Weingrad rates the movies of 2012

Just one week before the 85th annual Academy Awards, I figured now is as good of a time as ever to give you all my top 12 movie list of 2012. I first did this for the movies of 2009, 2010, and 2011, because as some of you may know — I moonlight as a a movie aficionado.

I make a point to watch every significant movie prior to the Academy Awards, and about a couple of weeks ago, I finished my checklist of all the films that I wanted to see.

Since I started these lists, I think this year had the biggest late-season quality movie Oscar surge of any other year, and thus, it was extremely difficult to form a top 12. However, I have done so, and I will take the time to share it all with you, along with a small bit of my own analysis of each movie.


12. The Perks of Being a Wallflower:

This film was originally a book, but then was adapted to the big screen by its own brainchild. But not only did Steven Chbosky playe the role of author and screenwriter, but he also directed the movie. That is something you very rarely see. But the result of it is the movie maintaining its essence that made the book so popular. The Perks of Being a Wallflower was one of the most real movies of the year, and it was carried by three extraordinary performances by its young leads  — Emma Watson, Ezra Miller and Logan Lerman, who I believe, solely because of the movie, will go on to be stars. It’s a film that focuses on a very identifiable topic — a group of kids who are outcasts in high school, and are ostracized from mainstream yet find solace with one another. Unfortunately, it is not a very sexy, star-driven, Oscar-bait movie, and thus, was excluded from the award consideration. But it is a muse-see for anyone who likes a well-acted, character-driven drama.

11. Wreck-It Ralph:

This year’s list was almost without an animated movie, that is, until I saw Wreck-It Ralph about a week ago. As soon as I finished it, I knew I would have no choice but to modify my list to include it. While Pixar’s Brave was a major disappointment, Wreck-It Ralph more than made up for it, and actually had the heart and soul of a Pixar movie, despite it being made by Disney. It’s a great story about a “villainous” video game character named Ralph, who has to come to grips with himself being the “bad guy.” The film takes place within an arcade, and the characters are all in video games, but it’s so well constructed that the absurdity of it doesn’t even resonate. It’s a genuinely funny, sentimental and feel-good movie that people of all ages can enjoy, and will even present a little bit of nostalgia for the arcade game-savvy folks of the late 80s/early 90s.

10. Looper:

This year’s best sci-fi flick. Despite Looper being led by a of a trio of quality actors — Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt — this movie excels because of its story. It’s complex, and yet, simply told and never relents. The pace is electrifying and you will not find yourself bored during any point of its 120-minute entirety. If you like plots that revolve around time travel, and are a fan of The Terminator franchise, then you will love Looper. It borrows a lot from previous films of the same genre, and thus there is nothing revolutionary about it, but it’s extremely entertaining and action-packed, all the way up to its final climactic scene. Again, geeky sci-fi aficionados will drool over this movie.

9. Django Unchained:

There is a reason why Django Unchained isn’t higher on this list. Let me preface by saying it’s a brilliant movie, and ingeniously penned by Quentin Tarantino. I was loving every minute of it during the first two hours, and I especially loved the interactions that occurred between the characters portrayed by Christoph Waltz and Leonardo Dicaprio. Jamie Foxx was good too, but those two stole the show, in my eyes. However, about two hours in, something really big happens (no spoilers here, needn’t worry), and from that point forward, the movie jumped the shark from me. By the time the credits rolled, I was disappointed. Not because the movie was bad, but because it had so much potential to be a masterpiece. That being said, it still contains Tarantino’s trademark touches — brilliantly smart and funny dialogue, profanity, a butchered pespective of history and lots and lots of violence.

