts

16. The Impossible (Dec 21)

If I had to choose one film that got snubbed for the Best Picture Oscar category (of the films I saw), this Spanish-produced film would certainly be on the short list. Featuring moving performances from the veteran actors who play the parents, Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts (in an Oscar-nominated role), as well as some fantastic acting from the child actors who play their kids – Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, and Oaklee Pendergast, The Impossible is one of the better inspirational, feel-good films I’ve seen and has a truly moving core to it that most films of its ilk only dream of having.

Based on a true story about an English family vacationing in Thailand when the 2004 tsunami hit, the film shows them dealing with the aftermath of the disaster and how the various members of the family, split in two groups (mother and her oldest son, father and the two youngest), help those in need and are helped by others as the two groups of family members attempt to reunite with one another despite the odds.

The film does get somewhat close to becoming a bit schmaltzy, and the family a bit altruistic, but given the destruction around them, the more tender and touching moments in the film serve largely and effectively as counterbalances to the heavy material, and they still work rather well on their own thanks to the splendid acting. Special effects are also handled well, with the tsunami and its ensuing destruction conveying the sheer force and horror of the event without allowing the film to become a special effects extravaganza or thrill ride, which would have destroyed the film’s overall message and tone. And once the film comes to its suggested conclusion, it’s certainly worthy of the tears that you may shed as the credits begin to roll.

Lincoln - Daniel Day-Lewis

15. Lincoln (Nov 16)

After a pre-production process that seemed to go on forever (I remember reading about Spielberg’s Abraham Lincoln biopic when I was in 8th grade, c. 2000, back when Tom Hanks, a distant descendant of the 16th President, was rumored to be cast as Lincoln), Lincoln finally came into fruition in 2012 to perhaps expected accolades.

Not some mere Oscar-bait, this film features the notoriously picky Daniel Day-Lewis playing Lincoln with expectedly stunning results. But it’s not just Day-Lewis who takes all the credit for making this such a great historical drama. Tommy Lee Jones, Lee Pace, James Spader, Sally Field, and several others all make up a rather stunning cast of actors, with Jones in particular being perhaps my favorite as House Representative Thaddeus Stevens, portrayed here as only Jones can – an endearingly sarcastic, opinionated speaker who wasn’t afraid to mix in a few personal attacks to his rhetorical appeals.

Perhaps the film’s biggest achievement, however, is managing to make stirring political speeches and the political process of ratifying the 13th Amendment a thrilling and entertaining process to witness. As I sat on the edge of my seat throughout the film, I was also thinking to myself, “Why couldn’t Spielberg consult on the political sequences of the Star Wars prequels rather than the action sequences in the third film?” Not that they needed political speeches… Just… if they had to be there, Lincoln was that good.

The Secret World of Arrietty - Arietty (Bridget Mendler)

14. The Secret World of Arrietty (Feb 17)

Why this film wasn’t recognized for any major Best Animated Feature awards that exist is beyond me. Is it because it was released in its native country in 2010? ‘Cause that would be lame. Then why wasn’t it honored then? Regardless, Studio Ghibli’s adaptation of Mary Norton’s book, The Borrowers, is a wonderfully adventurous and yet refreshingly serene animated film with some of the most gorgeous scenery you’ll ever see. Their dedication to 2D animation is admirable in this day and age where CGI films have usurped the medium’s place as the new norm, and they continue to show us why the traditional medium should be kept alive.

And even if you don’t’ like subtitles, Disney’s English dubbing of the film, featuring the voices of Bridget Mendler, David Henrie, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, and Carol Burnett, is also pretty fantastic and is the version of the film that most here in America saw in theatres (including myself). Given the presence of some well-known comedians and two Disney Channel stars, you would expect that they would overdo the zaniness of the characters, and yet each of them actually stays well in character, with only Henrie overdoing it a bit on the high voice modulation necessary to portray the sickly young boy he’s been cast as.

