People often ask one of four questions when they discover I write horror: 1) Where do you get your ideas? (my head never shuts up), 2) Would you ever want to write full time? (the answer is no), 3) What kind of books do you read (the ‘you’ inflected, as if I hold some sort of stereotype, in which case my answer is always everything, and in which case I typically add something clever like, “What do you people like to read?”), and 4) What kind of movies do you watch? (also with the implied ‘you’re a crazy person, right?’) So, the answer to question number 4 can perhaps be covered by listing / reviewing my top 13 movies of 2012. I’m a crazy person, I write horror, and this blog is my answer.
I have seen a lot of movies this year (none of them were horror, except for one). I like movies. I enjoy going to the theatre, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, sometimes my shoes making that sticky thwok-thwok-thwok sound with the floor as I find my seat. I try not to smell the burnt popcorn, and do my best to ignore those around me who should have stayed home. Movies are necessary escapes from reality. Anyway…
Below are my top 13 movies of 2012, seen in theatres (DVD/Blu-ray don’t count), ranked in an order that will make you shake your head one way or the other. The rankings are based on the overall movie-going experience: Was I immersed or pulled into the movie in a way that made me forget how shitty our world has become? Did the story and its characters move me? Did I care? (I write horror, so what should I care?) Was the writing (yes, movies are written) spectacular, as well as the acting, the dialogue, the pacing, the tension, the art, the score, the script, the cinematography, the direction? Was it fun? Was I disappointed to see it end? Did I stay through the credits contemplating?
Whether or not you agree with my list, I’ll try to justify each of my choices. And I will start at the top (because everyone else does it the other way around and I do things backwards):
1. Cloud Atlas
What can I say? With a nonlinear mesh of storylines (sound familiar?) all told at once, spanning centuries upon centuries, Cloud Atlas is the top movie for 2012. Why? A slave ship on the Pacific Ocean (1850), love letters shared between a composer and his partner in Belgium (1931), a murder mystery in California (1975), a vanity publisher avoiding his gangster client in Britain (present), a dystopian future set in Korea (22XX?) involving “fabricants” and a post-apocalyptic / nearly-primitive society (unspecified date hundreds of years after the fall of the previously mentioned dystopian future). Yes, all of that. All at once. Souls rippling and re-emerging through time to inspire a revolution in a distant future. Consequence weaving through the past, present and future. This movie is an unsteady mix of history, romance, comedy, sci-fi, fantasy and horror. Six storylines to follow, all at once, thrown at your face and then slowly pieced together through some amazing filmography. This is my kind of movie! And to top it off, each actor / actress plays anywhere between 3 and 13 roles. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Ian McKellen, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Jim Broadbent… the list goes on and on. I must admit, I went into this movie thinking it would be a disaster (sounds like it from this horrible summary) because Cloud Atlas is one of my favorite novels by David Mitchell (Ghostwritten, Number9dream, Black Swan Green). This is the guy that got me into writing, so if you think my novels are convoluted, you can thank David Mitchell. Unlike the movie, where all six storylines simultaneously occur on screen (not really simultaneously, but snippet after snippet of one story to the next, rinse and repeat), the novel gives us the first half of each story in turn, with one in the middle, followed by the second half of each, in turn. The book is complex enough to warrant six separate movies, yet Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) somehow pull it off in this nearly 3-hour epic masterpiece. I think that is the main reason why Cloud Atlas ranks #1 on my list. The movie did not hinder my appreciation for the novel, but expanded upon it. I watched this movie three times in theatres. Cloud Atlas is an incredible adaptation, probably one of the best original takes on an adapted screenplay I’ve ever seen. I only wish the movie were longer, or never ended. And, believe it or not, this is an indie film, and will probably get overlooked, especially for award nominations.
2. Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino is the king of dialogue. Yes, he’s a cinematography copycat, but he’s the best at it, and he has a good taste in music and camera angles and the overuse of fake blood. If I could describe Django Unchained, I would probably call it a spaghetti western mix of Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, both Kill Bill volumes, Inglourious Basterds, and nearly every other movie he’s made. Django is ultra-violent and ultra-funny. And serious, believe it or not. Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds, Water for Elephants) is one of my new favorite actors (not new to acting, but somewhat new to acting in the US). He plays a witty German cowboy bounty hunter disguised as a dentist (you read that right), alongside Jamie Foxx, a freed slave in search of his wife, a slave owned by Leonardo DiCaprio. Leo plays a villain remarkably well, as does Samuel L. Jackson, a cutthroat slave trader (you read that right as well). The most fun I’ve had at the movies in a long time. And I may see it again. I’m not sure if this is one of Tarantino’s best films, but it’s one of the best films this year, which says a lot for his work. The supporting actors in this film should win some awards this year.
