Sean’s Top 10 Films of 2012

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(You can read my Top 10 of 2011 right here)

Everyone seems to be hawking about what a great year 2012 was for movies.  Yes, we finally got The Avengers, but it was what it was, a big comic book movie.  Yes, it was good, but it wasn’t top 10 material, not in my opinion at least.  I guess I’m biased, however, as 2o11 had a lot of movies that I watch regularly (Drive, Hobo With a Shotgun, Attack the Block, Outrage, and The Lincoln Lawyer) so I guess the fact that 2012 didn’t blow me away is a product of my fandom of 2011.

Some of these films might have hit festivals in 2011, some might be hitting wide release in 2013.  However, I saw them in 2012, so eat it.  As with every year, there are a few movies I liked quite a lot, that just didn’t make the cut.  Here are my honorable mentions:

Compliance – Easily the year’s most uncomfortable film, and while many say it’s wildly unbelievable, in modern America, I believe it fully. It has style for days, and that’s something seriously lacking in a lot of other films. If it makes you feel like throwing up, or taking a shower after watching, and that means it’s doing the job it set out to do. One of the best directed films of the year, even if the screenplay is a bit light on actual content, the tone and style make up for the fact that you know what’s going to happen the entire time.

God Bless America – Bobcat Goldthwait is a filmmaker whose films are often reviled due to their graphic and dark content, but who knew a film about killing stupid people could be so much fun? I did, and the violence is just an added bonus, as it points out that the people that didn’t like it are probably the type the main characters would have enjoyed killing.

The Cabin in the Woods – I wasn’t as high on this film as a lot of other horror fans, it was a lot of fun, and had a batshit crazy ending, but it felt like the way it played with horror tropes had been done before in other films. The monsters were unique, but in the end, too short lived to make an impact on the film as a whole. Still, in a weak year, it was a lot of fun.

21 Jump Street – Another film that I didn’t expect to stick on my best of list, but it did. It’s hilarious all the way through, well made, and the leads prove they both deserve their status in Hollywood.

Safety Not Guaranteed – This crazy little story is elevated beyond its subject matter by the fantastic cast, and I couldn’t be happier for them. Just a fun, heartwarming story about a time traveling weirdo and the people investigating him.

Looper – Rian Johnson‘s time travel odyssey is full of ideas, and is executed in a way that most filmmakers can’t achieve. His ideas may be bigger than the films he makes, but the fact that he keeps you thinking well beyond the run time is something to be commended. I still think the script came off better than the execution of the actual film, but Joseph Gordon Levitt does a great Bruce Willis, as does Bruce Willis. His need to play the persona he’s played since 1988 doesn’t even bother me, and the cookie-cutter ending doesn’t even ruin the film, although in a lot of other movies, it would have. It’s just a testament to Johnson’s ability to tell a story, even if it’s a bit neutered.

Alright, enough almosts, here’s the list:

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10.  John Dies at The End – Don Coscarelli‘s adaptation of Cracked.com‘s David Wong‘s insane, rambling book shouldn’t be good.  In fact, it should be silly and mostly incoherent, as it’s one of those stories that most claimed was un-filmable.  However, he has done just that, making it hilarious and fun to watch at every turn.  If you aren’t paying attention, you’ll feel completely lost (even if you are paying attention, you might still feel lost), but that’s most of the fun, feeling like you’re on Soy Sauce along with Dave (Chase Williamson) and the titular John (Rob Mayes), who are two stars on the rise if this film is any indication.  This one hits limited theaters later in January, and it’s something I would really like to see on the big screen, mostly to see how an audience reacts to it.  The second half falls apart in places, but as a whole, it’s too zany, gory, and funny to pass up.

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9.  Zero Dark Thirty – Katheryn Bigelow‘s other war film speaks a lot about post-9/11 America, and the new age wars that we are fighting, mostly through the eyes of upper-echelon intelligence officials, and not so much from the grunts doing the dirty work, like her last film, The Hurt Locker did.  Still, it’s an interesting film, and while it may feel like two halves instead of a whole, I suppose this is a story that only has pieces, and not an entire story.  There is no big theme, no big summation, because neither war depicted has a theme or summation.  They simply exist, and while that’s an odd attitude for a film to adapt, in a strange way, it speaks the most about the subject matter.  Good acting in minor roles supports this one throughout the runtime, and the last 30 minutes are what most will come to see.

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8.  Jeff, Who Lives at HomeThe Duplass Brothers are bona-fide geniuses, and although a lot of their feature films aren’t for general crowds, this one hits on every level. Funny, sad, and just plain good, I’m glad they are getting recognition beyond the indie crowds. Jason Segel may be playing yet another version of the character he usually plays, but here it works a lot better than the majority of his films (which I love, even in The Five Year Engagement) but it’s Ed Helms that really steals the show here. Who knew the guy could act? Now we all do, and this is one I’ll find myself watching many times in the future.

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7. Dark Horse – Todd Solondz doesn’t make a lot of films, and most of them are abhorrent to most audiences, but this is the first one that had even the slightest possibility to connect with mainstream audiences. Still, it’s decidedly unconventional, but full of memorable characters and that dry Solondz style he has become known for. I’m of a different mind than most critics when it comes to what was actually going on in the film, but either way, it’s a good film with a lot to say about a lonely, delusional man. The performance by lead actor Jordan Gelber is fearless, and it’s the type of acting that most big names would be afraid to try.

