I’ve probably seen more movies this year than I have seen in any previous years, so I decided to rank the new releases that I managed to catch. Included are links to the longer reviews (if I got time to write one).
25. Men in Black 3
This was a train wreck from start to finish. It’s too short, the comedy elements don’t work, the plot holes are numerous and gigantic, the villain can’t be taken seriously, both leads are phoning it in, nearly all of the supporting roles are underused, the best part is a guy acting like another guy, the score/soundtrack is terrible and it’s all just very unnecessary as a sequel or a movie on its own rights. A mess and an unenjoyable experience.
For me personally, Battleship was the line being crossed. It isn’t just that the movie has a ridiculous concept, is badly acted and scripted, or that the overuse of CGI is especially notable. This movie insulted me, due to the fact that for its entire gigantic budget, it couldn’t devote even a tiny amount of it for a good scriptwriter, a more talented producer or director. So much of this films money goes into the CGI and the big names that are performing so badly as to be stealing money, which I just could not get over it. Joss Whedon showed that a big budget action movie could have lots of CGI and some intelligence. Even Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter did that. Battleship is the opposite end of the spectrum. A critical write-off.
A let down. Made for studio politics reasons and copying the Sam Raimi structure wholesale, this is a film that I experience a more negative reaction for every time I see anything to do with it. A boring origin story (that just isn’t required), a very disappointing villain, inaccurate marketing regards plot, some immersion destroying plot holes and lame scenes, these are all gigantic flaws for me. It has a half-decent Spiderman, but he’s far too moody for my liking and better actors in the cast (like Dennis Leary) get screwed for screentime. A by the numbers effort, which is criticised by me more harshly for its averageness. Spiderman can be better than this.
An “adult”, gross out comedy, which only gets really significant laughs on occasion. Seth MacFarlene is struggling to make any comedy worth watching anymore, and this has all of the traits (and flaws) that the later seasons of Family Guy have, to the extent that this is just a live action version of the animation. Some mildly entertaining cameos covers up a standard buddy movie plot, with Mila Kunis easily being the best part of the whole experience. Sad to see the very talented Joel McHale languishing with his five or so minutes in front of the camera. The really bitter shot at Brandon Routh towards the end left a bad taste in the mouth too.
This was actually a surprise to me in how tolerable it was, but it was still poor. Kirsten Stewart remains, as Red Letter Media put it “a lovely looking girl, but has the personality of a brick”. She’s a terrible actress and looked worryingly thin in this production. Charlize Theron is over-acting to the hilt as the villain too. But Chris Hemsworth is ok, the universe and setting is pretty enthralling, and it is shot in a wonderfully dirty/grungy way. This is a mutilated fairytale and has some great supporting performances along with a half-decent plot. However, way too long, paced horribly and has too many awkward or unnecessary bits throughout. The half-assed work of Stewart and Theron just bring a good fantasy film down too much.
I came out of this one very underwhelmed. It isn’t bad per say, but I felt that the trailers and promotional material were very misleading about the nature and plot of the movie (not one mention of transforming bears for example) and I didn’t expect (or enjoy) a drawn out sequence of Merida trying to hide her bear-form mother. It was weirdly paced, leading quickly to a very flat ending after a great deal of set-up in the form of a standard “teenager rebelling against parent” tale, with Billy Connelly doing his best to keep things entertaining in the meantime. Just nothing exceptional in this one at all for me. Maybe the high expectations Pixar has are a detriment now, since it left me more disappointed.
19. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
Fair warning: I haven’t seen the others, so I went into this not sure to expect. It’s very random with no sense of internal universe rules or continuity, so can be treated in the same way that a Loony Tune can. It has some good laughs occasionally but it’s hard to see why any big name other than Ben Stiller is in this considering the massive focus on him. It’s wonderfully colourful and the stuff with the villain is pretty entertaining. You get the sense in some scenes, like the Je ne regrette rien bit, that the creators are trying to make something a bit more artsy than what the end product is, but it works better as slapstick.
