In an effort to see as many movies this year as possible, I used Netflix to catch movies that I missed throughout the year. In addition to what I saw in theaters, I was able to see fifty-two movies released in 2012, an increase over the forty I saw last year. And like last year’s year in review, I’ve included all fifty-two movies here, ranked by category. But, before I get to them, there are a couple of things I want to talk about, both of which revolve around Oscar nominations.
Like I said last year, it’s important that you see the full list of the movies I saw so you know what I’m comparing against. I’ve read several articles already that list the top ten movies of the year, all of which double as best picture guess lists. These articles suck because anyone can name at least five of the movies that will be nominated, even if they haven’t seen any of those movies, and all of these people come off as stuck-up film snobs. That’s how predictable the Academy is and it’s made the Oscars arguably the most boring award show of all of them. I can guarantee that Lincoln, Argo, Life of Pi, Les Miserables, and Moonrise Kingdom will all be nominated and it’s highly likely that Zero Dark Thirty, The Silver Linings Playbook, Flight, Magic Mike and Django Unchained will round out the nominations. Like last year’s ridiculously uninspired picks, 2012’s picks will be equally as uninspired. Of those ten movies, I’ve seen four of them and maybe the rest are really great movies, but they are all extremely safe, conservative picks. My problem is that only one of them took any kind of chance at all – The Silver Linings Playbook – while the rest of them are either directed by famous directors, are remakes of classics, or feature an actor who garners nominations mostly by being alive. And, I can say unequivocally that Moonrise Kingdom, Magic Mike, and Flight were nowhere near the best movies of the year and Zero Dark Thirty shouldn’t even count since it’s not being released to actual moviegoers until January. Plus, throw in Seth MacFarlane as this year’s Oscars host and we’re looking at another atrocious ceremony sure to bore the life out of everyone watching (I know a lot of people think Family Guy is the funniest thing ever (they’re wrong), but it just doesn’t make me laugh. I find a lot of things funny, but the talking dog and British-accented baby just strike me as dumb). There is absolutely no reason that The Avengers should be excluded other than the Academy members hate life.
There is a way to fix this problem, though. Actually, there are two ways to fix this problem – one being to just stop doing the awards. There are no criteria we’ve ever been shown other than “released this year” that qualify movies as being the best (and clearly movies like Zero Dark Thirty stretch even that definition), so we have no idea how they make their selections. In all honesty, the best case to be made for best picture is for whichever movie grosses the most at the box office, or rather the one that sells the most tickets (3-D and Imax skew box office receipts), since that’s the whole point – for people to watch. But, since we’re not going to get rid of the awards, the next best thing would be to run them like the Westminster Dog Show. Pick the best movie from each genre, then pick the best movie of that group. That way, action movies, sci-fi movies, horror movies, romance movies, etc. would all be recognized and we wouldn’t have to put up with the same type of movies year after year. Was there anyone out there who really cared if best picture was War Horse, The Tree of Life, or The Artist? Of course not.
Now that I’ve finished ranting I do want to say that there are several movies that I wish I could have found time to see and several movies that I have absolutely no intention of ever seeing. I missed The Master, Argo, Lincoln, Hitchcock, Red Dawn, Dredd, Resident Evil: Retribution, Silent Hill: Revelations, Rise of the Guardians, Les Miserables, Brave, and Trouble with the Curve. I’m glad that I did not waste my time watching This is 40, Django Unchained, The Man with the Iron Fist, The Guilt Trip, The Dictator, The Campaign, Ted, That’s My Boy, The Three Stooges, or Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Like anyone, I have guilty pleasures (hence, Resident Evil and Silent Hill), but I really wish people would stop funding Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Judd Apatow, among others. Every movie those guys make is the same as every other movie they’ve made and it really has to stop. Then again, I liked John Carter.
My Top 5
I will continue to ridicule anyone who has a top ten list of movies until they can prove they’ve seen at least 100 movies. I haven’t, so here are my top five, four of which will definitely not be nominated for best picture because the old farts of the Academy are dead inside.
