2012 has been a Fantastic year for movies. Along the way some of the expected greats fell a little short- The Dark Knight Rises with its twist-oriented plotting turned out to be not even a shadow of its similarly titled predecessor, Magic Mike tried to be two films at once and managed to be neither, Brave was obnoxious, The Hobbit was way too long, and Rock of Ages just failed on the fun-to-stupid ratio. But so many more things impressed me than let me down. Skyfall, for instance, despite its Home Alone-y third act and its Daniel Craig-ness, was one of the best Bond films ever (I’d say my fourth place finisher after Goldeneye, Goldfinger, and The World is Not Enough). Les Mis was so much better than I thought it would be. So was The Vow. Even weird action films like Contraband or Safe House and seemingly lame rom-coms like Think Like A Man were pretty good. Mirror, Mirror, Pitch Perfect, For a Good Time, Call…– female driven comedies that were pure fun. Friends with Kids, Robot & Frank, The Sessions, Silver Linings Playbook– small movies with real poignancy. I even got to see Beauty & The Beast in theatres again this year. Hells yeah, 2012.
So, to go along with Peter’s Top Ten list, I’ve listed my fifteen favourite movies of 2012 (and one honourable mention- I’m terrible at moderation). I tried to pick things that exemplified awesome filmmaking across genres but ended up with a list that heavily skews towards what I’m calling “romantic dramedies” because the term I was using, “alt-romcoms”, just didn’t seem big enough. There are so many of them here partly because they’re my favourite genre, a genre that hasn’t been well represented in years, but it’s mostly because these movies were just inarguably great. 2012 played host to tons of strong films that were funny and sad and romantic and smart in ways that fight one-word genre classification (one of the most successful- Silver Linings Playbook– you’ll certainly be hearing from at the Oscars, though you should be hearing from the others as well) but it also had a standout straight comedy or two, some amazing documentaries, the single greatest horror film I’ve ever seen, and action movies that ran the gamut from dystopia to superheroes and back again. Two different Shakespeare films made my list this year, there are two of the highest grossing films of all time, two films about time travel, three by Joss Whedon, one in French, and at least a few that you may not have heard of. But they’re all awesome and you should watch them as soon as you’re done reading this.
Alright, here are the first five:
15. 21 Jump Street
I’m a pretty stubborn gal so I always award tons of extra credit to filmmakers who make me like something I didn’t think I would like. 21 Jump Street was that movie for me this year. Action-comedy? A reboot of an 80s cop show? Oafish Channing Tatum and obnoxious Jonah Hill (my dislike of the latter knows few bounds)? The guy who wrote that crappy Scott Pilgrim movie? Ugh. But hell if it didn’t work. 21 Jump Street didn’t just work, it worked Great. Coming off his shockingly lovable turn in The so-much-better-than-expected Vow, Tatum had just started breaking through my skeptical shell when he busted out in 21 Jump Street with awesome comic timing and the self-aware silliness that would finally make me a full-fledged fan (and you know how I abhor jumping on a bandwagon at the exact same time as everyone else; alas, I was willing to do it for Channing). The script was funny as all hell and smart enough to recognize that the overwhelming post-modern texts of the past few years (hello, Glee) have changed highschool dynamics in ways that are weird and funny but as-of-yet under-explored by the people old enough to be making movies. 21 Jump Street was so good it might just be the first action-comedy I’ve ever loved. (Well, does The Mask of Zorro count? Cause that movie’s awesome).
