Hello Geeks, FamousMonster here. So, how many movies have you seen this year? I’ve spent the past couple of hours cataloging every film I’ve seen released in 2012, and the magic number is 60. That’s 60 movies in seven months, which means out of the 228 days of the year so far – I’ve spent five entire days watching new movies.
With four and a half months left in 2012, I think it might be a good time to figure out what my favorite movies of the year are so far. Soon we’ll be transitioning from summer’s popcorn blockbusters to fall’s dramatic, heavy-hitting films vying for Oscars and Golden Globes. There’s been a lot of fantastic films this year, some of which were huge successes with wide releases and record-breaking box office returns, while others were limited-release independent films that deserve your attention.
It’s my hope that this list of ten films balances obvious, geek-approved genre flicks with new, interesting titles that you’ll seek out and enjoy. Of course, there are still plenty of highly-anticipated films on the way – The Master, Lincoln, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and Django Unchained – but until then, this list should keep you busy. OK, enough talking, let’s get on with the show. Without further adieu, here’s my list of the 10 best films of 2012 so far…
10) The Imposter
Director: Bart Layton
Stars: Adam O’Brian, Frederic Bourdin, and Carey Gibson
1994. San Antonio, Texas. 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay is playing basketball with friends. He calls home to have his mother pick him up, but she is asleep and his older brother refuses to wake her. Barclay is never heard from again.
1997. Linares, Spain. Frédéric Bourdin, a 23-year-old with brown eyes and a French accent, convinces the Barclay family that he is their blue-eyed son, Nicholas. His would-be family travels to the US embassy in Spain to take him back home.
Directed by Bart Layton, The Imposter is a documentary that explores the art of deception, whether it be in the form of an expert chameleon like Bourdin, or through a family’s denial and the rationalizing away of opposing evidence. The Imposter proves that nothing is stranger than real life. It’s a surreal, stupefying documentary film that manages to be entertaining and appalling at the same time. It plays out more like a super-stylized episode of This American Life than a by-the-numbers documentary.
9) Seeking Asian Female
Director: Debbie Lum
Stars: Steven Bolstad, Sandy Bolstad, Debbie Lum
Directed by San Francisco-based filmmaker Debbie Lum, Seeking Asian Female follows the unlikely romance between Steven – a white, American man obsessed with Asian women – and Sandy, the young Chinese woman he meets online. Still single at age 30, Sandy (whose real name is Zhang Jianhua) was an “old maid” by Chinese standards and turned to online dating in hopes of meeting an open-minded Chinese man. Instead she found Steven, an American in his early ‘60s with a severe case of “yellow fever.”
The documentary is told through the viewpoint of Lum who, as a Chinese American woman, was fascinated with Western men’s obsession with Asian women. It took over five years to make the film, as Lum followed her main character until he found a Chinese who wanted to marry him.
Lum documents and narrates Steven and Sandy’s unstable, precarious relationship with skepticism as the couple attempts to build a marriage from scratch. Lum becomes their translator and marriage counselor, as the two have to use Google Translate to regularly communicate.
Seeking Asian Female is an intriguing, affecting work of documentary filmmaking. It engages the viewer and brings them into the living room of a couple who struggle to find their roles in a relationship forged from the fires of obsession and desperation.
8) Indie Game: The Movie
Directors: Lisanne Pajot, James Swirsky
Stars: Jonathan Blow, Phil Fish, and Edmund McMillen
Directed by Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky, Indie Game: The Movie is a refreshing documentary that follows independent video game developers as they create games and release those pixelated works (and themselves) to the world. The film primarily focuses on Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes (Super Meat Boy) and Phil Fish (Fez) as they prepare their respective games for release on Xbox Live and at The Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) in Boston.
Pajot and Swirsky’s quirky, touching film also features commentary from indie developers like Jonathan Blow (Braid), who explain the hardships and freedoms of being an independent game developer in an industry dominated by Mega-Studios like Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.
Indie Game: The Movie is a blast – it’s just fun to watch. It’s stylish and inspirational in the way it crosses the boundaries of, perhaps, a very inaccessible subject matter (the technological world of game development) by connecting with the artists and their passions.
