Top 10 Movies of 2012 Or: Ten movies I really liked and want to celebrate by telling you why I really liked them
By Bret Dorman
Be sure to check out 10-6 here if you missed out! Otherwise… let’s get right into it!5) The Raid: Redemption (aka Guns Knives and Fists: The Movie)
When it comes to Martial Arts flicks, there are three basic types. 1) Bad martial arts that don’t quite get the ‘arts’ aspect and rush through the action sloppily. 2) Good martial arts movies that, even if they are extremely well executed, are something fans hope to see every time they check out a new movie. 3) Game changers, that add a whole new element and do so in a way that makes it hard for the rest of the genre to play catch up. The Raid is a game changer. It shows us an energy and relentless pacing that is hard to maintain in most Hollywood actioners and it shows us a sadistic brutality by inflicting maximum injury to all involved.
The beauty of The Raid is in the fighting. What obviously took a painstakingly long time to choreograph and rehearse comes off with lightning speed. Usually when something is done right, it looks effortless, perhaps even easy. But the over the top and insane set pieces from this movie never make it look easy. Ever. At no point do you think “Oh yeah I’ve seen that before” or “I could recreate that if I really tried.” In addition to the meticulous is absolute mayhem. The movie naturally moves from guns to blades to fists without ever sacrificing run time to explain the nitty gritty details in between.
The movie ultimately comes down to the final jaw dropping set piece, as the main character and his unexpected ‘sidekick’ fight Mad Dog, the most ruthless of all the henchmen. Normally when a new movie comes out I don’t like to over-hype its place in film history by making hyperbolic statements like “Best. Fight Scene. Ever.” But realistically, this is a very solid contender for Top 5 (Jackie Chan’s Legend of the Drunken Master might make my personal vote for the Top?). Anyone who remotely considers themselves a martial arts fan MUST see this movie. Hell, even non-martial arts fans would have their mind blown at the choreography.
4) The Avengers (aka the Fun Movies Can Be Good Movies Too defense)
Marvel (specifically Kevin Feige) and Joss Whedon managed to pull off something that had never been done before. They took several different franchises and successfully combined them into one mega movie. The Avengers isn’t just an example of a fun movie, its an example of people overcoming the odds and working together to accomplish an impossible task, just like the characters in the movie! To come into a movie with so much “baggage” and to have certain things mapped out, needing to hit those points, could have resulted in disaster. Instead, the filmmakers behind The Avengers turned all its potential weaknesses into some of its greatest strengths.
After my first viewing I was a tad bit disappointed in the final fight, especially since I love me some good villainy. Loki makes an intriguing badguy but ultimately the last act is just a bunch of CGI expendable baddies getting wiped out. After my second viewing though, I was able to appreciate how carefully constructed the true “villain” of the movie is played out. The real threat of the movie is teamwork. If the team can’t work together, Earth is doomed. Loki’s plan is even based on getting all the heroes together and them fighting, which does happen. I’m not a comic book nerd (I don’t say that because I’m afraid or ashamed, but because I couldn’t hold a candle to the real Comic Book Nerds who could school me in any conversation), but I totally loved seeing Iron Man fight Thor.
One of my favorite things about The Avengers is that whoever is your favorite hero coming in, can be your favorite hero of the movie. No one particularly outshines anyone else. My personal favorite of the bunch is Iron Man, but every character is great. There can be no denying though, that The Hulk sort of stole the show. With two of his own movies, Hulk had his chance at big screen glory. This movie lucks out by being able to use Bruce Banner sparingly, highlighted by Mark Ruffalo’s performance and instant chemistry with the rest of the gang. Other movies struggle to focus on Banner as a main character, so including him only when needed is definitely refreshing for the character. Plus… Hulk vs Loki at the end was maybe the biggest crowd pleasing moments of the year, garnering thundering applause every time I saw it in theaters. That’s got to count for something…
3) Rust and Bone (aka The French Killer Whale Movie)
This is the foreign artistic movie I put on my list to add some class to it. It’s severely out of place with the other movies in my Top 5. But I can pinpoint the scene that won me over, for better or worse. It happens about halfway in and feature a Katy Perry song. If you told me that one of the most emotionally powerful scenes of the year had a lady in a wheel chair doing Killer Whale training movements set to ‘Fireworks’ I would have laughed at you. But now I know that there are movies out there that can continue to surprise me.
