Spotlight: Top 12 Films Of 2012

At the end of any given year, it is not unfamiliar to hear people say “this was the best year for movies”. I’ve never stated this myself, but I feel I hear it quite often. This year, however, I will state it, not only feeling that this was one of the best years in the film industry, but being able to have the numbers to back me up, with 2012 becoming a record breaking year, as the domestic box office has already reached $10.6 billion, becoming the highest grossing year ever.

2012 also held many personal victories for myself. The 2012 Oscar Challenge was accomplished without a hitch. Even though I missed a few of the films nominated for Oscars, I caught all of the ones that mattered and had a spectacular record with my Academy Awards predictions. The summer was full of blockbusters, including the teaming up of superheroes in “The Avengers”, the final installment in the “Dark Knight” series, the rebooting of the “Amazing Spider-Man” and the not-so-prequel to “Alien” in “Prometheus”. Due to the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, we missed “Gangster Squad”, which was (and still is) set to be one of my favorite films of all-time. I was also able to get through all 22 James Bond films, and was treated to a brand new kind of James Bond experience in the 23rd return of 007 with “Skyfall”. And, to finish off the year, we were plunged back into Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth with “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”.

Amongst all of these achievements in both the film industry and my personal movie-going life, including seeing almost 400 films this year (100 in theaters), I was also able to continue using Rotten Tomatoes to rate every film that I viewed throughout the year, with a few in-depth interviews on the blog as well. And with the end of the year at hand, it is time for the cumulative list of my picks for the best films of the year. Do be forewarned , as my list is often quite different than most peoples, with “Drive” and “Like Crazy” making my number one spots last year. Included are the reviews that I supplied for each film, which can also be found on Rotten Tomatoes. So here goes, in descending order for ample suspense-building:

Prometheus-posterheader12. “Prometheus” 09fourhalf-stars
As long as you’re not expecting the direct sequel to Alien, Ridley Scott’s latest science fiction thriller reboots the franchise nicely. With outstanding visual effects and grandiose set pieces, the audience is immersed from start to finish. Along with pitch-perfect performances from Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, and Idris Elba, Prometheus delivers on almost every level. Had the film’s plot not left quite so many holes (leading towards a rumored sequel), Prometheus could have been the perfect stand-alone sci-fi film.

Looper-posterheader11. “Looper” 09fourhalf-stars
A time-travel film that focuses more on its characters and story than explaining how the physics work, “Looper” is a tight-knit action thriller with a hint of science fiction. Led masterfully by writer-director Rian Johnson (“Brick”), his connection with actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt cannot be denied and JGL’s unbelievable and unrelenting talent is fully showcased in this leading role, selling every minute of his screen-time while pulling off a convincing prosthetic Bruce Willis face. Pierce Gagnon plays the young boy, Cid, whom JGL’s character is protecting, and effectively displays some of the most mature emotions I’ve ever witnessed from a child star. Add to that a superior supporting cast in Paul Dano, Garrett Dillahunt, and Jeff Daniels, and a stellar soundtrack, and you’ve got one of the best films of the year and one of the best science fiction thrillers out of this decade.
MoonriseKingdom-posterheader10. “Moonrise Kingdom” 10five-stars
With Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson proves he is at the top of his game, with stunningly choreographed cinematography, brilliant set pieces, and some of the best child acting in recent memory, proving that first-time actress Kara Hayward and first-time actor Jared Gilman both have long, fruitful careers ahead of them. The love story is ripe, with writer/director Anderson never being afraid to delve into young romance in all of its glory. Tied together nicely with Anderson’s trademark quirky humor and an award-worthy score from super-composer Alexandre Desplat, Moonrise Kingdom is one of my favorite films [of the] year.
RubySparks-posterheader9. “Ruby Sparks” 10five-stars
Everything an Indie romantic comedy should be, Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan make the perfect on-screen (and off-screen) quirky couple. With grace and poise, “Ruby Sparks” is able to transcend its genre and its “make believe” nature and becomes a reality worth investing in emotionally. Filled with sincere relationships, sincere performances from everyone involved, and a thoughtful and endearing plot that progresses perfectly, “Ruby Sparks” takes a step away from films like “500 Days of Summer” and “Beginners” and creates a world all its own.
SilverLiningsPlaybook-posterheader8. “Silver Linings Playbook” 09fourhalf-stars
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence give two of the best performances of the year and of their careers. The brilliance of the characters and their say-anything-do-anything mentalities not only provides for entertaining and comedic banter, but allows for both actors to drive home their exquisite and completely natural chemistry. Although the pacing is sometimes jumbled and the arguments reach points of complete inaudible insanity, these elements often end up enriching the plot, as the line between normal and mental illness grows more unclear the longer the characters interact. With heartfelt performances from key supporting players like Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver, “Silver Linings Playbook” not only succeeds comically, but also passionately, transcending the everyday romantic comedy and becoming so much more sincere and meaningful.
TheAvengers-posterheader7. “The Avengers” 10five-stars
Without a doubt the best Marvel film to date, The Avengers reaches almost miraculous levels of intricacy without losing pace or character arcs. In fact, Joss Whedon handles his giant cast of characters perfectly, delivering satisfying arcs for everyone involved, a juggling act that only an experienced director could enact. There is no one man show, as every character has their turn in the spotlight and with justified reasons that are not just for show. There is also a balance between wit and action that I cannot say I have witnessed in an action film prior to this. Running gags are established with punchlines that appear at opportune moments much later in the film, delivering a sort of smart banter between the director and his audience. Also, the action sequences rival almost any superhero film to date, with no characters being lost in the shuffle and even breathing new life into the epic sequences that appear in the trailers. At a brisk two hours and 22 minute run-time, The Avengers could have easily been extended much longer without complaint, but still delivers enough punch for money.

