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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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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.

#40.  Safe

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There’s something to be said for the consistent level of quality of Jason Statham films.  I don’t know even know what to compare this stretch of films to.  I mean, from The Transporter through Parker, I think I’d probably only rate Crank as a great movie, but pretty much all of them have been exactly what anyone would expect them to be.  And all of them are watchable.  Not sure Safe is particularly memorable or will ever be anyone’s favorite movie, but if you are in the mood for a Statham movie, you won’t be disappointed.

#39.  Fun Size

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I think it is just about impossible to talk about this movie without sounding like, or referring to, Brian, so I’m not going to try.  You know I typed that, and then pretty much anything I could think to type about Victoria Justice or Jane Levy sounded really really creepy.  So let’s just say that it takes all the suspension of disbelief I could muster to believe they weren’t part of the cool kids.  The movie is a pretty solid one crazy night movie, and the fact that it is geared toward the younger set doesn’t hurt it.  I think there probably was the chance to punch it up with more jokes, but I could also easily see that not being the fault of screenwriter Max Werner (or director Josh Schwartz) but instead a studio thing.  I don’t think it holds up out of context, but the Explaining Rap (remix) was one of the funnier things from a movie this year.

#38.  Take This Waltz

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I can see why this film isn’t for everyone.  Seth Rogen as a dramatic (or dramedic, really) lead takes some getting used to.  The movie is about the end of a…not dysfunctional relationship, but not well-functioning one.  It isn’t overly heavy on the drama or the comedy.  But it mostly works.  A lot of credit is due to Michelle Williams, sure, because she’s great like always.  The running gag about the shower is one of my favorite things from a movie this year.

#37.  The Grey

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I understand marketing this film as “Liam Neeson fights wolves.”  That’s certainly compelling, and pretty much got me to watch.  But it creates a misconception.  This movie isn’t Liam Neeson exacting revenge against all wolfkind for kidnapping his daughter.  Rather it is a deep, dark, philosophical musing on life and death.  Which was a pleasant surprise for me, but I could see some people being disappointed with the lack of wolfpunching.  This is a sneaky good movie.

#36.  Friends with Kids

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Written and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt, who is best known for Kissing Jessica Stein and for being with Jon Hamm.  Westfeldt also stars along with Adam Scott.  Ordinarily I’d say it is a little weird that Hamm has a supporting role in the film, but one gets the feeling that Jon Hamm maybe isn’t threatened by too many people.  Anyway, the film had plenty of charm, and a stellar cast which also includes Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Megan Fox, and Edward Burns.

#35.  John Carter

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Taylor Kitsch is having the exact same luck in picking his movies that I’d expect Riggins to have.  The problems with the marketing have been well-documented, from the boring name to the massive reported budget to believing in a century-old property without any apparent built-in fanbase.  Thing is, if you can evaluate the movie on its own merits, it is pretty decent.  The major flaw is that the politics on Mars seems a little muddled, which drags down the plot.  But the movie is a lot of fun, with great visuals, solid acting (with a surprisingly deep supporting cast), and a generally interesting story.

#34.  Your Sister’s Sister

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A mumblecore movie I actually liked?  Having Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt as two of the leads certainly helped.  I can’t really figure out why this one clicked for me.  It basically had the plot of a romantic comedy, maybe that helped?

#33.  Goon

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The world needs more funny sports movies that have a lot of heart.  Seann William Scott acquits himself quite well as a super nice if slightly slow minor league hockey enforcer who isn’t so much good at the hockey part of the game, but can fight with the best of them.  The movie is chock full of funny bits with a surprisingly sweet center.  Co-writer Jay Baruchel seems to have a lot of fun with his supporting role, and Alison Pill is pretty great as the love interest.

#32.  Taken 2

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The thing about the recent spate of Luc Besson action flicks is that they are all seemingly pretty decent.  He’s spread himself across so many movies, and the audience for them is such that it would be understandable if some of the films suffered in quality.  But lo and behold, this movie is perfectly adequate.  Impressively, the writing crew manages to rehash the premise while still infusing some life into it.  The movie is self-recommending, I think.

#31.  Magic Mike

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I feel like I’m a little lower on this one than most people, but I’m not sure if that’s true or not.  Made a ton of money, and it kinda seems to me that every year people are surprised that a movie more aimed at women than men could rake in the dough.  I’m curious as to what Hollywood’s number-crunchers say, because it sure seems like no surprise lots of women go to movies.  At any rate, I thought the story probably could have used a little bit of work.  McConaughey was stellar, though it wasn’t the best role of the for year.  Actually, same goes for Channing Tatum.  We’ll get into this later, but I have to say, I have nothing but respect for Tatum.  His range is far wider than I might have thought.  And seems to really throw himself into roles, having a ton of fun in the process, which I think shows on screen.  Her small role here just adds to how Olivia Munn has been killing it recently.  I don’t know how to say this without it sounding like an insult, but I sorta think Alex Pettyfer has been slightly miscast in the four movies I’ve seen him in, though he’s been the best here.

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