Avengers assemble!

Movie reviewer Bob Grimm brings together the best and worst in film from 2012

Illustration by Michael Grimm

First off, I just want to say this about a big 2012 cinematic event: Hell yeah, I’m happy Disney bought Star Wars. I want more Star Wars movies, I love Disney, and I think it’s a good marriage. Give me more Star Wars now, and I don’t care if Goofy, Ariel or Pluto make cameos!

Good—I hadn’t gotten a chance to express that to the masses yet. Now, on to the business at hand, the movies of 2012.

I liked, even loved, far more movies in 2012 than the offerings of 2011. So, in that way, this was a great movie year.

Of course, I’m a critic, and I still have plenty to bitch about. There were some crushing disappointments involving wizards and orcs. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey actually qualified as something I would have to call a bad film. That’s a movie I was dying to see, and one that I left with slumped shoulders and head hanging low. Guillermo del Toro handing over director chores to Mr. Middle Earth, Peter Jackson, turned out to be a bad thing, at least as far as the first installment is concerned. The major “unexpected” aspect of Unexpected Journey is that it kind of blew.

The Amazing Spider-Man was a useless reboot featuring a goofy CGI bad guy lizard and C. Thomas Howell’s moronic cranes. And while I liked The Dark Knight Rises and Django Unchained, Bane sounded like a drunken Gandalf speaking through a cardboard paper towel tube, and Tarantino’s copying of himself got on my nerves a bit.

Then there’s Lincoln. I love Spielberg, and I think Daniel Day Lewis delivered one of the year’s best performances. But Lincoln was borrr-ing. I was able to hang with the movie for a little bit. It started losing me when Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s son character threw his first hissy fit because busy daddy Abraham wouldn’t talk to him. While these were disappointing, there were many worse. Much worse. We shall explore these films later in the article.

Let’s get back to what made this year exemplary overall. Here are the best movies of 2012.

The Best
1. Les Miserables

I must give top honors to this colossal achievement. The year’s best movie is one of the greatest screen musicals I have ever seen. It captures the grandeur of the Broadway show, and it does something extraordinary in having its performers sing their songs live on set. No lip-syncing up in this bitch.

Hugh Jackman should get serious consideration for Best Actor this year. Everything about his lead performance is astounding. If Anne Hathaway—also terrific as Catwoman in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises—gets snubbed, Jackman should seek vengeance for her with his Wolverine claws. And be kind to Russell Crowe and his somewhat inferior voice. He gives it his all and creates a sad, lonely Javert that had me feeling sympathy for that character for the first time after seeing many Les Mis incarnations.

I have seen the movie multiple times already. It gets better with repeated viewings. Anybody who tries to film a musical after this one has their work cut out for them. The bar has been set, and it’s way, way up there.


2. The Impossible

I cried throughout this movie. (I cried through a lot of Les Mis, too. Actually, I cried through an Audi commercial last week. I’m a goddamned wussy.) Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor will destroy you as a real-life couple vacationing in Thailand when that awful tsunami hits. This is a stunning testament to those who lost their lives, and those who amazingly survived.

Watts is my pick for the year’s Best Actress. It’s a mostly physical performance, and it’s appropriately devastating. This movie kicked my ass.


3. Zero Dark Thirty

Director Kathryn Bigelow has made two great movies in one. The first part is a great investigative thriller along the lines of All the President’s Men. The second is a nail-biting action thriller as Team Six meets a stupid asshole named Osama Bin Laden.


4. Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson has still never made a movie I haven’t liked. His magical film about a couple of kids running away and getting struck by lightning on occasion is pure pleasure, and boasts a stellar supporting cast with Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand and Bill Murray.


5. Looper

This movie reminded me a lot of Back to the Future Part II, one of the greatest, most underrated sequels ever made. I loved how that film came up with so many new twists and turns using time travel. I love this movie for much the same reason.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt nails it as a younger version of Bruce Willis, who time travels backward to give his younger self a bitch of a hard time. Rian Johnson delivered on the promise of his directorial debut, Brick, and gave us one of the year’s best looking, best acted, best scripted films.


6. Safety Not Guaranteed

Colin Farrell is one of seven psychopaths in Martin McDonagh’s latest flick.

Aubrey Plaza stars in the film year’s other great time travel yarn. She’s an investigative reporter checking out an advertisement placed by an allegedly crazy man looking for a time travel partner. When she meets the wannabe time traveler (played wonderfully by Mark Duplass), a great, quirky relationship commences. Jake Johnson delivers a breakthrough performance as Plaza’s boss.