The Secret World of Arrietty may have been ignored by the major awards here in America, but no fan of animation or just all around wonderful adventure stories should pass this film up. Go seek it out – it’s been available to own for a while!

The Hunger Games - Jennifer Lawrence

13. The Hunger Games (Mar 23)

I’d heard of the book series and knew that this was being billed as the successor to Harry Potter’s popular-books-adapted-to-film mania, but, just as with that series, I had never actually sat down to read any of the books, let alone get a further understanding of the series beyond the idea of people being put into some sort of arena in order to get food. The idea sounded intriguing, and apparently the studios were right about the expected hype around the books passing on into the film adaptations. The Hunger Games film was just HUGE.

Lucky for us, the film was also quite fantastic, with a strong lead performance from Jennifer Lawrence as the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, who is going to quickly go down in history as one of cinema’s strongest female action heroes, especially if Lawrence keeps up the good work and continues to bring Katniss that strength of character and body. It’s certainly also one of the most dignified and selfless depictions of a female hero, as well – though there is the inevitable romance story, it’s Katniss who takes the stage as the strongest of the pairing. That’s not to say that Josh Hutcherson isn’t good, too, as her love interest Pita, who is strong in body but whose appearance belies his kind personality. Hutcherson’s come a long way from being the annoying kid playing Robin Williams’ son on RV.

The film’s brutal violence, which involves kids and young teenagers killing each other, remains effective in portraying the horror of the situation without becoming exploitative, and the story’s messages about society’s literal and metaphorical bloodlust is surprisingly poignant when paralleled with reality TV and our obsession with celebrities’ lives. I thought about reading through the book series, and I likely will in the future, but when the first film has been this good already, I’m more than willing to continue to let my exposure to the series be in its cinematic form for the time being.

Dredd - Karl Urban as Judge Dredd

12. Dredd (Sept 21)

I still haven’t seen the Sylvester Stallone adaptation of the 2000 A.D. comic character Judge Dredd, but I’m kinda glad that my first full-on exposure to the character was this brilliantly simple and heavily stylized little film. It didn’t do too well at the box office, but that just means that anyone who shunned the film, for whatever reason, just missed out on one of the year’s most thrilling and action-packed features that also managed to make pretty great use of some extreme slow motion photography thanks to its creative way of depicting the effects of a new psychedelic drug that’s making the rounds of Mega-City One.

Performances all around are great, with Karl Urban giving his Judge Dredd that trademark persistent scowl beneath a shady helmet that fans of the character missed in the Stallone film. Dredd, the character, is one that sees very few ambiguities between good and evil (or, rather, lawful and lawless, given the fascist sort of government that he works for), but his world view is challenged as he trains his young telepath partner, Judge Anderson. Olivia Thirlby is a surprising but welcome presence in the film as Anderson, an altruistic  and pretty girl whose looks contrast greatly with that of the harsh, grimy world around her, a woman who wanted to join the Judges to make the world a better place and is finding it much hard to enforce than expected. Finally, Lena Headey, fantastic as Sarah Connor in the tragically ill-fated Terminator TV series, makes for a chilling lead villain as the former prostitute-turned-druglord Ma-Ma, as well.

Some lamented the fact that the film lacked any sense of satire, opting to instead distance itself from the apparently jokey tone of the first film as much as possible (it featured Rob Schneider, you know), but that shouldn’t discourage anyone, even fans, from seeing this underrated, exciting, and surprisingly smart action flick.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits - The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) and Polly

11. The Pirates! Band of Misfits (Apr 27)

Stop motion animation was alive and well in 2012, with this, Frankenweenie, and ParaNorman all using the medium to great visual success. It doesn’t hurt that all three films were, at the very least, good at what they did, too. Of course, you don’t see any of the latter two on this list (and if you read my second-to-last entry, you know that those two featured there), and that’s because, for my money, the best of the three was Aardman’s The Pirates! Band of Misfits, a silly movie about some of the tamest pirates you’ll ever come across, though they like to put on a good show and pretend to be nasty, all the same.

