We’ve done music, we’ve done television, now it’s time for the Big Daddy of them all. Has David Simon Cowell caught up? Will The Dilemma name all three Channing Tatum movies? Let’s see.
David Simon Cowell: As I do every year, I’ve tried to cram in as many movies as possible in the past few weeks, since I know that an inordinate amount of the best films of the year come out in December. But, as usual, I’ve failed, and left a whole bunch out there. Thankfully, we get another bite at the apple come Oscar time, so I’m just going to do a list of the best films I saw in 2012 that won’t be in the award discussion.
Ten Good Films That Aren’t Oscar Bait
Skyfall – I’m not a James Bond fanatic by any stretch, but I thought that Skyfall did its job well. Oddly, it seemed designed to reboot the franchise three films into Daniel Craig’s reign. And, while I’m getting quite sick of the tyranny of the origin story, this one is entertaining, aided by another great Javier Bardem villain.
Man On A Ledge – A fun little caper movie about a man trying to get justice by distracting the authorities with a suicide threat.
Wanderlust – David Wain makes a nice little comeback with this movie about yuppies who try to find a meaningful life. A good Ruddsie performance to cleanse your palate if you’re forced to see This Is 40.
Project X – A modern, Blair Witch style take on the classic teenage tale of nerds throwing a party with disastrous results.
Friends With Kids – The final scene is one of the worst of the year. But before that, it’s a mostly on-point exploration of how having children changes relationships.
The Cabin In The Woods – Joss Whedon shows that he hasn’t completely moved to the big budget inanity of The Avengers with this deconstruction of the horror genre.
The Queen Of Versailles – This might actually be up for an documentary Oscar, but it’s worth mentioning anyway. Chronicling the effects of the recession on a family building the largest home in America, it doesn’t shy away from the subject’s disconnection from reality, but manages not to demonize them.
Arbitrage – While he’s had plenty of missteps, this movies reminds you of how solid Richard Gere can be when in the right role.
The Campaign – This movie reminds you that Zach Galifinakis and Will Ferrell are capable of making stuff that isn’t absolute crap.
Ted – Seth McFarlane is completely unbearable (I shudder at the idea of him hosting the Oscars) and Family Guy is completely overrated, but this movie actually works. Plus it has Mila Kunis, who can salvage pretty much anything.
The Dilemma: I like tradition. I like structure. I’m a formalist. I might be somewhere on the spectrum. That’s between my and my god.
As such, I feel compelled to put together a traditional year-end top ten list, even though I share your concerns and haven’t seen all the 2012 films I wanted to see. But rules are rules and arbitrary deadlines are arbitrary deadlines.
A Partial List of Films I Have Yet to See that Could at Least Conceivably Have an Outside Shot of Cracking my Top Ten: Zero Dark Thirty, This is 40, Les Miserables, Not Fade Away, Killing Them Softly, Holy Motors, Amour…
Entertaining but Keep This Film the Fuck Out of the Oscar Conversation: Argo
Entertaining but Not Nearly as Good as Everybody Seemed to Think: Skyfall
Better Than The Fighter but Not Better Enough: Silver Linings Playbook
Has Gone from “That was Pretty Mediocre” to “That has Really Striking Visuals and Great Performances and Some Interesting Slants” in the Month Since I’ve Seen it, But Still Can’t Quite Get Over the Top: Take This Waltz
Film I Will Now be Forced to Hate-Watch Just to Dispute Your Claim that it “Works,” Probably in a 3,000-Word Rant: Ted
OK, on to the main event: The Dilemma’s Top Ten Films of the Year:
As I went through the year, I found that what I’m looking for in movies, almost more than anything else, is a stick-to-your-ribs quality. As such, I tended to value movies that stayed with me for a few days, weeks or even months, causing me to think about them and reevaluate them over time, more than movies I might have enjoyed more while sitting through but that vanished from my subconscious by the next day. Obviously, I still chose a bunch of movies that were purely entertaining, but that explains why some movies (like Argo) got left out.
10. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Fuck the haters. It’s not as epic and stirring as the Lord of the Rings films, and it’s got some character development problems vis a vis Bilbo, but everyone (including me) was all too ready to disparage The Hobbit because Peter Jackson and some studio executives with cartoon dollar signs for eyeballs decided to stretch one movie into three. In truth, three is a bit much, but two films doesn’t seem unreasonable for a story with this scope. Cut out some of the detritus from Tolkien’s appendages (go away, Radagast) and some of the bathroom humor, and this would be right up there with the original trilogy in terms of quality. And Martin Freeman’s fucking great.