7. Ruby Sparks

Zoe Kazan has an interesting heritage. Her grandpa was Elia Kazan, director of a little film called On the Waterfront. Nice to know she has inherited some of his talent for storytelling.

As Ruby, literally a dream girl who enters the life of a confused author (Paul Dano), she’s a stunner. She also wrote the winning script that results in one of the more unique and fun film experiences of the year.


8. Seven Psychopaths

Dare I compare thee to Barton Fink, the Coen brothers masterpiece about the rigors of scriptwriting? Colin Farrell stars as a screenwriter trying to put together a story about a bunch of psychopaths, based on people he actually knows. Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken provide supersonic support. Writer-director Martin McDonagh has another great effort on his hands after In Bruges.


9. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Child actress Quvenzhané Wallis shines in this moving fable about a motherless child living near a levee with her sick father (Dwight Henry). One of the best directorial debuts of the year from Benh Zeitlin.


10. The Grey

There has been a lot of whining about the end of this movie, and how it didn’t jibe with the marketing campaign. So what? Liam Neeson delivers career best work as a troubled plane crash survivor who tries to protect fellow survivors (including Frank Grillo and Dermot Mulroney, both excellent) from a pack of hungry wolves in a snowy wilderness. One of the more interesting meditations on death and the value of life you are liable to see. Also, one majorly cool wolf movie!

That’s the top 10. Now grab your favorite beverage and a salty snack, because we’re going to 20!


11. Life of Pi

Did you think this one looked like it would be stupid? Having not read the book, I saw the preview for Ang Lee’s film, and while it looked incredible, the idea of a kid on a lifeboat with a tiger seemed odd to me. It all makes beautiful sense in the end in what amounts to one of the year’s great visual experiences.


12. The Avengers

Hulk punching Thor might be 2012’s funniest screen moment. Director Joss Whedon took a project I felt was impossible to do well and knocked it out of the park. I preferred this to the also very good but flawed The Dark Knight Rises. (Damn that Bane voice!)


13. Silver Linings Playbook

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are the year’s craziest couple, for sure. Cooper plays a former mental patient trying to get back with the wife, while Lawrence plays the woman who doesn’t think that’s a very good idea. Robert De Niro does his best work in decades as Cooper’s obsessive dad.


14. Amour

Man, oh man, this is a tough one to watch. From the director of the brutal Funny Games (both the foreign and the American versions) we get a film about old age so honest, it guts you. Many of us know a couple like Georges and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva). Seeing a couple like this dealing with terrible illness is heartbreaking, and director Michael Haneke takes a terribly honest approach to impending death. Don’t watch this if the truth scares you.


15. Bernie

Jack Black gets his movie career back on track with this true story of a nice, humble man who shoots his elderly lover (Shirley MacLaine) in the back and stuffs her in a freezer. Fun for the whole family!


16. Smashed

While many will dub Denzel Washington’s Flight as the year’s best movie about alcoholism, I submit this little movie starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul as the winner. Winstead owns her part as an elementary school teacher who likes to party, but clearly needs to stop.


17. Argo

Ben Affleck continues to distinguish himself as a director and takes some nice strides as an actor in this spellbinding period piece about the Iran Hostage Crisis. It must also be noted that his bangs in this film are the stuff of legend.


18. 21 Jump Street

Remaking a crappy Johnny Depp TV show proves to be comic gold for Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill and Ice Cube. Contains one of the year’s best cameos.


19. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

A great movie about high school in the ’90s featuring tremendous ensemble work from Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller and Paul Rudd.


20. Killer Joe

Matthew McConaughey stars as an evil lawman in what qualifies as the sickest movie of the year. It’s also wildly and strangely entertaining. If you see this movie and make a fried chicken run soon thereafter, you might have some difficulties finishing dinner that evening.

BOB’S WORST OF THE WORST

Oddly enough, the worst film of the year did not involve found footage, tween vampires or fighting robots. Nope, the honor goes to an art house film with a striking pedigree and all the makings of an Oscar contender.


1. Hyde Park on Hudson

Lovesick crooners, played by Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried, gaze at each other in <i>Les Misérables</i>.

I just stand in awe regarding how stinking awful this movie is. Bill Murray wastes his time as FDR getting handjobs from his cousin Daisy (a terrible Laura Linney) in his car. After seeing this movie, I want to puke at the mere mention of hot dogs.


2. The Devil Inside

Laura Linney’s infuriating voiceover in Hudson helped put that movie over the top as the year’s worst, narrowly edging this found footage, nightmarish mess.