• The Cabin in the Woods – There was no way to see this movie coming, as it looked like your average, garden-variety scary movie. By the end of the movie, you will sit in disbelief for at least five minutes.
• The Avengers – My vote for best movie of the year for a couple of reasons – it was an extremely well-crafted movie and it managed to exceed the absurdly high expectations set from four years and five movies worth of hype. Between this and The Cabin in the Woods, Joss Whedon easily had the best year of any director or writer.
• Seven Psychopaths – The first under-the-radar movie of the year that the Academy will completely ignore in favor of bland, safe, predictable movies. Sam Rockwell turns in another unbelievable performance (which will also be ignored by the Academy) on top of the rest of the supporting cast, which was also fantastic. And the movie itself is anything but predictable.
• Cloud Atlas – Truly a work of art, this movie is a film student’s dream. Sadly, it’s been misunderstood worse than The Matrix, while movies like Flight are being drooled on by critics who wouldn’t know a good movie if it sat on their face.
• The Silver Linings Playbook – Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence had very good years, but this was the best film and performance for each of them. It’s a very nice twist on the standard love story and is much more believable with far more likable characters than we are used to.
You Almost Made It
If I had done a top ten, these would have been the other five, but none of them are as good as the first five. And again, I believe you will see exactly none of these acknowledged by the Academy for any of the “major” awards.
• The Hunger Games – Somehow, Hollywood underestimated the popularity of this book and was surprised when it crushed the box office – in April, no less. Even with a built-in audience, the filmmakers were careful to stay as true to the book as they could and put together a very good movie.
• Safety Not Guaranteed – If you like indies like Garden State (or even if you don’t), do not miss this film. It’s like a really good short story and won’t leave you hanging.
• Hit and Run – This movie slipped under the radar, but was the best comedy of the year. Bradley Cooper is a secondary thought behind Dax Sheppard and Kristen Bell as they let their real-life relationship spill out of their characters. As a bonus, Tom Arnold rekindles his comic brilliance from True Lies, rounding out the movie into this year’s Horrible Bosses.
• Looper – An excellent movie that is arguably the best science fiction film of the year. Its one flaw is the insistence of trying to make Joseph Gordon-Levitt look like Bruce Willis even though it’s completely unnecessary (not to mention ignored for the same situation with other characters). His fake chin literally stares you in the face through the whole movie and is too bizarre not to be a distraction.
• Skyfall – A very good comeback for James Bond, after the ridiculous Quantum of Solace. My only complaint is that the villain’s goal was a little weak considering his capabilities and doesn’t do much in the way of revenge against M. Other than that, it’s a very good movie, though don’t believe anyone who insists it’s better than Casino Royale because that really is ridiculous.
This is the first of two categories where expectations play a big part in my opinion of the film. I had low or guarded expectations going into them and was pleasantly surprised at the end. All of them were movies that I probably would have blasted had I had high expectations going in, but none of them had enough problems for me to dislike them.
• Act of Valor – Yes, the acting is as bad as you would expect from actual Navy SEALS, but the movie is quite entertaining and comes off like a live-action version of a first-person-shooter video game. Plus, the aerial shots of the submarine submerging were phenomenal.
• Chronicle – Sneaky good movie for a January found-footage release. Extremely good pacing and well-developed characters bring depth to a movie that is a disguised superhero flick.
• Snow White and the Huntsman – A surprising amount of screen time was devoted to anyone but Kristen Stewart, helping this movie greatly. Great special effects and an interesting interpretation of the fairy tale overpower a bit of overacting (the director’s fault in this case).
• The Raven – I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this movie, but John Cusack pulled off a non-kooky movie in playing Edgar Allen Poe. It’s dark, as you would expect, but not nearly as dark as it could have been. And, if you are claustrophobic, you will be covering your eyes for a few minutes.