8. Lincoln:

“And the winner is, Daniel Day Lewis!” Those are the words you will undoubtedly hear towards the conclusion of next Sunday’s Academy Awards during the presentation of Best Leading Actor. But people should probably be made aware that the movie proceeds at an extremely slow pace, and is devoid of action outside of the first five minutes. Those expecting a battle-filled epic a la Saving Private Ryan will leave disappointed. However, this movie is extremely appealing because of its historical significance, and because of the actors who convey it to us. Daniel Day Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field and others are so good that it doesn’t even feel like you are watching a movie — it feels like you are watching history unfold right before our very eyes. Daniel Day Lewis is Abraham Lincoln. It’s remarkable. So if you want to brush up on your American history, see an unbelievable acting performance, and witness a compelling period piece, then check out Lincoln.

7. The Hobbit:

Lord of the Rings fanboys — like myself — have waited anxiously for this movie. I say “anxiously” because the very last thing we wanted was for Peter Jackson to undo all of the good he did with the original trilogy. But there was no reason to fear, because when it comes to hobbits, elves, dwarfs and Middle Earth, nobody does it better than Peter Jackson. That same epic and adventurous feel that we all came to love is back, as are so many of the characters we became enamored with 10 years ago. In fact, watching this movie was almost like watching a reunion. Jackson set the bar so high with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, that everybody should understand that he can’t possibly top it — but he comes pretty damn close with The Hobbit. And I loved Martin Freeman (a popular British actor) as a young Bilbo Baggins.

6. The Master:

Without a doubt, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master will be one of the most misunderstood movies of 2012. Not that I am trying to arrogantly say that “I got it,” in fact, there was so much hidden narratives within the film that I think I will have to rewatch it a few times just to grasp it all. But what I do know is that Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman put on two absolutely incredible performances, and thank goodness Phoenix has returned to acting because he is truly one of the best. The film is about a young, naive man (Phoenix) in the 1950s who finds himself entangled with a group of people (led by Hoffman) who have begun their own religion. The movie draws a lot of parallels to Scientology, and on the surface, it really tells us a lot about the manipulative and calculating nature of human beings. At least that is what I got out of it. The movie didn’t really get a ton of buzz, but I truly think that as more time elapses, The Master will come to be considered as a classic.

5. Argo:

Ah, we have now entered the heralded “top five,” and honestly, any one of these next five films could have easily been higher, and all were considered for the top spot — they’re that good. Ben Aflleck is the lead actor and director of Argo, and was probably the biggest snub in the Oscar nominations. The true story is about a recently declassified CIA mission where Tony Mendez, played by Affleck, leads an operation to rescues six hidden American hostages from the Iranian hostage crisis in the early 1980s. He attempts to do so by pretending that the hostages are part of a film crew. This story is pretty much what moves are made of. Although there is inevitably some dramatization in the film, the events are compelling enough to carry themselves on its own. The story is portrayed brilliantly, and you will absolutely find yourself glued to your movie set as the culminating moments of this movie wind down. And like Lincoln, it’s also a fascinating retelling of history. Seems to be a theme this year, doesn’t it? Which leads perfectly to…

4. Zero Dark Thirty:

Lincoln retold events of more than 150 years ago, and Argo’s story took place 30 years ago. Zero Dark Thirty, meanwhile, informs us of CIA operations from ten years ago leading up to 2011. It was an extremely ambitious project, headed by Kathryn Bigelow (another snub), about our country’s quest to eliminate Osama Bin Laden following 9/11. Like Bigelow’s previous work, The Hurt Locker, this film is a thriller that will make your heart pump while watching it. Again, I know I’ve said this before, but I found this film fascinating from a historical perspective — and a recent historical perspective at that. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding it in regards to its historical accuracy, along with its heavy portrayal of torture, but regardless, it’s a damn good movie. The first two hours or so are dialogue-heavy, and very tense, but the intensity peaks when the movie recreates Seal Team 6’s invasion into Pakistan to kill Bin laden. Sorry — that was a spoiler. Jessica Chastain is probably one of my favorite actresses right now, and I’ve loved her ever since she burst onto the scene last year. She does a fantastic job in this — but probably not Academy Award-worthy.

