Favorite

Les Mis, Jessica Chastain & Historical Handjobs 

The Tucson Weekly film critics look back at the Best and Worst of 2012

There were a lot of great movies in 2012 but, according to our movie guys, none of them involved big hits with inorganic web shooters, Daniel Day-Lewis in a tall hat, hobbits with sitcom pedigrees or a lascivious Leonardo DiCaprio.

The year 2012 saw some unusual harmony among our movie critics. Bob Grimm and Colin Boyd liked a lot of the same films, and shared an equal amount of disdain for some big-budget studio efforts.

Both found The Amazing Spider-Man an unnecessary reboot, coming far too soon after the Sam Raimi trilogy. Boyd and Grimm thought it was acted well, but found it a bit paint-by-numbers, with the Lizard being a poorly executed CGI villain.

They liked Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey even less. Boyd called it "clumsy" and "insignificant," while Grimm found it overlong, weird looking and goofy (although Gollum was awesome). In the words of Boyd, it "wasn't worth the wait." Grimm concurs. Let's all pray hard that Jackson rediscovers his footing on the next two installments of the Hobbit trilogy.

Both critics saluted the great work of Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln while not being crazy about the movie itself (pretty boring stuff). As for Tarantino's Django Unchained, Boyd calls it a "C effort" while Grimm found himself just kind of liking it a little. For Grimm, this results in supreme disappointment because he has LOVED all other Tarantino films. Boyd liked DiCaprio, but thinks it was an 80-minute story stretched out to nearly three hours.

Even though some of the movie year's biggest blockbuster offerings came up short artistically, 2012 was rich with many films that could be deemed excellent. You'll see some crossover and agreement in the Boyd and Grimm lists below (one major exception: Boyd is mystified by the critical acclaim for Life of Pi, while Grimm enjoyed watching a CGI tiger go swimming).

Without further ado, the best and worst of the year according to Bob and Colin.


BOB SAYS: The Best

1. Les Misérables: I must give top honors to this colossal achievement. The year's best movie is one of the greatest screen musicals I have ever seen. It captures the grandeur of the Broadway show, and it does something extraordinary in having its performers sing their songs live on set. No lip-synching in this bitch. What you are hearing is happening in the moment.

Hugh Jackman should get serious consideration for Best Actor this year; everything about his lead performance is astounding. If Anne Hathaway (also terrific as Catwoman in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises) gets snubbed, Jackman should seek vengeance for her with his Wolverine claws. And be kind to Russell Crowe and his somewhat inferior voice. He gives it his all and creates a sad, lonely Javert that had me feeling sympathy for that character for the first time after seeing many Les Mis incarnations.

I have seen this version multiple times already. It gets better with repeated viewings. Anybody who tries to film a musical after this one has his work cut out for him. The bar has been set, and it is way, way up there.

2. The Impossible: I cried throughout this movie (I cried through a lot of Les Mis, too. Actually, I cried through an Audi commercial last week. I'm a goddamn wussy). Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor will destroy you as a real-life couple vacationing in Thailand when that awful tsunami hits. This is a stunning testament to those who lost their lives, and those who amazingly survived.

Watts is my pick for the year's Best Actress. It's a mostly physical performance and it's appropriately devastating. This movie kicked my ass.

3. Zero Dark Thirty: Director Kathryn Bigelow has made two great movies in one. The first part is a great investigative thriller along the lines of All the President's Men, the second being a nail-biting action thriller as Team Six meets a stupid asshole named Osama bin Laden.

4. Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson has still never made a movie I haven't liked. His magical film about a couple of kids running away and getting struck by lightning on occasion is pure pleasure, and boasts a stellar supporting cast with Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand and Bill Murray.

5. Looper: This movie reminded me a lot of Back to the Future Part II, one of the greatest, most underrated sequels ever made. I loved how that film came up with so many new twists and turns using time travel. I love this movie for much the same reason.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt nails it as a younger version of Bruce Willis, who time-travels backward to give his younger self a bitch of a hard time. Rian Johnson delivered on the promise that was his directorial debut (Brick) and gave us one of the year's best looking, best acted, best scripted films.

6. Safety Not Guaranteed: Aubrey Plaza stars in the film year's other great time-travel yarn. She's an investigative reporter checking out an advertisement placed by an allegedly crazy man looking for a time-travel partner. When she meets the wannabe time traveler (played wonderfully by Mark Duplass), a great, quirky relationship commences. Jake Johnson delivers a breakthrough performance as Plaza's boss.

