If there’s one thing that scanning the list of all films released in 2012 teaches us, it’s that—as many movies as I’ve watched this year—I’ve barely scratched the surface. (Which of you has a line on a press pass for me? C’mon. Don’t be shy.) Of the around 1,600 films that hit theaters in 2012 or claimed to, I doubt I caught more than 10%.
For example, I didn’t even know until now that there had been a film made of Jonathan Lethem’s Gun, With Occasional Music, which is about hard-boiled detectives and gat-toting kangaroos in a future-San Francisco. I bet that was AWFUL. I’m sorry I missed it. If it ever really existed.
The other thing that parsing the list reveals to me, is that I found 2012 to be distinctly free of highlights. Of the big-budget, high-expectation films that cruised through cinemas, nary a one would make my top ten list or even really come close. Skyfall, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Cloud Atlas, Argo, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man, Prometheus, The Avengers, The Hunger Games, and (shudder) John Carter: all pretty much forgettable. If I had to pick a best of that bunch, it would be The Avengers.
Joss Whedon’s gargantuan superhero hoedown did not actively infuriate me. I laughed some. Mark Ruffalo was the best Hulk since Lou Ferrigno. Scarlett Johnansson looks great in leather even if I think I could beat her in a wrestling match (and would be happy to try).
The fact that people are talking about Argo as the best film of the year truly concerns me. It was quintessentially Hollywood in that it dared absolutely nothing.
Of the smaller films that built good buzz, there are some respectable contenders for best of 2012. Beasts of the Southern Wild did indeed feature astounding acting by young Quvenzhané Wallis. There were engaging flights of imagination therein, too.
Holy Motors, although I found its individual segments hit and miss, was occasionally delightful. Looper was sound and fury signifying nothing. I felt the same about The Master and Moonrise Kingdom. Wes Anderson, whose work I once adored, seems to have completely abandoned reality. Where Max Fisher in Rushmore was a strange boy inhabiting a recognizably real world, now everyone in an Anderson film is kookier than Zooey Deschanel in a nitrous-filled bouncy castle. Can’t relate. Don’t care. What kind of bird are you? I’m the extended middle-finger kind.
So what does that leave us with? Low expectation pieces that surpassed and surprised.
Magic Mike, one of Steven Soderbergh’s two 2012 features (the other being Haywire) did just what it promised on the tin. I liked it. I liked Channing Tatum. I believed in the characters and situations. Nothing too strenuous there, though. Just a pleasant diversion well-assembled.
Cabin in the Woods? Again, a good little film with good little surprises and moments. Would I watch it again? Probably not. I saw enough Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Joe Dante’s creepy kids film, The Hole, was also notable. But can I call either of those among the best films of 2012? Not honestly. I’m also going to have to likewise pass on Alps, which was odd but never compelling, and Goon, which was light and unambitious but actually sweet and funny for a film about hockey punch-ups. Robot and Frank I didn’t mind and still don’t. Not minding is hardly a resounding recommendation, however.
And with all that pooh-poohing done, my list of 2012 films is down to three. Three! No top ten for you. And of these three? One was hysterically bad—intentionally—and of questionable taste. I speak of The FP. This dance-dance-revolution-gang-fight-sports-film was brazen. That’s the word for it: brazen. Brazen in its humor, its design, and in its complete lack of sense-making. Was it brilliant? Certainly not. Did I enjoy every minute? Indeed.
That leaves, despite my intentions otherwise, The Raid: Redemption in the runner-up slot. I cannot explain. It just hung on there, quietly, not demanding attention until now. The martial arts in it was well choreographed and deftly played, but overeager. The story was mostly irrelevant. I suppose all I can say is, “That’s the kind of year it was.” The kind of year in which a low-budget Indonesian chop-socky flick directed by a Welshman rose to the top.
Except for, of course, the best film of 2012. A film so much better than everything else I saw that there has never been any question that it would be my #1.
The Best Film of 2012
Swedish musical-terrorist comedy Sound of Noise was easily the best film I saw in 2012. Everything about it was refreshing, entertaining, engaging, and novel. It is as if—and I cannot believe I am even suggesting this—writer/directors Ola Simmonson and Johannes Nilsson did not have a comic book, video game, 80s television show, or informational packet on herpes lying around that they could adapt. They had an actual, honest-to-god new idea. They made a movie based on stuff they created, themselves, from their own imaginations.
Sound of Noise barely played in U.S. theaters. It’s almost a given that you haven’t seen it. It is, however, on Netflix so that can be remedied. Please take care of that before 2013.
Sound of Noise was the only 2012 release I saw that I unreservedly recommend. It is the only new film I saw this year that I loved (understanding that John Dies at the End is not officially released until 2013.)
You will see it. It will end. You will look around and say, “Well damn. That was something else entirely. That was new.” And lo, you will hear the rhythm of the world and maybe even play along.
In Last Place
As promised, there is also clearly a worst film of 2012. That film is About Cherry. When I saw About Cherry (although it was then titled just “Cherry”) it was with a film festival crowd including the filmmakers. Only this fact, and the fact that Supreme Being and I were in the middle of a full row kept us from walking out.
Did I mention that About Cherry features almost unbelievably attractive actress Ashley Hinshaw in her altogether, altogether quite a lot? Well it did. And I still wanted to leave. That’s how awful it was.
Boobs. Could. Not. Help.
The story was so horrifically insipid that one would have to actually insert living leeches into his or her own skull to match the level of dismalness. The all-star cast, including Heather Graham, James Franco, Dev Patel, and Lili Taylor, stumbled through painfully ill-conceived scene after scene like habaneros through a toddler.
Ostensibly, About Cherry is about a young woman who becomes involved in the world of adult film. Since the picture was co-written by porn star Lorelei Lee, this is depicted as a reasonable decision for Cherry. It is not the porn industry that’s bad; it’s the rest of the world. Something you’d long suspected, I’m sure.
I’d tell you more, but just remembering the movie is giving me cramps.
And there you have it. The best and worst films of 2012. Let us all hope 2013 treats us a smidgen better.