Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The top 10 best movies of 2012...

2012 for me was notable for a few things. For one, this was probably the best year for horror movies in a very very long time. Sinister, Cabin in the Woods, The Woman in Black, The Innkeepers; all really solid movies, with two of those making my top 10 list to which, I don't recall the last time two horrors made it into my list.

The overall quality of movies is a tad bit weaker this year than in 2011, though my pick for #1 is better than any 2011 release as well. So yeah, it's my #1 movie of both 2011 & 2012.

2012 was also a pretty bad year when it came to movies that didn't live up to the critical praise they received. Argo, Skyfall, Life of Pi, Silver Lining Playbook, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Master...I left all those movies feeling quite let down. Every year has over-rated movies, but this year seemed to be worse for that. Or maybe I'm just turning into a philistine? I think this year's list has the least amount of arthouse movies of any fact, my pick for #2 has maybe the shittiest plot of any movie this year. Yes I much prefer watching Abraham Lincoln open up a can of whoop ass on vampires than watching Pi Patel co-exist with a tiger on a boat...except for the part where Pi trips crazy balls. That part was cool! Why couldn't that go on for like 10 fucking minutes?

Perhaps the only movie to transcend the critical over-praise curse is my pick for #9 which I really hope wins for best picture at the Oscars. Let's move on.

Honorable mentions: Samsara, Cloud Atlas, This is 40, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Lincoln, Frankenweenie, Looper, Ted, The Woman in Black

10. Paranorman  **** (out of 5)

While as a stoner, I went into this movie wanting to trip crazy balls, I got something very different. While not as trippy as the likes of Coraline or Monster House, Paranorman ended up being a much deeper movie than I ever expected out of a movie about a little kid that sees ghosts. The movie's big climax is some of the best dramatic material I've seen out of any animated movie of the past few years, and the moral of the story about accepting people for their differences is very well delivered, un-heavy handed, and also leads to a great comedic twist near the end. People who didn't like the comedic twist obviously didn't get the moral and a bit on the bigotted side. ParaNorman is a good movie to show to your close minded friends; definitely the best animated movie of 2012.

9. Zero Dark Thirty **** (out of 5)

I talked a lot about the majority of movies with huge critical praise being letdowns. Zero Dark Thirty on the other hand is an exception; a movie that is fully worthy of being covered in movie critics' jizz. Zero Dark Thirty comes off especially strong when compared to the hugely over-rated based on a true story thriller Argo which really comes off as a cheap, very Hollywood-ized thriller (might I add that Zero Dark Thirty has a far more fascinating and well developed protagonist). I don't know how much of Zero Dark Thirty is true, but the movie feels very grounded in reality with very few moments that feel fake and are there just to amp up the suspense. I hope Zero Dark Thirty wins the Oscar for best picture.

Jessica Chastain who plays the most tenacious, confident, obsessive, and ballsy CIA agent is one of the most bad ass girls of any movie, and all the Oscar buzz around her performance is fully warranted. Here is a character who's entire purpose in life is to find Bin Laden. There is no time for any kind of personal life outside of her goal.

At 2 hours 40 minutes, the movie flies by very quickly and its long run time is fully warranted. All the clues, the controversial use of torture to get information, the false leads, the sacrifices made and the danger faced by the CIA to find him, the brilliance of how well the taliban hid him, and the clues that eventually lead to him, might I add the uncertainty of the final attack is all extremely fascinating stuff. Even with the audience knowing how it all ends, the movie still manages to do a masterful job of being suspenseful. Arguably the most difficult man hunt in human history makes for a very captivating movie.

8. End of watch **** (out of 5)

In a tiresome genre of cop buddy action/comedies where the police turn into unrealistic action heroes and blow lots of shit up, it's so refreshing to get a movie like End of Watch which is grounded in reality with great dramatic depth and presents two very realistic cop characters who take their jobs of protecting the streets very seriously. They may bend a few rules here and there, but you'd overall be glad to have cops like this patrolling your streets.