7. Ruby Sparks: Zoe Kazan has an interesting heritage. Her grandpa was Elia Kazan, director of a little film called On the Waterfront. Nice to know she has inherited some of his talent for storytelling.

As Ruby, literally a dream girl who enters the life of a confused author (Paul Dano), she is a stunner. She also wrote the winning script that results in one of the more unique and fun film experiences of the year.

8. Seven Psychopaths: Dare I compare thee to Barton Fink, the Coen brothers masterpiece about the rigors of scriptwriting? Colin Farrell stars as a screenwriter trying to put together a story about a bunch of psychopaths, based on people he actually knows. Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken provide supersonic support. Writer-director Martin McDonagh has another great effort on his hands after In Bruges.

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild: Child actress Quvenzhané Wallis shines in this moving fable about a motherless child living near a levee with her sick father (Dwight Henry). One of the best directorial debuts of the year, from Benh Zeitlin.

10. The Grey: There has been a lot of whining about the end of this movie and how it didn't jibe with the marketing campaign. So what? Liam Neeson delivers career-best work as a troubled plane crash survivor who tries to protect fellow survivors (including Frank Grillo and Dermot Mulroney, both excellent) from a pack of hungry wolves in a snowy wilderness. One of the more interesting meditations on death and the value of life you are liable to see. Also, one majorly cool wolf movie!

That's the top 10. Now grab your favorite beverage and a salty snack, because we're going to 20!

11. Life of Pi: Did you think this one looked like it would be stupid? Having not read the book, I saw the preview for Ang Lee's film, and while it looked incredible, the idea of a kid on a lifeboat with a tiger seemed odd to me. It all makes beautiful sense in the end in what amounts to one of the year's great visual experiences.

12. The Avengers: Hulk punching Thor might be 2012's funniest screen moment. Director Joss Whedon took a project I felt was impossible to do well and knocked it out of the park. I preferred this to the also very good but flawed The Dark Knight Rises (Damn that Bane voice!).

13. Silver Linings Playbook: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are the year's craziest couple, for sure. Cooper plays a former mental patient trying to get back with the wife, while Lawrence plays the woman who doesn't think that's a very good idea. Robert De Niro does his best work in decades as Cooper's obsessive dad.

14. Amour: Man, oh, man, this is a tough one to watch. From the director of the brutal Funny Games (both foreign and American versions) we get a film about old age so honest, it guts you. Many of us know a couple like Georges and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva). Seeing a couple like this dealing with terrible illness is heartbreaking, and director Michael Haneke takes a terribly honest approach to impending death. Don't watch this if the truth scares you.

15. Bernie: Jack Black gets his movie career back on track with this true story of a nice, humble man who shoots his elderly lover (Shirley MacLaine) in the back and stuffs her in a freezer. Fun for the whole family!

16. Smashed: While many will dub Denzel Washington's Flight as the year's best movie about alcoholism, I submit this little movie starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul as the winner. Winstead owns her part as an elementary school teacher who likes to party, but clearly needs to stop.

17. Argo: Ben Affleck continues to distinguish himself as a director and takes some nice strides as an actor in this spellbinding period piece about the Iran hostage crisis. It must also be noted that his bangs in this film are the stuff of legend.

18. 21 Jump Street: Remaking a crappy Johnny Depp TV show proves to be comic gold for Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill and Ice Cube. Contains one of the year's best cameos.

19. The Perks of Being a Wallflower: A great movie about high school in the '90s featuring tremendous ensemble work from Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller and Paul Rudd.

20. Killer Joe: Matthew McConaughey stars as an evil lawman in what qualifies as the sickest movie of the year. It's also wildly and strangely entertaining. If you see this movie, and make a fried chicken run soon thereafter, you might have some difficulties finishing dinner that evening.

Oddly enough, the worst film of the year did not involve found footage, tween vampires or fighting robots. Nope, the honor goes to an art house film with a striking pedigree and all the makings of an Oscar contender.

BOB'S WORST OF The Worst

1. Hyde Park on Hudson: I just stand in awe of how stinking awful this movie is. Bill Murray wastes his time as FDR getting handjobs from his cousin Daisy (a terrible Laura Linney) in his car. After seeing this movie, I want to puke at the mere mention of hot dogs.

