Best (and Worst) Films of 2012 So Far

As always, I like to write down my thoughts on the best films of the year so far just as fall festival season gears up, therefore officially starting the Oscar race.

So, how has the year been so far? Disappointing, to say it kindly. Sure, there have been a few gems, but just about every film that was supposed to be great has failed to meet expectations (I’m looking at you, Prometheus). In fact, when looking at my top 10 so far, I’m surprised at how most of them are those that have been dismissed as unimpressive, and yet I love every bit of them. Let’s hope the rest of the year makes up for the lackluster year so far.

And so, here are my top 10 films of the year so far. And like always, if I feel it has some Oscar prospects I will point them out, as well as my awards hopes for them. It’s sort  of my “Consider these early films” post.

The Best

10. The Hunger Games

Directed by Gary Ross

Upon my second viewing of The Hunger Games, my esteem of it increased. Yes, some aspects of it are still mediocre, such as the completely unnecessary character of Peeta and some of the situations which he faces, as well as the dizzying cinematography in the beginning. However, it does play better on the small screen, and I was able to appreciate more the strength of the basic story, even if some of the devices used to tell it are completely silly. But the basic story, some of the set pieces, and Jennifer Lawrence’s great performance are enough for me to love it a little bit.

Oscar chances / hopes: Ever it broke records with the then 2nd biggest opening weekend of all time, and going on to gross over $400 million, more than any single Harry Potter film, many have been calling for AMPAS to give it some sort of recognition. However, there really aren’t a lot of places it could be rewarded. It won’t get in for Best Picture because it’s not an Academy movie. But there are three categories where it stands a chance, even if they are long shots. The biggest one is Best Actress of Lawrence. With things looking extremely weak, and if Lionsgate is willing to put up the money for a huge campaign, she could be more of a sure thing than a long shot, and she certainly would be worthy of the nomination. The other two categories are Original Song, for Arcade Fire’s “Abraham’s Daughter” and Costume Design. The former because it is a good song, but you kind of have to be familiar with the story to get it, and the latter is possible due to its excesses in the costumes worn by those in the Capitol, but they are a bit too tacky.

9. 21 Jump Street

Directed by Phil Lord & Chris Miller

There’s really not much I can say about this one. It surpassed my expectations with its touching take on friendship and getting a chance at reliving and improving certain life experiences. But best of all, it was hilarious, and I loved the zany and cartoony energy its directors brought to it.

Oscar chances/ hopes: Absolutely no chance at any awards, except maybe a Golden Globe nomination for Channing Tatum. But it does deserve some consideration in the Adapted Screenplay category.

8. The Secret World of Arrietty

Directed by Hirosama Yonebayashi

Beautiful animation, beautiful story, and beautiful voice work (in both the original and the Disney dub). It’s simply a beautiful little film from the geniuses at Ghibli and that’s all that needs to be said.

7. ParaNorman

Directed by Chris Butler & Sam Fell

Whenever I sit down to watch an American animated movie, all I want out of it is to have the balls to do something different, even if it is a failure. ParaNorman had everything I could have wanted out of it, as it told a dark story, albeit in a PG manner, at a controlled, sometimes slow pace, and didn’t pull any punches. Also it manages to be politically relevant, despite all the crazy that goes on in the screen. Seriously, I’m surprised the conservative media and other organizations didn’t pounce at it. I guess it was too small a movie.

Oscar chances/Hopes: Since it’s looking like there will be five nominees in the Animated Feature category, I’d say it is a shoo-in for a nomination there. However, it faces tough competition not only from the other stop-motion films that have/will come out this year (The Pirates! Band of Misfits and Frankenweenie), but also from fellow indie films from GKIDS, who made a splash last year with two nominees in this category. Also, I’d say it deserves some recognition for Jon Brion’s score.

6. The Grey

Directed by Joe Carnahan

I’ve read that some people hate this movie because it isn’t realistic. They say that wolves don’t act like they do here, and that Liam Neeson was stupid. Well, fuck them, because even if it is not realistic, it’s still one of the scariest movies of the last few years because it is based on our extreme fear of what might happen if we ever find our selves in a situation like this. Also, even if some of these things are silly, the director scrubbed it out of the movie with his gritty take on the material and with the great work of everyone in the cast, especially Neeson.