In her review, Lauren called Looper “a perfect movie” and I think she was right. It has a singular auteur, working with his go-to leading man in one of those symbiotic relationships that always yields rewards (see Hitchcock and Grant, Burton and Depp, Scorsese and De Niro). Rian Johnson’s script boasts a wonderfully clever premise and smart dialogue but what stood out to me as exceptional was his intricate and precise plotting. Every fiber of Looper fits perfectly within Johnson’s highly specific and brilliantly realized world and folds beautifully into the characters, the themes and, most impressively, the mythology (dystopia plus time travel usually equals a lot more mess than Looper will tolerate. Johnson keeps it simple in the best way possible). Directorially, Johnson keeps the focus on his characters and story and not on visual theatrics (hey Tom Hooper, how’s it going over there in crazyville?), even the special effects are as real-world-bound as those in a film about time travel can be. He builds his futuristic city like a film noir playground- complete with genius detail like hard drugs in the form of eyedrops- and leaves the stark palettes of the country as a timeless reminder that his frightening story is only set in the “near” future. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is steely and silent as young Joe, playing beautifully off the gravitas of a perfectly cast Bruce Willis (professional badass) as his older self. The great Paul Dano takes a twitchy turn as Seth- the cautionary tale who sets up the film’s stakes- and angel-faced Tree Hill alumnist Pierce Gagnon’s Cid earns the award for most enthrallingly complicated and scary kid of 2012. But it was Emily Blunt who took the cake for me acting-wise in Looper. I’ve never warmed to her but by god she was good as the steadfast mother of troubled Cid. It wasn’t the most enjoyable or the most moving film of 2012 (though it was both enjoyable and moving) but I think Looper might have been the most flawless.
13. Katy Perry: Part of Me
And for a complete change of pace, I present to you a 3D concert/doc about a record-selling pop artist who more often than not has some sort of oversized edible glued to her breasts. I have no idea why I even went to see this movie, but it turned out to be one of the most cathartic experiences of the year (and it made me feel better about liking Katy’s music so much). More documentary than concert film, Part of Me covered Katy Perry’s intensely religious childhood and rebellious rise to fame but what I liked best was what it revealed about the woman and performer she is today. Watching the disollution of her marriage and the way that she pulled herself back together was fascinating and bizarrely moving and the film is full of small, revealing moments that show off why the people around her love Katy as much as they do. Perhaps even more affecting, though, is the revelation behind her sugary pop princess persona. Before Part of Me Katy Perry always felt to me like a complete construction, someone who donned whatever silly commercial getup and sang whichever vapid hook her record company asked her to. But what’s interesting is that she came up in the music scene at a time when grunge and emo pop were at the top of the pyramid and Katy’s conformity years were actually the ones in which she dropped the happy-go-lucky act. There’s a certain “for the fun of it” element to Katy’s whole self-designed persona that, looked at uncynically, was actually a really helpful thing to introduce back into mainstream consciousness. She’s all about love and fun and cheesy things like being a firework, and you can laugh all you want at that but I think Katy Perry’s done us all some good by focusing on the happy and not the heartbreak.
Coriolanus was a crazy-good war movie at its heart. And a crazy-good character drama. The fact that it was one of the best Shakespeare films in history is at best the third most notable thing about it. Ace screenwriter John Logan and director Ralph Fiennes’s adaptation of the tragically under-produced play updates the action to ambiguously modern day warfare (complete with clever use of the disgruntled citizenry). I didn’t know my Coriolanus from my Timon going into the movie (both are obscure Shakespearean heroes, if you’re not following) but Logan and Fiennes’ interpretation is so crisply realized that I followed every word and character nuance straight through to the end as though I weren’t watching something that was written 400 years ago (all this is to say that if you let the Shakespeare factor keep you away from Coriolanus, you’ll be missing out on a film so urgent and honest it could have been made by Kathryn Bigelow). Stage vet Ralph Fiennes was predictably good in the complicated lead role and the way he used the camera to shift more focus onto the women of the piece was directorially brilliant because he chose a legend and a developing legend to bring the female characters to the foreground. Vanessa Redgrave is a lion in the role of Volumnia- a mother figure who looms larger than any I’ve ever seen. She oozes power from her fingertips and trounces any machismo that attempts to stand at her height (her inspired military garb perfectly literalizing her power) but she also finds the humanity within the mountain of a character. Jessica Chastain, in contrast, delivers a hauntingly vulnerable performance as Coriolanus’ young wife Virgilia, filmed before her major rise to fame last year (good call, Ralph). She says next to nothing in the play but she’s brilliantly central to the film- a major credit to Chastain’s brilliance and Fiennes’s directorial insight. But, remember what I said about filmmakers making me like things I don’t like? Well, people, getting me to like a superbly acted Shakespeare adaptation isn’t actually hard (getting me to like a war movie falls somewhere in between). What’s incredibly hard to do is convince me to like Gerard Butler. But Oh My God was Gerard Butler good in Coriolanus. He was more than good, he was my favourite thing about the film. Aufidius is an astoundingly interesting role and Butler played every ounce of it with complicated detail that easily matched that of Fiennes (who has been living with his title character since he first played the part 12 years ago). Coriolanus is possibly the best-acted film of the year and it’s certainly the most visceral Shakespeare adaptation I’ve ever encountered. Whether you’re a scholar who will note which lines were cut to make the film the well-paced length it is, a war movie buff fascinated by how great filmmakers can set enveloping tone, or just someone in search of a brilliantly executed and enjoyable film, go see Coriolanus. (And read Borah’s gushy review, it’s hilarious. And informative).
