2012 in Review

Not Bad
The Setup: 
A pretty good year for movies, overall. I didn't see too many wonderful movies at home this year, but having decent offerings out at the theaters made up for it. As usual this list is more about movies that, at the end of the year, left a pleasant memory or that I'd happily see again, as opposed to what I think is the greatest work of art.

Woman in Black / The Awakening
These two Victorian ghost stories shared similar atmospheric gray looks and interest in good old-fashioned scares. Woman in Black was more about throwing everything in the book at you, but one had to admire its two major sequences of ever-escalating terror and its commitment to staying low-key and grim, right to the end. The Awakening was more literary and subtle, deriving a lot of its scares from character, its gradually unfolding backstory, and its ambiguous ending, designed to get you talking.

Just a simple, funny, well-written and acted low-key sports comedy of unexpected depth and amusing slacker romance starring the charming [and ever-so eye-pleasing] Seann William Scott. I can’t fathom why this didn’t get a wider release, and why Scott isn’t a bigger star.

One of those movies that send you out of the theater saying “Holy Fuck! That was AMAZING!” this Norwegian thriller has a ton of twists up its sleeve, all of which still make sense when looking back. This movie begins looking like it’s heading in one direction, then takes another, and finally still another, giving its protagonist more punishment than the average movie character takes on his journey from bad guy to hero.

Moonrise Kingdom
As my friend said “Yes, it’s still Wes Anderson making the exact same movie, but this is a really good one.” This sweet movie tells the story of two young kids who run away to be together because they’re in love, and the crisis this cases among their parents and caregivers, who have, to some degree or other, given up and accepted the dullness in their lives.

Does what horror movies are supposed to do, which is be really scary. This one also has a subtext, a protagonist who retains sympathy while being a very bad dad, good performances, and a nice supporting turn by James Ransone.

This is an unlikable film that it hard to watch and enjoy, but when was the last time you watched something genuinely challenging? David Cronenberg throws out a lot of content about our contemporary economic social stratifications and how they affect our humanity, letting viewers catch what they can and make of it what they will. You might hate it upon turning it off, then find you like it quite a bit a month later.

The Master
Whatever you ultimately decide that it’s about or is trying to say, this movie was really involving and featured fascinating characters and great performances. I kind of liked it for the very reason that I came out of it not quite knowing what it was trying to say.

King Kelly
This ruthless satire of teen narcissism and the constant need for the attention of strangers appalls some for the total lack of redeeming qualities in its main characters, but that’s the whole point: the movie doesn’t offer them any forgiveness, and isn’t afraid to show characters with absolutely no inner lives, no morality, and no responsibility to others. And really, in how many films can you say you really have no idea what might be coming next?

Holy Motors
I never wrote a full review of this, but it is one of my most pleasant cinematic memories of the year. Denis Lavant plays a man who travels via limo to one strange, barely-sensical, often beautiful, sometimes disturbing sequence after another. It may not make sense, but the point is the journey, not the destination.

Anna Karenina
Employs a motif of everything unfolding on a stage, which works to enhance the film and story, rather than detract from it.

Cabin in the Woods
Smart meta-horror that was funny, knowing and entertaining.

A nice, smart sci-fi film with actual characters and intriguing, intelligent surprises.

All-round good, super-entertaining movie.

If you like superheated, overblown pulp with a very dark side, this’ll do it.

Life of Pi
Worthwhile for it’s visuals alone, this film is also a meditation on the meaning of faith that isn’t at all as touchy-feely as it might superficially seem
WORST OF 2012:

Just total garbage, this is the movie that made me vow never again to see anything by Soderbergh.

Like Transformers with even less story, and even less reason to exist, if you can imagine that.

Looked amazing, was bullshit.

Total Recall (2012)
All ideas safely excised, this was just an overexpensive chases and explosions flick.

The Possession
The worst of thrill-free PG-13 horror, just total crap.

Resident Evil: Retribution
The only dud in the bunch, this one simply had no story to tell, and no style to offer. Just a total bummer.

Seven Psychopaths
Muddled, not-funny, overly meta and overly thrilled with itself, while being a big lifeless turd.
Not videos released in 2012, the best films, of any year, that I watched during the past year. Pretty spare year for good stuff.

Dark Passage
This Bogart-Bacall noir never quite gels into anything great, but it has so much going on in its other elements, it becomes quite essential. From fascinating location footage of 40s San Francisco, to an experimental subjective camera used throughout the entire first half, an early use of plastic surgery, and an eerie subtext of unending suspicion and the inability to slip identities, the sum of the parts adds up to more than the whole.

The last Nolan Batman sent me back to review the Burton films and, having been indifferent before… I kind of fell in love. Looking back now, I can see that the character and story deficiencies that bothered me when it was out just aren’t the point, but the style, aesthetics and themes are. Numerous directors have had to decide recently how to handle the world of superheroes, but I can’t recall another deciding that it should be treated as a sad and beautiful work of art.

Total Recall (1990) Having seen the piece of shit remake one day, I watched this the very next day, and… well, who ever thought a movie could make an Arnold Schwarzenegger film look like an idea-packed intellectual sci-fi classic? This movie packs in ideas amongst its awesome 80s set pieces, actual characters, smart direction and super-fun cheese. If you haven’t watched this since back in the day, you’ll be stunned how actually good it is.

Memories of Murder
From Joon-ho Bong, who went on to make The Host and Mother, comes this early knockout concerning South Korea’s first-ever serial killer. The local cops’ inexperience shows as they make idiotic assumptions and contaminate evidence left and right, finding that their previous experience no longer applies. Like all of Bong's movies, the tone turns on a dime from comic to terrifying and back again, and this one adds a haunting, open ending.

Space Mutiny
It’s been quite a while since I watched a truly, hilariously awful bad movie, but this one came and restored my faith. Starting awful and continuously dumping worse and worse things every few minutes, this one knows you need to keep delivering hilarious awfulness in order to truly succeed.