An annual tradition at The Awards Circuit, this is my rundown of the first 6 months of films for the year. Right now, at the beginning of July, I’ve seen more than 115 films and I’ve noticed something interesting. The average film is better than usual, but there are less movies to go wild over as well. It doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about the year on the whole or what the second half will be like, but it’s just something that I’ve taken note of. As for this piece, I’ve limited it to only the films that have seen theatrical release between the beginning of January and the end of June, so that excludes anything I’ve seen that is only playing VOD right now or won’t be out until July or beyond. As for what was eligible, you can see the best and worst of 2012 so far below, along with some awards as well.
1. The Cabin in the Woods- The only 4 star review I’ve published so far (hint…there’s one coming later this month), this is a phenomenally entertaining horror film that’s so much more than just that. It toys with your expectations the whole way through, but for me it’s the third act that’s just so above and beyond anything else so far this year. When a certain set of elevator doors open and, well…I’ve said too much already for those who haven’t seen it. Regardless, it’s a masterpiece from the minds of Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, and I still haven’t stopped thinking about my favorite moments from the film. I can guarantee you that it’ll wind up on my Top Ten list at the end of the year, and probably somewhere high as well.
2. Bernie- One of Richard Linklater’s best films in a long time (and I’d argue perhaps one of his 5 best to date), this docudrama is fascinating and features some of the best acting of the year so far (notably Jack Black, but also Shirley MacLaine). The movie is always amassing, but the second half of the flick gets at some interesting ideas, and I found myself contemplating it weeks after seeing it. This is one of the more under seen films of the year, but it’s one of the best as well.
3. The Avengers- Somehow, this superhero flick managed to exceed all expectations. In terms of pure popcorn entertainment, it’s hard to beat this movie, but what’s so interesting here is how good the acting is (led by Mark Ruffalo’s brilliant portrayal of Bruce Banner/The Hulk) and what care seems to have gone into crafting the whole thing by filmmaker Joss Whedon. I rank this among the 5 best comic book films of all time (I’m actually planning a piece on to run after the release of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ later this month), and beyond that, it’s just one of the best films of the year overall.
4. Safety Not Guaranteed- Evidence that good sci-fi can be done with almost no budget, it’s hard not to fall in love with the characters populating this flick. Mark Duplass (having himself a hell of a year) and Aubrey Plaza make one of the best pairings of the year, and this is a movie that really has just the perfect ending. I wish more people see this film in the coming weeks, as it’s really something special.
5. Take This Waltz- The most painfully real romance of 2012 so far, it just managed to make this list by coming out this past weekend, even though I saw it over a month ago. Michelle Williams has rarely been better, Seth Rogen gives the best performance of his career so far, and filmmaker Sarah Polley shows that she’s for real and not a one hit wonder with this powerful sophomore feature. It’s honest and raw, messy and uncomfortable, but it’s also just really great.
6. Magic Mike- A shockingly effective character study of men in a very unusual profession, this is the type of flick that in the hands of most filmmakers would be a superficial train wreck, but Steven Soderbergh crafts something remarkable instead. He also manages to not make me dislike Channing Tatum, so that’s really something. Everything about this movie is better than you’d expect it to be, while being just as fun as some of you had hoped for. It’s new in theaters, so as more of you discover it, more of you will likely be impressed by it.
7. Jeff, Who Lives at Home- The best film yet by the Duplass Brothers (Jay and Mark), and perhaps their most accessible one as well. Jason Segel shows a whole different side to his acting, and the Brothers Duplass manage to open their filmmaking up while not losing their signature touches in the least. It fell below the radar in its initial release in March, but it’s on DVD now and deserves to be seen.
8. The Grey- Liam Neeson deserves an Oscar nomination for this surprisingly mature work from director Joe Carnahan. An early year release, it did better than expected at the box office, considering its bleak nature, but Neeson easily gives one of the best performances of the year, and in fact, in his career to date. Rumors have a potential awards campaign and theatrical re-release coming for this flick in the fall, but for now it’s out on DVD now and stands tall as one of the best films in a long time from the first three months of the season.
9. 21 Jump Street- The funniest movie of the year so far (‘Ted’ is a decently close second), it’s also the rare action-comedy that works as both. Jonah Hill shows he can be a comedy lead, and also proves he’s another actor from the Apatow stable who can write a good flick as well. I expected an amusing movie, but I got hilarity here instead. A new release to DVD, most of you have seen it, but anyone who hasn’t really should pick it up. You’ll likely spend the day laughing if you do.
10. The Hunter- Rarely of late has Willem Dafoe been this good, or this human. The search for a thought to be extinct animal is only part of the compelling Australian character study we see here. I liked the movie a lot, and while it had some good competition for this last spot from the likes of ‘Your Sister’s Sister’, ‘The Five Year Engagement’, and actually ‘Ted’, I ultimately stuck with this one due to Dafoe’s terrific turn.
