So here we are again, another year has passed bringing with it a near endless array of movies that both pissed off and thrilled a wide variety of audiences. Looking back, it actually wasn’t all that bad. For the genre loving geek contingent that Hollywood craves to pry money from, there was actually a wide variety of releases worth wasting your time and money on.
Whether you were looking for a team of superheroes to destroy an alien race (and large chunks of New York City), wanted to see slavery shot by a six-shooter packed with pop culture references or just dreamed of watching a bunch of wizards and midgets walk slowly in 3D, there was something for nerds of every shape and size. With 2012 over, the time has come to pick the ten best movies of the year for the CGM crowd. Obviously, this list is legally binding and if you even considered another movie as a possible entry into the top ten, you’re just wrong. These are the ten best movies people! Everything else was just a crap, good, and/or great movie that I didn’t have the space, time, or memory to slip in….sigh….
10) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Ok, so Peter Jackson’s return to middle earth was a little shakier than we might have hoped it would be. Yes, The Hobbit should have been made as a single film and not needlessly expanded into three epics. Sure, the much hyped 48 frames per second technology wasn’t quite ready for this kind of attention yet. And yeah, some of those side characters and jokes were unnecessary…but, no one knows how to translate Tolkien to the big screen quite like PJ. Despite the many flaws, when the dwarves, wizard, and hobbit were actually on the road fighting orcs n’ goblins, it was easy to forget all that. Few filmmakers do fantasy thrills quite like Jackson and with Martin Freeman providing the perfect reluctant hobbit hero that Elijah Wood could never quite pull off, at least we’re in good standing for the upcoming sequels. There are still giant dragons and five army battles to come folks, this is just a dragged out opening act. And as far as dragged out opening acts go, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey wasn’t too shabby at all.
9) The Expendables 2
2010’s The Expendables arrived under huge mountains of hype as seemingly all of the roided up actions stars of the 80s had finally gotten together to kick ass collectively like The Dirty Dozen. The posters and trailer were exciting. The movie…not so much. The trouble was that writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone could never figure out what tone he was going for. Did the guy want an earnest dark kill factory or a goofball It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World with machine guns? Fortunately when Con Air director Simon West took over on part 2, he didn’t have any such questions. He knew the world had no desire to take The Expendables seriously and delivered one of the most ridiculous (in the best possible sense) action movies in recent memory. Physics? Logic? Good taste? The Expendables care not for these things. Instead, we got a slapstick action comedy with Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger trading off each other’s one-liners, Chuck Norris delivering Chuck Norris facts, Statham being Statham, Jean Claude Van Damme removing his sunglasses only to split kick Stallone in the face, and of course lots of pretty explosions. If you like delightfully dumb old school action flicks, The Expendables 2 is everything that you wanted the first movie to be. All the old guys are there doing what they do best again only this time they were in on the joke. And with Nicolas Cage and Jackie Chan already signed up for the next round, there’s a chance that the third one could be even better.
8) Dredd 3D
Unless you live in the UK, chances are you never saw Dredd 3D. It was one of the biggest bombs of the year….which is a shame because it was the only R-rated entry in possibly the finest year in the history of comic book movies. Director Pete Travis, screenwriter Alex Garland, and star Karl Urban were clearly all massive fans of John Wagner’s infamous 2000 AD creation and combined forces to deliver an adaptation so true to the source material that you’ll instantly forget that Sly Stallone/Rob Schneider nonsense ever existed. Gritty, gory, and laced with an acidic wit, the flick offered everything fans loved about the comics and then tossed in some of the finest 3D ultraviolence ever captured for good measure. It’s a shame that comic book fans didn’t bother to show up and enjoy the fun, because everyone involved was clearly going to be able to deliver one hell of a sequel with the increased budget and ambitions that comic book movie No. 2s provide. Ah well, maybe the fans will show up on DVD/Blu-ray. They make TVs in 3D now, right? That should work out nicely.
