If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years as a film critic, it’s that film critics are a lovably geeky and totally obsessive group of characters. Sure, like any profession, there are critics who do their jobs half-heartedly. But most of us are more than just a little bit crazed about our jobs. We work strange hours—and often a lot of hours—and we rarely get a chance to sit back and relax. After all, the things that most people do to sit back and relax are the things that we do for work. Still, we’re obsessive about what we do. Most people wouldn’t cut their vacations short to come back and work—but film critics often do just that. This year, one of my colleagues told me that he dropped everything and skipped out on his vacation when he got the invitation to the screening of The Master (and I can only hope that he was more satisfied by the movie than I was).
This year tested my own obsession. Late last year, I got the news that I was expecting my first little junior movie buff. In December, when I was informed that my due date was July 10th, my first thought was, That’s no good—that’s the week before The Dark Knight Rises comes out. And, from that moment on, I conversed with my unborn child, letting her know that I needed to be available for the screening—and she’d just need to work her birth around it. Fortunately, it all worked out. My breech baby was born via C-section on July 5th—and, despite the fact that almost every one of my colleagues doubted me, I was at the screening of The Dark Knight Rises 13 days later.
Now, however, it’s time to look back on another year in film. Once again this year, I had a hard time putting my top-10 list together. In fact, it was much easier to compile my bottom-10 list than it was to compile my top-10 list. The bad movies were just bad. The good movies…well, they were okay. I did like a number of films this year—but, as has been the case for the last couple of years, I didn’t feel truly passionate about any of them. There were some clear front-runners, but they were followed by a big, long list of good-but-not-greats. As usual, my list of favorites tends to be a little unconventional and maybe even shockingly unsnobbish (The Avengers over The Master!), but that’s how I roll.
The Year’s Best:
This one was a big surprise for me. After being unimpressed by Steven Spielberg’s most recent films, I wasn’t exactly anxiously awaiting the release of his latest, Lincoln. More than just another boring biopic, though, it’s a captivating political puzzle with yet another Oscar-worthy performance by Daniel Day-Lewis.
After director Ben Affleck wowed critics and audiences with his first two Boston-based films, many began to wonder whether he’d have the same success if he left Beantown. With Argo, he went as far away from Boston as possible—and the result is his best movie yet. It’s smart, it’s funny, and it takes a few clever jabs at the biz. Not only that, but it’s based on an unbelievably true story. What could be better?
Director Tom Hooper’s follow-up to his easy-going Oscar winner, The King’s Speech is a moving musical masterpiece with a near-perfect cast. I recently watched it a second time (as is the case for most of my top 10), and it was every bit as moving the second time around. If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to bring a box of tissues.
The Hunger Games
It’s not every day that you find a successful movie adaptation of a popular novel—but Gary Ross’s adaptation of The Hunger Games was spot-on. In fact, I’ll be so bold as to say that it’s even a little bit better than the book (and that’s saying a whole heck of a lot). And Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Katniss makes it even better.
I know…I know. Top 10 lists are supposed to be filled with chatty dramas—not superhero thrillers. But I can’t help but include The Avengers on my list. With so many heroes gathering together in one massive summer blockbuster, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers could have been a mess. Instead, it’s surprisingly well-balanced. Each of the main heroes gets his chance to shine—as does Tom Hiddleston’s villainous Loki. Throw in some budget-busting action and effects, and you’ve got a summer blockbuster that’s brimming with awesomeness.
Some people are pretty passionate about Wes Anderson’s films—whether they absolutely love them or completely detest them. I, meanwhile, have generally fallen somewhere in the middle. For me, it all depends on the film. I have to admit, though, that his last two films have been pretty remarkable—especially this adorably quirky little love story about a couple of teen runaways. Sure, it’s totally hipster, but it’s pretty darn clever, too.
This year’s Pixar release was an extremely personal one for me. When it hit theaters, I was just weeks away from welcoming my daughter into the world—and, as such, Brave’s mother-daughter story hit remarkably close to home for me. Call it pregnancy hormones if you will, but the story grabbed me—as did Pixar’s stunning animation.
A Bond movie in my top 10? You bet! Daniel Craig’s long-awaited, long-delayed third outing as the legendary superspy was his best yet—and the best Bond film I’ve seen in years. It’s smart, it’s thrilling, it’s timely, and—best of all, for those of us who care about things like character development—it actually delves into a bit of Bond’s history. And, for me, that made the usual action and one-liners all the more satisfying.
2012 was a fun year for animation. Not only did we have the usual major releases like Pixar’s Brave and Disney’s clever video game adventure Wreck-It Ralph and DreamWorks’s wacky Madagascar 3, we also had darker adventures like Rise of the Guardians and ParaNorman. Really, both of these clever animated films are worthy of a spot on this list, but ParaNorman wins for its smart humor and its brilliant B-movie parodies.