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6.  Killer JoeMatthew McConaughey has broken out of his pretty boy mold in recent years and become the actor we (or at least some of us) always knew he could be. Here, he breaks out in William Friedkin‘s latest as a killer detective, the standout in an all-star cast that fills the run time with excellent performances all around. The ending is sure to piss some people off, but it’s pure brilliance, in my opinion. Emile Hirsch doesn’t do enough to distance himself from his Alpha Dog persona, but Thomas Hayden Church and Gina Gershon as his supposed role models are both excellently scummy.  Still, this is all McConaughey at the end of the day, and all the praise to him is warranted.

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5.  Deadfall – Neo-noir like we don’t see. The Coen Brothers would be impressed, and that’s saying something. Measured and well made, not many films like this come out anymore. Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde (two actors that have been less than impressive for the better part of their careers) break out and show the world that they are forces to be reckoned with. This one is all about measured tone, and it nails everything it sets out to do. Ugly violence, a like-able villain, using the setting like few films do, this one is special, and it seems to have flown well under most radars.  I’ve read a few reviews where people hated it, but I say if you like noir at all, give it a shot.

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4.  Killing Them Softly – We all know Brad Pitt is a bad motherfucker. So when he sets out to play another bad ass in a film, we all have an expectation of what it will be like, especially after Fight Club. Here, he breaks that mold yet again, and creates a straightforward gangster who is reasonable and just doing his job. He’s not a monster. But Andrew Dominik‘s direction, and Greig Fraser‘s cinematography puts this one into the stratosphere of great films, the dialogue is tremendous, and Brad Pitt ends up towering over everyone in the picture. Slaine is given little to do, but he shows he’s only improving as an actor. Tony Sopr– err, James Gandolfini plays his role as the listless hitman wonderfully, and Ray Liotta is great as the desperate Marky. Scoot McNairy blew me away with his performance, and Ben Mendelsohn proves yet again he’s an actor that we’ll be seeing a lot of in the future. Not everything is perfect, and the aspects detailing how the financial collapse affects the crime world is interesting, if obvious, but this is a film that could have come out in 1995 and felt like what it is: A portrait of the true nature of capitalism in America. It also features one of the best last lines in a movie, ever.

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3.  Seven Psychopaths – Martin McDonagh‘s follow-up to In Bruges (one of my favorite films from 2008) is even more off the wall, if you can imagine that.  While it may be a more “Hollywood” film, it’s a film about Hollywood with a cynical point of view on everything but friendship.  Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken shine, while Woody Harrelson and Colin Farrell do a great job of supporting them, even if Farrell’s character is supposed to be the main character.  The anti-movie movie, McDonagh does a great job of deconstructing the act of screenwriting and comes up with a clever, often-hilarious film about a couple of dog-knappers and a depressed writer.  I simply can’t wait for this guy’s next movie.

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2.  Detention – Horror done with style and pizzaz. Joseph Kahn‘s high school horror movie is both hilarious and fun to watch. It has some great kills, and a kinetic style that can’t be matched. Compulsively watchable, and smarter than it ever should have been. I suppose it didn’t connect with a lot of audiences because it’s too “me” generation for most, but I found it funnier, and a better deconstruction of the horror genre than that other “meta” horror film everyone has on their “Best of 2012” list.  The fact that it’s downright hilarious only helps, and the winks at the audience are refreshing, and that’s what keeps the film from being as obvious as a sledgehammer.  I also liked the cast quite a bit, Josh Hutcherson proves he’s not afraid to poke fun at his own persona, and Shanley Caswell comes out as a star in the making.  It’s amazing when a director can make Dane Cook watchable, even more so when they make him one of the most enjoyable parts of the movie.

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1.  Django Unchained – At this point, movie fans have spoken.  While the Academy and the Golden Globes may not give it any awards love, Django Unchained doesn’t need it.  Many agree it is the best film of the year, and I dare say it’s my new favorite movie of all time.  I felt that way walking out of the theater, and upon second viewing, it loses none of its shine.  Quentin Tarantino absolutely knows what he’s doing, and with his second “revisionist history” movie, he has knocked it out of the park once again.  Bringing along a cast that only Tarantino could put together, he has made the funniest movie about slavery, ever.  Not that there was a lot of competition in that category, but still.  The man makes movies for himself, first and foremost, and since he’s one of the biggest fans of the medium itself, he in turn makes movies for movie fans.  It sounds so logical it’s almost stupid, in the fact that seemingly only Martin Scorsese has thought of this before.  However, no one does it like Tarantino, and walking out of the theater, you’ll be fiddling with iTunes before you even get to the car so you can hear “that song” again, which, with this soundtrack, could be any one of the songs.  It might not win many awards this year, but damn it, it’s universally loved, and it’s my favorite movie of 2012.

Well, there you have it.  In the next year, we are looking forward to a lot of new releases, including plenty of sequels (like Anchorman 2, Sin City 2, 300 2, etc), remakes (like Oldboy, Carrie, Evil Dead, etc) and original films from some of our favorite filmmakers (like Pacific Rim, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Stoker) so it’s sure to be an exciting year at the movies in 2013 as well.  See you there.

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