• Men in Black 3 – I could very easily have put this in the category of ‘We’re really only in it for the money,’ but it was actually a smart movie (especially considering it was about time travel) and Josh Brolin was a better Tommy Lee Jones than Tommy Lee Jones.
• Jack Reacher – Having read One Shot by Lee Child, the book this movie was based on, I openly derided Tom Cruise playing Jack Reacher. Reacher is an intimidating, former military policeman, standing six foot five at 250 pounds. In other words, the exact opposite of Cruise. But the movie was good and Cruise does a passable job, intimidation notwithstanding. It’s not the last time I’ll be wrong (about the movie, not Cruise).
• Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – A much better movie than I expected, considering Steve Carell and Keira Knightley have done less than decent movies lately. This film is a quirky, romantic comedy that far too few people saw.
Movies for Me
Make fun of me all you want for these films; I won’t even argue with you. In fact, I could make very strong cases against all of them, but they are films that I just like for no real reason. You’ll also notice that they are all science fiction movies or star Chuck Norris and I always cut those movies slack, if I can.
• John Carter – If there is one movie that has been undeservedly ridiculed, it’s this one. Yeah, it came across like a lost Star Wars episode, but it was a decently constructed film. In fact, if not for the worst marketing campaign ever and March release instead of summer time, this movie would have made much more money.
• Battleship – This movie is deservedly ridiculed, but it was extremely entertaining. Besides, anyone who went into this movie with expectations of a great movie are the same people who continue to laugh at Judd Apatow vehicles. In a word – morons.
• The Expendables 2 – While far superior to The Expendables, it’s still a testament to Sylvester Stallone’s ego and refusal to admit he’s old. Thankfully, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Chuck Norris make this movie fun to watch.
• Total Recall – Shut up, I liked it. Moving on…
None of these movies were bad, though a couple of them are wildly overrated. None of them spoke to me in any way, but maybe they spoke to you.
• Contraband – Maybe it was due to the painkillers I was on (following my wisdom teeth removal), but this movie was very blah. Mark Wahlberg was blah, Giovanni Ribisi was silly blah, and Kate Beckinsale was pointless blah.
• Moonrise Kingdom – A lot of people liked this movie and I can definitely see why - it has good actors, is very quirky, and different from most movies out there. It just didn’t blow my skirt up.
• The Woman in Black – The least-scary scary movie you will see in a long time. I hope Daniel Radcliffe gets other movies where we don’t have to believe he’s a widower.
• Magic Mike – A decent movie featuring Channing Tatum’s only talent – dancing. But despite all the Oscar buzz, it is definitely not a “best picture” quality film; it’s Coyote Ugly with dudes. If it wasn’t based loosely on Tatum’s actual life or directed by Steven Soderbergh, I guarantee no one would be mentioning it in the best picture discussion.
• The Hunter – An Australian flick slamming endangered animal hunting. Willem Dafoe and a couple of kids bring a surprising amount of emotion to a somewhat sad movie.
We’re Really Only In It For the Money
Better known as ‘popcorn flicks,’ these are the movies that are uninspired, big-budget, CGI-heavy, money-makers. All of them were very short on story, incredibly redundant, and included some elements that bordered on absurd, even for them. Oh yeah, and all of them are very obviously there for the sole purpose of generating large amounts of cash with no risk attached.
• Mirror Mirror – With the success of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, we get to put up with two retellings of Snow White. This one is geared towards kids and families (rated PG) and doesn’t hold back on the wonky attempts at silliness. Plus, try not to look at Lily Collins’ insane eyebrows. You could even make that a drinking game.
• Wrath of the Titans – Why, gods, why? Oh yeah, because Clash of the Titans somehow garnered almost $500 million two years ago. Of course they were going to make a sequel. And, even though Wrath was a better movie than Clash, it only tallied $300 million (still $150 million in profit). I wonder what the next one will be titled, which I’m sure will be released in 2014? My money’s on Rise of the Titans.
