GOON - One of many pleasant surprises, and another film I wasn't really looking forward to watching, mainly because of my dislike for Seann William Scott. Not a strong dislike, mind you; I'd just rather not watch anything that he's in, and yes, I was one of many who was under the impression that this was gonna be some stupid comedy about Hockey because of Scott's association with it. Turns out it's indeed a comedy, but not the type that I was expecting. To me, GOON is a sports movie first and foremost (and a great one at that) with a flawed lead character who's very easy to sympathize with and relate to, and the comedy elements are like an added bonus. Plus, it's super violent, and Liev Schreiber, who looks a lot like Jake "The Snake" Roberts in this, turns in a hell of a supporting performance as the antagonist. I remember having some issues with the pacing of this one, but that's just a small complaint.
PROJECT NIM - A sad and strange documentary about a chimpanzee named Nim, who was taken away from his mother not long after birth and subjected to some sort of weird psychological experiment in the 70s. First, he was raised by some hippie woman and treated exactly like a child (breastfed and all), and then he was passed around from trainer to trainer, doctor to doctor. The people who made PROJECT NIM struck gold with the amount of archive footage and photographs at their disposal. Aside from the great story it tells, the documentary is like a snapshot of the 70s. It's interesting to see the people involved with the project now and footage of them back in the day when they were a bunch of hippies. Next to Rodney Mullen in BONES BRIGADE and the titular "imposter" from THE IMPOSTER, there's a person in this documentary named Bob who's one of the most interesting and amusing interview subjects I've seen in a documentary this past year. This and RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES would be a great double feature.
TYRANNOSAUR - Paddy Considine has become one of my favorite actors in recent years, and, with TYRANNOSAUR, he's now become one of my favorite directors. This is a heavy, heavy film. Definitely not something you wanna put on while the broskis are over for some brewskis, brah. Actor Peter Mullan, who I mainly knew prior to this from SESSION 9, plays one of the most destructive and temperamental characters I've ever seen in a film, and he turns in a phenomenal performance while doing so. Dude's got some issues (the character, not Mullan), and, as you watch the film, you're forced to bear witness to him dealing with said issues, whether it be abusing animals, other human beings, or himself. Things change for the better when he meets a charitable and kind woman who befriends him. He later meets her abusive husband, and, well, I'm sure you can guess how the rest goes. Once a monster, always a monster I guess. If St. Paddy keeps it up, he's gonna fuck around and be one of the best directors working today. Trust.
CHRONICLE - Perhaps low expectations was key, but man did I enjoy the shit out of this movie. You can count me as one of many, I'm sure, who's getting tired of supehero movies that try to put a new spin on how said supeheroes are portrayed in film, especially when they try to be all smart, emo, and self-referential and shit. I like my superhero movies to be fun. Violence is a plus, but I'm god just as long as they're fun (see my #30 pick). Well, I wouldn't go so far as to call CHRONICLE "fun", but it's certainly one of the better examples of the unconventional superhero movie. In fact, it's not even a superhero movie at all. CHRONICLE is sort of similar to UNBREAKABLE, in that it ultimately tells the origin story of a very tragic character whose blessing is a curse. The found-footage style is a bit contrived in this particular film, but it works for the most part, and there are some obvious elements in the film that allow the motif's rules to be broken in ways that make sense.
THE HAMMER - For reasons that I won't get into, I have a special place in my heart for the deaf community, so I was excited to see a movie of this quality that features a predominantly deaf cast. Actor Russell Harvard, who I first took notice of as Daniel Plainview's son in THERE WILL BE BLOOD, plays Matt "The Hammer" Hamill - a deaf athlete who won amateur wrestling championships in college and went on to compete in the UFC, initially under the tutelage of Tito Ortiz. THE HAMMER is a biopic based on the life of Hamill, and it focuses primarily on his upbringing and college years. He was apparently too deaf to fit in with the "normal" kids, and he wasn't deaf enough to fit in with the hearing-impaired community. I have no idea how accurate the movie is. It's not an issue with me. Though interesting, Hamill's story wasn't necessarily what I liked about the movie; despite not being a sports guy, I love a feel-good sports movie, and THE HAMMER is just that. Also, the deaf actors in this are an absolute joy to watch.
SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS - I heard mixed things about this one going into it, so I was a little apprehensive despite loving director Martin McDonagh's IN BRUGES from a few years ago, which also starred Colin Farrell. I guess I can kinda see why some people would dislike this movie, but I thought it SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS was an interesting and refreshing film with an assortment of amazing characters. Farrell plays a screenwriter who's having trouble with a script for something he's working on called "Seven Psychopaths", which is essentially an anthology of sorts about, well... seven psychopaths. As he struggles to design the actual psychopaths and create the characters he needs for the story, he finds inspiration in the insanity of his surroundings, to say the least. The cast of this film is amazing. Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, and Tom Waits are the noteworthy names, and they're all fantastic. Plus, we have Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko looking all sexy and shit. The fake world of the "Seven Psyhopaths" that this film creates is pretty entertaining, and by the time the film was over I wanted so badly for there to be a legit movie based on the ideas of Farrell's (and Rockwell's) character. The big fantasy shootout sequence in the cemetery is one of my highlights of any film from the last year.
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN - One of many terrific documentaries from the last year is SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN, which is about the search for a reclusive, mythical, and possiby dead obscure singer-songwriter named Rodriguez, who had a minor breakout in the 70s but seemingly disappeared from the face of the Earth before his music could be appreciated on a level outside of his local Detroit. To this day, people compare him to Bob Dylan, and important figureheads in the music industry are absolutely baffled and even heartbroken as to why he never became a success. The documentary, for the most part, is told from the point of view of his biggest fans. You see, while he was never a hit in America, he sold millions of records in South Africa, as his music spoke to the people of that country during the apartheid. Despite never setting foot in the country, Rodriguez was essentially considered a national treasure there. Hence the titular "search". The documentary is part mystery, part revelation, and a completely interesting look at the life and career of a super talented musician. The only reason this isn't higher on my list is that I found the results of the "search" to be a little disappointing. I also found out after the fact that the documentary is a bit deceptive in how it presents information (and omits other pieces of information), but it doesn't change the fact that the story behind SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN is a great one. What I took away most from the documentary, however, is that South Africa is beautiful and I'd love to visit there some day.
ARGO - I thought about removing this from my list since it won the Oscar for Best Picture. The purpose of my list is to be an Anti-Oscar recognition of my favorite films from the last year, but the truth of the matter is that I had a lot of fun with ARGO and thought it was a great thriller. Deserving of Best Picture? I don't know about that. For those that don't know, ARGO is based on the true story of a CIA operative named Tony Mendez, who, all by himself, infiltrated Iran in the midst of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis posing as a producer of a bogus movie with the intention of rescuing members of the American embassy who were in hiding. I liked ARGO for a number of reasons. It's entertaining first and foremost, but it also has great performances from just about everyone, and the way that the film captures the 70s look is pretty amazing. I'm not familiar with the true story, but I did find out that filmmakers exaggerated certain things in order to make it more presentable as an entertaining thriller, and this is clear when you watch the film and notice how contrived certain elements are.
MAGIC MIKE - Purely because of my love for Steven Soderbergh (and nothing to do with the cast of musclebound hunks), I almost thought about watching this in the theater when it came out, but I couldn't bring myself to do it, especially considering I would've went alone. The place where I live is small, and the chances of someone I know seeing me sitting in a theater by myself during a screening of a movie about male strippers would have been high. I eventually caught this on DVD in an undisclosed location, and it was everything I hoped it would be. In other words, not the romantic comedy that some of the trailers made this out to be. There's no aesthetic I love more than the slick, dimly-lit type of cinematography that Soderbergh brings to the table, and it's one of the things I'll miss most about him when he decides to hang it up. MAGIC MIKE has that look in spades, and it has some great performances to boot, from Channing Tatum (who I'm accepting more as a solid leading man as the years go on) to Matthew McConaughey, who had a hell of a run in the last year. Most importantly, Olivia Munn's boobs will be immortalized thanks to this film. Bless you, Mr. Soderbergh. Bonus points for the fact that Kevin Nash plays a character named Tarzan.
