Archive for the Best Of Lists Category

Quick Cuts: Fun With the Oscars

Posted in 2013, Best Of Lists, Oscar-Worthy, Quick Cuts, Special Columns with tags , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  Fun with the Oscars
With Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  It’s Academy Awards time.  I thought we’d have some fun and do our own Cinema Knife Fight version of the Oscars, picking from familiar Academy Award categories, but staying within specific genres.

Here’s my take on the Best of 2012 Horror movies and the Best of 2012 Action movies:

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Best of HORROR movies 2012:

-Best Supporting Actress- Alice Eve, THE RAVEN

-Best Supporting Actor- Richard Jenkins, CABIN IN THE WOODS

-Best Actor- Ethan Hawke, SINISTER

-Best Actress –Kathryn Newton, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4

-Best Screenplay- Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, CABIN IN THE WOODS

-Best Director- Timur Bekmambetov, ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  VAMPIRE HUNTER

-Best Picture – CABIN IN THE WOODS

 *****

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Best of ACTION movies 2012:

-Best Supporting Actress-Kate Beckinsale, CONTRABAND

-Best Supporting Actor- Leonardo DiCaprio, DJANGO UNCHAINED

-Best Actor – Tom Cruise, JACK REACHER

-Best Actress- Scarlett Johansson, THE AVENGERS

-Best Screenplay- Joss Whedon, THE AVENGERS

-Best Director- Quentin Tarantino, DJANGO UNCHAINED

-Best Picture- THE AVENGERS

*****

L.L. SOARES: And I’ve decided to do three list, for Horror, Action/Drama and Science Fiction.

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Best of HORROR movies 2012:

-Best Supporting Actress- Hannah Fierman, V/H/S (segment “Amateur Night”)

-Best Supporting Actor- Fran Kranz, CABIN IN THE WOODS

-Best Actor- Neil Maskell, KILL LIST/Ethan Hawke, SINISTER (tie)

-Best Actress –Sarah Bolger, THE MOTH DIARIES

-Best Screenplay- Amy Jump and Bean Wheatley, KILL LIST

-Best Director- Ben Wheatley, KILL LIST

-Best Picture –KILL LIST

 ****

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Best of ACTION movies 2012:

Is  DJANGO UNCHAINED really an action movie? If so:

-Best Supporting Actress-Salma Hayek, SAVAGES

-Best Supporting Actor- Leonardo DiCaprio/Samuel L. Jackson (tie) DJANGO UNCHAINED

-Best Actor – Christoph Waltz/Jamie Foxx (tie) DJANGO UNCHAINED

-Best Actress- Anne Hathaway, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

-Best Screenplay- Quentin Tarantino, DJANGO UNCHAINED

-Best Director- Quentin Tarantino, DJANGO UNCHAINED

-Best Picture- DJANGO UNCHAINED

-Best Fight Choreography – THE RAID

*****

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Best of SCIENCE FICTION movies of 2012:

-Best Supporting Actress- Emily Blunt, LOOPER/ Charlize Theron, PROMETHEUS (tie)

-Best Supporting Actor- Pierce Gagnon, LOOPER

-Best Actor – Taylor Kitsch, JOHN CARTER

-Best Actress-Noomi Rapace, PROMETHEUS

-Best Screenplay- Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon, JOHN CARTER /Rian Johnson, LOOPER (tie)

-Best Director- Andrew Stanton, JOHN CARTER

-Best Picture- JOHN CARTER

*****

ARRUDA:    Have fun this weekend watching the real thing!  Thanks for joining us!

—END—

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The Geisha of Gore’s TOP MOVIES OF 2012

Posted in 2012, 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Art Movies, Asian Horror, Best Of Lists, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Gangsters!, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Martial Arts, Yakuza Films with tags , , , , , on January 12, 2013 by knifefighter

The Geisha of Gore’s Top Movies of 2012
By Colleen Wanglund

I don’t go to see new movies very often…in fact it’s rare.  Most of my theater-going experiences involve midnight screenings of older and classic films.  This past year, however, I did go to quite a few new movie screenings, mostly because of the New York Asian Film Festival this past summer.  Anyway, here are the movies I loved from 2012, in no particular order.

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VULGARIA (Hong Kong 2012) A truly laugh-out-loud comedy starring Chapman To about what one producer went through to get his porn film made, VULGARIA was an opening-night screening at Lincoln Center during the New York Asian Film Festival.  It included a Q&A with the film’s writer and director, Pang Ho-Cheung, who informed the sold-out crowd that the movie is based on true events.  I was very impressed with the fact that nothing was lost in the subtitled translation.

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THE RAID (Indonesia 2011) This film didn’t screen in the US until 2012 so it counts.  Written and directed by Welshman Gareth Evans, THE RAID stars Iko Uwais as Rama, an idealistic young cop who is along for a raid against a major drug lord’s stronghold—a whole apartment building full of (mostly) criminals.  The film is full of non-stop action, mostly of the martial arts variety.  It’s beautifully choreographed and there are a few nice surprises thrown into the story.