Honorable Mentions: Chronicle, The Five Year Engagement, Friends with Kids, Ted, and Your Sister’s Sister
1. The Vow- The worst thing I’ve seen this year. Everything about this movie is manipulative and poorly executed. The worst performance ever by Channing Tatum and a complete waste of Rachel McAdams, the more I think about this flick, the angrier I get. I never expected much from it, but I never thought it would be as abysmal as it was, literally to the point of almost being offensive. I hope this is the worst movie I see all year, since if it isn’t, I shudder to think what’s in store for me during the second half of 2012.
2. Piranha 3DD- The last flick was so bad it was good, this one is just so bad it’s bad. I’ll admit to actually looking forward to this movie, expecting some ridiculous fun. What I got instead was ineptitude and a direct to DVD quality experience. It even managed to taint my fond memories of ‘Piranha 3D’, sadly. Someone forgot to tell the makers of this movie why anyone liked the last flick in the first place. Sigh…
3. This Means War- No film this year has had more despicable characters than this one. Every person is awful and their actions are worse. Romantic comedies should have someone to root for, and it shouldn’t be the bad guy with 5 lines, but that’s how I felt here. I wanted him to brutalize the main characters and save me from this movie. It sucks out loud.
4. Don’t Go Into the Woods- I love low budget horror, but this is just terrible. Vincent D’Onofrio deserves a bit of credit for trying his hand at filmmaking (and for combining the slasher genre with the musical one), but that’s it. This is poorly made and not worth anyone’s time. Maybe his next movie will be better, and to be honest, it’s hard for it not to be. This is awful stuff.
5. Battleship- A hollow and jingoistic action epic with no point, rarely have I seen a clearly waste of money than this. A shameless aping of the ‘Transformers’ franchise is not the way to go when making a blockbuster that doesn’t get my derision, but this almost managed to make those films look good (almost though, mind you). Did we really need a board game turned into a film with no mention of the board game? Seriously?
6. The Lucky One- As stale a romance as can be, it also wastes whatever goodwill Zac Efron had from me for a better than expected performance in ’17 Again’. Not one moment of this film isn’t telegraphed, and it does the one thing I wish no more movies ever did…it has a character withhold information from another merely to keep the plot going, when the entire point of the meeting was to divulge said info. ‘People Like Us’ is guilty of that too, but at least that’s a decent movie weighed down by that issue. This is just a bad movie made worse…
7. Gone- A ridiculously stupid thriller, this movie makes me rethink my statements last year that Amanda Seyfried is going to be an A-list actress. She certainly needs to make better career choices than this one, which resembles the Lindsay Lohan disaster ‘I Know Who Killed Me’ in all of the wrong ways. The movie is bad, but it seems far worse considering how it sullies my thought on Seyfried.
8. A Thousand Words- There aren’t a thousand words to do justice to how poor this flick is. It’s probably safe to not think much of an Eddie Murphy comedy these days, but still…wow. I rarely don’t rejoice when a movie fails, but this is an exception. It deserved to be ignored just as much as it was. It has no idea what kind of a comedy to be, and decides instead to not be one at all.
9. One for the Money- I think I’m done with Katherine Heigl. I keep giving her more chances, and she keeps making terrible comedies like this one. I honestly can’t figure out why she thinks she can still retain an audience with her career choices, but I suppose that’s an issue for the historians to solve. For me, unless she makes a good movie soon, I’m calling it quits when it comes to her films.
10. Chernobyl Diaries- A decent idea is foiled by some of the stupidest decisions by any characters this year. There’s a good movie somewhere here, but it’s torpedoed by the people in the flick doing things so stupid they have no choice but to die for the good of human evolution. I’d love to see this horror film remade with a better script and some characters that make actual decisions. Until then though…avoid this flick.
1. Bernie- If more people saw this, we’d be talking about it as a potential Oscar player in the Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay fields. Actor is still a possibility for Jack Black, but it could be a long shot. It’s really a unique work, and while the box office hasn’t been bad, it hasn’t broken out like it should have, which hurts its awards prospects. Regardless, it’s the most underrated film of the year to date.
2. Safety Not Guaranteed- This should be the indie hit of the summer, but my guess is that it’s going to only do decent business and settle for finding its true audience on DVD. If it had become a mainstream success, I think a Best Original Screenplay nod could have been in the cards for it. My fingers are crossed, but I’m not hopeful.
3. The Hunter- I don’t know that anyone even knows that this movie exists. Granted, it’s not exactly a film that screams out to be seen in a theater (more people definitely saw this on VOD), but it still should have gotten more attention than it received. I’ll be talking more about it very soon in my DVD Column though, so stay tuned for that.
4. Being Flynn- Ditto for this one, as it pretty much came and went from theaters earlier this year and will have to settle for a home video audience discovering it. Paul Dano is channeling Nicolas Cage in a very interesting way, and Robert De Niro is a force of nature here. Keep an eye out for me to talk about it really soon, as it’s worth seeing when you have the opportunity to do so.
5. American Reunion- It’s not amazing, but it’s better than it has any right to be. The core emotional resonance and kindhearted nature that the series has always had was retained, and if it’s not as good as the original (none of the sequels are, though), it’s still an entertaining and raunchy comedy that manages to make a small statement about growing up.