SOUND OF MY VOICE - I first heard about this movie when I interviewed Simon Rumley for the Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema. He mentioned this film during a discussion of ANOTHER EARTH, and he also brought up the fact that he thinks Brit Marling is a great actress. Having only seen her in ANOTHER EARTH at the time, I was a bit baffled as to why Mr. Rumley would declare such a thing, but now I can see why after watching this. Not only is SOUND OF MY VOICE great, but Marling is fantastic in it as well. The film follows a documentary filmmaker and his girlfriend as they infiltrate a cult with the intention of exposing it and its leader (Marling) as frauds. There's also a twist to the story the leads to a very interesting reveal, but I obviously won't get into that. This isn't a perfect film and I did have some minor issues with it, but it's still well-made, and it was a huge surprise considering I was not a fan of ANOTHER EARTH. From this point forward, I'll be following whatever Marling and director Zal Batmanglij are involved with.
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED - One of the things I found interesting about this movie was how similar it was to SOUND OF MY VOICE, which I just watched right before this. The viewing of both movies back-to-back was a matter of convenience rather than planning, so I was shocked to see that both contain some very similar themes and ideas that were presented in different ways. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is a comedy based on a legit ad that was placed in a newspaper years ago that simply read: "WANTED. Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid when we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before." Actor/filmmaker Mark Duplass plays the person responsible for the strange ad, and the other main characters in the film are journalists who attempt to track him down and essentially exploit him. To be honest, the film didn't really win me over until the back end. Prior to that, I thought that comedy elements were effective but nothing I haven't seen or heard before. What surprised me most about the film as it winded down was how sweet it ended up being, how much depth the characters were given, and the direction that the film goes. Duplass is absolutely fantastic in this, as is actress Aubrey Plaza.
DREDD - I saw this on the big scree in 3D and wasn't that impressed to be honest. At least it didn't live up to the hype that it got from people I know. It was kinda boring, and the insane amounts of gunfire became incredibly repetitious after a certain point. I grew to appreciate this movie much more after thinking about it, though, and then even more when I watched it again. Now, DREDD will probably one of those movies that I just put on every once in a while when I need to turn my brain off and just watch something violent with absolutely no pretentiousness to it whatsoever. I'm sure you've heard it elsewhere before, but I'd like to echo the sentiments of everyone else when I say that DREDD is a bold movie, and the fact that it even got a wide release is a huge step forward for genre cinema. The fact that it didn't do well at the box office and probably won't get a sequel, however, is a huge step backwards for genre cinema, so I guess it all evens out. From the visuals to the music to the gore to Olivia Thirlby looking super cute with blonde hair, DREDD ultimately hit the spot for me in a lot of ways. Mind you, I've never read an issue of the comic in my life.
THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS - One of a handful of movies on my list that most people counted as a 2011 release, but it didn't get a wide release until 2012, so I'm counting it goddamnit. SNOWTOWN MURDERS is probably one of the least enjoyable and most unpleasant movies on this list. It's based on a string of murders in Australia during the 90s known as the "Snowtown murders". Another name given to the series of brutal killings was the "Bodies-in-Barrels murders", which sounds pretty fucking gnarly. The people responsible for the murders - a sociopath named John Bunting and his accomplice Robert Wagner - are still considered by Australia to be the country's worst killers. The film, basically, is the story of bunting and another accomplice of his named James Vlassakis - how they met, how Bunting controlled Vlassakis, and the nature of the brutal crimes. SNOWTOWN is a bleak film with some of the most disturbing acts of on-screen violence I have seen in quite some time, but there are a lot of elements that prevent it from being some random Ulli Lommel-esque serial killer movie, like the fact that there's clearly some skill behind and in front of the camera. Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the film, aside from the awesome performances from Daniel Henshall as Bunting and Lucas Pittaway as Vlassakis, is how emotionless and cold it is in how it presents everything. This movie left me floored.
