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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.

#30.  Ruby Sparks

ruby sparks

Saw this on my baseball road trip last year.  A decent Twilight Zone episode.  Not sure if reading any more into it is a worthwhile exercise.  Didn’t really have the indie feeling I was expecting, given it was written by Zoe Kazan and starring her and Paul Dano.  Chris Messina was a great presence, as always.

#29.  Headhunters

headhunters

Saw this with John at last year’s Filmfest DC.  Not quite as twisty as I felt I had been promised, but still an engaging thriller.  I do take particular umbrage with one facet of the film.  5’6″ is not short, and I, for one, was unable to suspend my disbelief that anyone could think it was, or have any resulting feelings of inadequacy.

#28.  Life of Pi

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I’ve written about this one plenty.  Given all the talk of visuals and spirituality, I was expecting to dislike it, so I was pleasantly surprised at how strong the story actually was.  I didn’t really get falling in love with it, but it was a worthy entry into the awards race.

#27.  Wreck-It Ralph

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Boasts a very clever premise and a generally interesting story.  I found the film to be more kid-oriented than I might have liked.  Of course, it is perfectly reasonable for a movie to be targeted at children.  But one of the things that puts Pixar in a class by itself is how their films can appeal to all ages.  I’m terrible at identifying voices, but I never would have gotten that Alan Tudyk was behind King Candy, in a splendid bit of voice acting.

#26.  Killer Joe

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Matthew McConaughey should have received a Supporting Actor nomination for his role here, in my humble opinion.  In this grimy, sweaty, hot mess of a movie, his Killer Joe is a dark, twisted revelation.  The film is all kinds of bonkers, perhaps refreshingly so.  The rest of the main cast: Emile Hirsch, Gina Gershon, Thomas Haden Chuch, and Juno Temple are expertly cast to fill out this melange of nutty characters.  And the final scene really sealed the deal for me, I found it to be an instant classic.

#25.  Men in Black III

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A perfectly decent movie with unexpected heart.  One of the keys to the success of this franchise is the playful sense of humor, which this installment largely continues.  Casting Josh Brolin as a younger version of Tommy Lee Jones was rather inspired, as Brolin is note perfect.  Emma Thompson was fun addition, as was Alice Eve as her younger self.  Though the former went to Cambridge and the latter went to Oxford, and I’ve been told those shouldn’t be mixed up.  The film probably could have used more of the ladies.  I also liked Michael Stuhlbarg’s character.

#24.  Prometheus

prometheus

Full disclosure: This was the first film in the Alien franchise I watched.  I liked this one a lot, but I later watched Alien and found it to be pretty much the same thing.  So I wonder what I would have thought if I watched the films in reverse order.  At any rate the film was pretty taut.  There were maybe too many underdeveloped characters, and the ending was a little messy.  But I enjoyed the mythology, and the acting was first rate.  The people who were clamoring for a Michael Fassbender acting nomination had an interesting case, I thought.

#23.  The Amazing Spider-Man

spiderman

Another movie hard to evaluate in a vacuum.  Can we all just agree that everyone knows the Spiderman origin story at this point?  Frankly, it seems like I tend to not enjoy origin stories all that much.  I think comic book films would be vastly improved if we got away from the super long story of the character’s beginnings and went right into the interesting part of the story.  Or, just do something like the fantastic montage at the beginning of Watchmen.  (I know, I know, easy for me to say.)  In any case, the reason this movie ranks so highly is the relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, so ably played by the pigdog Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.  As the next movie on my list shows, there’s a lot of good stuff that can be mined from the life of a teenage superhero.  There are now tons of movies with lavish special effects and epic fights.  What will set movies apart, I think, are the same things that always have: compelling stories and interesting characters.  This film took the time to build something with Garfield and Stone, and it paid off.  Of course, it helped having such dynamic stars.

#22.  Chronicle

Chronicle-2012-Movie-Poster

Max Landis obviously has thought a lot about superheroes, and I think he understands what makes them compelling.  This is a superhero origin story worth telling.  Because it is about things like growing up and becoming an adult and dealing with the world and friendship.  There are big fights where buildings get destroyed, sure.  But that’s not the essence of the film.  The movie instead looks how three teens deal with new-found superpowers and with each other.  It is a clever concept that’s well-executed.