1. Beasts of the Southern Wild- I’m a bit mystified by how well regarded this flick is, though I can understand it having its fans, if that makes sense. Essentially, parts of it are amazing, parts of it are decent, and parts of it are disappointing, so I can help but see it as the most overrated film of the year by far. I liked it quite a bit, but it’s not good enough to be an Oscar contender to me. We shall see though…
2. Moonrise Kingdom- This is just another Wes Anderson film to me, and not really anything special. The fuss over it doesn’t really make any sense, as it’s hardly Anderson’s best work…though it might be his most mainstream in a way. I didn’t dislike it, but I was decidedly mixed on it, and clearly find it overrated, especially when I hear it discussed as a potential Oscar player.
3. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel- It’s cute, but nothing more. How this has become one of the bigger indie successes of the year is beyond me. It doesn’t do anything special, and coasts by on the goodwill its aged cast generates. I liked it just fine, but I can’t understand the love at all.
4. Sound of My Voice- A good movie ruined by a frustratingly incomplete ending. This is the type of flick that has you right up until the last moment, and when the credits come up, you can’t help but feel cheated in some small way. I know there are a lot of fans out there, but I’m just not among them.
5. The Hunger Games- It’s good, but not as good as many have claimed it to be. Any talk of a Best Picture nomination is just silly. This is a movie many were worried would be bad, and when it turned out to be solidly entertaining, people just began to go off the deep end for it. I’m somewhere in between (it’s among my top 20 of the year so far) for me, but unworthy of its highest praise.
The Most Surprising Film of 2012 so far: Magic Mike
The Most Disappointing Film of 2012 so far: Prometheus
1. Jack Black in Bernie- I didn’t know that Jack Black had it in him. If I voted today, I’d give him the win for Best Actor (over Liam Neeson in ‘The Grey’) here. ‘Bernie’ is his movie, and he owns it. I hope this leads to more interesting things for him, as he shows tons of range in this flick. An Oscar nomination isn’t out of the question, but we shall see if voters remember him later on this year.
2. Tom Cruise in Rock of Ages- Someone forgot to tell Tom Cruise that ‘Rock of Ages’ is a tongue in cheek movie. He gives this flick his all, and easily becomes one of the few things worth watching as its charm wears thin. I loved the play, but the film didn’t do much for me…except for Cruise, that is. This is his ‘The Wrestler’ in a strange sort of way, and I loved him in it. I’d be very pleased if the Academy cited him for Best Supporting Actor somehow, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
3. Michelle Williams in Take This Waltz- Some might say she’s done something similar recently in ‘Blue Valentine’, and while I thought Michelle Williams was better there, she’s excellent here as well. Whether she can again get a Best Actress citation is something we’ll have to wait to see, but this is a different take on what could have been a standard sort of role. She really impressed me here with her performance, and it’s hard to do that when you’re as consistently good as she is.
4. Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers- Go figure, one of the mellowest actors out there in Mark Ruffalo turns out to be the man who can finally get The Hulk right. If ‘The Avengers’ gets any Oscar love beyond the technical categories look for Ruffalo’s empathetic role to possibly be a surprise nominee for Best Supporting Actor. Perhaps it’s a long shot, but I’ll cross my fingers anyhow.
5. Shirley MacLaine in Bernie- Black may be the best in the film, but Shirley MacLane’s essential supporting turn is the glue that keeps the movie running in tip top shape. She makes her character more than just a rich old shrew, and that’s important. Her chemistry with Black is also terrific. She deserves a Best Supporting Actress nomination for this top notch performance.
Male Honorable Mention: Liam Neeson in The Grey
Female Honorable Mention: Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild
Best Picture: The Avengers, Bernie, The Cabin in the Woods, Safety Not Guaranteed, and Take This Waltz
Best Director: Joe Carnahan (The Grey), Drew Goodard (The Cabin in the Woods), Richard Linklater (Bernie), Steven Soderbergh (Magic Mike), and Joss Whedon (The Avengers)
Best Actor: Jack Black (Bernie), Willem Dafoe (The Hunter), Mark Duplass (Your Sister’s Sister), Liam Neeson (The Grey), and Jason Segel (Jeff, Who Lives at Home)
Best Actress: Kara Hayward (Moonrise Kingdom), Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games), Aubrey Plaza (Safety Not Guaranteed), Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), and Michelle Williams (Take This Waltz)
Best Supporting Actor: Tom Cruise (Rock of Ages), Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods), Seth Rogen (Take This Waltz), Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers), Bradley Whitford (The Cabin in the Woods)
Best Supporting Actress: Kerry Bishe (Newlyweds), Emily Blunt (Your Sister’s Sister), Rosemarie DeWitt (Your Sister’s Sister), Shirley MacLaine (Bernie), and Brit Marling (Sound of My Voice)
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Avengers, Bernie, The Grey, The Hunger Games, and The Hunter
Best Original Screenplay: The Cabin in the Woods, The Five Year Engagement, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Magic Mike, and Safety Not Guaranteed
Now, I turn it over to you. What were your favorite films and performances of the year so far? Least favorite? What are you excited for in the second half? Whatever you want to talk about, consider this your time…have at it!
Discuss in the comments!