• The Amazing Spider-Man – The title of this movie alone justifies putting it here. This movie was a naked attempt by Marvel and Disney to revive the franchise in order to continue milking it. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they hadn’t done a remake of the superb Spider-Man that came out just ten years ago.
• Taken 2 – File this one under movies that should never, ever, ever, ever have a sequel. Redundant is a kind word to describe this waste of film.
The second category where expectations are key. This time around, I had high expectations (foolishly) and walked out of the theater (or away from my DVD player) grumbling. It’s their own damn fault though, mostly by just being plain lazy on some fronts, especially story.
• Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – Admittedly, my expectations were not high, but this movie still didn’t meet them. It takes itself way too seriously and the CGI is a joke. Hopefully, this isn’t an indicator of what to expect from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (same author and, presumably, same screenwriter since they’re both the same person).
• Safe House – I guess it’s my own fault for expecting anything out of this movie. The previews completely ruin this movie by making you think Denzel Washington is going to be some uber-smart villain and he ends up just being a kind-of-wise, slighted ex-CIA agent. If not for expectations, this movie would have landed in the ‘A Waste of Time’ category.
• Prometheus – Far and away the most disappointing movie of the year. Ridley Scott was too focused on the xenomorph payoff at the end and a heavily edited script didn’t help either. If any movie needs a do-over, it’s this one.
• The Dark Knight Rises – I’m going to be in the minority on this one, but this movie was nowhere near the quality of the first two before it. It asks the audience to accept far too much without explanation and the ending is a complete copout. It’s still better than most of the movies out there, even though it fell victim to standard action movie quality.
• The Bourne Legacy – Another movie that doesn’t live up to its predecessors. This movie was so lazy they actual stole scenes from The Bourne Ultimatum to use as filler. Luckily, Rachel Weisz saved this movie from being a complete catastrophe, turning in a great performance and distracting from the redundancy of the plot.
• The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Another very pretty movie that forgot to deliver on other aspects of film. It also fails to even sniff the quality and greatness of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, stooping to silly action staples such as characters surviving things that would have killed them in the other movies. Peter Jackson needs to spend some serious time looking at the next movie and correcting the flaws that plagued the first part of his new trilogy before it’s too late to save them.
A Waste of Time
At least ‘The Letdowns’ contained some entertainment quality. These films were all very boring, not the least bit entertaining, and lacked any plot beyond the initial premise. They are the very definition of “two hours of your life you will never get back.”
• The Grey – Liam Neeson and a bunch of guys are hounded (ha) by wolves after a plane crash in Alaska. Billed as a thriller, I literally couldn’t keep my eyes open, not caring as the supporting cast inevitably died one-by-one.
• Haywire – Steven Soderbergh attempts to turn Gina Carano, a former MMA fighter, into an action star. She’s surrounded by a bunch of good actors and Channing Tatum, but the casting is really the only element with any effort behind it. The story is tired, the motivations are weak, and the music has you wondering if Soderbergh forgot this was supposed to be an action flick.
• Man on a Ledge – For a movie about a diamond heist, it sure is boring. Besides one-dimensional characters, the movie isn’t bad, but plods along while daring you to check your watch.
• Lawless – A movie about three brothers who are considered to be invincible where one of them is Shia LaBeouf? Yeah, I laughed too. The movie is about bootlegging in rural Virginia during prohibition, but really has no identity as it came across as a mix of gangsters and the TV show Justified, while completely wasting Gary Oldman. Do yourself a favor, and just watch Justified instead.
• The Words – Talk about a movie that could have been great, but fails to deliver, and you inevitably land on this one. Jeremy Irons is completely wasted and any intrigue that could have existed is quickly dashed when the movie immediately reveals that it’s a story being read by its author. And, yes, Bradley Cooper was in this movie too.
• Flight – When you hear this movie being talked about as a best picture nominee, scoff in derision. The movie doesn’t even attempt to get you to like Denzel Washington’s character or even bother to make him into a hero before turning on him. Basically, the movie is over after the first twenty minutes (the plane flight) and the last two hours are good time to nap.