9. Django Unchained: Sigh. All year, I had a spot reserved in the top two for Django. And my deepest concern going in, Jamie Foxx, turned out not to even be an issue. Let me be clear up front: this is a highly enjoyable film to watch. Even Tarantino’s slightest film would probably grapple for a spot in any year-end top ten list. But both this and The Hobbit are pretty likely to drop out once I see some of the movies listed above. Because this may in fact be Tarantino’s slightest film. Seemingly intended as a companion piece to Inglourious Basterds, it’s lacking that film’s suspense, drive, and sheer glee at rewriting history. Django is literally an hour too long, and its episodic nature, which serves it well early on, kills its momentum in the end. And I’m not even going to get into some of the weird racial issues at play here. (Let’s just say Spike Lee probably should be upset.) Christoph Waltz is a miracle, and should be in every movie going forward forevermore. He is probably the sole reason Django ranks this highly, though DSC’s boy Leo is mostly pretty great as an archvillain. I wanted Django to be so much better than this. It’s still good. But it’s not as fun or rousing as it thinks it is, and there’s little under the surface to make up the deficit.
8. The Deep Blue Sea: Claustrophobic, small and tight, The Deep Blue Sea offers a stifling, oppressive look at one woman’s inner life in post-war London. Rachel Weisz should be in more movies, preferably with Christoph Waltz.
7. Beasts of the Southern Wild: The most beautiful movie of the year, and one that’s all the better for embracing its non-linear, what’s-a-plot style. In just a few minutes, it manages to create an engrossing, captivating world that’s similar to our own but also completely separate. But please, PLEASE, don’t give an Oscar nomination to that little girl. She give a fine performance…for a four-year-old. Man. I really don’t want another Billy Beane’s daughter situation on our hands here. Don’t make me write that post, Academy.
6. Cabin in the Woods: A joy to watch. As a deconstruction of the horror genre, it works much better than the overrated Scream franchise ever did.
5. Lincoln: I struggled mightily with where to place this one. I went in with low expectations, expecting Spielberg in full War Horse mode. (That Lincoln does not ride War Horse’s grandfather is one of the great disappointments of our time.) And while Spielberg doesn’t shy away from the dramatic, some might say pandering, cinematography for which he’s known, he mostly steers clear of his worst impulses and lets a gripping political drama unfold. There are serious flaws present, though: anything involving Lincoln’s family as an attempt to deepen his characterization is disastrous (The Razzies are looking your way, Sally Field.) and the movie should end about 15 minutes before it actually does. There’s no reason to cover Lincoln’s assassination here…this is the story of pushing an amendment through Congress, not of Abraham Lincoln’s life. Still, the bulk of the movie, dealing with legislative intrigue and the pressure of power, is really fine work.
4. Friends with Kids: Romantic comedies have a bad name for a good reason: most of them are pablum. But here’s a romantic comedy that doesn’t shy away from that label or format but still finds a way to remind us that a handful of really good romantic comedies exist, which causes the thousands of really bad ones to also exist. And I disagree wildly with DSC about the final scene.
3. Seven Psychopaths: Martin McDonagh out-Tarantino’d Tarantino with this one, the most purely fun film of the year, and one that manages to dig a little deeper than it needed to. It boasts the best gathering of character actors of the year and marks McDonagh as a writer/director to watch on the strength of In Bruges and Psychopaths — though it would probably serve him well to sever the Colin Farrell tie the next time out. His leading man was likable here, but too limited.
2. The Master: A difficult movie to parse, but a story told with undeniable flair and impressive confidence. Paul Thomas Anderson defied expectations at every turn, never taking the easy path in terms of plot or character. While PTA was making The Master, it was hyped as a takedown of Scientology, which is obviously not even close to the point. I don’t think I’ll ever like it as much as There Will Be Blood, but it’s a worthy follow-up nonetheless. There’s a big gap between the top two films on this list and the eight below them.
1. Moonrise Kingdom: A lightning strike away from a perfect Wes Anderson movie. Easily his best since The Royal Tenenbaums, and also pretty easily the best movie I saw this year. The only one I walked away from with no reservations at all. The Andersons rule the day.