Sunday, February 24, 2013

Brian's Best and Worst of 2012

This is not an end-of-the-year list.  I forfeited that right when I didn't make this at the end of 2012.  I never get the chance to see all the biggest movies of the year in time for the end of the year anyway, so I am continuing my annual tradition of posting my own "best of" just before the Oscars.  That is not because the Oscars (don't call them Academy Awards this year!) are the end-all, be-all of movie awards.  They're just the biggest, and nothing good ever comes out in January or February, so it's okay to still focus on the previous year's releases.

I'm not a Top Ten sorta guy, though.  These are just my personal and highly subjective choices for the best and worst of the year.

What was considered for this list? Obviously, the movies of 2012 that I have already reviewed up to this point.  I do cram in a lot of movies right before the Oscars, too, and am suffering a backlog of recent reviews.  Here's what I watched before coming out with this list:
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  Alex CrossThe Amazing Spider-ManAmourArgoATMThe Avengers.  Battleship.  Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  The Bourne Legacy.  Brave.  The Cabin in the Woods.  Coriolanus.  The Dark Knight Rises.  The Devil Inside.  Django UnchainedDreddDrew Peterson: UntouchableThe Expendables 2FDR: American Badass.  Flight.  The FP.  Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.  Goon.  The Grey.  HaywireThe Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyThe Hunger Games.  Iron Sky.  John CarterLawlessLes Miserables.  Life of Pi.  Lincoln.  Lockout.  Looper.  Moonrise Kingdom.  Nazis at the Center of the Earth.  Prometheus.  The Raven.  Red Tails.  Resident Evil: RetributionSeven PsychopathsSilent House.  Silver Linings Playbook.  SkyfallTotal Recall (2012)Underworld: Awakening.  V/H/S.  The Woman in Black.  Zero Dark Thirty.

Best Bit Character
While Michael Fassbender's charming/bad-ass turn in Haywire shouldn't be ignored --- he would make a good 007 if we were in the market for a new one --- nothing amused me as much as Jason Schwartzman in Moonrise Kingdom.  A lot of actors (okay, maybe not Bill Murray) merely play "dry" when working with Wes Anderson, but Schwartzman embraces the dry humor with just enough excitement to make him stand out, even in the most star-studded cast.
This needs to be a mass-produced Halloween costume

Worst Supporting Actress
There were some pretty good possibilities in this category in 2012.  Catherine Dent was noticeably bad in the noticeably bad Drew Peterson: Untouchable.  Perhaps one of the lovely ladies from Battleship?  No, I'm going to have to go with Bingbing Li in Resident Evil: Retribution.  She was so bad that all of her dialogue was redubbed.  In a Resident Evil movie, a franchise famous for not giving a crap about acting or coherence.  Ouch.
But hey, she can do...this.  That's something.

Best Supporting Actress
Look, I know that Anne Hathaway is going to win everything for Les Miserables.  And maybe she should; she was good in a I'm-singing-at-the-camera sort of way.  That's not my style, though.  That's why my favorite this year was Judi Dench in Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  It's been a while since I've seen Dench play anything but a cold-hearted bureaucrat, and it was a pleasure to watch her in a warm, relatable role.  Definitely the best part of a quality ensemble cast.
Promo for M: Lost in Delhi

Worst Supporting Actor
This was a tough one.  I seriously hated a lot of supporting actors this year.  50% of the enormous cast from V/H/S were annoying douchebags.  The Ionut Grama was annoying in the truly awful The Devil Inside.  And how about Frank Grillo as the jackass who bitches about everything and fixes nothing in The Grey?  All are compelling choices, but I have to go with someone who has been irritating me for most of the year: Rafe Spall as the world's stupidest biologist in Prometheus.
You see a creepy alien and you smile and get close?  Death is too good for you, sir.

Best Supporting Actor
There were a lot of supporting actor roles that I loved from the past year: Javier Bardem in Skyfall, Sam Rockwell in Seven Psychopaths, Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises, Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln, CGI Hulk from The Avengers, Michael Fassbender in Prometheus, etc.  The runner-up is definitely Fran Kranz as the best stoner in movie history in Cabin in the Woods.  As good as all those guys were this year, I can't overlook just how much I enjoyed Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained.  Is the role similar to his character from Inglorious Basterds?  To an extent, although I would argue switching the good/bad dynamic makes it different enough.  I just can't get over Waltz speaking Tarantino's dialogue, though --- they're so damn good together!
You're welcome.  Next round's on you.

