2012 Movies: Hits and Misses
By now, you’ve probably OD’d on end-of-the-year lists of the top ten or more variety (here’s mine, if you haven’t!). However, the problem with lists like that is that they rarely allow for smaller, lesser-known movies or more genre-oriented fare, aside from the occasional big ticket items of the year, a la “Beasts of the Southern Wild” in the indie arena or something like “Skyfall” or “The Dark Knight Rises” in the more popcorn movie-oriented wheelhouse.
But what of the other stuff? Sure, something like “21 Jump Street” shouldn’t make any self-respecting critic’s top ten, but it certainly qualifies as one of the best comedies of the year, right? To that end, I took it upon myself to create another list, this one for the lesser celebrated facets of the film industry, the things that tend to slip through the cracks, come awards season. Things like comedy, horror, action, teen movies and the like. So, sit back and enjoy my list of the biggest Hits and Misses of 2012!
I fully expected Pixar to claim this spot for their own as always, but “Brave” left a lot to be desired, especially in the second half. So, I’m giving it to this return to form for director Tim Burton, who revisited his Disney beginnings- the original live action version was one of his earliest projects for Disney- and came up with a winner, his best in ages. I loved everything about this one, from the gorgeous black and white- in superior 3D, no less- to the fantastic climax as dead pets ran rampant old-school monster movie style all over the town. It never ceases to amaze me what Disney lets Burton get away with, but I hope they keep doing it, especially when it comes to his animated features, which are delightfully twisted and always beautifully crafted. This one’s no exception.
The fact that this trounced “Frankenweenie” at the box office is a sad state of affairs indeed. You people know if you stop going to see Adam Sandler movies he might actually stop making them, right? (Or at least make better ones, a la “Punch Drunk Love.”) Whatever the case, I’m a die-hard horror fan, and I hated this. I didn’t laugh once. I can get where “Frankenweenie” might not be for everyone, but this movie isn’t even passable fodder for toddlers. If B&W is not your bag, fine- I suggest “Paranorman.” Anything is better than this dreck, that’s for sure.
Okay, so “This is 40” was more poignant and real, but it also fell prey to many of director Judd Apatow’s worst tendencies, chief among them being way too long for its own good. “Ted” may be crass, vulgar and have little to no redeeming value in the learning curve department, but it’s also hilarious and a hell of a first-time directorial debut from animation king Seth MacFarlane that doesn’t stick around much longer than it needs to. Even when it gets vaguely indulgent, it’s too include the likes of a foul-mouthed Norah Jones and- be still my heart- “Flash Gordon” himself, Sam Jones, and by God, I don’t think MacFarlane was being ironic about either one, which is a rarity in and of itself. I’ll say it if no one else will: he earned that Oscar gig.
Also worth a mention: “The Campaign” (Will Ferrell can still be funny? Who knew? This bodes well for the long-awaited “Anchorman” follow-up.) and “Rock of Ages” (I hate musicals, and this didn’t change my mind, but lurking between all the trashy 80’s metal covers was a genuinely funny script, with some great, memorable moments that are well worth your time).
Okay, so I created this especially for the aforementioned “21 Jump Street,” which, let’s face it, was better than it had any right to be. I had zero desire to see this, wasn’t looking forward to it one iota, never watched the original show and even after generally positive reviews, I resisted its allure. Then on a slow day, I rented it to see what the fuss was all about. Oops- my bad. It’s awesome! Who’d have thought Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum would make such a great team? Let’s hope they can sustain that in the inevitable sequel. I also loved how self-aware the movie was; even poking fun of itself in the script even before the critics had a chance to, leading to a line for the ages: “We’re reviving a canceled undercover project from the ’80s and revamping it for modern times. The people behind this lack creativity and they’ve run out of ideas, so what they do now is just recycle sh** from the past and hope that nobody will notice.” LOL. Last but not least, it also had the…
Star Johnny Depp, who was so convincing no one realized it was even him until right before he checked out of the movie, sending many back for a second go-round, knowing what they didn’t know the first time around. And that return business is what separates a moderate hit from a bona fide blockbuster. Well done, fellas, and bonus props to Channing Tatum for his newfound MVP status, as he solidified his star power in earnest in several hits this year. As a fellow Alabama native, he did us proud. Runners-up: Jonah Hill’s LOL bit in “Django Unchained” as a proto-Klansman; and the man himself, Franco Nero, who played the original “Django” in the movie of the same name and cropped up in this updated version.
