Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

My Top 10 Movies of 2012

Posted by CinemaPsycho on February 3, 2013

Greetings everybody! So here it is, it’s finally time to get this done. If you haven’t read my Top 10 Pre-Ramble, please scroll way down and read that first. I will say that I thought 2012 was a great year for movies, if you knew where to look. Some years, I really have to stretch to even find 10 movies that I liked enough to list here. This year, there were tons of contenders for the list! I had to make some really tough choices and drop some films that I thought would make it when I first saw them. The order of the films really solidified about a week ago, but were constantly changing up until then. I’m actually really happy with the list the way it is now, and I’m sure some people will be surprised at some of the inclusions and omissions here. But again, keep in mind, this is a list of personal favorites, and all opinions are just that. Nothing more, nothing less. So with that in mind, let’s get started:

10) The Loved Ones – Damn I loved this movie. Writer/director Sean Byrne’s crazy/brilliant little gem was filmed in Australia in 2009, but didn’t hit our shores until 2012, so it counts. It’s basically the twisted little story of a teenage boy who’s been kidnapped by an extremely disturbed female classmate who has a crush on him. Needless to say, things get complicated. There’s also a hysterically funny subplot about his buddy who goes on the weirdest prom date imaginable. I’ve been very critical of indie horror films lately, but movies like The Loved Ones give me hope for the future. This is how you do it. Everything you need to know is right there on the screen, with plenty of twists and surprises that make logical sense. Robin McLeavy gives a tour de force performance as the increasingly unhinged Lola, but the entire cast is terrific. Byrne has really pulled off something special here, and he’s a name I will definitely notice in the future. The film has already started to develop a cult following among the horror crowd, but if you like dark, twisted teen comedies like Heathers, this is right up your alley as well. I see a lot of horror films, but I’m rarely as impressed by them as I was by this one. Because there’s nothing wrong with a little melody, son. Available on DVD/Blu.

9) ParaNorman – Sometimes I need a reminder that animated films can be awesome. ParaNorman was my reminder for 2012. Directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell (Butler also wrote the screenplay) have crafted both a loving and affectionate tribute to horror films and a moving story about the way people treat those who are “different” as well as the power of forgiveness. Oh, and did I mention it’s funny as hell? Funnier than most live-action comedies I’ve seen in the past year? Because it totally is. Can you go wrong with this movie? You can not. It’s a film that both kids and adults will be legitimately entertained by, and maybe also learn something from. Not to mention the animation itself is kick-ass work. So yeah, it’s a cartoon. It’s also one of the best movies of the year in my book. Available on DVD/Blu.

8) The Master – Well, Paul Thomas Anderson really threw people for a loop with this one, didn’t he? Instead of the expose on Scientology that everyone expected, he basically gave us a mysterious puzzle box and said, “Here. Play with this for awhile.” I found the results to be fascinating, a kind of cinematic Rorschach test. What’s it about? What do you think it’s about? What happens in it? What do you think happens? And so on. My personal theory, which I haven’t heard anyone else espouse, is that Freddie is “The Master” because whatever mental illness he suffers from prevents him from completely succumbing to Lancaster Dodd’s religion/cult (or his mind control, if you prefer). He eventually gets out and continues to live his life his way, serving no master but his own desires. Freddie is The Master. That’s my theory, anyway. I’m sure there are many others. But I think it’s a terrific, mesmerizing film full of great acting and thought-provoking ideas. And whether that was the film you expected to see or not, that’s not the kind of film I turn up my nose at. Available on DVD/Blu Feb. 26.

7) Cabin in the Woods – You know why people keep saying this movie “dropped the mic”? Because it totally did. Much has already been written about how Cabin dropped a nuclear bomb on horror films and all their tricks, so no need to drag all that up again. But what most people neglect to mention is that the film was smart enough to make us care about its characters and the situation they were in at the exact same time they were pulling back the curtain on that situation. Director/co-writer Drew Goddard and producer/co-writer Joss Whedon didn’t just make a clever genre exercise that pulled a “wink wink nudge nudge” on the audience; no, they created a world in which explaining the rules of horror films in general is actually part of the storyline. They thought big and swung for the fences, and pulled it off. That’s huge. Now, do I think this film will put an end to all stereotypical, cliched horror films? Of course not. But it’s telling the people who make those films, we’re on to you. Time to come up with something new, buddy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought of Cabin while watching a horror film in the months since it came out. I can’t be the only one. The brilliance of Cabin in the Woods is that, to borrow a phrase from another film on this list, it’s not just smart, it’s fucking smart. Available on DVD/Blu.

