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Mr. Brown & the Top Ten Best Movies of 2012

Now that I've bitched about the worst movies of 2012, let me praise the best that came out this year, and there was plenty of good: young love, historical figures, black cowboys, and a gathering of superheroes, to name a few. These are the movies which stayed with me thought the course of the year, and mean a great deal to me in 2012.


10. The Raid: Redemption - Holy shit! I don't think i've ever seen an action picture that's balls to the walls exciting since 2003 when I was inducted to the Church of Tarantino with Kill Bill: Vol. 1. This is the type of non-stop action film that I remember seeing in theaters and on VHS when I was a kid: no-holds-barred thrills, relentless action scenes, and glee in seeing the hero kicking every manner of ass, taking names, and brushing off the battle scars. Sure, it's a foreign language film, but it speaks volumes when the country of Indonesia can produce the best action movie in decades and leave it's American counterparts in their collective dust, as if to show Hollywood how it's done. They took notice, as now they plan to make an English-language version of the hit. Before Hollywood butches this classic 12 ways from Sunday, this story of a rookie cop being forced to fight his way out of a 15-story building after the crime lord grants every gangster, thief, murderer and thug sanctuary if they kill the whole police force down there that were assigned to take him down, is a must see for any action film buff.

 

9. The Master - Even on his worst day, Paul Thomas Anderson still can craft a provocative character drama that  throws you around and dares you to catch what the 42 year-old writer/director is trying to convey. There's much more going on beyond it's surface: World War II Navy vet  Freddy Quell wanders through the country without a sense of direction (and some serious mental issues) until he runs into the charismatic preacher preacher (or is it cult leader?) Lancaster Dodd (the excellent Phillip Seymore Hoffman), who takes him under his wing to spread the word of "The Cause", much to the dismay of his suspicious wife, Peggy (a terrific Amy Adams). Is it a meditation on how we trade away our identity and individuality in order to avoid feeling alone? Or is Anderson using the fictitious backdrop of "The Cause" to attack Scientology and organized religion?  Draw your own conclusions,discuss and debate that for yourself. What does matter is that Anderson once again crafts an engrossing feature, even though it's nowhere near the masterwork as his 2007 opus There Will Be Blood. Joaquin Phoenix gives the best performance of the year as the unstable and damn-near deranged drifter Freddie, lacing together unbridled rage and hints of despair almost seamlessly. His performance is a force of nature. The same goes for this movie.


8. Flight - I don't think i've ever seen Denzel Washington this on-point and this devastating in any role he's been in a long time. His performance as Whip Whitaker, a pilot who saves the lives of 96 passengers by flipping the plane on its side and crash landing in a field, but sees his personal life take a nosedive due to addiction to booze and blow, might just be the best performance i've seen him give.  The script, written by John Gatins, which is loosely based on his own personal struggle with addiction, doesn't ring a false note as we watch helplessly as Whip further descends into oblivion, unable to come to terms with his own alcohol problem and what he has become to all those around him.


7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - In a year filled with teen movies that treated it's demographic like idiots (the rotten LOL comes to mind), it's not only a treat to watch a movie handle the pressures of being on the verge of adulthood, but the awkward, sometimes terrifying and always exhilarating days of youth that we all have felt and experienced, but it's a downright rush of joy to see a filmmaker and his cast get the tone, the experiences and the feelings down to the letter, especially when the source material is a beloved bestseller and is handled perfectly by the same person who wrote it. Author turned writer-director Stephen Chbosky doesn't shy away from issues like homosexuality or mental illness, rather he treats his characters like the flawed but decent human beings they are. Logan Lerman nails Charlie, a freshmen in high school with no real friends and a short life filled with bad memories, who is accepted by Sam and her gay step-brother, Patrick. Emma Watson, moving on from her days at Hogwarts, brings warmth and feeling to Sam, Charlie's dream girl who maybe as insecure and as fragile as he. But it's Ezra Miller as the flamboyant Patrick who steals the movie. You leave Perks feeling like Charlie himself by the end: that you, yourself, are infinite.


