Happy New Year to all the readers of The Movie Court. It’s time for my annual round-up of the best movies I saw in 2012 (which may, and in fact does, include some 2011 releases that I saw for the first time in 2012). I saw 63 movies at the theater in 2012, and a few of them are probably still out there if you hurry!
Movie of the Year. It’s a tough call this year. I gave an A- to four movies this year (no A’s or A+’s), and each was very different from the others. Maybe I’m just picking it because it was the one I saw most recently, but I’ll give top honors to Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, and a host of others. It’s two and a half hours long, but the time flies by. It’s hard to imagine Day-Lewis not winning the Oscar for best actor, and I have to think Jones has a solid shot at best supporting actor as well.
Runner-Up. Second honors go to Ben Affleck’s based-on-true-events thriller Argo. I was around 12 during the Iranian hostage crisis, so I have some memory of it, but I have no recollection that several Americans managed to escape from the American embassy, avoid capture, and leave the country with fake Canadian passports. Even though you know how it comes out, Affleck somehow generates plenty of suspense along the way. Alan Arkin and John Goodman shine as two crusty old Hollywood hands who help the CIA put together a truly crazy escape plan.
Best Action/Adventure Flick. I didn’t see the last Bourne movie, and I still haven’t seen Skyfall, but even if I had I bet I would still pick End of Watch, a cop-buddy movie that had me engrossed from beginning to end. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are outstanding as Los Angeles police officers who unwittingly cross a major drug cartel. Personally, I thought it was refreshing to see a movie in which the cops—all the cops—are actually the good guys. Oh yeah, there was a little summer movie called The Avengers that I liked pretty well too, and The Hobbit wasn’t bad. But superheroes and hobbits are no match for End of Watch’s men in blue.
Best Animated Movie. I didn’t see very many of these this year, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Pixar production Brave. It’s about a Scottish princess who prefers running around in the woods with her bow and arrow over the pomp and circumstance of the royal lifestyle. Naturally she wants nothing to do with the lame suitors who want to become king by winning her hand in marriage. Girl power!
Best Comedy. Like most years, 2012 was a tough year for comedy as far as I’m concerned. My three picks are certainly not straight comedies. First, I’ll take a chance and recommend the little-seen Jeff, Who Lives at Home. It’s an odd movie in which the always-shlubby Jason Segel plays a slacker who lives in his mother’s basement and can’t be trusted to handle a simple project like fixing a broken shutter. Instead he wanders off on a quixotic quest of his own, and by the end I was really enjoying it. Second, I’ll recommend the more widely seen and widely praised movie Bernie. It’s also an odd movie—half documentary, half dramatization, based on a real-life murder committed by an east Texas funeral director. But the characters involved are so outlandish that IMDb.com does indeed call it a comedy. Jack Black delivers a terrific performance. Finally, I’ll mention Safety Not Guaranteed, a quirky movie in which a young investigative reporter befriends a man who claims he is building a time machine and wants a companion to accompany him on a trip into the past. Again, it’s not a straight comedy, but it has some droll moments.
Best Documentary. I didn’t see any great documentaries this year, but I saw a couple of decent ones. Disney’s Chimpanzee is a generally upbeat movie about an orphaned chimp who is surprisingly “adopted” by an older and apparently unrelated male. Too bad they didn’t rein in Tim Allen’s over-the-top narration. Katy Perry: Part of Me was an interesting look behind the scenes of the superstar’s recent world tour, with a few glimpses of her short-lived marriage to sleazy Russell Brand thrown in for good measure. On DVD, I enjoyed my kid could paint that, a movie about a four-year-old girl who allegedly paints these fabulous abstract paintings. Or is her dad helping her on the sly? It’s a real art-world who-done-it.
Best Drama. Setting Lincoln aside, I saw a few more contemporary dramas that I really liked. One was the underrated and underseen Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, starring Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley. How would you spend your last days if you knew beyond doubt that the world was coming to an end? Not everything in the movie was completely plausible, but I thought Carrell and Knightley created a couple of believable characters trying to keep their sanity amid the chaos. The Perks of Being a Wallflower was also very good, although very dark indeed. For these kids, high school really is tough. And finally I’ll mention, with some misgivings, Silver Linings Playbook. The more I think about it, the phonier it seems. But Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is so amazing, I have to include it in my list anyway.
Best Foreign Film. The Kid with a Bike really struck a chord with me. Although it’s a French film, the story could have played out anywhere. A single father can’t or won’t take care of his son, so he packs him off to an orphanage. After a chance encounter, a good-hearted woman agrees to be the boy’s foster mother, but the boy’s pain and anger threaten to overwhelm her gentle love. A very well-done movie. I’ll give a second-place mention to A Separation, which is a pretty interesting tale of marital discord and its unfortunate consequences in modern Iran.
Best Science-Fiction Movie. Science fiction doesn’t usually deserve its own category, but this year it really does. I thought The Hunger Games was really top notch, so I’ll give it first place in this category. Jennifer Lawrence can do no wrong. Men in Black 3 defied all my expectations and breathed life and freshness into a franchise that, in my view, never really had much of either. It was a time-travel story, and so was the twisty and fairly gruesome Looper, in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt is given the mission of assassinating the 30-years-older version of himself played by Bruce Willis. Finally, I’ll say that I really enjoyed Prometheus, even though the Alien prequel didn’t explain much of anything and was pretty gross at times.
Best Silent Movie. I don’t think I’ve ever needed this category, but I have to acknowledge The Artist, which I saw way back at the beginning of 2012. It is really an excellent movie. I know, you have no desire to see a silent movie, but go ahead and watch it anyway. I think you’ll enjoy it.
Honorable Mentions. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I liked Young Adult, a darkish movie in which Charlize Theron plays an unhappy woman who decides she can cure her unhappiness by stealing her old high-school boyfriend away from his newly pregnant wife. For a less bitter drama, try Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which features nice performances from Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, and Kristin Scott Thomas. I also liked the very independent drama Beasts of the Southern Wild, about survival in an impoverished Louisiana bayou, and the drama Smashed, starring scream-queen Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a recovering alcoholic. It certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I liked the pro-life movie October Baby. In the world of comedy, I got a kick out of Will Ferrell’s odd Spanish movie Casa de mi Padre, and 21 Jump Street was decently funny as well. I’m not a horror-movie fan, but The Cabin in the Woods, co-written by Joss Whedon, takes the genre in a whole new direction that I found quite entertaining. Finally, I’ll give an honorable mention to Ruby Sparks, a quirky romance in which a blocked writer starts writing a story about a woman, and then thinks he has gone crazy when she suddenly materializes and behaves exactly the way he writes about her. It could have been really stupid and predictable, but it wasn’t.
That’s it, and I’ll see you at the box office in 2013!