The 2012 List

A list of all of the films I saw in 2012, in order of preference.
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1.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out to find them. (94 mins.)
Director: Wes Anderson
“ Moonrise Kingdom was the best movie I saw all year because it was the only one that genuinely surprised me. I already had high expectations for it long before it came out. I love Wes Anderson. I think he’s the best filmmaker in the business today. Moonrise Kingdom is a step up for him.

The basic premise of the movie, which was already old news for fans when the film was released in the spring, is that two young children escape from their respective summer retreats and elope on a prepubescent love affair while their community bands together to find them. This, however, barely scratches the surface of the sometimes poignant and sometimes shocking twists the film takes along the way. The material is perfectly suited to Wes Anderson, who has spent his entire career chronicling childlike adults in grown-up situations and finally gets the chance to tell a story from the perspective of actual children. The innocent romance between the child protagonists, while still firmly rooted in Anderson’s inimitable deadpan style, is so simple and direct that it makes most conventional screen romances look like major contrivances by comparison. As they attempt to find their place in a world controlled by adults who are too wrapped up in their own issues to even bother trying to understand them, we are treated to the clearest and accessible exploration of themes that have been brewing in Anderson’s films from the beginning.

While the emotional fulcrum of Moonrise Kingdom is the kids, its backbone is the adult characters, played by an honest-to-god dream cast including Anderson regulars like Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman as well as previously neglected faces like Edward Norton (whose soft-spoken mannerisms and boyish looks fit into Anderson’s distinctive worldview like a glove), Harvey Keitel (old and curmudgeonly, but still vital), Frances McDormand (again playing the overbearing mother figure she perfected in Almost Famous) and Tilda Swinton (as the hilariously nameless “Social Services”). Bruce Willis, as the kindhearted and lonely police captain in charge of the search, is arguably the most impressive addition to the cast, bringing unprecedented sensitivity and warmth to the film in a role that plays off of the absurdities of his aging tough guy typecast. Together, they fashion a universe in which the adults are evidently just as immature and confused as the children that they pretend not to understand: a paradox which drives the film to its heartwarming conclusion.

Although it is as timeless as any of Anderson’s pictures, Moonrise Kingdom boldly embodies the spirit of the sixties with its Goddardian tone of youthful rebellion, gorgeously colourful visuals and whimsical score, which incorporates several vintage Hank Williams recordings. Unlike the many other films that have tried to duplicate the look and feel of this misunderstood era, Moonrise Kingdom is not burdened by the inevitability that the naïve, virginal optimism of the hippie dream would eventually crumble, as history would tell. It is a fairy tale to its core and carries not a whiff of cynicism. That’s not to say that the story is lightweight: that could not be further from the truth. It can be as dark, twisted, subversive and dramatic as an “art film” but, as only Wes Anderson can do, it has the decency to go about its business with utmost sincerity, humour and faithfulness to itself. ” - gagekdiabo
 
2.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own. (122 mins.)
“ Silver Linings Playbook walks such a thin line between intelligent dramatic comedy and feel-good schlock that I almost feel guilty for so thoroughly admiring it. That it never quite degenerates into First World Problems: The Movie, starring Various Attractive White People, is largely due to two saving graces: the script and the performances. David O. Russell’s adapted screenplay skillfully balances bad taste, irreverence, poignancy and soul to tell a story that is not simply about affluent people with superficial problems (in the style of, say, every Woody Allen movie), but explores living, breathing individuals with deeper torments and the avenues they take to make sense of them. It does not romanticize, trivialize or mock mental illness, although it certainly invites us to laugh along with its many characters who suffer from it. It does not just aim to uplift the audience momentarily and leave them blueballed as they leave the theatre, but to establish an intimate understanding of its characters and the means of their triumph. It is a film about something, which all I really ask for when I buy a ticket at the box office.

The performances, giving even The Master a run for its money, are impeccable and really elevate the film to first-rate status. Bradley Cooper (who, as it turns out, is not such a pretty-boy after all) plays Pat, a man whose bipolar disorder was brought to a head by his wife’s infidelities and resulted in a series of violent episodes, as he is released from a mental hospital and moves in with his parents. He has an incredible knack for invariably saying the wrong things at the wrong times, remains pathetically driven by delusions of reactivating his former life and, somehow, never grows on our nerves. Jennifer Lawrence, who steals the entire movie, plays Tiffany, a twenty one-year old widow, borderline nymphomaniac and aspiring dancer. She, like Cooper, revels in verbal effrontery and aggressive social awkwardness, but always seems to be in complete control of the situation whenever she appears onscreen. And then there’s Robert De Niro, back in the saddle once more, playing Pat Sr., who is also prone to violence (we are repeatedly reminded that he was banned from the Eagles’ stadium for starting one brawl too many), frivolous gambling (which sets up the film’s surprisingly tense climax), obsessive organizational habits and irrational superstitions. There are, to my minor annoyance, the obligatory Oscar-bait moments but, in the beautiful whole of the film, I was left profoundly impressed all around. In less steady hands, this kind of story could have very easily inspired disgust and contempt for its characters and their actions. Instead, like just about everybody else who has seen it, I was swept up in its charm. ” - gagekdiabo
 
