Monday, December 31, 2012

Superheroes vs. Khaki Scouts vs. Leonardo DiCaprio: The Top 10 Movies of 2012

   When I watch movies, I look for the moment. For the short time that I have been doing my “Movie of the Year” articles for this blog, the winner has been determined each time by the flick’s ability to take a scene and burn it into my brain. It could be the scene’s emotional power (like 2010’s winner: Toy Story 3) or its raw ambience, shock value, and brutality (in 2011’s winner: Drive—which in hindsight has at least three of four scenes that I will remember for the rest of my life). Whatever the kind of movie, it needs to have the moment, and if a movie wants to be great, it needs memorability through this moment.
   Now, 2012 had a lot of really solid movies, enough to make an honest-to-God Top 10 list (the most Dazz has ever done is three). All of these movies are great, and a few of them have the moment, but as you will see, one has more moments than the rest.

**Minor Spoiler Alert—the following contains a few giveaways, but do not worry, Dazz will never ruin the ending of any flick, because only supreme douchebags do that, like the people on SNL who ruined Sixth Sense, and Andrew from high school who ruined Fight Club, and no, I am not still bitter about it**

10. The Avengers
   Oh, but I did. A lot of folks might have The Avengers higher, and I think a lot of this might be a result of the hype surrounding it, and how it miraculously managed to meet its lofty expectations. Only problem is, with its steep competition this year, this is merely a great superhero movie, and little more. It featured some good action and quality banter between the costumed heroes, but all in all the success of the super-team was never really in doubt, and Loki as a villain never seemed like a serious threat. It was just a bunch of cool people blowing stuff up and looking good while they did it. It may have been fun, but it was lacking in impact. Great superhero movie, but not much else.

9. Life of Pi
   A review of this one in short: the first 25 minutes are a huge collective yawner, but everything afterwards is really darn good. The cinematography and directing is some of the best of the year, and the visuals are second-to-none. This movie, at parts, is an absolute spectacle to watch. It is all made even more impressive by Suraj Sharma’s performance as a first-time actor. You may remember the sheer beauty of this flick, but the lasting impact that it ultimately hopes to achieve might not quite stick the way it wants. Moments that are nice to look at do not a moment make.

8. Looper
   A lot of people called this one “mind-blowing”. It was not mind-blowing. It was inventive, original, suspenseful, and intriguing, but the ending did little to blow my mind. What may have been a moment for a lot of people was thus not a moment for me. Looper was still great because it had solid performances and a unique, exciting plot, not because the ending left my brain looking like a gray milkshake. Sorry. The ending is a good one, and it does well to define the character of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but my mind was still unsatisfied in the blow department (thinking, thinking . . . eh, keep it).

7. The Dark Knight Rises
   Glimpses of a moment start to emerge, but unfortunately for Batman, they are merely glimpses. You loved Tom Hardy as Bane, you loved Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, you loved a heck of a lot of things about Chris Nolan’s last Batman movie. If you ask me, it was the best of the three. The problem was, the one time in the movie that begged for a moment did not deliver. (Minor spoiler!) The dismantling of Batman was extremely well-done, but the dismantling of another key character seemed half-assed. It still pisses me off. This is one of the greatest superhero movies of all time, but it falls just short of absolute movie greatness. Almost a moment, but not quite.

6. Cabin in the Woods
   The lack of any significant star-power (except for Chris Hemsworth, but seriously, the only reason he is there is so he can have sort-of-sex with the blonde chick and then die, so he does not count) might seem to hinder this one from having a moment, but in reality, Cabin in the Woods does not need a moment to be great. This movie’s inventiveness, originality, and successful inclusion of some of the best black humor to ever grace the big screen is what makes it so awesome. If you have not seen this movie yet, it positively demands a viewing. Do not read up on it, do not watch the trailers, just go in with no expectations and watch it. It will be like absolutely nothing you think it to be.