Packed with a great set of goofy characters, some fun visual gags and wordplay, and plenty of colorful action and adventure, Pirates! manages to stand out among most of the animated feature films by actually being something that the entire family can enjoy at different levels without having any heavy-handed messages thrown at your face beyond the usual self-actualization thing, which hardly even counts as a message in this day and age. Put quite simply, The Pirates! Band of Misfits is certainly one of the more entertaining family films I saw in 2012.

The Cabin in the Woods - Your typical horror villains, ladies and gentlemen.

10. The Cabin in the Woods (Apr 13)

Scream set the bar for meta-horror films, and there really hasn’t been a film that simultaneously uses the horror genre for its original intent (scaring you) while being a humorous commentary on the genre itself at the same time. Sure, that movie had sequels, and I enjoy those too, but they still didn’t quite reach the level of gory fun as the original. Leave it to writer-producer Joss Whedon to be involved in the best meta-horror film to come out in since that film’s inception. And it’s not even a rip-off of the original concept, either!

Taking the concept of genre commentary to an all new level, Cabin takes us behind the scenes, in a way, of how and why horror movies continue to be made. I really don’t want to spoil the fun, but from the film’s first few moments, you know that this is going to be a very funny thrill ride through the usually absurd concepts and mechanics that make up your typical horror film.

If Scream’s commentary was subliminal and self-referential, The Cabin in the Woods is an outright behind-the-scenes deconstruction and is very likely one of the most self-aware films you will ever see. It’s brilliant the way the film turns the tables, and it’s absurdly entertaining to watch as the film affectionately explains away all the conveniences and idiotic things people often do in horror flicks. Needless to say, the secret behind everything that happens is yet another mirror in a film that’s already packed with reflections.

Silver Linings Playbook - Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence

09. Silver Linings Playbook * (Nov 16)

Previously featured on my list of films I didn’t see from 2012, I realized that I had two more films to go before had seen all the Best Picture nominees after having rented Beasts of the Southern Wild, which got an exception and placed in my list of assorted films that I saw from 2012 that were neither my favorite nor the worst. When I checked my local listings, I discovered that Silver Linings Playbook and Amour had both been given slightly wider releases thanks to each of their Best Picture Oscar nominations. Having never been so close to a pre-Oscars Best Picture bingo, I made it my goal that week to close the gap and go see those last two films.

Silver Linings Playbook was largely off my list of films to see, initially, thanks to the film being a romantic comedy that, as I understood it, had something to do with sex addiction. I was worried about walking into a sort of indie-film version of the concept behind the horrible No Strings Attached. I’m glad that I finally came around on this film, as it was a surprisingly wonderful and thoughtful portrayal of two broken individuals, each dealing with some sort of mental or emotional dysfunction brought about or exacerbated by the loss of a spouse.

Jennifer Lawrence continues her streak of breakout performances here, with her portrayal of Tiffany being surprisingly sweet, despite her outward rough edges. Bradley Cooper manages to be the biggest revelation for me, possibly because he has so quickly and successfully tried to separate himself from that post-college frat boy persona that he has unfairly been saddled with thanks to films like The Hangover. It’s easy to present mental illness as a mere personality quirk or even a joke, but the film and Cooper’s portrayal of Pat’s bipolar disorder rarely feels like it’s exploiting this serious issue for laughs, and one particular breakdown Pat has in his parents’ house feels frighteningly realistic thanks to David O. Russell’s directing and the performances of Cooper alongside Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver.

