2012 Best and Worst Films of the Year List

Originally posted on December 31, 2012

The darkened movie theater has always been a second home for me, and never more so than this year have I felt like it was a place where I belong. Due to social media, it’s become easier than ever to share with my friends my thoughts on the movies I see, even if I am limited by Twitter to 140 character reviews. Sometimes I get feedback, sometimes I don’t. But what is incredibly freeing is knowing that it doesn’t matter. Just being able to watch movies and have a dialogue about them once in a while is a gift. And then something truly extraordinary happened. Cineworld, the #1 Cinema chain in the UK asked me if they could publish my top ten best films of the year list in their award-winning iPad magazine this year. It was a huge opportunity and a dream come true, but it meant putting together a list without seeing the end of the year releases, in order to make their print deadline. I decided I was up to the challenge!

The magazine was released online on December 29th and not only was I mentioned in the editor’s note and the table of contents, but they gave me a jaw dropping 12 page spread in their publication! For those that have an iPad, you can download the magazine for free at the following link from any country here: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/cineworld-magazine/id508350271?mt=8

What’s unique about the feature is that it includes my thoughts on CHRONICLE and ROBOT AND FRANK as I hadn’t yet seen two of the films before press time that I would eventually put on the list; SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN and ZERO DARK THIRTY. Now that I have seen every film I possibly could before the end of the year, I humbly submit to you all the definitive list of my top 10 favorite films of the year. Out of the 94 films I saw in the theater this year and the 10 I saw on DVD or on demand, these were the ones that made the biggest impression on me, and helped keep my passion for cinema burning for another year.



A straight up, classic old school sci-film with stunning visuals, an extraordinary cast and a riveting story. Rian Johnson transports us into a mind-bending tale about a dystopian future where time travel has been outlawed and commandeered by the mob, in order to send victims back in time to be killed by assassins called Loopers. One of these Loopers, Joe (masterfully played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lives each day knowing sometime in the future he will effectively have to “close his loop,” by being charged to kill his future self.  When this day finally arrives, it comes with questions of destiny, fate and the uncertain future of mankind- all themes I adore from the Terminator mythology and beautifully explored here; and with a strong female named Sarah too! The screenplay is a work of art and completely rich with so many layers that keep you guessing until the breathtaking, jaw-dropping revelation at the end. LOOPER has earned a spot as one of the best films of not only the year, but ever to be a part of the revered cinematic sci-fi genre.


You know you are in for something special during the opening moments of this film, as the camera twists and turns throughout the streets of Los Angeles, providing us with a first person view of a police car chase, set against Jake Gyllenhaal’s haunting voiceover. This film chronicles two LAPD partners as they set out each day into one of the most dangerous corners of the City of Angels to face criminals, unexpected situations, and to navigate the ins and outs of their own endearing personal lives. This may be the most powerful, humanistic take on genuine friendship committed to film in years. The use of multiple cameras makes for a more palpable, thrilling and authentic experience, allowing you to connect deeply with the partners superbly played by Michael Peña and Jake Gyllenhaal. This film stayed with me for a long time. It’s quietly affecting, gritty, moving, and helps shape your appreciation for a profession that may not always get the respect it deserves.


A beautiful and poignant coming of age story, following a lonely teenager struggling to adapt to high school life after a bout with mental illness. Logan Lerman is truly remarkable as the kind hearted and sensitive teen who befriends two incredibly vibrant classmates, who in turn help him find hope and a love for life that he never imagined he could have. Everything about this movie, from the nostalgic tone, to the hip soundtrack, to the tremendous compassion it shows for its fully developed characters, is so wonderful that I didn’t realize how completely invested I was in their lives until I found myself openly weeping during the end credits of the film. To capture so perfectly the confusion, crushing disappointment, introspection, heartache and pure magic of adolescence is a rare achievement, and one this film accomplishes so effortlessly well.