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TORMENTED (Japan 2011) Written and directed by Takashi Shimizu of JU-ON fame, TORMENTED (also known as RABBIT HORROR 3D) is a follow-up to his film THE SHOCK LABYRINTH (2009), but is not a true sequel.  The film tells the story of Kiriko (Hikari Mitsushima) whose younger brother has been mysteriously transported to another world by a giant bunny, and how she tries to save him.  I know it sounds weird, but I found it quite entertaining.  I also understand now how a giant stuffed rabbit can actually be scary.  To me it’s worth the viewing just for Christopher Doyle’s cinematography. TORMENTED is another film that did not make its debut in the US until 2012.

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NAMELESS GANGSTER (Korea 2012) This film stars the legendary (and one of my favorites) actor, Choi Min-sik, as a corrupt customs official who enters into the world of drug gangs almost by accident.  Written and directed by Yun Jong-bin, NAMELESS GANGSTER is an amazing gangster film that takes an unflinching look at corruption and nepotism in various levels of government and how they deal with the gangs that sell illegal drugs.  Choi is superb as a man who, regardless of the loyalty shown him, is only interested in personal gain and saving his own sorry ass.

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4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH (USA 2011) I’ve included this movie because I saw its theatrical debut in 2012—which included a Q&A with famed cult film writer and director Abel Ferrara and star Shanyn Leigh.  4:44 follows artist couple Skye (Leigh) and Cisco (Willem Dafoe) during the last day of life on Earth.  It is a quiet yet powerful apocalyptic film that did, in fact, terrify me.  I really loved the subtly that Ferrara uses to tell this story and the fact that it elicited such an emotional response from me.

© Copyright 2013 by Colleen Wanglund

Dan Keohane’s Picks for THE BEST FILMS OF 2012

Posted in 2012, 2013, Best Of Lists, Daniel Keohane Reviews, James Bond, Superheroes with tags , , , , , , on January 9, 2013 by knifefighter

DAN KEOHANE’S TOP 10 FILMS OF 2012
By Dan Keohane

Ok, so, though you haven’t seen much of me in these webbie, wobbly… thingies we call Cinema Knife Fight, that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen my share of movies this year. In fact, I was pretty amazed how many 2012 releases I’d seen (still nowhere near enough, however).  There are a number of movies I did not, or have not yet been able to see (DJANGO UNCHAINED, CLOUD ATLAS, LIFE OF PI and HITCHCOCK to name only a few), but of the films I did manage to see, here are my FAVORITE FILMS OF 2012:

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1. THE AVENGERS—I was left a little wanting with CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) especially in its latter half, and IRON MAN 2 (2010) was a pretty weak sequel in my opinion, so I was worried about how THE AVENGERS would work out. Oh, Me of Little Faith. Joss Whedon hit this out of the park, as did every cast member. It says a lot when an entire cast’s performance makes Samuel L. Jackson’s seem almost boring. Great fun, especially for a lifetime comic fan like myself.

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2. LES MISERABLES—I know, this isn’t a genre film, but I had to include it. My wife cried pretty much all the way through this, and she’d seen the play 3 times before this. I didn’t cry, but was blown away by the vocals, the acting, the choreography—you name it. The movie was brilliant. It should tell you something that I had to pee for the last 45 minutes but didn’t get up until the credits rolled.

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3. FLIGHT—A sleeper that I don’t think many people saw, unfortunately. This intense, heroic and sad story of a pilot who saves a crashing airliner only to face his own demons (alcoholism and drug abuse) gives star Denzel Washington a chance to command the screen every moment he’s up there. Powerful movie.

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4. SKYFALL—In my opinion, this is the best James Bond movie ever. I hear that some people fell victim to raised expectations going in and I don’t want to give you the wrong idea. If you thought Roger Moore was the best James Bond, with all the gimmicks and jokes, you might not like this back-to-basics, serious spy flick. But I did—a lot. In my mind, Daniel Craig is the best Bond, hands down.

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5. THE HUNGER GAMES—An extremely good adaptation of the masterful YA novel, with a cast pulled right from the pages. The editing during battle scenes was choppy and scattered—but this was deliberate both to show the chaos and to keep the film from getting an R rating (thus excluding 90% of its audience). But that was the only negative aspect in my opinion. Besides, if I didn’t include it here, my daughter will never forgive me.

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6. THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY—This was exactly what I had hoped from Peter Jackson & Co., and more so. I actually left the theater wishing we’d seen the 3D version, which is unlike me, because it was so visually stunning. Very well cast, the film pays loving homage to the first third of the relatively short Hobbit novel, while adding enough extras (from other Tolkien sources) to keep you interested for 2.5+ hours. The Gollum vs. Bilbo scene itself is worth the price.

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7. LOOPER—A smart, fast-paced science fiction film which does not try to explain every little detail but appreciates the intelligence of 80% of its audience. This time travel story of a man from the future trying to keep his past self from killing him in the past is fast-paced and exciting and not as confusing as I make it sound—besides, this is only half the story.

