1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
I was skeptical about the existence of a Perks movie from the moment it was announced — from the casting choices (Hermoine, really?) down to the fact that Stephen Chbosky was directing his own work. (As a first-time director.) For anyone who saw the Doubt movie (Dutch angles! Shouting!), you know that adapting your own material doesn’t always go so well. And with how Stephen Daldry’s butchering of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close turned out, I couldn’t be disappointed by Hollywood again. I would not be like Charlie Brown. I would not kick this football.
However, I’ve rarely been so happy to be wrong. The Perks of Being a Wallflower sits with Silver Linings Playbook, Holy Motors and Beasts of the Southern Wild near the top of my list of favorite movies of the year. Everything about it was close to perfect — even the vintage-tinged cinematography was spot-on — but nothing shined as brightly as Ezra Miller as Patrick. Safe to say, I was a weepy mess the entire movie.
Because of skeptics like me, Perks is still finding an audience with lovers of the novel and newbies. But trust me: they will see it eventually, and they will fucking swoon.
2. & 3. Frankenweenie/ParaNorman
Between these and Wreck-It Ralph, 2012 was a great year for original animation and kiddie concepts that were a little outré for mainstream moviegoers. Both of the above films dealt heavily with death things, which isn’t suitable for all child audiences. Like 2009’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Frankenweenie and ParaNorman were made for the smart kids, the ones who might relish a little black and white old-school moviemaking. In particular, Frankenweenie was the most on his game that Tim Burton’s been in years (probably because it’s a remake of his own film). If only the disappointing Dark Shadows had been half this dementedly inspired. Le sigh.
4. & 5. Dredd 3D/The Raid: Redemption
I put these two together because they were basically the same movie. They were hyper-violent, hyper-kinetic action films that are only about one thing: bone-crushing violence. Seriously, if you cut out all of the scenes of people hitting each other in The Raid, you would maybe have 5 minutes of movie. Although The Raid will find its audience when it gets a proper American remake, Dredd proved a harder sell—because you don’t see its hero’s face the entire movie, and it’s a mulligan of a movie no one remembers that fondly. Hence why it flopped in theatres.
However, like this year’s 21 Jump Street remake, Dredd was better than it had any right to be, due to choice direction behind the camera (Pete Travis, Omagh) and great performances from the underrated Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby, who deserve to be much bigger stars. Dredd is like a thinking-man’s Expendables—with its effortlessly slick style and a sense of tongue-in-cheek wit that Taken 2 could have used more of. John Carpenter would be proud.
6. & 7. End of Watch/Rampart
Oren Moverman’s Rampart and David Ayer’s End of Watch were two police movies that almost completely snuck under the radar this year — despite widespread critical acclaim. Each features career-best performances from their leads. Rampart’s Woody Harrelson only gets better with age, and his ruthlessly intense portrayal of a dirty cop should have gotten more awards attention, and End of Watch proved you can’t count Jake Gyllenhaal out yet. It capitalized on the promise we saw back in Jarhead and Donnie Darko, that’s been languishing a bit since he became a tabloid favorite. Thanks for everything, Taylor Swift.
8. Pitch Perfect
Although the premise is reminiscent of Glee, Pitch Perfect is the next Bring It On — featuring a lot of the same attributes that made BIO such an enduring cult hit. (You don’t get a Broadway musical for nothing.) Pitch Perfect is a competition movie with a great cast (Bridesmaids’ Rebel Wilson steals the show), snappy script and surprisingly edgy tone, one that gives teen movies a good name. Like 2010’s Easy A, Pitch Perfect became a sleeper hit because it trusted its audience to keep up with its effervescent zingers, rather than talking down to it. And like Easy A, Pitch Perfect isn’t done finding an audience. Expect this one to stick around for a while.
9. Damsels in Distress
Although almost no one saw it, Damsels in Distress was 2012’s most original and inspired comedy — a riff on P.G. Wodehouse for the Pitchfork era — with a truly committed performance from Greta Gerwig as one of the daffiest heroines in movie history. Nothing about this off-kilter suicide comedy set at a New England liberal arts college is believable, but Damsels in Distress is like visiting another universe, one you’re happy to inhabit for 90 minutes. Not only was it a fine comeback for director Whit Stillman (who hadn’t made a movie since the 1998 masterpiece, Last Days of Disco), but with a little luck, it could become the next Heathers.
