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2012 Movies :: The Good, The Bad and the Overrated

Monday Dec 31, 2012
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2012 is turning out to be a record year at the box office. That’s not unusual, during troubling times, people go to the movies. Plus with the added costs to see 3D and IMAX movies, audiences are paying more to see the films. If there’s a unifying theme at the year’s end, it is that films with a socio/political bent - "Zero Dark Thirty," "Argo," "Lincoln," even "Django Unchained" have caught the attention of critics and pundits.

EDGE’s movie critics weigh in on the 2012 year in film, but not in a standard way. Instead four of them make their picks in four categories: Favorite of the year, Most Important, Most Overrated and Most Underrated. This being a completely subjective assessment, feel free to add your own choices in the comment section.


Favorite Film

Kilian Melloy’s choice:

My favorite film this year was Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi. I know some critics have grumbled that the story is clich├ęd if not racist because of its suggestion that India is a place where people are more "spiritual" than other nations, and that makes it ironic how some have taken offense at the presence of a white character in the sections where present-day Pi (Irrfan Khan) is telling his story to the writer (Rafe Spall). But there’s an important idea about God and faith there, if you can sit still and listen for it, and if nothing else Claudio Miranda’s cinematography is absolutely stunning. This, for me, is a complete movie experience: Beautiful sound and vision, not to mention engagement for mind and heart - and, yes, soul.


Jake Mulligan’s choice:

My favorite movie? Now that’s the easiest choice. It’s not every year that my favorite filmmaker puts out a movie, so when a Quentin Tarantino release comes about, I get excited. And Django Unchained, his spaghetti western-cum-blaxploitation film, is no exception. A digressive, Leone-esque odyssey into the American south, "Django" plays audiences like a fiddle; splitting them between laughter and horror, between suspense and celebration, between rockin’ out and running away. It’s one of his best films yet, and it’s 2012’s best movie.


Robert Nesti’s choice:

Cloud Atlas is this past year’s love/hate movie - there appeared to be little grey area. Some found this adaptation of David Mitchell’s mammoth novel (at best) a victim of its own ambitions; others (like myself) found it a thrilling example of cinematic story-telling. Instead of telling Mitchell’s six stories in a linear fashion, co-directors Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer (each directing three stories) intercut them in a dazzling display of cinematic dexterity. The result is a baldly simplistic, yet deeply effective cosmic cliffhanger. "Only connect..." E.M. Forster famously once wrote; "Cloud Atlas" did triumphantly. It was also the most stunning IMAX film of the year.


Kevin Taft’s choice:

Written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, the man who wrote the novel, Perks of Being a Wallflower is a stunningly insightful and beautiful adaptation that reflects on three teenager’s high school experience in the early nineties. With an Oscar-worthy performance by Logan Lerman as a boy named Charlie who enters high-school after a bout at a mental hospital, "Perks" is best when it navigates the emotions of age. "Harry Potter" alum Emma Watson is terrific as the object of his affections, and Ezra Miller is wholly memorable as her gay step-brother who is also worthy of an Oscar nod. This is one of those movies where key lines and moments cut straight to your soul and linger there. Despite some overwhelmingly tear-jerking moments, this film packs an inspiring punch that stays with you long after the final frame. Its power is in the perception of three interesting and likeable kids who truly long to be good.


Most Important

Kilian Melloy’s choice:

It’s a toss up between Zero Dark Thirty and The Sessions for the year’s most important film.

Screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow might have based "Zero Dark Thirty" on fact and interviews with participants in real events, but they also tweaked a few things -- this movie will give artificial ammunition to the pro-torture crowd because it suggests that a piece of vital information was obtained thanks to torture, when in fact it was not. However, the issue of terrorism and the difficulty of combatting it is a huge concern in our modern world and probably will be for a long time to come. Bigelow’s exceptional directorial skill here makes the film important all by itself, and Jessica Chastain is utterly magnificent.


