Gaffer MacGuffin’s Favorite Movies of 2012

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Paul: We’re a little late to the year-end list-making party, but we thought it would be fun to share our personal favorites from the first year of this blog’s existence. We’ve each come up with our own top five, and I’ve also asked an old college friend, Erigena Sallaku, to join us and contribute her own list. Without further ado, here are our picks for the top five movies of 2012.

#5

Paul: Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a wonderful, surprisingly funny biopic with the ambition to tackle a great challenge: representing President Lincoln as a three-dimensional, flawed human being but still showing his importance to history. The decision to narrow the film’s focus to a single month during which the proposed Thirteenth Amendment was debated turned out to be a brilliant choice, even if it calls the appropriateness of the film’s title into question. This is a movie about politics, about the compromises and deal-making that, in the best of times, eventually lead to a greater good. And yes, as far as I’m concerned, Daniel Day-Lewis might as well be the real Lincoln.

Erigena: Thank you very much, Paul, for this opportunity. I’m very happy to be part of this project. The first movie that comes to mind is The Odd Life of Timothy Green. It is one of my favorites this year simply because of its originality in bringing a childlike joy and light-heartedness into the dark situation of a young couple who is unable to bear children. It is sort of a bedtime story, a fairy tale, but not one without hinting at the reality of what it means to be a parent, what it means to be a child, in all the ups and downs, the mistakes and disappointments, the joys and the random bursts of spontaneity. This movie offers something for both the realist and the idealist. I recommend it to everyone, particularly parents and Jennifer Garner fans.

Daniel: Of the movies that I managed to catch this year none made me laugh so hard as Cabin in the Woods. The tongue-in-cheek dark humor of the film was paired with some of the best eye candy of the year. Pair that with Joss Whedon and Director Drew Goddard’s signature dialogue and horror movie know-how and you’ve got the the most accurate lampoon of the horror genre ever made. The non-stop references are more like nods and winks than overt spoofs. While being hilarious the movie still manages to have a hefty amount of scares to go along with it. Ultimately it was one of the most fun movie theater experiences I’ve had in years.

#4

Paul: My next favorite movie of the year works shockingly well as a companion piece to Lincoln: that’s Django Unchained. They’re basically two sides of the same coin: the “A-movie” side and the “B-movie” side, the defeat of slavery at the hands of white politicians and the defeat of slavery at the hands of a black cowboy. Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie gets a little sloppy towards the end, but it’s still more exciting than most movies I saw this year. Taking aim at the institution of slavery, racism in general, and Hollywood’s problematic history with those subjects, Tarantino sets up all his targets in painstaking detail (with plenty of dialogue, as usual) before blowing them all to kingdom come. It’s a riot.

Erigena: Robert Zemeckis has proven yet again that he is a very talented, serious and passionate director. I have always loved his films and this next one is no different. Flight is an action packed mystery thriller starring Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker, a highly skilled airline pilot with an addiction to alcohol and drugs. He saves a plane from crashing but his heroic act is marred by the very dark secret of his heavy intoxication during the flight. The protagonist is faced with the two choices of whether to lie and enjoy life out of prison basking in his false heroism or tell the truth and risk going to jail. Washington gives a heartfelt and Oscar-worthy performance. Finally, a wonderful, no-matter-how-dark movie like 28 Days that depicts alcoholism as a real problem with real consequences. However, we cannot fail to see that this is a redemption story and be certain that hope and change are possible.

Daniel: I went in to Dredd 3D with very low expectations and was (almost literally) blown away. What I had anticipated to be a one dimensional action film with very little entertainment value turned out to be one of the most fun movies this year. What could have easily been just another notch in the action genre turned out to be a lovingly crafted and surprisingly well acted comic book movie. Our hero is essentially a futuristic Dirty Harry with more jurisdiction. Karl Urban gives an incredible performance as the titular hero. With a relatively small budget, the filmmakers were able to accomplish their entire goal of making an accurate Dredd story without muddling up the plot with unnecessary tangents or melodramatic relationship fodder. The origin story was bypassed allowing far more time for massive amounts of carnage. It’s a simple plot done very, very well. Good vs Evil, but good is allowed to hit back just as hard as evil.