3. Battleship

Once promising director Peter Berg decides he wants to be Michael Bay. That’s a shit goal to start. The fact that his movie isn’t even as good as a Michael Bay film—even shittier.


4. Twilight: breaking dawn pt. II

Hey, look at this. The latest Twilight movie managed to not be the worst movie of the year! Taylor, Kristen, Robert … give yourselves a medal, you crazy, kooky vampires and werewolves. After your medal ceremony, please go away. Go away forever. Thank you.


5. Red Hook Summer

Sometimes when I walk in fields of holly, or barley, or weeds, or whatever the fuck happens to be growing in the particular field I’m walking in, I reminisce. I reminisce about things like the golden age of fast food tacos. (Taco Bell used to be food that was cooked on site with fresh ingredients!) I reminisce about past pets. (I miss Entwhistle and Townshend, my cockatiel and parakeet!) Finally, I reminisce about how Spike Lee used to make great movies.

Spike Lee’s movies have gone the way of the Taco Bell taco. They are useless, pale imitations of their former selves.


6. Trouble With the Curve

Any baseball lover who watches this film will laugh for all the wrong reasons. This may be Clint Eastwood’s final acting effort. Not a good swan song.


7. Red Dawn

Hated the original, and I hate the new one. You know you have a problem when you find yourself missing the killer acting combination of Charlie Sheen and C. Thomas Howell.


8. Taken 2

(Whispering as if through a phone trying not to be heard) Listen to me, reader. Read carefully. Be quiet … and pay attention. The number 8 slot in Bob Grimm’s year’s worst list. … it’s going to be Taken!


9. Playing for Keeps

With the exception of Victory, the so-so Sly Stallone movie, has there ever been a decent soccer movie? Gerard Butler, as a former soccer star turned kid’s coach, puts this one in the bad corner, as do Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman and Judy Greer embarrassing themselves in the supporting cast.


10. The Paperboy

John Cusack and Nicole Kidman jerk each other off without touching in this film. That’s probably the best thing I can say about the movie.

In 2013, we will see a new Superman movie (Man of Steel), a couple of more Marvel hero installments (Iron Man 3 and Thor 2), more Star Trek and part two in the Hobbit trilogy.

Oh, dear Lord, please don’t let the next Hobbit installment stink like Gollum doo-doo. Please don’t do that to me. If parts 2 and 3 rally, I can forgive the dull part 1, something I managed to do with the Harry Potter series. Please, dad of Jesus or Buddha or whoever runs the film destiny division up there … please keep it from sucking. Amen.

On the artier side, we might get one of those Terrence Malick movies I was so hyped up about last year. That would be very nice.

Best Actors:

Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables) Liam Neeson (The Grey)Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln) Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)

Best Actresses:

Naomi Watts (The Impossible) Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) Emmanuelle Luva (Amour)Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Smashed)

Typical viewer reaction to <i>Hyde Park on Hudson.</i>

Best Supporting Actors:

Sam Rockwell (Seven Psychopaths) Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)Jake Johnson (Safety Not Guaranteed)Tom Cruise (Rock of Ages)Edward Norton (Moonrise Kingdom)

Best Supporting Actresses:

Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables) Emily Blunt (Looper)Shirley MacLaine (Bernie) Frances McDormand (Moonrise Kingdom),Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)

Worst Actor:

Shia LaBeouf (Lawless)

Worst Actress:

Laura Linney (Hyde Park On Hudson)

Best Actor in a Bad Movie:

Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln)

Best Actress in a Bad Movie:

Olivia Williams (Hyde Park on Hudson)

Worst Actor in a Good Movie:

Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)

Worst Actress in a Good Movie:

Juliet Rylance (Sinister)

Worst Beating Ever in a Movie:

The pummeling of Ray Liotta in Killing Them Softly

Best Director:

Tom Hooper (Les Misérables)

Single Coolest Thing in a Movie This Year:

Hugh Jackman’s singing!

Single Dumbest Thing in a Movie This Year:

C. Thomas Howell and his prophetic cranes (The Amazing Spider-Man).

Most Annoying Geek Psychobabble:

Complaints about The Grey ending.

Best Documentary:

Paul Williams Still Alive

Best Animated Movie:

Paranorman

Best Movie Title That I Just Made Up:

In My Time of Dying, I Worship Hamsters

Overrated:

Lincoln, The Amazing Spider-Man The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, LawlessThe Hunger Games

Underrated:

John Carter Hit and Run Safe House Wanderlust

Most Amazing 2012 Cinematic Factoid:

Nicolas Cage was only in two movies (Stolen and Seeking Justice).