Worst Actress
I'm going to go with the tough-as-nails Gina Coreno in Haywire for this one.  What makes her worse than any of the lead actresses wearing tight leather and shooting stuff this year?  Coreno had some amazing fight scenes in Haywire, but the movie didn't work because she gave an awful performance, even with the benefit of a good director.  If she was even halfway competent, she would have been on my shortlist for Best Actress.  THAT's how bad she is.
Example: I'm pretty sure this scene was supposed to be all dialogue

Best Actress
This one was easy.  Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games Silver Linings Playbook.  She carried that movie, and she wasn't even the main character.  She was funny, had levels and development, and showed some heart?  Come on!  What's not to love?  Besides, what are the other choices this year?  Jessica Chastain?  Ugh.  Pass.  This is the second time I've given this completely nonexistent and useless award to Lawrence, and it's getting to the point where I might actually watch movies because I have faith in the starring actress.  That's a big deal.
I like the scenes where Bradley Cooper is blurred best

Worst Actor
For as many bad movies as I watched this year, there were not many lead acting roles that I absolutely hated.  Sure, Rob Lowe was hilariously bad in his SNL-sketch-gone-horribly-wrong portrayal of a Chicagoan in Drew Peterson: Untouchable, but at least Lowe outperformed the material.  Taylor Kitsch --- who isn't really a bad actor --- played a role that emphasized all of his shortcomings in Battleship.  When your character is frequently described as being smart or talented, you should probably not come off as a complete moron, even when defeating board game-obsessed aliens.
That had better be your agent on the phone

Best Actor
This was a rough year for outstanding lead actor roles.  Of the nine Best Picture Oscar nods, only three of the films had Best Actor nominations!  I think 2012 was far stronger in the Supporting Actor category than the Lead Actor one.  Yes, Denzel Washington was terrific in Flight.  But the character and actor I would choose to watch or listen to again would be Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln.  I've always liked Lincoln as a historical figure, but Day-Lewis was perfectly cunning and warm; he commanded the screen with a soft voice, stooped posture, and anecdotes where other actors would have gone in a completely different direction.  Making America's (arguably) most legendary President into a human again was rather impressive.
The President apparently disagrees.  Or smells a fart.

Best Director
This is less about who was the best and more about what directors I liked that didn't have huge flaws in their finished products. I love Quentin Tarantino, but Django Unchained needed a damn editor. Cabin in the Woods was great, but Drew Goddard managed to make a great horror movie that was missing scares.  Competence narrows down the field considerably.  While Ben Affleck did a great job with the humor and pacing of Argo, I'm going to go with Sam Mendes and Skyfall.  He made a James Bond movie that was actually a legitimate film!  I don't like it because I'm comparing it to Bond movies --- I like it because it's awesome!  This is the first time anyone has tried to make a James Bond flick with character development, good cinematography and very good acting, and he was still able to film some great action sequences.  Mendes' work is sorely underrated on Skyfall.  Any decent director can make a prestige picture look good; making a series known for corny action and one-liners into an actually good movie in far more difficult.

Worst Director
There are movies that never had a chance of being good, and then there are the blockbusters that failed, in large part due to their direction.  Peter Berg took a stupid concept and did a terrible job with it, and Battleship was the nauseating result.  Timur Bekmambetov did a decent job with his cast, but pieced together a soulless abomination that sucked harder than any Twilight movie: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  The absolute worst direction this year, though, had to be Rob Cohen's work in Alex Cross.  He made a police procedural that was less competent than a third-rate CSI knockoff AND the acting wasn't great AND the editing was occasionally incoherent.  Stick to Vin Diesel movies, Mr. Cohen.