 Jake Gyllenhall and Michael Pena have such a natural chemistry together. There are many hilarious conversations between them, poking fun at each other, knowing how to push each other's buttons, but there is no doubt in the audience's minds that these two guys will die for each other. They are truly brothers from different mothers. The camerederie between them is so well done that when the big climax arrives, it is far more intense than just about any other cop movie out there. That's why taking time to develop your characters is so important, might I add having a script that doesn't follow conventions either. When you have no clue whether the protagonists will live or die, it makes for a much more gripping experience. The way the movie ends is perfect.

7. The Cabin in the woods **** (out of 5)

What a movie of batshit insanity! This is definitely one of the most original horror movies in a long time...though whether it should be classified as a horror is questionable, as the movie has a lot of fun with parodying the horror genre, taking horror movie cliches and turning them on their heads. Some people may argue this movie is more of a comedy, or perhaps even a postmodern stoner comedy/horror, as it not only has the best horror movie stoner character of all time, but I would bet anything that the people who came up with the idea for this movie were baked out of their minds; maybe they go to the same dealer as the creators of the Adult Swim show Superjail (though Cabin doesn't quite match the insanity of Superjail).I love how the movie feeds all the familiar cliches of a "teens going camping horror"  and goes in a completely different direction that is pretty much impossible to guess.

When I complain about the horror cliche of having mind numbingly dumb horror movie characters, it's nice to get The Cabin in the Woods that takes the cliched characters ie: the virgin, the stoner, the jock, the slut, but adds dimensions and depth to them. If you're a film nerd, you will totally nerd out to the way this completely fucks with the horror genre. If you're not, just enjoy the very unpredictable road the movie takes. Horror movies like this one are very rare. And yeah, I recommend getting high for this movie.

6. Premium Rush ****1/2 (out of 5)

Wow, talk about a movie trascending its very mediocre trailers. Who knew that a movie about bicycle messengers would turn out to be the 2nd best action movie of the year?! These bicycle chases kick the shit out of just about every car chase in every other Hollywood movie. Premium Rush is an exhilerating movie, that's so alive, so full of energy, and directed with such a fresh style that at times reminded me of Run Lola Run. Kind of like how Lola shows the fate of a character due to being at an exact place at an exact time (chaos theory I believe?), Premium Rush has a fun play on that, showing 3 different scenarios of what kind of death and pain will happen to the main character  or other pedestrians depending on what path he takes down a busy intersection, whether he goes left, goes right, or speeds right through.

David Koepp understands what goes into making a great chase scene. Part of it is making the audience able to see everything that goes on, and not using the very irritating shaky cam approach and shots lasting 2 seconds each where you can't see what the fuck is going on. The chase scenes are varied, with a good dose of slapstick comedy added in, which includes a cop who's biking skills are not nearly up to par as the protagonist. The last scene involving that cop character is easily the best comedic pay off of the movie which received a huge laugh and applause from the crowd.

Joseph Gordon Levitt once again proves why he's one of the most talented young actors out there, while Michael Shannon is my pick for the best villain of 2012. For an actor who's the go to guy to play a totally fucked up role, he has so much fun in what might be his most normal role to date, might I add he is absolutely fucking hilarious! He hams his performance up just right, and his angry outbursts make for great comedy. Somebody, make a movie about anger management and cast Michael Shannon! While not as good as Run Lola Run, I think a Premium Rush/Run Lola Run double bill would be a lot of fun.

5. Sinister ****1/2 (out of 5)

After a very impressive horror movie debut with Exorcism of Emily Rose, and an even more impressive follow up with Sinister, director Scott Derrickson truly is the name to look out for in the horror genre. If Sinister is not him in his prime and he ends up making an even better horror movie in the future...who knows, there's a good chance that movie will end up #1 on my top 10 list of whatever year that movie comes out. I'm getting totally off topic here, enough of this bullshit tangeant.

Yes, it's not the most original movie, it does resort to a fair amount of horror cliches, and it's not as original as The Cabin in the Woods. However, Sinister is simply horror movie filmmaking at its best. This is the best horror I've seen since The Descent, and it takes a massive demonic shit all over every other haunted house horror. 

