This past year in cinema was a significant step up compared to recent years. So many great films in 2012, but only ten spots. Let me preface for you, the reader, before you start scrolling down on my movie rankings: I was not able to get out and watch every acclaimed film in 2012, but for the most part I liked what I did see. So don't hate me if I left out a couple of award winners to geek up my own nominations for this past year.
Kicking off this Top 10 list is a genre mash-up of horror, comedy, a little bit of fantasy, and one of the most unique styles of mystery in recent years. Coming from the minds of Joss Whedon and his pal Drew Goodard, the film's director, The Cabin in the Woods was easily one of the entertaining movie experiences this past year. More humorous than horrifying, The Cabin in the Woods above all else was a refreshing take on horror films, guaranteed to be unlike any scary movie you've ever seen. I was lucky enough to say this film opening week and dodge all the spoilers before I entered the theater. To those not so lucky movie-goers spoilers do ruin this flick for you, so beware.
This flick won't make any other critics' Top 10 of the year lists, probably not even the Top 25, but since I'm only a part-time/amateur critic and full-time geek I give Spidey my number 9 spot. Thankfully not Spider-Man 4, The Amazing Spider-Man film was a 100%, much needed, reboot to the franchise. Fresh blood and a fresh start is given to director Mark Webb and rising star Andrew Garfield. Garfield's friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man was instantly more appealing than all three of the films before him (combined); largely due to the fact that The Amazing Spider-Man stayed true to the source material of the original comics. The adaption isn't directly from comic book to screen but any liberties Webb took fit the story of the film. From a comic book reader's point of view that effort into an adaption goes a long way. It might be tough to consider now but another decade down the road, when everybody's favourite wall crawler gets another franchise reboot, Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man will still hold up. Not like a certain 2002 super-hero flick.
From the love him or hate him director, that is Wes Anderson, comes one of the quirkiest romantic comedies in recent years. I fall in the 'love him' category when it comes to Mr. Anderson and his filmography, his odd style of isn't for everyone, but if there was ever one his films to make you a fan of his it would be Moonrise Kingdom. To call a Wes Anderson flick unique is almost redundant but Moonrise is without a doubt one of the most unique takes on the rom-com genre, and I mean that in the best possible way. A star studded ensemble of seasoned and returning Anderson regular actors make up the supporting cast but its young stars Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward that steal the film as a pair of younger lovers on the run from parents and a battalion of scouts from Camp Ivanhoe. Sounds ridiculous right? Well that's all part of Moonrise Kingdom's charm.
Chronicle is one of the most inventive flicks from 2012 solely because it's the closest film (in my opinion) thus far to properly utilize, the normally dismissed, 'lost-footage' genre. Set in a superhero-isk / sci-fi genre Chronicle makes the most out of their skeleton studio budget of only a mere $15M by leaning heavy on its characters and their stories rather than visual effects. The film doesn't bog itself down in the supernatural details, manages to keep things simple in the plot department and still have a block buster scale climax to cap it all off. More importantly the lost-footage concept doesn't over stay its welcome, having a running time of 84 minutes; well below the theatrical average. Chronicle knows it's a smaller film, doesn't pretend otherwise, and succeeds without any franchise brand name backing it.
No, that's not a typo. I didn't actually mean to pick Nolan's Dark Knight Rises instead. This number 6 pick of The Dark Knight Returns: Part 1 is kind of off the board a bit here as it wasn't actual a theatrically released film, but rather a straight to Blu-Ray/DVD animated feature. The film is the first half (Books 1 & 2) of the adaption of Frank Millar's ground breaking 4 book Batman graphic novel series from 1986. Easily eclipses Nolan's DKR on all levels this is the Batman movie fans deserved this past summer and the Batman movie die-hard comic book fans have been waiting for. When the Batman comes off of retirement this the story that should have been told. Gritty, violent, bloody, and still ahead of its time Millar's Dark Knight tale pops off the page and punches you in the face. Though 2013 is still very young Part: 2 already has list potential, all thanks to an incredible film here in Part: 1 setting the bar early on.