The same cannot be said for Jonah Hill’s other comedy released this year, a perfectly awful and astonishingly unfunny flick that was one of those unfortunate films where literally all of the best jokes are in the trailer- and even then, they weren’t that funny. This could have been like the alien version of “Ghostbusters,” instead we got what may well be the worst movie any of these guys, which also includes Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn, have ever been in- and that’s saying something.
The scene in “Ted” with Sam Jones at the party came awful close, and the scene with Jonah Hill in “Django” was a hoot and a half, but I gotta give it to Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand in “Rock of Ages.” Not only was it the funniest scene in the movie, it made the movie worth seeing, period; and did I mention I HATE musicals? I won’t spoil it here, but it’s truly funny and comes vaguely out of nowhere, and you’ll know it when you see it. They should really do a version sans musical numbers so that non-musical fans can appreciate it too, because I’m guessing they would if they could get past all the singing. Youtubers, get on it!
After seeing a classified want ad on TV that advertised for companions to time travel with, writer Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow crafted this quirky tale, writing a part especially for cult TV favorite Aubrey Plaza, of “Parks and Recreation” fame. She’s great, and should be one to watch this year, notably in the forthcoming “The To Do List.” Snagging indie fave Mark Duplass (“The League”) as the mad scientist and “New Girl”-star Jake Johnson to boot, plus bits from Mary Lynn Raskjub (Chloe from “24”) and Kristen Bell (“Veronica Mars”), this is a cute, modest little romantic comedy disguised under a sci-fi movie premise that is well worth your time.
See also: Anything with Greta Gerwig, but especially “Lola Versus” and “Damsels in Distress,” the latter of which marks the return of beloved indie favorite director Whit Stillman; plus “Bachelorette,” which played like an indie “Bridesmaids.”
I can only imagine the pitch meeting for this one: let’s do comedy about the end of the world! Because nothing says funny like one’s certain doom. There is a wealth of talent here and a couple of scenes where we get a glimpse of what could have been- the party early on, with Patton Oswalt, and the bit in the restaurant with TJ Miller- but the film seems afraid to go from broke and ends up being really depressing and sad, which is not what you want in a comedy, romantic or otherwise. There is actually a good movie to be made on this subject matter.and it’s called “Last Night.” (Ironically, Keira Knightley was also in a film with that title, but you want the one from 1998 with Sandra Oh, of “Sideways” fame, written and directed by Don McKellar.) A real apocalypse would be preferable to sitting through this one again.though I bet the outtakes of Miller and Oswalt and the various other stand-up comedians in the film are a hoot.
Runner-up: I wasn’t too fond of the meh follow-up to “Little Miss Sunshine” by Jonathan Faris and Valerie Dayton, “Ruby Sparks.” I wanted to like it, but it just fell apart about midway through for me. That house the main guy’s mother lives in is amazeballs, though, and almost worth seeing the entire film for. Better luck next time, and don’t wait so long next time around!
This one made my top twenty of the year, but I almost ranked it even higher. The only reason I didn’t was because it was such a good year for movies. Whatever the case, you should definitely do what you can to see this underrated flick, which features the quirky/sexy Brit Marling, who’s sort of like Greta Gerwig’s serene hippie chick sister. She co-wrote an equally polarizing film, “Another World,” in 2011, right around the same time she initially filmed this one, which she also co-wrote with the director. It’s about a reporter who seeks to infiltrate a cult led by Marling’s character, who claims to be from the future. Is she crazy or is she telling the truth? There are no easy answers in this film, which is part of why I like it. It’s also beautifully photographed and artfully done and would be a good half of a double feature with “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” which also revolves around a cult.
Ever see a movie and come out convinced that you’ve seen the exact same movie already, only under a different name? That’s how I felt coming out of this snoozer, which wasted a talented cast that included Jeremy Irons, Bradley Cooper (who fares way better in “Silver Linings Playbook”), Olivia Wilde and Zoe Saldana. I’m a writer obviously, but there are few things more boring than watching someone play a writer who’s suffering from writer’s block, even if that someone is the normally super charismatic Cooper. You’ve seen it all before, and this is not going to change that, even with its unnecessarily convoluted storyline and set-up that thinks it’s being clever like Tarantino but is actually more like a rip off of a rip off of QT- which is to say, the kind of thing you’d expect to find in the movie equivalent of a secondhand bookstore. I suppose it’s kind of appropriate, but that doesn’t make it good, either. Someone called in a lot of favors to get this made, given that cast.too bad they wasted their effort. I guess they should have waited for real inspiration to strike.