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8. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN—I was not sure how this reboot / reimagining of the Spidey mythos would work (though I knew it needed something after 2007’s repetitious SPIDERMAN 3). I was pleasantly surprised. It was fun, funny, clever and exciting, as it should be.

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9. WRECK-IT RALPH—Came into this one with my 21-year old son not knowing much about it, but left warm and fuzzy having seen a clever, funny and sweet film which gives many nods to the video games that were around when I was 21.

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10. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD—This odd, almost experimental film is not for everyone. My wife Linda did not like it. I was spellbound from the beginning to the end. What exactly is going on it not always clear, except that these are some poor, poor people living off an unforgiving land which is about to get even more unforgiving. The relationship between the little girl and her semi-abusive, semi-loving father is equally warm and heart-wrenching.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

THE LORAX (was sweet and clever and did my favorite Dr. Seuss book justice)

THE WOMAN IN BLACK (a great and spooky gothic horror, with minimal music blasts to scare you, just creepy settings and scary scenes)

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (very good finale to the series, but not my favorite of 2012, and not *quite* as good as the first two films).

Finally, even though they’re on TV and not the big screen, want to at least give a nod to THE WALKING DEAD and DOCTOR WHO as very enjoyable, unique and captivating viewing as always.

(If you noticed PROMETHEUS is missing from these lists, yes, I still have a couple of healing wounds, but I blame my own expectations for the film, not Mister Scott. He made the film he wanted to and it was vey good in its own right. )

There were many more that did not make the Top 10 but which were extremely good films in my option (CHRONICLE, THE GREY, MOONRISE KINGDOM, among others) and some not so good, but I’m out of room. I wish everyone a wonderful 2013 and hopefully we’ll see each other here more often in the months to come.

© Copyright 2013 by Daniel G. Keohane

Paul McMahon Lists THE BEST MOVIES HE SAW IN 2012

Posted in 2012, Best Of Lists, Paul McMahon Columns with tags , , , , on January 9, 2013 by knifefighter

BEST MOVIES I SAW IN 2012
By Paul McMahon

I spent this whole year lamenting that I didn’t have a lot of time to sit down and watch movies. Imagine my surprise when I tallied what I’d seen and discovered eighty films on the list. That’s almost two movies a week! With luck, I’ll have the same kind of “no time” next year.

I’m not going to list the films by order of greatness because that would be an exercise in futility. I only got to the theater twice this year, and those are probably the only movies I’ve seen that were actually released in 2012. Besides, most of those ‘least to greatest’ type lists I find overly fraught with nuance and personal taste (excepting the lists on this website, of course). Instead, I’ve decided to list the best movies I’ve seen in twelve different categories.

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Best Overall Movie:
THE AVENGERS (2012)

Best Horror Movie:
FROZEN (2010)

Best Horror/ Comedy:
TUCKER AND DALE VERSUS EVIL (2010)

Best Movie Seen In The Theater:
CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)

Best Foreign Movie:
THE DRAGON TATTOO TRILOGY
THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST (2009) was my favorite– I’ve always been a sucker for courtroom movies.

Best Movie Re-Assessment Of The Year:
THE RESURRECTED (1991)

Best New Christmas Movie Tradition:
RARE EXPORTS (2010)

Best Animated Film (Because I Have Kids And End Up Having To Watch A Lot Of Animated Movies):
THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (2011)

Best Former Oscar Contender I Finally Got Around To:
127 HOURS (2010)

Best Classic Movie I Finally Got Around To:
THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 (1974)

Best Movie People Raved About For So Long That I Finally Kowtowed And Watched Only To Wonder Why It Took Me So Long Because That Film Was Awesome, Baby!:
THE BOONDOCK SAINTS (1999)

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Best Movie I Didn’t Get To See And Tops My “MUST SEE” List for 2013:
ARGO (2012)

BEST BOOKS READ IN 2012

I ended up a little behind my intent to read a book a week this year, finishing at 46 out of 52. Of these, in no particular order, the best were:

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THE CARETAKER OF LORNE FIELD by David Zeltserman

A REQUIEM FOR DEAD FLIES by Peter N. Dudar

SNOW by Ronald Malfi

LULLABY by Chuck Palahniuk

and the story collection

SHINY THING by Patricia Russo

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

Nick Cato’s TOP 5 FILM EXPERIENCES OF 2012

Posted in 2012, 2013, Best Of Lists, Foreign Films, Grindhouse, Martial Arts, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , on January 3, 2013 by knifefighter

Top 5 Film Experiences of 2012
By Nick Cato

I spend more time each year seeing retro-screenings of older films than new films, but this past year featured some solid, new grindhouse-quality releases. Here are my top 5 favorite film “experiences” of the year, featuring both new and old titles.

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5) 4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH (2012): As a huge fan of Willem Dafoe, I’m always thrilled to see his latest project, especially when it’s an independent film. This downbeat apocalyptic drama by cult director Abel Ferrara features a different demise for mankind and has a tone all its own. I caught a Q&A session with Ferrara on opening night in Manhattan, which greatly enhanced the evening.