10. Seven Psychopaths
Although it got a wide release, there was no way Seven Psychopaths was made for anything but cult worship. Directed by Martin McDonagh, whose In Bruges has already been cult anointed, the movie is just as deliciously bonkers as its title. Referred to by one of my friends as “Character Actors: The Movie,” Seven Psychopaths features scene-stealing craziness from Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell (who keeps surprising me), Tom Waits (!!!!!!), Woody Harrelson (again) and Christopher Walken (who does this sort of thing in his sleep). If you loved In Bruges or Adaptation (which has a very similar conceit), expect this to pop up on your Netflix recommendations soon. Go to there.
For fans of Clueless, this is like a gift from heaven. Vamps reunites the director (Amy Heckerling) and star (Ms. Cher Horowitz herself) of that film for a vampire romp through modern day New York. Of course, it’s not as good as Clueless (because what is?) but has the same wits about it and is vaguely reminiscent of the kitsch-tastic first season of Buffy. In addition, Vamps has an ace up its undead sleeve: Don’t Trust the B—’s Krysten Ritter, who stakes this role and makes it a midnight snack. Mark my words: Krysten Ritter will be a star someday.
12. Killer Joe
Killer Joe is a great movie that I don’t know if I can possibly recommend to another human being. It was directed by The Exorcist’s William Friedkin, based on a play by Tracy Letts and boasts an Oscar-worthy performance from Matthew McConaughey — which are words I didn’t think I would ever type. However, the movie also features blood, guts, pervasive sexual violence, even more violence against women, pedophilia and just about every terrible thing I can think of. I actually cried a little bit when the movie ended. I was that traumatized. Killer Joe shouldn’t just get an NC-17. It should have a warning label. Consume at your own risk.
13. Killing Them Softly
The movie slapped with a rare F Cinemascore grade from audiences, mostly because whoever decided to market it to the mass public was an idiot. Killing Them Softly was directed by Andrew Dominik, whose last movie was a vaguely depressing three-hour lyrical Western about Jesse James and the best movie Terrence Malick never made. That doesn’t exactly scream blockbuster. But despite its burgeoning bad reputation, Killing Them Softly is like this year’s Drive (but less good), an arty meditation on American violence featuring a towering lead performance from Brad Pitt.
14. Cloud Atlas
Already this year’s most debated-about movie, people who saw Cloud Atlas either loved the shit out of it (see: Roger Ebert) or cursed the ground it walked on (see: opinion on Tumblr). But the problem is: almost no one actually saw it, even some of the people who hated it.
Independently financed by co-directors Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and the Wachowskis (The Matrix), the movie cost over $100 million to make and distribute. Cloud Atlas made back not even a third of it domestically. Despite being hailed as a box-office bomb and a disasterpiece (which it was always destined to be), this balls-to-the-wall mad adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel is nothing if not daring and original, a once-in-a-lifetime movie experience you’ll never forget — for better or worse. No matter your opinion on it, this is the type of movie our cinema need more of: movies that aren’t afraid to shoot for the stars and fail.
But if it’s any consolation, the Wachowski’s Speed Racer was a notorious flop, and that’s been speedily reclaimed as a cult classic.
15. Safety Not Guaranteed
It actually bothers me that Safety Not Guaranteed wasn’t a bigger hit, that it couldn’t get just a little bit of that Garden State/(500) Days of Summer money. What did Aubrey Plaza do to you, America?
On the bright side, that means that SNG is still waiting to be discovered by most of the country (about 99.9% of it), which means wonderful things await you, nation. Safety Not Guaranteed is a time-travel love story featuring Plaza, New Girl’s Jake M. Johnson and indie polymath Mark Duplass (aka. my future husband) and is almost everything an indie rom-com should be. It’s sweet, quirky and (like this year’s Celeste and Jesse Forever) proves that Parks and Rec is a breeding ground for future stars. Also, if you watch Safety Not Guaranteed on a date, you will probably make out at the end.
16. & 17. Battleship/John Carter
Like most of America, I really, really hated John Carter and cannot fathom why people would say it was misunderstood. But I don’t like lots of things other people like (see: Grimes), so I’ll give it a pass. Watch it. Make up your own mind.
However, the also-Taylor-Kitsch-starring Battleship you absolutely need to see—not because it’s any good. Battleship was terrible, but it was that perfect kind of terrible, a movie so bad that you suspect it was a parody. The movie opens with a long sequence in which Kitsch (aka. Friday Night Lights’ Tim Riggins) breaks into a locked convenience store. Why? To fetch a chicken burrito by which to woo Brooklyn Decker, because bitches love burritos. It will then go on to feature homoerotic sports sequences, over-the-top jingoistic nonsense, Liam Neeson doing his Taken voice, aliens with dreadlocks and Rihanna slipping in and out of a Barbados accent. Battleship is like Top Gun taken apart and reassembled as Frankenstein’s monster, one designed for the drinking games of the future.