5. Lincoln
   Two of the best performances by arguably the two best actors of our generation simply cannot be overlooked. Daniel Day-Lewis as President Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens both propel this movie to greatness through their killer performances. You might very well have a one-two punch for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor right here. Not to turn this into a two-part man-crush, though, because the ending of this one still pisses me off (Spoiler alert! Go to number four!). Seriously, you would think after showing hundreds of people dying in the battle scene at the beginning, Steven “DGAF” Spielberg would have the decency to let us see Lincoln get shot. You could tell Spielberg was sitting there with two weeks to go on their deadline, and thinking, “Well goddammit, I have to put a little more Steven in it, so let me just take a big, fat, Stevie-steamer on the ending.” This movie could have been number freaking one on this list. But no, Spielberg shot us the finger.
4. Argo
   The first hour is a well-done movie. You are sitting there, feeling alright about everything, but part of you still worries that Ben Affleck is still destined to just botch this one. Then, the last half-hour arrives and the suspense builds and you can taste the moment. It is coming. Right now. But then, it just does not quite make it. Rats. Argo tells the best story of the year, hands down. It is the best historical picture of the year, and as the whole plan is carried out, the suspense build extremely successfully, even though everyone knows what is going to happen. That is excellent filmmaking. Props to Benny. He surprised us all. Argo might not quite reach its moment, but the quality of its performances, the excellent story, and the exceptional suspense make it well worth a viewing. Fantastic.

3. Moonrise Kingdom
   I am suckered into emotional viewing experiences really easily. Toy Story 3 was my 2010 Movie of the Year because it reminded me of all of my childhood toys and instilled an amazing sense of nostalgia. Last year, The Muppets almost stole the show from Drive (wow, is that embarrassing to write) because it was so darn funny and charming and 80s-esque that I could not help but absolutely love it. This year, Moonrise Kingdom was that flick. From the opening scenes of Edward Norton walking through the Khaki Scout camp, I was smiling. The story of the two young kids in love was the most charming cinematic adventure of the year. Our hero in Sam Shakusky brought the whole audience back to a time when love was about hand-written notes and the thrill of sharing an adventure. I might not remember a specific performance or a specific scene, but I will remember the atmosphere. If I was not an even bigger sucker for crazy action, suspense, and "wow moments" than I was for all of the personality this movie has, Moonrise could take the top spot easily. You walked out feeling good, thinking hard, and looking up. If there was a way I could write out a sigh, I would. Man, guys, this movie just . . . just . . . excuse me for a second. That was this movie’s moment: the way it left you after it was over. 

2. Django Unchained
   Guys, I wanted this to be number one really darn badly. It has everything you want: stellar performances (especially from Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L), high comedy, fantastic action, wonderful characters, a neat story, an interesting setting; it even has a moment. Finally, a moment. Without giving away too much, there is a scene in this movie that sees Leo single-handedly go from giving a solid performance to a downright terrifying, captivating, cannot-look-away, award-seizing performance. It will go down as one of his best scenes ever, period. When you look back on Django, there is a heck of a lot to remember, and the only thing holding it back from being the best movie of the year is the last twenty minutes. Basically, the movie ends but Tarantino decided to dick around for a little while longer (both literally and figuratively—in short, Jamie Foxx’s wang did not need to be in this one, guys). Even so, take the first two and a half hours or so and you have some of the best film out there this year. Absolutely phenomenal. I would see it again in a second.

1. The Raid: Redemption
   One movie this year did it all. One movie kept a consistent tone throughout. One movie alone lacked an extraneous twenty minutes or a botched ending. One movie this year does not just have a moment, but is rife with moments. The Raid: Redemption is the best movie of 2012.
   The plot is simple, a SWAT team has to go into this apartment complex to extract a drug lord. That is it. Things take turns for the worse, of course, but as our particular SWAT member rises closer and closer to the mark, things become much more complicated. The Raid is a fantastic combination between simplicity and unexpectedness. The thing is though, you are not there for the story, you are there to watch some of the best action to come along in years. This is where you find your moments: the scenes that are so badass, violent, or tense that they might go down as some of the best action scenes ever. The first Mad Dog fight, the second Mad Dog fight, the machete scene, the execution scene, the door frame kill, the refrigerator kill, the ambush in the central stairway—The Raid has not just one, but numerous scenes that I will remember for years and years. It is a martial arts movie mixed with a cop movie with a bunch of gunplay thrown in for good measure. A great soundtrack, solid performances, quality twists and turns along the whole way, and straight-up memorability make this the best movie of the past 12 months. Absolute adrenaline. Action fans have to see The Raid—it is one of the greatest fighting flicks of our time.

          What happens next might not be for everyone, but it sure is awesome to me.

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