7) The Dark Knight Rises
If you had told me this time last year that this movie would finish any lower than 1st place on this list, I would have slapped you in the face and called you a filthy liar. As it turns out, you just had slightly more rational expectations than me. Christopher Nolan’s conclusion to his Batman trilogy is certainly as epic as promised, but it has nothing whatsoever on The Dark Knight. The filmmaker got a little too ambitious and was given a little too much freedom. He got so wrapped up in the mythology, symbolism, meaning, and importance of his take on the Caped Crusader that he seemed to neglect the logic, action, and…you know, fun required by a Batman movie. However, that being said, Nolan is a pretty brilliant director playing with a trainset on a scale that few legitimate filmmakers have ever had the opportunity to touch. So, the movie is still quite an intelligent take on the legend of the Dark Knight, a satisfying conclusion to this trilogy, and one of the greatest IMAX experiences ever achieved. Is it flawed? Sure, but so were the last two Nolan Bat-tales. The movie might not quite reach the heights of The Dark Knight (and let’s be honest, without Heath Ledger that was never going to happen), but it’s still better than Batman Begins and as a result, one of the finest Batman films ever made. It was just hard to see that through all the hype and hate surrounding the project on the internet last summer. You may have been slightly let down by this one in the theaters, but look on the bright side: at least it wasn’t Prometheus.
Who would have ever guessed that a James Bond movie would end up being one of the ten finest cinematic achievements of the year, genre movie or otherwise? Well, clearly the people in charge of the franchise who made a big deal about it being Bond’s 50th anniversary and for the first time entrusted the franchise to a name director (Sam Mendes) who wouldn’t simply go through the motions. The result more than made up for the sleeping pill that was Quantum Of Solace by topping Casino Royale in every way, paying homage to every beloved era of the superspy’s legendary history, and delivering a story that was actually compelling when things weren’t going boom.
Daniel Craig made a case for his hard boiled Bond being the best, Judi Dench got a swansong that finally took advantage of having her portray M beyond the stunt casting, and of course Javier Bardem delivered possibly the finest Bond villain of them all (a twisted combination of The Joker, Hannibal Lecter, and the campiest of the Bond villains, even finally touching on all the unspoken sexual tension between James and his foes). From the moment the film was first screened people have been claiming it might be the greatest Bond movie of them all. It’s still probably too early to say that, but Skyfall is certainly the most substantial of Bond’s many adventures and at the very least this sucker will be named dropped amongst fan favorites from here on out.
5) The Raid
Just when you thought the physical action movie genre was toast in the CG era, along comes Gareth Evans’ The Raid to grab you by the nuts, shove a shotgun down your throat and say, “uh-huh honey, we ain’t done with you yet.” This plot is about as simple as it gets. A swat team enters a building run by a drug lord. The drug lord notices and offers any resident free rent for life if they kill one of the cops. That’s it, cue 90 minutes of carnage. Working in Indonesia with an incredible cast of actors n’ stuntmen and clearly no safety regulations, Evans has whipped up some of the finest fight choreography ever captured on film. He mixes gun battles, fist fights, kung fu, explosions, death defying stunts, and anything else you can imagine in a cross between Die Hard, Assault On Precinct 13, and Jackie Chan’s Police Story…only with even more action than that implies. This was the most viscerally entertaining thrillride of the year and one that instantly establishes Evans as a new heir to the likes of John Woo and John Carpenter. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, but enjoy violence…well, what the hell are you doing with your life?