That isn’t to say that the film isnt’ without its more lighthearted moments, either. The friendship that forms between the two troubled individuals is nicely developed, and their bittersweet first “date,” which, despite involving dinner and a movie theatre, doesn’t actually really count as such, is surprisingly amusing as it is touching and provides a quick snapshot of just why these two are perfect for each other – they understand one another. They know how to press each other’s buttons, yes, but this also allows them to know that those buttons are not to be pressed as a result, and it’s a perfect moment that makes you realize that what you’re watching isn’t your typical romance story, even if it follows most of the same moves.

08. Django Unchained (Dec 25)

Tarantino continues what seems to be a streak of historical revisionist revenge stories, but Django Unchained nonetheless feels like a completely different animal from its predecessor, Inglourious Basterds beyond this superficial descriptor. Inspired by spaghetti westerns and violent Blaxploitation films, Django Unchained still does for slavery what Inglourious Basterds did for the Holocaust by creating a revenge film that retroactively punishes those tyrants for their crimes against humanity through the magic of cinema, and yet Django is a much more intimate film than Basterds, focusing on a single narrative and, for the most part, only two characters, Django and the Dr. Schultz, the German bounty hunter who frees him, as they become unlikely partners in bounty hunting and set forth to free Django’s wife, Broomhilda Von Shaft, from her master, a cruel plantation owner, Calvin Candie.

Jamie Foxx plays it cool as Django, a man who charms even the most putrid slave owners into tolerating and even enjoying his presence before Schultz and him strike from behind their lines. Christoph Waltz, who was brilliant in Basterds as the merciless Hans Landa, now plays hero as Dr. Schultz, who, despite his sympathy for slaves and his calm, casual, and even pleasant demeanor, takes his job as a contract killer very seriously and trains Django in his methods. Waltz is very deserving of once again being nominated for an Oscar here and is certainly one of the more entertaining parts of an already entertaining movie.

Leonardo DiCaprio takes over as the villain, Calvin Candie, a Francophile with a thing for watching the strongest of his slaves fight other slaves to the death. DiCaprio does a fantastic job turning Candie into the slimy sort of self-satisfied villain who is convinced that everyone is charmed by his supposed good nature, knowledge, and manners, the type of man who would own slaves and consider them scientifically beneath white folk but still think himself a charitable and tolerant person for patting his winning fighter on the back and doing business with a freed black man.

Of course, there’s also his most trusted slave, Stephen, an elderly Uncle Tom caricature who pathetically buys his own wellbeing by selling out his race and submitting and even aiding Candie in his evil deeds. Ridiculously, his role has been made a source for controversy for over-sensitive types who also can’t accept that a Tarantino film that borrows from Blaxploitation films and is about the mid-1800s slave trade has an extremely high rate of using the so-called “N-word,” but Jackson himself has defended the role his character plays in the story and in the grander scheme of the film’s ideals.

Django Unchained may struggle a bit to achieve that signature Tarantino look and feel (likely due to the untimely and tragic passing of his favored editor, Sally Menke), but it’s still a Tarantino film, through-and-through, and that has so far always meant that you can expect some quality trash-inspired filmmaking. Django Unchained is no different.

Wreck-It Ralph - Vanellope and Ralph

07. Wreck-It Ralph (Nov 2)

Video games finally get their due respect in a film from what is perhaps a likely source, given their whole thing with Tron and such. Disney’s 52nd major animated feature, albeit with most of the well-known video game characters making cameo rather than starring appearances. Even so, this is certainly the best film you’re likely to see them in for quite some time.

What at first seems like your typical “love yourself” film that Disney so often makes, there’s quite simply too much here to enjoy and savor to criticize the rather standard base that Ralph seems to be built upon. The heart of the story is the surprisingly touching and amusingly lopsided friendship that forms between the hulking Ralph, the tired villain who desires to become a hero, and Venellope von Schweetz, a shunned glitch who longs to become a legitimate kart racer in her own video game world, Sugar Rush. Surprisingly, the relationship between the two outcasts actually kinda resembles that of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, now that I think about it – the two come to a mutual agreement based upon their shared insecurities. While the attraction between the two characters here isn’t of the romantic nature, the friendship that forms between the two is still just as poignant as their live action counterparts.

