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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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The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

The nominees are:

  • Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
  • Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
  • Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
  • Denzel WashingtonFlight

John

ddl2Yes, of course I’m going with Daniel Day-Lewis in this category. It’s one of those instantly classic performances that will be remembered for a long time.

But it’s still not an instant choice because there are two other really good nominees in this category. Phoenix is intense as hell, squirmy and angry. Washington turns in what I’d call a classic leading man performance. There’s not much in the way of showy acting in Flight but Washington totally carries the film with charisma to spare. He really nails his character’s charming yet dickish personality.

Cooper didn’t make much of an impression on me and I think Les Miserables actively sputters when Jackman is on screen. I know it’s a stylistic choice to give the singing a ragged quality, but Jackman’s gasping and over-emoting didn’t work for me and paled in comparison to his costars that took a more conventional approach to their singing. “Maybe the director should have worked harder to make sure his cast members took similar approaches to singing,” you might say. Yes. Yes he should have.

I would have dropped Cooper and Jackman for John Hawkes’s marvelous performance in The Sessions. I suspect the real Mark O’Brien would have felt very well-represented by the portrayal. Logan Lerman in The Perks of Being a Wallflower never really got the acclaim he deserved. Forget Cooper; Logan gives the mentally ill performance of the year! Finally, he may win in Supporting Actor, but Tommy Lee Jones really knocked my socks off in Hope Springs, pairing his trademark gruffness with a lot of vulnerability.

Jared

When I have Hugh Jackman in the cellar, you know it is a strong year for this category. I’ll probably never have a bad thing to say about Jackman (and I’m always reminded of SNL’s Best of Both Worlds sketch), I think he was a little bit let down by his director and the material here. The sing-talking was mostly distracting and a lot of the time he just didn’t seem to be in the same movie as everyone else. I think there’s a potential Les Miserables that would see me have Jackman as my favorite, but this wasn’t it.

phoenix poseIt is admittedly a little difficult to get past the sheer boredom induced by The Master. But I think Joaquin Phoenix helped create a very distinct character. I don’t know if this is going to sound insane or not, but I was most taken by a particular pose Phoenix struck throughout the movie. Hands on his waist, elbows out, almost chicken-like. It felt vaguely unnatural, but maybe since nothing else was going on in the movie, I noticed it over and over, and was impressed with how well Phoenix stuck with it (and other mannerisms) throughout the movie.

I say this as a very big fan of the guy, but doesn’t it seem like Bradley Cooper’s star power is outpacing the movies he’s starred in by a significant margin? He’s got The Hangover and its sequel, this one, and…what else? Limitless? You have to start counting He’s Just Not That Into You and Valentine’s Day, or, like The A-Team. Now, that’s not any sort of knock on his acting, a rewatch of Wet Hot American Summer and, say, The Midnight Meat Train will reveal a perhaps surprisingly impressive range. Anyway, to be more relevant here, this nomination is absolutely deserved. Cooper overcomes a subpar script and direction to deliver a refreshingly nuanced take on mental illness.

Flight is an underrated movie, and I think maybe as a result (along with the fact that there’s a clear front-runner in this category), Denzel Washington is getting lost in the shuffle a little bit. Which is ridiculous, because he’s Denzel. Like most actors, he’s more fun to watch when he’s playing someone who isn’t the ultimate do-gooder, and his character here is just fascinating. There’s a wide spectrum of ways of playing drunk, none of them necessarily wrong, but it is a lot more difficult to play a character going through an entire movie in an alcohol and narcotic infused haze of dependency. And Washington nails it.

ddl1I always love the stories of Daniel Day-Lewis so fully immersing himself into a character – texting like Lincoln, staying in character for the entire production and dearly hope the more ridiculous they are, the more true they are. To me, he’s a testament to what we can accomplish if we want something badly enough, including putting in the work. And for me, there’s not necessarily a value judgement there. His Lincoln is pitch perfect, of course. But when you think about what he sacrificed to prepare and stay in the character’s mindset, it is hard to say if it is was “worth” it.

At any rate, I think the world has pretty much acknowledged this race is and should be set, and everyone’s OK with that.

Should have been here: Along with Day-Lewis and Washignton, I have John Hawkes, The Sessions; Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe, and Logan Lerman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. With Cooper; Channing Tatum, Magic Mike; and Liam Neeson, The Grey on the outside.

Oscar nominations on the 10th!  Yay!  I’m taking a look at the state of the race, because…uh…tradition.  This time: Actor.

VIRTUAL LOCK

  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Ladies and gentlemen, your lockiest lock.  Day-Lewis has noms for In the Name of the Father and Gangs of New York along with wins for My Left Foot and There Will Be Blood.  No one needs me to say anything more about him or his performance.

GOOD BET

  • Denzel Washington, Flight
  • Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables

Sure, Denzel’s character isn’t necessarily as much a stretch for him as some would have you to believe.  That doesn’t make him any less good.  He’s got noms for Cry FreedomMalcolm X, and The Hurricane, and wins for Glory and Training Day.  If Hugh Jackman is shaky here, it is only because Les Miserables wasn’t the unanimous success some expected it to be.  And because Tom Hooper screwed over his non-Anne Hathaway actors.  Jackman has no Oscar nominations to his name.  Fun fact, though.  His Golden Globe nomination this year was his second.  Any guesses as to which film led to his first?  Obviously, it was Kate & Leopold.  Never change, Globes.

LIKELY IN

  • Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
  • John Hawkes, The Sessions

I’m certainly not claiming this category is set in stone, but the above five gentlemen have hit all of the major precursors (Globes, Critics Choice, and most importantly SAG), so you’d have to bet on them.  Bradley Cooper took some Tropic Thunder advice and didn’t go full retard, which should be Oscar catnip, especially if they take to the rest of the film, as it seems like they will.  I realize this is going to make me sound (even more) like an idiot, but it is only while writing this up that I’m realizing the import of Hawkes not being able to move for his performance.  Full body movement is so vital to the other four actors mentioned above, making Hawkes’s performance that much more impressive.  With a prior nomination for Winter’s Bone, if he misses, it is because not enough people saw the film.  Or an insufficient Oscar campaign, I guess.

ON THE BUBBLE

  • Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

Still haven’t seen this one.  The Master‘s buzz has fallen faster than perhaps any other contender this year, and Phoenix missing the SAG was tough.  But Phoenix has two prior nominations (Gladiator and Walk the Line), the film has been out long enough for people to have seen it, and there are a sizable number of fervent Paul Thomas Anderson fans.

DARK HORSES

  • Richard Gere, Arbitrage
  • Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour
  • Anthony Hopkins, Hitchcock
  • Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained

Gere was pretty decent, and it is the type of role you would think could get him a nomination, I’m just not sure he has enough showy scenes.  Though word on the street is that there is growing support for him.  Pretty impossible to get any sort of read on Amour, and Riva has been generating more buzz than Trinignant.  But my understanding is that if you are for one, you are probably for both of them.  Sure seemed like all the stars were aligned for an Anthony Hopkins nominations.  But the movie is entirely inessential and he is content to let Hitchcock’s girth do all the acting.  I’m kind of surprised there hasn’t been more buzz for Jamie Foxx.  He’s quite good in the movie and has a nomination for Collateral and a win for Ray.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED

  • Channing Tatum, everything
  • Logan Lerman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Liam Neeson, The Grey
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