Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2012

Categorizing my favorite moves in 2012 was so much more difficult for me than it was in 2011. I had obvious, definite picks to close out 2011, and I have found myself nitpicking over which movies ought to make my top 1o favorites list this year. If you remember from last year, I picked up a movie for the tenth spot that performed horribly for critics and audiences alike, but I stuck to it, just as easily as it was for me to say that The Artist and 50/50 were the obvious stand-out movies of 2011 for me.

I haven’t finished seeing all the movies I want to see yet, including Flight and Beasts of the Southern Wild, which I can imagine will most likely alter this list. My assurance comes from being a big fan of Robert Zemeckis films, and I keep hearing great things for Beasts. So there’s a good chance a couple of these movies may be bumped off to make room! Other movies I think could possibly make it onto this list are Amour and Life of Pi, but my hopes aren’t as high for these as they are for the former two films I mentioned.

And a disclaimer before the list: I really enjoyed both The Impossible and Zero Dark Thirty, but they’re both the kind of movie that won’t get repeated viewings from me because of the subject matter. While both feats of their own, I really don’t care to watch either again with how rough and gritty it was. Another honorable mention that didn’t make my list was Lincoln. I enjoyed it immensely, but it’s running time had me looking at my watch a few times. The performances were incredible under Steven Spielberg’s direction, and I’m rooting for John Williams’s score to win the Oscar.

As of now, here are my top ten favorite films of 2012!

10) Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

As of June last year, Seeking a Friend was my favorite film I had seen so far. It was a very different film and it struck a chord with me that no other end-of-the-world flick ever had. Steve Carell shined in his performance, and Lorene Scafaria’s directorial debut was promising. More than anything, I appreciated the music and tone of this film. Scafaria stuck to her ending and I’m happy to add this movie to my top ten list of 2012.

9) Celeste and Jesse Forever

Another film I haven’t seen on anyone else’s favorites or top lists is Celeste and Jesse Forever, which made its first appearance at Sundance. Rashinda Jones both writes and stars in this film that offers an entirely different take on relationships. It’s complicated, but it’s a well-written, thoughtful screenplay that poses questions that are difficult to answer. Any Samberg shows more range than one would expect. I really enjoyed this movie and hope that it gets more exposed!

8) The Hobbit

After reading The Hobbit in January of last year, I grew more excited for the first film of three to be released in December. While there were disappointments, such as extended scenes and added parts that I believe took away from the film, I still really enjoyed it. Where The Hobbit didn’t lack was in the acting. It was great getting to see Sherlock‘s Martin Freeman star as Bilbo, and one of the strongest and best scenes of the film was the riddle scene with Bilbo and Andy Serkis’s Gollum.

7) Skyfall

For not being a huge James Bond fan, I really enjoyed Skyfall. I was hoping for something great after enjoying Casino Royale, and Skyfall does not disappoint at all. Daniel Craig does some of his best work here, and Javier Bardem makes for a great villain. The pacing and script are great and it gives a very satisfying end to the film.

6) Django Unchained

I wasn’t sure whether I’d love or hate Django going in, but it ended up being the former. For clocking in close to three hours, Django didn’t feel nearly as long as films like Lincoln or Zero Dark Thirty, for me. It’s chocked full of Quentin Tarantino humor, and both Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio offer great supporting performances.

5) The Avengers

Earlier in 2012, I had seen The Avengers four times in theaters. If you had asked me in 2011 what movie I was planning to see the most in 2012, my answer would certainly not be The Avengers. But I’m completely won over, having seen Captain AmericaThor, and both Iron Man films multiple times before seeing The Avengers. It’s a solid film that delivers on multiple fronts, not only entertaining, but also works as an excellent inclusion of multiple characters to make one grand superhero film fit together.

4) Argo

Early in 2012 I had caught wind of a little movie called Argo to be directed by Ben Affleck. It was one of my most anticipated films of the year, and I consider it one of the best films to come out in 2012. It’s unfortunate that the Academy did not nomimate Affleck for Best Director as he brought to film one of the most interesting and thrilling political stories. I’m rooting for Argo to perform well at the awards!