18. The Dictator
Cohen is pretty hit and miss for me and I hate his usual type of humour. This offering was somewhat entertaining, but struggled to get beyond the initial premise – wacky dictator – to make any other kind of effective humour. This was a very deliberately timed piece, what with the Arab Spring, and it didn’t seem like enough was done with the possible material. Ben Kingsley is badly out of place, it’s pretty short and the gross-out sections will be to only a few peoples taste.
17. The Artist
This is a 2011 movie, but I only saw it in January. I didn’t fall in love with The Artist as much as everyone else did, thanks largely to what I saw as a very lacklustre plot, cringe-worthy visual metaphors and a very limited supporting cast. I think a lot of flaws in this film got excused because it was a silent movie – something fairly unique in the current movie landscape – and it is an interesting concept to explore. The two leads are decent and the score is wonderful, but I felt that the whole thing just fell short elsewhere.
16. Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists
A pretty silly, but enjoyable, offering from Pathe. While this suffers from a bit of “wastes all the good stuff in the trailers” syndrome, Hugh Grant is still quite good as “the Pirate Captain” out to win the Captain of the Year award through a zany scheme with Charles Darwin. The animation/effects are wonderful and the plot trips along, but Pirates! just isn’t as funny as it should be sometimes and sort of lags a bit in the action heavy finale onboard Queen Victoria’s giant ship. Not a patch on Chicken Run I’m afraid.
15. The Sapphires
Chris O’Dowd does good work in this and it is pretty entertaining, but is caught between being a comedy and a serious biopic. The musical performances are fantastic but the jumps between serious and funny are jarring (illustrated pretty well by sitcomish relationship problems turning into a Vietcong ambush late on). Most of the cast aren’t great either, better singers than actors. It’s shot really well though and works as a “Nam” movie of a slightly different bent. When it’s funny, it’s actual hysterical and that’s why it is as high as it is.
14. The Lorax
I called this “the best propaganda movie I’ve seen in years” and that is still the best description I can come up with. Lorax is preachy to the hilt, damagingly so, but still has a decent plot, good performances and excellent music that keep you from rolling your eyes and walking out at the insanely over the top message being put out. Ed Helms steals the show as the “Once-ler” from Danny DeVito’s title character, with Rob Riggle playing the polluting villain with abandon. Some dubbing issues detract, but overall a well made production.
13. The Five Year Engagement
This one drags a bit throughout and could be a bit funnier, but I still enjoyed the hell out of it. Jason Segel has some great comic moments/timing in this (that whole dinner scene with his Wildman look or his “hunting trips” with Dr Spaceman) and it has a nice blend of traditional jokes, awkward humour and physical comedy. Chris Pratt and Allison Brie kind of steal the show in their scenes though, almost to the detriment to the main plot. Still, a funny, legitimately heart-warming plot that seems a bit more “real” than most comedies nowadays, something in the line of Bridesmaids I suppose.
12. The Hunger Games
While the universe doesn’t receive enough padding to stop the questions coming, this was a decent action/adventure flick, with Jennifer Lawrence performing admirably as Katniss Everdeen, who seems to be fast approaching icon level. With the exception of a few throw-away roles, everyone – especially Harrelson, Hutcherson and Lenny Kravitz – does quite well in this one. The build up in the first half pays off brilliantly in the second, and while the actual “Games” lose something in the lack of moral grey areas, some bad scene pacing and shaky-cam problems, they are still one of the year’s most impressive set-pieces. I’d watch the next one.
11. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
I really enjoyed this. The premise is mad, but the acting was good, the action was good, the general pacing and plot was good and Benjamin Walker really does look the part in an amazingly eye-catching way. In fact, it is the make-up department, in the latter half of the film, which steals the show. It’s actually Oscar level stuff. This is the kind of film you cannot treat that seriously, but it passes a lot of tests. It’s shot gorgeously too and the train finale was pretty spectacular. The bad guy is pretty dry and the horse stampede looked kind of rubbish, but it’s hard to find fault with the rest of it. As an action film, it’s quite entertaining, and has some emotional depth that places it far above the somewhat zany title.
