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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.

20.  The Avengers

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Maybe you’ve heard of this movie?  I think I’m a little lower on it than most people, but I clearly still enjoyed it.  The reason the film isn’t higher, for me, is because the action felt a little generic.  Joss Whedon is so strong writing and directing heroic characters, but the fights themselves would be the one area in which I think he could stand some improvement.  He lucked out a little in that most of the main characters already had origin stories, but I think Iron Man is the only other Marvel movie that belongs in the same conversation.

19.  Django Unchained

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Wrote about this one plenty in my Oscar roundups.  At the risk of repeating myself, I think Tarantino needs someone to reel him in.  Tarantino is a brilliant filmmaker with so many clever ideas.  But I think at some point he starts harming the quality of his films by trying to cram everything in.  That said, there’s obviously a ton to love about this movie.  Few people have mastered the interplay of action, drama, and comedy the way Tarantino has.  The Klan bit was one of the funniest scenes in movies this year, just as the climactic shootout one of the best with gunplay.  Tarantino always rounds up stellar casts, and this was no exception.

18.  Skyfall

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As a really huge Bond fan, it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for me to rate this film in the same manner as everything else on this list.  Because I have very specific expectations from a Bond movie.  I’ll save you the rant, but I haven’t agreed with the direction the franchise has taken since Daniel Craig took over.  I respect that they’ve been adding highly-regarded writers and directors, but they are screenwriters I largely dislike and directors I’m not sure I love.  Mostly, while I’m completely on board with rebooting Bond after Die Another Day, it seemed that the producers had trouble committing finding a new direction for Bond.  The Craig movies have felt to me like attempts to emulate the success of a franchise like Bourne, where I’m of the opinion Bond should be the trendsetter in spy action films.  At any rate, my brother was kind enough to accompany me to a midnight showing way out at Udvar-Hazy.  I was super excited after the opening sequence, which was almost exactly what I was looking for.  And then I was disappointed by almost everything else.  Except for a couple of points near the end, which set up the series to a point where I hoped it would be at the beginning of Casino Royale.  Also in the film’s favor: it got the franchise into the Academy’s good graces, for the first time in pretty much ever.

17.  The First Time 

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I realize I’m alone on this one, and I’m OK with that.  I also realize this is going to sound crazy, because the films really are nothing alike, but for me, much the praise directed toward Amour should have gone toward this one.  This movie was sweetly romantic and funny, a coming of age story about love in high school.  Very roughly in the framework of a romantic comedy, it is less screwball and more dramedy.  Awkward and goofy, sly and poignant, the film is squarely in the sweet spot of my cinematic taste.  Leads Britt Roberton and Dylan O’Brien were quite solid, but I wanted to give shoutouts to pairing Christine Taylor and Joshua Malina as a married couple, and appearances by Tinker from FNL, and Molly Quinn from Castle.  Here’s hoping writer/director Jon Kasdan has more like this up his sleeve.

16.  Cousinhood

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Saw this at Filmfest DC with John, and I’ll direct you to his recap of the film, since it is pretty spot on.  It is a funny and touching story of some bros going back home to reconnect with their past and figure out who they are now.  Like John says, the film isn’t perfect, and with some polish could have been something special.  But the movie is still definitely worth a watch.

15.  The Expendables 2

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This movie is exactly what you think it will be.

14.  The Intouchables

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This movie made a crazy amount of money in Europe.  Here in the U.S. it did OK, suffering from a terrible title and perhaps a weak advertising strategy.  The film is amount a paralyzed millionaire and his aide who grew up on the streets.  The formula is time-tested: it is a feel-good movie about a mismatched pair with wildly different backgrounds.  The movie isn’t particularly deep, which isn’t necessarily a problem or anything.   Omar Sy is a fun actor, he’s got roles in some high-profile English-language films over the next few years, here’s hoping those work out.

13.  Lincoln

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Already talked plenty about this one.  So I’ll recommend everyone read Team of Rivalson which the film was ostensibly based.  For me, though, the fascinating part of the book was how Lincoln corralled a cabinet full of people who didn’t like him and used them to great success.  Not a knock on the film, which already had too many characters, but there’s a lot more to the story.