6) Argo – You know, I’ve never disliked Ben Affleck. Really. Even when he was with J-Lo (yeah, like you wouldn’t) and starring in stuff like Surviving Christmas, I never had a problem with the guy. Always thought he was a decent actor who just had a run of bad luck. Never understood the vitriol towards him. So it’s been interesting to see his comeback these last few years as an auteur. I think he’s made two really good movies as director, and now Argo is his home run, the one that proves it once and for all. You can’t deny the guy now. It’s based on the true story of how CIA specialist Tony Mendez (Affleck) got a group of US embassy workers out of Iran with the help of Hollywood makeup artist John Chambers (the great John Goodman) and film producer Lester Siegel (the great Alan Arkin) in 1979. Siegel is a composite character; Chambers is not. It’s a strange juxtaposition of worlds, the Middle East and Hollywood showbiz, but Affleck balances the two skillfully. It’s a real movie movie, the kind where you’re on the edge of your seat and really rooting for them to pull it off, but it’s not about superheroes who rush in and save the day either. Chuck Norris doesn’t come in with a bazooka and blow the bad guys away. That’s not how real life works. It is, however, a political story that I think everybody can root for, and boy do we need that now more than ever. If you can’t get behind that, well, Argo fuck yourself. Available on DVD/Blu Feb. 19.

5) Looper – Rian Johnson is a talented guy whose films never really connected with me personally until this one. Looper was the film that made me go, “oh… now I get it.” Part futuristic sci-fi, part film noir, part love story, part supernatural horror film, part crazy action movie, and all fantastic. There’s some terrific storytelling going on here – it’s the kind of movie that is constantly surprising you and raising new questions, yet by the end it all makes sense and you leave totally satisfied. I’ve seen some people pick apart the logic of it all, but I think they’re missing the whole point. How do you know what people are going to do in the future? Have you been there? Oh that’s right, you haven’t. None of us have. You can pick apart pretty much every time-travel movie ever made if you really want to. That doesn’t mean Back to the Future or Terminator isn’t a great movie just because you found a logic flaw. Get over yourself. I think Bruce Willis gives his best performance in years here, and the rest of the cast is similarly invested to do great work. Love Jeff Daniels as the philosophical mob boss. Wonderfully creative and tremendously entertaining movie. Available on DVD/Blu.

4) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Yes, I know I’m in the minority. Ask me if I care. (Spoiler alert: I don’t.) Peter Jackson’s first installment of his trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel was every bit the film I wanted and expected it to be and then some. I had a great, rollicking time with it, as did the audience I saw it with. I had no problems with the pacing or the story. I knew it would be a long movie going in and I prepared myself for that. What’s the problem? Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies were all long and no one bitched about it. Who cares how long the book is? It’s a journey, people. See, it’s right there in the title. A journey isn’t supposed to be over in 90 minutes. I mean, let me get this straight: you bought a ticket to a three-hour movie and then complained that it was too long? Sorry, does not compute. You know you didn’t have to go, right? No one forced you, did they? I don’t understand. For me, it was The Hobbit put on screen by a master filmmaker who knows this world inside and out, and I loved every single minute of it. It’s different than LOTR. Some of the characters are the same, yes, but the story is different, the world is somewhat different, the feel of it is going to be different. You have to adjust. Think of it as Godfather II rather than the original Godfather. Some would argue that Godfather II isn’t really necessary. I would argue that it’s an excellent movie and I’m glad it exists, necessary or not. Same principle goes here. If you don’t want to see this story, then you don’t have to see the movie. I wanted to see this story, and I’m glad I did. Currently in theaters.

3) Zero Dark Thirty – “Hey, aren’t you the guy who didn’t like The Hurt Locker?” Yep, I’m that guy. And Zero Dark Thirty genuinely impressed the hell out of me. So you know I’m for real when I put it this high on my list. Kathryn Bigelow’s account of the tracking and capture of Osama bin Laden is the kind of film I wanted and expected Hurt Locker to be – a razor-sharp thriller that’s completely gripping for the entirety of its running time. It’s a political thriller on a grand scale and a fascinating portrait of single-minded dedication. Jessica Chastain is fierce and compelling in the role of Maya, the lead intelligence operative who spends a decade tracking down bin Laden. But we don’t simply admire her because she’s a “strong woman” (movies and TV are full of those these days); we admire her for the specific individual person that she is. Then there’s the torture issue, which has been discussed ad nauseum. I honestly don’t believe the film either condones or condemns torture; I think it simply says, “here’s what happened” and lets you make up your own mind. If you want to believe one way or the other, then you probably will. But the torture scenes are not fun or enjoyable to sit through, nor should they be. They did not inspire the audience I saw it with to cheer. They are brutal, because torture is brutal. To ignore that is to ignore reality. I don’t think Zero Dark Thirty is a film about providing answers; I think it is about raising questions that no film can answer. Perhaps that is what makes it so valuable. Currently in theaters.