Biggest Disappointment
There were a lot of choices this year, primarily with sequels and reboots, but the one that stuck to me was Prometheus.  It's not bad, but it is intentionally obtuse and refuses to deliver on anything that its shared universe with the Aliens franchise has to offer.  Again, it isn't awful, but I was expecting a hell of a lot more.
These guys?  Seriously --- fuck these guys.

Biggest Surprise 
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year was me not noticing Joseph Gordon-Levitt's makeup while I was watching Looper, but as far as feature films go, Dredd is the winner.  It should have been bad.  It's a remake of a crappy movie, and it has a lead actor who specializes in not emoting.  And yet, Dredd managed to get its core concept just right.  I was hoping for a movie so-good-it's-bad, but ended up genuinely enjoying it.
...because this is totally sweet

Bottom 5 Movies
5. Iron Sky - How do you screw up a movie about Nazis living on the dark side of the Moon?  By assuming that the concept was funny enough to last for an entire movie.  This one had promise, but then dropped the ball when it tried to be clever, funny, or serious.  So, yeah, it sucks.
Above: my reaction
4. Battleship - I still have trouble understanding how this made it past the conceptual stage.  A board game about stealth transformed into an alien invasion action movie?  The guy who came up with that concept must have balls the size of Death Stars.  Battleship must have run an "obnoxious actors wanted" ad in Variety, too, because the supporting cast is about two peanuts shy of being 100% crap.
John Carter vs. Master Chief?
3. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - I like the source material and the director, and yet this turned out to be an unholy mess.  I am okay with the chocie to not play this concept for laughs.  I am not okay with it feeling like it was 2/3 exposition, 1/3 Abraham Lincoln running on top of a herd of stampeding animals.  Be funny or be darkly awesome.  Anything else is failure.
Get it?  The bad guy's using the horse as a pommel --- you know what?  Screw this movie.
2. The Devil Inside - Possession horror movies are oftentimes terrible.  With the advent of the found-footage horror sub-genre, possession movies have gotten a little worse.  The Devil Inside has a lame concept, irrational characters, and poor direction; none of those earmark it for being hate-worthy.  What separates it from the pack is its ending.  This is the worst film ending I have seen since the director's cut of The Butterfly Effect.  I only wish The Devil Inside strangled Ashton Kutcher, too.
This for ninety minutes would have made for a better film
1. ATM - This is the single dumbest concept for a film I have seen in a long time --- and I watched FDR: American Badass and Nazis From the Center of the Earth this year.  There are no redeeming qualities with this film, and then it gave me a nosebleed by inferring that the villain --- who had the most unbelievably idiotic victims I have ever seen on film --- was some sort of criminal mastermind.  Crap...I'm bleeding out my eyes now, just thinking about it.
They're looking at the world's largest bottle of scotch, AKA what you need to get through this movie

Top 10 Movies:
10. Lincoln - I absolutely love Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones in this film.  My biggest concern was how it would handle the whole "vampire hunter" angle, but I think Spielberg addressed the issue subtly.
9. Seven Psychopaths - Not a perfect movie by any means, but I adore the dialogue and I thought the supporting cast was stellar.  There are not many scripts that give Sam Rockwell license to be as crazy as he can be, but he was so odd that Christopher Walken looked...well, not normal, but sane by comparison.
8. Looper - I was concerned when this movie was being advertised.  Not only did it have a weird time travel concept at its core, but it contended that the Future Mob had sole control over time travel.  Add that to the incomprehensible choice to cover Joseph Gordon-Levitt's face in silly putty to look absolutely nothing like a young Bruce Willis, and this looked like a movie destined for the "mock" pile.  Looper surprised me, though.  It made some interesting and tough choices with its characters and delivered a movie intriguing enough for me to stop focusing on JGL's makeup.
Clever fan poster found on the Looper tumblr
7. Beasts of the Southern Wild - When you take semi-Artsy direction and some of the rawest acting talent around, you run a chance of creating something truly special.  This was easily the Academy Award-nominated film that I connected to best on an emotional level, and I am so disassociated with these characters that I cannot believe I live in the same country where it was shot.  And the editing and post-production work needed to make 6 year-old Quvenzhané Wallis this great was beyond impressive.