Not the Worst, But You Sure Tried Hard
These movies weren’t quite as bad as my bottom five, but they were all crap in their own ways (definitely “ways” plural). Top ten worst lists are much more palatable than best lists, but I stand by my ideal of sample size.
• What to Expect When You’re Expecting – Another ensemble romantic comedy; this time about pregnant couples. Not sure why they thought including a miscarriage and a C-section would be funny, but then they also included Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz, two of the least funny people on the planet.
• The Five-Year Engagement – The first hour bores you to numbness so that you won’t feel your soul being ripped out during the second hour. Emily Blunt is the only reason this movie wasn’t a complete pile of crap.
• Rock of Ages – I’m sure the stage version is enjoyable, but the translation to feature film failed in every possible way. I think the point of making this movie was so that Tom Cruise could grab the breasts of every main female character. Plus, try to unsee Alec Baldwin making out with Russell Brand, Malin Akerman sticking her tongue in Cruise’s ear, or Cruise singing into Akerman’s ass. Yes, all of those things actually happened. If this movie didn’t have great music it might be the worst film of the year.
• Red Tails – Only George Lucas could minimalize the Tuskagee Airmen. Not surprisingly, the movie focuses on combat scenes, allowing Lucas to recreate Star Wars battles with WWII fighters. Clunky dialogue and terrible acting further the disservice to some truly great men.
• One for the Money – Katherine Heigl takes us back to the days of hard-boiled detective movies as a narrating bounty hunter from New Jersey. The movie’s scattershot plot and fading Jersey accents will leave you glad it’s over after less than ninety minutes.
Pooping on the Silver Screen
I realize that people have different tastes, but I’m sure that none of these five will elicit any arguments. Bottom line is that all of these movies were dismal failures in every aspect imaginable except box office. Yes, every one of these movies turned a profit, which also tells us why our country continues to re-elect the very people they disapprove of (seriously, check the polls – how does a congress with a 9% approval rating achieve a 91% re-election rate?). Maybe this is what the Mayans were eluding to.
• This Means War – Another McG piece of monkey dung. Chris Pine, Thomas Hardy, and Reese Witherspoon try to save this movie, but there’s nothing they can do with a script written in finger paints and characters so absurd they make comic book villains look Shakespearean.
• American Reunion – If this movie had any entertainment value at all it could have been in the category of “We’re Really Only in it for the Money.” It didn’t.
• 21 Jump Street – I had my wisdom teeth out this year and ran out of Vicodin before I watched this, um…”movie.” Too bad for me.
• Lockout – The French are just as capable of making crappy action movies as Americans. Even with my soft spot for science fiction flicks, there is nothing redeeming or worth watching in this movie. I feel bad for Guy Pierce, who practically killed himself trying to carry this movie. Guy, for future reference, when a script is this bad, just do your job and move on. There’s no need to be a hero – in this case, literally.
• Dark Shadows – I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to make a movie out of 1960’s-era vampire soap opera, but I hope that person never works in Hollywood again. This movie was garbage from top to bottom and has a really good case for worst movie of the year. Somehow, Jonny Lee Miller escaped the stench of this film and is having success as Sherlock Holmes in CBS’s Elementary (though that show kind of sucks too, rips off the far-superior BBC version, and it might as well be called CSI: Sherlock).
So, as the calendar flips to 2013, I’m renewing my hope that the writers try a little harder and that everyone in the Academy retires to give way to a new generation of folks that recognize that film has changed in the last twenty years. I hope that among the throng of sequels and remakes coming up (I’m not sure there are any non-sequels or non-remakes) there are some surprise movies that are more than just indies that only critics rave about. Finally, I hope that you all watch anything besides the Oscars on Oscar night because you honestly shouldn’t care if Les Miserables, Argo, or Lincoln is the best picture when The Cabin in the Woods is better than all of them.