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I’m counting down all the movies released in 2012.  The ones I’ve seen, at any rate.  In what is unquestionably a timely manner.  Hey, I finished before the end of 2013.  That’s a moral victory, right?

10.  Pitch Perfect

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So, full disclosure, I was three or four beers in when I saw this movie with at least one fellow Grouch in a spur of the moment decision.  The plot services the movie fine, though it isn’t a particular highlight and, for example, the subplot of Anna Kendrick and Skylar Astin’s romance is undercooked.  But holy cow is this movie funny.  The casting is spot on, leading to the breakouts of Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson, but Anna Camp and Brittany Snow are solid in support, plus who doesn’t love Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins on commentary?  I was a little skeptical the world needed another a cappella thing about people trying to make regionals, but much credit to screenwriter Kay Cannon.  The film spawned multiple hit soundtracks and a hit single for Anna Kendrick, because of course.

9.  Lockout

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The film was written and directed by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, but it has co-writer and producer Luc Besson’s fingerprints all over it.  Latter-day Besson movies are extremely consistent: a tough, funny leading man, a clear and economical story, action movie one-liners, a few interesting twists, and a happy ending filled with explosives.  This one is no different.  Guy Pearce is a good match for Besson, I think, and Maggie Grace has clearly shown her chops.  The only thing I’ll say about Besson is that he seemed to be successfully hitting a lot of doubles and triples lately, I wouldn’t mind him aiming for another homer.

8.  The Raid: Redemption

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The movie that made me like RoboCop less and lose Adam’s respect forever.  Though I also saw this one in theaters with him and I’m pretty sure he liked it a bunch as well.  The story structure of having all the action take place in one building and having our hero have to essentially clear floors is very compelling for a martial arts movie.  The action is confined in the sense the fighting is limited to rooms or hallways, which is a refreshing change of pace, but there are plenty of floors, so there’s lots of different action.  Writer/director Gareth Evans does a great job illustrating the fighting, I think, and allowing just enough of a story to seep through.  There was one kill, where Iko Uwais jumped backwards and impaled a guy on a doorframe that was just spectacular.

7.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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I had very high expectations for this one going in, to the point where it probably disappointed a little not to fall in my top five.  Which isn’t fair, I know.  And for the first, I don’t know, two-thirds of the film, I couldn’t figure out what people were talking about.  But the last third of the film was absolutely killer.  Ezra Miller is the bold highlight of a strong cast.  It is shameful the highest-profile awards and nominations he pulled down were Chlotrudis, MTV Movie, and Teen Choice (looking squarely at you, Independent Spirits).  Emma Watson was also quite good, adding surprising depth to a character that didn’t have to be so nuanced.  That said, if you’ll excuse a brief foray into objectification, Emma Watson in the Rocky Horror getup as part of the live cast during a screening fulfilled fantasies I didn’t realize I had.  Anyway, there’s a lot to like from Stephen Chbosky’s effort here, it gets surprisingly dark and poignant and touching.  Here’s hoping his next go-round doesn’t take quite so long to get there.

6.  Zero Dark Thirty

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Talked about this movie a bunch in the Oscar posts, obviously.  A very good film and if you wanted to argue it should have won the big one, I wouldn’t put up a fight.  The last chunk of the movie, the raid, was absolutely riveting, with Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal putting on a masterclass in dramatic tension.  The middle part was maybe slightly uneven, a minor quibble that makes the movie very good instead of great.  Also, needed more Kyle Chandler and Chris Pratt.

5.  Flight

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I was pretty thrilled screenwriter John Gatins received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay.  And not just because he also co-wrote Summer Catch (with Kevin Falls!) and wrote Hard Ball.  This film was taut throughout and a fantastic character study.  And of course, much credit to director Robert Zemeckis, especially for the crash scene, and Denzel Washington, who was awesome.  But it is easy to forget that the crash scene was written and Washington’s drunk hero originates from the dialogue and scenes in the script.

4.  Argo

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Wait, does this mean I agree with the Academy?  Madness!  How this movie managed to win the top prize is a well-covered topic.  And you know, I’ll grant the movie isn’t necessarily particularly ambitious or trendsetting, which I imagine is a factor for some when deciding on Oscar.  But Ben Affleck and Chris Terrio did a fantastic job crafting a movie that’s incredibly tense throughout.  They expertly wove in comic relief as a valve to temper the pressure of the tension, which led to some of the funniest moments on screen this year.  The cast was tremendous, but the name actors in nearly every role was maybe a bit off-putting.  And again, needed more Kyle Chandler.  And pretty much everyone else.