10. John Carter
It was a financial bomb for obvious reasons, but John Carter is still enjoyable on its own merits. Its classic sci-fi that you don’t see much nowadays, and I appreciated the elaborate sets and CGI work that got put into it. Taylor Kitsh does a good job as the titular cowboy on Mars, and it has a great supporting cast. Decent action, a nice epic tone to go along with it. It’s not Star Wars, but I commend the uniqueness in this modern age of cinema. The problem is the casual complexity of the various locations, peoples and…things which get throwaway references without much elaboration. This can leave you a little lost at times, but John Carter works better when they focus more on the “fish out of water” part of the tale. Lynn Collins is awful too, but she can’t wreck the experience too much. Unlikely to see more of these, but at least what we have to enjoyable.
9. Ruby Sparks
The promotion for this was a bit misleading, but it is still a very good movie. It has its comic elements, mostly around the middle, but it rapidly descends into far darker territory, culminating in a rather terrifying finale. This film has a good, interesting message to send from its special premise, which is that “perfect” love is something that doesn’t exist. The story of how Paul Dano’s character goes from his initial fantasy into the doldrums of an actual relationship is enthralling at times, and the humour (what little this is of it) complements the main plot. Zoe Kazan makes the whole thing as the title character, and the film direction has created a simple, yet slick production. I wasn’t a big fan of the idealistic ending, but I still rate Ruby Sparks highly.
While the plot holes were larger than any film I’ve seen in a while, this was still a slick, unique sci-fi production, with a central hook that reels the audience in and an excellent performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Looper switches tack dramatically half way through, but neither half lets the production down, though I did hope for more interaction between the two leads. Some truly effective horror scenes, interesting themes and symbolism with the various characters, lots of nice little touches in the creation of a not-too-distant future setting, they all combine to make the somewhat odd pacing and flattish ending not too much of a detriment. It’s a Mob movie with a good sci-fi twist, and deserves credit for trying to create something new from very worn genres.
Karl Urban pretty much redeems the Judge Dredd franchise in this rather decent adaptation of the 2000AD lawman. Where Stallone went for flash, “epic” plots and traditional storytelling, Dredd takes a different “day in the life” path as a more believable future New York is patrolled by a more believable Dredd. Nothing in this film is too out there or sci-fi-ish and the basic set-up is not far removed from Attack The Block, another film I loved. Lena Heady is a good villain and Olivia Thirlby adds a human element to the Judges, but Urban pretty much nails how Dredd should be portrayed – without emotional growth or any strong feeling whatsoever. For such a drab, grungy setting the set-pieces are well executed and with such a short length, Dredd never gets too bogged down. This almost feels like an action film from another era and I loved it. It deserved a much bigger audience.
6. Premium Rush
This is my dark horse of the year. An action movie about a New York bike courier doesn’t really sound like something to be placed so high, but Gordon-Levitt is great, the chase sequences are great and Michael Shannon is excellent as the corrupt cop villain. Premium Rush manages a somewhat complex plot and dual timelines very well and is only let down by its throwaway roles for several female characters. A really good ending, some tense scenes in the middle, some fairly unique bike-based stuff that serves better than any CGI heavy explosions or gunfights, it all adds up. Premium Rush deserved a far bigger audience than it got.
Bond is back. I listed this as my second favourite 007 film ever, and it’s because it is the best acted feature of the series to date, focusing on an excellent trinity of Bond, bad guy Silva and the mother figure they are torn between in M. Maybe a bit too long, but the action scenes are top of the line, its beautifully shot, has a great score and everything just flows nicely. This film has taken the best of the “old” Bond and merged in with the new wave, creating an experience that finds itself behind only the heights of Casino Royale. The story of Bond over the last while could match Craig’s performance here as he starts on high (Royale), falls and struggles back to top form (Solace) but eventually stands tall and ready to go to further adventures.
It probably was only Joss Whedon who could have avoided what many saw as in inevitable clusterf**k of superheroes in the most ambitious part of the modern genre yet. But he has managed to create an exciting, flowing, seamless action movie, where numerous heroes get their due in screentime, dialogue and set-pieces. Obviously, Robert Downey Jnr and Tom Hiddleston sort of steal the show, but Mark Ruffalo as the new Bruce Banner was my standout. This is the pay-off for five movies worth of set-up and with a great score, great CGI and a great battle in New York to see out the experience, Avengers is as good a movie as it could possibly have been.
