09 February 2013

"And the Winners are...": Part I (20-11)

"And the Winners are..."
The Best Movies of 2012
by Kevin Powers

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook

Out of the hundreds of features released in the Year 2012, Amanda and I saw 20. I enjoyed all of them, some much more than others. It, ultimately, was a great year for movies, and there are plenty of great ones that I, no doubt, have not yet seen. Here are the 20 I have seen, ranked and discussed from least favorite to favorite:

20. Monster's Inc. 3D (Directed by Pete Docter; Starring John Goodman, Billy Crystal, and Steve Buscemi)

Pete Docter's Monster's Inc., originally released in 2001, has continued to stand up as one of the greatest of the Pixar movies. It is a brilliantly paced and funny comedy for all ages. It flips us into an alternate universe where monsters go to the factory and work to collect children's screams as their primary energy source. When a human child accidentally enters the monster world, it is a non-stop action-packed race of love and care as top-scarer, Sully (John Goodman) and his sidekick Mike Wasowski (Billy Crystal) struggle to return young Boo back to her bedroom. The update to 3D, though, adds nothing. In fact, it takes away from the brilliant colors and simply becomes an annoyance. I'll just continue to watch it on DVD in 2D.

19. Anna Karenina (Directed by Joe Wright; Written by Tom Stoppard; Starring Keira Knightly and Jude Law)

This most recent adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic Russian novel is crafted much like a stage play with backdrops being moved in and out behind the actors from scene to scene. Director Joe Wright and his screenwriter (the great Tom Stoppard) use interesting techniques, including the stage idea, to condense the long novel into a viewer-friendly movie of only around two hours. At several points during the film, the camera glides along in front of Stiva as he passes the workers in his office, who stand at his presence in perfectly choreographed movements, which offers a very interesting style and a touch of humor. Much of the dialogue is taken directly from the book, especially in the conversations and enamored stares shared between Anna (Keira Knightly) and Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Knightly is a great actress and plays the title role well. However, Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky is completely miscast and often seems silly and overly-boyish. However, the costume design and art direction nearly make up for the casting errors and are sure to gain attention from the Academy Awards in a movie that is beautiful to look at. All-in-all, Anna Karenina is a good adaptation that stays true its source material even if it does omit quite a bit of the novel, while creatively utilizing film and screenwriting techniques to highlight its themes.  

18. Les Miserables (Directed by Tom Hooper; Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne)

What an utterly boring first hour of a movie! I was nodding off in the theater. Then, miraculously, this movie picks up, finishing strong and making me very happy by the end. Based on the musical version of Victor Hugo's unreadably long French novel, Les Miserables is just not a movie for me. The exchanges between Jean Valjean (Jackman) and Javert (Crowe) with the whole singing/talking thing was almost embarrassing. However, at about the mid-point of the movie, this chick named Samantha Barks enters as Eponine, does "On My Own," and from then on Les Miserables is beautiful and nothing short of spectacular. 

17. Ted (Directed by Seth MacFarlane; Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, and MacFarlane)

Ted is a very funny movie. Seth MacFarlane (creator of "Family Guy") effectively makes a buddy comedy unlike any ever seen before. Mark Wahlberg plays a guy, who, as a child, wished for his Teddy bear to be a real friend and, man, does he get more than he bargained for. This is a raunchy, non-stop comedy, and the signature deep, New England accent that MacFarlane does so well as Peter Griffin shines here. It is not nearly the best comedy of the year and is ultimately forgettable, but I laughed a whole lot and enjoyed myself. Looking forward to seeing Mr. MacFarlane as host of this year's Oscar ceremony.

16. American Reunion (Directed by Who Cares; Starring the original cast of American Pie)

I really hope this is the last "American Pie" movie, for real. All those made-for-DVD one's need to stop. I have to say that this one, though, is the best of the original sequels. Nothing will ever top the original, but it is so great, and nostalgic, to me to have grown up with these characters. Being in high school when this series started, I feel lucky to have been a part of this originator of the New Wave of Teen Movies in the late '90s. And the gang is all back in this one, in which they return to East Great Falls, Michigan, for a high school reunion. There are many great laughs and plenty of dirty, foul-mouthed humor. Excellent send-off...I hope.

