Top Ten Movies of 2012

Man, what a year in movies. There has been so many achievements in so many different films, it’s hard to keep up with all of them at once. Superheroes defeated alien races. Lincoln was brought back from the dead. Ben Affleck made a fake movie. The Batman chronology came to a fantastic close. Peter Griffin possessed Teddy Bear. The list goes on and on and on.

With all of these stories coming into and out of theaters, it’s hard to decide which movies should be placed above another one. For a film critic, however, its important to know which movies are the best of the year and which are best left forgotten.

From bottom to top, here is my list for the Top Ten films of 2012.

NOTE: Not every film has been seen this year. If there is a ground-breaking blockbuster epic that isn’t up here already, its probably because it hasn’t been viewed yet. Either that, or you’re watching too much Alfred Hitchcock.

10) LES MISERABLES

An enriching and inspirational musical experience beyond all measure.  Hugh Jackman stars as Jean Valjean, a man struggling with his past as he struggles to look for peace and redemption in a land torn by poverty and civil war.

Directed by Tom Hooper, Oscar-winner for 2010’s The King’s Speech, this is a movie that juggles emotional tensity with visual splendor and grandeur, with Hooper’s dignified set pieces shining brightly all over the place. At the same time though, this movie thrives as an aesthetic piece, with these characters conveying their thoughts and emotions through their powerful performances and voices through the film. Jackman, however, steals the show as Jean,  a man whose powerful, perilous spiritual journey is told through the film’s emotion-stirring song numbers. This movie isn’t just another musical. This is an opera of unexpectedly epic proportions. Four-and-a-half stars.

9) THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

A prequel that not only matches the expectations set by its predecessor, The Lord Of The Rings: in some ways, it surpasses them. Martin Freeman plays as Bilbo Baggins, a young hobbit who lives a peaceful life full of rest and relaxation in his roomy cottage home. He was the last person who was expecting a visit from Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellan), a wizard who traveled from the west in search of great adventure in middle-Earth: and he wants Bilbo to come along with him.

Directed, written, and produced by Peter Jackson, the same man credited to the success of the previous Lord Of The Rings trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a film that is influential enough to fuel its own trilogy. With a wonderful script, a solid cast, and creative and dynamic visuals, The Hobbit matches the proficiency of the first two Lord Of The Rings movies and rivals the mastery of the third. Five stars.

8) THE HUNGER GAMES

A survival-fantasy epic that retains the same tension and energy from the original novel. In the post-dystopian kingdom of Panem, young Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers for the Hunger Games, a brutal survival competition where combatants fight to the death, when she realizes her younger sister was previously selected to participate. Now having to participate in the games alongside fellow villager Peeta Melark (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss must find a way to win the Hunger games and get back home.

Lawrence is a powerful presence in the lead role, and she fits the part well as a strong-willed, courageous, yet secretly afraid heroine who simply wants to be reunited with her family. The movie does a great job as an adaptation as well, not only retaining faithfulness to the original novel, but also expanding upon it, actively showing what a broken and crumbled society this story takes place in. Directed by Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit). Five stars.

7) FRANKENWEENIE

An affectionate tribute to classic horror cinema and a welcome return to form for director Tim Burton (Edward Scizzorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas). When Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) witnesses the death of his dog Sparky (Frank Welker), Victor sets out on an experiment using lightning and electricity to bring his best friend back to life.

Based on an idea that originally got Burton fired from Disney Studios, Burton turns this idea around by offering us this creative, imaginative, dark, twisted, yet mature and emotional film about life, death, resurrection, growing up and companionship. The film is also smartly stylized, with its black-and-white animated visuals offering a surprising amount of eye candy.

A film every bit as fun and entertaining as it is thoughtful and emotional. Five stars.

6) SKYFALL

A Bond movie lived to the fullest potential. Daniel Craig returns as 007, the double-daring, martini-sipping secret agent who isn’t afraid to talk back to his superior, M (Judi Dench). But when Bond discovers an enemy who returned from M’s past to exact revenge, Bond will uncover a secret in his past so haunting that it will impact the entire nation of Britain and shake the foundations of MI6 forever.

Skyfall is a full-blooded action film, a spy movie that completely embodies everything great about Bond, from the lively, exotic locations to the pulse-pounding action that overflows you by the minute. The cast is great, the plot is fresh, the action is refined and thrilling, and the film has a deeper introspective into Bond than what we were expecting. Skyfall assures us that not only will Bond survive throughout the years as cinema progresses: it will also thrive on its success and its legacy. Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Jarhead). Five stars.