Sinister tells a fascinating horror story that is really dark, fucked up, and surprisingly uncompromising, and it also uses the found footage approach intelligently and never comes off contrived (most horror movies use it in a ridiculous way...who the fuck would still be holding a camera when being chased by a ghost?). What would you do if you moved into a house, found a box of films which were footage of the camera man murdering people in different, brutal, fucked up ways? I think there were 5 different films, and they get increasingly more and more fucked up.

Sinister most strongly succeeds at doing what horror movies should set out to do, which is to scare people. Very few horrors have held me in suspense, made my heart pound like a motherfucker (this was seriously the best simile I can come up with) and delivered phenomenal pop ups that are a lot more than just loud sounds in quiet moments. Yes, some may argue that pop ups are not that difficult, but when they stay in your memory well after the movie's over, then you know the filmmaker has done something right. Mark my words, Scott Derrickson will be known as one of the best horror movie directors of this decade.

4. The Impossible ****1/2 (out of 5)

This movie is simply the most visceral experience of any movie this year. The true story of a family's survival in the devastating Tsunami of 2004 that killed over 200,000 people in South Asia is captured in such gritty, realistic, haunting detail.
The movie does such a good job of putting you in the survivors' shoes and experiencing what a daunting ordeal it must have been to be there. While most disaster movies are content on simply having CGI orgies of special effects and cool explosions, The Impossible's tsunami scene is perhaps the most harrowing 10 minutes of any movie this year. Instead of marvelling at cool effects, you can't help but feel nothing but sheer horror. The way the movie's shot makes gives you a more "You are there" feeling than any 3-D movie I saw this year. I think the director of Children of Men would approve of this movie's shooting style.
It's an absolute testament to the director Juan Antonio Bayona filmmaking that the movie can take you on the same emotional roller coaster the real family must have been through. When a character's head pops out of the water, seeing nobody, terrified and feeling hopeless, I felt that hopelessness. When Lucas who assumed that his brothers were dead re-unites with his 2 brothers, and the 3 of them cry tears of joy, I couldn't help but cry my own tears of joy. Before calling me a pussy, I'll just say that weed makes me more emotional. Really though, this may be the biggest tear jerking movie of 2012, but I think it's well earned, and I didn't feel like I was being manipulated by the director. 

Most of all, it's a beautiful movie despite all the carnage and tragedy. It's a movie about a disaster bringing out the best in people. Henry (Ewan McGregor) knows that his two youngest boys are okay, but he has no clue whether his wife (Naomi Watts) or oldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) are alive or dead. His unrelenting search until he finds them is very touching.

Despite Naomi Watts putting on the best performance by far (for the best actress Oscar, it's a really tough call between her and Jessica Chastain), Lucas (the oldest son) is the most fascinating character, and the person who grows and matures the most out of the whole ordeal. The scenes of him running around the hospital and helping parents find their kids are really touching and you can't help but believe that this person will grow up into a truly amazing human being and maybe change the world for the better.

I watched Life of Pi a few days after this one, and Pi really came off as such an underwhelming movie in comparison that left me feeling...really nothing at the end. Maybe I would have liked it more had I not seen The Impossible a few days before? The Impossible is a movie I have to urge everyone to go see in a theatre unless you have totally bad ass home theatre with surround sound. Out of every movie that's out right now, this is the one that you must watch in the theatre. Do it!!

3. Stories We Tell ****1/2 (out of 5)

Note: This movie was only released in Canada last year. I hear that it will eventually get a release in the U.S hopefully this year.