A suitable finale for the “Nolan-verse” as Bale’s Batman faces his final battle. It would have been impossible to top The Dark Knight, but Rises is great stuff in its own right, with top notch performances from all (save Hathaway in my eyes) especially the menacing enigma that was Bane. Tom Hardy might have been hard to understand at times, but there is no denying the presence he was able to exude on screen. The overall “siege” plot might have been a bit out there for a series so grounded in reality, and the final confrontation was a bit weak after the first, epic contest between Batman and Bane, but Rises is still, for me, one of the year’s best films. A well crafted story of the final rise, fall and rise again of Bruce Wayne and Gotham City, this was a great way to round off the best superhero trilogy ever made.
It almost made it to the top. Ben Affleck has directed and headlined one of the most thrilling, tension-filled, nerve shredding movies I have ever seen, and did it all with a simple cast, basic filming and a story that I already knew the ending to. A masterful effort at creating suspense, the final hour of Argo should be required viewing for all film students. Mixing such a plot with more dark humour filled activities in Hollywood and applause worthy performances from Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman, Argo is just one of the best movies I have seen ever. The simple touches in creating tension, in de-humanising and then re-humanising Iranian foot soldiers, the suitably grainy shooting style, the sci-fi connections and the great work done at creating a late 70’s world should all be recognised for the triumph they are.
I thought long and hard about it, but it had to be Bilbo Baggins and company. My own childhood nostalgia and sentiment aside, An Unexpected Journey is a near-complete triumph from Peter Jackson, a return to Middle-Earth and the more child-friendly tones of Tolkien’s first great work that matches the epic work of The Lord of the Rings. Martin Freeman brings real life to Bilbo, McKellan is consistently good, Armitage has begun what should be an interesting arc for Thorin and Andy Serkis has brought Gollum back to our screens with consummate ease. The White Council sub-plot is limited but engaging and the change in theme from one of “Gold” to “Homeland” has added a suitable amount of “epicness” to the Quest for Erebor. Azog’s inclusion as a recurring villain is a master stroke and there were zero poor performances, from the opening prologue to the last glimpse of an awakening Smaug. The CGI is occasionally on the weakside and the stone giant section was one set-piece too many, but these are small complaints. This is the first step in what should be yet another trilogy to satisfy and please fans of fantasy and Tolkien in general. My biggest complaint is only that we have to wait a year for the next one.
What else is there?
Best Actor: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
JGL was in three of the top ten, so I have to recognise the good year that he had. He should be a consistent leading man from now on.
Honourable Mentions: Martin Freeman, Ben Affleck, Christian Bale, Paul Dano, Daniel Craig
Best Supporting Actor: Ian McKellan
He is Gandalf and he’s made a three-dimensional character – one who gets angry and happy, hopeful and sulking, sad and relieved – out of the best fictional wizard ever created.
Honourable Mentions: Andy Serkis, Bryan Cranston, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Robert Downy Jnr
Best Actress: Zoe Kazan
She does make Ruby Sparks, and played the enthralled creation of Paul Dano very well, from her quest for independence to the disturbing puppet-master finale.
Honourable Mentions: Jennifer Lawrence, Emily Blunt
Best Supporting Actress: Judi Dench
There is a reason she was the only part of the pre-reboot Bond that was kept over, and her high point is in Skyfall, where she is the focus of the whole plot.
Honourable Mentions: Cate Blanchett, Scarlett Johannsen, Olivia Thirlby, Marion Cotillard
Best Ensemble: Avengers Assemble
Just for the way they were able to play off each other without letting just one person dominate proceedings.
Honourable Mentions: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Dark Knight Rises, Premium Rush
Best Director: Ben Affleck
Argo is a directorial triumph, which trumps Peter Jackson on its creation of suspense…just.
Honourable Mentions: Peter Jackson, Joss Whedon, Christoper Nolan
Best Production: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
If there is one film crew that goes above and beyond the call for duty in creating a fictional world, it’s the men and women behind the Tolkien movies of the last decade.
Honourable Mentions: Argo, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Avengers Assemble, Snow White And The Hunstmen
Best CGI: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Even with the flaws I mentioned previously, the Weta Workshops and CGI are the ones who brought Gollum to life along with incredible visuals for characters, sets and locations.