3.
The Master (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
A Naval veteran arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future - until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader. (138 mins.)
“ I find it immeasurably silly that the one common complaint against Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, The Master, is that it doesn’t tell the audience what to think or how to feel. Is that not the entire point to art cinema: to challenge the audience and defy mere rationality? Even if it is especially difficult to wrap one’s head around The Master at first, it is still very easy to appreciate its genius on a strictly formal level. There are two impossibly great performances right at the core of this film and the fiery interplay between the two is one its finest achievements. There is Joaquin Phoenix, in his first acting role in years, as Freddie Quell, a shell-shocked, *beep* insane raving alcoholic sociopathic sex addict who, by pure fluke, finds himself taken in by a Scientology-esque cult. His mentor and, in a way, only friend is Lancaster Dodd, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a mix of L. Ron Hubbard and Charles Foster Kane, who has the unique ability to effectively seduce and brainwash people in need of meaning and acceptance like Freddie. Paul Thomas Anderson, building on the cinematic mastery displayed in 2008’s There Will Be Blood, frames these two in a beautiful 1950s setting, shot on crystal clear 65mm film stock and with an unparalleled eye for composition that feeds off of the actors’ intensity rather than confines it.

What, then, does The Master mean? I don’t pretend to know for sure, but my best guess is that it confronts the seductive allure of organized religion or, more specifically, modern cults. We see Freddie float around after the war in a meaningless existence, lacking acceptance from anybody. He tries to settle into a job as a department store photographer, but gets a bigger kick out of pretending to make love to a woman-shaped sandcastle on the beach and drinking his photo chemicals for a cheap high. Enter Dobbs, whose charisma, way with women (in one crucial scene, Freddie watches Dobbs sing and dance before a crowd, imagining all of the women in the room buck naked before him) and, most importantly, aura of unequivocal acceptance draw Freddie in and transform him into a die-hard devotee, in spite of the fact that we never once get a sense that Freddie really understands or even cares about the workings of the cult. The clincher comes right at the end of the film, when Freddie, liberated of Dobbs’ influence once and for all, naively attempts to use some of Dobbs’ brainwashing tactics on a girl he has just taken to bed. In the end, he’s still stuck on the beach, lying next to that sandcastle woman. To Freddie, the whole thing was a seduction, strictly a matter of sex. Paul Thomas Anderson may insist that there is no homoerotic subtext in The Master, but he’s not kidding anyone. ” - gagekdiabo
 
4.
A Separation (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
A married couple are faced with a difficult decision - to improve the life of their child by moving to another country or to stay in Iran and look after a deteriorating parent who has Alzheimer's disease. (123 mins.)
Director: Asghar Farhadi
“ It took the winner of the 2011 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film until February of 2012 to make it to Montreal, so I feel obligated to belatedly include it on this list. I had an interesting conversation with a classmate about the fanfare surrounding this film back when it won the award. She, who had not seen it the time, hypothesized that the Academy had only given the award to this film, which hails from Iran, for diplomatic purposes. Well, on top of the fact that it seems downright absurd that something as ephemeral as an Academy Award could serve any significant function at the level of international diplomacy, I had to correct her by calmly pointing out that A Separation is indeed a brilliant movie in its own right. So good that it’s been compared to Hitchcock, and rightly so.

It’s difficult to summarize, but it takes Hitchcock’s beloved Wrongfully Accused Hero plot to new heights. An Iranian couple decide to undergo a divorce because the husband refuses to flee the country and seek better opportunities abroad because he needs to care for his senile father. When she packs up and leaves, he hires a maid, who is pregnant. A misunderstanding over some misplaced money leads to a minor scuffle, after which the maid suspiciously suffers a miscarriage. The husband is thus blamed for murdering the unborn child and is forced to prove his innocence. Added to this intense drama are the looming complexities of Islamic law, tensions between religious fundamentalism and modernity, familial conflicts and fuel for the already heated debates over the rights of unborn children. All of this still doesn’t even begin to describe how exceptional this film is, however. I know I use this metaphor far too often, but A Separation honestly left me feeling like I’d taken a punch to the stomach. In a good way. A very good way. What a fantastic film! ” - gagekdiabo
 
5.
Argo (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
Acting under the cover of a Hollywood producer scouting a location for a science fiction film, a CIA agent launches a dangerous operation to rescue six Americans in Tehran during the U.S. hostage crisis in Iran in 1980. (120 mins.)
Director: Ben Affleck
“ Oh, Argo. Not since The Dark Knight can I recall a film that received such universally enthusiastic praise as this. Like Skyfall, Argo is a film that accomplishes what it sets out to achieve perfectly and I’d be hard-pressed to find anything bad to say about it (that doesn’t involve politics). It is not an art film and never tries to be. It is an excellent old-school Hollywood thriller with a plot that would have sounded preposterous if it hadn’t been true. When Iranian extremists took over the American embassy in 1979, a handful of employees managed to escape and found shelter with the Canadian ambassador. The CIA and Canadian embassy then conspired to sneak them out of Iran by posing them as a group of filmmakers scouting locations for a Star Wars-esque mockbuster titled Argo. An Academy Award-winning makeup artist, John Chambers, was in on it, pulling the strings from Hollywood to make the fake movie seem legitimate. You couldn’t make this up if you tried.

Personally, I was most impressed by how Affleck translated the story to film using all of the tricks and rhetorical devices of the cinematic medium to their fullest potential. All of the scenes taking place in Iran, for instance, are shot on disgustingly grainy film stock, while all of the Hollywood sequences seem crystal clear and bright by contrast. According to the IMDB, this was accomplished by blowing up the Iranian scenes to twice their normal size in the optical lab to amplify the graininess to an almost histrionic level. Steven Soderbergh may have popularized the colour-coding gimmick with Traffic, but Affleck takes the same idea here and applies so subtly and atmospherically that it really gets under your skin and ramps up the tension.