Quentin Tarantino proves yet again that he is a true visionary with this western masterpiece centered around a freed slave who teams up with a bounty hunter to save his wife. I loved every single second of this pulp spectacle- the punchy, smart dialogue that falls on your ears like poetry, the gorgeous cinematography and lighting, the visually striking way Tarantino frames the actors, the distinctive camera angles he chooses, and the performances that will leave you shocked, stirred and astounded all at the same time. I actually thought while watching the film, how very lucky we are as cinemagoers to have the opportunity to watch the latest creation of one of the most exciting directors working today- someone whose deep passion for the history of cinema and 35mm film can be expressed so viscerally through his exceptional body of work. Beyond the man at the helm, I also want to commend the funny, engaging yet chilling performance of Leonardo DiCaprio in his role as Mississippi slave owner, Calvin Candie. It is nothing short of mesmerizing.


A spectacular account of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, so fraught with tension that at times I thought I might go into cardiac arrest. Jessica Chastain is spellbinding as the cold, intelligent and fiercely dedicated CIA operative whose life is consumed following a lead she believes will ultimately capture the most wanted man in the world. As she navigates the geopolitical landscape that has become her life, we breathlessly follow her every move, hoping she breaks through somehow and can convince those around her of her findings. But what happens to her when the mission is over? Chastain should make room on her mantle for an Oscar for this very realization as the closing shot of the film is one of the most impactful I’ve ever seen.


An incredible true story about a man with a soulful Don McLean like voice, who made transcendent folk music in the early 70s, recorded two amazing albums, and somehow ended up with virtually nonexistent record sales to show for it. The producers and recording execs that helped make Rodriguez’s two albums, Cold Fact and Coming From Reality, claim he was one of the most gifted artists they had ever worked with, and were saddened the world didn’t take notice of who they still believe to be one of the great American musicians of our time. What no one realized, including Rodriguez, was that his music had made much more than an influence on the other side of the world, as it helped fuel a generation of South Africans in their fight against Apartheid. Rodriguez gave them hope. He was a mystery and a music legend, and two men who grew up with his music as the soundtrack of their lives, vowed to find out what happened to him. This documentary is exhilarating on so many levels. We get to discover the man behind the myth, witness his intoxicating and poetic music, embrace the feeling of what it would be like to realize your greatest passion was actually appreciated, valued and adored by people you never met and, most of all, reconnect us with what draws and moves us to our own personal heroes. SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN will make you believe in the potent message that it’s never too late for us dreamers.


A taut thriller revolving around a declassified mission to save six Americans during the Iran contra hostage crisis. Ben Affleck takes us straight into the middle of these dramatic, real life events, delivering legitimately heart racing moments with humor, grace and endlessly fascinating sequences. Although we ultimately know the outcome, we’re constantly waiting for the Hollywood style rescue to unravel under the weight of its sheer absurdity; and that makes it all the more compelling and nail biting.


Wes Anderson continues his flawless record by yet again producing another gem to behold. This time he takes us into the lives of two young kids who are so smitten with each other, they abandon their colorful lives to run away together. MOONRISE KINGDOM oozes with sharp intellect, sweet moments of candor, delightful characters and imaginative settings that charm your socks off. I was especially in awe of a scene where several characters are shown in silhouette, clinging for dear life from a lighthouse, as it was reminiscent of Bergman’s astonishing dance of death scene in THE SEVENTH SEAL. This film is a must see for anyone who yearns for enchantment in their life. Young love never looked this luminous.


Absolute brilliance wrapped within the guise of a typical horror film where teenagers face certain death on a weekend trip to the woods. To give away or even hint at the secrets of the film for those that haven’t seen it would be a travesty of epic proportions. The beauty of this slasher flick is in its mysteries and how it elevates the horror genre to surprising new heights. It’s a perfect concoction of gore, wit, intrigue and genius. And its mind-blowing ending will leave horror buffs and cinema fans alike gleefully giddy and immensely satisfied.


