The Kidd here...
Had you asked me back at the beginning of January for a preliminary list of 10 films I thought would make my year-end best list, I'm certain you would have found only two films that you'll read about in a few moments making the cut then (and one of them only because I had recently seen it and thought it was that damn good). Back then, I would have been sure, absolutely positive, that there was no way the best of 2012 wouldn't have included THE DARK KNIGHT RISES or THE AVENGERS or THE HOBBIT or PROMETHEUS. But that's why they play the games, right? Or in this case... why we watch the movies. This isn't the Most Hyped 10 of 2012 list. It's my Best Of, which means the 10 movies that between January and December stuck with me for one reason or another enough to warrant recognition and celebration right around now. This isn't the best 10 movies of the past year... but they're certainly mine, and while there was some jockeying for position over the past few days and some re-examination over a couple flicks in the later stages of compiling the final cut, these 10 films never really fell out of the year-long discussion I've been having with myself over what has been truly great in the last 12 months.
So without further adieu, let's get to my Top 10 for 2012:
10. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER
Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of his own novel is perhaps the closest depiction of the high school experience since John Hughes gave a voice to the generation of teens that grew up during the 80s, and, regardless of how you fared through those years of your own life, there’s something to this story for you to grab hold of emotionally that represents what you were going through.
PERKS is all about finding out who you are during high school, what you're made of, as shown through the trio of Charlie, Sam and Patrick (Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller). These are three kids who embody the fringe of the high school world. They're cool in their own right when viewed through the prism of their own crowd - the type of kids who dig ROCKY HORROR and The Smiths - but in the grand scheme of the high school food chain, they'd be on the fringe. However, Chbosky isn't interested with deconstructing that totem pole of popularity, as he focuses more on the troubles one deals with at this age in terms of navigating relationships or coming to terms with sexual orientation or dealing with regrets and mistakes and how they shape one's reputation.
These aren't ideas of what high schoolers are or should be, with Chbosky bringing to life characters that you know from your own experiences in the real world. That's what got me the most about PERKS - its ability to convey what high school is like for people of different walks of life. We certainly don't get through those four years in the same manner as everyone else, but, in making the trip through one year with Charlie, Sam and Patrick, we can completely identify with someone who may have shared a similar experience as our own, while also appreciating what we imagine others may have dealt with in their own survival of high school. PERKS speaks the unique language of youth that can't be faked, giving you honest glimpses into the horrors of high school.
9. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED
Colin Trevorrow’s narrative feature film directorial debut really caught me off-guard when I saw it earlier this year, as, going on appearances alone, it definitely struck me as one of those indie films that winds up a little too quirky for its own good. However, I loved it then, and, watching it again before compiling this list, I still love it now, as it’s such a joy to watch this pairing of slightly off-kilter individuals – Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass – come together innocently in a world that is too often filled with skepticism.
There’s a hope to SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED that is missing from a lot of people’s lives, people who for one reason or another gave up on the dreams that filled their younger years in favor of something more stable or responsible or adult. I’ve been lucky to chase my dream of writing about movies for a living, having the support system that’s allowed me to follow through on those ambitions. But others haven’t been so lucky, having to give up on their visions of being a rock star or a filmmaker or an astronaut or whatever you really wanted to be when you grew up. At some point along the way, you may have come to the realization that it wasn’t going to happen for you, and you decided to do something else with your life. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But, in SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED, if Duplass’ Kenneth reached a point where he doubted his plans to travel back through time and then did something else, we wouldn’t have a movie so charming to watch.
Kenneth represents the part of all of us that so desperately wants to go through with every idea, every dream we ever had, no matter how crazy it might be, no matter how many people told us how stupid or ridiculous it was, because what if…? What if it just might work…?
This is a film entirely about living in the moment, and hoping for the best instead of fearing the worst. Derek Connolly’s screenplay is incredibly heartfelt, and Trevorrow manages to capture the weird charm of his two leads to have you rooting for their romance and time travel to succeed, because there can’t possibly be anyone better out there for them than each other.