That said, it should go without saying that the film greatly exaggerates and manipulates many historical aspects for the benefit of the narrative. Canadians will be annoyed by how callow and ineffectual they are made to look in the film. Iranians will be annoyed by how they are portrayed as an undifferentiated mob of angry brown people throughout the entirety of the film (this should be shown on a double bill with A Separation, just to make sure that no idiots get the wrong idea about the average Iran). Hispanic-Americans will be annoyed that Affleck chose to cast himself in the lead role as Tony Mendes, despite going to absurd lengths to ensure that all of the other actors look exactly like their real-life counterparts. Also, would you really be surprised if I told you that the climactic escape is a complete fabrication? Surely nothing in real life is that heart-pounding to such a calculated, meticulously-timed degree, even in a story about a fake sci-fi movie saving the world. In the midst of things, however, none of this registers. Argo is what might be called a perfect film, if only in the heat of the moment before the politics have time to sink in. ” - gagekdiabo
 
6.
Skyfall (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
Bond's loyalty to M is tested when her past comes back to haunt her. When MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost. (143 mins.)
Director: Sam Mendes
“ There is precious little that can be said against Skyfall’s favour. It is, believe it or not, a perfect example of what it sets out to be: a smart, complex and celebratory popcorn flick. The only thing that works against is, ironically, a large part of what makes it so much fun for a snobbish film brat such as I: it is ingeniously derivative to the point where you can literally keep a running list of references and borrowings from other movies. Shall I count the ways? The villain, played by Javier Bardem, is clearly channeling not only Heath Ledger’s Joker but also residues of his own Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men, James Cagney in White Heat and, hell, every campy supervillain the genre’s spawned over the last fifty years. The early scene of a recuperating Bond failing a marksmanship test is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s rusty attempt at target practice in Unforgiven. The chase through the London Underground and into the sewers is ripped straight out of The Third Man and, since we’re on the topic of Orson Welles, the shootout with the multiple reflections in a network of mirrors is a throwback to the iconic climax of The Lady from Shanghai. The return to Bond’s derelict childhood abode, with its dingy gothic interiors and fog-filtered light streaming from every window, and the heart-stopping dive through thin ice are ostensibly taken from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One, of all things. In its final act, Skyfall even falls momentarily into Home Alone mode, with Judi Dench rigging up the titular mansion with explosive booby traps to blow faceless bad guys to smithereens. Of course, it must be said that all of this adds up to arguably the freshest and most entertaining blockbuster of the year (yes, even more than The Avengers) but it does beg the question: can a film be this blatantly derivative and still be taken seriously? I, for one, would like to think of Skyfall as one big, self-referential celebration of Hollywood, new and old. The answer, in that case, is yes. ” - gagekdiabo
 
7.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L.s Team 6 in May 2011. (157 mins.)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
 
8.
Lincoln (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
As the War continues to rage, America's president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves. (150 mins.)
“ Stephen Spielberg’s outspoken worship of Stanley Kubrick has often been looked upon with cynicism given the former’s penchant for churning out saccharine, easily-digestible crowd-pleasers (even Kubrick himself allegedly took a jab at Spielberg around the time of Shindler’s List, alluding that Spielberg’s idiosyncratic approach did not do justice to the inhumanity of the Holocaust), but I would argue that, with Lincoln, Spielberg does indeed reach a level of visual mastery comparable to his idol. Lincoln is a drop-dead gorgeous movie. I’m talking Barry Lyndon-level gorgeous. The “money shots” are too numerous to count while even the more mundane set-ups and cornball Spielburgian moments have an eerily flawless glow about them. That much cannot be ignored.

Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance, his latest in a long line of monumental feats in method acting, is a very pronounced step back from the uninhibited histrionics of Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. You would think that the balance of the film would hang on this performance but, oddly enough, Spielberg allows Day-Lewis to almost shrink into the background throughout much of the movie. Day-Lewis’ Abraham Lincoln is humble in the sense that Willem Dafoe’s Jesus was humble in The Last Temptation of Christ: in each case, the actors float between a sort of imposing, superhuman presence and earthy naturalism. Here, Lincoln speaks in a reedy, Walter Brennen-esque whisper and makes little attempt to hide his shriveled-up and fragile appearance. He also doesn’t seem to do very much: much of the political dirty work is handed down to shadier muscle men and scenery-chewing congressmen. All the same, whenever Day-Lewis opens his mouth, everybody stops and listens to what he has to say (my girlfriend, upon leaving the theatre with me, was quick to comment that she could listen to him talk all day long). I wouldn’t go so far to lump this incarnation of Lincoln with the gaggle of postmodern deconstructions we’ve seen in recent years (in a time where every legendary character from Robin Hood to James Bond has to be rebranded as raw and edgy), but Day-Lewis’ expectedly unparalleled work in the film is certainly a welcome departure, if a tad on the muted side.