3) The Dark Knight Rises

I wasn’t expecting to place DKR so high on my list, but in conjuction with everything I’ve seen in 2012, I can’t not put it so high. Even with its many critiques by fanboys and critics alike, Christopher Nolan’s epic end to his Batman trilogy is so good that people really have to fight a bit to be critical about it. While Batman Begins is still probably my favorite of the trilogy, it’s a great problem to have to be able to pick the “worst” of the three when all were solid films. Nolan set a foundation for character films to follow by placing the bar high enough for critics to like and modest enough for audiences to really enjoy.

2) The Perks of Being a Wallflower

When I first saw the trailer for Perks, I was convinced that it would be one of my favorite movies of the year. And while I’m usually wrong and set my expectations too high going in, Stephen Chbosky’s book and now film (which he also directed and wrote the screenplay for) won me over. It’s a coming of age story, but it’s written and acted out so beautifully, that I had a difficult time pinpointing what exactly it was about Perks that made it so likeable for me. The actors actually looked more of the ages they were playing rather than mid- to late-twenties adults playing high schoolers, as they do in most teen-based movies.

1) Silver Linings Playbook

And my top favorite film of the year is Silver Linings Playbook. It’s my favorite film of 2012 because it has the two qualities that attract me most to any film: strong writing and interesting characters. Based off the novel by Matthew Quick, Silver Linings tells the story of a man who is blissfully unaware he has issues. Bradley Cooper gives a stunning and turning performance which will hopefully afford him better roles in the future. Again, Jennifer Lawrence gets nominated for an Oscar, and rightfully so. It’s an interesting and different film, directed by David O. Russell, who’s known to like telling stories of dysfunctional families, his latest film being The Fighter. Even De Niro gives an unforgettable and entertaining performance in this movie. Moving, endearing, and performance strong, Silver Linings Playbook was my favorite movie of the year.

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AEOS Review: The Bourne Legacy

I haven’t reviewed a film in quite a while, but I have some free time right now, so I’m back to posting. Thanks for everyone’s patience! (I know all of you just missed me so much, ha!)

There haven’t been that many great films to review this month (see: last post), but The Bourne Legacy was one of those films I was looking forward to for one reason: Jeremy Renner. He arrives on the Hollywood scene in his early 40s, and he seems to be the “back-up plan” for all of these franchises that seem to bumble between furthering the franchise with yet another film, rebooting the franchise entirely, or recasting the series with Renner.

Renner first showed up in The Hurt Locker and did one heck of a job so I’m told, although I have yet to see that film. But I’ve witnessed him play an excellent supporting role in The TownMission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and The Avengers. Renner knows how to own the screen whether it’s a starring or supporting role, and I look forward to seeing more and more of him in the future!

Unfortunately, I did not dig The Bourne Legacy like I hoped to. I wouldn’t call Renner and Weisz’s performances saving graces since the film wasn’t that terrible, but the truth of the matter is that the film fell flat. It didn’t live up to the previous Bourne films, it lacked a great villain, it completely wasted Edward Norton’s talents, and Aaron Cross’s motivations were consumed solely with finding the “chems.”

Aside from the film’s notable issues, however, I found it to be an enjoyable action film. The lab scene where one of the workers goes on a killing spree was especially terrifying and shot in such a serious and subtle way, that it stood out as the best scene of the film for me.

Nothing about The Bourne Legacy especially grabbed my attention aside from the lab scene–the score lacked the excitement of the previous films, although the film did end with Moby’s Extreme Ways, which I appreciated. I tend to wonder whether there will be a fifth installment with the lackluster response both critics and audiences have given the film.

If you’d like to hear more of my banter on the film, please check out my movie buddy Ryan’s podcast on his site, The Matinee. I had the privilege of getting to guest on episode 66, where we talked not only about The Bourne Legacy, but in light of this interesting recast (Matt Damon to Jeremy Renner), also listed off each of our top 5 recasts in films. And not only to put in a plug for Ryan, but also just to say from my own perspective — Ryan runs a great site and is so up to date. He puts me to shame with how on top of things he is from writing posts, to seeing films, to recording podcasts. Please take the time to check out his site and specifically listen to episode 66 if you can spare the time! You won’t regret it.