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4) VULGARIA (2012): This comedy from Hong Kong had the crowd floored on opening night of the annual Asian Film Festival in New York City this past July. The director stated AMC theaters had acquired the rights to distribute this in limited release across the USA, so hopefully that’ll be happening soon. It centers around a film producer who lectures his class on the crazy things he has done over the years to finance some films. It’s sheer hysteria from beginning to end, all the more amazing as the print I saw was subtitled. Don’t miss it.

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3) SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (1975): Jack Hill’s legendary, off-the-wall all-girl gang epic was featured in a rare 35mm screening at the Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn this past fall. Being able to see this on the big screen for the first time was a highlight of my filmgoing year (and life). If you’ve never seen it, you have yet to live.

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2) THE RAID: REDEMEPTION (2011): This action-packed Indonesian film had limited distribution in the USA in 2012, and even showed up at some major multiplexes around the country. A SWAT team raids an apartment complex a local drug gang has turned into their headquarters. The action and fight sequences are nearly non-stop, and a particularly brutal form of martial arts is used by the entire cast. A couple of knucklehead teenagers saw the subtitles and left during the first three minutes. They have no idea how GREAT a film they missed. The director even managed to sneak a couple of cool twists in-between the barrage of violence and suspense. Simply incredible.

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1) SALO: THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975): Possibly the most controversial film of all time, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s dark epic came to NYC’s IFC Center in June, 2012 for a one-time showing and a sold out crowd. If you have seen it, but not on the big screen, words can’t describe how much more INSANE everything looks (and sounds), especially on this vintage 35mm print. While slow and repetitive at times, brutally mean spirited, and just downright depraved, Pasolini’s artistic look at a bunch of fascists who kidnap, torture and humiliate a bunch of teenagers into submission at an isolated Italian villa is as beautifully shot as it is painful to watch. SALO isn’t a pleasant or even enjoyable film to sit through, but it’s one any lover of obscure cinema should see at least once in their life…and if they can do it in a theater, all the better. Hearing a sold-out crowd giggle through one of the more disgusting sequences made it a bit easier to go down. Love it or hate it, SALO is a film that once seen can never be forgotten. (Editor’s Warning: SALO is not for the squeamish)

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou’s TOP 20 MOVIES OF 2012

Posted in 2012, 2013, Best Of Lists, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Comedies, Drama, Horror, Musicals, Science Fiction, Superheroes, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , on January 3, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

Presents

Top 20 Movies of 2012

I hate admitting it, but 2012 turned out to be an exceptional year for film entertainment.  When I made out my list of favorites for the year, I was astounded to find twenty six movies listed, and these were the ones I really, REALLY liked.  So, in all fairness to the year that was, I am making a list of twenty best this year.  Please keep in mind, I have not been able to view everything released.  I still haven’t seen THE MASTER, ZERO DARK THIRTY, PROMISED LAND, and others, but I have seen the films listed below, and they were all terrific in their own way.

And now, counting backwards:

20. THE AVENGERS – A comic book movie done right!  Exciting, funny, if a  bit too long; it was always entertaining.

19. SAVAGES – Oliver Stone brings us a wickedly twisted take on Don Winslow’s great novel and gives Salma Hayek her best role ever as a Mexican drug kingpin.

18. CABIN IN THE WOODS – A hoot and a half for horror lovers, this clever film turned the viewer into an active participant.

17. MAGIC MIKE – Filmed in beautiful pastel hues, this is more than a stripper movie; it’s a rom-com with just the right bit of silliness to combat the sweet.  I hate admitting how good this is or how good Channing Tatum is in the lead.

16. THE RAID: REDEMPTION – Asian action to the tenth degree, this movie was more exciting than a hundred Hollywood blockbusters at a hundredth of the budget.

15. JOHN CARTER – Maligned by critics who never read Edgar Rice Burroughs, this is a faithful, old-fashioned and FUN film that brought out the twelve year old boy in me.

14.THE BAY – I thought I hated found footage films by now, but Barry Levinson made it fresh again with a truly horrifying take on a parasitic outbreak.  It brought immediacy to the drama without making me scream “Put down the damn camera and run!” at the screen.  Best horror film of the year.

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13. PITCH PERFECT – Aca-hilarious!  This does for acappella choirs what BRING IT ON (2000) did for cheerleading.  A funny, wise-assed script, terrific music, and the best use ever for a John Hughes ending.  I loved this even though I knew I shouldn’t.

12. THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS and WRECK IT RALPH– Who expects wit in a cartoon?  These are both full of wit and wonder, beautifully animated, funny, and better than anything Pixar has done in years.

11. THE IMPOSTER– Riveting documentary about a boy who disappeared and the young man who claimed, four years later, to be that missing kid.  Why didn’t the family report him to the police when it is so obvious he wasn’t their son?