7) The Dark Knight Rises
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Stars: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, and Anne Hathaway
Eight years after the Joker’s sinister deeds, Bruce Wayne has become an eccentric recluse, traumatized by his own inability to save Dent and the love of his life, Rachel Dawes. Batman and Gordon’s lie for the greater good paid off, though. Organized crime has been crushed under the weight of the Commissioner’s anti-crime Dent Act and Gotham City is finally prospering.
As rookie cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) points out, “Pretty soon we’ll be chasing down overdue library books.” Gotham’s time of peace and prosperity may be coming to a close, however, with the arrival of a cunning cat burglar with an unknown agenda. Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is one of the 99%, a woman driven to desperate measures who will butt heads with the city’s 1%, namely Bruce Wayne.
Far more alarming, however, is Bane (Hardy), a muscle-bound terrorist with a ghastly maw of twisted metal, whose plans for Gotham’s reckoning force Bruce Wayne out of retirement and back into the action.
The Dark Knight Rises is a sprawling, epic film that provides a spectacular conclusion to the one of the greatest trilogies in movie history. Nolan’s third (and final) Batman film is easily this generation’s Return of the Jedi – minus the Ewoks. It’s a stunning, action-packed movie that provides an extremely satisfying ending even if it doesn’t quite meet the high standard set by its predecessor.
6) The Cabin in the Woods
Director: Drew Goddard
Writers: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard
Stars: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, and Anna Hutchison
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a group of college kids visit a remote cabin in the woods to partake in irresponsible activities such as (but not limited to) alcohol, illicit drugs, and premarital sex. One by one, these nubile teenagers are hacked to pieces by an axe-wielding maniac in the woods (or God-forsaken summer camp).
Sound familiar? It should. You’ve seen this genre convention in horror films like The Evil Dead, Friday the 13th, Cabin Fever, Sleepaway Camp, The Burning, and Tucker & Dale Vs Evil. The Old Dark House has become The Cabin in the Woods, a subversive, spirited deconstruction of the genre. Even the film’s title is a reference to the archetypes it celebrates and simultaneously dissects.
We’ve seen exploitation films, slasher flicks, demonic possession, and waves of Japanese and Korean horror – movies that have since devolved into “torture porn” movies like Saw and Hostel – and countless re-imaginings of classic movie monsters and new horror icons like Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Freddy Krueger. The Cabin in the Woods is the final horror film – the period at the end of a longwinded run-on sentence. It’s a blood-splattered, bad-ass thesis in genre filmmaking.
5) The Avengers
Director: Joss Whedon
Writers: Joss Whedon, Zak Penn
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Scarlett Johansson
Written and directed by Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer), The Avengers features an ensemble cast including Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, and Samuel L. Jackson.
Nick Fury (Jackson), the eye-patched director of the super-secret government organization S.H.I.E.L.D., recruits Iron Man (Downey Jr.), the Incredible Hulk (Ruffalo), Thor (Hemsworth), and Captain America (Evans) to save the world from Thor’s mischievous brother, Loki (Hiddleston).
The Avengers represents the perfect fusion of an intelligent, witty script, and an ensemble cast with more chemistry than Walter White’s meth lab. Every character is pitch-perfect, every actor is at the top of their game. Whedon has an ardent love and intimate understanding of the source material and injects the story with his signature humor and sensitivity.
If you’ve followed Marvel Studios’ films for the past four years, The Avengers will make your heart explode with sticky-sweet nostalgia and air-punching affection. It is the definition of summer popcorn fun and easily the most accessible, entertaining film of 2012.
4) Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Director: David Gelb
Stars: Jiro Ono and Yoshikazu Ono
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the story of 85-year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant located in a Tokyo subway station. Calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar, Sushi aficionados from around the world journey to Japan for a seat at Jiro’s sushi bar.