2) Django Unchained – Literally any other year, Quentin Tarantino’s poke in the eye to institutionalized racism would’ve been my #1 film. I do love it to death and will likely watch it many times over the years. I’ve already discussed it at length, so I won’t go into it much here. I think if you can handle the subject matter, it’s an enormously entertaining film that provides plenty of rewards for the audience, like pretty much everything Tarantino has done. But there’s also the added bonus that the film is really about an important social issue, whether people choose to acknowledge that or not, and that’s something we really haven’t gotten from Quentin before. Yes, Inglorious Basterds is set during WWII, but it didn’t deal directly with the Holocaust, if you get my meaning. So that’s kind of new and confrontational, and an exciting direction for him. While the entire cast is terrific, I feel that Christoph Waltz’s performance hasn’t gotten enough attention. He’s so damn good in this. You just want to hug the guy every time he’s on screen. I want to see Tarantino make an entire series of films with Waltz playing major roles in them. They work so well together that it would be a crime for that not to happen. Until then, we have Basterds and Django, and for now that is more than enough. Currently in theaters.

And my favorite film of 2012 is…. (drumroll please)

1) Silver Linings Playbook – Surprised? So was I. Really. I thought Django was going to be my #1 film, hands down, case closed. Then I saw this. And it destroyed me. Devastated me. Laid me out like a sheet. KO punch. Boom. When that happens, that’s not an accident. That happens because of excellent, top-shelf acting, writing and directing, and I for one do not take those things for granted. As a moviegoer, those are the things I value. If you did not react to the film the same way, then you simply saw a completely different film than I did. It is pointless to argue about it. All I can do is tell you about the film that I saw. That’s what I intend to do.

Most films about mental illness are incredibly fucking depressing. This one is the exact opposite. David O. Russell’s film (his best, in my opinion) is full of heart and humor and life and love and pain and sorrow and music and dancing and family and friendship and, most of all, hope. It is a film about real people who live real lives, not Hollywood cardboard cutouts who find a screenwriter’s superficial version of happiness. Maybe that’s what throws people off – they’re not used to seeing people who resemble actual human beings on the screen. Or maybe they just don’t know any. But anyone who thinks this is a “romantic comedy” has missed the point completely. I despise most romantic comedies. This isn’t that. There is nothing “light” about this. Katherine Heigl shouldn’t be allowed to even see this movie. It’s far smarter and deeper than any of that.

Since so many people seem to “not get it”, what I’m going to do is explain the movie to you. I’m going to tell you what the movie is about. That means there will be SPOILERS from here on in. So if you haven’t seen the film and you don’t want any spoilers about it, even mild ones, you should stop reading here, at this paragraph. Just know that you should see it, assuming that you have a functioning mind and heart. If you are a douche or an idiot, like some of the so-called critics who have done a piss-poor job of “reviewing” the film, then stay home and let Honey Boo Boo turn your brain into mush. Your call.

Still with me? OK. The film is a sensitive and understanding portrayal of mental illness, and I admire it for that. But that is not the entire story or subject matter. Let’s start with the characters. Pat is a guy who has lost everything because the person he loved the most betrayed him and he could not control his reaction to that. He has dedicated himself to getting it all back, especially her. He cannot see that it may not be possible. It is the goal he has been living for, surviving for, and failure is not something he can accept. He will do anything to make it happen. When he meets Tiffany, he initially sees her as an obstacle to that goal. Circumstances gradually force him to see her differently. Practicing the dance routine with her eventually makes him see that he has to make the choice that will really make him happy, even if it means letting go of the goal that has kept him going for so long. The more we watch and listen to him, the more we understand. Tiffany has lost her husband and the life she thought she was going to have. She has reacted very badly to that. She is still angry and she lashes out at people when she feels hurt. She sleeps around in a vain search for any kind of a connection. When she meets Pat by chance, she thinks she has met the one person in her world who might understand and accept and maybe even love her. If only he wasn’t fixated on getting back his cheating bitch wife, that is. But he frustrates her too. She can’t “read him” the way she can so many other men. She has to test him, provoke him, get him to see her for who she really is. She knows he’s attracted to her – she just has to get him to admit it to himself. It’s important to her because he’s the only one who sees her as a person and not “Tiffany the crazy slut”. The more we watch and listen to her, the more we understand.