10. LIFE OF PI – Easily the most beautiful and transcendent of the top twenty, Ang Lee’s terrifying story of a boy trapped on a life raft with a Bengal Tiger is scary and moving, opening up questions about truth and story-telling.  Every writer should watch this one.

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9. LINCOLN – Absorbing historical film with a riveting performance by Daniel Day Lewis.  Some say it is slow moving, but the scenes of Congress battling over the future of slavery are gripping and beautifully written and directed.  Spielberg’s best film since 2005’s MUNICH.

8. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD – Nobody I know saw this lyrical, gorgeous, fascinating story of a childhood in poverty and the beauty a little girl creates within her fantasy world to block out reality.  Rectify this and watch it now.

7. LOOPER – The best science fiction movie in years.  Thoughtful, well-acted, and intense in ways most thrillers aren’t.  Welcome back to the fold, Bruce Willis. We missed you.

6. MOONRISE KINGDOM – Wes Anderson’s lovely film about childhood and how we want to protect our children from themselves.  It’s also a perfect blend of whimsy and Anderson’s perfect visual compositions.

5. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED – A wonderful comedy that sneaks up on you and remains with you forever.  Snarkiness is rampant, but the heart of this movie is worn on its sleeve, and the ending will make you believe in love and the impossible.

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4. DJANGO UNCHAINED – Quentin Tarantino’s homage to Italian Westerns is an incredible piece of work with numerous great performances, terrific music and songs, the best shoot-out since THE WILD BUNCH (1969), and the funniest scene ever involving the KKK.

3. ARGO – Possibly the most entertaining movie of the year with a great script, tight direction, lots of suspense, humor, and John Goodman and Alan Arkin in career bests.  This is crackerjack Hollywood filmmaking, the kind you rarely see anymore, and everything in it works.  Ben Afleck has become one of our best directors.  How the hell did that happen?

2. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK – This is how  you make a crowd pleaser without resorting to mawkishness and pandering.  Two fragile, emotionally disturbed people meet, become friends, and help each other win a dance contest.  Sounds hokey, right?  It isn’t.  This movie is so well acted and directed that I can’t imagine anyone not being moved by it.

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1. LES MISERABLES – With all the faults of the stage play, this is still a wondrous experience in a theater.  The actors sang their songs live – something unheard of in movie musicals – with varying results, but the immediacy and emotion this brought out of the score make this the closest we’ll ever get to a live Broadway Show on film.  Plus, someone just engrave Anne Hathaway’s name on the Oscar now.  I was reduced to an emotional puddle by the end, as was the entire audience.

*****

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WORST FILM OF THE YEAR – No competition!  BATTLESHIP was everything an action movie shouldn’t be…overblown, overlong, dull, unfunny, badly acted, with the dumbest script I have ever heard.  My mouth hung ajar over this fiasco.  And not in a good, “let’s make fun of it” manner!  This snoozefest blew up everything in its path and still nearly put me to sleep.

Honestly, what a great year!

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

THE BEST MOVIES OF 2012 by L.L. Soares

Posted in 2012, 2013, Anthology Films, Best Of Lists, Comedies, Comic Book Movies, Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Science Fiction, Tarantino Films with tags , , , , on January 1, 2013 by knifefighter

THE BEST MOVIES OF 2012
By L.L. Soares

This time around, Michael Arruda and I decided to write two separate lists listing our favorite films of 2012. It was just getting confusing trying to do both of our lists in one column. So, without any bells and whistles, here are my Top 10 Movies of 2012:

NUMBER ONE:
DJANGO UNCHAINED

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It’s funny how the last movie I saw in a theater in 2012 (and the movie I was most looking forward to all year long), also turned out to be my favorite film of the year. I’m a huge Quentin Tarantino fan, because I love his style of filmmaking, and he hasn’t let me down yet. A new Tarantino movie has become something of an event for me, and I had a great Christmas afternoon sitting in a movie theater, watching DJANGO UNCHAINED.

Intense, gory, violent, often funny, terrifically acted, wonderfully scripted and directed, I just can’t praise this movie enough. Tarantino mashes up two staples of 1970s grindhouse cinema—the Blaxploitation film and the spaghetti western—and in the process transcends everything that inspired it. At its heart, it’s just a great revenge drama and a love story. With Jamie Foxx as the biggest badass of 2012.

NUMBER TWO:
THE KILL LIST (2011)/MOONRISE KINGDOM (TIE)

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Technically, THE KILL LIST is a 2011 film, but it got a limited release in America in 2012, and that’s when I saw it, so it’s going on this list. A hitman drama with a very strange twist. This movie was also incredibly violent, but also incredibly satisfying. Beyond that, I don’t want to say much about it, except that it was one of the most original flicks I saw in 2012. It was going to be my Number 1 choice until I saw DJANGO UNCHAINED. Directed by the very talented Ben Wheatley.