Rian Johnson’s Looper was one of my most eagerly-anticipated films of the year—and while it didn’t quite live up to my [admittedly high] expectations, it was a film that grew on me over time. The more I thought about it, the more I liked it. It’s far from the usual sci-fi film—but that’s Rian Johnson for you; he’s far from the typical director. And I look forward to seeing where this talented young director’s next film takes him.
And Now…The Year’s Worst
As I mentioned earlier, I had no problem coming up with a collection of bad movies to include on this year’s bottom-10 list. Really, the only challenge was narrowing it down to just 10. There are so many others that deserve to be here, but only 10 can make the final cut. And here they are.
Tom Cruise and his saggy old-man pectorals make two appearances on this year’s list. His first (and less offensive) entry is an action movie that was supposed to be the second-coming of Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Instead, it ended up being a laughably bad adaptation of a book that was probably pretty good before Hollywood got its grubby hands on it. Of the series of poor decisions that led to the production and distribution of this film (not the least of which was the casting of Cruise as a brawny ex-military tough guy), the only entertaining one was the casting of Werner Herzog as the bad guy.
This year, George Lucas decided to sell off Lucasfilm. This decision came just months after the release of the company’s latest production, Red Tails. Coincidence? Perhaps. Or maybe Lucas saw the film and realized that he can no longer be trusted to produce good movies. Not only is it a boring drama filled with bad clichés, but it’s also insulting to the real-life heroes who inspired it. So maybe it’s best that Lucas took a step back before making a total mess of the next Star Wars movie.
Robert Pattinson released a few movies this year—including one that was so bad that it was strangely entertaining and one that was so bad that it was…well, bad. No matter how hard the poor guy tries to find challenging roles in serious movies, it seems as though he always ends up playing some version of Edward Cullen. In Bel Ami he was the 1890s Paris version: moody but irresistibly handsome, with the overwhelming urge to suck the life out of anyone he meets (and anyone who cares to watch).
Since I’m a fan of James Patterson’s novels, it breaks my heart to include this adaptation on my bottom-10 list. But Patterson’s a pretty smart guy—and I’m pretty sure that, if he ever has a few minutes to spare between writing best-sellers and cashing his royalty checks, he probably shakes his head and thinks, Yeah…that movie sucked. Note to Hollywood: Tyler Perry is not an action star any more than I am a fairy princess.
This Is 40
I have yet to hit The Big 4-0—and, after seeing Judd Apatow’s latest movie, I intend to reach 39 and stay there forever. After all, if reaching that milestone means that I’ll turn whiny and obnoxious, with a husband who avoids me like the plague and lies to me about anything that’s important and a couple of kids who do nothing but scream at each other, I’m pretty sure I’d rather step out into oncoming traffic.
Rock of Ages
Technically, this musical mess could count as two entries on my list—because I was forced to watch it twice (for which I will probably never be able to forgive my sister-in-law and brother-in-law). Sometimes, a movie will get better with time; this one only gets worse. Really, the only good thing about this movie is the nostalgic ‘80s soundtrack. Everything else is just…sad.
Hyde Park on Hudson
Being related to a film critic has its perks—especially at this time of year, when we tend to tote binders full of screeners around with us wherever we go. This year, on my annual holiday journeys, I left one screener out of the binder: Hyde Park on Hudson. I included some pretty bad movies, just in case someone wanted to view them at their own risk. But this one stayed home—because there was no way that I was allowing my family members to subject themselves to this awkward disaster.
The Lucky One
What would a year be like without a Nicholas Sparks movie? Well, it would probably be a little cheerier, for starters. Kleenex’s revenue might take a bit of a dive. And I might have to work a little bit harder to fill up my bottom-10 list. This year’s entry was not only painfully schmaltzy, but it also included a ridiculously wooden performance by Zac Efron. On the bright side, though, I spent the entire screening placing bets with a colleague about which character would bite it in the end, so at least I was able to have a little bit of fun with it.
Here Comes the Boom
It seems that no bottom-10 list could be complete without an appearance by Kevin James, whose movies have gotten so bad in recent years that they’re just plain depressing. Once, they were at least ridiculously over-the-top. Now they’re just half-hearted and sad. It almost makes me wish for the days of Paul Blart: Mall Cop (but not really).
In the spring of 2012, three teens set out to throw the best party ever—and, in the process, they ended up creating the worst movie of the year. The characters are obnoxious, the story is immature, and the whole thing is one big shaky mess. In fact, it’s so painfully bad that it hurts just to think about it. So let’s leave it at that, shall we?
Now that I’ve taken the time to relive the best and the worst cinematic moments of 2012, it’s time to look forward to another big year of movies. The coming year will mark the return of everything from Star Trek to Sin City, from Monsters, Inc. to Despicable Me. And you can rest assured that neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor hail nor sleep deprivation nor baby food stains on my shirt will keep me from covering them all for you. I look forward to taking you along on another year of movie-going adventures.