Out of all the films I saw this year, none had me grabbing hold of my armrests, leaning forward in uncertainty about what would occur next than Craig Zobel's COMPLIANCE. The story, which is based on a series of prank call crimes, chronicles the horrible ordeal of Becky (Dreama Walker), a fast food restaurant employee who is victimized by her manager (Ann Dowd) and others who willingly give themselves over to the direction of a phone caller identifying themselves as a police officer in the middle of a theft investigation. The psychological basis for these actions rests in the Milgram experiment, which proves an blind obediance to authority, and, while some may question how people could be so stupid as to fall fo something like this, these are events that really happened, with COMPLIANCE closely following the events of one particular incident that took place in Mount Washington, Kentucky.
This is a true horror movie in its purest sense, as you find yourself terrified for Becky, fearing for what the caller (the effectively creepy Pat Healy) might come up with next in his charade as an officer of the law to further humiliate the young woman being held under the suspicion of a petty crime she didn't commit. This is certainly humanity at its worst, but you can't help being drawn in by this psychological evaluation of how people could behave in such an inhumane way towards a girl who is deemed guilty with no thoughts of innocence ever really being entertained by any of the parties involved.
COMPLIANCE is a wonderfully compelling film that will provoke discussion about human behavior. It had me sucked in from the start, unable to turn away from watching its characters at their very worst, fearful and intrigued at exactly the same time. This is a film that haunted me upon first viewing and managed to stick with me for its rightful spot for recognition among the best of 2012.
7. KILLER JOE
2012 has been one hell of a year for Matthew McConaughey. Between the releases of BERNIE and MAGIC MIKE, McConaughey has been at the top of his game, but none really comes close to see him at his absolute best than in William Friedkin’s adaptation of Tracy Lett’s KILLER JOE. McConaughey serves in the title role as Joe Cooper, the Dallas detective who moonlights as a contract killer, who gets mixed up with the very definition of white trash – played remarkably by Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon - in their efforts to collect on some insurance money in order to ease some of their financial troubles. With them being broke and Joe needed some type of commitment for his effort, a special retainer arrangement is reached, one that gets him Dottie (Juno Temple) until his job is done and he gets paid, which presents a new set of problems for everyone involved.
The material is both comical and dark at different times, as we watch Hirsch’s Chris pull out every trick in the book to try to make the situation better while only digging the hole he created even deeper. But it isn’t until McConaughey has the family gathered around the kitchen table that you understand just how uncomfortable Friedkin’s film can get, watching Joe toy with a bunch of half-wits he’s capable of slaughtering at any moment.
I saw this film twice, once in a room full of critics and the other with a regular audience, and seeing it with a crowd that got the material made it that much better, as they just knew the exact moments when it was fine to laugh along with the stupidity of the film’s characters yet clammed up with the quickness at the seriousness of that pivotal and revealing moment with Joe and those who aren’t nearly as smart as him.
It’s not hard to believe that people like this truly do exist somewhere in the depths of the United States, and Friedkin and Letts do a wonderful job in taking them from being caricatures of the trailer park and turning them into willing participants in a crime that they’re convinced is a great answer to their problems. It may not turn out all too great for them, but it works out just fine for us.
6. END OF WATCH
The buddy cop film has been done to death, with two partners, who have no business working with each other, somehow finding common ground in the most convenient places to solve some crime that no one else could possibly crack, for they lack the hijinks necessary to get them through the investigation long enough to uncover the truth. However, David Ayer’s latest cop film isn’t about these movie-created supercops at all, as, using the found-footage subgenre to his advantage, the writer-director puts you right in the squad car with a pair of partners as they deal with the dirty task of cleaning up the streets of Los Angeles.
There are comedic elements brought into the fold from those buddy cop flicks, which are inherent in having two guy, close enough to be considered brothers, stuck in a car with each other on a daily basis, but, where END OF WATCH truly succeeds is in establishing Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as real people, with lives outside of the badge, who simply serve and protect as their job. They absolutely have the egos that come with busting criminals, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t at risk of getting in over their heads or fucking up on the job. This film absolutely respects the danger that comes with the job every time they go out on a call. There is no hotshotting on the job, because that type of behavior will get you killed in the line of duty.
END OF WATCH nails the sense of brotherhood that exists among those in law enforcement like few others ever have, and, for the in-depth sense of reality the film creates by making you a fly on the wall in the life of two police officers, Ayers has made a premiere cop movie.