BULLHEAD - Who would've thought that the premise of a crime movie revolving around cattle farming and steroids would make for such a gripping film? Such is the case with BULLHEAD, but this is mostly due to a powerhouse performance from lead actor Matthias Schoenaerts, who literally underwent a demanding physical transformation for the role. He plays an intimidating, 'roided-up beef trader who gets mixed up in some shady shit. It's been a while since I've seen it, so it's not exactly fresh in my mind, but I do remember thinking very highly of it when I saw it and being impressed (and kinda disturbed) by Schoenaert's performance.
THE SKIN I LIVE IN - Yet another movie that most counted as 2011. Ever since I first saw that initial teaser footage, this became one of my most anticipated movies of the last year. For the most part, it lived up to my expectations, but a lot of it felt like director Pedro Almodovar trying to push the envelope in certain respects just for the sake of it. Not that it's a terrible thing though. If anyone out there can push the envelope in interesting and entertaining ways, it's Almodovar. One of the reasons I looked forward to this movie was because of the premise. A mad plastic surgeon holds a woman hostage in his large home and uses her as a human guinea pig for some sort of skin grafting procedure that he's working on. Come to find out, that premise barely scratches the surface of what this movie is about. Talk about twists; THE SKIN I LIVE IN blindsides you not once, not twice, but THREE times, totally changing your perspective of the film in the process. A pretty amazing piece of work by one of the most talented directors alive.
RUBY SPARKS - This one was a huge surprise considering I didn't have any particular desire to see it aside from the fact that it stars Paul Dano. Even though I'm a fan of Dano's work, he's not exactly someone who will completely sell me on a film, so, again, I couldn't tell you why I decided to seek this one out, but I'm glad I did. RUBY SPARKS is a romantic dramedy about a struggling author who, through his writing, somehow manages to create a living breathing girl of his dreams. The perfect girlfriend. As is usually the case when someone has the ability to play God, things get out of control, and the ultimate moral of the story is that things are better left the way they are. I haven't read any other reviews on this movie, so I don't know how others feel about it, but to me this film presents a metaphor for the different stages of love, be it romantic love or attachment love and everything in between. The ups and downs. The range of emotions and the many phases of a brand new relationship, and how people deal with those emotions once it starts to get boring and monotonous. That being said, this movie hit me on a personal level, which is probably why I liked it more than most. Terrific performances from Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan. Awesome score as well - very big and not the type of music you'd expect to hear in a movie like this.
RESURRECT DEAD: THE MYSTERY OF THE TOYNBEE TILES - Not the most amazing documentary you'll ever see, but its mystery element really sparked a curiosity and interest in me that left me absolutely enthralled from start to finish. I love weird stories. I love bizarre and creative "street art". I love good mysteries. RESURRECT DEAD combines all of those things. The "Toynbee Tiles" in the documentaries title refers to mysterious tiles that initially turned up embedded in streets in the United States before eventually being found all over the world. The tiles bear cryptic messages that, to this day, no one knows the true meaning of. The documentary tells the story of a man who became obsessed with these tiles and made it his personal goal to find the person responsible for them. Really interesting, fascinating stuff.