Okay, first of all, I didn’t count “Zero Dark Thirty” since it’s not really an action movie per se, not in the traditional sense of the term. I’m talking about the sorts of movies you find on late night TV or on Redbox or Netflix when everything else is out of stock. To that end, this was one of big name director Steven Soderbergh’s lower-budgeted affairs that he makes in between paycheck-cashing flicks like the “Ocean’s” movies. This down and dirty romp features a lot of big names, including Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Bill Paxton and Channing Tatum, yet it was actually written to showcase rising MMA fighter Gina Carano, who helped choreograph all of the in-your-face action scenes, which were performed live rather than the typical cut-and-paste style favored by most action films. It shows, and it makes all the difference in the world. What Carano may lack in acting skill, she more than makes up for in general bad-ass-ery. (She’s pretty easy on the eyes, too.) I’ve no doubt she’ll go on to make a metric sh*t-ton of these sorts of films, but I can guarantee they won’t be nearly as well done as this one. See it now, and get in on the ground floor.
I had such high hopes for this one, but, boy, was it a letdown. At the very least, it certainly lives up to the title, as every action scene is slowed down, “Matrix”-style to a crawl, making this more of an inaction film than an action film, if you know what I mean. Pitt isn’t bad, but James Gandolfini not only could do this sort of thing in his sleep, he seems like he actually is asleep half the time. His character is so lazy he can’t be bothered to whack anybody, and the film itself seems to share this attitude. It wouldn’t be so bad if the drama was solid and the script was any good, but most of the film is centered around these two yahoos that you won’t care about, one of which also keeps falling asleep throughout the film. It could well be a metaphor for the experience you’ll have watching this snooze fest. I had a better time at “Breaking Dawn, Part 2” and as a critic, that’s saying something, none of which is good. Sorry Brad, but this one is the.wait for it. pitts. (Had to do it.)
A horror movie for horror fans written by horror fans.you would think this sort of thing would happen more often, yet you’d be surprised how rarely it does, with most of the remake/sequel action being handled by hired guns. Well, hiring someone who doesn’t know a thing about the genre and is just trying to land a job is like hiring, I don’t know, a non-comic book geek to write a comic book movie. Hmm.what might this film and another have in common? Well, what do you know! It’s Joss Whedon, who loves his comics and horror in equal doses. This one got lost in the shuffle a bit, but he obviously hit “The Avengers” out of the park (see below). Anyway, if you like horror, you owe it to yourself to see this one. It may seem sort of off-putting at first because of the approach, but stick with it, because the pay-off is so worth it. I loved this movie, through and through.
Runners-up: “Sinister,” “The Possession” (worth it to see Matisyahu as an exorcist), “The Collection,” “The Woman in Black.”
Honestly, have we learned nothing from the whole “Saw” debacle? It’s a bittersweet scenario when the little-movie-that-could dethrones the big-bad-franchise that was making everyone sick and learns nothing from it. What made the original “PA” so effective was its simplicity, and the fact that it wasn’t a gore-fest, which separated it from “Saw.” Now, for no apparent reason, “PA” has gone rogue, involving characters that have nothing to do with anything. Stop trying to prolong what doesn’t need to be prolonged and get back to the core story, people, and I say this with love (and apologies to Kathryn Newton, who was fine). A scary ending does not a good movie make.
Runners-up: “The Apparition” (I was sorely tempted to give to this one on that ending alone- so hell is a Costco? WTF!), “The House at the End of the Street” (just as generic as its name and star Jennifer Lawrence’s only misstep this year), “The Tall Man” (how in God’s name did the same director of “Martyrs” do this movie?), and, of course, everyone’s favorite whipping boy, “The Devil Inside,” which wouldn’t have been as bad if it actually had, I don’t know, a FREAKING ENDING!
Duh, “Prometheus.” I don’t care if people liked it or not- at least it got everyone talking. What, you’d rather have another “Alien vs. Predator” movie? Plus, the potential of a tie-in with “Blade Runner” made fanboys squeal with anticipation, myself included. I loved this movie, warts and all.
Runners-up: “The Hunger Games,” “Looper,” “Chronicle” and if it counts, “Cloud Atlas.”