Sarah Polley truly is one of Canada's most talented directors. Away From Her and Take This Waltz are both very good in their own ways, but this documentary Sarah Polley made about her own life and the shocking family revelations she discovered late in her adult years is easily her best work; it's fascinating, very moving, and some of what she uncovers about her own family is some crazy ass shit. This low key documentary has more twists than an M. Night Shyamalan movie, the key difference being that the twists in this movie are actually good. This documentary is a big jigsaw puzzle that slowly gets assembled piece by piece, little bits of information here and there being assembled to form the big story. Movie critic Eli Glasner called it the Rashomon of home movies. For how self reflexive the movie is and how much of the filmmaking process is mentioned within all the family drama, I'd maybe call this the ADAPTATION of documentaries (I'm referring to the brilliant Charlie Kaufman written movie starring Nicolas Cage where Kaufman writes himself into the movie, showing the agonizing process of writing the movie that you are watching). There's so much going on in the movie that it really had potential to fall into massive clusterfuck territory, but it manages to stay organized despite so many different ideas being explored. In fact, this review is probably more clusterfucked than the movie itself. On a deeper level, I'll quote Eli Glasner's review, "The film is about all of us: how we remember, how we self-edit our own lives and what gaps in the narrative say about us." Here's his review if you want to read it:
This is the best movie to come out of Canada in quite a long time. I went in to the theatre not all that excited, worried that it might be slow and kind of boring; documentaries in general just don't excite me hence why I've never stepped foot in Hotdocs. However, close to the end of the movie, I didn't want it to end. I could have spent 3 hours with Sarah Polley's extremely fascinating, insightful, and really intelligent family. Seriously...every single person in Sarah's family is fucking's no wonder why she herself turned into a brilliant filmmaker.

I knew walking into the movie that Sarah Polley's mother died when Sarah was just a kid and that Sarah later learned that her mother had an affair. She also learned that her father is actually not her biological dad (the fucked up part being that her father has no clue about this at all, and we get the scene where Sarah spills the beans to her dad). The dad's reaction and reflection about the whole thing and the way he puts it all into perspective is truly the most beautiful part of the movie. Or how about the scene where...okay, maybe I should end it there. There's quite a few more revelations that I just shouldn't give away.

One thing I've always liked about being in the arts, whether you're a director, author, screenwriter, an emo band, can take the pain in your life and turn it into art, and sometimes the best art possible. Sarah Polley has taken a massive clusterfuck of shocking revelations and conflicting emotions and turned it into one of the best documentaries I've ever seen with far more emotional resonance than any of her fiction movies (which is a huge compliment, seeing that her movies are fucking good). Despite all the tears that are shed, the confusion, and interpersonal conflicts, Stories We Tell is full of comedic moments that come from the sadness (Sarah Polley's dad breaking down crying from one her questions then criticizing her for being a ruthless filmmaker is fucking hilarious!), and overall ends on an upbeat note. This may be quite a tear jerking movie, but I think you'll finish the movie feeling uplifted. It's a really beautiful movie.

2. The Raid: Redemption ****1/2 (out of 5)

My pick for #2 is not only the weakest script of my top 10, but also has the shittiest plot. Those shortcomings however are incredibly minor with action scenes that are this good! Best martial arts movie of all time? I think so! While I wouldn't go so far as to call this the best action movie of all time, I sure as hell wouldn't argue with anyone who did.

This was probably the most fun movie to watch with a big audience of people laughing, cringing, and screaming, "Holy shit!" at so many gruesomely violent moments, or just martial arts moves that were so fucking bad ass. I love how the movie progresses...first the plot is explained in the first 2 minutes of the movie. A bunch of cops are trapped in a building full of a myriad number of cold blooded gangsters with machine guns and awesome martial arts skills. BAM. That's all you need.

Then there's lots of cool gun fights (including a close up shot of one guy getting shot in the face like 4 fucking times), followed by people getting fucked up by machetes, then the majority of the movie being totally bad ass hand to hand combat (very well filmed and choreographed), with a certain someone's throat being sliced by the broken glass of a light bulb along the way, or the protagonist grabbing someone by the head, jumping backwards and impaling his throat with the bottom of a door frame. It's nice when every single actor in the movie is an awesome martial artist as opposed to Jet Li kicking the shit out of a bunch of jobbers who look like they'd lose a fight to your average street thug or pimp.