At the heart of the film is Jiro’s relationship with his eldest son Yoshikazu, the heir to Jiro’s legacy, who is unable to live up to his full potential in his father’s culinary shadow. It takes 10 years of training to become a chef at Jiro’s Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant. An unmatched level of devotion and discipline is required to apprentice under Jiro, who makes initiates learn the proper way to squeeze a boiling-hot hand towel before they can touch fish.
David Gelb’s documentary thoughtfully and elegantly muses on work, family, and the art of perfection, chronicling Jiro’s life as both an unparalleled success in the culinary world and as a loving yet complicated father. Even if you have no interest in the cuisine, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a satisfying, beautiful look at a true master of his trade.
3) The Raid: Redemption
Director: Gareth Evans
Writer: Gareth Evans
Stars: Iko Uwais, Ananda George and Ray Sahetapy
Directed by Gareth Evans, The Raid: Redemption is an Indonesian martial arts action film set in the Jakarta slums, where a desolate apartment building has become an impenetrable fortress for the world’s most dangerous killers and gangsters.
An elite team is tasked with raiding the derelict apartment complex in order to take down the notorious drug lord that controls it. After being spotted, the squad’s cover is blown and the entire building is put on lockdown. The lights are cut off – all exits are blocked. The team is trapped with no way out and must fight their way through a gauntlet of Jakarta’s worst criminals to survive.
The Raid: Redemption sheds all the unnecessary bullshit and gets right down to the action, with a hero who you actually do care about – a cop (Uwais) with a pregnant wife who will do anything to survive and get home to her – including stabbing and slicing his way through an entire building of crazy-ass killers. Every minute of this film is drenched in glorious violence.
The Raid: Redemption has roundhouse kicked the action genre in the face and crushed its skull against a concrete wall – action can’t (and won’t) get any better than this.
2) Brooklyn Castle
Director: Katie Dellamaggiore
Stars: John Galvin, Elizabeth Vicary, and Fred Rubino
Brooklyn Castle is a documentary film about I.S. 318, an inner-city school where more than sixty-five percent of students are from homes with incomes below the federal poverty level. I.S. 318 also has the most winning junior high school chess team in the nation, having cultivating many of the nation’s highest ranked players. Just to give you an idea of how incredible these kids are at chess, if Albert Einstein, who was rated 1800, were to join the team he’d only rank fifth.
Beautifully directed by Katie Dellamaggiore and edited by her husband, Nelson, Brooklyn Castle is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. It’s so perfectly balanced, so clean in its telling of a story with multiple characters and many layers, that it seems almost effortless, even though it took the husband-and-wife team three years to complete.
Brooklyn Castle is a charming, heartfelt film that celebrates dreams and the kids chasing them. Dellamaggiore’s film was one of my favorites at this year’s SxSW Film Festival, and will get a theatrical release this fall (Oct. 19) thanks to indie distributors Producers Distribution Agency.
1) Safety Not Guaranteed
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Writer: Derek Connolly
Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson, and Mark Duplass
WANTED: “Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety Not Guaranteed. I have only done this once before.”
A cryptic classified ad inspires a Seattle Magazine reporter (Johnson) and two interns (Aubrey Plaza, Karan Soni) to track down the source of such an unusual request: a paranoid eccentric named Kenneth (Duplass). As you may have guessed by the confidence exuded in his classified ad, Kenneth has solved the age-old mystery of time travel and is seeking candidates to accompany him on his next mission.
Directed by Colin Trevorrow and written by Derek Connolly, Safety Not Guaranteed is a wonderful little comedy – an unexpectedly heartwarming cinematic experience overflowing with positivity and the power of belief.
I’m in love with this movie. I want to write nerdy, extremely embarrassing, mumblecore fanfic about it. I want to take this movie out for a nice seafood dinner and call it back immediately and profess my love to it. I’m already thinking about colors for our future baby’s nursery. Funny, sweet, magical – Safety Not Guaranteed is the heart and humor of John Hughes fused with the eccentric brain of Back to the Future. SEE. THIS. FILM.
Honorable Mentions: Prometheus, Lovely Molly, Your Sister’s Sister, Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope, King Kelly, Moonrise Kingdom.
Follow me on Twitter!