3.  Wanderlust

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I realize I’m alone here, but that’s fine, I’ll enjoy my wildly underrated Wain/Marino joints as long as they keep pumping them out.  Saw this one in theaters and felt like I was doubled over with laughter for most of the time.  The writing was hilarious, of course, but David Wain has a way of building fantastic casts comprised of a great combination of regulars (Ken Marino, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux), really funny people (Key and Peele, Kathryn Hahn), and high profile newcomers (Jennifer Aniston, Alan Alda) who all blend together to make me laugh a lot.

2.  21 Jump Street

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Saw this one in theaters and can’t remember ever laughing more.  At first glance, this movie sounds like a terrible idea, right?  A remake of a TV show people vaguely remembered, starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, written by a guy with a credit on Project X, directed by the guys whose only prior big screen credit was an animated film?  But then, you realize that should read “Oscar-nominated Jonah Hill” and that Channing Tatum is crazy talented and that Michael Bacall also co-wrote the excellent Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, and that Phil Lord and Chris Miller directed Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which was an adaptation way better than it needed to be.  At any rate, this film was fantastic, with a stellar supporting cast that runs so deep, a relatively clever story, and a deep understanding of the genre.

1.  The Dark Knight Rises

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Yup.  And I’m one of the few people who like this movie more than the last one.  Let’s go through why.  I personally find the philosophical musings of the Nolans’s to be a superficial distraction in their films.  It felt like they got away from the pseudo-intellectual diversions, at least a little.  I’m not necessarily a huge fan of the Bechdel test or complaints about poorly-written women/minority/etc. characters.  I’m sympathetic to the cause, but I think it misses the point a little, to me the characters should be written in service of the story, and yes that often means women should be able to talk to each other about things other than boys.  But not always.  In any case, the women in the first two Batman films were badly-written and generally annoying.  The women in this one were almost decently-written and vaguely interesting, which was a significant step up.  The cast was probably the best of the trilogy, I mean, it is insane that along with all the regulars, this one added Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Matthew Modine, and Juno Temple.  Finally, and maybe most importantly, the fight scenes in the film were darn near a revelation.  The action was so visceral, nearly primal in nature.  They were simply fantastic, and made the film the best of the year.

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Hey, maybe I’ll be able to get these all in before nominations are announced.

VIRTUAL LOCK

  • Ben Affleck, Argo
  • Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
  • Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty

Yup, that’d be Ben Affleck adding a directing nomination to his resume.  Which reminds me, you should really read Boston Magazine’s oral history of Good Will Hunting.  Sure, Spielberg missed a BAFTA nom, but there’s no way he’s missing an Oscar nomination.  Apparently the government redacted screenings of Zero Dark Thirty, because it isn’t playing here yet.  Part of me hopes this movie tells the story of the part in Point Break where Keanu Reeves says he spent like a year tracking Patrick Swayze down.

GOOD BET

  • Ang Lee, Life of Pi

Turns out that Life of Pi is a movie people just plain like, and since it isn’t the script or the acting, it probably had a lot to do with Mr. Lee.

LIKELY IN

ON THE BUBBLE

  • Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
  • David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Tom Hooper, Les Miserables
  • Michael Haneke, Amour

This last spot caused me no end of grief when putting together my predictions.  It’ll be fascinating to see where the Academy comes down here, especially how it relates to other nominations for these films.  Tarantino gets credit for executing a unique vision and his endless homages.  But will his take down of slavery play as well as killing Nazis?  I’m decidedly not a David O. Russell fan and found his direction distracting.  Plenty of people disagree with me.  We’ve been over Tom Hooper and his atrocious choices in Les Miserables, and I say that as a fan of both The King’s Speech and The Damned United.  Reaction has been sharply divided, but many respect his bold decisions.  Haneke has a devoted fanbase among the Oscar crowd, maybe they’ll lead to enough #1s to push him through.