6. Argo - It is difficult to make a movie about a historical event suspenseful.  It's almost as hard to pace it well.  Ben Affleck managed to do both, and he still balanced it with humor.
This guy says he was in Argo.  I don't recall, but it's an awesome pic
5. The Dark Knight Rises - A fitting end to Christopher Nolan's trilogy, this was everything needed to thematically bring Batman's story to a close.  Bane was not quite as classic as Heath Ledger's Joker, but Tom Hardy was good enough to make me forget about the Joker while I was watching --- and that is damn impressive.  If this had more Batman and less Bruce Wayne, it might have been perfect.  It will tide me over until the next reboot (I'm calling 2017 right now).
4. The Cabin in the Woods - This was such a fantastic homage to the horror genre that I can overlook the fact that it is not scary in the least bit.  A smart script that goes in directions that you would not guess from the promos and a great script make this a personal favorite.
This movie also finally gives stoners their own action hero
3. The Avengers - I'm a huge fan of the Marvel super hero movies, so the one where all the heroes team up and are directed by Joss Whedon, with a script he co-wrote?  Yeah, this was a no-brainer.  What makes it special, though, are the unexpectedly great moments, like when Hulk smashes Loki.  More of this, please.
Do you have this poster?  It was free w/purchase of the Blu-Ray.  FYI.
2. Skyfall - This is easily the best James Bond movie since Connery got bored with the role.  It has the best direction and cinematography of any Bond movie, and the best villain in decades.  This is the James Bond movie to show to people who (somehow) don't like James Bond.
Fan art poster taken from here
1. Django Unchained- Yes, it could have been better with thirty minutes less run-time, but Django scratched so many itches that this year's film crop failed to.  It was gory as hell, it had Tarantino's famously foul humor, and universally good acting.  There were a few movies about slavery in 2012, but this was the film that was fun to watch and I will come back to time and time again.  Bless your enormous chin (which houses your ego), Quentin Tarantino!
Sorry.  This was better than any Django posters I could find


  1. A minor point of contention is that Dredd is a reboot, as opposed to a remake. Dredd is based on a comic book character; albeit one with almost zero market penetration in the U.S. Meaning Dredd has as little to do with the Stallone version as Batman Begins has to do with Batman & Robin or the excellent Adam West film. This perception is definitely what killed it at the box office.

    I'm not chastising you either, I only saw the film based on the strong recommendation of a friend. I mostly bring it up as food for thought. I find it bizarre that America is more than willing to see two awful Hulk films within five years, but a perceived remake of a Stallone movie from almost 20 years ago is out of the question. Especially since the Hulk/Incredible Hulk and Spiderman/Amazing Spiderman are virtually the same fucking movie. Is it just good marketing?

  2. Your point is a fair one, and I used a poor choice of words.

    Still, it is a reboot of a character that was previously only used in a crappy Stallone movie. There was absolutely no reason for people that don't read 2000 AD to have any hope for this movie. It's not like the trailers made it look awesome, or that Karl Urban is a great leading man. People didn't give this one a chance because the last one was so bad and because they didn't know that the character could be any better. If you told me that Son of the Mask was a fantastic comic book and that a remake would be worth seeing, I don't know how inclined I would be to trust you.

    As for the question of marketing, I think that's only part of the reasoning. Yes, it's a factor. But more to the point, neither Hulk movie sucked as bad as Judge Dredd, and 3/4 of the Spider-Men have been good. These are also characters with a much larger presence in our culture. When you play a Spider-Man or Hulk video game, or watch a movie, you have an idea of what would be fun and cool because you know the character. Judge Dredd's biggest cultural impact was Stallone doing a good stroke victim impression while shouting "I am the law!"

    Did Dredd deserve a reboot? Absolutely. Did Hulk and Spidey? Not so much, since they didn't have much to make up for. Still, those movies were made as business decisions to flex license ownership. It sucks in a way, but I have high hopes for the next Spidey and Hulk movies (out in 2014 and 2017, I believe), and I sure wish Dredd and the Conan reboot were given another chance, too. As long as we're getting fun movies, I don't care about the whys and wherefores.

    But, yes, it's marketing, brand presence, corporate greed, and cinematic history.