2. The Devil Inside: Laura Linney's infuriating voiceover in Hudson helped put that movie over the top as the year's worst, narrowly edging this found-footage, nightmarish mess.

3. Battleship: Once-promising director Peter Berg decides he wants to be Michael Bay. That's a shit goal to start. The fact that his movie isn't even as good as a Michael Bay film ... even shittier.

4. Twilight: Breaking Dawn–Part 2: Hey, look at this. The latest Twilight movie managed to not be the worst movie of the year! Taylor, Kristen, Robert ... give yourselves a medal, you crazy, kooky vampires and werewolves. After your medal ceremony, please go away. Go away forever. Thank you.

5. Red Hook Summer: Sometimes when I walk in fields of holly or barley or weeds, or whatever the fuck happens to be growing in the particular field I'm walking in, I reminisce. I reminisce about things like the golden age of fast-food tacos (Taco Bell used to be food that was cooked on site with fresh ingredients!). I reminisce about past pets (I miss Entwhistle and Townshend, my cockatiel and parakeet!). Finally, I reminisce about how Spike Lee used to make great movies.

Spike Lee's movies have gone the way of the Taco Bell taco. They are useless, pale imitations of their former selves.

6. Trouble With the Curve: Any baseball lover who watches this film will laugh for all the wrong reasons. This may be Clint Eastwood's final acting effort. Not a good swan song.

7. Red Dawn: Hated the original, and I hate the new one. You know you have a problem when you find yourself missing the killer acting combination of Charlie Sheen and C. Thomas Howell.

8. Taken 2: (Whispering as if through a phone trying not to be heard) Listen to me reader. Read carefully. Be quiet ... and pay attention. The No. 8 slot in Bob Grimm's year's worst list ... IT'S GOING TO BE TAKEN!

9. Playing for Keeps: With the exception of Victory, the so-so Sly Stallone movie, has there ever been a decent soccer movie? Gerard Butler as a former soccer star turned kid's coach puts this one in the bad corner, as do Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman and Judy Greer embarrassing themselves in the supporting cast.

10. The Paperboy: John Cusack and Nicole Kidman jerk each other off without touching in this film. That's probably the best thing I can say about the movie.

In the next year, we will see a new Superman movie (Man of Steel), a couple of more Marvel hero installments (Iron Man 3 and Thor 2), more Star Trek and part two in the Hobbit trilogy.

Oh, dear Lord, please don't let the next Hobbit installment stink like Gollum doo-doo. Please don't do that to me. If parts two and three rally, I can forgive the dull part one, something I managed to do with the Harry Potter series. Please, dad of Jesus or Buddha or whoever runs the film destiny division up there ... please keep it from sucking. Amen.


COLIN says: The Best

You know what are really starting to catch fire? Documentaries. It probably has more to do with cheaper technology making the filmmakers more flexible than a rash of better, more complex stories, but this year's documentaries were top shelf. Two made my final cut, but it seemed as though every month or so there was another fascinating nonfiction film to watch.

It was also a good year for international films. Why the Academy Awards honor a Best Foreign Language Film instead of a Best International Film is beyond me; are we really highlighting the ability to make movies with subtitles? Or is it about presenting new and different perspectives from beyond the Hollywood machine, and wouldn't that apply to, say, Ireland? Ought to be Option B. In either case, access to technology is, again, making it easier and more feasible for filmmakers to tell their stories.

It should be pointed out that all three of last year's billion dollar movies are all pretty good—The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall—but the studios have a long, long way to go before they consistently marry art and commerce. In the meantime, seek out some of these films, only a few of which really got much mainstream support.

1. Zero Dark Thirty: Kathryn Bigelow's follow-up to The Hurt Locker is bigger, better and more visceral. It's a 150 minute climax. Zero Dark Thirty is obsessively focused on hunting Osama bin Laden. No politics, no subplots, no family or loved ones left out of the loop, and no wasted motion. It's incredibly rare for a movie to go that route. Rarer still is having that compulsive single-mindedness pay off so dramatically.

Last year around this time, I singled out Jessica Chastain's work in a handful of films, notable because nobody knew who she was nine months earlier. Now she'll have her second straight Oscar nomination thanks to this movie, which she absolutely knocks cold. In addition to Chastain, there's the great work by Jason Clarke, the unrelenting torture scenes and the invasion of bin Laden's compound, the most pulse-quickening scene of the year in the best film of the year.