One of the things I really admire about (good) actors in (challenging) movies is how they can completely transform themselves into a different person. Forget the fact that Marion Cotillard had to pretend to not have legs, she is absolutely absorbed in her role. At times, just her presence or a look can totally change the direction of a scene. I can’t imagine how hard it has to be for someone to be this good at acting, since I myself would make a terrible actor. Now I like the fun character gimmicky stuff (see: The Avengers) but this is in a league all of its own. Matthias Schoenaerts is also good, but since I haven’t seen him in anything else its easier for my mind to disassociate his public persona and his character.
Rust and Bone is one of those movies, like Silver Linings Playbook, that sounds ridiculous on paper. It should not work and it should be corny. Killer whale trainer looses legs and security guard turned MMA fighter hook up in an emotional roller coaster of a ride. She loses her legs! Sad! He is a bad dad! Sad! They hook up! Happy! They fight! Sad! She gets fake legs! Happy! He plays with his kid in the snow! Happy! Like I mentioned, I knew halfway no matter where the movie left off, at one of its many highs or lows, this movie had me. I won’t say where the film does end, but I will say this is one of the movies where I genuinely NEEDED the characters to be happy.
2) Looper (aka That Stupid Movie Whose Characters Didn’t Do What I Would Have Done movie)
I happened upon Brick when it hit DVD and was intrigued by the film noir meets high school gimmick, featuring that kid from 3rd Rock From The Sun. I wasn’t expecting much, so maybe that’s why the movie hit me harder than it should have? I love it. I patiently awaited The Brothers Bloom, which I thought was great despite an overly long (but necessary) ending. To find out writer/director Rian Johnson would be tackling Time Travel Sci-Fi next made this one of my most eagerly anticipated movies of the year. After the first viewing I would not have ranked it as #2 Best of the Year, but having seen it a couple times (with in-theater commentary too!) I’ve let it sink in and cement its spot as one of my favorites of the year.
The first 20 minutes or so of the movie, are absolutely perfect. I thought there was no way the movie could keep this up and introduce the mind bending addition of time travel. Sure enough the movie slows a bit, picks up a bit of steam once the future Joe comes in, then settles its second half in a weird place that seems like a different movie. I admire the brave decision to make this movie two different halves, as well as really respect the fact that that is what the story needed to continue and finally end. Looper takes some unexpected twists and turns (coming from someone who doesn’t watch trailers), but its so rare to go into a movie, especially with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis and not really know where the movie is heading at every moment. I liked that sense of danger, especially in how vicious the main characters were with the past/future selves.
Two big scenes come as a highlight in this movie, both near the end, so I’ll talk vaguely about them as though you already have seen the movie. The first features Bruce Willis tearing shit up, like Bruce Willis has been known to do. Normally I would be cheering this moment and in the movie it definitely isn’t as much of a grey area as some of the other stuff he does, however, I couldn’t help but become overwhelmed with a sense of dread. There’s both excitement and danger as he unleashes his true fury on the people of the past. Secondly, the kid has a bigger part of the movie that you see coming due to the conventions of good storytelling. What you don’t see coming is how exactly that plays into the story at the time it does and using the visuals it employs. The ‘big moment’, taken on its own, is ludicrous and absurd. But in the context of the movie, it had the entire audience silent, every time I saw it. And that’s got to count for something…
1) DREDD (aka “I’m gonna throw you off a high rise because FUCK YOU”)
Yes. Dredd. For real. I haven’t been shy about my love of the movie at all. I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did and it wasn’t THE movie to beat for the year (unlike Drive and Black Swan, the two movies of the previous two years that were my obvious #1 choices and were the movies to beat). I just happened to really like this flick and the more I watched it, the more I fell in love with everything it does right. Yes, the story is similar to The Raid, but the biggest difference is The Raid is a martial arts movie featuring some cool gun play at first. Dredd is a film about violence. It’s about how violence is needed to fight violence, even if it results in gruesome deaths of the innocent. It’s about how one man is badass enough to take anything the badguys throw at him and retaliate ten fold, without hesitation. It’s about how ‘the law’ is something that should be taken on a case by case basis, sometimes allowing for leeway and sometimes resulting in immediate death.