For me, it is actually Tommy Lee Jones who makes the biggest impression. Combined with the very witty and accessible screenplay by Tony Kushner, Tommy Lee Jones actually manages to make American politics seem incredibly badass. As Thadeus Stevens (with his trademark hideous black wig), he hurls brilliantly sarcastic and eloquent insults at his opponents and struts around the House of Representatives like an aging rock star working a stadium. He even hijacks the official written bill for the 13th Amendment so he can impress his wife in the sack. If Lincoln should be remembered for any one accomplishment, even with its gorgeous cinematography and solid ensemble cast, it would have to be its ability to take the stigma of stuffiness that has coloured the image of American politics and turn it on its head by making it look like a hell of a lot of fun. ” - gagekdiabo
 
9.
Django Unchained (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
With the help of a German bounty hunter, a freed slave sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner. (165 mins.)
“ The biggest question on everybody’s mind was would Django Unchained, a Western epic by the notorious Quentin Tarantino about slavery in the American South, by offensive and tasteless? Spike Lee assumed so, even proclaiming to have no intention of seeing the film, saying something to the effect that “slavery was not a Sergio Leone spaghetti western”. The answer, I am happy to say, is no, it is not offensive. As a matter of fact, it probably the most effective film about racism since Blazing Saddles. Yes, Django Unchained is shockingly brutal in its depiction of violence committed against the slaves and subsequently takes great delight in giving the perpetrators their just-desserts, but it is not in any way offensive to the victims. Brutality is what needed to be shown in order to do justice to the brutality of the era; to soften or sugarcoat it in any way would have been the greater offense. Besides, what we are dealing with here is a satire by a firecracker director like Tarantino, not a starchy historical piece like Lincoln. Whoever decides to take this blood-and-guts opus seriously deserves whatever dissatisfaction they get.

The second biggest question on everybody’s mind was could Django Unchained live up to Tarantino’s usual standards? Although it is certainly not his best work and is not without some major flaws, the answer again is yes. What Tarantino does best is leave the audience satisfied and he does not disappoint here. Once again, he picks on any easy target that will push any decent person’s buttons: the slave masters of the old American South. The hero is Django, played with panache and smouldering intensity by Jamie Foxx, who rises to the occasion in a lofty and complex role with flying colours. His mentor is Dr. King Schultz, a role tailor-made for the smug, toothy charm of Christoph Waltz, cast against type as the enlightened sympathizing good guy cum cold-blooded killer. Most surprisingly of all, their villain is Calvin J. Candie, played by, of all actors, Leonardo DiCaprio. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d ever find DiCaprio remotely scary and yet, there he is, practically making me soil myself in terror. Applause is no doubt in order for the man. The icing on the cake for any lover of Western films, especially spaghetti westerns, is the abundance of in-jokes and homages to the classics of the genre. There are appearances by Eli Wallach, Russ Tamblyn, one of the Carradine brothers, Bruce Dern, Michael Parks and, of course, Franco Nero, the original Django (there is even a sly joke about DiCaprio being a “Francophile” during their scene together). Visual quotes from spaghetti westerns past, from Sergio Leone’s whiplashing zooms to an homage to Jack Palance’s death by bullet-through-the-lapel-flower in The Mercenary, are peppered throughout. And, last but not least, there are buckets upon buckets of blood.

The third biggest question on everybody’s mind was how would Tarantino fare without the dependably steady hands of his longtime editor, the late Sally Menke? The answer, sadly, is not very well. The script, acting and cinematography are all impeccable as usual but the post-production work, while still impressive, are not up to the same standard. Oddly enough for Tarantino, the idiosyncratically anachronistic soundtrack was actually more distracting that it was hip and ironic. Even the revival of the schmaltzy theme from Sergio Corbucci’s Django just didn’t seem to fit, as inevitable as it seemed in this new context. The pacing, too, was definitely weak. Rumour has it that Tarantino had a five-hour version prepared and was advised to split the film into two parts, like with Kill Bill and god knows how many other overblown literary adaptations these days, but instead worked to pare the film down to a “manageable” two hours and forty-five minutes. While it does seem at many times to be jarringly abbreviated, the awkward pacing really made you feel every one of those hundred and sixty-odd minutes, especially in the final act, where a couple of key characters are killed off a tad prematurely. Where the film does benefit from its length is in building suspense. Tarantino, who once expressed a fear that he would never excel at creating suspense, has proven himself a true master by elevating his usual drawn-out, dialogue-heavy sequences to sweaty, painfully intense heart-stoppers. There, at the very least, the man deserves credit. In the meantime, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the director’s cut that’s been hinted at in the sewing circles: only then will we know how Django Unchained was meant to hold up in all of its bloody, satirical and satisfying glory. ” - gagekdiabo
 
10.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
Faced with both her hot-tempered father's fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love. (93 mins.)
Director: Benh Zeitlin
“ As far as critical darlings go, Beasts of the Southern Wild was the film to see this year. It’s a Terence Malick-esque fantasy rooted in the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina (or, at least, that’s what everybody projects onto it) told through the eyes of an earthy, spunky little girl. She lives with her borderline abusive father in what can only be described as a junkyard-cum-treehouse community at least six feet below the poverty line. Along with her equally resilient and colourful neighbours, she finds pleasures in the simple things in life and bravely trudges on as her home is torn apart by the hurricane and her father falls terminally ill. There are also, in one of the film’s more pretentious touches, giant terrifying wild boars rampaging through the bayou. It should go without saying that they’re symbolic, but of what, I leave you to decide. It is a very sweet film with some shocking and gorgeous visuals, and it really does pull at the heartstrings more than a few times throughout its brief ninety three-minute running time. Like Life of Pi, it is an experience that must be taken in and digested. It features unknown actors, including Quvenzhané Wallis as the little girl, Hushpuppy (a truly badass name, if I might add!), and Dwight Henry (a local baker, hired by the filmmakers for his visceral rawness) as her father, and was directed by Behn Zeitlin, a first-time director. Beasts of the Southern Wild, in its very existence, is a miracle of filmmaking and stands in a league of its own, defying all description and categorization. No wonder the critics are tripping over themselves because of it. ” - gagekdiabo
 