6. Argo - Ben Affleck's international thriller about the real-life attempt by the CIA to rescue six American Embassy workers from the radical Iranian student protestors who took refuge from the Canadian Embassy maybe the stuff of some phonied-up Hollywood fairytale (the scheme was to send in a handler to extract the workers by acting as Canadian filmmakers scouting in Iran for a science fiction movie - really!), but in Affleck's hands, it's the year's most suspenseful picture and one of the most satisfying movies of the year that holds your attention from the beginning. He doesn't make any real political statements about America's foreign policy in the Middle East, and he doesn't let the already ludicrous scenario go into full-blown farce. Affleck goes the old school approach: he focus on the characters and their escape or die conflict they're stuck in, and he builds suspense when his camera captures the anger and the ferocity of a country in full-blown revolution against decades of Western interference in their country's affairs, so when the escape finally does take place, the suspense is played to maximum effect, which makes for thrilling cinema. Sadly, the Academy couldn't see the skill of Affleck's caper and got snubbed out of a Best Director Oscar. To them, I say, "Ar-go fuck yourself!"


5. Lincoln - When I first saw Steven Spielberg's biopic on Honest Abe's efforts to end slavery via the 13th Amendment despite an obstructionist House of Representatives that want to keep blacks 3/5ths of a person, and personal turmoil at home, I thought it was too dry even for history buffs, too talky (especially when Daniel Day Lewis uses stories from his life to perfectly make a point for every argument he's making), and that both issues would steer clear from repeat viewings. Boy, how wrong I was about that one, especially when I saw it a second time and thought it was a near masterwork of film-making by Spielberg, and the fact Lincoln has made $152 million domestically. The best advice I could give about this engrossing political drama is this: stick with it. This is a film that shows the messiness of politics and the back-hand deals and the plotting that needed to be done in order to move a deeply divided nation forward into the future, which reminds me of another President who sees himself in the front-lines of times rapidly changing and a bitterly divided public, but that's another discussion for another day. Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Fields, Tommy Lee Jones, James Woods, and the rest Spielberg's extensive ensemble cast come up all aces.


4. Zero Dark Thirty - Kathryn Bigelow's docudrama on the decade-long manhunt for Osama Bin Laden has caused a stir over the film's grisly and uncomfortable use of torture, with some saying that her and screenwriter Mark Boal implied that torturing detainees were a useful and necessary tactic that led to SEAL-Team 6 to pump the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks full of lead. I'm not about to get into the that thorny debate on this list, but I firmly believe  that's probably the whole point of this riveting war drama: Bigelow and Boal want it's audience to take the film on and debate it amongst other movie goers who have seen it.  Like her last movie, The Hurt Locker, she isn't interested in the politics of left vs right on how we conducted ourselves in the War on Terrorism. What she is interested in is the human faces that have to live with the consequences of the actions taken and the personal toll the manhunt takes on them, in particular, Maya, the CIA officer tasked with finding OBL, played with ferocity by Jessica Chastain.


3. Life of Pi - In a word: wow. Just wow. What a triumph of  visual artwork and emotional storytelling by Ang Lee. Don't be fooled by the film's PG rating: this is a mature and deeply philosophical picture that isn't really meant for kids. Newcomer Suraj Sharma gives the breakout performance of the year as Pi Patel, a 16 year-old boy who is forced to survive with a Bengal Tiger  named Richard Parker after the cargo ship carrying them and Pi's family die in the sinking ship. Stuck together in a life boat, Pi and the tiger must work together in order to starve off hunger, the elements and killing each other. Religious figure from Jesus to the Hindu gods are part of the film's religious symbolism, but the movie is more about spirituality and faith than it is about saving saving souls.


2. Django Unchained - Again, in a few words: holy s&*t!! This maybe Quentin Tarantino's best work and the most on-point he's ever been since Pulp Fiction. Tarantino's mash up of Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns and 70's style blaxploitation films, combined with a brutal and searing commentary on the slave trade two years before the Civil War and the falseness of Southern hospitality, this blood-spewing revenge fantasy is nothing short of brilliance as only QT can deliver: long takes, endless bouts of hypnotic dialogue, explosive stages of violence and excellent performances from Tarantino's cast and crew: Jamie Foxx digs into his juiciest role in years as Django, a slave turned bounty hunter, on the trail with Dr. King, played terrifically by Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz, as the man who frees Django in order to hunt down the Brittle Brothers in order to score a huge payday. The two then set their sights on finding and rescuing his lost wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the hands of the sadistic fracophile slave owner Calvin Candie, played by a deliciously evil Leonardo DiCaprio, and his right hand man, the equally sadistic and frighting Stephen, played by Samuel L. Jackson, in his best role in years. Sure, there's a long middle section that on a first viewing, feels overstuffed with dialogue and character, but it sets up for a payday that's just as exciting and justified as Django returns to the Candyland plantation fora showdown you won't soon forget. 

And my #1 movie of 2012 is.........going to be a full review, explaining in detail why I chose it, and the state of the blockbuster genre coming next week. See ya then!

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