Although, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER was the better portrayal of mental illness in 2012, this film’s bold, kinetic, and wildly romantic story is enough to make it one of the best films of the year. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence sizzle with undeniable chemistry, and the screenplay’s Rohmer-like talky dialogue is downright captivating. The ensemble cast including, among others, Robert DeNiro and Jackie Weaver, deserves all the acting kudos that will most certainly be bestowed upon them in awards season.



1. TAKEN 2

Hey TAKEN 2, your ridiculous and mind numbing story doesn’t even put you in the same universe as DRIVE. So stop stealing its music. This is a sloppy, cash grab of a sequel that felt like it was haphazardly cobbled together from pages thrown out from the first film’s script. After a traumatic abduction of a retired CIA agent’s daughter in Paris in the first film, it makes perfect sense that the Mills family would want to venture back to Europe again for some relaxation. Except this time it’s the father and his wife that get snatched, and by some vengeful Albanians to boot! And it’s up to their daughter to help save them. Blah, blah, blah and a bunch of completely inane plot points begin to unfold like maybe no one will notice if I throw a hand grenade in the middle of Istanbul a few times so my Dad can use it as some sort of frakked up explosive version of GPS. Never mind if I destroy parts of the city or hurt a civilian. The villains here are paper thin and nothing really makes any logical sense, including a scene where Liam Neeson’s character wakens his wife from being tortured in the exact same way in back to back scenes. Um, did the editor forget to pick the best take or was the director so in love with Famke’s botoxed damsel in distress type performance that he just HAD to include his two best takes? Either way, none of them worked, just like this made for TV movie that achingly desires to be a worthy action follow up to the much more fun and somewhat plausible original.


As Blake Lively’s irritating voice draped itself over the opening scene of this feature, my flight or fight instinct literally kicked in and I scanned all available exits to the theater. Unlucky for me, my option to fight it out led to a restless night at the cineplex. Every character in this plodding film seemed to be written to the most heightened annoying, mysterious, hyper faux cool stereotype imaginable version ever. There’s the dark, brooding former Navy Seal, the laid back beach bum gypsy and worst of all, the rich girl that loves them both and is burdened with the name of the biggest crackpot Shakespeare has ever written. It’s all too much to bear! On top of the film feeling like it was four hours long, it’s laced with an excruciating soundtrack and two ludicrous endings. I’m not kidding. I wish I was because there’s nothing like sitting through an outlandish ending to see the film literally rewind itself to make it even longer and show you a more preposterous one.


This should have been called THE WORST OF CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: BREAK OUT THE NO DOZ.  I went in thinking this movie would be magical and left feeling like I just escaped a trippy nightmare I thought would never end. It’s an unintelligible mess following two androgynous leads as they desperately try to find each other in what seems like the backstage hell of every CIRQUE show to ever haunt Vegas. I kept attempting to piece together some coherent narrative but when an Elvis song is followed by inexplicable Beatles songs, to characters that disappear into the ether, to random acrobatics,  I just gave up and looked in my purse to see if I had more red vines to chomp on to pass the time.


Let me first say that I haven’t read this novel, so perhaps these characters are likable or even interesting in the written word than on the big screen. But damn was this movie tedious and exhausting. The characters were pretentious, selfish, blowhards who were drowning in their own self importance. This film just got more depressing and bizarre as it went on and I wanted to jump out a window. Fortunately, the Arclight Hollywood didn’t have one because I did indeed look for one. Perhaps taking drugs like these characters are constantly doing would have made for a far more enjoyable cinematic experience. I just settled for popcorn and an Advil instead.


I think this Japanese film makes it on this list because it was my biggest disappointment of the year. My favorite film of 2005, TONI TAKITANI was based on a Haruki Murakami short story, so maybe I had unrealistic expectations for this movie, as it was another Murakami adaptation. The bloated running time and the endless parade of unlikable damaged female characters, each one more insufferable than the last, slowly drained the life right out of me.

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