DARK HORSES

  • Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
  • Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom
  • Robert Zemeckis, Flight
  • Sam Mendes, Skyfall
  • Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

PTA also has his crew, but when everyone is talking about the dying buzz for your film, you have a problem.  Wes Anderson is another director who brings his specific vision to the screen, but he hasn’t hit the precursors.  Zemeckis hasn’t hit precursors either, but with a name familiar to Oscar in a triumphant return to live action, and that killer crash sequence, you could seem him sneaking in.  I’m personally not predicting a massive haul for Skyfall, but if it resonated wildly for voters, then maybe they are crediting Mendes.  Zeitlin seems like too much of an indie vote for Oscar, especially with the Andersons around to divert votes, but maybe the film’s earlier release date can work in its favor.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED

  • Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises

An interesting development this season is the awards season trajectory of The Town, the Ben Affleck-helmed, Ben Affleck-written, Boston bank heist thriller starring Affleck and last year’s Best Actor nominee Jeremy Renner (plus Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, and Chris Cooper). After Affleck’s crew robs a bank managed by Hall, he approaches her to make sure she didn’t see any indentifying features to tell the police. Naturally they fall for each other, just as he is planning one last big score.

The film bowed at number 1 in mid-September with $33 million and surprisingly rapturous critical approval. As of now it’s nearly hit $92 million. The box office success and critical acclaim has thrust it into the awards race.

Oscar bloggers are predicting it for Best Picture. Warner Bros. rushed it to DVD yesterday, just three months after its release, to time it for an awards push. Every other day there’s an item about someone loving the film, like Robert Duvall.

On the other hand, in the early awards it’s only picked up Supporting Actor nods for Renner from the Golden Globes and SAG with little acknowledgment from critics groups.

But what’s the real deal, the straight talk you can only get from the Grouches? We’re here to tell you. And we think it’s hogwash.

John

I find the Oscar buzz for The Town puzzling. Though, to be fair, I find the slobbering critical response puzzling as well.

It’s a good movie. It’s entertaining and taut. But what people see as special elements transcending its genre just don’t work for me.

Mainly it’s the relationship between Ben Affleck and Rebecca Hall that trips me up. They don’t have any chemistry and I don’t see any reason they should be together. I suppose I can understand why she would cause him to soul search. She represents a new, positive force in his life and a way out of the criminal world that he’s been considering. But I don’t know why she sticks around with him.

Faaaaaake

And because it’s not a believable relationship it doesn’t give the film the emotional depth it intends. Which just makes it a good heist film. It’s not that it isn’t a typical Oscar film. It’s that it’s not a great film.

As for the Oscar buzz, I suspect people are looking for any box office hit to throw into the race after the way The Blind Side made bank on its way to a Best Picture nod last year. And I think that’s not a bad way to look at it because voters are probably doing the same thing. I just can’t help but think it’s more about timing than quality. If it was released in the summer, I doubt we’d be talking about it now.

Jared

It’s rather unfortunate (for blog purposes) that Brian, John and I all fundamentally agree about The Town, at least in the sense that we don’t really get why it is an Oscar contender.

Frankly, I don’t even think the film is particularly good genre fare, much less a good movie.  The heists don’t feel fresh and really aren’t all that interesting.  The film isn’t twisty.  John points to the poorly developed relationship between Ben Affleck and Rebecca Hall.  I’d submit that none of the relationships between the primary characters are developed.  Mostly because none of the characters are. Jeremy Renner is the stock angry young man.  There’s not really any point for Jon Hamm or Blake Lively to be in the movie.  I’m a Rebecca Hall fan, but I don’t think she’s given anything to work with here.  And Ben Affleck, I mean, I get that he’s the brains of the operation trying to make good.  But didn’t we figure that out in the first two or three scenes?

I agree with John that because The Blind Side received a nomination in the Academy’s return to ten Best Picture slots, that people are figuring on one spot being taken by a more populist movie.  I still think that despite the good box office and favorable reviews, it has a tough road to a nomination.  Thanks to all the actors named above, plus brief appearances from the likes of Chris Cooper and Pete Postlewaite, it did seem likely to pick up some steam with the SAG awards, but I don’t see too many other groups singling it out as a best movie. The Blind Side was kept in the conversation thanks to the story of Sandra Bullock’s march to victory, I’m not sure The Town has any similar sort of buoyancy.  Besides, if you are looking for a well-received movie that broke $100 million at the box office, would Shutter Island make more sense?  Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner are well-regarded, but Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio are a little bit more so, I’d imagine.

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