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We didn’t review MOONRISE KINGDOM here, the latest movie by Wes Anderson (who also directed some other movies I love, like RUSHMORE (1998) and THE ROYAL TANENBAUMS (2001)), probably because it didn’t fit in the with the usual genre-driven stuff we focus on here, but it was easily one of my favorite movies of 2012. A strangely innocent movie about two young teens who run away from home to live in a tent together, it was chock-full of quirky characters and terrific performances (from people like Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand,  Bob Balaban and Anderson regulars Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray). I loved every moment of this wonderful, whimsical, original movie.

NUMBER THREE:
JOHN CARTER

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JOHN CARTER had to be the most criminally underrated film of 2012. It will go down in history as one of the biggest box office flops of all time, and it cost some Disney executives their jobs, but I still say it’s one of the best movies of the year. Based on the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who also created Tarzan, John Carter of Mars is a character who should have been adapted for the movies decades ago, but something always went wrong, preventing that from happening. The biggest obstacle was always bringing Burroughs’ world of Mars to the big screen without looking cheesy. Modern-day special effects finally made this possible, but by the time this came out, a lot of people thought it was derivative of science fiction epics like STAR WARS, when in fact, the original books were the forerunner to hundreds of movies that stole –er, paid homage –to them.

This was the real deal, and it captured the spirit of adventure in Burroughs’ novels (the book this movie was based on, A Princess of Mars, was first published in 1912!). Unfortunately, most theater-goers had no idea, because the marketing campaign for this movie was abysmal. If anyone is responsible for this movie’s failure at the box office, the biggest burden of guilt has to fall on the publicity department at Disney. First off, removing the OF MARS part of the title left most people scratching their heads and wondering “Who the hell is John Carter?” And none of the promotional material linked JOHN CARTER with its creator, who also gave us Tarzan.

The movie is pretty faithful to the source material. The acting is really good, especially Taylor Kitsch in the title role. And this movie should have made him a star. Directed by Andrew Stanton – his first live-action film after helming animated movies for Pixar like FINDING NEMO (2003) and WALL-E (2008). Everyone involved deserves high praise.

NUMBER FOUR:
THE AVENGERS and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES  (TIE)

There are going to be a few ties in this list, since there were so many good movies that came out in 2012, and it was tough to fit them into 10 slots (there are also a bunch of Honorable Mentions, as you’ll see).

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2012 was, without a doubt, the year of the superhero. And as a long-time fan of Marvel Comics, it was a thrill to finally see THE AVENGERS hit the big screen. I grew up reading the adventures of Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk and Captain America (by themselves and as members of THE AVENGERS – even if the Hulk only appeared in the first few issues) and Joss Whedon gave us a movie version of “Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes” that was a ton of fun from beginning to end. As a Hulk fan, I was thrilled to finally see him done right in a movie, and the big green guy stole every scene he  was in. The main villain could have been a bit more menacing (we’d already seen Loki in the THOR movie and I would have preferred someone else facing off against the Avengers besides him and a bunch of generic space aliens), but all in all, it was a really enjoyable experience. Kudos to director Joss Whedon.

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THE DARK KNIGHT RISES started off on a depressing real-life note, when a nut shot up a movie theater in Colorado during one of the first screenings, and I thought this would doom the movie, but DARK KNIGHT RISES was able to endure and get the praise it deserved. Darker and more introspective than the lighter AVENGERS, I think DARK KNIGHT was the better film, capping off Christopher Nolan’s above-average Batman trilogy. Tom Hardy turned out to be pretty terrific as the main bad guy, Bane (even if I still think they could have made his voice more understandable with that mask on – you had to really listen to decipher some of his dialogue), and Anne Hathaway was a kick-ass Catwoman. The thing about this movie that impressed me most was that it stayed with me after I saw it, where THE AVENGERS was like a great feast of junk food that was almost forgettable once the credits rolled. DARK KNIGHT haunted me, and I found myself thinking about it more as time went on. I even think it’s the best of Nolan’s Batman movies.

Two very different takes on the superhero story. Both successful in their own way.

NUMBER FIVE:
THE RAID: REDEMPTION and THE COLLECTION (TIE)

Two indie films make up my number five choice.

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THE RAID: REDEMPTION was my favorite action film of the year, featuring cops invading a multi-story building full of criminals, to arrest the kingpin on the top floor. But to get there, they have to survive being under attack, continuously, floor by floor. Not big on plot (although there are a few twists along the way), THE RAID was pure, undiluted action. Nothing like the (often disappointing) brainless big-budget blockbusters it competed against. And the fight scenes were amazing pieces of choreography. Made in Indonesia and directed by Welsh director Gareth Evans, THE RAID was like a bullet-ridden, bone-crunching ballet.

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THE COLLECTION was that rare sequel that transcended the first film (in this case, the 2010 movie, THE COLLECTOR). Without the hypocritical moral “message” of the SAW movies (this one was made by some of the same guys who made a bunch of the SAW films), THE COLLECTION was a non-stop journey through a house of horrors, courtesy of a sadistic bad guy who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when he had to. So violent and gory that it pushed its R-rating to the limit. Sure it got dismissed by a lot of critics as just another “torture porn” flick, but they missed the boat on this one. THE COLLECTION was suspenseful, and entertaining as hell. I just had a helluva great time watching this one. Directed by Marcus Dunstan.
Two movies that seemed like adrenaline-stoked roller-coaster rides from start to finish.