Wreck-It Ralph is also just pure fun. John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman are perfect fits as the depressed and irritable Ralph and the gleefully hyperactive (but never annoying) Venellope, and the filmmakers have a surprisingly strong handle on the mechanics and tropes of video games, providing several clever nods to things like cheat codes and unfinished, unused code that developers seal off from access to in many games. The aforementioned cameos from video game characters just adds to the already ample fun to be had. In fact, the film was such a big hit with audiences and critics alike, there’s already talks of a sequel featuring none other than Mario himself – a marketing executive’s dream that I wholeheartedly endorse.

Skyfall - Daniel Craig

06. Skyfall (Nov 9)

For a while there, it certainly seemed like nothing could top the 2006 revival of the Bond franchise, Casino Royale. While Quantum of Solace was a serviceable entry in the franchise, there’s no doubting the fact that, while an entertaining minimalist take on Bond, it failed to live up to the high standard set previously. Fans eager for another spectacular entry were further inconvenienced by MGM’s ongoing financial troubles, forcing the studio to put several projects on hold, including what is arguably their biggest moneymaker, the Bond franchise.

While we’ll never know what the 23rd Bond film would’ve been like had it been released in a more timely manner, MGM luckily managed to pick itself back up, pair up with the films’ first Oscar-nominated director, Sam Mendes, and release a film that rivals even the great Casino Royale as the best entry in the series, and just in time for the Bond films’ 50th anniversary, too.

Skyfall has just about everything for everyone and pays tribute to the series’ legacies while managing to avoid becoming too self-referential and still reinventing and reintroducing elements that weren’t present in the last two more “serious” takes on the formula, right down to the new, young programming genius Q, who should prove to be a great friendly foil for the already aging version of Daniel Craig’s Bond, to the chilling update to the gimmicky Bond villain in Javier Bardem’s menacing portrayal of Silva. Craig, in his third appearance as 007, continues to prove why he was right for the role, playing Bond with the right amount of swagger and brutality while proving that real men still feel emotion – they just don’t let it hinder them; they let it motivate them.

But it’s the great Dame Judi Dench as Bond’s boss, M, who become the unlikely heart of the film as she is confronted with the consequences of the decisions she makes regarding the agents she sends out in the line of fire. Dench has always been a highlight of the series in even the worst entries, having first appeared as a formidable and cold boss to Pierce Brosnan’s playboy spy in GoldenEye, and though the Craig films don’t share the same continuity, Skyfall capitalizes on our familiarity with Dench as M to provide us with a strange sort of continuity, at least so far as her character goes. (You kind of get a sense that all the other Bond films before Casino Royale took place between Quantum and Skyfall, as suggested by the video game tie-in, 007 Legends). Her relationship with Bond has obviously evolved, however you look at it, and has solidified the relationship between the head of MI6 and 007 as one of the more essential elements of the Bond films, which is something that past films really didn’t explore too much and is certainly something to look forward to in future films.

Engaging from both a story and visual standpoint, Skyfall may very well be my favorite film in the franchise, if not the best. In a year packed with big franchise standouts, Skyfall is at the top of the list.

avengers2-b

05. The Avengers (May 4)

It happened. It finally happened. Long after Warner Bros. and DC Comics had promised that they would have a Justice League movie for us, their rivals at Marvel finally did their own superhero team up thing, and after years of some fantastically entertaining standalone films that introduced us to the individual members of the team, Marvel’s The Avengers became the conclusion to the first part of one of the most ambitious film projects ever tackled, and, with nerd god Joss Whedon in the director’s chair and writer’s… desk?… the film proved to be one of the best superhero films ever released.