3. Les Misérables:

I’ll tell you right off the bat that I am not a big musical guy by any means, and yet, I loved Les Misérables. I also have never seen never seen the actual play, although I know so many people have. I just think this movie was a supreme effort from all of those involved. Anne Hathaway — hate her or love her — delivers an absolutely stunning performance, and is a shoe-in for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Hugh Jackman probably gives the best performance of his career, and newcomers Eddie Redmayne and Aaron Tveit are also solid. heck, even Amanda Seyfried was quality, and that says a lot. Russell Crowe, I thought, gave a consistent, refined performance, despite being the target of many complaints regarding his singing. And as far as the singing being recorded live and not separately — which is what director Tom Hooper chose for authenticity-sake — it did not bother me at all. I’m watching a movie, not an opera, and I don’t care if the singing is not impeccable. I also loved the scenery and the costumes, and I would recommend this movie to everyone, not just musical lovers.

2. Silver Linings Playbook:

It’s very easy to identify why America fell so in love with this movie. It’s a romantic comedy about real and relatable people with a satisfying conclusion — of course, I will not reveal what that conclusion is for spoiler’s sake. Too often, romantic comedies revolve around characters who have great jobs, and great lives, and great friends, and it’s hard to relate to them because it’s an inaccurate portrayal of life. Silver Linings Playbook, however, steers clear from those generic clichés and presents us with a movie about heavily flawed and real people who are just trying to find happiness, or rather, a silver lining amid their chaotic lives. Because, after all, isn’t that what we all want? Bradley Cooper gives a performance that I honestly didn’t think he had in him, and if it wasn’t for Daniel Day Lewis, he might have had an Academy Award to add to his palate. Jennifer Lawrence gives a very solid performance too — which we’ve come to expect from her — and she is probably the favorite for Best Leading Actress, although I think Emmanuelle Riva from Amour is the dark horse in that race. Robert De Niro delivers easily his best performance in more than a decade, and director David O. Russell has become one of the best current filmmakers, and knows how to get the best out of his actors. Heck, even Chris Tucker was good in his small role. It’s my second-choice to take home Best Picture, secondly only to…

1. Life of Pi:

This movie, to me, was stunning. And not only that — but awe-inspiring, and I truly mean that. It’s a film about a young man, who simply goes by the name of ‘Pi,’ who, after a shipwreck, is stranded on a boat with one of the most inconvenient shipmates — a Bengal tiger. Actor Suraj Sharma does a spectacular job playing Pi, in what was miraculously his acting debut. How this movie incorporates CGI is miraculous, and everything just comes together beautifully. The film is both inspiring and heart-wrenching, and its conclusion leaves us with a very inquisitive and enlightening proposition into human nature. It’s a story of raw human emotion, survival and fantasy. If you have a liking for adventure — and animals — then you must see this movie. The film comprises mainly unknown actors, and to me, that just adds to its authenticity. And the effective use of CGI and 3D proves that you don’t need explosions or car chases to amaze people digitally. Director Ang Lee created a masterpiece here, and despite tough competition, I have a hunch that both he and this movie will take home the major awards next Sunday. But we’ll see.

And there we go. Life of Pi joins AvatarThe Social Network and The Descendants as my choices of year-end top movies. To date, none of them have taken home the Oscar for Best Picture.

As usual, I will wrap up by pointing out some of the other movies I enjoyed this past year.

On the outside looking in:

Skyfall: Skyfall just missed cracking the list. I’m not a huge action guy, so despite the hype, I went into the movie with low expectations, and yet, I came out very pleasantly surprised. Skyfall is essentially an action movie, but with a lot of sentiment and a shockingly good story. Daniel Craig gives a very understated performance as Mr. Bond, and Javier Bardem is great as the villain, as expected. It’s probably my favorite Bond movie ever.

Amour: Now this is a French film by German filmmaker Michael Haneke that is pretty much as depressing as you can get. It’s about an old couple at the end of their lives, and how they must stick together and stay strong in their waning years. As I mentioned before, 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva gives a stunning performance, and I really think she has a legitimate chance at winning an Oscar. It’s a tragically sad film, but beautifully portrayed, and a lock for Best Foreign Film.