NUMBER SIX:
SINISTER

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One of the best horror movies of 2012, SINISTER actually had some disturbing plot points and intense imagery, and it made me like an actor I’m not always a fan of, Ethan Hawke, a little more.

Hawke plays a true crime writer who brings his family to a house where the horrific murders of another family happened not long before. He thinks it will inspire him to write the book of his career. Then he finds a box of home movies in the attic. They’re actually snuff films of the murderer’s past crimes. Hawke can’t stop watching the movies, and they’re driving him mad. A great idea, done very well. And one of the few truly creepy horror films of 2012. Directed by Scott Derrickson.

NUMBER SEVEN:
THE COMEDY and CLOUD ATLAS (TIE)

Another tie of two very different movies.

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THE COMEDY is more of an anti-comedy as Tim Heidecker (of the “Adult Swim” series TIM AND ERIC’S AWESOME SHOW, GREAT JOB!) plays a completely obnoxious bastard who offends everyone he meets and somehow doesn’t get his teeth knocked out on a daily basis. Despite the fact that the lead character is almost completely unlikable, I found myself really impressed with the fearlessness of this one. Directed by Rick Alverson.

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CLOUD ATLAS couldn’t be more different than THE COMEDY. It was an epic involving multiple characters in multiple time periods (with several actors playing multiple characters, led by Tom Hanks and Halle Berry), ranging from the 1800s to the post-apocalyptic future. The movie jumps constantly between stories and time, yet you never get confused, and it’s fascinating throughout. It did poorly at the box office and most critics attacked it. I thought it was terrific. Directed by Tom Tykwer (RUN LOLA RUN) and the Wachowskis (Andy and Lana, who gave us THE MATRIX movies) and based on the novel by David Mitchell. Along with JOHN CARTER, CLOUD ATLAS was one of the most (unjustly) underrated films of the year.

NUMBER EIGHT:
KILLER JOE and V/H/S (TIE)

Yet another tie.

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KILLER JOE features probably the best performance of Matthew McConnaghey’s career (so far), as a crooked cop who moonlights as a hitman. A family of hick morons hires him to knock off the estranged mom for the insurance money, then try to stiff him. Joe then has to set them straight. Along the way he takes their daughter as sexual “collateral” and they fall in love. Directed by the legendary William Friedkin from Tracy Letts’ play (and screenplay).

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There have been a lot of horror anthology movies lately – which is fine by me, because I’ve always enjoyed them – but V/H/S might just be the best of the bunch so far. Featuring five films by different up-and-coming directors, I found all of the tales to be pretty satisfying (not one real clunker in the bunch) and the movie as a whole to be very enjoyable.

NUMBER NINE:
SAVAGES

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In some years past, a movie like SAVAGES would have topped my list, showing just how good 2012 was in cinema. SAVAGES is Oliver Stone’s best movie since the 90s, based on the book by Don Winslow, with Taylor Kitsch (from JOHN CARTER), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (from 2010’s KICK-ASS) and Blake Lively as three very different stoners in a ménage a trois, trying to get through life growing and selling the best pot in the land. And the Mexican cartel that decides to make a hostile takeover, led by drug kingpin Salma Hayek in one of the best roles of her career, and terrific performance by Benicio Del Toro and John Travolta.

NUMBER 10:
THE GREY/BRANDED (TIE)

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Liam Neeson may seem a little old to be an action star, but that’s the way his career decided to go, and he is damn good at it. THE GREY might be the best action flick he’s made so far. After a plane crash in Alaska, a man named Ottway (Neeson) who was hired to keep wolves away from an oil company camp, has to use his wits to stay alive against some brutal fellow survivors, the harsh elements, and a hungry pack of the same kinds of wolves he used to hunt. With an intense final scene that some people didn’t like, but I thought was perfect. Directed by Joe Carnahan.

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BRANDED is a really strange movie about an advertising guru, working in Russia, who has a strange epiphany and is able to see marketing brand names and logos as grotesque monsters fighting for control of the populace. This movie was so damn weird and different that it just caught me completely by surprise. Based on the trailers, I was expecting some kind of “alien takeover of Earth” story – but it has nothing to do with that. By the time we get to Misha (Ed Stoppard) building an altar he saw in a dream and slaughtering a red cow on it (which allows him to see the “real” world as it truly is) we’re entering some serious Alejandro Jodorowsky territory.  Co-starring Leelee Sobieski, and directed by Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulrayn. This one was so strange, that, looking back, I’m shocked it got a theatrical release at all (I actually saw this in a multi-plex!), even if it was a limited one.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (Yep, there are a lot of them):

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THE MASTER
Paul Thomas Anderson makes the best unwatchable movie of 2012. What do I mean by this? The story of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a confused, violent young man, fresh out of the Navy who comes into the orbit of a larger-than-life L.Ron Hubbard-type religious guru named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Quell wants desperately to take control of his life, and Dodd wants someone totally disconnected from the world to use as a guinea pig for his new religion. Hoffman and Phoenix deliver some amazing performances in this one, especially Phoenix who I think should be a shoe-in for an Oscar Nomination. They why isn’t it in my Top 10? Because it’s incredibly long, slow, and hard to sit through. When I saw it, I left the theater angry because it had been such an endurance test. But I can’t deny its moments of brilliance. A movie I want to praise, but I find difficult to recommend.

