The fantastic science fiction premise, and a cooler than cool Joseph Gordon Levitt earns this movie a place on the good list. The lackluster second part of the story pulls it down to the bottom. The most fantastic scene of 2012 makes it unmissable.
24) Cabin in the Woods
Rarely has such a fantastically ludicrous story been told with this much glee. The film revels in its meta-premise and you can tell the director was standing behind the camera jumping up and down with excitement after every shot. It's a contagious feeling.
23) Premium Rush
Perhaps not as interesting as that previous Joseph Gordon Levitt film, but far more even, and ultimately more enjoyable. A completely over the top Michael Shannon makes for a perfect foil to Levitt's irresponsible bike messenger, and those chase scenes through the crowded streets are exhilarating!
A teddy bear bouncer and his fighting talents are put to good use on an ice rink, despite the fact that he can't skate to save his life. He can give a beating though, which earns him a spot on a struggling hockey team. Seann William Scott is wonderfully restrained and tender in the lead, Alison Pill is adorable as his love interest ("You make me wanna stop sleeping with a bunch of guys."), and Liev Schreiber creates a most exquisite comedy bad guy. Stick with this one, it's a winner.
21) The Muppets
Everyone loves The Muppets, and a return seemed inevitable, but we didn't see this coming. The film perfectly captures the spirit of the old characters, while acknowledging that they perhaps no longer have a part to play in the hectic modern world. Or maybe they do after all? Let's sing a song about it!
20) The Viral Factor
A sprawling, gorgeous, melodramatic action movie - the kind Hong Kong used to make by the truckloads. Two brothers reunited, one a cop, the other a criminal. A dreadfully nasty bad guy with a dreadfully nasty virus. Chaos! Mayhem! The guns never run dry (except when it's most inconvenient) and the slow-motion never ends. A bold, beautiful ballet of bullets and brotherhood.
19) The Ides of March
This mesmerizing, taut thriller with a black heart once again proved that George Clooney is a great director. Ryan Gosling's performance is a study in efficiency, and the whole effort just radiates smart. You can feel your IQ growing as you watch it.
18) Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
More of the same from director Guy Richie, whose updated Sherlock Holmes is more superhero than supersleuth, but never mind that. Who cares if we've seen it all before, when we're having this much fun seeing it again?
17) Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
I was fully expecting to loathe this schmaltzy, melodrama about an obnoxious kid who's struggling with the loss of his father, but much to my surprise, it completely got the better of me. The drama worked, the tears arrived as they should, and even the kid worked. How about that?
16) God Bless America
This year I got familiar with the work of director Bobcat Goldthwait, culminating in his newest film, which takes on the intellectual decline of America, OD'ed on celebrity gossip and news about nothing. His knife is sharp and he cuts deep. Say what you will about the quality of the film (its low budget occasionally shows), but if you hate the message when it's all over, you'll know you're part of the problem.
Delightful and quirky stop-motion animation, with a Spielbergian suburban feel, a Tim Burtonesque fascination with the macabre, and it's a stunning visual feast to boot.
14) Safe House
Never mind the straight-forward story, this is one damn solid thriller. Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds go head to head, and when that happens there's nowhere you'll rather be. Lush, confident direction from Daniel Espinosa seals the deal.
13) Cockneys vs. Zombies
What it is about Brits and zombie comedies? Don't let the silly title fool you, and don't be discouraged by the fact that Shaun of the Dead was there before this film. You will not be able to resist this perfect little, cheeky gem, with lots of heart, full of inventive ideas. Plus, Michelle Ryan's in it. She's a biscuit, don't you know.
12) The Guard
The combination of Brendan Gleeson's crude sergeant and Don Cheadle's posh FBI agent is so wonderfully absurd you'll be forced to sit up and take notice, at which point the film will do everything in its power to rattle you, with its unapologetic racist ("I'm Irish sir. Racism is part of my culture.") and completely corrupt lead character, razor sharp dialogue, and quirky small-town setting. As Cheadle's character says at one point: "I can't tell if you're really motherf***in' dumb, or really motherf***in' smart." You won't have those doubts about the film itself.
11) The Artist
A beautiful love letter to cinema. Perhaps even more poignant in this day and age, with the rise of digital film, and the decline in the quality of our stars - these days you just have to f*ck on tape to become famous, back then you had to have style, and you had to accomplish something.
A stunning return to form for the Bond series, edging the franchise towards the Brosnan years, without losing the brute force of the earlier Daniel Craig efforts. Despite a few overly familiar plot points, there's no getting around the fact that this movie just plain works. Just lean back and enjoy the spectacle!
9) The Awakening
Good, solid old school horror movie. Oh, we've missed you so. The period setting is gorgeous, and the story unfolds with great patience. Once the horror starts, the gloves come off, and the film breaks us down with ruthless efficiency and chilling determination.
8) The Woman in Black
See above. Add: "Shit! That Potter kid can act!"
7) The Expendables 2
Jokes about geriatric action stars aside, there's more charisma on display here than in every single Oscar nominated movie combined. You heard me. Watching these old action heroes do what they do best, without any reservations, is truly a sight to behold. The next film can't get here fast enough.
6) Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
What a pleasant surprise! Near perfect end-of-the-world film, come road-movie-love-story, with pitch perfect performances by Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. If you have a heart, this will be where it breaks.
The only thing more surprising than the fact that Roland Emmerich directed an intelligent, historical drama about Shakespeare is that he did it SO well. Oh sure, the story is little more than intellectual masturbation, and it may all just be a bunch of nonsense, but in Emmerich's hands this becomes a riveting tale, told with a flair for the dramatic, which the director has kept completely hidden from us until now.
Home run. Hole in one. Clean sweep. Whatever cliché about a job done to perfection you can think of, this film deserves it. Ben Affleck's dramatic reenactment of the most ludicrous CIA mission since they dropped that elephant over Vietnam is the very definition of focused storytelling. Even though you know how it ends, you'll be biting your fingernails down to bloody stumps before it's over. That is how it's done. Period.
3) The Grey
Literally the EXACT opposite of Joe Carnahan's dreadful A-Team movie, this survival drama walks the same path as The Edge, but, ironically, a lot closer to the edge of humanity. Liam Neeson should have gotten an Oscar nomination for his performance. Plus, it's full of snow and cold weather! We love that!
2) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Slow-paced, methodical, classy spy movie of the kind that no one makes any more. A Rolls Royce for a time when everyone drives carpool in a Prius. A rare mint first edition, when everyone just downloads the e-book. And in the center of it all Gary Oldman giving the most restrained performance of his career. Pure gold.
1) Safety Not Guaranteed
The story sounded too good to be true, and this film seemed destined to fail and under-deliver. But no. It did the opposite. It fulfilled every promise of its simple premise, and surprised at every turn. Heartbreaking and hilarious in equal measure. It rarely gets any better than this. It didn't this year that's for sure.
And that's all she wrote. We can't put 2012 to bed yet, but we're getting there.