BY KEVIN CARR
This past year was a year of firsts, including the first movie to make more than $200 million on its opening weekend and the first movie to be presented in the high frame rate of 48 fps. It was a year of life imitating art, sometimes tragically and violently. There was plenty of bad with the good, and like any year, only a rare few rose to the top. I did not ubiquitously enjoy the movies throughout the year as I did in 2011, but there were still some real great ones. Here’s my ten favorite….
This was a late entry into my viewing, thanks to award screeners and critic circle voting. I’ve never been one to gravitate to documentaries, but this was the kind that kept my attention. Featuring a non-narrative presentation, “Samsara” is a mosaic of the world, presenting different aspects of human culture in the most jaw-dropping visual ways. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to the brilliant presentation of BBC’s “Planet Earth” series, and I would welcome more films like this that don’t spoon-feed the audience with a message.
One of the most maligned movies of the year, “Prometheus” was doomed to be hated by some. I, however, found it fascinating. Ridley Scott takes the universe he helped create in 1979 and breathe new life into it. Like any good continuation of a complex story, “Prometheus” answered plenty of questions, but it presented even more and opened up a greater universe to explore.
8. RISE OF THE GUARDIANS
This film was a hard sell from the beginning, feeling like an “X-Men” take on “The Santa Clause.” However, it had some fantastic characters with different takes on legendary creatures. Focusing on Jack Frost rather than the typical Santa-centric story, “Rise of the Guardians” tells a typical hero story and packs a real animation punch.
7. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
As a fan of horror movies, I got most of the jokes thrown at me during “The Cabin in the Woods.” However, rather than delivering a straightforward spoof, Drew Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon brilliantly deconstruct the genre with this irreverent, clever and tightly written piece about what an audience expects from a scary movie.
6. LIFE OF PI
While Ang Lee can blow hot or cold for me, I was warmed with the fantastic tale of “Life of Pi.” While it appears straightforward, there’s a lot of depth and structure to this film. Featuring some of the best use of 3D of the year, which I haven’t seen since I saw “Hugo” in 2011, “Life of Pi” is a gorgeous film that made me crave more background to the story from the original book.
5. MOONRISE KINGDOM
I have adored Wes Anderson’s movies for years, and this one also captured my heart. Like other Anderson films, this story of two young lovers escaping summer camp together, manages to juxtapose some grim realities with charming and lovely innocence. With another fantastic cast and Anderson’s signature minimalist delivery, “Moonrise Kingdom” is one of the better feel-good movies of the year.
Ben Affleck threepeats as a strong director with this amazingly true story of the CIA smuggling would-be hostages from Iran under the guise of a film crew. Uncomfortably relevant to today’s international stress, “Argo” also balances a strong measure of humor and silliness to break the tension throughout the film. With this film, Affleck shows he has the potential to be the next triple threat on the level of Clint Eastwood.
Unfortunately, “ParaNorman” was dumped into theaters in August and dropped on home video in November. I suppose this was to avoid any competition with Disney’s “Frankenweenie” (which was good but not at the level of “ParaNorman”), after it gobbled up the October release date. Telling a sweet story with just the right amount of horror movie moments, “ParaNorman” is a touching tale with plenty of inside jokes for the horror hound.
Steven Spielberg’s not-quite-biopic about Abraham Lincoln looks like a bore on paper. After all, it’s got almost no action, and the most significant moments outside of legislation all happen off-screen. However, with brilliant writing, fantastic acting and some of the best coordinated pacing of the year, this film about men with facial hair talking to other men with facial hair was one of the most gripping films of the year.
1. THE AVENGERS
It’s the biggest movie of the year, and pegging it as my favorite film of the year might seem like I’m pandering to the mainstream, but I’ve always been a critic with mainstream tastes. “The Avengers” was greater than just a single movie because it proved that it’s possible to develop a franchise with multiple characters without having to cram them all into one movie at once. Not coming to the film as a fan of Joss Whedon, I felt he was the perfect choice to direct this because he understands how comic book properties work, and he knows how to manage an ensemble.