Movies of 2012

By the time you read this, some of you may be rushing to return that hideous scarf your Aunt Gertrude gave to you on Christmas…or gearing up for a festive, champagne-filled December 31. Either way, it’s a time to look back on the endlessly entertaining sideshow that was 2012. Starting with movies…

The Hunger Games (thankfully) didn’t suck. The Twilight Saga (finally) ended. Joss Whedon became a savior for fanboys around the world. And Ben Affleck proved that he wasn’t a one-trick pony (behind the camera, that is). Elsewhere, a dark knight rose, Disney-Pixar got Brave, and Channing Tatum had one hell of banner year (wooing Rachel McAdams, stripteasing for millions, and firing guns with Jonah Hill). Here’s a list of films that did more than just tickle my fancy. They titillated, mesmerized, and reminded me why watching the big screen can be one of the most thrilling of life’s experiences.

*NOTE — Not viewed at press time: Zero Dark ThirtyLife of PiThe Sessions, and The Master (please accept my apologies if you don’t accept the following).

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1. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – John Madden’s gorgeous travelogue not only gathers the best acting talent from the UK, it beautifully taps into the fears and insecurities of Baby Boomers, a generation that is now entering its “final act” and admirably discovering ways to establish new leases on their lives. And when you put Judi Dench and Maggie Smith in the same movie, you’re guaranteed a bloody good time.

2. Beasts of the Southern Wild – It simultaneously works as an environmental cautionary tale, an unflinching yet whimsical portrait of America’s invisible class, a study on a fractured father-daughter relationship, and a much-needed call to action concerning the nation’s impoverished.

3. Cloud Atlas – The Wachowski siblings deliver their most ambitious project to date, a cornucopia of genres skillfully woven together in a majestic tapestry that covers an array of metaphysical topics. Watching Cloud Atlas is like witnessing a dream flourishing before your eyes. It’s one of those rare movies that speaks to the subconscious. You either get it and appreciate it for what it is, or you dismiss it as a hot mess — a gorgeous and meticulously detailed one at that.

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4. Skyfall – Possibly the best Bond flick ever, Sam Mendes’s thoughtful actioner is both an ingenious origin film and a clever reinvention. It’s also the most personal entry in the franchise. Javier Bardem’s villain is one of fearsome flamboyance (you can almost understand where the guy’s coming from), Daniel Craig’s 007 delivers the requisite gravitas, and Judi Dench, in a meatier role as M, conveys a vulnerability we’ve never seen before. From its gorgeous cinematography to its exquisite script, it’s Grade-A all around.

5. Argo – Ben Affleck’s nail biter of a movie is so ludicrously plotted, it had to have been a true story. Part Hollywood satire, part heist saga, and part history lesson, Argo is a tightly paced crackerjack thriller with one of the finest ensembles seen on the big screen this year. Casting directors, feel free to put Alan Arkin and John Goodman together in everything from now on.

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6. Django Unchained – Quentin Tarantino moves from Nazi Germany to the down and dirty South of a pre-Civil War America to flesh out another revenge fantasy, this time involving slaves and their masters. Foxx is a welcome player to the Tarantino universe, strutting through most of the movie with a quiet rage that explodes during the inevitable climactic bloodbath.

7. Les Miserables – Despite being a blatant piece of Oscar bait, Tom Hooper’s adaptation is a  rousing and innovative production (the actors actually sang on set; no pre-recorded tracks here). This is the Lord of the Rings of musicals and will undoubtedly collect several shiny trophies come February. During the guild screening I attended, the audience applauded for Anne Hathaway in a way I hadn’t witnessed since Jennifer Hudson finished “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” in Dreamgirls six years ago.

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8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Coming-of-age movies usually fall into the traps of cliches and syrupy sweet resolutions, but not this one. Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of his original novel may be a Catcher in the Rye for GenY, but it’s also a poignant period piece (it’s set in the ancient time of 1991) that delicately paints a portrait of the artist as an outcast and can resonate anywhere anytime with anyone who’s ever attended high school.

9. Silver Linings Playbook – A Hollywood film without pretense (read: doesn’t rely on complete star wattage or Teen Vogue-friendly faces) that delivers on all levels: great script, fantastic performances, and a surprisingly original romance. (who knew those still existed?)

10. The Cabin in the Woods – A horror flick that twists, turns, and annihilates the traditional tropes of the genre while satirizing the hell out of its stereotypes, this much-delayed film from Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (shot in 2009!) was well worth the wait.

…AND 10 VERY HONORABLE MENTIONS: Looper, Liberal ArtsRobot and FrankRuby SparksCeleste and Jesse ForeverThe Dark Knight RisesHope SpringsParaNormanThe Impossible, and Wreck-It Ralph.

MVP OF THE YEAR: The bow and arrow (The Hunger Games, Brave, The CW’s Arrow, NBC’s Revolution, Hawkeye in The Avengers)

BEST SUPERHERO MOVIE THAT’S NOT THE AVENGERS: Chronicle

THE BRING IT ON OF THE 2010s: Pitch Perfect

MOST CHARMING MOVIE ABOUT THE APOCALYPSE: Seeking a Friend For The End Of The World

THANKS, BUT NO THANKS: Battleship, One for the Money, Playing for Keeps, John Carter, Darling Companion, To Rome With Love, and Taylor Kitsch’s repeated attempts at a movie career.

Up next: my Top 10 picks in TV.

- Hiko Mitsuzuka (@TheFirstEcho)

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