This has been a pretty good year in movies, which has been great in the sense that I've seen a lot of good movies... but not so great when attempting to narrow down all the films I've seen into a list of ten. There are a few prominent films I haven't seen at the time of this post that would probably be contenders for some of the higher spots on the list (Lincoln, Argo, Wreck-It Ralph, etc.). There are also several movies that I consider "Honorable Mentions" that I couldn't find room for: The Amazing Spider-man, Prometheus, and Chronicle to name a few. With that, let's get into the list! (You can view the original review by clicking on the title of each film)
#10: The Bourne Legacy
As I mentioned in my review for this film, I was a pretty big fan of the original trilogy and was looking forward to the release of "The Bourne Legacy" quite a bit as a result. While somewhat skeptical about a Bourne movie without the titular character, I was pleased to see that writer/director Tony Gilroy managed to breathe fresh life into a franchise that seemed lost without star Matt Damon. Jeremy Renner does an admirable job at portraying a similar character but with his own unique demons to face. While it is a little confusing at the beginning, I really enjoyed this film and recommend it to any fan of the Bourne franchise.
#9: Moonrise Kingdom
This film was completely off my radar, despite having a lot of recognizable stars such as Bill Murray, Bruce Willis and Edward Norton. It only caught my attention by the glowing reviews it was garnering on Rotten Tomatoes and I figured it was probably worth a look. That "gamble" completely paid off as "Moonrise Kingdom" is a tremendously odd film about the overly dramatic nature of young love and the quirks of a small community. There are a few distracting scenes, but overall this is a very enjoyable experience for those who like off-beat comedies and the actors involved.
#8: Life of Pi
This is where the rankings become a little nebulous. Any of the next four or five films could be in any of these positions, and dividing them into my level of enjoyment is really like splitting hairs. "Life of Pi" is an incredibly visual film, and one of the few that actually justifies the 3-D premium. The story is simple, but the emotions and themes run deep in this existential narrative. Rarely are such topics as spirituality and man's relationship with God explored so subtly and yet in such grand a scale, but that's what makes this film so special. It takes the source material and adapts it in a way that captures the imaginations of devotees to the book and newcomers alike. If you can, try to see this film in theaters; it warrants the big screen treatment.
Pixar has repeatedly shown over the years a propensity to take risks that almost always results in the highest quality of animated entertainment. With their last effort, "Cars 2", I felt they settled for an easy story to tell instead of challenging themselves as they had done previously. Thankfully, Pixar has regained their form with "Brave", a beautifully-animated tale of a young woman struggling with the demands of her position (and her mother) and looking for a way to change her fate. This film is a lot of fun, but it's also remarkably touching at times. Go out and rent this movie if you haven't seen it already, it's the best family film of the year.
I am a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and have been anticipating the day they would finally film "The Hobbit" ever since the release of The Return of the King in 2003. Thankfully, Peter Jackson regained the director's chair for the prequel trilogy and his passion can be felt in every frame of An Unexpected Journey. This first installment gives me incredible hope for the sequels and leads me to believe that this could possibly be the best set of prequels we've ever seen. The journey taken in this film will have you on the edge of your seat and the final scene will leave you desperate for more. If you love LOTR, go see this movie.
#5: The Hunger Games
Despite how much I loved this movie, it was far more of a Lara movie than a Jake movie. I really enjoyed the book and thought the movie would end up being pretty good. Thankfully, we both found our expectations had been surpassed with the tremendous vision that Gary Ross translated from book to screen. The emotion is palpable in this dystopian fight for survival, and the actors play it perfectly. This is one of the best adaptations of a popular series I've seen. I highly recommend "The Hunger Games".
The recent James Bond movies have all been a step up from the more campy versions in the last 50 years, and this one is probably the best of the bunch. Not only is Daniel Craig at the top of his game, but Skyfall also features the most dangerous and threatening villains in the entire 007 franchise. The cinematography in this movie is absolutely gorgeous and the story is fitting of the talent that's involved. It doesn't surprise me that this film recently broke the $1 billion mark.
#3: The Avengers
I had a really hard time deciding which comic book movie I was looking forward to most at the beginning of 2012, and for good reason. "The Avengers" is the most entertaining movie of the year and has some of the coolest moments you'll ever see in a film. The mere fact that Marvel was able to pull off the ultimate team-up is an accomplishment. Thankfully it wasn't just a cash-grab, as Joss Whedon was able to bring the characters to life and provide a threat worthy of their combined strength. I love this movie!
#2: Les Miserables
This is a very different kind of film than the action-packed blockbuster that was "The Avengers". Going in, I expected it to be great, but I truly wasn't expecting the heart-wrenching story that would propel this film past the action movies I've loved and nearly becoming my favorite film of the year. It's a beautiful piece of art, and the performances alone make this a must-see. The tale of Jean Valjean is one for the ages, and it's never better than in Tom Hooper's risk-taking masterpiece.
This movie was the most anticipated film of the year for me, and that doesn't always result in my favorite movie of the year. Luckily, this year it did. "The Dark Knight Rises" is the final installment in the Batman trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan, and sees the caped crusader off in epic fashion. By far the biggest film in the series, it also has the most heart of any previous Batman movie and the performances of Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, and Michael Caine complement the material perfectly. This is a terrific melding of complex storytelling with sociological commentary as well as compelling personal drama. It's a tense and thrilling film with some of the most impressive set-pieces I've ever seen. Nolan has somehow managed to top himself from "The Dark Knight" and provide a satisfying ending to one of the greatest trilogies in film history.
*Bonus* Top 5 Scores of 2012
5: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Howard Shore
4: Skyfall - Thomas Newman
3: The Hunger Games - James Newton-Howard
2: Brave - Patrick Doyle
1: The Dark Knight Rises - Hans Zimmer