I've seen more movies in the theater in the past 17 years than anyone I know who isn't a professional film critic. I have every ticket stub since a Saturday afternoon show of "Pulp Fiction" in January 1995. Last time I counted all of them, which was about a year ago, I had just over 900 stubs in my collection.
But the past couple years have
been different -- I don't like going to the movies as much as I used
to, thanks mostly to the behavior of my fellow moviegoers. But there are
other factors: I no longer live two minutes from my favorite theater, I
have to be smarter with my money, and, the best reason of all, I'm not
such a lonely bastard anymore. (Suddenly, spending time with my live-in
girlfriend and our dog seems better than going to see "Jack Reacher,"
I've kept a movie diary of sorts every year
since I graduated college; a complete rundown of every movie I've seen,
whether I saw it in the theater or at home, and how many stars I'd give
it. In 2006, I saw 93 new movies -- that's 93 movies actually released
in 2006. I saw 49 of those in a theater.
This year, I
am almost embarrassed to say I saw only 28 movies (17 in the theater).
In this time of year-end roundups, I keep reading things that say 2012
is the best year for movies since 1999, a magical year that gave us
"Magnolia," "The Matrix," "American Beauty," "Three Kings," "Run Lola
Run," "The Sixth Sense," "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" and
approximately 11 billion other great, iconic and groundbreaking movies.
Hopefully I'll catch up with enough movies in the next few months on
Netflix and such to find out if I agree with that statement.
for now, I can only report on the 28 films I've seen. I'd feel silly
making a ranked top-ten list from such a small sample size, so I'll
instead list the handful of great and almost-great movies I saw in the
last 12 months, alphabetically. Here we go:
THE BEST MOVIES OF THE YEAR
"Cloud Atlas," directed by Andy & Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer
-- Six stories set in six different time periods. The same actors
appear in all six stories as different characters, and sometimes those
characters are a different race or gender than the actor playing them.
One story has Tom Hanks and Halle Berry speaking in broken English for
its entirety. One has Hugo Weaving as an enormous female nurse. Oh, and
all of these stories and characters are connected in some way. If this
sounds like too much, it is -- and that's why I love this movie. Adapting David Mitchell's novel of the same name was thought to
be impossible, and many viewers of "Cloud Atlas" insist that it remains
to be. But if you allow it, "Cloud Atlas" will sweep you away with its
audacity. It is by turns warm, cold, funny, tragic, small, large,
hopeful, awe-inspiring and even confounding. It is the kind of movie I
hope to see every year. (Available on Blu-ray/DVD Feb. 5)
"Looper," d. Rian Johnson
-- Movies rarely surprise me anymore. "Looper" did, multiple times.
(There were even some gasps involved.) Johnson wrote the ingenious
screenplay built upon this basic premise: In the future, mobsters use
time travel to dispose of bodies. They send a mark back 30 years, where a
hitman called a 'looper' is waiting with a shotgun. One day, a looper
(Joseph Gordon Levitt) hesitates to pull the trigger when his mark turns
out to be the future version of himself (Bruce Willis). That's all I
knew about the plot before watching "Looper" earlier today, and that's
all I think you should know. I'm getting all giddy again just thinking
about it. What a great year for sci-fi fans! (Available now on demand and Blu-ray/DVD)
"Moonrise Kingdom," d. Wes Anderson
-- Here it is, the film Anderson's entire career has been building
toward. All of his quirks and trademarks mesh in this tale of two
12-year-olds who run away together on an island in New England.
Anderson's visual aesthetic -- which has always reminded me of a living
illustration from a children's book -- fits this story perfectly, and
the romance between the two young leads (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward)
is a wistful dream; it feels like something I've always dreamed of, even
if I didn't know I had. And of course it's very funny, especially when
Jason Schwartzman shows up near the end of the picture. (Available now on demand and Blu-ray/DVD)
"The Cabin in the Woods," d. Drew Goddard
-- The less said about this movie, the better; its third act is even
more surprising than "Looper," though I don't think the rest of the
movie holds up quite as well upon reflection. (But maybe it doesn't have
to.) Co-written and produced by Joss Whedon, "Cabin in the Woods" sat
on a shelf for three years when MGM went bankrupt and was dumped into
theaters in April just weeks before Whedon would conquer the world with
"The Avengers." If you are a horror fan, you have to see this -- just
don't bail in the first few minutes because you think you're watching
the wrong movie. (Available now on demand and Blu-ray/DVD)
"The Dark Knight Rises," d. Christopher Nolan
-- I don't want to hear about the plot holes. The plot holes don't
matter. What matters is that Nolan injected emotion into the mythic,
monumental third act of his Batman trilogy, and an ending that sent me
out of the theater with a gigantic smile on my face. I could watch those
last five minutes over and over again. (Available now on demand and Blu-ray/DVD)
"Django Unchained," d. Quentin Tarantino
-- The most brutal film of Tarantino's career, by far. (And this is the
guy that made "Kill Bill.") Gory, unsettling and provocative, "Django"
shows us the true horror of slavery in graphic detail, but also revels
in its ballet of bloodshed. It's almost like a feature-length extension
of "Inglourious Basterds'" final sequence, in which we cheer the deaths
of a theater full of people who were cheering the deaths of the people
they were watching on a theater screen. (Got that?) The racial politics
of and in this movie are tricky, and could probably inspire one hell of a
film-school term paper -- and some heated arguments between moviegoers.
While not as purely entertaining as some of QT's other works, this
could, over time, prove to be his most important. We shall see. (In theaters now)
"The Grey," d. Joe Carnahan --It was advertised as "Liam Neeson Kills Wolves."
It's actually a dead-serious, sometimes thoughtful, always intriguing
tale of survival. Neeson does some of his career-best work as a hunter
working for an Alaska oil company who attempts to lead his co-workers to
salvation after their plane crashes in the wild. Not everything that
happens in this movie is plausible, but the well-written characters go a
long way in selling it -- there are some absolutely devastating scenes
along the way to its divisive ending. (Available now on demand, streaming on Netflix, and on Blu-ray/DVD)
THE BEST OF THE REST: "Argo." "Bernie." "The
Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." "Seven Psychopaths." "Wreck-it Ralph."
And most of "Prometheus," the most baffling and frustrating movie of the
year. (But that's another post for another time.)
Those are my picks. What say you?