What did you think of The Bourne Legacy? Did you like it more than I did? Do you think Jeremy Renner lived up to Matt Damon in the Bourne series? Do you think there will be a fifth Bourne film?

August: The Dead Month of Movies?

For a year that was highly-anticipatory for film, January through April took its sweet ‘ol time passing through, delivering only one fairly memorable film–The Hunger Games–and made all us viewers wonder if 2012 was really going to deliver, or just release a few biggies during the summer and Oscar seasons.

Finally, May rolled around and The Avengers blew everything away for the past 4 months. Then June opened up with some fun summer films, notably Prometheus and Snow White and the Huntsman (would everyone please stop talking about Kristen Stewart already?!), and The Dark Knight Rises showed up in July along with The Amazing Spider-Man. And now we’re sitting in August, dealing with 80s remakes and unsuccessful franchise continuations and not a whole lot of films to look forward to until October/November/December sweeps.

All of this begs me to ask, is August the “dead” month of movies? Both Total Recall and The Bourne Legacy came with their disappointments, though the latter succeeded the former with its storyline and acting alone (talking to you, Jeremy Renner!). Premium Rush is the only film I see with a hint of promise for the month. There’s a little hope with Lawless, watching Shia Labeouf attempt to win people over after his run through the Transformer films.

The only film I feel gipped for missing is Celeste and Jesse Forever, which opened only in very limited release, Rashinda Jones’s first writing project that performed successfully at Sundance.

We’re in that busy month of the year where everyone’s going back to school, and no one’s really focused on going to see a good film, with studios optimizing on the summer and Christmas breaks to release the films people most look forward to.

So ease my mind and tell me, have you liked any of the films August has offered so far? Or is it really the dead month of the year for film? What do you look forward to for the rest of the month? 

The Comic Book Movie Debate: the Serious, and the Not So Serious

I credit Christopher Nolan for sparking the ever-growing debate circling comic book films: colorful, or dark? campy, or serious? true to form, or realistically-based?

It must have been the release of Batman Begins in 2005, when the world was introduced to a comic book character–Bruce Wayne/Batman–and it wasn’t a pretty look. It was dark. It was a crime film. It was a serious take on a fictional character that had previously been rooted in a show that used “Bam!” and “Pow!” as the sound effects for Batman’s left and right swings.

Few, if any, could not at least admire the beauty and purposefulness of Nolan’s Batman films. Nolan is a student of Kubrick, using intent and style to craft his films. But let’s get down to the debate.

When Avengers was released this past May, it was a smash. Creative and geeky writer-director Joss Whedon was finally put forward to make something mainstream. The Avengers was a huge success at the box office. But the debate isn’t about whether Avengers was financially and critically successful or not. The question is, which comic book films are better–the Nolan approach (as I like to think of it) which uses a more realistic take, bringing a critical eye to a story that is written with far more intent than desire to entertain; or the truer-to-form, source-material based comic book films that honor the comics more so in their character traits and settings, such as Thor and Captain America?

I know people on both sides of the debate. But maybe it’s people’s perspectives, rather than opinions, that ought to be altered today. On one end, as a person who appreciates a good film, you lower the importance of “source material” (which happens to be comic books in this case) because you prioritize the art of the film. It ought to be stylized. It should have all the marks of a good film, from following a good storyline, to reaching beyond mere entertainment. It should influence and inspire while bringing more to the table than just explosions and snarky one-liners. This kind of movie should treat the audience like more than just a bunch of superhero-wannabees; it should reach out to an intelligent audience, one that is capable of drawing its own conclusions. More critics respond to this more “realistic” approach.