Where do I begin? Hmm… Well, for one, you get to see all these great heroes you came to love get thrown together in some spectacular battles, not to mention banter in classic Whedon style with one another. Seeing the eccentric Tony Stark befriending the reserved Bruce Banner is every bit as entertaining as seeing the simple-minded Hulk smack around the arrogant Loki in a fit of unbridled rage. The actors who were cast in the roles continue to shine in their ensemble forms, with Robert Downey, Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man) and Tom Hiddleston (Loki) still being the most entertaining of the returning cast, and newcomer Mark Ruffalo, replacing Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, actually manages to best Norton by playing Bruce as a truly anguished, reclusive man barely containing the beast within himself. He also gets to have a little fun

The action is fantastic, with each actor getting their little moments to shine (though Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye gets a bit shafted overall), and when the film has its big “Assemble!” moment, circling its heroes as the battle begins, and then carries that momentum into that awesome simulated single-shot montage of the Avengers battling the invading force, it’s a moment of pure fan-service bliss. The Avengers is a film that certainly makes good on the years of promise that were built up ever since Nick Fury appeared in the post-credits sequence of Iron Man. Let’s only hope that Phase 2 brings in more of the goods as the Marvel Cinematic Universe expands even further in scope.

The Dark Knight Rises - Batman

04. The Dark Knight Rises (July 20)

I told my best friend that if this film turned out to be as good as I hoped, I would very likely shed tears once the credits started rolling. I was mostly joking, but, well, the truth is… I totally shed tears. Of joy. It may not have been a perfect film, or possibly even the perfect conclusion (it’s hard to top the magnificence that was The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger as the Joker), but The Dark Knight Rises was still a fantastic conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, brilliantly adapting more elements from the Batman mythos to Nolan’s more realistic take on the series.

Batman’s crusade on crime has never been presented in such an epic manner in mainstream media, and it certainly helps that the performances in the film are top notch. Christopher Nolan’s trilogy will undoubtedly go down in history as some of the finest superhero film making ever to be put out. They helped to permanently reinvent what it meant to be a superhero film, showing that not only could they be mere finely-crafted entertainment, but deep and meaningful films, as well.

Many have complained about plot holes, and there very well may be, but when the film is already 2 hours and 43 minutes and you’re left just wanting more of it, a few assumptions perhaps need to be made to appreciate the film we did get. The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t quite reach the same level of brilliance as The Dark Knight, and it may not even feel as fresh as Batman Begins, either, but Rises is certainly one of the most satisfying conclusions to this three episode story, completing a larger piece of work that will undoubtedly go down in history as the single most important thing to happen to Batman since Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. (Though that sentiment comes from someone whose comic book exposure has admittedly been relatively limited.)

Looper - Tidying up the future.

03. Looper (Sept 28)

How about that? I managed to go against my love of Batman and not put it at the top of the list! Seriously though, as much as I loved The Dark Knight Rises and even The Avengers, I gotta hand it to the guys who made Looper for creating such an engaging story that takes place in a fresh new universe for us to enjoy.

Sure, time travel has been done to death, but Looper isn’t really even about time travel, despite using it as a pivotal plot device. It’s not even about the telepaths, who use their ability to float coins to impress girls in bars, though that does sound like a pretty silly premise for a buddy comedy. Ultimately, it’s roughly about destiny and the concept of nature vs. nurture, (*mild spoilers suggested*) using the concepts to even explore that age old question of whether you would be able to pull the trigger if you could go back in time to kill history’s greatest monsters as children or if you would make the sacrifice to lead them down a different path. (*end spoilers*)

You get a genuinely entertaining thrill ride out of all this, however. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joseph Simmons, an assassin who is contracted into killing targets sent back in time to him from the future so that they can be disposed of with little fuss until that inevitable day when he is sent his own older self (Bruce Willis), a fate he knew he was getting himself into as a young man but is unsurprisingly reluctant to accept as an older man, bitter about the slaughter of his wife who was killed in the process of his capture. The race against time as the two characters deal with the consequences of their actions, both past, present, and future, is one that is truly exciting to watch.