Karl Urban puts on a performance worthy of The Greats. Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry. Sylvester Stallone as Rambo (specifically in Rambo (4)). Ray Stevenson as The Punisher. And Mickey Rourke as Marv. To name a few. All of these people/characters excel at the fact that they just don’t give a fuck about being goodguys. Yes, they do good things using violent methods, but their life style leads them to misery and they soak in the stuff. They become so saturated with hate that the moment someone challenges them, they are able to put them down. As Karl Urban constantly scowls and gravelly mumbles out his lines, you get the feeling like he’s tired of it all, but out of good conscience, can not give up and let evil win. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “He who does not punish evil, commands it to be done.” These men punish the scum of society. With extreme prejudice.
Everyone else shines in the movie too. Olivia Thirlby is super sexy as well as able to hold her own when it comes to the later action. Wood Harris is totally believable as a pain in the ass who the judges have to escort as they work their way through the building. And Lena Headey delivers an ambivalent performance that showcases why her character is the most dangerous of all, she doesn’t take pleasure in being torturous; but she does enjoy having control and being the boss. Now, not everything is perfect about Dredd. I like the slo mo effects (seeing it in 3D was definitely better than 2D) and understand the need for CGI blood, but I will always prefer real squibb work to the fake stuff every time. Its sad this movie turned out to be a flop at the box office, because I was really looking forward to the filmmakers and Urban challenging Dredd in more adventures that pushed the limits of ‘the law’ to its most extreme edges.
The Tarantino Exception: Django Unchained (aka That Controversial Slave Movie by The White Guy Who Makes Violent Movies)I don’t like to do ‘honorable mentions’ because I don’t like to just rattle off a bunch of movies. But one movie I do want to give special treatment to is Django Unchained. Why? Because Tarantino hits me on a level that no other filmmaker can hit me on, especially so consistently. I have excluded his movies from my “Top 10 of the year” lists to give other movies, like Dredd a chance at reaching the coveted #1 spot of Bret Dorman’s Top List, which is why I assume all filmmakers make films.
Django Unchained is not Tarantino’s best work. Nor is it my favorite. Hell, Kill Bill isn’t even his best/my favorite. And when Kill Bill vol 1 or 2 or both together aren’t your best movie(s), you know you’ve done something right. Here’s my breakdown of Tarantino’s work: Reservoir Dogs (my personal favorite) > Inglourious Basterds (my pick for his best) > Pulp Fiction > Kill Bill > Death Proof > Django Unchained > Jackie Brown. And I like Jackie Brown. A lot.
Django excels at using the fun elements of Spaghetti Westerns, Kung Fu Flicks, and Midnight Movies while never letting go of the fact that you are watching a movie. It treats its themes seriously enough, but allows itself some wiggle room to have fun within those serious themes and deliver good entertainment. I also feel sorry for people who can’t get over the violence, whether it be the more realistic imagery or the cartoony splats of blood. If that’s not your thing I get it and if you feel uncomfortable that’s fine. But I also say that to people who LIKE the movie. This movie is so much more than just its violence, whether you applaud or condemn the movie for it. The way Waltz takes Foxx into his care, then shows him how to be a bounty hunter, giving Foxx all the tools he’ll need for the grand second act of the third act is why Tarantino is a master. So many times we see a hero captured and just somehow using dumb luck or good luck manages to escape and ultimately win. But here… we see all the carefully constructed pieces of the puzzle so perfectly fit to combine dumb luck, good luck, and the actual skill to rope those two together. Everyone performs exceptionally well, but I gotta give the movie to Samuel L. Jackson, who right from the moment he appeared on screen to the end, had me laughing and terrified at his role.
So that’s that. An interesting list to say the least. Again, these are the movies that hit me just the right way at just the right time. I acknowledge the fact that you like different movie and would love to hear why you like them. Leave some comments with movies that couldn’t make my list or why the ones that did also made yours! Thanks everyone!