“The Avengers”- yes, yes, I know, “The Dark Knight Rises” was awesome, too, and a fitting conclusion to the trilogy of brilliant Christopher Nolan’s take on the legendary Batman. However, it wasn’t a lot of fun. Not that movies like this have to be, but there’s an inherent silliness to guys and girls running around in goofy outfits that almost has to be acknowledged or it endangers the film as a whole because it takes itself too seriously, which “TDKR” came precariously close to. Ergo, I give it to “The Avengers” because I don’t think I had more fun at the movies this year. Plus, as a longtime Joss Whedon fan, it was nice to see him finally knock one out of the park, showing the world what we diehards have known along: the boy can write! Let the complaints begin!
As a longtime critic, I have had to suffer the bad along with enjoying the good, and they don’t come a lot worse than the “Twilight” franchise. Every time a new one appeared on the horizon, I felt a chill up my spine, and not a good one. So, you can imagine my surprise when the final installment- thank God! – “Breaking Dawn, Part 2” didn’t suck entirely. In fact, it was mildly enjoyable all around. Kristen Stewart learned a few more facial expression and actually got to kick a little ass, and in fact, the whole cast did as a whole in the slam-bang ending. Yes, the twist ending was a bit of a cheat, but it was also pretty darned clever and even managed to throw me for a loop, which doesn’t happen that often, least of all with something like this. So, while it’s not re-inventing the wheel or anything, nice going. But if anyone talks reboot, I’m moving to one of the far corners of the earth and staying there.
Runners-up: “John Carter” (not nearly as bad as you’d think.kinda good actually), “Men in Black 3” (didn’t care going in, loved it going out), “Snow White and the Huntsman” (What’s this? Two watchable K-Stew movies in a year? Someone just got interesting! Who knew infidelity could be a plus?).
Best Lincoln– Spielberg’s “Lincoln”
Worst Lincoln– “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”
Best Hitchcock– Toby Jones in “The Girl”
Worst Hitchcock– The hammy Anthony Hopkins in “Hitchcock”
Most Beautiful Squalor– “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Most Cost-Effective Production– “Cosmopolis,” most of which took place in a car
Best Sequel– “Men in Black 3,” if you don’t count “The Dark Knight Rises”
Worst Sequel– “Paranormal Activity 4”
Most Deserving of a Sequel– “Chronicle”
Least Deserving of a Sequel– “Snow White and the Huntsman”- yeah I liked it, but let’s quit while we’re ahead, don’t you think?
Coolest Screenwriter– Pablo F. Fenjves, the first writer to take the time out of his busy schedule to contact me and tell me to keep up the good work, even though a gave his film (“Man on a Ledge”) a so-so review! He shared his original script with me and was super-encouraging, and I appreciate it greatly. A class act all around.
Coolest Director– Alexandra Roxo, who contacted me after I all but made a pass at her in an article. She was good-natured and sweet and we’ve since become FB friends. Thanks for understanding and everyone check out “Mary Marie,” especially if you like coming-of-age films!
Best Soundtrack– “Django Unchained”- awesome job as always, QT, but even I didn’t expect 2PAC & Rick Ross! Runners-up: “This is 40,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”
Best Lifetime Movie in Disguise– “The Tall Man”- I was disappointed at first with the twist, but it is kind of clever on further reflection.but this is no “Martyrs,” make no mistake.
Worst Lifetime Movie in Disguise– “Gone” by a hair over “House at the End of the Street”- Jen L. keep doing what you’re doing, but Amanda Seyfried, “Les Miz” notwithstanding, get a new agent, stat.
Best New Franchise/ Best Facial Hair/Coolest Outfits– “The Hunger Games”
Most Ridiculous Outfits- Tom Cruise, “Rock of Ages”
Best Nudity– Jessica Chastain, “Lawless”
Worst Nudity– “Hit and Miss”
Internet Content Better than the Movie– “Paranormal Activity” tie-in Facebook account for a fictional character, Jacob Degloshi
Internet Content that Actually Enhanced the Movie– “Prometheus”
Internet Content that Was Part of the Movie– “The Devil Inside”
Most Uncomfortable Scene– “The Master”- oh, you know the one if you saw it- but if you didn’t see it, don’t watch this with your parents, ever.
Well, that about does it! Be sure and sound off below with your choices, and let me know what you think about the list!