2012 has been a fantastic year for movies. I’ve been reviewing films for eight straight years now, and never has my job been so enjoyable as it has been over the past six months. Where most years don’t start churning out memorable works until June or July, 2012 has provided a consistent string of great – not good, but legitimately great – films since January.
So today, as we enter the seventh month and official halfway point of the year, it’s time to take a look at the best 2012 has had to offer so far. This is the first time in my career I’ve even felt compelled to make a mid-year top-ten list, but there was more than enough movie magic to fill these ten slots and beyond.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the Top Ten Films of 2012 So Far….
10. The Hunger Games
Several films I’d consider critically stronger than this one wrestled for the number ten slot, but in the end, I’m most impressed with The Hunger Games for delivering such a strong artistic triumph despite massive commercial pressure and social expectations. As the horrid Twilight films proved, quality has no bearing whatsoever on what young-adult audiences will pay to see, and it would have been ridiculously easy for Lionsgate to churn out absolute garbage and let the dollars roll in. Instead, they hired acclaimed director Gary Ross to helm the picture, gathered an ensemble of highly respected actors, and crafted a breathtaking film that, at its worst, still verges on great.
A massive improvement on its source material in every way imaginable, The Hunger Games is filled with gorgeous, provocative imagery, genuine suspense, hard-hitting pathos, and three-dimensional characters worth caring about. Where Collins’ novel featured half-baked ideas about social inequity and entertainment culture, Ross’ film speaks directly and profoundly to the challenges facing our modern world, and leaves the viewer with so much more to ponder than your average action blockbuster. Performances across the board are spectacular, but Jennifer Lawrence deserves special mention for turning in one of the most beautiful, nuanced star turns of the modern era. I do feel commercial restraints stopped Ross from going as far as he needed to – the Games themselves aren’t as horrific as the first hour suggests – but he comes breathtakingly close, and most importantly, respects the audience every step of the way. In today’s cinematic landscape, that’s something worth celebrating.
The Hunger Games is no longer playing in most theatres, but will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray August 18th, 2012.
9. Safety Not Guaranteed
Safety Not Guaranteed is that most wonderful kind of comedy, one where the laughs are big but the heart is even bigger. It wrestles with complex and genuine human emotions, dives deeper into the psychology behind time travel than any film I’ve ever seen, and creates warm, memorable, three-dimensional characters worth investing oneself in. In fact, the film marks one of the only times I’ve ever fallen head-over-heels in love with a character, but that’s what happens when you write Aubrey Plaza one of the year’s best characters. She’s just incredible in this movie, as is her co-lead Mark Duplass, and the journey of self-discovery they take together engages the heart and imagination in equal measure.
Safety Not Guaranteed is now playing theatrically in limited release.
8. The Amazing Spider-Man
Possibly the most underestimated film of the summer, Marc Webb’s greatest accomplishment in crafting The Amazing Spider-Man is that he a turned a completely unnecessary cash-gab project into a strong artistic statement. I’m not prepared to say whether Webb’s interpretation of Spider-Man is better or worse than Sam Raimi’s; it’s just different, focusing on other aspects of the character’s mythos and psychology, and that’s what I love about it.
Conventional logic says we don’t need another Spider-Man origin so soon, but Webb’s film is so insightful, so filled with heart, pathos, and uncompromising mediations on the emotional toils of adolescence, that I now find it difficult to imagine the pop-culture landscape without the film. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone couldn’t possibly be better as Peter and Gwen, James Horner’s score is a thing of ethereal beauty, and the cinematography and action set-pieces are breathtaking. Though some will no doubt remain cynical, I’m firmly convinced The Amazing Spider-Man is a superhero film for the ages, and one of the best films of 2012.
The Amazing Spider-Man opens in theatres everywhere July 3rd, 2012.
7. The Grey
If the Academy Awards do not recognize Liam Neeson with a Best Actor Oscar for his work in The Grey, they will have proven themselves obsolete once and for all, because performances don’t come any better than this. Intense, vulnerable, mysterious, intelligent, broken…the descriptors go on and on. Neeson’s Ottway is a profound mass of extremely human contradictions, just as The Grey is a film that revels in ambiguity. The only certain conclusion all viewers can draw is that it is a tremendous film, the first great movie of 2012.
Were it nothing more than an empty survival thriller, it would still be impressive, for co-writer/director Joe Carnahan weaves tension, dread, and bottomless fear into every frame, seemingly with ease. The film is remarkable, though, for its philosophical aspirations, its thoughtful and uncompromising mediations on masculinity, faith, and above all else, death. The thoughts and musings it conjures in the viewer’s head are far scarier than any number of wolves, and though The Grey is a harrowing experience, it is also a meaningful and unforgettable one.
The Grey is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
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