Well, we're over halfway through 2013, so there's only one thing to do right? Yes that's right, look back to a year no one cares about anymore...I've had my tops of 2012 list written for months...the only problem is when i say it's been written, I mean jumbled thoughts in the back of my brain that make sense to only me. So I'm finally here, I could apologize like Bence recently did for lack of content, but I won't , because come on now: Let's not stand on ceremony here, Mausketeers, I'm awesome! You should be thanking me for writing to you all again. Ah, who am I kidding...So 2012 wasn't that great of a year for me in film, my personal opinion of course. It wasn't terrible, but it didn't shake up any foundations. But let's get on with it...
10. - Hitchcock
The film isn't great, but as a huge Hitchcock buff, it is a lot of fun. Despite having to work around certain issues to keep from getting sued, and despite adding in some flavorful fiction, the actors do a great job, almost double take worthy at times, in bringing to life some of the legends and myths of the making of the master of suspense best known film, 1960's Psycho. As I said, it's not a great film, but it is great fun and worth a watch.
9. - Lawless
Not nearly good as The Proposition, another bloody John Hillcoat/Nick Cave celluloid duet, and it's a film that does at strives to be more than it can be. That aside, it's still built upon characters with appropriate depth being given great performances, and not just ones you'd expect from the underused Gary Oldman or chameleons like Tom Hardy or Guy Pearce, but the actor formerly known as Shia LaDouche shows his chops outside the world of Michael Bay and robot ball sack jokes. It's also, like Zero Dark Thirty, is another 2012 example of how good Jessica Chastain is, what a year for her...
8. Django Unchained
Tarantino has made two different films in his career. The first one he did a few times in the 90's, and he's now been making the same film since Kill Bill Vol. 1. He might be the most unoriginal filmmaker to be considered "great" in film history. That being said, he is a student of the game, and makes entertaining movies, even if they were done better when they were called, say, Badlands or The Good, The Bad & the Ugly. I'll get the bad out of the way first, because yes, Django is good, it is fun, and the problems I have with it aren't really with Tarantino, besides his God-awful cameo (Hitchcock had it right by doing his in the first ten minutes, as to not take people out of it the films). But here's the deal, if you think this is the best western you've ever seen, well, you need to watch more westerns...and you only have to go back a few years to see, say, The Proposition and see a film far more in line with a modern day Leone type western. The cinematography is remarkably unremarkable for a guy who usually has such a distinct style, the editing can be off at times and remind you that Sally Menke is sadly no longer with us, and the dialogue isn't super snappy for being supposedly Tarantino's best aspect. That said, it's more than enjoyable, the set design is great, and Leo DiCaprio and especially Christoph Waltz bring it, sinking their teeth balls deep in the material. Yes, I just said that.
7. The Dark Knight Rises
While it is arguably Christopher Nolan's most flawed film, and certainly the most flawed of his Batman trilogy, let's call it what it is: the best third chapter in a comic book franchise yet. Yes, it has it's problems (though let's also remember that there is a difference between a plot hole and something left off-screen) but it also tries to be the most epic film it can be. If you didn't see this film on IMAX you really missed out, as it takes full advantage of the format, and in particular, that opening scene kills. It never was going to match The Dark Knight in hype, but that's okay, because for the most part it's trying to be it's own film in this trilogy of Bat-tales. Christian Bale gives his best performance as Bruce Wayne (though the film is pretty light on Bats) and I absolutely love Bane in this film - haters can suck it, because Tom Hardy delivers in bringing Bane out of the shadow of how Joel butchered the character back in the late 90's in a big way. Oldman, Caine and Shawshank Voice-Over are like old faithful and Levitt and Hathaway are both welcome newcomers, though I still can't buy Levitt's reveal to Wayne. It's a good way to end a great trilogy, the action sequences and in particular the callbacks to Batman Begins (love that scene with Oldman though it seems he's the last of a whole city to figure it out) were things I loved. It's not as crisply edited as most of Lee Smith's work, but that first fight between Bane and Bats is brutal and I commend the sound design and the choice to have no music, but just the sound of said brutality. I'll say this though, and I might get crucified, but as much as I love these films I feel Batman, the detective Batman, can still be done better on the big screen.
6. Seven Psychopaths
Can't this guy get a film of his properly marketed? 2009's In Bruges struck me out of left field, as the trailers made it feel like sort of a crime-comedy in the vein of maybe a poor man's Guy Ritchie, yet seeing it in theaters it struck much deeper as more of a modern day Greek tragedy with a side-order of dark comedy and crime. Once again, the trailers for Martin McDonagh's new film showed a film vastly different than what we got. Is it as good as In Bruges? Well not for me personally, as that film stuck in as my number 2 for that year. It's great to be occasionally reminded that Colin Farrel CAN act as well as chase tail, Christopher Walken is always great to see, and any film that has Tom Waits in it gets major props. This one will end up a cult classic...
5. The Expendables 2
As much as I enjoy films as an art film trying to say something, I'm not afraid to admit I also understand the value of film as simply a time killing device to find yourself entertained and having fun. There's not a film I enjoyed more from a theatrical experience than action overture the Expendables 2. Understanding exactly what it needs to be, it's a loud, intentionally unintentionally funny, raucous adventure calling back to those 80's action films none of us want to admit we really love. The first ten minutes alone give it credence as one of the greatest action films of the last twenty or so years. Sly Stallone gets a whole lot more crap than he deserves, and I hope he keeps pumping these out. Everyone should enjoy the extended cameos by Arnie, Jet Li and Chuck Norris, not to mention Bruce Willis, who seemingly has funnier quips (and maybe even more to do) here than he did in Die Hard 5: Die Dead Horse Die.