"The Sessions" serves a different purpose, but it’s also important: It encourages us to grow up and take sexuality out the realm of dirty jokes, guilt, and shame, and treat it as a natural and necessary part of human experience. More daring, the movie points out the essential, sexual humanity of people not deemed "beautiful" or "attractive." But don’t the handicapped also need love?


Jake Mulligan’s choice:

Picking the most ’important’ film of 2012 honestly seems a daunting task. But that word brings to mind one movie over all others, immediately, and as such it would be unfair for me to pick anything other than Jafar Panahi’s This is Not a Film. Shot partially on an iPhone while he was under house arrest, and smuggled out of Iran on a USB drive hidden inside a Birthday cake; it turns the plight of Iranian filmmakers into cinema magic. It’s a whole lot of things, but above all, it’s a film.


Robert Nesti’s choice:

This is a bit of a cheat because We Need To Talk About Kevin was given a limited release a year ago in order for the film to qualify for Oscars, specifically Tilda Swinton’s fearless performance of a woman whose life has been defined by the horrific behavior of her son. Swinton was ignored, perhaps because she was too raw, or that Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel ignored the standard approach to its subject matter: the dissection of a mother/son relationship in which the son is a mass murderer in a Columbine-like massacre. Part horror movie, part social commentary, part family melodrama - perhaps the film is too unique to be seen as bringing insight to such crimes as Aurora and Newtown; but it resonates in lieu of these horrors.


Kevin Taft’s choice:

My argument for this Marvel group superhero movie is that amidst all the complaints of reboots and less than successful superhero franchises, The Avengers succeeded. But it didn’t succeed just because some smart execs threw a bunch of popular superheroes together and blew all their money on special effects. It worked because it had a sharp script and expert direction by Joss Whedon. He who created Buffy the Vampire Slayer not only knows his way around action-packed preternatural characters, but he knows how to add heart, character development, humor, and action all into one product. This man knows the genre, he knows comic-books, and he isn’t afraid to let a superhero movie BE a superhero movie. (I’m looking at YOU, Christopher Nolan.) He brought the fun back into summer tentpoles and showed that with the right combo of talent, a summer blockbuster truly worthy of being a blockbuster (I’m scowling at you "Transformers") can be born.


Most Underrated

Kilian Melloy’s choice:

I know that film is a subjective experience, but come on now, what’s with everyone dissing Rust and Bone? Marion Cotillard is a force to be reckoned with here, and Matthias Schoenaerts makes a very difficult role look effortless. Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain’s writing may be a little too symbolism-driven and melodramatic, but Audiard’s direction makes it clear this is part of the plan; he knows what he’s doing, and he delivers a beautifully realized movie.


Jake Mulligan’s choice:

Underrated is a much tougher choice. Do I go with a favorite of mine that split critics, like "Cloud Atlas" or "This is 40"? Perhaps with a audience-favorite that escaped critical appreciation, like "Goon"? I’ll try and split the difference by going with Dark Shadows, Tim Burton’s deliriously kitschy comedy, which made a loud ’thunk’ at the box office. Packed with screwball humor, excellent supporting turns (Eva Green still has my heart,) and a funky 70s soundtrack, "Shadows" saw Burton return to his eccentric, gothic roots. It’s just sad nobody saw it.


Robert Nesti’s choice:

In This Is 40, director Judd Apataw makes the year’s meta-movie, something as close to reality television as imaginable. Or perhaps a sit-com; no matter. What makes this comedy so good is its consistency of tone: like the films of Mike Leigh, the film balances a light touch as it explores some serious issues that face a LA family as both spouses hit the age of 40. Some have criticized the film for the shallowness of its central couple and their seemingly blithe, pampered life; yet they come across as surprisingly sympathetic. Much of this comes with wonderfully on-target performances by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. The mention of Mann points out the "meta-" aspect of the film: she is Apataw’s wife, and the the couple’s daughters are played by the Apataw’s real-life daughters. If this film were a French import by the Weinstein Company, there would be little carping about their bourgeoise lifestyle; instead the focus would be on how the film remains light and funny, despite its more serious underpinnings.