I hate seemingly being the last person to see a film, because no matter how much I try to avoid any advance word before I have the chance to experience a film for myself, the power of Facebook and Twitter will always force upon me the opinions of those who have had the pleasure of watching it earlier. That unfortunately begins to set the bar for a film beyond my control, and in many cases, when the studio finally does get around to letting me see a picture, it then just doesn’t deliver on the lofty expectations that others have set for it.
That happened with 21 JUMP STREET, which plenty of people were proclaiming as the next great comedy before I ever laid eyes on it, and, when Columbia Pictures finally decided to let me see it right before its release, I just wasn’t all that impressed. The overhype had worked against the film, which, while funny, was nothing special.
Therefore, I was worried that a similar set of circumstances might happen with LOOPER, which coincidentally also came from Columbia Pictures. I had heard great things about the film before I ever had the chance to see it, including from our own Mr. Beaks who had seen it way ahead of time and couldn’t contain his excitement for its awesomeness. But with the studio once again hiding the film in many respects, and the expectations continuing to rise, how could LOOPER possibly deliver all the goods? By showing off an instant classic that literally has everything you want in a movie - time travel and chase sequences and complicated characters and complex moral dilemmas and science fiction and action and romance and violence and revenge and mystery, piecing them together masterfully and purposefully, and packaging them together in a brilliantly rich way that should serve as a blueprint for how to tell story.
There is not one ounce of waste to Rian Johnson’s film that is as much about time travel as it is about the selfishness and short-term thinking we all engage in that does nothing to break the cycle of behavior that continues to plunge the human race into new depths year after year. There is so much depth to the character of Joe as played by both Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a man whose motivations change between different time periods and between both actors, that it makes for a fascinating watch seeing two actors playing the same person as if he was two completely different people.
LOOPER is one of the more satisfying and fulfilling movie experiences I had in 2012. Each line of dialogue has something to say. Every character has a distinct purpose. And every second of the film locks you into its greatness. This is one that will stay with us moving forward for quite some time.
4. THE RAID: REDEMPTION
Bad action movies are a dime a dozen in the United States, substituting big explosions, tons of special effects and dizzying camera movement for anything that might actually be deemed action. So, when a great action movie does come along, which seems to be quite rare these days, you know it the second it shows up on the big screen and starts kicking your ass. THE RAID: REDEMPTION is one of those special ones.
Gareth Evans takes an elementary premise – a police squad trapped in a building full of criminals, forced to fight their way out for survival – and packs it so full of beautiful action that you begin to wonder why it seems to be rather difficult for others to make action flicks that aren’t total shit. Evans understands that the action is the star of a film like this, be it in the form of gunplay or martial arts, and allows it to take center stage to really impress the audience. How many times can we see things get blown up before it becomes tiresome? I think we’ve already reached that point. But a two-on-one brutal battle with a man known as Mad Dog that leaves you exhilarated even while having a decent idea how the scene is going to end…? I could watch that all day long.
THE RAID: REDEMPTION puts back something that’s been desperately missing from the action genre for far too long – excitement – and with a pace that never seems to let up, this thrilling movie helps redefine not only the type of action movies that we want, but the types we really do deserve.
3. CLOUD ATLAS
I have hardly been a defender of the Wachowskis over the years, as, prior to this year, I counted BOUND and the first MATRIX as their finest efforts... and that's it. I don't have much love for the rest of THE MATRIX Trilogy and I have a hard time buying SPEED RACER as anything more than a visual overload. But teamed with Tom Tykwer for the adaptation of David Mitchell's CLOUD ATLAS, the Wachowskis have once again proved they are incredible storytellers, able to manage a palette of big ideas, multiple character arcs and stunning visuals.
For CLOUD ATLAS, the Wachowskis and Tykwer show they have a firm grip on the material, and, as massive in scope as it is, they refuse to let its six different stories get away from them or allow it to become overwhelming for the audience. During a year when quite a few films failed miserably at asking big questions, CLOUD ATLAS intelligently heads into the territory that everything is connected across thousands of years. No matter how small or insignificant you believe your life is, its effects ripple outward, affected those you know now as well as those you've never met or will never know in the present day and the future. Our mark on the world is permanent and definitely felt by others.