11. The Guilt Trip
This movie looked kind of stupid. Barbara Streisand as a wacky, overbearing mother goes on a roadtrip with her Seth Rogen-y son (played by Seth Rogen); silliness ensues. But I went because my mom wanted to see it and if you want to go to the movies with my mom during Oscar season, when everything out is Django-esque, you have to see things like The Guilt Trip. Well, first of all, it was endlessly amusing seeing this particular film with my particular mother (who spent much of the opening credits informing the theatre patrons that they should “make sure to look at Barbara Streisand’s hands; she has the most beautiful hands. No, really, she’s famous for them!”) but, second of all, it was so not stupid at all. In fact, silly as it may have been, I thought Dan Fogelman’s script was hilarious and the duo at its centre couldn’t have been better cast if the producers had their pick of any actors in history. It never occurred to me that Rogen and Streisand might secretly be a comic dream team but their timing fits together like the perfect pair of matching mother-son sweaters. Since getting away from the Apatow braintrust, Seth Rogen has turned into one of my favourite people to watch onscreen. He’s just so likable and sweet, how can you not root for him to succeed? And Streisand- whom I wasn’t sure I liked all that much- was gut-bustingly funny in a role so clearly written as a loving but mocking tribute to Fogelman’s own mother (also named Joyce, to whom the film is dedicated). She obsesses over frogs, she uses her weight watchers sponsor as a therapist, she gets in the wrong car in a parking lot, she never goes more than a few hours without reminding her son to drink more water- I’d be both shocked and saddened to find someone in whom she doesn’t strike a chord of familiarity. My mother’s not actually all that exuberant (she’s very sweet, and often silly, but she would Never attempt an “eat this in under an hour and it’s free” challenge) but I still saw so much of her in Joyce, making the scenes of conflict all the more poignant. My mom said after the movie that she was surprised there were so many dramatic moments but we agreed the film wouldn’t have worked without them. Laugh-out-loud funny as The Guilt Trip was (One-liners like “never pick up a hitchhiker, they rape”? Ha! That recurring book on tape gag? Amazing), what made it a great film was the brutal honesty in the mother-son relationship and the moments of honest-to-god tenderness that make the film special. I know the tendency is to hear words like “brutal honesty” and think about grit and tragedy and movies that make people uncomfortable, and I know that there are some of you who will discredit me entirely when you see The Guilt Trip and think it’s stupid despite everything I’ve said. But, for me, the brutal honesty in The Guilt Trip was more human than lots of uglier things, because it’s spread within a light-hearted, love-filled comedy about generally undamaged, relatable people. Andy and his mom hurt and disrespect and misunderstand each other in ways that cut casually deep because they happen every day. It’s rare and awesome to find a late-in-the-year comedy as traditionally funny as this one that’s so much more than a studio throwaway.
Stay tuned for my Top Ten of 2012.