Hate what you will about Ben Affleck, but the man can direct. And act. And allegedly write, or at least “co-write.” He fell off my radar after co-writing and acting in the Oscar-worthy Good Will Hunting (one of Robin Williams’ best performances) alongside Matt Damon (How you like them Apples?), but reappeared on my radar when he directed his younger brother in Gone Baby Gone (co-wrote the screenplay), and then directed and starred in The Town (co-wrote as well), an adaptation of the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan. This gave me high hopes for Argo, a movie about a joint CIA-Canadian operation to extract six American hostages out of a revolutionary Iran in 1980. Like the previous two films, I was pulled into this movie from the opening scene and was never let go until the credits rolled. And the tension is nail-biting. Although you already know how the movie ends before it ends, it still holds you on the edge of your seat with your heart palpitating. The characters played by John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) are still memorable. This movie deserves some best Screenplay nominations.
I don’t give a crap what you think about Prometheus. I loved it. And the original Alien, as well as the sequel, Aliens, are two of my favorite movies of all time. Someone once asked what my favorite horror movie was, and I blurted out Alien without thinking. There’s something about the setup of that movie that intrigues me. The fear of what you don’t see. I constantly hear complaints about Prometheus from both Alien and non-Alien lovers, mostly about a lack of aliens: “I was expecting to see more alien creatures, you know, like those in Alien and Aliens” or “This isn’t a direct prequel to Alien!” If you want to see a bunch of those little cat-like buggers, then watch the CGI-heavy / horrible Alien vs. Predator (AVP) movies and be done with it. Ridley Scott is a brilliant writer and director, and he brings his A-game (the A stands for ‘Alien’ in this case) to Prometheus, a story about the origin of mankind. And no, this is not a direct prequel to Alien. It could be considered a prequel of prequels, as we will most likely see a few more Prometheus-like movies in the future to fill that giant gap. My only gripe is that the Blu-ray version of the movie is disappointing and that all Charlize Theron had to do was run to the side… just sayin’. They changed the ending from the one I saw in theatres. The original ending is now considered a deleted / altered scene, which just pisses me off. Noomi Rapace (the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is amazing as the woman in distress and has an unforgettable scene in an automated surgeon tube, and Michael Fassbender (Magneto from X-Men: First Class) is stellar as an android named David, and Charlize Theron (Monster) is a downright evil bitch in this movie. Guy Pearce, however, was dreadful in his role as the old man in bad makeup. Overall, I dug it. A lot.
This movie is probably one of the surprises to appear on the list of top movies of the year, probably because not a lot of people saw it in the theatres (similar to Cloud Atlas). Time travel movies rarely work. There’s always some kind of logic that ruins it for me. In Looper, set in the 2040s, time travel is invented 30 years in the future, but illegal, and only used on the black market by the mob because murder is nearly impossible in the 2070s. Whenever they need someone ‘gone,’ they send their victims 30 years into the past, where a hired gun, such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, Brick, 50/50), takes them out. The Looper waits near an empty white sheet, a hooded body materializes, the Looper blows that person away (without hesitation) with a weapon called a Blunderbuss. The body is strapped with silver bars as a form of payment. There is also a villain known as ‘The Rainmaker’ who has been closing the loop on his hired guns by sending Loopers (from the future) to the past, tricking the Loopers into committing a 30-years-in-the-future suicide. Gold bars are strapped to these bodies instead of silver. A retirement fund to spend over the next 30 years before they no longer exist. When the main character (JG-L) is confronted with his older self (Bruce Willis), he hesitates, and chaos ensues from that point onward. His older self has come back to kill three little boys (one he knows will become ‘The Rainmaker’). This movie explores string theory, and explores it well. I sat long after the movie contemplating, and was reminded of Inception, one of my favorite movies from the year before. I can’t wait to see this one again.
6. Life of Pi
Ah, Life of Pi, another of my favorite novels. A boy on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with a tiger, a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a rat. What could go wrong? I remember finishing this book from Yann Martel 10 years ago, closing it, and saying, “This should be required reading in schools.” Well, I found out a month ago it was recently added to the curriculum at a few schools in California. Rightly so. The book is incredible. The movie industry will screw this one up. That was my thought going in to the movie. And then I remembered it was directed / produced by Ang Lee, so it was either going to be excellent, or it was going to suck. And then I remembered the cast was not composed of modern heartthrob-teeny-bopper-wannabees, but actors I had never heard of, so maybe Mr. Lee could pull it off. And then I saw the movie with a good friend of mine. Wow. Every frame of every shot is absolutely beautiful. Stunning, even. Life of Pi stayed true to the novel, for the most part, enough for me to enjoy the movie and place it in the number 6 spot. While I wish the movie focused more attention to symbolism and the orangutan’s importance, it was a great adaptation from book to film. Richard Parker (the tiger) deserves an Oscar for his performance.
