A Casual Moviegoer's Top 10 Films of 2012

By Matthew Dagen,

The year is winding down. The nominations for all of the awards are starting to trickle in, and many of the movie organizations are releasing their top 10 lists for the year. As a casual moviegoer without access to press screenings, this list is only based on movie's I've seen, and obviously does not include the films that aren't out in theaters yet. While I have no doubt that Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty and Les Miserables would likely be on this list, they're not out yet, so therefore they're not included. So, without further ado, my top 10 movies of 2012:

10. The Grey

Early on in 2012, Joe Carnahan, coming off 2010's The A-Team, saw his fourth feature film hit theaters. The Grey, starring a grizzled Liam Neeson, saw Neeson's character and a small group of plane crash survivors fending off a pack of wolves in the Alaskan wilderness, with the wolves slowly picking off members of the group one-by-one. Neeson, coming off one of his biggest hits in Taken, carried the movie with his powerful performance as the de facto leader of the survivors. The film climaxes with Neeson's character finding his way to the wolves' den, proving that just like with all of his other movies, you don't mess with Liam Neeson.

9. The Cabin in the Woods

This horror comedy from the mind of Joss Whedon and Cloverfield writer Drew Goddard took a very simple premise, as the title implies, and turned it, very sharply, on it's head to provide one of the most entertaining and interesting movies of the year. Whedon and Goddard throw a curveball at the audience by revealing that a group of people are controlling the murder of the group in the cabin so they can keep vengeful gods from rising up and destroying the planet. Now, that may sound odd, which it really does, but it really does work. Excellent writing and performances, as well as a shockingly violent third act, help make this one of the must sees of the year.

8. The Amazing Spider-Man

Five years removed from the disappointing Spider-Man 3, we were treated to a reboot of the Spider-Man franchise. This time around, the web-slinger was excellently portrayed by Andrew Garfield, who embodies both the shy teen side of Peter Parker and the cockiness of Spider-Man so well in his first outing as the superhero. In changing the origin story from the previous incarnation, this Spider-Man tale focused more on Peter's relationship with his father's former partner, Dr. Connors, which leads to the Lizard making his first appearance on film (a huge plus, in my opinion). Emma Stone makes a great addition to the franchise as well, and Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben couldn't have been more spot-on. The sequel is already in the works, with Jaime Foxx in line to play Electro, as well as Mary-Jane Watson and Harry Osbourne making appearances as well.

7. Ted

No one really should have been surprised that the first feature film from the creator of Family Guy was going to be a hit. Seth MacFarlane brought every child's favorite toy to life, and did so in the most R-rated way possible. When we first see grown up John Bennett, played by Mark Wahlberg, and his bear Ted in their natural habitat, the pair are smoking weed and cussing up a storm while talking about how Boston girls are annoying in bed. It never lets up from there, as Ted hits everything MacFarlane couldn't get past the FCC with Family Guy: hookers leaving surprises on the apartment floor, Ted fighting a duck while Sam "Flash Gordon" Jones fights a guy he thinks is Emperor Ming, the most unsanitary use of produce, an much much more.

6. Skyfall

James Bond made his return to the big screen in 2012 with amazing results. Skyfall felt like an old-school Bond movie, going back to the early Connery days. It was dark, gritty and felt real. The villain was menacing, but over-the-top at the same time, and played brilliantly by Javier Bardem. It's rare that you think Bond might actually fail, but when he's up against Bardem's Raoul Silva, anything seems to go. The film also brought back Bond series veterans in Q, portrayed as a young, tech-savvy know-it-all, and Moneypenny, which was a nice touch as the end, similar to what happened with Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character in The Dark Knight Rises. James Bond will return, and if that film tops Skyfall in any way, I can't wait.

5. The Avengers

Fans have been looking forward to this one ever since Iron Man made his big screen debut in 2008. The Hulk got his movie, then Thor and Captain America got theirs, setting the stage for the ultimate team-up movie. And, boy, The Avengers didn't disappoint. From the opening scene establishing Loki as the villain to the closing scene in a mangled New York City, The Avengers delivers on every aspect of a superhero film you could ask for: awesome superheros (of which there are many), humor (of which there is also a lot, thanks to Joss Whedon's sharp script), and amazing action scenes. Whether it was the heroes fighting each other, the attack on the heli-carrier, or the battle for New York, The Avengers had no short of excellent scenes to keep every fan boy happy until the next Marvel movie comes out.