11.
Life of Pi (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
A young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor: a fearsome Bengal tiger. (127 mins.)
Director: Ang Lee
“ I would like to make it perfectly clear from the onset that I loathe 3D. As such, I very much resent having been obligated to view Life of Pi in the format and have spent the intervening weeks wondering whether I would have enjoyed it more if I had not spent half the film trying to take my mind off the frustrating feeling that I was looking at a bunch of cardboard cut-outs in a pop-up book. Contrary to what the filmmakers (and some of the critics) have insisted, I do not see how this film allegedly needed to be experienced in 3D. Sure, there were a handful of interesting underwater effects and the obligatory flying objects popping off the screen, but I sincerely fail to see the point of charging me an extra four dollars just so I can experience the (dis)pleasure of straining my eyes for over two hours.

That said, Life of Pi is a certainly an important film; one that will most definitely be revisited and discussed as the years go by. I shouldn’t have to tell you by now that it involves a shipwrecked Indian boy who finds himself sharing a lifeboat with a bloodthirsty tiger. That alone is interesting enough, and I’m told that many considered the book upon which this is based impossible to bring to the screen. At a narrative level, it is unorthodox. The first hour introduces Pi, a proud Christian-Hindu-Muslim who also teaches a university course on the Talmud (just in case you weren’t entirely certain that the film is about faith). It isn’t particularly special. The second half, which takes place on the lifeboat, is remarkable and the film really takes off from there on out. Despite the bleak premise, it never becomes boring or depressing and, by the time it is over, raises enough questions to keep your mind occupied for at least an hour afterwards. It draws attention to the very nature of storytelling (and, for that matter, filmmaking) itself and forces one to consider how, in essence, religious faith is rooted in storytelling. Some might call these stories far-fetched. Life of Pi does not disagree, but makes the point that they need not add up as long as they feel right. ” - gagekdiabo
 
12.
To Rome with Love (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  
The lives of some visitors and residents of Rome and the romances, adventures and predicaments they get into. (112 mins.)
Director: Woody Allen
“ One of the things people tend to forget is that, like Marshall McLuhan famously suggested, the manner in which you experience something really does have a huge effect on how it registers with you. The fact that I saw Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love as the denouement to one of the happiest days of my life may thus help explain why I seem to have enjoyed it so much more than the majority of viewers (it scores a weak 6.4 among IMDB users and a 54% among critics according to Metacritic). What can I say? I loved the movie. I laughed throughout the entire thing. I enjoyed the ensemble cast and multi-plot anthology format, despite the lack of cohesion or attempt to tie the various narrative strands together. I was overjoyed to see Woody back on the screen, doing the same shtick he’s been doing since the sixties. Never once did it strike me as remotely lackluster, annoying or, God forbid, boring. Perhaps the general lack of enthusiasm has to do with To Rome With Love being the follow-up to Woody’s latest masterpiece and biggest commercial hit to date, last year’s Midnight in Paris. Well, obviously this is not on the same level as Midnight in Paris, but that doesn’t mean it’s automatically poor either. Perhaps the derision could have been deflected had they kept the film’s original title, “The Bop Decameron”, suggesting a jazzed-up, modern take on the classic Italian omnibus tale, rather than the comparatively unassuming “To Rome With Love”, which suggests a weedy romantic comedy (not to mention invoking From Russia With Love, the Bond film from the sixties, as well as From Paris With Love, the John Travolta action film from 2010 that nobody cared about). In any case, To Rome With Love is a wonderful comedy, a great Woody Allen picture and the perfect end to a truly memorable day in my life. ” - gagekdiabo
 
13.
Flight (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
An airline pilot saves almost all his passengers on his malfunctioning airliner which eventually crashed, but an investigation into the accident reveals something troubling. (138 mins.)
Director: Robert Zemeckis
“ Flight, like Hitchcock’s Psycho, is a textbook example of how an ending can make or break a movie. Up until its painfully routine Hollywood ending, in which Denzel Washington dutifully pontificates before a captive audience about the errors of his ways and the joy he feels at being “free” of alcoholism, I was genuinely surprised to see that there was nothing remotely easy or routine about Flight. It tells the semi-fictional story of an airline pilot who is hopelessly addicted to drugs, alcohol and cheap thrills but, when his plane (through no fault of his own) breaks down in mid-flight, manages to prevent a catastrophic crash by flying the plane upside down and gliding down to Earth. Naturally, the fact that he has high on cocaine and was caught chugging vodka during the flight itself raises more than few eyebrows and forces Denzel to confront his demons. It raised numerous questions and offered no conclusive answers to any of them: can there really be acts of God? Is criminal law truly corrupt? Could Denzel’s character honestly be considered a hero? To what extent did his intoxication ultimately play into his miraculous landing of the plane? Is there redemption at the end of the road for a man like this? There were even moments, particularly leading up to the film’s climactic court hearing, when I was even asking myself, “what the hell am I watching?” It took dark and cynical twists that I never could have anticipated. But then… the ending. If I had my way, it would have ended right at the big moment when, with the world watching, he finally admits to himself, “I’m an alcoholic.” A title card at the end could have tied up any loose ends and it would have felt like a punch to the gut and been beautiful. Instead, they had to go all happy-go-lucky and drag it out for another ten minutes, like with that godawful psychiatrist monologue at the end of Psycho. If not for this, we could have had a masterpiece on our hands. God knows we need more of those in this day and age. ” - gagekdiabo
 