7. Moonrise Kingdom
You either love Wes Anderson, or you hate him. Understand him, or hate him. That seems to be the consensus with his movies (Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox). He writes, directs, and produces his films, and for whatever reason, I enjoy every one of them. Moonrise Kingdom is a love story between two twelve-year-olds who make a pact to run away together into the wilderness: Sam is running away from Camp Ivanhoe, while Suzy is running away from her parents. The film features offbeat performances by Scout Master Edward Norton, the boy’s parents, played by Bill Murray and Francis McDormand (Fargo) and small town authority, Bruce Willis. Like I said before, you either love Wes Anderson movies, or you don’t. And this movie screams Wes Anderson. The film is distributed by Focus Features. To date, I haven’t found a Focus Features… feature, that I haven’t absolutely loved.
Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood, Gangs of New York, The Last of the Mohicans) is probably the finest actor working today. With each of his movies, he transforms into his characters, and Lincoln is no different. He is not Daniel Day-Lewis playing Lincoln, he is Lincoln. And he doesn’t even have to fight off vampires in this one! This movie ranks up there with Steven Speilberg’s best history films: Schindler’s List, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, and Amistad. I went into the movie expecting one Civil War battle after another, something like a Civil War version of Saving Private Ryan. The typical “two sides clashing together in epic fight scenes” that have become expected in nearly all movies today. But Lincoln is different. The war takes place off screen. Lincoln focuses on the man, his family, and the politics behind his course of actions to do three important things for this country (all at once): ending the civil war, reuniting the nation, and abolishing slavery. Most of those in the 25-and-under range watching the movie were restless throughout, wanting explosions and action, and a few even left the theatre bored. But those are the same people that think Schindler’s List is boring. Lincoln, both as a movie and as a character, perfectly portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, is incredibly engaging. Daniel Day-Lewis will win the Oscar for this movie. No doubt. There are also some other amazing performances: Sally Field as Mary Lincoln, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as their son, Robert, and Tommy Lee Jones pulling off one of his best acting roles to date as Thaddeus Stevens (stealing the show every time he appeared on screen). Lincoln is a film that should be shone in schools.
9. Les Miserables
I have to tell you something about Les Mis. If the movie rating was based solely on Anne Hathaway’s performance of “I Dreamed a Dream,” this movie would be number 1. I would pay full admission price to watch her sing that song, over and over again. Anne is the perfect Fantine, which unfortunately means she’s not in the movie very long, but watching her sing “I Dreamed a Dream” will make the tears flow, make you hold your breath, make you do all sorts of emotional things. She is simply amazing. Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean is equally impressive; his singing is incredible and makes you wonder why he ever left Broadway to focus on film. He should be recording music. There are some other standout musical performances by Éponine (Samantha Barks… never heard of her before), and the little boy. Helen Bonham Carter (Sweeney Todd, The King’s Speech, Alice and Wonderland) and Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, Hugo, he’s even in Django) are quite comical as Madame and Monsieur Thénardier (the masters of the house). Russel Crowe as Inspector Javert was kind of abysmal (his singing, anyway), and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette had some good soprano, and some bad soprano. Overall, this is an amazing take on Les Miserables.
10. The Avengers
This is a Joss Whedon geek-fest, plain and simple. Whether or not you like super hero movies, The Avengers kicked some serious blockbuster ass. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk #3 (Mark Ruffalo, although Edward Norton would have rocked this character like before), Thor (sorry, Chris Hemsworth, but out of all of the Marvel movies, yours downright sucked; the modern-day stuff was entertaining, but your home world is on the lame side), and don’t forget Nick Fury (Samuel F. Jackson (the F. was a MF’ing joke, MF!), and Jeremy Renner (I mean Hawkeye)… and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and on and on and on. The plot’s lame, but there’s so much going on in this movie in terms of eye candy that who really cares if the plot’s any good? It’s The Avengers. Together. All at once. As long as a movie can pull you out of reality for a few hours, that’s all that really matters.