From the other side, you have the readers, the comic book geeks, the writers, the superhero nerds (have I stereotyped people in this post enough yet?) who expect these films to live up to the comics they love. The actors should reflect the characters they’re playing. The mood shouldn’t be so stiff and serious as to detract from the true tone of the comic. They should include that lightness and fluff, because that’s how the comics were written! Yes, a good villain is necessary, and plot points should closely reflect that of the comics. The film should reach out to a more universal audience, because that’s what the stories of most comic books are all about–everyone either needs a hero or wants to be a hero at some point, right? It should entertain, because after all, you’re attending a comic book film, not a war film or something “based off a true story.” Comic books serve as a form of escape; shouldn’t you be allowed to turn your mind off for a couple hours, sit back, and relax?

In every attempt to not sound politically correct, I personally try to go by a single rule: the film ought to fit the format. Unfortunately, that rule can be applied multiple ways to comic book films, as we have seen various takes, from the more family-friendly popcorn flick, The Avengers, to Nolan’s darker shades, The Dark Knight Trilogy.

When it comes down to it, I can’t call one style or one method, better or worse than another. They’re all different visions for these fictional characters. While some comic book films exceed and others fall flat, while some are entertaining as hell and others force me to sit and think, I have enjoyed and appreciated films that fly on both sides of the fence.

Perhaps it has been the explosion of superhero films taking over summer theater seasons these past 2-3 years (X-MenGreen LanternGreen HornetThorCaptain America, Iron ManBatman to name a few) that have caused people to question whether comic book movies ought to take a more serious approach, or be what the comic books always intended the characters and stories to be.

Or, one has to ask, did the comic books ever propose a specific tone to be applied? I mean, after all, serious events do take place in comics. Serious crimes committed, serious truths implied, serious moral questions asked. Is it all within the way a person (read: reader or viewer, not director or writer)  approaches said comic book or film? Do we need to go back to the original comic book writers and ask them what their intent was when writing? Most likely there were multiple purposes: both to entertain, and to influence.

Both light-hearted and more serious comic book films do both of those actions, do they not? The Avengers offered food for thought–what about working together as a team? how much do people need to be stripped down before they can rally together? should your special abilities allow you to have a big ego? what about self-sacrifice, giving of yourself?

And doesn’t The Dark Knight Rises offer up a bit of entertainment as well? “Oh, so that‘s how that feels.” Catwoman screaming. “And yes, Mr. Wayne, it comes in black.”

At the end of the day, a good film is a good film. But isn’t determining what a “good film” is mostly subjective? Maybe I should just stop asking questions, grab a bowl of popcorn, and watch a movie that isn’t about a superhero. 🙂

It’s your turn now. What say you? Should comic book films be serious, or not so serious? Does it even matter? What makes a comic book film good, and what makes it not so good?

AEOS Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Not Avengers. Not The Hobbit. Not the first of The Hunger Games or the last of Twilight produced the most anticipated hype for movies in 2012. I still believe that The Dark Knight Rises was the most anticipated film of the year. You can even add in a Tom Hooper and Quentin Tarantino flick near Oscar movie season, and I still hold firm in casting Nolan’s ending Batman in that top spot.

And with so much hoopla surrounding a film, only the inevitable seems probable, right? In other words, it’s not really possible for a movie to fulfill the impossible expectations that we, as film viewers, critics, audience, or even your average, everyday film-goers, have placed upon the film and shoulders of one Christopher Nolan, right?

Code language aside, The Dark Knight Rises was faced with an uphill battle the moment The Dark Knight hit theaters back in 2008. With a Batman movie receiving that kind of critical acclaim and love from critics and audiences together, how could the now much-recognized director deliver on an even higher and better level? He still has all the same people in his pockets–his brother, Jonathan, as co-writer; his cast with Christian Bale and Michael Caine leading; his composer, Hans Zimmer; his executive producer, Michael Uslan–the list goes on of course. But can the same team of people create an even better film?