14.
Bernie (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
In small-town Texas, an affable mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow, though when she starts to become controlling, he goes to great lengths to separate himself from her grasp. (99 mins.)
“ Director Richard Linklater has always had his finger to the pulse of what’s fresh and hip in the mass media. With Slacker, he parodied the channel-surfing culture of early cable television with a meandering narrative that hopped from aimless conversation to aimless conversation. With Waking Life, he took the budding art of digital rotoscoping and made what many consider a masterpiece. With Bernie, he reteams with Jack Black (after collaborating on School of Rock) to satirize the aesthetics of reality television. Their approach is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The film combines what is revealed to be actual documentary footage of townsfolk who knew the real Bernie Tiede with a reenactment of the incidents leading up to following his killing of Marjorie Nugent. The circumstances of the murder are bizarre, but fascinating: think Sunset Boulevard meets Crime and Punishment, starring Jack Black. Bernie is an all-around nice guy, loved throughout his small-town Texas community, who works in a funeral home and happens to be particularly popular with the little old widows. One of these widows is Marjorie (played by Shirley MacLaine, who is still kicking), the rich bitch to end all rich bitches, who takes a liking to Bernie after her husband’s funeral. For a while, their courtship is genial. Eventually, Marjorie’s unbearably domineering nature takes over once more and Bernie, driven over the edge, murders her with an axe. The twist is that, because he is so universally admired and she is so loathed, the killing goes undetected for months and, when Bernie is inevitably arrested and put on trial, the community refuses to believe Bernie’s guilt and supports his innocence to the bitter end. So do we, for that matter. The magic comes primarily from Jack Black’s performance. His usual over-the-top comic persona can either work in the context of the film (as it does in School of Rock and High Fidelity) or serve as an annoyance. In Bernie, he plays a different kind of character that capitalizes on the strengths and appeals of his persona which, compounded with the documentary aspects of the film, blossom into a fully fleshed-out and loveable character. It’s hard not to fall in love with Jack Black’s Bernie as you watch the movie and, as with the gullible townsfolk, it’s even harder not to take his side when his story takes its unexpectedly dark turn (which I’ve just ruined for you [you’re welcome]). ” - gagekdiabo
 
15.
Killer Joe (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.7/10 X  
When a debt puts a young man's life in danger, he turns to putting a hit out on his evil mother in order to collect the insurance. (102 mins.)
“ Killer Joe is not exactly the kind of movie one wants to admit to liking, let alone considering among the best of the year. To give an idea of what I mean, Killer Joe is the kind of movie that can send little old ladies running screaming from the theatre (which actually happened at the screening I attended). It is gross, violent and populated by a host of sexual deviants, substance abusers, con artists and murderers, all of them insufferable rednecks. It is also fantastically directed and acted. Therein lies the rub, you see. Yes, Killer Joe is unpleasant and makes you want to take a shower after seeing it (and avoid eating fried chicken for a few weeks) but, gosh darn it, that just means it’s just a movie that knows how to push our buttons. Fargo comes to mind, plot-wise and style-wise. It’s about a moronic trailer trash family that decides to have its estranged matriarch murdered in order to collect her life insurance policy and settle some drug debts. The hired murderer is none other than Killer Joe, a corrupt, black leather-clad cop played by Matthew McConaughey, who cashes in on his macho charm and rom-com reputation to create one of the most lovably despicable villains since Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. Matters get complicated when the family, unable to put up Joe’s salary in advance, offers up its barely pubescent daughter as collateral (this, for the record, was about where the little old ladies ran screaming from the theatre) and, once the unfortunate deed is done, it is discovered that there was no insurance policy to begin with, leaving no money to keep Joe at bay. It climaxes in an orgy of blood, guts, cracked skulls and Kentucky Fried Chicken that makes the last act of Hamlet look like an episode of Full House. All of this, despite how it sounds, makes for some terrifically morbid black comedy. If the Cohen brothers or Tarantino had directed it, it would have been trumpeted as the next Fargo or Reservoir Dogs. Directed by William Friedkin, who made his name with The French Connection and The Exorcist before falling into decades of obscurity, it’s probably just going to freak people out and, if all goes well, develop a cult following as the years go by. ” - gagekdiabo
 
16.
Les Misérables (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean, who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert after breaking parole, agrees to care for a factory worker's daughter. The decision changes their lives forever. (158 mins.)
Director: Tom Hooper
 
17.
Looper (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
In 2074, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent into the past, where a hired gun awaits - someone like Joe - who one day learns the mob wants to 'close the loop' by sending back Joe's future self for assassination. (113 mins.)
Director: Rian Johnson
“ There is nothing like a good time travel movie. Looper is a good time travel movie that pushes the boundaries of silliness a bit more that it can get away with. It starts with a refreshing concept, that organized crime in the future uses time travel to dispose of its bodies in the past, creates a positively genius scenario from it, in which one such hit man (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt with a distracting prosthetic face) is faced with having to kill his future self (played by Bruce Willis without a distracting prosthetic face), and then uses it raise questions that transcend the parameters of the genre, introducing a subplot involving the conspiracy to murder a future tyrant while he’s still a baby.