2. Silver Linings Playbook: If you're a fan of great acting, Silver Linings Playbook might be 2012's best representative. David O. Russell's mental illness love story is chock full of great work, from a resurgent Robert De Niro; from a surprising Bradley Cooper; and from an emphatic Jennifer Lawrence. The Weinstein Co. is busy waving the flag of Django Unchained, but this is the movie it should have tried harder to get you to see.

3. Beasts of the Southern Wild: If Quvenzhané Wallis is not in the final running for Best Actress for her work in Beasts of the Southern Wild, it will only be because she was 6 years old at the time and some people believe you don't really know how to act at that age. It's utter bullshit, by the way; kids act out different roles on an hourly basis. There weren't five better performances in her category this year.

As for the film itself, it has a fantastical, magical quality live-action movies rarely accomplish without massive visual effects work, and first-time director Benh Zeitlin inventively layers that fantasy with the sobering drama of the bayou bracing for a big storm.

4. Argo: It's really hard to knock Ben Affleck now, making up for how easy it was to knock him six or seven years ago. He deserves credit for recognizing his limitations as an actor/movie star, focusing on creating good work, and slowly gaining confidence behind the camera. He's good on screen in Argo, but the story here is how he's made a totally fulfilling, thought-provoking movie. The fact that he did so with such a tricky subject is more proof that Affleck is on the right path.

5. Searching for Sugar Man: Empirical evidence of the power of music, even where its power is least expected. This is heartwarming, eye-opening and all that other feel-good stuff. By now, the story of Sixto Rodriguez is a little better-known, so Searching for Sugar Man might lose some of its punch, but Rodriguez's journey never does.

6. Safety Not Guaranteed: To me, one of the disappointments of 2012 was the lack of attention paid to Safety Not Guaranteed. It came out in June and played all summer, which is a common counterprogramming recipe, but people didn't hear about it. It was the year's freshest, smartest comedy, about a time traveler looking for an assistant by placing ads in magazines. Hey, heading back in time to the early '90s is risky; you don't want to go it alone.

7. The Raid: Redemption: You've probably got more money rolling around under your driver's seat than The Raid cost to make. Even so, this unlikely Welsh-Indonesian production is the best pure action movie since The Bourne Ultimatum. Buckle up.

8. The Imposter: If the events in The Imposter had never happened, someone would have made them up because the story is just too bizarre to not become a film. Like Searching for Sugar Man, it's best that you don't know the story going in, although the title is a clue.

9. Headhunters: Have you ever had one of those days when nothing seems to go right? Consider yourself lucky that Clas Greve isn't following you around Norway. The most traditionally American thriller of the year is based on a Jo Nesbø novel, and it's great fun from start to finish.

10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Awkward, funny, tense, and heartbreaking—just like high school. Based on his own novel, first-time director Stephen Chbosky hands in an absolutely assured film, one that may not have a lot of surprises but aches with emotional familiarity.

Since I highlighted both documentaries and international films, here are a few others to check out. Documentaries: Jiro Dreams of Sushi, The Invisible War, Ai Weiwei: Never Surrender, Marley, and Chasing Ice. Imports: Amour, A Royal Affair, The Intouchables, Sound of Noise, Holy Motors and Barbara.

Other good stuff: It looks like Lincoln is the feel-good hit of the season, and it's probably no worse than first runner-up for the Best Picture award at this point. More than likely, it rides public opinion to a victory, making up for overlooking Saving Private Ryan.

But Lincoln is really not that great a film in many ways. The cinematography is unspectacular, a lot of the script is uneven, Steven Spielberg's pacing is far from his best, there's no need for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to even be in the film for as little as he mattered ... and yet, Daniel Day-Lewis is so otherworldly that no discussion of 2012 in film is complete without Lincoln. Make no mistake: The legacy of this movie rests with Day-Lewis, in one of the best biographical portrayals in the history of the movies.

I liked some good movies more than most critics, like Flight, Killer Joe and Wreck-it Ralph. With others I was profoundly confused by their critical appeal, like Django Unchained, Life of Pi and The Master.

Barring a couple of exceptions, the year's worst movies are all formulaic stuff, designed to follow some pre-established pattern for success. You could even say the very same things about most of them—stupid plot, bad acting, it's obvious so-and-so is just cashing a check, and who hired this director? That's actually the worst part about the worst movies of the year: Most of them can't even be bothered to distinguish themselves for pure ineptitude.