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW
Really low-budget flick about a company that seeks to infiltrate the human mind. I couldn’t tell if it was a brilliant movie that was hampered by its budget, or an interesting idea that was just done badly. I’m prone to believe the former, as this movie really stayed with me over the months. With some really great imagery. Directed by Panos Cosmatos.

HOLY MOTORS
A very strange film from France about Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), who travels around Paris in a stretch limousine and pops out now and then, in full make-up, as a variety of odd characters. But he’s not some prankster playing games; he takes this all very seriously. From an old woman beggar, to an assassin, to a monster who kidnaps model Eva Mendes from a photo shoot (after licking her armpit) and drags her down to the sewers. This is one messed up movie. And I loved it. Written and directed by Leos Carax.

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KILLING THEM SOFTLY
Brad Pitt as hit man Jackie Cogan, sent to wipe out three guys who robbed a Mob-connected poker game. With terrific performances by Pitt and James Gandolfini, as another hit man on his last legs (Gandolfini is amazing here), and a solid cast that includes Ray Liotta and Richard Jenkins. Based on the novel “Cogan’s Trade” by crime fiction legend George V. Higgins (who also wrote “The Friends of Eddie Coyle”). Directed by Andrew Dominik.

GOD BLESS AMERICA
I’m a sucker for very dark comedies, and Bobcat Goldthwait has become a really great director of this kind of stuff. This one is about a man who finds out he is dying and decides to spend his final days ridding the world of obnoxious reality television stars. An indictment against the horrible crap we try to pass off as entertainment, and popular culture in general, this one will have you thinking long after it’s over. Starring Joel Murray (Bill’s brother) and Tara Lynne Barr.

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THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
Joss Whedon’s spin (he wrote the screenplay with director Drew Goddard) on the clichés of all those “kids go to a deserted cabin and are picked off by madmen” movies that we’ve seen a hundred times before. With some interesting twists and even some laughs. Not a perfect movie, but a really entertaining one. With memorable performances by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as two corporate drones behind the scenes, and Fran Kranz, who steals every scene he’s in as Stoner dude Marty.

LOOPER
One of the best science fiction movies of 2012, I was completely surprised by this one. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a guy who kills criminals sent back in time from the future (talk about disposing of the bodies!), until the day when his intended victim is an older version of himself (played by Bruce Willis)! One of the smartest movies about time travel in a long time, with great performances and a suspenseful script. Directed and written by Rian Johnson.

CHRONICLE
Another of those “found footage” faux documentaries, this time about three high school kids who gain incredible mental powers after coming into contact with a meteor. With moments early on that are pretty funny as the kids learn to use their powers, becoming more scary as one of the kids starts to go insane and use his powers for violence. A really effective little film, directed by Josh Trank.

THE TALL MAN
Pascal Laugier, the genius who gave us the horror masterpiece MARTYRS in 2008, makes his first English-language film starring Jessica Biel in a surprise-filled plot about a mysterious figure who steals children in a small town. Not as good as MARTYRS (how could it be?), but fascinating in the way that nothing is as it seems to be by the time we get answers at the end.

THE MOTH DIARIES
At an exclusive all-girls school, Rebecca (Sarah Bolger) slowly comes to the realization that her new roommate, Ernessa (Lily Cole) is a vampire. A lot more interesting than it sounds, with some really nice imagery and some truly spooky moments. Another movie that stayed with me long after I saw it, and that grew on me more and more over time. Directed by Mary Harron, who also gave us 2000’s AMERICAN PSYCHO.

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COMPLIANCE
A great little movie based on a real crime, concerning the manager of a fast food restaurant who gets a phone call from a man claiming to be a policeman, who tells her one of her employees is going to be arrested for stealing. The caller claims to be unable to get there in person for a while, and gets the manager and some fellow employees to do some pretty awful things. A movie that really questions blind obedience to authority. Disturbing stuff, with great performances by Ann Dowd as the manager and a fearless performance by Dreama Walker as the abused employee. Directed by Craig Zobel.

PROMETHEUS
This was one of the most ambitious films of the year. Ridley Scott’s prequel of sorts to his film classic, ALIEN (1979), it was one of the movies I was looking forward to most in 2012 (probably the movie I most wanted to see other than DJANGO UNCHAINED). I gave it a decent review when it came out, but it really didn’t live up to my high expectations. While it’s well made, smart (except for a few odd missteps) and visually arresting, it just was nowhere near as memorable as ALIEN, and the more 2012 went on, the more I realized how many other films I enjoyed a lot more.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares