*Disclaimer: Like every year, I didn’t have the opportunity to see every movie that was released, so I missed some movies that I’m sure would have made this list. But after all, this isn’t my job. These are the best movies I saw in 2012. I hope you enjoy*
Pitch Perfect – A pleasantly surprising, albeit predictable, comedy with a lot of social relevance and a splendid cast.
The Hunger Games – Jennifer Lawrence takes on her defining role as Katniss Everdeen and leads a stellar young cast in an adrenaline-packed thriller that could end up being an afterthought after Catching Fire and Mockingjay.
The Avengers – All of the movies leading up to one of the most anticipated superhero movies of all time might not have been equal. But Joss Whedon does a splendid job of combining the strengths and weaknesses of every character to build an action-packed summer blockbuster with a lot of wit and even more heart.
Prometheus – In Ridley Scott’s (supposed) prequel to his classic Alien, the crew of the ship Prometheus explores an alien planet to find the origins of human life. Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron are both excellent as the upstart scientist and hardened captain, respectively. But the best part of Prometheus can be found in Michael Fassbender’s chilling performance as the emotionless android David that echoes the whole mood of the movie.
The Amazing Spider-Man – Marc Webb (haha that’s funny) turns from his indie hit (500) Days of Summer to direct the oddly-timed reboot of your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man. He satisfactorily improves all of the important aspects of the series (namely Peter Parker’s love interest) and introduces Andrew Garfield as an edgier, snarkier Parker. Hopefully the rest of the series continues to improve, unlike the first Spider-Man trilogy, which deteriorated as it went.
10. Safety Not Guaranteed
Everyone knows Aubrey Plaza as the lovable, yet not-so-lovable April Ludgate from NBC’s Parks and Recreation. In Safety Not Guaranteed, Plaza almost reprises her role. She’s still quirky and moody. Only this time she’s an intern at a Washington magazine, sent to get the story on a mysterious and kooky advertisement in a small-town newspaper: “WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.” What follows is a charming and simple story about time travel, nerdy love and the importance of realizing who you are in a cynical and very odd world. Solid debut performance for Plaza.
9. Cloud Atlas
I was really intrigued when I saw that Tom Hanks would be heading up a new movie late in 2012. I was even more intrigued when I saw that Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and Susan Sarandon would be joining him. I was most intrigued when I saw the trailer that seemingly connected multiple world, times and storylines. It certainly lived up to the hype. All of the aforementioned actors were excellent as they played multiple roles within the stories (as was Ben Whishaw, who appears in another movie on this list), the visuals were beautiful and the pure scope of the movie was so teeming with grandeur that it was hard to look away. The message of the movie, while hidden under sometimes-unnecessary complexity, is a beautiful one. But I don’t want to ruin it for you. Go see it for yourself. Just make sure you pay attention.
At first glance, Smashed is an indie drama about Jesse from Breaking Bad and Ramona Flowers (you know, the girl with the seven evil exes) falling in love and getting drunk a lot. That seems par for the course for Aaron Paul who is wonderful as the husband of Kate Hannah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), an elementary school teacher who decides to face her alcohol problem after an embarrassing incident in front of her class. However, getting sober doesn’t come easy. She is forced to make new friends (Nick Offerman is a genius as Dave, a fellow teacher who develops a crush on Kate), her job is put in jeopardy as she covers her problems with a web of lies and, most importantly, her relationship with her husband is strained to the breaking point. It’s a touchingly realistic portrait of an alcoholic’s struggle with herself, coated with a layer of aching sadness and topped off with a dollop of hope.
7. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
In the most anticipated movie event of the year, Peter Jackson returns with his band of merry men to picturesque Middle Earth (that’s New Zealand for those unfamiliar) to tackle J.R.R. Tolkien’s prequel to The Lord of the Rings. All old characters are reprised by their former actors (Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, Cate Blanchett) and the visual quality is still unmatched in the cinematic world (although the 48fps release was criticized a bit). The new delights? The story is a little more light-hearted and Martin Freeman is enthralling as Bilbo Baggins (he won’t get any Oscar buzz, which is silly, but that’s the world of Hollywood). The best part of The Hobbit? You can tell that the best is still to come in the next movies. But for the time being, An Unexpected Journey is more than adventurous enough to satisfy humans and elves alike.
Daniel Craig is a master at playing Agent 007. If you didn’t pick that up in Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace you should have in 2012’s installment of the adventures of James Bond. Skyfall is a smart, sleek and dark turn for Agent Bond, even compared to the first two Craig films. Judi Dench returns as the calculating, but caring M. Ben Whishaw (remember him?) takes his turn as Q, Bond’s well-dressed technology geek. And last, but certainly not least, Javier Bardem makes a creepy but powerful performance as Silva, a former agent with a mind on revenge. Like Casino Royale, Skyfall is smart and funny. Like Quantum of Solace, Skyfall is full of action. And unlike either of its predecessors, Skyfall is utterly bleak, especially at the end. But that’s when the cast, the direction and the cinematography is at its best.
5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
I’m a self-proclaimed Emma Watson nerd so I’d been looking forward to The Perks of Being a Wallflower for a much different reason than most. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the movie as a whole. Of course, Miss Watson was wonderful, although her accent left something to be desired. The funny thing about Perks though was that it wasn’t a particularly wonderful film in terms of filmmaking. The real beauty comes in the form of the painful realism captured in the story. Logan Lerman plays Charlie, a quiet freshman with a bit of a dark past (which is kept from the audience until the end). As he starts high school, the only friend he can find is his English teacher, played by a wonderfully charismatic Paul Rudd…that is, until he meets Sam (Watson) and her brother Patrick, played by a shockingly good Ezra Miller. Through these new friendships, Charlie begins to learn about growing up and all of the perks that come with it. Perks refuses to cut any corners when it comes to all of the awkward and painful moments of adolescence. However, the despair that consumes the protagonist for most of the movie is overshadowed by a heart-warming feeling of acceptance; not just for who we are as people, but of the fact that bad stuff happens. It’s optimistic and touching. And it’s got a killer soundtrack.
4. The Dark Knight Rises
I may be bold in this statement. But I believe it with all of my heart: Christopher Nolan is the new king of Hollywood. Not only that, but he is the most important director in Hollywood. No other man can combine political and social commentary, smart action, gripping dialogue and blockbuster appeal. Well, others may be able to do it, but no one can do it with the success of Nolan. He returns the Caped Crusader for the last part of the Dark Knight trilogy. While it isn’t the groundbreaker that The Dark Knight was (mostly due to the absence of Heath Ledger’s Joker), The Dark Knight Rises is yet again transcendent when it comes to superhero movies. It isn’t just that. It’s a two and a half hour roller coaster. Arguably the darkest of the Batman installments, it follows the seeming demise of Bruce Wayne. Wayne, who is again portrayed flawlessly by Christian Bale, is getting old and worn down. So when Bane (Tom Hardy) shows up to finish the work of the League of Shadows, it seems as if this is Batman’s last hoedown. Gary Oldman reprises his role as the unflappable Commissioner Gordon. Anne Hathaway makes a brilliant turn as the conflicted Selina Kyle. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt charms as the upstart detective John Blake (or is it Robin…wink wink). And as always, Nolan throws in a few trademark twists that you didn’t see coming. I couldn’t have thought of a better way to retire the Batman. Bravo, Christopher. Bravo.
Who would have thought that a historical biopic about the passing of the 13th amendment would have been such a hit? Well, when Steven Spielberg is at the helm, you could assume. With a mind-blowingly good Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th President of the United States, Spielberg has some room to work with the public perception of the great historical figure. Was he a good man who simply got caught up in a seemingly winless battle? And I’m not talking about the Civil War. It really causes you to question his legacy. Sally Fields is powerful as the crazily grief-stricken Mary Todd and Tommy Lee Jones should be a front-runner for Supporting Actor as Thaddeus Stevens, abolitionist extraordinaire. Spielberg’s direction is brilliant as always and the cinematography is aptly dark and tense. It’s an Oscar darling waiting to happen. As well it should be.
2. Moonrise Kingdom
Oh, Wes Anderson. When will he disappoint his adoring fans? In his 2012 attempt at quirkiness, Anderson tells the story of Sam and Suzy, two preteens who run away together after a year of planning under the noses of their aloof guardians. This leads to a great chase that really never stops until the end of the movie. The message seems pretty upfront: love can’t be stopped. But is Anderson trying to say something about the maturity of society as a whole? After all the adults aren’t exactly great examples themselves. Frances McDormand and Bill Murray are hilarious as Suzy’s emotionally separate lawyers, er, parents. Edward Norton plays Sam’s scoutmaster, a man who, until a moment of real conflict, seems like nothing more than a really tall child. And Bruce Willis makes a surprising turn as Captain Sharp, a quiet cop who enjoys life in his quiet New England area, but gets in over his head when Suzy and Sam turn the town upside down. It doesn’t matter in the scope of the film, but I’d be silly not to mention Jason Schwartzman’s cameo as the delightfully nerdy Cousin Ben. However, Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman are the real showstoppers of Wes’s latest masterpiece. They may get some criticism for seeming emotionally distant. But with Wes Anderson, the emotion is almost so much in your face that you can miss it. Another masterpiece by one of the most underappreciated moviemakers today.
1. Les Miserables
The transition from stage to big screen can be a tricky one for many stories. Especially for a musical. Les Miserables is one such musical that has had many attempts, but never has there been one adaption that stands out as a true telling masterpiece. Well, Les Mis shouldn’t have to worry about that anymore. Spear-headed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), Les Miserables is the movie event of the year. It tells the story of Jean Valjean, a prisoner who reinvents himself when he leaves prison. Given a second chance by a caring bishop, he becomes a reputable man…that is until Javert, his old tormentor comes looking for him. Discovered and again a fugitive, Valjean goes on the run. But not before meeting Cosette, the daughter of the tragic Fantine. I could talk about all the ways this movie succeeds as a motion picture. Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway give the performances of their careers, both very deserving of Oscar awards. Russell Crowe goes out of type as Javert, but he still dazzles. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are delightfully wicked as the Thénardier’s. I could spend the next ten lines talking about all of the wonderful casting and acting. I could talk about the ingenious decision for Hooper to have his cast sing live, bringing emotion and not talent to the forefront. I could talk about how the direction is beautiful to the point of tears. But Les Miserables is first and foremost a picture of grace. Grace that exceeds the law. Grace that goes beyond convenience. Grace that conquers everything that stands in its way, especially injustice and evil. That, my friends, is why Les Miserables is the brilliant film that it is. It takes this beautiful story of grace and translates it perfectly into the movie industry, a place utterly devoid of such compassion. It’s a breath of fresh air and one that everyone needs to experience.