First, some movie-related conclusions I reached in 2012:
1. Curtis LOVES movies. I know I watch A LOT of movies, but I was never able to quantify it before. This year, due largely to Netflix’s viewing history, I was able to create a rough list of the movies I saw. Forgetting some I’m sure I overlooked, excluding favorites that I rewatch from time to time, and leaving off the worst ones that aren’t even worth mentioning, the total comes to about 120 new-to-me movies I watched this year.
2. Netflix Streaming is AWESOME. I know it’s in vogue to rag on Netflix, but for less than the price of a multiplex matinee ticket, you get an entire month of movie watching. A good chunk of the good movies I saw this year, I saw on Netflix—6 of which made it onto my “best of” lists below.
3. The Colonial Theater is AWESOME. There are still great movies being made, movies I love, but less and less are showing up at the multiplex. I’m extremely grateful to live in a town with a thriving, independent theater. Five of my Top 10 of 2012 I saw at The Colonial.
Top 10 Movies of 2012
(Plus 5 Movies from Previous Years That I Didn’t See until This Year)
Of the movies I saw in 2012, these are my favorites—not to be confused with “best,” whatever that means. I ranked them based on how likely I am to rewatch the movie (and in some cases I’ve rewatched them several times just this year) plus the emotional impact the movie had on me.
- The Loved Ones: This is my propaganda pick. Even though I’ve been raving about The Loved Ones since 2010 (it’s a 2009 Australian movie that came out in the US in 2012, so it gets in on a technicality), I still love it enough to put it ahead of the movies I saw this year. The quality of all aspects of filmmaking in The Loved Ones transcends the label of “horror movie.”
- The Intouchables: By all accounts I shouldn’t have liked this movie, and if it had been made by American filmmakers I probably wouldn’t have, but somehow the French filmmakers made it work. The thing that saved it from Hallmark Channel sentimentality was the incredibly irreverent sense of humor. Seek this movie out.
- Melancholia (2011): If someone took all of my fears about life and death and projected them onto a movie screen it would probably look something like Melancholia. Somehow Lars Von Trier makes depression and the inevitability of death beautiful.
- Kill List (2011): The ultimate down-the-rabbit-hole movie. The main character’s ever-accelerating slide from where this movie begins to where it ends seems both unbelievable and inevitable.
- The King’s Speech (2011): An inspirational movie that finds a universally human story of self-acceptance in the life of the King of England during World War II.
- The Cabin in the Woods: This is a horror movie that pays off decades of horror movie watching. It succeeds both as a horror movie and as an intelligent commentary on why we are attracted to horror movies. Plot-wise, I have two pretty big gripes with The Cabin in the Woods, but I’m more than happy to overlook them for the near perfect execution of everything else.
- Looper: Thank god for Ryan Johnson who showed us with Looper that it’s still possible to make a great genre movie that is not based on any existing franchise or other source material. This is my favorite kind of science fiction—it’s both fun and smart.
- Moneyball (2011): Can a movie that makes math the central focus of the plot still be fun and exciting? Moneyball shows us the answer is Yes!
- Winter’s Bone (2010): There’s something about this story of a girl struggling to save her family from the forces of nature, the government, and the criminal subculture of the Ozarks that gets under my skin. I watched this movie a half a dozen times already, and I could turn it on again right now and be just as engaged.
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: This is my kind of spy movie. No big gunfights or action sequences. It’s smart people solving international crises by being really, really smart. And it’s smart storytelling that doesn’t dumb things down for the audience.
- The Artist: What seemed like a cheap gimmick (a black and white silent movie made in 2012?) charmed me more than any other movie I saw this year. Michel Hazanavicius skillfully uses the silence to create some truly beautifully visual poetry in a very entertaining film.
- Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory: Fascinating how the Paradise Lost movies have become an integral part of the very story they’re documenting. Part 3 is the culmination of a long journey to save the lives of three boys wrongly convicted for murder.
- Lincoln: Think The West Wing—Civil War. Awesome. My only criticism is that the seemingly recent trend of white filmmakers making movies about the white heroes of historical periods of racism (The Help, Lincoln, Django Unchained—all movies I enjoyed) makes me a little uncomfortable.