If Looper had stuck to just these core elements, it might have made for some mind-blowing science fiction. Instead, they had to screw up a few things along the way. First, there’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s prosthetic face. Yes, he pulls off the Bruce Willis persona quite well but it’s still annoying to look at, especially when we already know in real-life what Bruce Willis looked like at a younger age. Secondly, there’s the whole business about telekinesis. It’s introduced early in the film as just one of the rules of the game, reoccurs on a few innocuous occasions and, when it does finally become significant, it comes off as so bizarrely out-of-place that you can’t help but laugh and ask yourself “when did this turn into Carrie?” Third, there’s the look of the film. It is evident that the filmmakers were trying to make the future seem like just a dumpier version of the present, but it doesn’t quite work because of the silly ‘futuristic technology’ they try to throw in, like comically oversized pistols (which, if I’m not mistaken, actually exist for some strange reason) and Star Wars-style hovercrafts. The balance between the Alphaville-esque contemporary feel and Trekian outlandishness just wasn’t done well.

Still, there is a lot to commend Looper for. Aside from the awkward insertion of the telekinesis angle, the script is bloody brilliant. The paradoxes of time travel never get in the way, except to provide the film’s bloody brilliant climax (which was unfortunately ruined for me in advance). The situations it generates, like an intense sit-down conversation in a diner between present and future selves culminating in attempted murders of each other, are also bloody brilliant. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, prosthetic face aside, is bloody brilliant, combining Bruce Willis’ action hero swagger with the effortless cynicism of someone like the late William Holden. Bruce Willis himself, cast in a villainous role, is bloody brilliant. He manages to make a man who spends the bulk of movie murdering babies seem implausibly sympathetic. An almost unrecognizable Emily Blunt is bloody brilliant, carrying a shotgun and kicking around Gordon-Levitt all while retaining her maternal softness. And, unlike a certain Batman movie that’s been circulating, it never once got boring. Is that too much to ask? ” - gagekdiabo
 
18.
The Avengers (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
Earth's mightiest heroes must come together and learn to fight as a team if they are going to stop the mischievous Loki and his alien army from enslaving humanity. (143 mins.)
Director: Joss Whedon
“ It’s The Avengers. I shouldn’t need to explain why this movie is awesome. ” - gagekdiabo
 
19.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
A reluctant hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, sets out to the Lonely Mountain with a spirited group of dwarves to reclaim their mountain home, and the gold within it from the dragon Smaug. (169 mins.)
Director: Peter Jackson
“ Having read Tolkien’s The Hobbit way back in the fourth grade, remembering little of it and being only a moderate fan of the Lord of the Rings movies, I did not go into Peter Jackson’s long-awaited The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with as high expectations as many did. As such, I do not see myself in any position to decisively label the film a disappointment or a success. I did indeed like it, but not as much as its predecessors. In its finest moments, of which there were many, I was almost moved to tears as I found my heart filled with the same uninhibited excitement for fantastic adventures I felt as a child seeing Return of the King in the theatre back in 2003. In its weaker moments, of which there were also many, I was struggling to stay awake. Yes, The Hobbit is a mixed bag, but certainly not the monumental disaster that the critics have been quick to dismiss it as.

Martin Freeman, who I was not familiar with prior to this, is phenomenal as the young Bilbo Baggins. A lot of people disliked Elijah Wood’s Frodo for his lack of tenacity; this is not the case for Freeman’s Bilbo. If there is one good reason to come back for two more movies after An Unexpected Journey, it is to soak in more of Freeman’s acting and to see where his character arc will lead to. He hits every note perfectly. He can be prissy and conservative, as he is in the wonderful early establishing sequences, youthful and conflicted, as he is when he runs gleefully through the Shire screaming “I’m going on an adventure!”, witty and headstrong, as in the practically-perfect ‘Riddles in the Dark’ scene with Gollum, and even heroic in his humble, hobbitly way. It is a shame that there isn’t more of him in the movie.

This, of course, brings me to the biggest issue with this film: its lack of consistency. I don’t really remember the novel very well, so I can’t make any claims for or against the studio’s much-debated decision to split the 300-page children-oriented fantasy into a trilogy of epic-length spectacles in the “dark and edgy” idiom that is so popular nowadays. What I can say right away is that An Unexpected Journey is too all-over-the-place for its own good. As merely the sum of its parts, it is just as good - if not better - than The Lord of the Rings films: all of the ingredients are there, only with even more room for the scenes and major characters to breathe. Stacked up against each other, however, they result in a film that is uneven and has no consistency of tone to speak of. One wonders if the filmmakers even had a clear idea of their target audience when they went into production. One minute the dwarves are burping and slamming their heads together like they’re in a Three Stooges short for ten year olds and the next they’re chopping the heads off of terrifying Orcs, goblins and wolves with blood and guts aplenty. One minute we’re watching a ridiculous and pointless battle between giant rock monsters and the next we’re forced to sit through a painfully slow all-star conference between Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman which wasn’t even in the book. It’s as if they couldn’t decide whether to adhere to the simple, youthful spirit of the original novel or to shoehorn it into a sort of half-assed prequel to the Lord of the Rings movies. Still, the right components are already there. With any luck, there’ll be a tighter, more cohesive director’s cut when it hits the home video market; kind of like an antithesis to the extended versions we got with the previous trilogy. ” - gagekdiabo
 