11. The Hobbit, part whatever
Now you hate me. Why isn’t this number 1? Why is it below The Avengers and all of those other movies? Well, if all three movies were out at once, and they were combined cumulatively to a 4-5 hour version of The Hobbit (instead of nearly 8-9 hours by the time this saga is over), it would probably be much higher in the rankings, but not number 1. The Hobbit, part whatever, reminded me of the first Lord of the Rings movie, The Fellowship of the Ring. It was slow, but entertaining, and the movie pulled me into J.R.R. Tolkien’s world easily enough… familiar territory now that we’ve lived through 10 hours of the Lord of the Rings (or 14 hours of extended cuts). The troll scene at the campfire was fun to see on screen (although their voices were a little high-pitched like Cosette from Les Mis), and Gollum once again made the movie, but I felt the film was more kid friendly (which, I know, it should be), and spent too much time with the line of dwarfs (dwarves or dwarfs? I can’t remember… I think Tolkien used dwarfs) marching along in the typical Peter Jackson zoomed-out landscape shot followed by zoomed-out landscape shot with awesome music in the background, or the more typical ‘everyone running at the same time through an impossible number of easily-defeatable foes that swarm like ants but part like the red sea when the good guys coming running with daggers and hammers and whatnot with Gandalf saving their hides every time the group requires him as their deux ex machina’ kind of scenes. Ian McKellen plays Gandalf well, and Andy Serkis hides behind the CGI to help create the best Gollum yet, but the movie was just… okay. The Hobit, part whatever, only makes my top 13 because I’m a Tolkien fan.
Second from last is Skyfall, which has received some stellar movie reviews from critics. I have no idea why. Believe it or not, The Dark Knight Rises ruined this movie for me. They have the same plot elements. As I was watching Bond, I was thinking, This is Bruce Wayne a few movies ago. They could have called the movie James Bond Rises. But, it’s a good movie. I like the Daniel Craig version of Bond much better than Brosnan, Connery, or Moore, which is probably some sort of 007 blasphemy to Bond fanatics. Skyfall has some of the best action scenes I’ve seen this year, such as the rooftop motorcycle chase and the opening train scene. The main reason why Skyfall makes the list is Ralph Fiennes (another brilliant actor), and Javier Bardem playing his creepiest villain role since No Country for Old Men. Judy Dench as M was annoying though. By the end of the film, I was wanting her character dead. Speaking of the end of the film: Home Alone. I couldn’t help but think of Macaulay Culkin barricading himself inside the house and setting traps. Like I said before, this is a great film, but I have no idea why critiques are praising it.
13. The Dark Knight Rises
I watched The Dark Knight Rises in the theatre as the finale to a Batman marathon, which I believe is why it ranks last. Honestly, the first time I watched it, I didn’t like it at all. Christopher Nolan (Memento, Inception, The Prestige) is one of the best directors / producers / writers working today, especially when he gets his brother involved, so there was a lot of expectations with this film. A repeat viewing on Blu-ray has bumped the film onto this list. The marathon started with Batman Begins (my second favorite in the series), the beginning to Nolan’s revamp of the Batman saga. The marathon then should have concluded with The Dark Knight, one of the last films featuring Heath Ledger, who gave us the best performance ever captured on film (my take, anyway) as The Joker. Then the marathon actually concluded with The Dark Knight Rises (a title that basically adds ‘Rises’ to the previous). I think the main problem with seeing all three movies in a row like this was the brilliance of The Dark Knight. That film is so good, it makes The Dark Knight Rises look paltry, or at least a strong downward curve of this three film arc, especially at 3:00am when the film ended. Truth be told, I could not get over Bane’s voice: sort of a mix between Sean Connery from Indiana Jones and Goldmember from Austin Powers. I kept expecting Bane to say, “Bat-man, we named the dawg Indiana, because I like Goooold.” But, after repeat viewings, I was able to get over the voice and enjoyed the movie more; although, Anne Hathaway ruins it for me as Catwoman. Her character had no place in this film (unlike her role in Les Mis). Christian Bale as Batman… a little rough in the second movie, but better in this one. The savior of this film is Joseph Gordon-Levitt (he’s in three of my top movies this year) as John Blake. He gave a certain human emotion that held the entire movie together, which makes sense if he’s going to take over as Robin.
So, that’s my top 13 for the year. Below are a few movies that either didn’t make the cut, or I haven’t seen yet.
Movies I enjoyed, but didn’t make the cut:
Cabin in the Woods (would have taken the 10 spot if I had seen it in the theatres), Expendables 2 (absolutely fun), The Grey (would have made the 13 spot if I hadn’t moved The Dark Knight Rises onto the list).
Movies I enjoyed, but found extremely overrated:
The Hunger Games, Dark Shadows, Snow White and the Huntsman, Ted, Spiderman.
Still want to see (expect to be good):
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Killer Joe, Robot & Frank, Arbitrage, The Master, Trouble with the Curve, End of Watch, Seven Psychopaths, Hyde Park on Hudson.
Still want to see (expect to suck):
The Campaign, The Bourne Legacy, Total Recall, Savages, Lawless, The Words, Woman in Black, The Raven, Taken 2, M.I.B. 3, Sinister, Flight, Killing Them Softly, Jack Reacher.