#3

Paul: It’s an espionage thriller/war movie, and the two most significant names attached to it belong to women. That’s only one of the most interesting things about Zero Dark Thirty. Kathryn Bigelow matches the tension, excitement and complicated views on violence that she brought to The Hurt Locker. Jessica Chastain, simply put, is one of the best actresses working today. We’ve been waiting for the great 9/11 movie. Zero Dark Thirty, while only alluding to that day in a subtle, mournful opening sequence, is that movie. Its historical accuracy is up for debate, but more importantly it captures the feeling of a world that in a very real sense belonged to Osama bin Laden from 2001-2011. The film helps explain why it took that long to find him; it pays tribute to the skill and bravery of the Navy SEALs who raided the Abbottabad compound; it shows all the collateral damage of a ten-year War on Terror and acknowledges how unsatisfying the death of one man must be in light of all that came before. It’s a kind of horror movie, really.

Erigena:  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter exceeded my expectations greatly. I was hesitant at first because I thought it may turn out to be disrespectful to one of the most loved presidents of America. But not so at all. If you thought Van Helsing was cool, wait until you see the tall, muscular Abraham pick up a silver-coated axe that he learns to wield like a fearless ninja on a revenge mission. This film has a little bit of everything ranging from drama, sci-fi, horror, action/adventure, to romance – all in amazing special effects.  Even though the tone is somewhat surreal and eerie, this film still offers a sincere perspective on significant subjects such as truth, justice, and freedom. For the most part, it stayed true to the real spirit of our 16th president.

Daniel: Django Unchained brought something to the table that hasn’t been seen in awhile: a fresh take on the western genre. Paul did an excellent job in discussing the themes of this film, so I’ll just briefly mention some other highlights. First, the acting is phenomenal. The cast does an excellent job encompassing their characters, but none do so well as Christoph Waltz, who plays the bounty hunter that aides Django in his quest. Secondly, there were the elaborate set pieces. Sure, Tarantino does things his own way, but the western genre is known for sweeping landscapes and overtly dingy mining towns. We’re given everything we could want visually, and then some. The plantations, the towns, the landscape is right at home with Quentin’s unique style of filmmaking, even adding a touch of grandeur to the bloody affair.

#2

Paul: Not even Life of Pi could convince me that 3D is worth the extra money, and that’s saying something. Visually, the movie is simply transcendent, but I think I would have had just as great an experience with it projected the traditional way. In any case, Ang Lee and his cinematographer Claudio Miranda do amazing things with the ocean – both the water itself and the creatures living in it. The movie’s most famous creation is a tiger made of nothing but CGI. It’s easily the most believable bit of digital effects that I’ve seen to date. Fortunately, the movie is also more than a series of pretty pictures. It’s also an intense story of survival and a study on the nature of religion. On that last count, the movie is admittedly somewhat shallow, but an interesting point is made by the way the story ends. There’s a way of understanding events that’s compatible with our own understanding, and there’s a way that recognizes and celebrates divine intervention. Life of Pi challenges us to question our gut reaction to that dichotomy.

Erigena: Parental Guidance, starring Billy Crystal and Bette Midler, is one of the funniest and sweetest comedies I watched this year. With so much witty and relevant humor, this film clearly illustrates the value of family and the importance of inter-generational wisdom about parenting styles. The characters are not only comic, but also believable and for the most part likeable. The story is sweet and suggests that lessons about parenting and relationships can be learned by both approaches this film presents. This time, I actually had trouble deciding between this movie and Here Comes the Boom starring Kevin James simply because both are hilarious comedies that not only make us laugh but also inspire and encourage.

Daniel: Very few movies can sustain themselves under tremendous amounts of hype the way The Avengers managed to. We are, arguably, in the golden age of comic book movies. Studios are finally finding their stride in mixing compelling stories with blockbuster special FX. Avengers ran the huge risk of collapsing into a very expensive heap. Instead, Joss Whedon managed to take some of the biggest names in recent history and create one of the best-handled conglomerate films ever. The story was exciting and fun while offering plenty of screen time and character development for the individual members of the team. Marvel’s new model of releasing movies in “phases” leading up to a bigger overarching plot has worked incredibly well. The world collectively waited for years to see The Avengers and we were not disappointed.