- Moonrise Kingdom: Looking back at the review I wrote immediately after seeing Moonrise Kingdom, I see that my reaction was positive but restrained. But in some strange way, this movie has grown on me subconsciously. I remember it now much more fondly than my initial reaction to it would suggest. I look forward to revisiting it.
- Ruby Sparks: Another charming movie that won me over. In the wrong hands this fun premise could have devolved into Judd Apatow third-act pandering, but it never did. A fantastical story that felt emotionally true.
Top 7 Movies I Loved But You Probably Haven’t Heard Of
(a.k.a. My Top Recommendations)
This is my list of movies I loved that didn’t get a lot of exposure as far as I can tell. If you check any out and like them, spread the word.
- The Loved Ones: Not only is this the best horror movie I’ve seen in years, but it’s one of the best movies of any genre I’ve seen in years. Even if horror isn’t your thing, The Loved Ones is worth a look.
- The Intouchables: A French film that did not get very wide distribution and is burdened with a silly title. As I’ve already stated, The Intouchables is hilarious and touching in equal measures.
- Kill List (2011): Granted, this movie asks more from the viewer than most, and therefore is not for everyone, but if you like movies that blend genres and defy Hollywood conventions, you should seek out Kill List.
- Winter’s Bone (2010): A very simple story with high stakes, plus an engaging performance by Jennifer Lawrence, makes this one of my top recommendations.
- Children of Heaven (1997): An even simpler story (two very poor Iranian children must find their shoes before their parents discover they’ve lost them), but the stakes are huge—will they learn the value of selfishness or compassion? Children of Heaven is both touching and fascinating in equal measures.
- Brick (2005): A film noir set in a high school. By Ryan Johnson, the director of Looper. Enough said.
- Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry: Is he an artist who does activism or an activist who does art? Either way, Ai Weiwei is an intriguing and inspiring man who has taken on the Chinese government at a significant cost to himself.
Top 7 Surprises
The ingredients for me to be happily surprised by a movie typically include some combination of low expectations and ignorance.
- The Intouchables: What more can I say? If you had told me before I saw it that The Intouchables would be my #2 movie of the year, I would have laughed at you harder than I did at this hilarious and touching movie.
- Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 2: Alright, let me explain. I knew almost nothing about the Twilight series before sitting down to watch this last one—I’d heard about a love triangle, sparkly vampires, and bad CGI werewolves. I went with a friend who’s a huge fan and needed a ride to the theater (and said she’d pay for my ticket). I expected to hate it. But I was totally entertained from beginning to end. First, the romance had resolved itself in the previous movie—phew. Second, the plot was very simple and fun—assemble an eclectic team of vampires to defend against the other vampires coming to kill us. Third, the last act of the movie was a big monster brawl with a dozen bloody decapitations. (Apparently vampires are extremely tough, except for their necks—irony!) Yes, the effects were even worse than the acting, but I had a campy good time!
- The Cabin in the Woods / The Avengers: Before I saw these two amazingly entertaining movies, Joss Whedon was that guy who did that Buffy show that I never saw. Well, consider me a Whedonite! This man sure knows how to make entertaining entertainment.
- Dream Home (2011): Not to be confused with the awful American movie, Dream House, this horror movie from Hong Kong is the new face of the slasher movie. An unlikely killer with an even unlikelier motive.
- Indie Game: The Movie:I didn’t think I would be moved by a documentary about indie game programmers, but the total commitment of these people to their passion despite the incredible challenges and obstacles they face makes Indie Game: The Movie one of the most inspirational films I saw all year.
- Ruby Sparks: A romantic comedy about a writer who magically writes his dream girl into existence sounds like some hydrogenated corn syrupy junk that would make me gag. Hey, I was wrong, I admit it.
- Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010): Another story about ghosts in a big old house? Starring Katie Holmes? And it’s a remake? This had almost no chance of being any good. But I took a shot because of Guillermo del Toro’s involvement with the script. And what I discovered was a genuinely creepy and fun horror movie in the spirit of Poltergeist (not in story but in tone).
Top 5 Disappointments
The ingredients for me to be disappointed typically include a mix of high expectations and a lot of excitement. Sprinkle in nostalgia for an extra kick to the groin.