Honourable Mentions: Avengers Assemble, John Carter
Best Score: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Howard Shore is just an amazing composer, and this award is hardly a surprise.
Honourable Mentions: Hanz Zimmer, Alan Silvestri, Dave Sardy
Best Song: “Skyfall” – Adele (Skyfall)
An entrancing return to classic Bond anthems.
Honourable Mentions: “Song of the Lonely Mountain” – Neil Finn (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), “K.I.L.L” – Nick Murrey (Looper), “How Bad Can I Be?” – Ed Helms (The Lorax)
Best Script: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
In taking what was good from the book and adding a mixture of paraphrasing and their own insertions, the New Zealander team has succeeded yet again with the adaptation of the best fantasy.
Honourable Mentions: Argo, The Dark Knight Rises, Avengers Assemble, Skyfall
Best Cinematography: Skyfall
Breaking it up a little, but Skyfall really was a feast for the eyes, from the opening train fight through the countryside, to the neon of China to the foggy moors of Scotland.
Honourable Mentions: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Argo, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Hunger Games
Best Make-up/Hairstyle/Costuming: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
You might be incredulous, but it really was a spectacular job in creating the world of the mid-19th century.
Honourable Mentions: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hunger Games, Avengers Assemble, John Carter
Best Comedy: The Five Year Engagement
Best Animation: The Lorax
Best Romance: Ruby Sparks
Best Sci-Fi: John Carter
Best Comic Book Movie: The Dark Knight Rises
Best Historical: Argo
Best Fight Scene: Batman/Bane #1, The Dark Knight Rises
Best Non-Fight Scene: Boarding Gate, Argo
Best Delivered Line: “You’re right. We don’t belong anywhere. I wish you all the luck in the world.” – James Nesbitt, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Best Set-Piece: The Battle of New York, Avengers Assemble
Best Hero: Bilbo Baggins (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey)
Best Villain: Bane (The Dark Knight Rises)
Diamond In The Rough Award (Good Performance In Bad Movie): Chris Hemsworth, Snow White And The Huntsman
Turd In The Punchbowl Award (Bad Performance In A Good Movie): Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises
Bang For Your Buck Award (Best Movie In Least Time): Dredd
Inception Award (Good Movie Despite Plot Holes): Looper
“NOOOOOO” Award (Over-Acting): Charlize Theron, Snow White And The Huntsman
“What Are Ee-Mo-Sh-Uns?” Award (Under-Acting): Karl Urban, Dredd
“That Escalated Quickly” Award (Good Movie Idea That Turned Bad): The Amazing Spider-Man
“It’s Been Mixed” Award (Varying Performances): Taylor Kitsh, Battleship, John Carter
“Just Applaud” Award (Over-Rated Movie): The Artist
“Meh” Award (Under-Rated Movie): John Carter
“Chekov’s Gun” Award (Most Painfully Shoed-In Scene): Ganili Device Intro, The Amazing Spider-Man
“Just Pick One” Award (Movie Trying To Be Two Things At Once…And Failing): The Sapphires
“Don’t Cross The Streams” Award (Surprisingly Bad Idea In A Movie): How Agent J Defeats Boris Using Time Travel, Men In Black 3
“Nuts And Gum, Together At Last” Award (Surprisingly Good Idea In A Movie): Azog, the recurring villain, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
“You Can See The Strings” Award (Worst CGI Moment): Escape from Goblin-town, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
“The Pictures! They’re Coming…Alive!” Award (Best CGI Moment): Riddles in the Dark, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
“It’s All Gone Wrong For Me” Award (Worst Casting): Liam Neeson, Battleship
“My Home Planet Needs Me” Award (Last Acting Job): Rihanna, Battleship
Superman 64 Award (The Worst Thing Ever): Tommy Lee Jones, Men In Black 3
“You Can’t Take The Sky From Me” Award (The Best Thing Ever): “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.”, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
So, that’s it for 2012. Looking forward to Les Miserables, Lincoln, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, The Desolation of Smaug, Star Trek Into Darkness, World War Z, Riddick, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, Thor: The Dark World, Anchorman: The Legend Continues, The Wolverine, 300: Rise Of An Empire in 2013.