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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.

#80.  The Lady

A surprisingly shallow movie from Luc Besson, who is one of my favorites.  Honestly, I’m not sure Besson and screenwriter Rebecca Frayn did well by Aung San Suu Kyi, in the sense that I’m not certain they capture the magnitude of her importance to Burma.  Or maybe I just didn’t love the choice to focus so much on her relationship with her husband, as I found it less interesting.  Michelle Yeoh was good, but it wasn’t a role written to be awards bait.

#79.  Sleepless Night

The action in this French film wasn’t as good as I was led to believe.  And the story of a dark, almost antihero who needs to kill the bad guys in order to save his son doesn’t really add much to the genre.  But I do want to spend some time talking about the film’s setting.  The bulk of the movie takes place in a giant nightclub like thing.  I don’t really know how to describe it, but it is this huge building where every room has a different vibe.  The technical folk involved with the film really made it work, the building never felt cartoonish, and the action always felt like it continuously flowed through the building.

78.  Butter

I was looking forward to this one, since it is director Jim Field Smith’s followup project to She’s Out of My League.  Plus, you know, the field of competitive butter carving seems like it might be ripe for the picking.  Screenwriter Jason A. Micallef appeared to make the decision to play the butter carving straight and derived the humor from the various characters, which is maybe the only decision to make in a post-Christopher Guest world.  The problem, I think, is that the jokes just don’t seem to always be there.  Olivia Wilde’s character, for example, was kinda fascinating, maybe not the most unique take on the the stripper character in the world, but still rather engaging.  But her motivation seemed all over the place.  I was talking with someone who is a big fan of Jennifer Garner, and while I was initially skeptical, thinking over her work here and in other stuff, she’s actually a sneaky solid actress.  Hugh Jackman shows up for a few scenes in a cowboy hat, which is amusing.  And Olivia Wilde makes out with Ashley Greene, for reasons totally relevant and necessary to the movie.

77.  Save the Date

Isn’t like I’m not going to watch a movie starring Lizzy Caplan and Alison Brie.  The film was too lo-fi (for lack of a better turn of phrase) for my liking.  Not that everything has to be super melodramatic or bombastic, but my experience with this trend of indie-feeling movies is that they de-emphasize actors and actresses, at least in terms of them having an opportunity to leap off the screen.  Additionally, I might argue that their screenplays are more difficult to write, at least the good ones, because the more “naturalistic” the film, the less the dialogue can hide behind events, action sequences, or broad humor.

#76.  Lay the Favorite

A sports betting movie starring Bruce Willis and Rebecca Hall should have been a slam dunk.  Especially from the guys who respectively wrote and directed High Fidelity.   I haven’t read the memoir on which this film is based, but the end results seems to read much better as a logline: Attractive women who knows nothing about sports betting becomes a bookie than an actual movie.  Because the characters were underdeveloped and various plot points overemphasized to add some oomph to the long periods of the movies which dragged.  Hall and Willis were good, but this was a movie and a pair of actors who demanded some fast-paced witty banter, instead of whatever it was we ended up with.  Vince Vaughn was a lot of fun in his role.

#75.  Silver Linings Playbook

You’d think I’d be all over a Best Picture-nominated romantic comedy, right?  Unfortunately, David O. Russell is kind of terrible.  He rode a ridiculously talented cast into awards season, but you can’t fool me.  I did like some aspects of the film, but let’s go through the problems since I’m worked up.  The conceit of silver linings is dropped midway through the film.  Chris Tucker’s character is pointless.  Bradley Cooper’s shrink becoming his friend is odd.  The concept that mental illness can be cured by finding someone else who has mental problems is icky at best.  I’m fine accepting poetic license there, but the film was lauded for its depiction of mental illness, which I know is a classic Weinstein tactic, but still.  The direction was constantly getting in the way, from the unsteady camera work to the awkward depiction of the dancing scenes.  The story flops all over the places, only firming up into place in the last third, when it becomes a more traditional romantic comedy, but by that point, the beats lose resonance because they have less emotional weight.  The film succeeds almost exclusively on the shoulders of its two leads.  Bradley Cooper is very very good.  Which wasn’t a surprise to those who have followed his career from the start.  Certainly deserving of the Oscar nomination for a textured, riveting performance.  And then there’s Jennifer Lawrence.  Oh, Jennifer Lawrence.  She’s basically won the internet.  Physically speaking, she’s essentially perfection itself.  For a lot of actresses, that would have been enough, I think.  Look pretty while dancing, yell some, and there’s no shame in that.  But Lawrence put on a masterclass here.  She rose above the mediocre script to shine, constantly, while on screen.  She makes it impossible to look away because she’s so fascinating while on screen.  The best evidence, maybe, is looking at her scenes with Robert De Niro.  De Niro is just absolutely blown away, essentially shrinking off the screen to let Lawrence dominate the scene like a fierce tornado.  She isn’t chewing scenery, either.  At any rate, it was a little silly that De Niro and Weaver also picked up noms.  De Niro was mediocre but I guess not as terrible as he’s been for the past decade, and Weaver’s character was underwritten.

#74.  Smashed

I think maybe Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s performance in this one was too hyped up by the time I got to it.  Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and she is very very good in the film.  My expectations were not managed correctly, I guess.  The film is a no holds barred look at alcoholism, recovery, and the stress of a relationship where one person is a functioning alcoholic and the other doesn’t want to be any more.  Which, no question, is a worthy exploration, if not terribly riveting.  Nick Offerman is pretty great, because of course he is, but there’s a scene in there which probably won’t let me look at him the same way.

73.  Anna Karenina

I believe I saw this one in theaters, alone, because I am awesome.  The film, as you no doubt remember, won an Oscar (Costume Design) and was nominated for three others (Cinematography, Score, and Production Design).  No arguments here.  The staging of the film was, by far, its strongest feature.  With transitions that read like changing sets on a stage in a theater and vividly distinct depictions of the various rooms of the film, the production design was endlessly fascinating.  The script, though, didn’t live up to Joe Wright’s direction.  Keira Knightley is very good, of course, but I can’t help thinking she needs to find the right role to break out of her mold and take things to the next level.  I didn’t entirely get Jude Law or Aaron Taylor-Johnson, I guess they helped make the film a little tiresome.  Matthew MacFayden and Alicia Vikander were the standouts of a surprisingly deep and underutilized cast.

#72.  Dredd 3D

Saw this in theaters with Adam, and I get the feeling he won’t be too thrilled with where I placed it.  The film’s biggest flaw, probably, was me seeing it so soon after seeing The Raid, which probably wasn’t the most avoidable thing in the world.  Both utilize a similar conceit of an undermanned team forced to take a big building of bad guys, floor by floor.  The film is a remake, of course, but I’m told this one hews a lot closer to the original comic books, and, regardless, is original enough that it is the kind of remake that makes sense.  The film had some interesting ideas, I thought.  The Slo-Mo drug, Olivia Thirlby’s psychic powers, forcing Karl Urban to stay in his helmet the whole time, and the building conceit, for example.  But it never really coalesced into something memorable.

#71.  Sleepwalk With Me

There are some funny bits in here, but the film felt kinda lightweight.  To the point where I don’t really remember much of it.  So let’s take my opinion even less seriously than possible, if that were possible.  I thought the stand up parts were funny, but most of the supporting stuff (life on the road, his relationship) wasn’t, really.  I’m sure Lauren Ambrose was good, because she always is.

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