The first film in yet another franchise based on a popular book series, The Hunger Games is a beautiful cinematic anomaly. A PG-14 film about 12-to-16 year old kids murdering each other to survive on live TV doesn't sound like something parents would let their children see, but director Gary Ross brilliantly adapts to fan favourite book into a global phenomenon. The Hunger Games is carried by a pre-Oscar winning Jennifer Lawrence and there aren't enough adjectives to describe this girl's talent and beauty. Omitting the obvious similarities to the Japanese cult film (Battle Royale) The Hunger Games captivates audiences, young & old, with a welcoming new and fresh style of storytelling. No wands were raised or necks were bitten to start this book to screen franchise, just simply a sizable teenage body count, an amazing visual style and a wildly impressive young actress in Ms. Lawrence.
I've put some pretty innovative flicks on this list so far but Looper across the board takes the cake. The film is every sci-fi fans dream movie. Time travel without the head aches of overly complex plot points, distinctive futuristic style all round, and enough of a supernatural element to make it unlike anything you've ever seen before. Looper is a flick which will probably be imitated for years to comes since it is, or damn well should be, considered the new benchmark for a 'time travel' film. That's not to say Willis or JGL are to be the next Doc Brown or anything. This mind-bender movie is as exciting as it is clever and Looper has to be the smartest film of this past year by far. You do the math.
50 years young this British film franchise continues to amazing movie audiences around the world. Bond back for his 23rd official cinematic mission (Never Say Never Again doesn't count, sorry Kersh) and whether you're a fan of Craig's 007, or not, Skyfall is one for the ages. Director Sam Mendes crafts an exhilarating, action packed, standalone rollercoaster of a film and somehow manages to also simultaneously make a film that honours the entire Bond legacy that came before it. The building blocks of past characters are re-introduced here, ushering the new guard in the 007 universe for years to come, leaving the secret agent's future brighter than ever. I said it earlier, but Skyfall is to Craig what Goldfinger was for Connery: his best outing as 007 yet; hands down.
I narrowly missed selecting this as my number one pick. If they weren't so modest, 'perfection from Pixar' should have been the tag-line for Brave. Brave has that classic Disney fairy-tale feel to it yet both its story and protagonists are completely original. Regardless of age or gender, Brave's mother/daughter relationship will melt your heart and may even bring a tear to the eye when all is said and done. Brave's beautiful story is fittingly paired with some of the most stunningly gorgeous animation ever rendered, being nothing short of a visual masterpiece. Even with an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in its trophy case, Brave doesn't nearly get the level of praise it deserves. In the box-office world of recycled story-lines Brave is as original as it is heartwarming.
It should be no shock judging by my superhero saturated list that my top spot goes to the epic comic book crossover film Marvel's The Avengers. The ambitious and unprecedented multi-franchise team superhero film caps off Marvel Studios phase one series of films after nearly ten years of planning, but for the dreamers that grew up reading those glossy 32 paged books of modern day mythology The Avengers was a lifelong dream come true. This live-action adaption is a culmination of 50 years of imagination as if it were ripped straight from the pages. The Avengers is more than just a highlight reel of superhero shots and mind blowing visual effects; it's a brilliant use of top calibre leading men and women as an equal ensemble. An assembled ensemble if you will. Highbrow art The Avengers film is not but you don't have to be an Academy member to recognize this is a once-in-a-generation film. Just like their original Marvel pages from 1963 this The Avengers movie has all the potential to inspire decades of future filmmakers, artists, geeks, or all the above. Simply, it was the best time I had at the movies in 2012 so how could I not put this film at the top.
Now time for some honourable mentions for the ones that didn't make my Top Ten, but were still some damn entertaining flicks. In the sci-fi department I have to give a special nod to Ridley Scott and his return to the Alien franchise in the official/kind-of-sort prequel Prometheus. Expectations may have been a little high for that one but it was fun to return to that universe with the man that started the franchise. Following the trend of high expectations was Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths. McDonagh's previous film, In Bruges, is one of my favourite films so my bar for Seven Psychopaths was a little high. Other great flicks this past year that I enjoyed and deserve a mention were Disney's Wreck-It Ralph, Tom Cruise's Jack Reacher, and Tarantino's Django Unchained.
And no, even though my list is superhero heavy, no nod to The Dark Knight Rises. That's what you get when you take 8 years off and don't fill in any plot holes.
Andrew Burns loves film and comics, and can be found writing about when those worlds converge. You can follow him on Twitter at @myAndrewBurns.