5) CHRONICLE

A fascinating and exciting science-fiction story filmed creatively through the “found footage” shooting method. Young Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) lives a troubled home life with a sick, absent mother and a drunken alcoholic for a father, and decides to film everything on his home video camera as means of emotional release. When his cousin Matt (Alex Russel) and his friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) discover a hole in an empty field in the backyard of a party, all three of them make a discovery that will change their lives forever.

Dane Dehaan is tense and subversive in his role as Andrew, and portrays him as a character that is both fearsome and sympathetic. The biggest props, however, goes to director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis. They both help compose a very mature, thoughtful story that serves as a sort of metaphor for troubled youth. Their decision to make it a found footage film especially affected the film’s outcome. If the found footage genre was created for the purpose of one movie, Chronicle is that one movie. Five stars.

4) LINCOLN

A powerhouse of a biopic driven by Daniel Day-Lewis’ overwhelming performance as the famous president. Set during the final years of Lincoln’s presidency, the film follows the famed President as he tries to abolish slavery, end the civil war and attempt to mend the wounds of a torn country.

This dialogue-heavy narrative boasts screenwriter Tony Kushner (Munich) and director Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan) at their best, carefully composing a story with intricate detail, whimsical humor and tender emotion that results in a very personal perspective in the life of Abraham Lincoln. Daniel Day-Lewis, of course, deserves all praise and admiration as the famous president. He’s so skilled in his performance, there’s no indication that he even is Daniel Day-Lewis. He fully embodies Lincoln, from the weariness in his voice, to the hunch in his back. Five stars.

3) BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

An rich, aural experiment that pays off in many unsuspecting ways. The young and adventurous Hushpuppy (Quevenzhane Wallis) lives with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) in a place known as “The bathtub”, a Louisiana bayou that faces demise at the hands of a flooding. First-time director Behn Zeitlin wrote, produced, directed, and even composed this brilliant feature, and everything he was involved with fine-tuned this film to near-perfection. Through his skill of direction and symbolism, Zeitlin ends up commenting on many social issues such as poverty, naturalism, global warming, parenthood, neglect, childhood, purity, and innocence.

Wallis, especially, is breathtakingly powerful as Hushpuppy, a child that is so brave, strong-willed, and spirited, yet also at the same time vulnerable and emotionally fragile. A fantasy drama that is ripe with context, emotion, and adventure. Five stars.

POST-SCRIPT: I went back and forth on the following two movies on which should be second and which should be first, and you know what? I’m cheating. Only one film is ranked higher than the other, but they both truly are the best films of the year, as no other film has reached the success or the cinematic value that these movies have achieved.  Although one must be ranked higher than the other, both of these are number one in my book.  

2) THE AVENGERS

Built upon the success of iconic superhero movies such as Iron ManThorThe Incredible Hulk, and Captain AmericaThe Avengers assembles the world’s greatest heroes to fight the battles that humanity never could. And when an alien race known as the Chitari threaten the existence of mankind, it is up to the Avengers to step up and fight for humanity’s survival.

Being the sort of action-blockbuster that seems inspired by epic nature of the Lord Of The Rings and Star Wars franchises, The Avengers is the most iconic, the most exciting, the most quotable, the most entertaining and the most memorable picture of the whole year. With great action, a strong cast, a convincing script and so many memorable and witty one-liners, The Avengers is easily one of the most ambitious and most efficient films of the year. It is highly unlikely that there will be another just like it. Five stars.

1) ARGO

A tense, thrilling, and heart-pounding experience that is every bit surreal as it is unflinchingly realistic. During the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979, all 50 people inside the U.S. Embassy building are taken hostage except for six Americans who escape and hold refuge inside a Canadian ambassador’s house. Two months later, CIA operative Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is given the assignment of getting the Americans out, and he hatches the ultimate unorthodox cover: disguise the Americans as a film crew, tell the officials that they’re scouting locations for a film production, get the Americans on a plane and get them home.

Ben Affleck shines in the film not only as its lead character, but also as its director. He directs this film with both skill and conviction, building up to highly suspenseful and climactic moments through expert pacing and precise cut-aways. He also knows how to excise compassion and sympathy, as he is able to show the American’s struggle through the traumatic situation they are in. The best drama of the year. Five stars.

And that’s my list for the year, folks.  Wake me up when its 2014.

-David Dunn

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