James Top 20 Films of 2012

| January 8, 2013
If you told me how far we’d come in 2012 last year this time last year I really wouldn’t have believed you. While I want to reiterate everything that Ryan said at the beginning of his list, I won’t, and this is The Internet so I can just do this: Bam! I also want to add that as great as this year has been, it’s also been rather heartbreaking. I’d like to thank Tom Sullivan for sitting down on our show and just for generally being an amazing person. 

Anyway, there’s plenty more talking to come, so lets start the list. These are my favorite films of 2012. These are Ryan’s. These are Brad’s. And This is where you can here us talk about them and more.

The opening sequence of Lincoln sets the stakes very high, repeating the promises of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to put the soul of America and the promise of democracy on the edge of a knife. This sense of urgency never leaves the film, and throughout every scene of political squabbling and marital grief, this acts as a driving force of what seem to be Lincoln’s deliberate and determined actions. It’s hard to make a movie where every scene is just people talking about politics or depression and have it be entertaining, but the weight of the subject at hand and the likability of the characters themselves propel us forward through a short two-and-a-half hours. On top of all that, what more can be said about Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Fields’ performances? They are among the best actors of their generations and these are certainly among the best of their careers. Spielberg remains in an entirely different league. You cannot compare him to anyone but himself at this point, and when you see Lincoln you know that this will be one of the films he is most remembered for. This is art at its perfection.

This isn’t just the most crowd pleasing fun I had all year, this was also the fulfillment of a wish that seemed impossible. Mixing all these superheros from tonally different films seemed to guarantee that no matter how much fun the movie would end up being, it would always feel disjointed, but that didn’t happen. Mixing these characters together would be one thing, but most people would agree that this is actually the best versions of all those characters. The Incredible Hulk has never been done so well on film, Captain America is more fun and more interesting here than he is in his origin, Iron Man is as good as he always is, though we do get the end of his transition into a real hero who risks his life to save everyone, Black Widow and Hawkeye obviously get more development, I would only argue that Thor is a bit flat when compared against the dramatic scenes we saw in Asgard.

I was really looking forward to Cabin in the Woods but it was still the biggest surprise of the year because it was not at all what I expected it to be. Cabin is the Shaun of the Dead of American horror. It deconstructs a genre while also becoming an entry into it. Maybe more than anything on this list, see this movie.

I know, you probably hated this movie and I understand that, because the reasons why you hate this movie are the reasons why this isn’t my number one. This movie stuck with me, it made me think about it for weeks. I love the ideas that it plays with and the world that it inhabits. I love David, and the way he skirts morality because he doesn’t understand it. I love the quest for life and the idea that aliens might simply be uninterested in us. It’s a beautiful film and I want to see more big-budget, space-treking science fiction like it in the future.

I’ve be a devout fan of Rian Johnson since the credits first rolled on Brick and it’s been relly exciting to see the direction his career is taking. Looper is his first foray into action and science fiction and thankfully he didn’t loose his unique storytelling, quirky comedic timing and beautiful sense of motion. Looper does what most great sci-fi does, by taking an idea as simple as ‘what if you could sit down at a diner with your future self’ and exploring it literally, then it wraps itself inside of a cool action flick in order to become palatable. When the movie starts you never image that it will take you to the dark places that future Joe’s mission requires, and you certainly don’t think that you might be on his side when it does.

6. Beasts of the Southern Wild

It’s the sense of place that Beasts of the Southern Wild does so well that allows it to become so engrossing. From the dialect to the set decoration of the parade floats, the Bathtub is a real place, which makes Hushpuppy real, which makes her story real, and the emotional pull of her self-discovery ring true. To tell someone the plot of Beasts of the Southern Wild is a surprisingly brief act that brings to light just how important the way the story is told actually is.

After the first time I saw The Hobbit I was not expecting it to be on my top ten. It’s not that I thought the movie was bad, but it felt like their were pacing problems that kept me from really getting involved in the movie the way I did with The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. But what I discovered seeing it again was that all the questions about whether or not it would live up to the quality of the first trilogy, whether or not Radaghast would end up paying off throughout the trilogy, where they were going to split the films and whether that would seem satisfying, all those questions had kept me from actually letting myself enjoy it the first time. The second time I simply had fun. I liked watching the dwarves sing their songs and do dishes, and felt more of the tension as Spiders tried to invade Radaghast’s home, I got to know each of the dwarves a little better so that I actually cared about them, and I got invested in Bilbo’s search for courage and mercy. The movie isn’t perfect, and I think that a film should be able to stand on its own, but I also think that An Unexpected Journey can’t really be judged fairly until the story is completed, and if it eventually turns into a great trilogy, made better because the elements it sets us pay off so well, than I would regret dismissing it from this list for that reason.

8. Hitchcock

I wasn’t expecting to love Hitchcock as much as I did. It follows Alfred Hitchcock from deciding to make Psycho to releasing it and the personal problems he had along the way. While it doesn’t feel as much like air-tight history as Lincoln does, likely taking creative license with his marriage, the story that it tells is so fascinating that it begs you to forgive it. As much as I love Helen Mirren’s performance and was fascinated by the insight into the making of Psycho, the controversy surrounding it, and the inspiration for it, what actually hooked me on this film is the way in which it slowly adopts the tropes of a Hitchcock film, as intrigue begins to bleed into the story and character start communicating through and becoming suspicious of the most miniscule details, like the placement of an earring or a small collection of sand. This blend of genres along with a heartwarming story about a marriage torn apart by busy lives, old age and disinterest, a husband with a voyeuristic eye, and two artists trying to keep their work from becoming stagnant.