Oscar Chances/ Hopes: Had this come out in the fall, it would no doubt get buzz for Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Director, and even Best Picture. But since it came out way back in January and only did modest business at the box office, it’s unlikely to be remembered. But I do hope Open Road gives it a good Oscar push as it deserves serious consideration in these categories.

5. Mirror Mirror

Directed by Tarsem

As I sat in the theater watching this I could not help but think how lucky the kids in the audience were to have a visual master like Tarsem making a movie for them. Not only does it carry his usual visual mastery, but it’s also a real treat to have a kid solely aimed at kids that is smart by not following the formula of what’s supposed to work in kids entertainment and by telling a great story with some relevant themes that does not talk them down. And although it is aimed at kids, it made me feel like one with the joy that is found in every frame of the film.

Oscar Chances/ Films: It has one shot at a nomination, and a very good one, thanks to Eiko Ishioka’s costumes. Her work is so worthy of a win that I fear the Costume Designer’s branch will snub it. I guess it could also be nominated for Art Direction, but if Ishioka doesn’t get her due, I’ll be pissed.

4. The Dark Knight Rises

Directed by Christopher Nolan

You should read my review to see why I think this is the best of Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, but to reiterate: I love how unashamedly brainless, and extremely well crafted it is. The IMAX scenes were gorgeous, and the action set pieces were exhilarating. What more could I ask for?

Oscar Chances/ Hopes: Honestly, apart from Anne Hathaway, and maybe cinematography and art direction, it doesn’t deserve any nominations. Yes, I did say it was well crafted, it is the best production money can buy, and yet we see nothing that we saw from Nolan’s other Batman films before.

3. Brave

Directed by Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman

Critics said this was not top tier Pixar, and punished them harshly for it. Well, I don’t have that same opinion. For me, it’s one of their very best films, with some of the most beautiful animation the studio has worked on, and one of the best stories they have told. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

Oscar chances/hopes: It should be a lock for an Animated Feature nomination, and a strong contender for the win. It also has a top-notch sound design, so it could easily get in the sound categories. Besides that I’d love it if Patrick Doyle got recognition for his score and if “Learn Me Right” was nominated for Best Original Song.

2. The Deep Blue Sea

Directed by Terence Davies

For this entry I must refer you to my review as it has all the praise that I can give the film at the moment.

Oscar chances / hopes: One would think that in a year where the mainstream prospects in the Best Actress category are looking dire that people would start looking at smaller films with great performances to champion. But no, that doesn’t happen. If there was any justice in the Oscar race, Rachel Weisz, in a career-best performance, would be the front-runner for the award. But no, it’s not gonna happen because its distributor is too small and won’t be able to afford a campaign and because it’s surface is so cold that the people that could put in in Academy members’s minds dismiss it.

1. Moonrise Kingdom

Directed by Wes Anderson

Anderson’s most precious and self-indulgent film yet is also his most mature, and the proof that he is at the very top of his game, and he’s only getting started. By telling this 1960s coming-of-age love story with his usual quirks augmented to an unprecedented level, Anderson has crafted a sweet, timeless, and ultimately very relatable and touching story. But the best thing about the movie is not the narrative, but the growth of Anderson’s style, which further cements him as one of the best directors working right now.

Oscar Chances: Since its Cannes premiere, there has been Oscar talk about it, and then the strong box office numbers kept it going strong, and it deserves it. Given the way the voting process goes, and the fact that The Tree of Life got a Best Picture nomination, I don’t see why a film as loved as this can’t also get in. But besides that, it deserves nominations for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Art Direction, Costume Design, Cinematography, and maybe even Original Score. Let’s hope it’ll get all these.

The Worst

Note: I would have included The Raid and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance but since I didn’t watch them all the way (I could not stand either one), in the spirit of fairness they will not be in the list.

1. Casa De Mi Padre– Once you get over the fact that Will Ferrell is speaking spanish, there’s nothing redeeming about it.

2. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island– At the very least the first one had a sense of fun.

3. Contraband– Typical January shit.

4. Wrath of the Titans– What’s the point of all the great CG if the films is ultimately soulless?

5. Red Tails– Super dated not only for the 80s style filmmaking and murky digital photography, but also for the disrespect the writers and George Lucas showed to these great men.

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