THE RAID - Quite simply, one of the most entertaining and insane action movies I have ever had the privilege of seeing. Some of the best stunts outside of a Jackie Chan movie, and violence that looks like it really hurts, which isn't a big surprise since this is an Indonesian production after all. THE RAID is relentless from start to finish. The film follows a task force as they infiltrate a ghetto apartment building and work their way to the top until they get to the crime lord that they're after. In the meantime, the battle an army of thugs and go through a series of mini-bosses as the crime lord lays in the cut and barks orders through a PA system set up in the building. Not only are the violence and martial arts in the movie crazy, but the manner in which the action is filmed is pretty goddamn impressive. My favorite camera shot (no doubt the product of editing and visual trickery) literally follows the same fight from one level as it spills onto the level below when the people involved fall through a hole. Also, so much stabbing and people being thrown through walls and shit. This movie made me wanna beat my chest when it was over.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES - The initial reviews for this movie seemed mostly positive, and then it seemed to be a case of people turning on it all at once and pointing out what they felt were the film's many flaws, from the plot holes to the script to Tom Hardy's performance and the manner in which the character of Bane was presented. I don't really know what to say to all of that. I watched it on the big screen despite being intimidated and somewhat put off by the ridiculously long running time, but, unlike most of the mainstream movies I saw on the big screen in 2012, I was never bored. Sure, some of the writing is kinda dumb, but we're talking about a movie where some guy dresses up like a bat. Anne Hathaway, who I initially rolled my eyes at when I found out she would be in the movie, thoroughly impressed me with her performance in general and her portrayal of Catwoman. Tom Hardy, who a lot of people either made fun of or groaned at, was also impressive, and I absolutely loved his version of Bane - even his crazy voice. He gave a great physical performance and added the right amount of intimidation factor that the character needed with his massive presence. Overall, just a solid, enjoyable film, and a nice final chapter to Nolan's DARK KNIGHT trilogy.
FIGHTVILLE - I wouldn't say that I don't have an interest in MMA, but I'm so out of touch with the sport because of how long it's been since I've followed it. That said, FIGHTVILLE was a huge surprise, and one of the many documentaries from the past year that I was crazy about. It was one of the first documentaries I watched in 2012 that I felt strongly about, and I was certain that it would be my favorite of the year. Depending on the day of the week and what mood I'm in, I could actually call it my favorite documentary of the year. Next to BONES BRIGADE, it's certainly the most watchable and enjoyable for me anyway. FIGHTVILLE focuses on a trainers, promoters, and a couple of up-and-coming fighters based out of Louisiana. Where FIGHTVILLE truly succeeds is that it's an accessible documentary that doesn't isolate people who aren't fans of Mixed Martial Arts. It tells a story that a lot of people can relate to. Overcoming obstacles and personal issues. Tapping into that primal instinct that we're born with but spend our lives protecting, but doing it in a positive way. It's an interestingly constructed documentary to boot. Not as cinematic as the other docs on my list, but the people who made it did make an effort to add some style and theatrics to it, which is fitting considering the theatrics of the sport itself.
COMPLIANCE - People are stupid. COMPLIANCE is based on the true story of the Strip-search Prank Call case from a few years ago, in which a female McDonalds employee was forced to stay in a tiny office while being stripped and humiliated - all because someone who claimed to be a cop called on the phone and ordered her to do so while her boss stood by and watched it all happen. Yes, that's all it takes, ladies and gentlemen. All you have to do is pretend to be a cop and call someone, and you can get people to do anything. Naked jumping jacks, oral sex performed on married men, you name it. COMPLIANCE made me angry because of how stupid the characters were and how much of a fucking slimebag the antagonist was. When I found out how loyal this was to the true story, I got even angrier. But, not a lot of films kept me as interested for its entire running time like COMPLIANCE did. It had my undivided attention because I was in amazement of how dumb the characters were, but also because I found it to be a well-made little film from a first-time director.
HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI - Holy fucking shit. What a film. Let it be said, first and foremost, I'm not a samurai movie guy. I'm also not a Takashi Miike guy. I do consider Miike an important director because his films were a gateway for me as it pertains to Japanese genre cinema, but he's an inherently hit-or-miss filmmaker because of how insanely prolific he is. Plus, there's always been a disconnect with me when it comes to Japanese cinema, simply because I don't understand the culture, the quirks, and the sense of humor, and Miike is one of the directors who does a great job of taking all of those things (especially the quirks and the weird sense of humor) and shoving them in my face. Like 13 ASSASSINS from the year before, HARA-KIRI is a remake. I haven't seen the original, but it's supposedly highly-regarded. Regardless, HARA-KIRI is closer to being a masterpiece than any other film on this list. I'm not gonna waste time talking about the plot because I think people could (and should) go into this one cold, so I'll just say that everything about this film is masterful. It's slow (which I expected), it's moody, and it's not an action-heavy film at all, but HARA-KIRI says so much about a number of things, and it's an interesting deconstruction of the Samurai code and the Samurai way of life. Will I watch it again anytime soon, if ever? Probably not, but it's such an awesome film that I can't not recognize it as one of the best from the last year. Trust me, even if you don't give a shit about Japanese movies or samurai films, do yourself a favor and check this one out.
BONES BRIGADE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY - 2012 may have been a shittier year for horror than 2011, but it was leaps and bounds better for documentaries in my opinion, and BONES BRIGADE is about as perfect and watchable as a documentary can get for me. This doc tells the story of a popular, innovative skateboarding crew who revolutionized the "sport" and the art of skateboarding during its golden age. There probably weren't a lot of males who grew up in the 80's in the United States who didn't at least try to skateboard at one point in their lives. Back in the day, skating was popular amongst me and my friends, but my skills were "Beginner" at best. I could never do any tricks and I certainly didn't have the nerve to go down a ramp, but I had a blast skateboarding on my old driveway or on basketball courts with my friends, and yes, I actually had the long Tony Hawk bangs as a kid. That said, my interest in this was inherently mild, as was my familiarity with the eponymous Bones Brigade. I went into this thinking it was gonna be a highlight reel of sorts consisting of interviews with a bunch of millionaires reminiscing about their glory days, and what I got was a surprisingly emotional and thrilling documentary about a bunch of boys who were basically plucked out of obscurity and given an opportunity to overcome obstacles in their lives, live their dreams, and take skateboarding to the next level.
THE IMPOSTER - To be honest, I'm surprised more people don't love this one as much as I do. It's an absolutely compelling documentary with one of the strangest stories I've ever heard. Fortunately, I didn't have a clue about the actual story beforehand, so I got to watch this one fresh and bear witness to a truly bizarre story unfold as the documentary progressed. To put it as briefly as possible, it's about a boy in Texas who suddenly disappears and re-emerges years later in Spain. When he reunites with his family, they find that he now has a peculiar foreign accent, a darker complexion, and generally looks and acts like a different person. Even stranger than the premise is how his family reacts. THE IMPOSTER is just a well-made and very cinematic documentary with some mind-blowing twists. I'm sure the title is a dead giveaway as to what the documentary is about, but one of the things I like about the title is that it works both ways, and that's all I can really say without getting into some spoilers. Also, the haunting score is one of my favorites of the last year. My only complaint is that this basically a one-watch kinda documentary and not something you can get mileage out of.
TAKE SHELTER - I may be one of the three... two... OK, maybe I'm the only person counting this as a 2012 movie, but I'm counting it because it got a wide release (DVD) in January of last year, so yeah. But anyway, TAKE SHELTER. Holy crap. Interesting character study, intriguing subject matter, fascinating characters, and a powerhouse performance from one of the best actors working today in my opinion, Michael Shannon. Shannon plays a blue-collar father and husband who's suddenly plagued with apocalyptic visions of a storm that he believes will destroy everyone and everything in his sleepy rural town. He then compromises his what little financial stability his family has to build a storm shelter for a disaster than everyone - including his wife - thinks is a figment of his imagination. Director Jeff Nichols also worked with Shannon in SHOTGUN STORIES, which most people seem to prefer over this; I've seen it, and it doesn't even come close to TAKE SHELTER as far as my personal tastes go. Everything about this movie - from the way it's shot to all of the qualities I mentioned above - hit the spot for me in ways that I can't even describe, and it felt like the perfect project for an actor like Michael Shannon - who I believe isn't as appreciated as he should be - to show everyone what he's capable of. Fantastic film with one hell of an ending.