4. Killing Them Softly
Some people absolutely missed the point of this film, others caught the political allegories so hard it felt like a bit too much. Either way the film went heavily under the radar, but caught my eye, and I've seen it twice and enjoyed it thoroughly both runs through. It's my favorite shot movie of the year (photographed by Greig Fraser, who also shot Zero Dark Thirty) not only with interesting framing and taught, stark lighting, but in particular it has a high frame rate slow-mo scene that would make Zack Snyder crap his pants and go back to commercials. It's also the slickest cut film of the year, by the underrated Brian Kates, though it's not a shock why William Goldenberg got such praise this year for his double up he performed. Even though Brad Pitt's name is big and large on the one-sheets and trailers, it's really an ensemble film, and everyone from Pitt to Liotta to Gandolfini to Scoot McNairy bring it full force. Pitt shows a quiet and dangerous side with the type of guy you wouldn't second guess and, in particular, I loved the delivery his final little speech. Andrew Dominik wrote and directed this, his follow up to 2007's equally underrated Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which also featured Pitt. Like Looper's Rian Johnson, he seems to enjoy taking his time to complete projects he really wants to do. If there's more like this, no complaints here.
3. Zero Dark Thirty
I liked 2009's The Hurt Locker, though I felt it was a bit overrated, a bit overlong, a bit schitzo in what it wanted to be. When I saw the overly edited, surveillance footage flooded trailer for this I won't lie, I didn't get excited...too soon maybe? Hurt Locker 2? Indeed, as Zero Dark Thirty opened I laughingly called each cut and moment, saying things like "I bet it'll open with company titles projected as dirty surveillance video...oh they'll do some cool surround sound audio sound bites concerning 9/11 I'll bet..." Even though I was right about that, in truth it's just the perfect way to open up the film. It's well shot and extremely well cut and paced for a film that's not exactly a non-stop action piece. It's a far better film than The Hurt Locker as it actually knows what it wants to be, and stays the course for it's 150 minute or so runtime. Also, it's only shot by the same guy behind the lens of Killing them Softly, but like that film also features a small but worthwhile performance of the now sadly deceased James Gandolfini. Finally, people who rip the way this film portrays torture are kind of missing the point...you know, trying to tell a story how it happened...
2. Silver Linings Playbook
It wasn't surprising when this film became the first in MANY years to acquire Academy Award nominations in all four acting categories. As soon as I walked out of the theater I announced to my wife I felt it was the best film of the year from an acting standpoint. The acting indeed is it's high point throughout the entire film and helps a solid story guide the ship around potential cliche quirks, like say: oh who's better for a nut job, than another nut job? Hey it worked in Benny and Joon, remember? Bradley Cooper should quiet any naysayers about him, and if Daniel Day Lewis wasn't so good in the otherwise Spielberg misfire Lincoln, this certainly would have been his year. Jennifer Lawrence completes her ascension to the top of the hill in her short career, providing final confirmation that she can be just as great in a character driven film s she can in box office fodder like The Hunger Games. Let's not fail to mention that hip to waist ratio in those yoga pants...check please! Finally from the acting standpoint I want to mention both how Chris Tucker CAN act (beyond the whole quick talking brother roles) and how good it is to see De Niro not only in a film that is at least trying to matter, but to see him not phone it in. The soundtrack is also noteworthy as it is both excellent and unexpected, with some choice cuts ranging from the White Stripes to a Dylan/Cash duet. The film could have been a romantic comedy mess in the hands of lesser acting and editing, as so much of it's emotion and unexpected, almost irrational, comedy comes from it's cutting room, hence the nomination. Kudos all around.
It's fun for me to remember back to 2005, a fellow-editor friend of mine and me used to spend time at each others places: talking shop, showing each other what we were working on, and show each other movie trailers for upcoming flicks we wanted to see that the other might not of heard of. As soon as we saw Brick, we were both hooked on seeing it. Not only did it have a great modern neo-noir vibe, but it looked like something that we'd want to make if we had a bit more green. Luckily the movie didn't disappoint, and also it's been good to see it get a cult following in the years since. Writer/Director Rian Johnson has been slow moving, seemingly taking his time and doing the projects he is really passionate about. Similar to how Unbreakable and Insomnia were mixed receptions in follow-ups to popular debuts, Johnson next did the solid but under appreciated The Brothers Bloom starring the equally underrated set of T&A known as Rachel Weisz. Anyhow, long story short, Looper came on the radar and the group of filmmaking friends and myself that were so excited about Brick found that excitement again as each trailer made it look more and more awesome, and certainly more along the lines of what Brick fans were hoping for as a follow-up. It didn't disappoint as it finds itself as probably the best sci-fi/cyber punk film since 2010's Inception. It's not perfect, and like most films dealing with things like time travel, it breaks down the more you think about certain things. But even the film itself mocks that, if only to remind you "you can think, but don't think THAT much, we're supposed to enjoy this, remember?" Probably the best part of the film is Joseph Gordon-Levitt channeling Bruce Willis in both looks and mannerisms, down to that signature Willis eyebrow. I could go on and on about things I like about this wild ride of a film, but it's easier to say that as someone on the long journey of watching the slow burn of Rian Johnson's career and eventual releases, it doesn't disappoint. Fast, Fun, fiery and furious. Why all the "F's" you ask? Cause that's the letter farthest away from this film's final grade.