Before we start, the usual disclaimer - I don't get out much these days, so you're getting a pretty limited view of 2012 (especially when you see my list at the bottom of movies I still want to see).
Here's my top 10 for 2012 so far.
10. The Hunger Games
As someone who has never read the books and has zero interest in doing so, I was pleasantly bowled over by the craft displayed in this surprisingly low budget blockbuster. Every element, from story to acting to production design was handled expertly and efficiently - and made for a compelling narrative in the best of sci-fi movie traditions. Reminded me in a good way of classics like Logan's Run and the original Planet of the Apes.
9. The Dark Knight Rises
This one suffers greatly in comparison to it's predecessor, which is simply the best superhero movie ever made - but it still has a lot to offer. If you've read my treatise on The Dark Knight, then you know I'm a bit of a right wing nut-ball about this stuff, but in both TDK and the TDKR there are tons of unmistakable conservative paradigms. Particularly powerful in this latest Batman movie are the indictments against Occupy Wall Street and a completely unsubtle comparison with the movie bad guys and al qaeda via' haunting images of bodies being hung from a bridge. I don't care what you say Chris Nolan - I know you're one of the good ones in Hollywood.
Probably the best Bond movie ever, but then I was never a huge Bond fan. I've always liked JB but not loved him. Up until this film I'd say "True Lies" was my favorite Bond movie, which tells you how I feel about the franchise. Still, this one is a triumph of story, production design and cinematography - all rooted in a deep love of the character and his legacy. I admit I am a bit put off by the idea of peeling back the layers of Bond's background... no, I don't want to know that he is an orphan thanks. Just like I don't want to know about Michael Meyer's childhood, my imagination works better than some random pedestrian explanation - but I forgive this contrivance, as the movie is so darn good.
7. Django Unchained
I have often said that I like my entertainment to be entertaining, and that there is enough misery in real life that I don't need to be subjected to it in a movie theater. This movie stomps right through that line and blurs it in gleeful bloody fashion and in the end absolutely cannot be taken too seriously. It is a righteous and moral film, as QT's work always has been, but it is also an indulgent revenge fantasy (as his last few movies have been) that is not for the squeamish or those uninitiated to grind-house cinema. I for one never took the violence as anything more than cartoonish and had a hell of a good time.
It was bound to happen, the Disney animation group finally put out a better film than their PIXAR brethren. I liked Brave a lot, but Wreck-It-Ralph is amazing. I admit, I'm a bit biased because the love this movie has for old school video games hits me right in my wheelhouse (I'm the perfect age for this nostalgic shit) but I also see that people of all ages will be able to appreciate Wreck-It's heart and compelling characters. The story is also top notch, dare I say... Pixar quality. I love Ralph. I love the Glitch. I love, love, LOVE this movie.
Simply a powerhouse movie. Spielberg at his best as Daniel Day Lewis once again emerges from the shadows as a completely different person to collect his Oscar. History comes to life, and though most of it involves people talking in close quarters - it is truly gripping.
4. The Hobbit
I have nothing but love for Peter Jackson's return to Middle Earth. This is a very dense movie for a very simple story and I very much want to see it again even though I've seen it twice already. As an editor and geek I was both enraptured and repulsed at the HFR (high frame rate) version I saw. Loved the level of detail and clarity that I had never seen before, disliked the video-like frame rate. Not sure if I'm sold on this format. As for the story/characters, etc. I can't tell you if it was genuinely good or not. I'm too much of a fan. If you liked Lord of the Rings very much, then this is for sure a must see. If you are ambivalent about LOTR then you can safely pass.
Amazing old school movie that works on every level. Best of all it is firmly pro-American, despite one clumsy liberal-pandering scene of American protesters beating up a cowering Muslim. Yeah, who could forget all the footage of that stuff happening? Oh wait.... But in any case, this misstep is easily forgivable, as the rest of the movie is a damning indictment of those crazy motherfuckers in Iran (despite what liberals are sure to perceive as an American indictment over the brutality of the Shah) AND, even better, a great caper movie that my dad would have loved. Ben Affleck. Who knew? And of course he is snubbed by the Oscars, which by now has about as much credibility as I do in saying which movies are the best. On the other hand, I think I'm a lot more sensible than they are. Smiley face wink.
The Dark Knight is still the best superhero movie ever - but this one is probably the best comic book movie ever. Works on every level - spectacle, character, heart and especially humor. Joss Whedon finally brings it home and knocks it out of the park like all us Buffy geeks knew he would. And the hulk is the star! How bad ass is that! One for the ages.