12.  End of Watch

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Despite some good reviews, I was a little skeptical of this one, probably owing to my (likely misguided) distrust of shaky cam.  And because how many cop TV shows and movies does the world really need?  One more, apparently, because this film was pretty fantastic.  Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are so great together, they have an easy chemistry as partners that really makes the film sing.  The movie needs more Anna Kendrick because, as a general rule, every movie needs more Anna Kendrick, but I dare anyone to not fall in love with her after her singalong with Gyllenhaal to Cam’ron’s “Hey Ma”.  The film, impressively, manages to be funny and sad, made me want to spend more time with the characters, established a pretty clear world, and has a continuing subplot.

11.  Ted

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Sure, story has never been Seth MacFarlane’s particular forte, which is why the film falls just shy of my top 10.  But a never-ending barrage of jokes is Seth MacFarlane’s particular forte, and this film was one of the funniest of the year.  I was cracking up in the theater starting from Patrick Stewart’s narration at the beginning (“…there’s nothing more powerful than a young boy’s wish.  Except an Apache helicopter.”) and virtually throughout the rest of the ridiculous film.  Mark Wahlberg is sneakily game to act against a teddy bear and (an admittedly underutilized) Mila Kunis.

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Let’s get this out of the way first: Love and Other Drugs is a mess. Tonal shifts are swift and severe. Characterizations are thin and off-putting. The line between decency and ickiness gets thoroughly trampled. Time drags.

But there’s just something about it that clicks. I guess the story works just enough and the emotional notes connect just enough to keep it hanging around in my head. It’s usually light – except when it abruptly isn’t – but that doesn’t prevent it from thematically punching above its weight.

This is of course the Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal get naked romantic comedy. And the Parkinson’s movie. And the Viagra movie. And the movie that takes on Big Pharma. (You can see some of the problem here.)

As Hathaway and Gyllenhaal (Maggie and Jamie, respectively) court, she repeatedly tries to push him away due to her illness. Meanwhile, he climbs the corporate ladder at Pfizer as Viagra hits the market while pausing his horndog lifestyle as he pursues her.

Oddly enough, I do not share the concerns I see cited most often with this film. Let’s discuss.

One, that giving Hathaway’s character Parkinson’s is unnecessarily manipulative. I say the biggest issue is that she’s already a classic manic pixie dream girl and giving her Parkinson’s puts her too far over the top. The short shrift the disease gets in the film as it races through a dozen other plot points and themes is a problem because its development remains too superficial. A better romantic comedy is waiting to be made to adeptly explore the issue, but Drugs only scratches the surface.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t occasionally connect. I’d say there are a good number of small moments with resonance and subtle power.

Manic pixie dream... I forget the rest

Others say the film is too preachy or too obvious with the indictments of the healthcare system it tries to make. Maybe because it was preaching to the choir with me, the various points it tries to make didn’t strike me as that egregious. The issue isn’t that a doctor wearily confides to Jamie that the decked is stacked against him providing quality care to his patients, it’s that the doctor never shows that kind of contemplation at any other part of the movie.

It’s not that Maggie makes comments about drug affordability as she leads a group of seniors on a bus trip to Canada to buy their medications, it’s that by doing so she becomes an increasingly fictional character. It’s not that Jamie’s boss has an outburst about the company screwing him over, but that the film immediately cuts away and that plot thread and theme are never picked up again.

Finally, the plot launches when Jamie poses as a medical intern while trying to sell a doctor Pfizer products. Maggie is the patient and she whips out her breast during the exam. Naturally this is a huge invasion of privacy and probably violates a dozen ethics rules. Apparently this has ruined the film for some people the offenses are so grievous. I think the film does enough to establish the doctor is a sleazebag that I don’t mind.

But shouldn’t a larger problem be that Maggie, once discovering what Jamie did, gets over her anger in about 90 seconds and soon after invites him into her bed (or kitchen floor, as it were)? Once again, her character just gets less believable.

And the complaints that the character of Jamie’s brother was useless? Chill out.

Which all is to say that I’m somewhat conflicted. I found it mildly amusing and adequately emotionally effective. As this winter’s film crop moves onto DVD I could probably recommend two dozen other movies over Love and Other Drugs. But should you decide to spend the time with a naked Hathaway and Gyllenhaal, it wouldn’t really be a waste.

Awards buzz never really materialized (Gyllenhaal and Hathaway did both pick up Golden Globe nods, however) but Hathaway still punched her ticket to the big show by hosting the damn thing.

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