The award for the most bad ass henchman of all time goes to this movie. We get a villain who puts a gun to a cop's head, leads him into a room, empties the bullets out of a gun and makes a speech about how guns are boring and murdering people with his hands is way more fun. That villain later on tortures the protagonist's brother, and when the protagonist comes in to save the day, what does he do? He unchains the brother and decides to fight both guys at the same time. That leads to maybe one of the best fight scenes of all time. (Though if I have a minor nitpick, these guys really outta learn some basic Brazilian jiu-jitsu. There were like so many arm triangle opportunities they never jumped on.)

Yes, call me a philistine for picking this as #2. Being the best martial arts movie ever...I think that deserves a very high spot in an end of the year top 10. For those who haven't seen the movie yet, here's one fight favorite part is definitely around the 1:43 mark.

The Oscars suck for not giving this movie a best foreign film nomination. Okay, maybe the script sucked and the movie had no substance, but I think martial arts choreography this good is more impressive than watching an old woman slowly die in Amour and the husband being all like, "Oh shit!! What do I do?!?!"

1. The Grey ***** (out or 5)

I saw this movie in the theatre back in February and when I walked out, I was almost 100% sure that this would be my #1 at the end of the year. If I was a critic who's opinion mattered, I would have done a Gene Siskel type quote saying, "You won't see a better movie this year" (trivia: What movie in the 90s did Gene Siskel say that for?)
Talk about a movie absolutely transcending expectations...I thought I was walking into a movie about Liam Neeson karate kicking wolves in the face...directed by the same dude who did directed the incredibly stupid and lame A-Team re-make...forgive me for having low expecations. What I got was an intense, emotionally powerful, and surprisingly deep, existential, thought provoking, and poetic movie about coming to terms with death, and what truly matters in life. To quote Wael Khairy's review, "The Grey explores man's most frightening questions, the reason we're on this planet, if there's an afterlife or if "dead is dead". What makes this film so scary to me aren't the wolves, but the fact that it encapsulates so much of what we fear as human beings, our fear of heights, flights, drowning or dying alone."

For film nerds out there who saw the movie, I recommend reading this analysis by Wael Khairy. It analyzes the movie's subtext really well, bringing up points I had never thought of, but really seem to make sense. I hope that one day my film criticism writing will be as smart and well written as this dude's:

This is not to say that The Grey is some slow paced art film. What makes it so good is that it works on every level it tries to achieve; as an entertaining survival action thriller, as a comedy (it's not a comedy, but it has some really funny moments), and a movie with really powerful drama that also leaves a lot of room for debate and interpretation. This movie needs to be studied and dissected in film schools. The movie is packed with action and horror, and the wolves are some scary, menacing motherfuckers. The completey dark shots with the wolves' eyes glowing are haunting.

The Grey also gives us 3 dimensional characters with very different personalities and differing ideologies on life. Due to the fact that the movie does take its time to develop its characters, it makes the audience actually care whether each person lives and dies, and it also makes the deaths far more dramatic than your average survival movie. 90% of survival movies out there, do we really give a shit if the characters live or die?

The way that this movie sidesteps cliches is also very nice. There's one character Diaz who's a wannabe tough guy, constantly giving Ottway (Liam Neeson) a hard time. Most survival movies would have had Diaz being the protagonist's antagonistic force, or the guy who eventually becomes the villain, putting everyone's lives in danger. That's at least what I predicted would happen, but The Grey is too good for that, and the direction they go with Diaz's character at the end absolutely blew me away; I hate to over-use the word poetic, but it really is.

I hate to keep shit all over cliches, but one annoying cliche is that the protagonist of every survival movie must be absolutely fearless in the face of the most horrifying danger. I love the way The Grey looks at his notion of masculinity, and this dialogue that the protagonist Ottway has with Diaz is brilliant. Thanks again to Wael Khairy's review:

Diaz: Cause I wanna live, motherfucker. Do you understand that? I don't want some Timberwolf shittin' me out on this mountain.
Ottway: You're scared.
Diaz: What?
Ottway: You don't need all that nonsense, all that chest puff bullshit. What's wrong with being scared?
Diaz: I'm not scared.
Ottway: You're not?
Diaz: No.
Ottway: I'm terrified.
Diaz: I can tell.
Ottway: And not an ounce of shame in saying it. I'm scared shitless.
Diaz: That's because you're a punk. I don't walk through this world with fear in my heart.
Ottway: You pick that up in the pen? Somebody scribble that in the day room wall?
Diaz: You better take it easy, motherfucker.
Ottway: Talking tough means jackshit now. You're not scared? You're a fool. Worse, you're a fucking liar.

