MovieTimes: The Best of 2012
2012 has come and gone, and, alas, no John Cusack to drive us through the Mayan apocalypse in a limousine.
I, for one, was holding my breath, as I do enjoy a good limo ride.
I also enjoy a good movie, and 2012 had its fair share of choice celluloid. Here are some of my favorites.
10. ‘The Grey’
Liam Neeson plays an alpha male pitted against an alpha wolf, whose pack is determinedly decimating our protagonist’s band of air crash survivors in the Alaskan wilderness. The survivors attempt to elude their predators, knowing their demise – soon or eventual – is inevitable, with the wolves representing its very manifestation. Directed by Joe Carnahan, “The Grey” is the epitome of harrowing, the type of film that lingers in the mind indefinitely after the last credit crawls.
Like him or not, there’s a reason Seth McFarlane (“Family Guy”) is famous. The man is funny, and “Ted,” his first full-length feature film, is hilarious proof. “Ted” stars Mark Wahlberg as an underachieving manchild with a most unusual best friend – a living teddy bear (voiced by McFarlane). Like with “Family Guy,” “Ted” is loaded with obscure references, cutaways and cameos, often stemming from MacFarlane’s love for all things ’80s. Comfortable in its R rating, “Ted” isn’t for those with a low tolerance for raunchiness or dirty humor, which it more than happily flaunts.
8. ‘Killing Them Softly’
From director Andrew Dominik, “Killing Them Softly” is one of the most surprisingly intense and enjoyable mob films of the decade, touting a deft blend of dialogue and nerve-shattering brutality that gracefully shifts from subtle to blatant. A pragmatic hitman (Brad Pitt) is tasked with cleaning up his employers’ mess, which involves the liquidation of two small-time crooks (Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) trying to make it big in all the wrong ways. Packed with stellar performances from Pitt, James Gandolfini and Richard Jenkins, “Killing Them Softly” delivers through masterful performances and keen writing.
7. ‘The Cabin in the Woods’
Hands down, first-time director Drew Goddard’s “The Cabin in the Woods” was the most fun I’ve had at the cinema all year (apart from heckling the last “Twilight” in an empty auditorium). This is a horror movie for people who love horror movies, rife with surprises from the very get-go, which effectively sets the tone for the gleefully gory, tongue-in-cheek and oh-so-meta proceedings. A group of college archetypes visits a cabin in the woods, only to be picked off one by one by some unspeakable horror. But something else is at work here, perhaps engineering and controlling the horror, using these oblivious – and unfortunate – kids as puppets. And that’s where the fun begins.
Leave it to stop-motion animation to return director Tim Burton to form. Arguably one of his best, “Frankenweenie” is the kind of movie that makes you want to go home and hug your dog – that is, of course, after enjoying this gleefully macabre take on the “Frankenstein” story. When a young Victor’s dog, Sparky, is hit by a car, the industrious lad takes it upon himself to reanimate his canine companion, sparking an uproar in his community. Burton’s trademarked flair for visuals and playfully dark atmosphere are present and accounted for, but something else is alive in this family-friendly “horror” story – heart.
“Looper” is one of the most engaging sci-fi mindbenders of the decade, sharply directed, cleverly written and rich in character. Director Rian Johnson makes an approachable film that’s thought-provoking, easily accessible and totally engrossing. And best of all, it’s completely original. Set in the not-too-distant future, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a type of assassin called a looper, one who executes hits sent back from the future with no questions asked. When his older self (Bruce Willis) appears on the business end of the barrel, all hell breaks loose, and the brain-braiding fun begins.
4. ‘Django Unchained’
Director Quentin Tarantino has been working toward a spaghetti western for quite some time, and “Django Unchained” is his gleefully violent catharsis. Unflinching, unabashed and incredibly stylish, “Django” is pure Tarantino, meaning sharp dialogue, colorful characters and over-the-top action from one of Hollywood’s most popular cinephiles. Set two years before the Civil War, the story follows Jamie Foxx as a freed slave who teams up with bounty hunter Christoph Waltz (who practically steals the show) to free his wife and exact revenge in the process. It’s graphic as all get-out, but, as Tarantino fans can expect, entertaining as hell.
On his performance as Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis said he’d never felt such a depth of love for another human being that he’d never met, and, “…I wish he had stayed (with me) forever.” After watching Steven Spielberg’s epic, well-acted and thoughtful tale of the U.S. President’s final months, audiences will feel the same. Spielberg’s “Lincoln” offers a telling glimpse into noble and inspirational acts that define the character of one of our most beloved presidents, played to perfection by Day-Lewis and accompanied by one of the most outstanding ensemble casts of the decade.
The James Bond series needed this. The 23rd official entry in the series, “Skyfall” is a deft blend of old and new, celebrating the character’s 50-year history through Daniel Craig’s modern interpretation of author Ian Fleming’s iconic super spy. Skillfully directed by Sam Mendes, it’s probably one of the most artistically shot entries in the series, rife with brilliant visuals, steady cinematography and actual stunts. Put simply, it’s old school meets new school, and it works wonderfully. Mendes gracefully keeps 007 in the 21st century, while playing up the classic elements that keep the series enduring and endearing.
1. ‘Life of Pi’
Certain films ask their audience to suspend disbelief. In “Life of Pi,” director Ang Lee leaves that choice to the viewers. Do we take its fantastic, spiritual story at face value, which makes for a much more rewarding experience, or do we approach it cynically? Based on the book by Yann Martel, “Life of Pi” asks this question of its viewers, and the results are effectively mesmerizing. Put simply, it’s a beautiful film on multiple levels – stunning in its dazzling, well-shot visuals and engrossing in its multilayered narrative. “Pi” tells the tale of a young Indian zookeeper (Adil Hussain) stranded at sea, unfortunate circumstances having placed him in a lifeboat with a vicious Bengal tiger. The journey that ensues – true or not – is spellbinding, and the results are nothing short of spectacular.