Staff writers select and defend their favorite flicks of 2012.
Looking back at 2012, I can’t say I’ve reviewed a film that really blew me away. Some of the best films I saw all year — Bernie, Ted (yes, Ted), The Master, Argo, Lincoln, Life of Pi — I watched only as a fan of cinema; not for reviewing purposes. Others I have high hopes for, but they haven’t been released in Little Rock as of last week, films such as Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained. (I can say that Django Unchained’s soundtrack is outstanding.) And then there are films I totally whiffed on this year by not watching them yet. But I’ll get around to films such as Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonrise Kingdom, The Queen of Versailles and Silver Linings Playbook.
But all of the above is not saying that I didn’t review some good films this year. I even saw one or two that impressed me. Here are the top five films I reviewed this year:
21 Jump Street
Who knew back in March that 2012 would be the year of Channing Tatum? But between this action comedy loosely based on the Johnny Depp-starring Fox TV drama, Magic Mike and being named People’s Sexiest Man Alive, 2012 was the year of the Tatum. Granted, 21 Jump Street wasn’t great just because of Tatum. No, what makes this film so great — besides co-star Jonah Hill — is it never tries rising above what it really is: big, stupid, outrageous fun in the vein of Superbad with a little heart and friendship. There’s nothing revolutionary here; just humor. 21 Jump Street also works because of its fish-out-of-water hijinks, juvenile humor and a couple of heartfelt storylines. The film even winks at Hollywood’s lack of imagination, with Nick Offerman’s Deputy Chief Hardy character in the film noting the people behind the undercover unit 21 Jump Street “lack creativity and they’ve run out of ideas, so what they do now is just recycle sh*t from the past and hope that nobody will notice.” P.S. He’s really talking about Hollywood.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Arthur Christmas was one of the best films of 2011. Aardman Animations — the British stop-motion clay and computer animation company behind films such as Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit — was responsible for that tale. And Aardman was responsible for this 3-D, stop-motion animated adventure comedy. Based on Gideon Defoe’s book series The Pirates!, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, with voices from Daily Show enemy Hugh Grant, Jeremy Piven and Salma Hayek, is a delightful romp about a fun-loving gang. With a rollicking and charming story, and breathtaking animation, The Pirates! Band of Misfits is a reminder animated films can be clever, fun and actually good cinema.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Neither The Avengers nor The Dark Knight Rises were the best superhero action films of 2012 — I don’t care what you think. No, Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man was. Maybe it’s because Andrew Garfield is greater than Tobey Maguire when it comes to starring as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Maybe it’s because Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen and Sally Field all add their acting chops. Or maybe it’s because Webb allows a mixture of passion and comedy into his action before getting to the fireworks of the film in the second half. But whatever is behind The Amazing Spider-Man’s success, the film is the rare, action-packed summer blockbuster with a heart and a brain.
You didn’t see this film based on a prank-call incident at a McDonald’s in Kentucky in 2004, did you? Shame. But you are not alone. This unnerving yet mesmerizing psychological thriller has only earned $319,285 in domestic ticket sales since its release back in August. But smart cinema fans know most of the best films are not blockbusters. Do yourself a favor and track Compliance down. Somehow, someway. But be warned: If you watch movies praying you won’t have to think, then Compliance is not the film for you. The whole 90 minutes of this film is meant to question you.
I said it in my review, and I’ll say it again here: Daniel Craig is the best James Bond ever. Yes, better than Sean Connery. Following the great Casino Royale and the so-so Quantum of Solace, Craig secures the title in this installment of Bond, the 23rd movie in the series and a definite Top Five Bond film. But more than Craig’s human-like Bond (Look! Now, with added emotions and hurt!) makes Skyfall work. The globe-trotting, action adventure film is astonishing for a number of reasons: Javier Bardem’s mommy-issues villain Silva, director Sam Mendes’ blend of action with drama and comedy, and cinematographer Roger Deakins’ dazzling shots, including a grand finish shot in glorious, golden-shadowed light that resets the 007 franchise for the future.
— shea stewart
The Hunger Games
There may be just a little bit of sentimentality in this pick, but the book was just so darn engrossing. The movie, on the hand, almost was. It was, by and large, pretty faithful to the source material, though a lot got left out by necessity of losing the first-person perspective of the novel. There’s no inner monologue, and that added a lot to the main character Katniss and colored her interactions with others. Still, it’s a well paced flick with a solid story that touches on some pretty deep points. Not perfect execution, but enough to be entertaining.
Cabin in the Woods
Again, I may have some bias. I’m a fan of horror slasher flicks, even though I can admit they are not always great movies. Cabin in the Woods, for all its appearance of being the same old cliché film we’ve seen a hundred times, was something much more. And it was a great movie. For the first few minutes I seriously thought I’d walked into the wrong theater. Don’t worry, it’ll all make sense by the end, which I won’t ruin here. But what a great twist on such a well-trodden road.
Dark Knight Rises
While it may not quite have been as fantastic as its two predecessors, Christopher Nolan’s conclusion to his re-envisioning of the Batman character (Christian Bale) was certainly in keeping with the philosophical, topical nature of the recent franchise. This time the subject is class warfare, which is all too relevant. And for anyone who was a fan of the comics, this film’s depiction of the villain Bane (Tom Hardy) is as iconic as the print image of him breaking Batman over his knee in the book. However, the film’s release will always be remembered not for its financial success or quality of the finale, but for the tragic events that took place at its opening in Aurora, Colo., where a gunman opened fire on a crowded theater expecting to enjoy a night at the movies.
As far as concepts go, Looper was one of the more intriguing of 2012. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a mob hitman in the not too distant future who is paid to execute rivals sent back in time for a more distant future in which the technology has been invented. That proves difficult when the assigned target is an older version of himself, played by Bruce Willis. Where the film plays with ideas of time travel and continuity and the idea of paradox, it gets interesting and even, at times, haunting. Unfortunately, it snaps back onto the rails and at some points becomes all-too-familiar sci-fi. Like, almost a copy of The Terminator. But it’s a reasonably enjoyable flick, and worth another watch in 2013.
Hands down my favorite movie I saw this year was Cloud Atlas. Featuring an all-star cast, the story unfolds around different characters at six different points in time, each with a tangential connection to another. What’s more, nearly all the actors show up in different roles in different times, sometimes as main characters, other times just in cameos. It all adds together for a sense of continuity in a film that could have easily broken under the weight of its own ambition. However, the jumps and transitions were easy for me to follow. The connective threads took some pondering, but they’re there. It’s new. It’s inventive. And it’s definitely the most original movie I saw this year — or in the last several years, actually.
— spencer watson