This is what the film is about – it is about two people who have been knocked down, hard, and find in each other a reason to get up again. They find a love and understanding that they can’t find in anyone else. They find a life that makes sense to them. They hear the right song in their heads and they crank it up. Fuck anyone who doesn’t hear it too. Russell’s last film was called The Fighter, but to me Pat and Tiffany are the real fighters. No, their problems are not going to magically disappear. No one is saying that. But in each other, they have found a reason to keep fighting. They are able to let go of the pain and the fear and the anger of their pasts and just choose to love each other. What could be more beautiful, more honest, more real than that?

The performances are just outstanding. Bradley Cooper does the kind of acting that can redefine a career. I’ve seen this guy in a lot of films and TV shows, but I’ve never seen him give a performance on this level. This guy is clearly not just the Hangover guy. Pat screws up, he makes mistakes, he gets in his own way, and we feel so much for him because of it. Cooper takes us inside his head, makes him sympathetic and understandable. It’s as if we are seeing this actor for the first time. Jennifer Lawrence – WOW. Holy shit. I thought I knew about Jennifer Lawrence, but I guess I didn’t know. She is truly incredible here, and at the risk of sounding like James Lipton, Jennifer Lawrence gives the best performance I’ve seen all year of anyone in anything. Tiffany is no teenager, and she’s certainly no Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She’s flawed and awesome, contradictory and kick-ass. Sometimes she fucks up, and you want to yell at her to get her shit together. Then other times she’s brilliant and you love her to death. In other words, she’s a human being. Why don’t we see more of that in movies? Anyone who can’t see how great she is in this needs a seeing-eye dog to walk across the street. Jennifer Lawrence is my new favorite actress, and if you’re smart she’s yours too. Damn right she beat Meryl! Jennifer Lawrence is the future. Sign up now. Robert De Niro is an acting god in this film playing Pat’s father. He’s not falling back on his usual tricks here. He’s playing a simple man who loves his son deeply but doesn’t know how to help him. He doesn’t know what to do. Their mutual love of football is the only way they can connect, and he feels that slipping away because of Tiffany. That scares him. He says so much with just a few sentences, a word, a look. Again, the more we watch and listen, the more we understand. But you have to be smart enough to watch and listen.

All I can tell you is that this movie felt like real life to me. I don’t live in Philadelphia, but I recognize these people. I understand the world they live in. I relate to the struggles they have gone through. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you live in some other world that I’m not aware of. Maybe you’re too young. Or maybe you just haven’t dealt with anything like what these characters have in your own life. Maybe you have never lost something or someone that was important to you. Maybe your life never fell apart because of it. And maybe you never found that one thing, that one out-of-the-blue miracle that made life worth living again. But that’s real life. If that hasn’t happened to you, let me tell you something. Watch out, because sooner or later life finds a way. Trust me on that. But I’m not going to waste my time arguing about it. I’m so done arguing with people who “don’t get it”. People who like to argue must live really long lives, because mine is just too damn short. Here’s my argument from now on: be smarter. That’s right. If you don’t get it, be smarter. Boom. End of argument. Now shut your pie hole.

I loved this film. If you didn’t, that’s your problem, not mine. Some people buy a ticket to a movie and choose not to let the movie do its job. I think that’s rather silly, don’t you? That’s like going to a comedy and stifling your own laughter. Movies are supposed to provoke reactions – to make us feel things. That’s the point. Silver Linings Playbook did that for me. It’s a movie that grabbed me by the collar, pounded on my heart and yelled, “feel something, motherfucker!! FEEL SOMETHING.”

FEEL SOMETHING.

THAT’S WHAT MOVIES ARE SUPPOSED TO DO.

Thank you, David O. Russell, for reminding me of that. Thank you for my favorite movie of the year. To quote your own movie, I’ve got nothing but love for you, my brother. Currently in theaters.

So that’s it. And I’m finally done with 2012. On to 2013 and all the cinematic delights it has to offer. Thanks to everyone for reading all of this. If you haven’t seen some of the films on this list, I sincerely hope you will give them a shot. I don’t think you will be disappointed. Talk to you later.

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