In fact, I’ll give you a drinking-game head start: Finish your drink whenever anyone says “battleship” or PLAYS THE GAME BATTLESHIP IN THE MOVIE. Because that’s a thing that happens.
Compliance might be the most disturbing horror movie I saw in 2012—because it’s based on real-life. This watch-through-your-fingers docudrama details sex abuses that occurred at a Kentucky McDonalds in 2004, when a man who claimed to be a police officer called in and alleged that one of the employees on was caught stealing on security footage. He then ordered her strip-searched. As the movie goes through the Milgram-esque details of the case, you can’t help but wonder how much of it was embellished. I actually thought to myself, “This can’t be real. They have to be making some of this up.” All of it was real. Sometimes there’s nothing scarier than the truth.
Actress Ann Dowd (who plays the manager on duty) is just starting to get some awards attention for her role in the film, honored with a Best Supporting Actress win at the National Board of Review. She doesn’t stand a chance of winning the Oscar (‘cause Hathaway’s already got that shit engraved), but Dowd deserves to become this year’s Jacki Weaver.
19. The Comedy
I finally saw The Comedy a couple weeks ago at Facets in Chicago, and like last year’s Young Adult, it’s a tough sit. Starring Tim Heidecker (of Tim and Eric), the movie is about watching an irreprehensibly horrible human being be shitty to people for 90 minutes. I’ve never seen a good movie that I’ve been so happy to end. Heidecker plays Swanson, a Brooklyn trust fund hipster who stands to inherit his father’s fortune when he dies. His father is currently in a coma, and what does Swanson do when he visits? Stare at him for awhile and then blow in his face.
There’s a lot to get angry at in The Comedy, from a scene in which Swanson and his friends use a church as a playground to him taking a cabbie hostage for fun, and because of that, the movie has proven remarkably divisive. Despite that, I think the film’s critique of entitlement and a hollow man searching for his soul is both aggravating and unexpectedly moving. Make sure not to walk out before the final enigmatic scene, cut right out of Truffaut’s The 400 Blows.
20. Cabin in the Woods
Cabin in the Woods was produced by Joss Whedon, the glorious human man that brought us Buffy, Firefly and The Avengers. Of course, it’s going to be a cult classic. #duh
The real question: Who is looking forward to his adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, which is finally going to be a thing next summer? It’s coming out June 21, not that I knew that without looking it up or anything.
21. The Master
The Master was supposed to be a phenomenon this year, the Little Art House Movie That Could, but it never got the box office, the across-the-board stellar reviews or the Oscar race legs everyone expected. (Hell, not even Roger Ebert liked it, and he likes everything these days.) Fun fact: The Master is actually Anderson’s lowest-grossing movie in 15 years, a movie everyone planned on seeing without actually going to see. Why? Two reasons: 1) The Weinsteins and Anderson were due for a backlash 2) The movie was opaque as fuck.
Like a Joyce novel, The Master wasn’t designed for easy consumption, and anyone who expected it to be a crowd-pleaser was kidding themselves. The Master is a movie you need to work out and fight with, one you’ll have to see multiple times to grasp. I’ve seen it twice, and I’m still not done with it. In its denseness and inscrutability, The Master reminded me of the best of David Lynch or Charlie Kaufman, movies that take time to unfold in your brain and only get better with age.
If it’s any consolation to P.T. Anderson, Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was a chic choice for best movie of the decade, and Synecdoche, New York topped Ebert’s list. So, we’ll see how The Master pans out in eight years, when I’ve seen it twenty more times.
22. The Paperboy
Of every movie I saw this year, The Paperboy was the one I begged people to see the hardest. If The Paperboy is playing anywhere within a 50-mile radius of you, you need to go right now. Lee Daniels (the man behind Precious) directs the shit out of this movie, squeezing this schlocky tale of murder, sex and Zac Efron shirtlessness for every drop of pulp its worth. This movie isn’t just over-the-top; it’s practically in outer space. The Paperboy treats its audience to nonsensical jump cuts and split screens, gay plot twists, prison masturbation scenes, sex scenes intercut with swamp wildlife and the most bizarrely committed performance you’ll ever see from Nicole Kidman. It’s one hell of a hot mess. We’ll put it this way: Kidman pees on Zac Efron, and that’s not the weirdest thing that happens.
For any fan of gloriously bad movies, The Paperboy was made to be a midnight movie. Seek it out and start planning your shadow casting now.
Buy it today.