1. Zero Dark Thirty
Not even close. This is the best and most important film of the year. Like all great "war" movies both sides of the political spectrum have seized on the "message" of this story, and they are both correct. A great quote from liberal critic at the SF Chronicle sums up the left's praise....
"The lesson is unmistakable: Mess with the United States, and not only will the CIA and the special forces find you, but your story will be subsumed and commodified by American culture in the most obvious and thorough way possible - as first-rate, mass-market entertainment." -Mick Lasalle
And I'm like, "Yeah, that's right." USA = good guys. Terrorists = bad guys. And it works just because Bigelow is an honest filmmaker. She can shine the light of truth on everything, from enhanced interrogation (which you can call torture if you wish) to the business like dispatch of OBL, two taps to the chest and skull. It all comes out the same. In the end, the USA emerges from the shit of sin as the greatest moral force on the planet, and yes, Bigelow pays tribute to those who willingly sacrifice - giving either their lives or pieces of their souls - to insure that the United States continues to be a beacon of liberty and greatness to the rest of the world.
America. Fuck yeah.
Again, as with Lincoln, most of this movie is talking in offices - but as with that film, it is engrossing and powerful. Jessica Chastain and Kathryn Bigelow are my heroes - bringing light to darkness on the horrors of our world.
But not all on the left and right have embraced this movie. Senators McCain and Feinstein have claimed the film's link of harsh interrogation to killing OBL as false. I have all the respect in the world for Senator McCain, I actually met him once for an interview I shot - but I respectfully have to wonder if he, as someone who indeed endured true and pointless torture for three years, is seeing the big picture clearly enough. I would never presume to doubt his sincerity, but I think it is fair to say his objectivity is clouded.
And others on the farther reaches of the left have called this entire enterprise Fox News propaganda. This to me pretty much seals ZD30 as a great movie.
In the end it will be up to the viewers to decide whether this movie makes them ashamed or proud to be American. As a patriot who also recognizes and embraces the simple truth of endlessly complex and utterly grey shades of the world - I can proudly say that I was inspired by this film. As with the fictional Frodo who treks to Mordor and who is never the same when he returns, bearing scars from sins both external and of his own making - the real life heroes of ZD30, the CIA operatives, Seal Team Six, and countless others have willingly taken a journey with no return so that the rest of us can be free.
And in the end, whether or not sheltered Americans waste their time with decadent self-loathing, we can deep down all thank God that selfless men and women are still on that wall for all of us. Protecting the right of many to be blissfully unaware of the world and for the rest of us to stand and applaud at the conclusion of this film. Most of the theater sat in awed silence. Not me, I was exhilarated.
As I said, 2012 had a lot of great movies. Here is a surprisingly long list of movies that I also enjoyed, but just didn't quite crack the top 10.
Probably number 11 on the list. Very moving and expertly crafted - once you accept the rather strange direction the story takes about half way in. I kind of like it after seeing it a few times. It does work, but it is unusual.
The kid and I had a blast with this one. Plus it touches on daddy/daughter stuff that resonates pretty well with me. Frantic cutting, but lots of fun.
Ambitious but flawed. Holds up better on repeated viewings.
Ghost Rider 2
Pure schlock that loses momentum greatly in the final act. Still a fun ride.
Twilight Saga BD2
The best of the saga for me - meaning it had the most action. A Twilight movie that for once I would not mind watching again.
21 Jump Street
Flippin' hilarious. Ice Cube rules.
Glee as I wish it was. Gross and obnoxious, with people that you actually root for.
Rise of the Guardians
Similar to Prometheus in it's ambition, falls down occasionally but when it soars it really soars. Dream Works really needed to pull back on the editor a bit, there's lots of majesty here but we don't get to see it because the cuts are so quick.
I really need to see this again to see if it really holds up. Time travel is always tricky. Then again, maybe I should just let it be and remember it fondly as a kick butt action movie that gave me a great ride and surprised me more than once.
And lastly, there is a GANG of movies from 2012 that I still very much want to see. These are at the top of the list.
Act of Valor
Cabin in the Woods (Can't believe I haven't seen this yet!)
Life of Pi
The Bourne Legacy
Amazing Spider Man
(I've already seen this story, but people keep telling me that this version has some value.)
The older I get, the faster the time goes. We have "The Grey" on our coffee table in it's Netflix sleeve as I write this. Hopefully I'll have the energy to watch it soon.