#21.  The Loneliest Planet

loneliestplanet

This is a movie I should have hated.  Much of the film is devoted to lovingly and painstakingly capturing the beauty of the Caucasus Mountains.  The plot can probably be completely and accurately summarized in two or three sentences.  But somehow, it resonated with me.  It was the last film of a flurry I saw in an effort to cast a more-informed Spirit Award ballot, so that is part of it.  And the more uncouth of you might suggest the opening shot of a naked Hani Furstenberg jumping up and down perhaps unduly influenced my thinking.  Instead, and I hate to spoil/hype it up even more than descriptions elsewhere already do, but this film is about one scene, one moment, that defines who we are and what we become.  It feels almost pretentious as I’m typing it.  And yet, i believe it.  The long set up becomes worthwhile.  Gael Garcia Bernal is an extremely talented actor, and it feels like he’s wasted a little bit until the pivotal scene, when the casting becomes perfect.  Maybe I’m overselling it, and it was just a combination of a million factors leading to the perfect time for me to watch the movie, I dunno.  But I was kinda blown away by what it did.

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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

safe

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

TakeThisWaltzfr

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

Friends_with_kids_poster-338x500

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

your sisters sister

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

goon

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.

The Grouches traditionally do a series where we write up our biggest hopes, expected disappointments, and things of that ilk in the days leading up to the nominations.  For a variety of reasons we decided to just put together a single post summarizing some of our feelings.  I’m sure you’ll be hearing a lot more from us in the days leading up to the Oscars.

JOHN

I find myself somewhat disengaged this year and I’m not sure if it’s my fault or the films’. I will say I haven’t found myself blown away by much this year and I haven’t uncovered much in the way of pet causes like the Richard Jenkins or In The Loop of years past. Part of that may be that I’ve seen fewer films than usual given the early nomination date. I’ll probably see Beasts of the Southern Wild or something next week and fall in love with it.

One nomination that could still possibly happen is an Original Screenplay nod for the inventive Looper, one of my favorite movies of the year. Some precursors have recognized the film, so my fingers will be firmly crossed.

Beyond that, my hopes are such long-shots that they’re not worth expending energy wishing for them:  Adapted Screenplay (or any category, really) for Bernie or a Best Actor nod for Logan Lerman in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Finally, I’ll finish with some fairly unambitious desires. Brave moved me more than most, it seems. I think it will be fine but I hope the mild critical response and backlash about it being “lesser” Pixar doesn’t prevent it from getting its due in the Animated Feature category. And its two original songs are the best of the bunch so here’s hoping they get some recognition as well.

BRIAN

Biggest Hope:
The Fix-it Felix Version (happy): Since we’re working within reason here, its that Beasts of the Southern Wild gets a picture nomination. I’m relieved that I get to make this statement before my fellow grouches see it and hate it, because I loved it. The Katrina-inspired fable had some monumental acting performances, the score is the best I’ve heard since The Social Network (or perhaps even There Will Be Blood), and it toed the line masterfully between realism and fantasy.

The Wreck-it Ralph Version (angry): That Tom Hooper gets shut out of the director category for absolutely butchering Les Miserables. Everything about his choices ruined any chances I had of enjoying the musical and sapped all the life and emotion out of what is theoretically a good musical.

Biggest Lock:
The Channing Tatum 2012 Version (happy): Daniel Day-Lewis. He carried Lincoln from beginning to end and absolutely disappeared behind the beard and top hat.

The Taylor Kitsch 2012* Version (sad): Les Mis for best picture. See above — or just read Jared’s review in which he stole all of my good lines.

*John Carter was actually good. Don’t listen to people and go see it.

Biggest Disappointment:
The 21 Jump Street version (for a nomination): When someone from the boring and dull Best Exotic Marigold Hotel gets nominated.

The Rust and Bone version (for a non-nomination): When Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson get shut out of the Best Supporting Actor category. They carry the second half of the film and kick Django into a whole other gear of awesomeness.

JARED

Usually when we are writing up these posts, at least one of us begs for the Academy to throw some curveballs our way with an out of left field prediction or two.  You won’t see that this time.  Every single category is in play this year, and there are seemingly limitless scenarios of how this thing plays out.  Maybe Lincoln steamrolls to 300 nominations.  Maybe we only get five nominees and something big gets left out.  Could Zero Dark Thirty be huge and pull down all sorts of crazy noms?  It is going to be a lot of fun watching the nominations come out regardless of whose names are called.