This isn’t a Spider-Man movie it’s a Peter Parker movie, and that’s why I think it’s better than the original Spider-Man trilogy. This really felt like the Peter Parker that I loved as a kid, that I still love, who is just a normal kid with problems who is thrust into greatness. There are so many great comic book franchises going right now but this is the one I am most excited to see a sequel to right now. If you can marry the great characters here with the drama of Gwen Stacy’s arch and the big action I expect from a sequel that isn’t weighed down by an origin story they might have one of the best superhero movies’ ever made.

This is the kind of kids movie I’m passionate about. Paranorman refuses to give in to the temptations of simple storytelling and simple lessons to teach. It addresses issues of being an outcast from different angles, turning zombies into sympathetic monsters and making villains out of outcasts who’ve grown to hate their bullies. Children aren’t dumb, they can understand complex ideas as long as they are told in a way they understand. There was a time when I dreamed of a year when my favorite animated movie wasn’t Pixar (because the bar was raised at other studios, not because Pixar stopped trying so hard) but Laika makes it really easy to love Paranorman. The animation is stunning and the work that clearly went into it shows a love for filmmaking that is too rare among kids flicks these days.

I love the Dark Knight Trilogy and the The Dark Knight Rises was a fittingly epic end to the story. Bane is not a villain I expected to see on film again after the appallingly bad Batman & Robin, but Nolan brings a new visual aesthetic and tone to the character that makes you impatient to see him again. No it didn’t make my top ten, neither did Skyfall, but that doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with the film. It’s become really popular to rip apart these popular films for tiny errors of continuity or logic and the Dark Knight Rises has been among those unfairly scrutinized, but I do not heed to that. DKR is amazing, and cool, and fun and the kind of wish fulfillment that comic book fans never thought they’d get. 

Skyfall proved to me that a Bond film could reintegrate all the tropes of James Bond, the puns, the gadgets, the silly villains with their silly deformities and silly plans for world domination, but still be a smart film with great characters and grounded action scenes. I was really excited to see a director like Sam Mendes take on 007 and I was not disappointed. No one was.

This movie is great. Check out our award for Best Film of 2012 You Didn’t See to read my review.

The trailer for Seven Psychopaths looked really good, but it sold it as a quirky thief comedy about guys stealing dogs for ransom money, which sells the movie short. This might have been my favorite surprise of the year. It’s a crime comedy with an injection of Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation and the quick dialog and interesting characters that Martin McDonagh is becoming known for.

15. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

This is a charming film about old people carving out a new life for themselves. As ordinary as that sounds, this one chooses to tell a few more difficult stories about how chance can be good for you while at the same time tearing apart everything that was once most important to you.

You’ve probably seen 21 Jump Street and there’s a good chance you saw it because a friend told you about how good it was. This year there were few movies with as strong word of mouth as this one. It would have been easy to make a simple, stupid movie out of the old 90’s series but thankfully someone along the line decided to both embrace and refuse to make such a movie. But you already know that… because as I said, you already saw it.

17. Safety Not Guaranteed
Safety Not Guaranteed is a charming comedy that allows Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass plenty of room show off. 

The Grey was an early surprise. Advertised as ‘Liam Neeson punch wolves with broken bottles’ I expected more action and survival, but what we got was a nihilistic movie about the way we approach difficulties in our lives.

This movie plays to my sensibilities: charming hill people, local folklore, bluegrass music. The story of cowardly Jack trying to find his place among his iconic brothers brought heart to a movie that could have easily just been a action film with dark and twisted villains. Jessica Chastain’s performance at the end of the film as she tries to keep Forrest from going to the bridge is enough to earn its place on this list.

20. Django Unchained

For me, Django shows a complete lack of restraint on Tarantino’s part, and while I still enjoyed it, the sloppy final act, including Tarantino’s embarrassing appearance in the film, squander all of the good will generated by the first two-thirds. It’s hard to follow up a film like Inglorious Basterds, and I kept reminding myself that Django was never going to achieve that level, but I never expected the movie to wander aimlessly as much as it does. 

The movies not on this list that may have affected it had I seen them are: The Master, Robot and Frank, and Smashed.

– James Hart

Am I a big dumb-dumb with a stupid-head list? Leave a comment below!

About the Author:

James grew up in a house where Friday night was Movie night, which meant that he’d watched more movies than anybody else his age before he was even old enough to watch the rated R ones. He’ll watch just about anything, though he tends to avoid the horror movies without a sense of humor. Among his favorite movies are: Alien, Fargo, True Romance, Ed Wood, and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. He’s a die-hard LOST fan and a Brown Coat. As a writer, story usually comes first for James. Memorable characters and sharp dialogue are the things that separate the classics from the chaff. That said, he does his best to keep having fun at the movies. He’s seen plenty of critics who would once have accepted summer blockbusters as entertainment become jaded and nit-picky. Sure James loves the art of film and storytelling, but fun comes first, the fun that he had watching Raiders when he was little. Also, E.T. scares the pants off him.
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