I'm not sure how else to approach this review? Should I mention individual powerful moments? After the plane crash, Ottway (Liam Neeson) walks around the wreckage, seeing dead bodies everywhere and finds a man who's on the verge of dying. He's lost a lot of blood, and he's in tears. Ottway sits with him, looks him in the eyes and says, "Here's what's happening. You are going to die." He then talks him through the death, asking him who he loves the most, the man's answer being his daughter, and Ottway calmly tells him to think about his daughter and let her take him away, leading him to a peaceful death. This is the single most powerful scene in a very long time and one that I will never forget.

This is not only Liam Neeson's best performance ever, but easily the best performance of this year, and it baffles me how the Oscars and Globes ignored his performance. The image that still haunts me is the opening 10 minutes when we see Liam Neeson walk out into the cold and stick a gun into his mouth (pretty morbid way to begin a movie). We see the face of someone who's life is completely void of any kind of joy and how ironic it is that the movie ends with this suicidal man with nothing, fighting for his life.

There have been a lot of stupid complaints about the movie, the most obvious one being the unrealistic depiction of wolves as savages. THE MOVIE IS NOT ABOUT THE WOLVES, MOTHERFUCKERS!! The wolves are simply devices to ask a lot of philosophical questions. At the theatre I was at, one guy screamed, "Bullshit!" at the ambiguous ending. That person clearly didn't get the point of the movie. If you understand the movie's subtext, the ending is perfect. The Grey is the most criminally under-rated movie of the past few years, and hopefully what happened to The Shawshank Redemption years after its underwhelming theatrical reception will happen to The Grey.


best stoner movie of 2012:
(this movie has to be seen in HD. Don't settle for a DVD. If you have to bring a blu ray disc to someone else's house because you don't have a blu ray player, then do it. Maybe offer to bring the weed/shrooms/LSD for that night. If you could watch the movie with a buddhist that might increase your mind trip even more. I was watching it really stoned, and my buddhist dad walked in and explained certain buddhist philosophies for certain scenes, and added to my head trip. Just watch the trailer and you'll understand the movie's trippyness:

Best ending to a movie:
No huge stand outs this year...I think I'll go with Zero Dark Thirty. No, not Bin Laden dying, but the way the movie concludes the story of the protagonist. What's next for her when Bin Laden pretty much became her life?

Best 3-D:
I'm not going to give it to any movie as I was not really impressed with any movie's 3-D this year. I'll just give to one scene in Life of Pi when Pi trips crazy balls. That was awesome in 3-D. Why couldn't the rest of the movie's 3-D be that awesome?

Most Intense do it yourself abortion scene of all time:
Prometheus. That was some crazy ass shit. This was no do it yourself coat hanger abortion like in American Horror Story, she had to use some really complex machinery to get a fucking alien out of her womb. That's probably the only thing I remember about the movie. This is one abortion case that I sure hope Republicans would be okay with, but who can really understand the brains of those batshit crazy people.

Biggest tear jerking movie of the year:
The Impossible

Best performance of the year:
By far Liam Neeson in The Grey. How he didn't get nominated by the Oscars or The Globes...I don't fucking know.

Best villain:
Michael Shannon in Premium Rush

Best duo:
Easy choice: Jake Gyllenhall and Michael Pena in End of Watch. Their camerederie is really what makes the movie. Probably my favorite duo of any cop movie.

Best Documentary:
Stories We tell...though it might be the only doc I saw this year, so maybe it's not fair, but fuck it! We need to support Canadian cinema damnit!

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