Unfortunately I find myself agreeing with my compatriots.  I can’t really find any films or people on the bubble who I really want to see get in.  The Perks of Being of a Wallflower‘s screenplay, I guess?  It would be great if Matthew McConaughey could get a nomination, it is just hard to get behind his role in Magic Mike when he’s so riveting in Killer Joe.  I suppose, staying in the category, it is kind of silly that De Niro seems to be on his way to nomination for a relatively pedestrian performance, I wouldn’t mind if he missed.

I really want to be rooting for Skyfall, because Bond so rarely flies this close to Oscar, I just wish the film was, you know, actually a Bond movie.  That said, a cinematography nomination would be a lot of fun, and well-deserved.  And a Bond bad guy nomination is long overdue, so I’d be in favor of Javier Bardem showing up.

And the only thing I can think of that would really make me sad is a Tom Hooper nomination, but Brian covered that.  Well, the Les Miserables best picture nomination as well, for similar reasons.

You guys.  Oscar nominations come out January 10th.  Let’s get excited!  As is tradition, I’ll take a look as to where the race appears to be.  First up: Supporting Actor

VIRTUAL LOCK

(none)

GOOD BET

  • Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

This category worries me a bit, but Tommy Lee Jones seems pretty safe to make it through to the next stage.  He’s riding a crowd-pleasing role in the presumptive favorite for Best Picture.  And he has history with the Academy (nominated for Best Actor for In the Valley of Elah, and Supporting Actor for JFK along with a win for Supporting Actor for The Fugitive).

LIKELY IN

  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
  • Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Alan Arkin, Argo

I haven’t seen The Master yet, but Hoffman’s role is apparently quite meaty.  Like Tommy Lee Jones, he’s got two unsuccessful Oscar noms (Supporting Actor for Charlie Wilson’s War and Doubt) and a win (Capote).  The only knock is that The Master seemed to have run out of steam about a month ago, so it is hard to say for sure that he’ll be safe.

Wanna take a guess when Robert de Niro last received an Oscar nomination?  That’d be 1992, for Cape Fear.  He also has noms for AwakeningsThe Deer HunterTaxi Driver, and wins for Raging Bull and The Godfather: Part II.  Sure seems like the Academy would LOVE to get de Niro back in the conversation.  The catch is that he actually isn’t terribly good in the movie, it just seems that way compared to the rest of his output over the last two decades (save for Stardust).

Alan Arkin has an Oscar win for Little Miss Sunshine and prior to that had two noms in the 60s for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming.  He’s good in a small role which happens to be a movie producer, complete with a catchphrase, in a likely Best Picture nominee.  The only question mark is that there isn’t a ton to the role in a film that has a huge ensemble.

ON THE BUBBLE

  • Javier Bardem, Skyfall
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
  • Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained
  • Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike
  • Eddie Redmayne, Les Miserables
  • Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

The fifth slot could go a ton of different ways.  “Genre” movies can occasionally break through, with Heath Ledger the obvious recent example.  Bardem’s role wasn’t quite in that league, but he’s been receiving a decent number of accolades and has a history with the Academy, plus Skyfall appears to have a chance at some Oscar traction.  Django Unchained came out late, of course, and it is still hard to gauge the reaction.  DiCaprio and Jackson both appear to have a lot of fun playing heavies, but Waltz is in a much larger role.  Matthew McConaughey has had a heck of year, which could lead voters to rally around his solid role in Magic Mike, buoyed by all those stories you hear of the film making $100 million off a $7 million dollar budget.  That said, it remains to be seen if the Academy is gender neutral about their strippers with hearts of gold.  I don’t know what to do with Les Miserables at this point.  Some people love it, that’s for sure.  Maybe that will mean enough support for Redmayne, since I don’t see people going for Crowe.

DARK HORSES

  • Russell Crowe, Les Miserables
  • John Goodman, Argo
  • John Goodman, Flight
  • Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Ewan McGregor, The Impossible
  • William H. Macy, The Sessions

Crowe is dealing with criticisms of his singing.  Goodman has to deal with votes being split between two tiny, but showy, roles.  Henry has to deal with fewer people seeing his movie.  What little capital The Impossible has left is being spent on the push for Naomi Watts.  And The Sessions is suffering from a lack of buzz, which would be needed to garner this nomination.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED

  • Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe
December 2017
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