At the Turn: The Best of 2012 So Far
July 10, 2012 3 Comments
I realize I’m a little late here, as most of the cool kids did their mid-year lists last week at the actual halfway point of 2012. I could credit this to some iconoclastic bent, not wanting to get lost in the crowd, or needing time to properly compose my list. But the truth is probably closer to a mix of procrastination and indecision. So with that stirring introduction out of the way, on with the countdown.
2012 has been a weird year so far in that there’s been very little middle ground for me. Either I liked a film a lot or I simply could not stand it. Which is a good thing, in a way; I almost prefer a film that inspires a negative reaction to one that inspires indifference, because at least it made some kind of connection. There’s a vision at work, even if it’s a woefully misguided one. These ten films, however, did not have that problem.
What I Said: ”… Ted hits more than it misses, even if it’s not exactly swinging for the fences. And even if those fences are little league distance away.”
MVP: Seth MacFarlane, who wrote it, directed it, and voiced the main character. With the film at almost $120 million in box office, I’d say he must have done something right.
Most Memorable Moment: Sam Jones’ entrance, complete with the thumping theme from Flash Gordon playing on the soundtrack. Hey, it may have just been mining 80s nostalgia, but it hit a pretty rich vein.
9. John Carter
What I Said: ”… it’s better space opera than anything that’s had the name Star Wars on it in the last ten years.”
MVP: Lynn Collins, just breathtaking as the should-have-been-titular Princess of Mars, Dejah Thoris. She’s a refreshing change from the string of veritable stick figures Hollywood likes to put in these kinds of roles, with a beguiling mix of toughness and voluptuousness. Here’s your Wonder Woman right here, folks.
Most Memorable Moment: Carter and Woola making their stand in the desert against a horde of Warhoon. It’s a stirring, epic scene, and one that has some weight because of where it comes in the story. It’s not just a case of showing off how good their rendering hardware was.
What I Said: ”(Gina Carano)’s got great screen presence, and yeah, she’s not hard to look at in the slightest. Even when she’s bashing someone’s face in. Or maybe because she’s bashing someone’s face in.”
MVP: The aforementioned Carano, with an assist from director Steve Soderbergh for putting her in a position to succeed. She’s a totally believable action hero here, managing to be both strong and feminine and not making the combination look the least bit implausible.
Most Memorable Moment: The shot of Carano running up behind a brooding Ewan McGregor, hell-bent on pounding his ass into the surf. We don’t see her arrive, we don’t see her find McGregor, she’s just suddenly there rushing up out of the background. We feel both sorry for the beating McGregor’s about to take and pumped to watch him take it.
What I Said: ”… it was refreshing to see (a genre film) that wasn’t just consistently good, but which actually got better as it went along, raising the stakes in a logical way leading up to a completely satisfying finale.”
MVP: Dane DeHaan as Andrew, who has to keep us emotionally invested in his character as his power grows greater and more out of control. It says a lot about his performance that even once he becomes a threat, we’re still hoping he finds a way out.
Most Memorable Moment: The trio of friends’ celebration of their new-found ability to fly is interrupted by a passenger jet. It’s hard to say what’s worse: the agonizing wait for something you know just has to happen, or the moment when it finally does. This scene gives us both, and when that jet comes screaming into frame, we’re both dreading it and needing it.
What I Said: ”If the story of Brave ultimately doesn’t go anywhere all that new, it’s still a destination worth visiting, and at least it takes the scenic route to get there. And let’s the women drive.”
MVP: While I’m tempted to say Merida’s hair, I’m going to go with the duo of Kelly Mcdonald and Emma Thompson. There’s a very believable relationship between them, and it lends the mother/daughter scenes in the film some genuine emotion.
Most Memorable Moment: Merida holding her mother, thinking she’s lost her forever. No words, no overbearing musical score, just a simple outpouring of grief and sorrow that truly makes you think the film is going somewhere very dark.
5. Jeff, Who Lives at Home
What I Said: ”… a film that asks us to consider all the seemingly random events of our lives, all the people we meet by chance, and wonder if maybe, by their very existence, they’re not all that insignificant after all.”
MVP: I’m normally not a huge Jason Segal fan, but he’s absolutely winning here. The lovably space-out persona that’s been his trademark is put to great use, especially when we’re shown that maybe his ideas aren’t as far out as we’d thought.
Most Memorable Moment: Susan Sarandon, as Jeff’s mother, has an emotional epiphany beneath her office’s fire sprinklers. It’s a beautifully wordless performance from Sarandon, a moment that asks us to revel in the unexpected in our lives, and to keep ourselves open to new experiences.
4. The Avengers
What I Said: ”… this is the Super Bowl, Mardi Gras and Christmas all rolled into one. It’s both a culmination and very much its own thing.”
MVP: This is a whole team of MVPs, so maybe it makes sense to call out the one who corralled them all together, Joss Whedon. He simply gets this kind of storytelling, from the team dynamics to the rising stakes to each character getting to shine in their own particular and memorable way. It’s the greatest juggling act you’re likely to see all year.
Most Memorable Moment: Words can’t do it justice:
Maybe the moment of the year.
3. Moonrise Kingdom
What I Said: ”For all the picture postcard brightness with which Anderson imbues the film, he seems to be saying that we tend to forget the ‘ending’ part of ‘happy ending’…”
MVP: The duo of Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, who effortlessly carry so much of this film on their young shoulders. Their romance is all the more sweet for the believable awkwardness they bring to it, and there’s not an ounce of tentativeness from either of them.
Most Memorable Moment: Bill Murray, as Hayward’s father, literally turns the young lovers’ world upside down as he single-handedly lifts up the tent they’ve been sleeping in when he can’t manage to get the zipper open. It’s a great metaphor for the impotent rage Murray’s character feels towards his life in general.
2. The Cabin in the Woods
What I Said: ”… it’s one of those rare films that starts off good, veers into greatness, and then somehow finds another gear beyond that into some nether realm of complete and total joy.”
MVP: Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford start off the film making us think we’re in for some standard evil corporation hijinks. And we kind of are, but in a completely unexpected way, and a large part of the fun is the slowly growing loss of control these two experience as the film goes on. They have a ton of fun playing off each other.
Most Memorable Moment: I still don’t want to spoil it. Suffice to say that, in a variation on Chekhov, if you show a cell, that cell has to be opened at some point.
1. The Grey
What I Said: ”… heroism comes from the decision to have the fight at all.”
MVP: Liam Neeson sinks his teeth into this film like the wolves who chase him throughout it. But beyond the rugged physicality and rage he brings to the role, there’s also a lot of thought going on. Neeson’s on a spiritual as well as physical journey, and his performance clearly shows us both.
Most Memorable Moment: The end, that final, maddening, uplifting, audacious fade to black that prompted so much rage in so many who failed to grasp what the film was trying to say. Maybe the riskiest cinematic decision of the year, but so thematically right.
Looking back, this was a tough list to compile. If this was a list of favorite films, The Avengers would be at the top hands down, but on a Best Of list, I had to rank three films with a little more to say higher than it. It’s also reminded me how much I enjoyed films like Haywire and John Carter, films I need to revisit. All in all, the first half of the year brought us some pretty memorable films. There’s a huge onslaught of quality coming though, with new films from Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Ang Lee, David O. Russell, Tom Hooper, and Baz Luhrman on the horizon. Chances are good this list will look a lot different come December. I can’t wait to see what makes its way onto it.