COLIN'S WORST OF The Worst

1. Branded: Now this is a bad movie. Incomprehensible, seemingly unfinished in spots, overwrought, undercooked and pointless, Branded clearly outpaces every other bad movie of 2012. In fact, it's so poorly put together in every respect, you could argue it's not enough of a "film" as we traditionally classify them to even qualify for this list.

2. A Thousand Words: Eddie Murphy is still making movies. And they're still junk. The ingredients might be different here than in Meet Dave or Norbit or Pluto Nash, but they all still star Eddie Murphy. He's the problem for any comedy now, not a solution.

3. Lola Versus: It's rare that you get to kidney punch an indie flick quite this much, because fundamentally, they try to avoid the pitfalls of studio pictures. Not so here. Lola Versus is every Kate Hudson romcom you've ever seen, minus a personality plus annoying hipsters.

4. That's My Boy: Adam Sandler is still making movies. And they're still junk. The ingredients might be different here than in Jack and Jill or Grown Ups, but they all still star Adam Sandler. He's the problem for any comedy now, not a solution.

5. The Apparition: Even as haunted house movies go, this one is almost indescribably silly. Somehow or other, the spirit haunting an attractive young couple's brand-new house is able to travel. I guess it's possible—since there's no such things as ghosts, anyway, and we're allowing that it's haunting a brand-new house—but if they have that much power, shouldn't the ghost in The Apparition do more to torment Ashley Greene than twist all of her hangers in knots?

6. Taken 2: There is a moment in this sluggish sequel when Liam Neeson is surrounded by Turkish baddies brandishing weapons. Hands to the sky, he grabs his cellphone, calls his daughter, and tells her that her mother has been taken ... too. Then he gives her instructions on what to do next. The Turkish baddies, meanwhile, are apparently cool with all this. They just stand there and let Liam make his personal call. Later, with a bag on his head and in the back of a van racing to a secret hideout, Liam counts time to himself, remembering when certain turns are made and when he hears certain sounds. Then when he's on his revenge warpath, he somehow retraces the route ... on foot. That's some advanced training.

There's no reason at all for Taken 2 to be this bad, but every stitch of it is inferior to its predecessor. The action scenes are edited way too quickly (an indication that they're covering poor choreography) and the story is exactly the damn same. Also: What kind of father takes his daughter to a dangerous part of Europe a year after she was kidnapped by human traffickers?

7. Seeking Justice: Nic Cage plays a high school English teacher who, when push comes to shove, summons Liam Neeson's CIA training to take on the vigilantes who helped him track down his wife's rapist. When January Jones' robotic acting is the least of your complaints, that's a bad movie.

8. The Three Stooges: Why, when the funding initially dried up and Sean Penn walked away, was there still a burning fire for a Three Stooges film? Bobby and Peter Farrelly made three quintessential idiot movies at the beginning of their careers (Kingpin, Dumb and Dumber, There's Something About Mary), so maybe all that stupidity rubbed off on them. This is awful.

9. The Paperboy: The puzzling Cloud Atlas aside, this might be the most artistically disappointing film of the year. All the pieces are there: Well-regarded source material, good cast, hot director (Lee Daniels from Precious). But The Paperboy is wildly tone-deaf. It does nothing right, and Nicole Kidman—who duped Golden Globe voters into a nomination, perhaps with her Southern accent and uncrossed legs—has never, ever been worse.

10. Gone: Psychological thrillers by definition should not be vapid and boring. But there's not an ounce of sense or suspense in Gone, one of the more forgettable Amanda Seyfried movies (in her unfortunately growing collection).

And don't have high hopes for these, either: Battleship, The Cold Light of Day, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, The Lucky One and anything with Tyler Perry.

More by Bob Grimm

More by Colin Boyd

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

Latest in Feature

  • Soul Strip

    Tucson’s burlesque scene proves it’s more about soul than skin
    • Jul 14, 2016
  • Costume Ball

    MegaMania offers kids of all ages a place to dress up, make friends and have a whole bunch of fun
    • Jul 7, 2016
  • More »

© 2016 Tucson Weekly | 7225 Mona Lisa Rd. Ste. 125, Tucson AZ 85741 | (520) 797-4384 | Powered by Foundation