- Skyfall: I really enjoyed the James-Bond-for-grownups tone of both Casino Royale and the unjustly maligned Quantum of Solace, so I was really looking forward to Daniel Craig’s return in Skyfall. Unfortunately what we got was a franchise reboot (of a reboot) that brought back much of the flair and polish that had been previously discarded in the past two films. In fairness, there was a lot I liked (and Craig still rocks as my favorite Bond), but this movie tries to serve too many masters and just ends being less than the sum of its parts.
- Lawless: Mix the writer and director team of The Proposition with Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, and Gary Oldman, and how could you go wrong, right? That’s what I thought until I saw Lawless. The acting is amazing, except Shia LeBouf who in fairness does a decent job but is featured far too prominently amongst other much more interesting characters/actors. Storywise, the movie feels like it’s just going through the motions. If not for my love of Craig’s Bond, Lawless would have been my biggest disappointment by a long shot.
- Sleepwalk with Me: I love This American Life, and I love the episode on which this movie is based. And I so wanted to love this movie. But I just liked it. It wasn’t as funny as it aspired to be. But for a first-time writer/director team, it wasn’t bad.
- Prometheus: Great atmosphere, some good acting, but the more you think about the story, the dumber this movie gets.
- La Casa Muda (2010) / Silent House (2011): The idea of a movie that plays out continuously in “one take” is intriguing but was squandered on this story. Both versions (the Uruguayan original and the American remake) are comparable in quality. The first two-thirds of each is sufficiently spooky (but could have been spookier with skillful editing, in my opinion—the continuous filming plays more as a distracting gimmick than anything else), but what totally kills both movies is a silly twist ending.
Top 13 Movies from 2012 I Missed
(and Am Looking Forward to Seeing)
- Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
- The Secret World of Arriety
- Beasts of the Southern Wild
- The Loneliest Planet
- This Is Not a Film
- Jiro Dreams of Sushi
- The Imposter
- Sound of My Voice
- The House I Live in
- The Grey
- [Rec]³: Genesis
If you’d like to see the “full” list of movies I saw in 2012…
The “Full” List of Movies I Saw in 2012
Minus the ones I forgot, movies I rewatched from previous years, and total garbage that’s not worth mentioning.
|13 Assassins||Paranormal Activity 3|
|A Christmas Carol (2009)||Peeping Tom|
|A Tale of Two Sisters||Play Misty for Me|
|A Very Long Engagement||Prince of Darkness|
|Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry||Prometheus|
|Arbitrage||Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands|
|Argo||Pusher III: I’m the Angel of Death|
|Barton Fink||Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles|
|Battle Royale||Ruby Sparks|
|Brave||Sleepwalk with Me|
|Cabin in the Woods||Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance|
|Certified Copy||Tales from the Script|
|Children of Heaven||Tell No One|
|Confessions of a Dangerous Mind||The Adventures of Tintin|
|Django Unchained||The Amazing Spider-Man|
|Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark||The Ambassador|
|Down Terrace||The American Scream|
|Dream Home||The Artist|
|Dream House||The Avengers|
|Exam||The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel|
|Fahrenheit 451||The Big Lebowski|
|G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra||The Bourne Legacy|
|God Bless America||The Confession|
|Goon||The Constant Gardener|
|Halloween III||The Dark Knight Rises|
|I Saw the Devil||The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence|
|In Darkness||The Human Centipede: First Sequence|
|In the Loop||The Hunger Games|
|Indie Game: The Movie||The Innkeepers|
|Jack Frost (1996)||The Kid with a Bike|
|Kick-Ass||The King’s Speech|
|Kidnapped||The Last Circus|
|Kill List||The Loved Ones|
|La Casa Muda||The Master|
|Lawless||The Odd Life of Timothy Green|
|Les Miserables||The Raid: Redemption|
|Lockout||The Weather Man|
|Marathon Man||Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy|
|Moneyball||Tucker & Dale vs. Evil|
|Monsters, Inc.||Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 2|
|Nightmares in Red, White and Blue||Valhalla Rising|
|Once||We Need to Talk about Kevin|
|Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory||Winter’s Bone|