I can’t help but overstate just how awesome and revealing Looper turned out to be for me, especially for a film whose trailer I continued to forget to check out at the behest of my eager roommate up until the weekend prior to the film’s release. I’m certainly glad that he brought it to my attention. I was almost deprived of one of my top favorites for the year!

Zero Dark Thirty - Jessica Chastain as Maya

02. Zero Dark Thirty (Dec 19)

Just barely making this list is Kathryn Bigelow’s controversial and long-coming story about the hunt for the world’s most wanted man, Osama bin Laden (it didn’t premier in my area until a week before its wide release, which still puts it in January, but it’s technically a 2012 film, so I’m counting it).

More people perhaps recognize it as a movie that’s supposedly packed with torture scenes and then probably assume that this all leads to the raid on bin Laden’s compound, but if that’s the assumption they’re going to make, then I’m here to say that this is a big mistake. Zero Dark Thirty isn’t exactly entertaining, but it is certainly gripping and fascinating, and, as if she hadn’t already solidified her reputation as one of the best actresses working these days, Jessica Chastain gives her all as Maya, a dramatized creation based on a real woman, a young CIA operative who makes it her years-long life mission and obsession to use her intelligence to locate and kill the terrorist leader.

Kathryn Bigelow, similarly, directs with a very methodical hand. The film could be called plodding, I suppose, but, as I said before, this isn’t necessarily “entertainment” – at least not in the most commonly understood sense. The film is long, though it would be, since it took many years of investigation to locate this man, and the film doesn’t shy away from making you feel that expanse of time.

But I found every bit of it gripping and interesting, whether it was moving at a glacial pace and taking the time out to examine Maya and the life she’s leading or providing the film with “action” in the form of the inevitable climax and capture of bin Laden. The closest thing I can compare it to is the unfairly oft-forgotten Zodiac, which similarly ran long thanks to the wide range of years it covered as it told its story. You may not get the payoff that you want from the film, but, then again, life isn’t always witty banter and celebrations. Sometimes it’s a long and arduous process that concludes with bewildered exhaustion.

Argo - Ben Affleck

#1. Argo (Oct 12)

If you expected a thrilling procedural from Zero Dark Thirty and came out disappointed, might I refer you to Argo, Ben Affleck’s retelling of a similar true story about the rescue of American diplomats kept hidden by Canadian ambassadors in the Middle East. This rescue mission, dubbed the “Canadian Caper,” took place during the 1979 – 1981 Iranian hostage crisis and was largely made possible through the cooperation of the Canadian government, the CIA, and, of all things, Hollywood.

Argo takes its name from the unproduced script of a sci-fi film that the CIA operatives, posing as Canadian filmmakers, claimed to be scouting locations for within Iran. The film shows how Tony Mendez (Affleck), with the assistance of Hollywood producer Lester Siegel (a composite character played by Alan Arkin) and renowned, real-life makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman), led a mission into Iran and helped to retrieve the American refugees who had made it out of their compound just as it was being stormed by angry Iranian activists.

If you were bored by Zero Dark Thirty (I forgive you) and long for a film that’s and even humorous thriller, Argo should fit the bill perfectly. Without the torture controversies, the connection to 9/11, and lacking the narrative focus on a single, obsessive main character, Argo is easily enjoyed as a serious historical thriller as much as it is a popcorn flick for a fun night in watching a movie. Affleck’s third film as director is most definitely his best so far, cementing him already as one of the strongest actors to crossover into directing, and it certainly shows him to be deserving of the comeback he made after making some rather awful decisions as an actor (Surviving Christmas remains one my most hated films ever, possibly above even Gigli). Argo is certainly one of the best movies of the year, and it’s certainly my selection for my favorite movie of the year, as well.

That joke on Family Guy about Affleck’s only contribution to the creation of Good Will Hunting being a fart in Matt Damon’s direction suddenly seems so shortsighted and mean…

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