#1 (Drumroll please…)

Paul: “I always wished I was an orphan. Most of my favorite characters are. I think your lives are more special.” “I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.” “I love you, too.” If there was a better exchange of dialogue in a movie this year, I haven’t heard it. Moonrise Kingdom has stuck with me because beneath the immaculate, dollhouse-like construction of the film’s world there are raw and stirring truths about people and our relationships with each other. Wes Anderson’s film is about the adventures of youth and the disillusionment of adulthood, the harmony of a community in balance and the storms that follow when people aren’t playing their parts well. It’s about falling in love for the first time, and about falling out of love with your spouse of many years. There is great humor, suspense, bloody violence, classical music, and dancing. It took me some time to really appreciate all these things. But the other movies on my list, each in its turn, came up to challenge Moonrise Kingdom as my favorite of the year, and each fell short. This movie is warm and wistful and “quirky” and completely unlike anything else I saw this year. My favorite movie title of the year, too, by far.

Erigena: The Avengers is by far my favorite movie of 2012. It is the third highest grossing film of all time and it is about what most of us love and admire: superheroes. However, as ratings show, this is not your typical action/adventure film. I personally believe the success of this movie (apart from the amazing special effects and the excitement) results from the outstanding character development; all of the superheroes bring personalities of their own. The Avengers team consists of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye and they are battling to preserve mankind’s God-given freedoms against the threat of extraterrestrial creatures/demigods. What I find so astonishing is how well the superhero concept is shown that it’s not about what each of them have, but about what they give. Even though they all struggle to get along at first because of their differences and unique flaws, it’s exactly those things that bring them together to work as a team instead of as a ticking time bomb. They not only give their all to protect life on earth, but they do so even in their relationships with each other, in the smaller side stories such as Hulk attempting to control his anger, Black Widow trying to rescue Hawkeye from Loki’s mind-games, Thor pleading with Loki to reconcile and many more. I really look forward to the sequel.

Daniel: Peter Jackson took an incredibly rich and intricate world, the world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and gave us a cinematic interpretation that is almost universally considered the greatest fantasy franchise of all time. The series came to a halt in 2003 with The Return of the King, leaving a gaping hole in the mainstream fantasy genre. This absence was certainly eased with the continuation of the Harry Potter series, however the scale of Middle Earth was something that could not be replaced. Nine years later Jackson returned to Tolkien’s fantasy epics with the prequel to LOTR, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The Hobbit has been criticized for both pacing reasons as well as veering from the source material. The skepticism I carried with me into the theater quickly faded as the movie progressed. We’re invited back to a familiar, beautiful and elaborate world of fantasy. The nature of The Hobbit gives us a chance to take little “side adventures” with an exceptionally adventurous bunch of characters. Because of this, we’re introduced to more of Middle Earth within a rich but extremely fun narrative. The level of quality from everyone involved excels almost every other movie made this year. Fantasy films have certainly taken a backseat in comparison to science fiction, as has been the case throughout film history. Jackson dared to take on LOTR and to the delight of most movie goers, he’s taken up the challenge of The Hobbit, and has thus far been victorious.

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3 Responses to “Gaffer MacGuffin’s Favorite Movies of 2012”

  1. » Popcorn and Peril Says:

    […] Hobbit was my favorite movie of 2012, and I wasn’t the only one that felt this way. It was the best fantasy movie I’ve seen […]

  2. How Facebook Missed the Stars, Landed On a Cloud | Infinite Crescendo Says:

    […] more attention than a well-written and illuminating review of something like The Tree of Life, Moonrise Kingdom, or Before Midnight — my favorite movies from each of the past three years. See top of post […]

  3. Alternatives to 2012s Top Grossing Movies « Popcorn and Peril Says:

    […] Hobbit was my favorite movie of 2012, and I wasn’t the only one that felt this way. It was the best fantasy movie I’ve seen […]

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