15. This is 40 (Directed by Judd Apatow; Starring Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Maude and Iris Apatow, Albert Brooks)

I expect too much from Judd Apatow, I think. What he does is strange to me. He makes these comedies that are way too long, though very funny. Relatable, but out of touch with reality. True, but pure fiction. He is a great comedy writer, an excellent producer of comedies, and a really good filmmaker when it comes to nice-looking production value. As my best friend, Joshua, puts it: "He's like a dirty Jim (James L.) Brooks." The sad thing is that I keep waiting for him to make a really great movie like Terms of Endearment or Broadcast News or As Good as it Gets. He keeps disappointing me. I'm not sure if it's the unnecessary lengths or the feigned "first world problems" of his characters or what. I do know that I laughed uncontrollably at several scenes, but when he tries to add the drama, it's just not there, not real or true. I hope he finds it and one day makes a really great movie that is worth its running time.

14. 21 Jump Street (Directed by Who Cares; Starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum)

I am a bit too young to know the Johnny Depp Fox series from which this movie was based. I will say, though, that I enjoyed every second of this movie. It has everything: buddy movie, teen movie, cop movie, role reversal, and laughs all the way through. Skinny Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play two horrible LAPD officers, who get an undercover gig as high school students trying to bust a teen drug ring. If follows a pretty standard formula of all the genres it contains, but there is one scene that just comes from out of nowhere that introduces comedic violence and cameos that alone makes it worth watching.

13. The Hunger Games (Directed by Gary Ross; Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson)

Perhaps the greatest young adult novel of the last five years gets a fantastic treatment here in the film version. Watching this on Blu-Ray just the other day for the first time since I saw it on the big screen, I was reminded of how well-made this movie is. Director Gary Ross had really made a gritty, violent adaptation of an interesting sci-fi story. The people of Panem, a distant future America, must offer up "Tributes" in the form of one female boy and one female girl from each of the 12 Districts that surround the Capitol to fight to the death using any means available. The beautiful Jennifer Lawrence plays the lead character, Katniss, brilliantly in a non-stop entertainment.

12. The Five-Year Engagement (Directed by Nicholas Stoller; Starring Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie)

Jason Segel is a very good screenwriter. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is one of the best comedies of recent years. You can add this one to that list. Though not quite as funny, this is a very good portrayal of a couple in their late 20s trying to find personal success while making their relationship work. Segel is always hilarious as is Chris Pratt, who plays the worst best man ever, who make a PowerPoint presentation of Segel's past lovers and runs it at the engagement party. And Emily Blunt is surprising, as I've not seen her in many movies. There are several scenes in The Five-Year Engagement that will make you laugh-out-loud. I enjoyed it.

11. The Dark Knight Rises (Directed by Christopher Nolan; Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard)

Well, I guess we all wondered if Nolan could best himself after The Dark Knight (2008). He couldn't. However, this Batman movie is still better than any by Burton or that joke-of-a-hack Schumaker. The best thread of this last one is the addition of a hungry young cop played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. People complained a bit about the ending, but I liked it. I think it was very fitting. I do agree that there were some sound issues with the uber-villian Bane's (Tom Hardy) voice early on in the film. I also don't like how the first two movies were shot in Chicago and that this one was obviously not. It just doesn't fit with the earlier two in the Dark Knight Trilogy, no matter how hard it tries to.

Still to come: beasts, time travel, hippies, young love, Iran and filmmaking, football fans, slavery, tigers with human names, and a US President. 

1 comment:

  1. I would have definitely put Anna Karenina before 21 Jump Street. Overall, I agree with most of your rankings. I can't believe we only saw 20 of the 2012 releases!