6. The Master 10five-stars
TheHobbit-header5. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” 09fourhalf-stars
Visually enthralling, grandiosely captivating, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” proves that fans are safe with Peter Jackson at the helm of Middle-earth. Martin Freeman is by far the most enjoyable portion of the film, with the look and charisma to deftly carry this latest Tolkien franchise, as lead Bilbo Baggins, while returning faces like Ian McKellen as Gandalf, along with several other familiar faces, help keep the film on par with its predecessors from “The Lord Of The Rings”. The adventure is grand enough, the villains are once again developed, Howard Shore’s score is an unequivocal achievement, and with several key scenes contained in the frames of this particular film, including the return of Gollum, this first film in the trilogy sets the bar fairly high for the forthcoming films. Of course, “The Hobbit” still falters, mainly in its overabundance of CGI, relying too heavily on graphics over practical effects. Also, in its widely publicized high frame rate, the effect leaves much to be desired, with fast motions coming off strange to the eye, and although there are several scenes where the higher frame rate looks impressive, mostly sweeping shots, it is not worth the time spent “adjusting” to its differences. We can only hope this is a passing fad.

4. “The Dark Knight Rises” 10five-stars
A masterpiece in storytelling and delivering one of the best third films in a series, ever, “The Dark Knight Rises” finds the perfect way to bring the franchise full circle. Openly Nolan’s last venture into the Batman lore, the film wraps up exquisitely, with the last 30 minutes of the film containing thoughtful reveals and twists, which are built throughout the course of the film (and unfathomably kept hushed during the marketing of the film). All the actors hit their marks, with Bale, Freeman, Caine, and Oldman delivering above-par repeat performances, while Hathaway, Coutillard, Hardy, and Gordon-Levitt blow away expectations and deliver unforgettable performances. Though the fights are few and far between, the battles that do exist are epic enough to resonate through the entire film. With much deeper and darker material to drive the plot, “The Dark Knight Rises” is much slower paced than the previous installments, but with many great moments built with Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s genius-like writing skills, accompanied by the best score I have heard since “Inception” (also Hans Zimmer), the final Batman film truly holds up and helps mark the capstone of one of the greatest trilogies in cinema history.
Skyfall-posterheader3. “Skyfall” 10five-stars
What I would consider the best James Bond film yet, “Skyfall” does for the 007 series, what “The Dark Knight” did for the Batman series. Daniel Craig officially proves to me that he is the Bond to beat all Bonds, carrying himself in a way that reflects every actor that carried this role before him, while producing a depth unseen in any portrayal prior. Javier Bardem resurrects the spirit of his “No Country For Old Men” villain in his performance of Silva, an ex-agent, now looking for revenge. Top that off with a new Q in the brilliantly talented Ben Whishaw and a subtle yet exciting performance from Ralph Fiennes, and “Skyfall” produces some of the best performances to-date. “Skyfall” dares to tone the film down to a personal level, where the stakes are no longer the entire world, but remain much more close to the heart. Emotion pours out of this film, helped wholly by the stunning cinematography from Roger Deakins and the captivating screenplay, with much more emotion and much more invested than previous installments. What feels like an unofficial reboot to the franchise, any level of Bond fanboy will be enthralled by the multiple layers of past Bond references, while experiencing something so new and refreshing in this 50 year old franchise.
TheAmazingSpiderman-posterheader2. “The Amazing Spider-Man” 10five-stars
The Amazing Spider-Man hits all the right marks with a deep, rich, and believable plot which rarely neglects the source material. Andrew Garfield is a much better Spider-Man than Tobey Macguire, with the writing and dialogue that finally allows for the smart-ass, joke-cracking Spidey that we grew up with in the comics. Emma Stone also brings us a first… the love interest that is both extremely beautiful and extremely smart, complimenting Peter Parker much better than the normal blatant sex objects we are spoon-fed. Their romance is the highlight of the film, with such lifelike representation and emotional resonance, the likes that haven’t been felt since Spider-Man 2, without the repetitive hoopla recycled from every other romance storyline. The fights are of high caliber, the costume breathes new life into the franchise, and the emotional connections throughout the entire story are so dark and tight-knit, you come out of the film fully invested. The only part of the film that was mishandled at times was the score, which definitely left the void of Danny Elfman palpable. This was redeemed, however, by some nicely placed music from The Shins and Coldplay.
Lawless-posterheader1. “Lawless” 10five-stars
“Lawless” is the perfect Prohibition-era film, with everything it takes to make a phenomenal period piece, including backwoods sets, the gangster get-ups, and vehicles and distilleries of the times. Shia LaBeouf and Jason Clarke are excellent in their roles as two of the three brothers, but it’s Tom Hardy and Jessica Chastain who exemplify what it is to bring unforgettable presence to a role. Gary Oldman and Mia Wasikowska also deliver memorable performances in perhaps underutilized roles, while Guy Pearce’s zany villain almost reaches a point of caricature, but inserts a much needed focal point. The violence of the film gets rough at times yet pays itself off by jumping back on course with the driving plot. Based on the novel written by an actual Bondurant, and adapted by the team of John Hillcoat and Nick Cave (“The Proposition”), “Lawless” hits the same marks we’re used to from a Prohibition film, but with a flair and depth that puts it above and beyond anything in its genre.

Honorable Mentions
“21 Jump Street”
“Argo”
“Brave”
“The Cabin In The Woods”
“Flight”
“The Grey”
“Hit & Run”
“Lincoln”
“The Master”
“The Perks Of Being A Wallflower”
“Sinister”
“Snow White and the Huntsman”

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