With the unexpected death of Heath Ledger, perhaps there were minor (or major) script changes following The Dark Knight. Regardless, following TDK‘s massive success came the decision to finish the series with a final film, thus creating another trilogy film set–and according to some (and me in that group)–the best film trilogy made yet. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

This Is Not a Summary

I met up with my film buddy, Fredo, from FilmYarn yesterday to record a podcast on the film. When he posts it, I’ll be sure to include a link here. Before recording, one idea we talked about was how oftentimes many film reviews are just pretty summaries of the film. Am I guilty of doing that? Oh yes. Multiple times, in fact. But in order to offer something I hope will be a little fresher, I’m working extra hard with this “review” in order to make it not just a film review reiterating plot points, but something a little different, and hopefully something that will boost some outside-of-the-box thoughts and discussion from you guys.

My Initial Reaction(s)

I forced myself to not write this review until I had seen the film at least twice. Often when I see a film a second time, I have a very different reaction. I’m happy to say that this was the case, even though I didn’t even allow 24 hours between my two viewings.

After I saw TDKR for the first time, I loved it. Thought it was great. But I couldn’t dispose of the nagging feeling in my head that TDK was better, superior, and overall the better film of the two. And that was frustrating, because this was the END! Never again will I get to see a new Nolan Batman film and compare. Regardless, I went back the following day and caught an afternoon viewing with a friend who had yet to see it. The result this time?

Still, I loved it. But my complaints had narrowed considerably. I liked it probably ten times better than the first viewing. Partly, because I caught quite a few more things the second time around, and was able to better relax while watching. Any movie that has a decent amount of depth and plot usually requires me to view it twice minimum in order to get out as much as possible about a film.

Comparison to Its Older Cousin, Spiderman 2

Although this may seem like an odd comparison, I felt like I kept seeing parts of Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 2 while watching. Spiderman 2, was, in fact my favorite of Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy, as well as the best-reviewed of the three. That point aside, consider the plot of Spiderman 2. In the opening scene, Peter Parker loses his job. Mary-Jane is with another guy. Peter gives up being Spiderman for a short time. The guy is picked apart and stripped down. It isn’t until he hits his lowest point that he regains speed, reclaims his title as Spiderman, fights the bad guys, and reunites with the girl.

In TDKR, in an effort to not spoil or give anything away (in this section), I’ll hold off on revealing too much. Essentially, however, the same idea takes place; any person who has viewed the trailer can piece that together. The idea is in the title–the action on Batman’s part, “rises”–implies that he must be low in order to rise. This idea moves me into the next thought I had . . . .

Metaphorical vs. Heavy-Handed

Fredo and I argued about whether TDKR treated its theme as a metaphor in a literal sense, or was it really just Christopher Nolan being heavy-handed in over-exaggerating the theme? I, for one, vote on the side of metaphorical. Picking up where I left off, Batman is in a low place, and therefore must rise. Several parts of the film adopted the idea of being low in order to rise. Various scenes were filmed underground. Bruce Wayne/Batman started off the film in a low place–weak mentally, physically, and emotionally. Even the time of day/weather played a role in literally rising.

Fredo saw this use of emphasizing the theme of rising as more like banging the audience over the head with a hammer constantly. It wasn’t just enough to have Batman rise to the occasion, to rise to the problems of Gotham and put his best foot forward; Nolan had to emphasize the idea of rising in multiple outlets and formats throughout the film. While I very much appreciated the purposefulness of it all, others, like Fredo, did not.

For those of you who saw the film, would you consider the film more metaphorical, or handled far too heavy? For those of you who have not seen it, please take this idea in mind and let me know what you think when you do see it!

It’s Such a Nolan Film

Anyone who has seen multiple Nolan films will agree that TDKR follows the same formula of his other films. Every scene, every piece of dialogue, every action, every tangible and intangible element has a purpose and point for being in its place at its time in the film. Everything is planned out. His films are literally puzzles, and each scene acts as a piece that must be placed at a specific time and place in the correct space.

The element of time, while is important for the film, doesn’t bear the necessity it does in his other films. In Memento, the time functioned in a more nonlinear structure. In Inception, time could be extended in various levels of dream stages, thus elongating itself in order for certain actions to take place. Nolan’s Batman films don’t quite restructure time like his others; however, time plays an essential role in certain actions needing to take place.

The film contained quite a few flashbacks in order to successfully tell the story. Nolan loves him some flashbacks. He makes great use of the device in The PrestigeInception, and Memento. The flashbacks tell a great story that reveals pertinent information in the film. 