Between its hypnotic score (which I still have in regular listening rotation) which shifts between the various stories and styles of the film, the large cast ready to take on whatever variation of their roles the arcs call for, and an unbelievable editing job that weaves these parallel timelines together rather symphonically, CLOUD ATLAS is a well-crafted film that is sure to find a new appreciation in the future. It is just going to take a bit for that genius to ripple forward.
2. DJANGO UNCHAINED
This is the one film I thought would have ended up on my year-end Top 10 list back when I read an early draft of the script months ago, and, as Tarantino always seems to do, he has delivered another gem in his legacy to be automatically enters into the debate over his best movie to date. As a fan of Tarantino's since RESERVOIR DOGS, I can't say that he's disappointed me yet (and yes, that even includes DEATH PROOF). Film after film, he continues to put forth what feels like his best effort, producing a string of films that have no problem standing up against the others he has to his name.
DJANGO UNCHAINED is no different in that respect, as Tarantino has one again tackled on a genre - this time, the Spaghetti Western - that he's been enamored with for quite some time, putting his own spin on it in an attempt to make his own entry that can be judged favorably against those that have come before it. While its story is told against the backdrop of slavery, DJANGO UNCHAINED may be the most fun of Tarantino's films, as fucked-up as that sounds, fully committing to a hero's journey for rescue and revenge while also submitting four of the year's best individual performances for your enjoyment (Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson).
Tarantino continues to make films that all feel different from each other, while also sharing that feeling of being something QT. It's a unique brushstroke he's able to paint these masterpieces with, and whether it's the slick dialogue or the interesting characters or the fresh stories, it's always a pleasure to take in a new Tarantino flick. With each new picture, you know you are watching a superb filmmaker deliver his best. That's been the case with all his films thus far... and it's once again the case with DJANGO UNCHAINED.
1. THE GREY
Having seen Joe Carnahan’s latest film for the first time back in late 2011, I almost included it on my year-end list then. But, with THE GREY not getting its official release until January of 2012, I elected to hold off on ranking it until audiences far and wide had the opportunity to take this powerful film in.
Look… I get it that there are plenty of people who feel snookered by the marketing on this movie, lured into the theatre by the idea that they were paying money at the box office to see Liam Neeson go toe-to-toe with a pack of wolves out in the wild. You certainly didn’t get what you bargained for… but what you did get was something much better, as you went on this emotional journey with a bunch of plane crash survivors who seemed destined for death yet continued to find things to fight for, making the insurmountable goal of living worth the trouble.
THE GREY is one of those films that really gets at your guts, as you identify with and understand the plight of these men living out their worst fears, hoping to have the opportunity to get back to their wives or daughters or parents, if for no other reason than to be able to say their goodbyes. It’s a reminder that our time on this earth is short and can be over rather suddenly, so there’s no time like the presence to share your feelings with loved ones, because a second chance to do so is hardly a guarantee.
I saw THE GREY on three separate occasions back around the time of its release, and each time I found myself crying… at different points, too… for how deeply the film affected me on an emotional level – as a man, as a father, as a sympathetic human being – with the tragic idea of wanting just one more day, one more moment with those that mean the most to you and probably not getting it, no matter how hopeful you tried to remain that you’d make it through every obstacle put in front of you okay.
Liam Neeson absolutely sets the tone here as the tough guy we’ve come to know over the years who, under the circumstances, is certainly not afraid to admit he’s afraid, and Frank Grillo provides an interesting support as someone who really has no reason to fight on, considering the terrible hand life has dealt him along the way, yet continues to do so anyway.
Sure, there are wolves that are threatening their safety, but there’s so much Carnahan’s film really gets at in its intimate moments, in really examining what’s important to us all, that it doesn’t matter if Neeson throws down with them or not. THE GREY is about the journey of these fully realized characters, which makes for an outstanding film. This is one that’s stuck with me through the entire year in how deeply it impacted me with its raw emotion, and, for that, it’s earned its well-deserved place atop my Top 10 list for 2012.
That's all for 2012, which has been another interesting year in cinema, filled with the good, the bad, the ugly and the disappointing.
Bring on 2013.
"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"
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