20.
21 Jump Street (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
A pair of underachieving cops are sent back to a local high school to blend in and bring down a synthetic drug ring. (110 mins.)
“ Whodathunk. Good word-of-mouth brought me to 21 Jump Street, an unlikely comedy based on the undercover cop drama from the eighties. And, lo and behold, it just happened to be the funniest movie I had the opportunity of seeing all year (yes, funnier than Ted, a popular favourite that didn’t impress me). Jonah Hill, newly slim, and Channing Tatum, the alleged sexiest man alive, work as a comedy duo in an unorthodox way. Neither of them fits the template of either the straight or silly man: both revel in their sophomoric machismo and much of the humourous payoffs come from their established ineptitude as police officers. Tatum, in particular, displays an astonishing knack for deadpan comedy, observing the absurdity of his placement as an undercover cop in a high school and his subsequent spellbinding effect on every woman he meets with a straight face and a modest shrug of the shoulders. The film even has the sense of humour to mock its status as a lowly remake, letting Ice Cube crack a joke about how Hollywood is “just recycling old ideas from the eighties” and bringing in Johnny Depp for an uncredited cameo to tell the new guys that they’re too soft to fill his shoes. See it. You will actually laugh, regardless of how jaded and hip you like to think you are. ” - gagekdiabo
 
21.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
Eight years after the Joker's reign of anarchy, the Dark Knight, with the help of the enigmatic Catwoman, is forced from his exile to save Gotham City, now on the edge of total annihilation, from the brutal guerrilla terrorist Bane. (164 mins.)
“ I was one of the many to be underwhelmed by The Dark Knight Rises. After both The Dark Knight and Inception, it was safe to expect that the continuation of Christopher Nolan’s oft-extolled “dark and edgy” Batman storyline would somehow reach even greater heights of brilliance. Alas, it did not. The Dark Knight Rises just did not stack up as well as its predecessor did and, no matter how wonderful it is in its own right, this will forever taint its legacy (but, then again, it is sitting comfortably at #34 on the IMDB Top 250, so who knows…). It had a memorable villain with Tom Hardy’s hulking Sean Connery-voiced Bane, but nowhere near as good Heath Ledger’s already iconic Joker. It had a great new female lead in Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, but here appearance so late in the series just made me wonder where she was the last time around. Gary Oldman was back in top form, Michael Caine almost made me cry and even Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the relative newcomer, made a strong impression. But what of Batman? How much Batman did we even get to see in this movie? Sure, everybody cheered when he finally did show up, but was The Dark Knight Rises not just a textbook case of too-little-too-late? With so much time devoted to Bruce Wayne’s struggle as opposed to Batman’s struggle, this hardly felt like a superhero film at all. When the early rumours made the rounds that a rough cut of the film lasted almost four hours long, it sounded awesome. When it finally hit the theatres at just under three hours, it wore on the attention span and only made me think back to The Dark Knight, with its breakneck don’t-look-back pace, even more. The plot was, at best, difficult to grasp: I’ve been asking around for months and still no one can explain to me what Bane’s motivation was for taking down Gotham City. That’s not to say that it was a bad film in any way (that distinction goes to Prometheus); just a disappointing follow-up to a great one. ” - gagekdiabo
 
22.
Carnage (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
Two pairs of parents hold a cordial meeting after their sons are involved in a fight, though as their time together progresses, increasingly childish behavior throws the discussion into chaos. (80 mins.)
Director: Roman Polanski
 
23.
Prometheus (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
Following clues to the origin of mankind, a team finds a structure on a distant moon, but they soon realize they are not alone. (124 mins.)
Director: Ridley Scott
 
24.
The Grey (2011)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
After their plane crashes in Alaska, six oil workers are led by a skilled huntsman to survival, but a pack of merciless wolves haunts their every step. (117 mins.)
Director: Joe Carnahan
 
25.
Lawless (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
Set in Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, a trio of bootlegging brothers are threatened by a new special deputy and other authorities angling for a cut of their profits. (116 mins.)
Director: John Hillcoat
 
26.
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
After Peter Parker is bitten by a genetically altered spider, he gains newfound, spider-like powers and ventures out to solve the mystery of his parent's mysterious death. (136 mins.)
Director: Marc Webb
 
27.
John Carter (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
Transported to Barsoom, a Civil War vet discovers a barren planet seemingly inhabited by 12-foot tall barbarians. Finding himself prisoner of these creatures, he escapes, only to encounter Woola and a princess in desperate need of a savior. (132 mins.)
Director: Andrew Stanton
 
28.
The Woman in Black (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  
A young solicitor travels to a remote village where he discovers the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman is terrorizing the locals. (95 mins.)
Director: James Watkins
 
29.
Ted (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
John Bennett, a man whose childhood wish of bringing his teddy bear to life came true, now must decide between keeping the relationship with the bear or his girlfriend, Lori. (106 mins.)
Director: Seth MacFarlane
 
30.
Dark Shadows (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.2/10 X  
An imprisoned vampire, Barnabas Collins, is set free and returns to his ancestral home, where his dysfunctional descendants are in need of his protection. (113 mins.)
Director: Tim Burton
 
31.
Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 4.6/10 X  
It has been five years since the disappearance of Katie and Hunter, and a suburban family witness strange events in their neighborhood when a woman and a mysterious child move in. (88 mins.)