Ensemble Cast from Heaven

In his review of the film, Richard Roeper called watching this cast work as “movie heaven.” Even with TDKR‘s flaws, the cast really pulled out all the stops. There wasn’t a weak force on screen. Anne Hathaway was a stand-out just for not screwing up the role. Viewers went into the film with the lowest expectations for her, and she turned around and surprised many of us, including me.

Complaints have been made regarding Tom Hardy’s Bane. I talk more about his motivations in the Closing Thoughts/Queries section, but speaking just on his performance, I’d have to say he was nothing short of excellent. Talking with that device over his face had to be pretty difficult to deal with. He was menacing and expressed himself through his eyes, and while he might not have “stolen” scenes, he certainly took center stage when he was on screen.

The scenes shared between Christian Bale and Michael Caine were some of the strongest. My one big frustration (SPOILER) was Alfred going MIA the entire second half of the film.

Full Circle . . . for the Fans

SPOILERS AHEAD! 

And now I can’t hold back from spoiling parts, because in order to appreciate the idea that TDKR fulfilled Nolan’s Batman in such a satisfying way, one has to point out those lovely gifts Nolan wrote into the film. Getting to see Liam Neeson in a few short scenes as Ra’s al Ghul was such a treat. To learn of his connection in TDKR with Miranda Tate as his daughter, his heir who desires to finish his legacy, really makes it feel like we’re watching a finished, fulfilled version of Batman Begins.

Cillian Murphy returning for a couple short scenes as a crazy version of himself (was he really being Scarecrow?) felt like Nolan just saying to the fans, “Here ya go, fans. Enjoy.” Even when the prisoners were released to run about and eventually engage in battle, I was again reminded of Batman Begins. I felt like TDKR had quite a few parts that mirrored Batman Begins.

Closing Thoughts/Queries

SPOILERS AHEAD!

  • What did you think of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robin? Do you think the idea of leaving the Batman legacy to Robin was a smart choice? I, for one, enjoyed the reveal at the end, even though there were little hints dropped throughout the film if you hadn’t already caught on that JGL fit the Robin profile exactly.
  • Did the ending feel like Inception to anyone else aside from me? Two different people afterwards asked me if that end scene was a dream. I’m not sure whether to laugh or consider the possibility! But really, I don’t believe it was a dream.
  • Can someone please fill me in on what exactly Bane’s intention was? He kills, kills, kills. He constructs these nearly flawless plans to destroy Gotham and its inhabitants. You can’t tell me he did this all for the love of a woman. While the fake-out at the end revealing Miranda Tate as the villain was a little surprising, it really makes Bane’s motivations fall apart at the seams.
  • Did anyone else wish that the Joker story would have been closed? Every villain in all three films–except the Joker–was brought up in some way. Ra’s al Ghul, Scarecrow, Two-Face/Harvey Dent, and of course the two in the film, Catwoman and Bane, all had a place.
  • So many films end with the hero sacrificing himself by destroying something bad in order to save a place. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo sacrificed himself to destroy the Ring to save Middle-Earth. In The Avengers, Iron Man sacrificed himself to destroy a missile to save New York City. In Captain America, the captain sacrificed himself. Even Jack Bauer in 24 was about to fly a plane down in order to save the world, or something like that. The Dark Knight Rises follows suite: Batman sacrifices himself to destroy a time bomb to save Gotham. Yet all the heroes live in the end. Would it have been a better ending for Batman to die?
  • We have to compare (of course), so did you dig The Dark Knight or The Dark Knight Rises more? Was either one a better film than the other? While in some aspects I consider The Dark Knight the better film, I couldn’t imagine Rises being any better than it was. It completed a trilogy. It brought the series full circle. It even had hints of humor that the previous two films lacked. It pulled out all the stops, was epic in almost every proportion possible.

I’ll really miss this series. I believe it’s the best film trilogy made yet. Although the goodbye is bittersweet, I can’t help but wonder, what is Christopher Nolan going to do next?