The Sessions: This is a unique movie that should have gotten more recognition. Helen Hunt was deservedly nominated for her bold performance (she is naked in half the movie), and unfortunately, John Hawkes was the odd man out in the category of Best Leading Actor. he plays a man, who, after suffering from polio as a child, is confined to an iron lung. The story is about him, as a grown man, seeking a sex therapist in order to lose his virginity. The movie is extremely funny, yet touching and sincere.

Flight: You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody give a better performance of an alcoholic than Denzel Washington does in Flight. It’s a hard movie to get through at times, because Denzel plays an extremely unlikable character, but he does it brilliantly. The airplane scenes are pretty cool too, and though it’s long, Flight is one of the better original dramas of 2012.

The Hunger Games: It’s awesome when a movie adaptation manages to maintain the true essence of its original source, and you get that in spades with The Hunger Games. Jennifer Lawrence establishes herself as an A-list actress with her portrayal of Katniss Everdeen, and Josh Hutcherson was solid casting as her Hunger Games-compadre/love interest Petta Mellark. The movie successfully manages to capture the hopelessness and darkness that exists in the book, and it was very satisfying to see.

Other solid featured from 2012 that you should see:

– Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson’s latest concoction is a love story revolving around two adolescents. The film, in typical Wes Anderson-style, is very artistic and contains gorgeous cinematography. While the two young leads (Jared Gilman, Kara Heyward) did an adequate job, I think the strong supporting cast is what made the film, led by Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand and Jason Schwartzman.

Pitch Perfect: This is easily my guilty pleasure of 2012. It’s a movie that centers around rival a capella groups, and it is extremely funny and highly entertaining. Anna Kendrick is great in the movie and is a real up-and-comer. if you want to see a fun movie with some good singing, check this one out.

– Brave: I insulted Brave during my analysis of Wreck-It Ralph, and while I stand by my assessment that it was disappointing when you compare it to Pixar’s very high standards, I still think it’s worth seeing just for the great computerized graphics and scenery. The story isn’t bad, it’s just shockingly uncreative. Kids will still like it though.

– The Impossible: This movie is worth seeing just for the special effects that were put forth to recreate the 2004 South Asian tsunami. Naomi Watts is pretty damn good in it too.

– Ted: A lot of people told me they didn’t like Ted because they thought it was “too serious.” Yet, in my eyes, it was the serious and touching moments of the movie that made it successful. Those scenes play as a perfect foil to the movie’s many jokes and gags, and in all, I thought it was a very admirable effort by debut filmmaker and soon-to-be Academy Awards host Seth MacFarlane.

– The Grey: Many may have forgotten about this movie, as it came out in Janurary, but the Liam Neeson-led film was surprisingly solid. On the surface, it’s a macho-action film about a group of men being attacked by wolves, but when you watch it, you realize it’s an existential film about accepting death. It was a much more intelligent film than what meets the eye.

– The Dark Knight Rises: This movie was overrated by many, but it was a satisfying conclusion to the Christopher Nolan trilogy. At the very least, it’s worth seeing just to watch Anne Hathaway wearing a skin-tight leather suit the entire movie.

– Prometheus: I think this movie was heavily mismarketed, and although it’s far from perfect, I thought it was a classic homage to extra-terrestrial horror/action movies from the 1970s and 80s. It’s very gory though, so maybe pass on this one if you are squeamish.

End of Watch: I actually liked this movie a lot. Jake Gyllenhaal is definitely not among the best actors in Hollywood, but he’s solid and he’s become very good at picking his roles. In this police-drama, Gyllenhaal has great chemistry in this one with co-star Michael Pena, and it shows in the finished product. I recommend bringing tissues with you though, because its a tear-jerker.

Magic Mike: Yeah, that’s right. There was definitely more close-up shots of male exteriors than I ever needed to see in Magic Mike, but it was a surprisingly compelling movie, and a much darker film than one might think with a decent story to boot. And believe it or not, but Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum are actually decent in this.

And I’m spent. No more movie talk until 2014.

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