4) Cabin In The Woods
This really should have been one of the best films of 2010, but the collapse of MGM kept possibly the most creative horror flick of the last decade on a shelf for two long years. When Cabin In The Woods finally premiered, it felt like an instant cult classic. The upstairs/downstairs dynamic of Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s brilliant secret concept ensured that the boys could deliver horror fans what they want while also taking the piss out of the genre they love. The central teens were all well cast, but the real MVPs were Bradley Winford and Richard Jenkins as the white-collar slobs in charge of the nubile youngsters’ gory fate. The monster mash climax may have irritated some viewers for being a surprisingly conventional capper, but for a horror fan like myself it felt like the gothic orgasm the clever meta-comedy needed to fully qualify as a horror movie (and that Lovecraftian blackout is a doozy). Drew Goddard is instantly a director for all self-respecting geeks to keep an eye on and it would have been enough to make Joss Whedon’s year a success were it not for a certain superhero flick that he also delivered and overshadowed his latest cult favorite…but more on that later.
3) Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino’s ultraviolent alternative history companion piece to Inglourious Basterds just might be the filmmaker’s most purely enjoyable movie to date. Using Spaghetti Western style n’ logic to explore the great scar on American history known as slavery, Tarantino delivered another shocking, violent, and hilarious slice of entertainment crafted with far more intelligence than initially appears on the surface. It might not be as intellectually nourishing as Basterds, but it is probably a more accomplished piece of storytelling filled with the director’s trademark wit, style, sudden bursts of violence, and dramatic gearshifts. It’s also loaded with some of Tarantino’s finest and filthiest dialogue since the 90s. In fact, most of the movie is comprised of people talking, but with Tarantino at the keyboard and folks like Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, and a giddy Leonard DiCaprio delivering his words, dialogue scenes can be just as thrilling as any superhero mashup. Plus with it being a Tarantino movie, you can guarantee that a hell of a lot of violence is coming when you least expect it. So that helps.
2) The Avengers
So, back to Joss Whedon. Before the 2000s, no card-carrying comic book geek would ever dare to dream that there would be a film dedicated to The Avengers, let alone one this good. It’s been said many times before but it bears repeating: Marvel did an incredible job of setting up their big screen superhero universe and this epic money shot for Phase One was really something special. The master stroke was hiring Whedon to write and direct. Aside from already being a Comic Con favorite, Whedon’s background in TV ensured that he could pick up plot threads left dangling by previous Marvel flicks and juggle the large ensemble cast with ease. Combining this many franchises and personalities into one movie should have been a mess, but Whedon weaved it together seemingly effortlessly. Every actor, hero, and villain got their moment to shine (though admittedly Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, and Tom Hiddlson’s Loki were slightly shinier stars than the others), the high profile cross-hero fights were crowd pleasers, and it all wrapped up with superhero/alien warfare in New York that delivered the most delicious popcorn entertainment of the summer. Of course, you don’t need me to tell you this. The Avengers is currently the third highest grossing film of all time, so everyone has seen and knows what a giddy, geeky, festival of entertainment that it truly is. Marvel Studios will have a hard time topping this one, I’m confident that they have plenty of good superhero flicks to come, but you can only provide the first cinematic superhero mashup once and there’s nothing like the first time.
And finally, even though it made about $1.3 billion less at the box office than The Avengers, there was really only one movie that could possibly top this list. A giant leap forward for writer/director Rian Johnson (who was already doing pretty well for himself after Brick and directing Breaking Bad episodes for hire), Looper is the type of film that is supposed to be extinct. It’s a grandiose action sci-fi blockbuster, but one that offers thought-provoking themes and original ideas. The time-hopping killer concept provides all the requisite thrills, while Johnson never glorifies violence and makes every murder hurt. Casting Joseph Gordon Levitt as a young Bruce Willis was a huge gamble, yet thanks to clever makeup and some of the finest work either performer as ever done, it pays of beautifully. That’s true of the film as a whole, which plays like entertainment but takes huge risks at every turn, mixing thought piece sci-fi with popcorn action, psychic horror, and even a touch of chamber drama. If Hollywood could crank out even one blockbuster like this every summer, the multiplex would be a much better place. And now that Rian Johnson has a major hit under his belt, that might actually be a possibility.