Kevin Taft’s choice:

I’m still flabbergasted that Perks of Being a Wallflower didn’t catch on. It was based on a very popular novel especially with high-school kids, and received mostly rave reviews. The performances are stunning, especially from Logan Lerman ("Three Musketeers") and Ezra Miller ("We Need to Talk About Kevin") and it was Emma Watson’s first post-Harry Potter role. It was being hailed as this generation’s "The Breakfast Club." While I disagree with that assessment as the films are so different thematically, this is the first movie about teens in a long time that didn’t make them look like complete morons. They were smart, likeable, surprising, and real. They weren’t caricatures and the emotions of the piece were spot on. The tears that fell from the audience’s eyes throughout were well-earned and the production values were superb: from the cinematography to the beautiful score. I’ve seen the film twice already and it has taken a place in my Top Ten Favorite Movies of all time. Curiously, everyone else I know that has seen it has also adored it. So where’s the love? Is it being ignored because it’s about teens? And speaking of... why weren’t they showing up? Hopefully it will find the respect it deserves on Blu-ray, because in my mind it deserves to be an Oscar nominee for Best Picture.


Most Overrated

Kilian Melloy’s choice:

I know the fanboys will sic their orcs on me for saying this, but The Hobbit is -so- overrated -- and so bloated. The 48-frames-per-second thing is a technical advance, I guess, if you can get past how the image looks like analogue video, but the real problems lie with the direction, pacing, and script. Trying to make three overly long films out of one book means things have to be slowed down and padded out, and unfortunately that’s exactly how the movie plays. Worse, the writing and direction emphasize juvenile bits of business the like of which were quick throwaways in the LOTR trilogy. "The Hobbit" feels like the world’s most expensive kids’ movie, and does nothing to enhance the overall experience of the big-budged Tolkein adaptations.


Jake Mulligan’s choice:

The most overrated film is an easy pick: Sam Mendes’ Skyfall, which was incomprehensibly celebrated as a rebirth for the Bond franchise. All I see is sub-Christopher Nolan aesthetics, homophobic undertones, a laughably baseless plot (the brilliant computer hacker’s master plan is to shoot up a courtroom - because the people writing this film are not brilliant computer hackers,) and a failed attempt at proving Bond relevant in 2012. This is the thinking man’s action film?


Robert Nesti’s choice:

Is it heresy to suggest liking the movie about Abraham Lincoln hunting vampires more than the one where he passes the 13th amendment? Lincoln is the year’s prestige movie; but I feel about it much like Seinfeld’s Elaine felt about "The English Patient." Sure, Daniel Day-Lewis is great (but when is he isn’t?), Sally Field acts up a storm, and Tony Kushner brings high drama to a story about what could be conceived as a dull procedural. But too often his script reaches for eloquence, but falls for liberal pieties; and Steven Spielberg stages this historical pageant as if it were an animatronic museum exhibit. The liberal feel-good movie of the year.


Kevin Taft’s choice:

The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson’s bloated look at a Scientology-like founder and the remarkably troubled man he takes under his wing, winds up being a pointless affair that neither startles nor excites. The structure mimics Anderson’s "There Will Be Blood" right down to the final confrontation at "the Master’s" office. Philip Seymour Hoffman is appropriately elusive and creepy as the founder of a new way of thinking, but it is his wife (the true "master") played by Amy Adams that gives the film any sort of spark. Her final moments are so compelling and unnerving that I felt like the movie was just beginning. Otherwise, the rest of it is an exercise in suffering through Joaquin Phoenix’s affected and twitchy performance that is so manic and actor-y it’s hard to watch. Not because it’s so good, but because it’s so annoying and pretentious. By the time he smashes his jail cell to bits, I half expected him to start eating the porcelain sink for dessert since the scenery had pretty much been chewed already. I will give it this: I wasn’t bored. But by the time the film ends, I was left wondering just what the point of the whole thing was.


This article is part of our "Awards Watch 2013" series. Want to read more? Here's the full list»

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