4. Looper

Rain Johnson's third film behind the camera, Looper proved be a nice little surprise in the fall of 2012. A wonderfully made sci-fi action movie, Looper follows the story of a hit-man named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) that kills people sent back from the future. He is eventually tasked to kill himself (Bruce Willis), sent back from 30 years in the future, but he fails to do so, setting in motion a chain of events that lead to a lot of dead bodies and a lot of questions about the timeline of the movie. This one was admittedly a little tough to follow, but on a repeat viewing, made a lot more sense. Both Gordon-Levitt and Willis were great in this one, as well as Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels in smaller roles. After Brick, Johnson's debut film, and this one, I'm looking forward to what Rain Johnson comes out with next.

3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Nine years after we last visited Middle Earth, Peter Jackson takes us back in time to when Bilbo Baggins was much younger and he goes on his first adventure with Gandalf. This film started very similarly to Fellowship of the Ring, in that it established the film's characters for quite some time before the quest was begun, but once the dwarves, Gandalf and Bilbo left the Shire, that's when the movie really took off. The film looks better than all of the Lord of the Rings movies did, which isn't a surprise, and the action sequences were on par with the earlier series as well. The scene where Bilbo finds the One Ring and meets Gollum for the first time is the highlight of the movie in my opinion, and it once again proves that Andy Serkis should be considered for awards consideration for his work as the obsessive Gollum. Knowing it's the first film in a trilogy, I was still upset when it ended. Having to wait another year to get back to Middle Earth seems like it's too long a wait.

2. The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan has possibly one of the best track records of any director in recent years: Memento, The Prestige, Inception, and now, his full Dark Knight trilogy. The conclusion to Nolan's Batman trilogy, while some say isn't as good as the middle entry, is still better than most other movies out there. Introduced in the finale is Bane, played with extreme menace by Tom Hardy, a mercenary who pushes Batman both mentally and physically to the point of breaking, and Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, played by a scene-stealing Anne Hathaway. Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his debut in the Batman universe as well, playing a young cop who seems next in line to take up the mantle as Batman. Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman all return and play their roles very well. Nolan and Bale both say they're done with the Batman universe, which is unfortunate for every fan out there, because I don't think anyone wants to go back to the cartoony versions of the Caped Crusader after what Nolan did with the character.

1. Argo

Ben Affleck has been starring in big time movies for years, from Good Will Hunting to Armageddon to The Town. Everyone knew he could write when he won the Academy Award with Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting. He's proved his director chops now too, helming Gone Baby Gone, The Town and now Argo. That's a pretty solid triple feature to hang your hat on. With Argo, Affleck brought the true story of the 1980 Tehran hostage crisis to life and how with the help of a Hollywood producer, a make-up guru and the Canadian government, a CIA operative was able to get a group of Americans out of Iran after they had hid in the Canadian embassy following an attack on the U.S. embassy. Affleck played the CIA operative, Tony Mendez, himself, and was flanked by an amazing supporting cast in Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Scoot McNairy, Victor Garber and Tate Donovan. Even knowing the outcome of the mission before going to see the film, the movie kept the suspense throughout it's run time, all the way down to the very end when Mendez had the group at the airport. With his track record, I'm sure whenever Affleck directs his next film, it'll be on that year's top 10 list as well.

Honorable Mentions:

Safe House - Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington go on the run together after the CIA safe house holding Washington is crashed. Great actions scenes, a memorable supporting cast including Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga and Sam Shepard, as well as great chemistry between Reynolds and Washington made the Hollywood debut of Daniel Espinosa worth a watch.

The Raid: Redemption - This Indonesian action film from Gareth Evans wasn't in U.S. theaters too long this past Spring, but after viewing it, it's safe to call it one of the best pure action movies to be released in recent years. It takes a little while to get going while the plot is set up, but once the SWAT team enters the tenement and all hell breaks loose, the viewer is in for a treat. The Raid features the best mix of martial arts and gunplay since The Matrix, and actually surpasses the sic-fi classic in some ways.

Seven Psychopaths - Martin McDonagh's follow-up to In Bruges reunites him with Colin Farrell, but this time adds Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken to the mix. The story is a little hard to follow, but it works itself all out in the end, and along the way, Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken turn in some of the funnier performances of the year.

21 Jump Street - This re-imagining of the 80's TV show of the same name is, without question, one of the funniest movies of 2012. The pairing of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum worked out perfectly. Rob Riggle and Ice Cube turn in very funny supporting roles, and even Johnny Depp popped in, reviving his Tom Hanson character from the show. If not for a talking teddy bear who smoked a lot of pot, 21 Jump Street could have claimed a spot in the top 10 as the top comedy of the year.



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