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Honorable Mentions: Moonrise Kingdom. Skyfall. Room 237. Magic Mike. Looper. Beasts of the Southern Wild. Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Compliance.
Disqualified: Two Australian films left a big impact on me this year. 1) The restoration of Wake in Fright, released this fall; the film would have easily made my Top 5, were it not actually from 1971. 2) The disturbing new film Hail effected me the way Amour seemed to effect most mainstream critics, but Hail is not officially released in the US yet (or much of anywhere).
Happiest Little Surprises: Pitch Perfect. Goon.
Movie I Still Can’t Believe I Like As Much As I Do: Jack Reacher.
Films I Missed: The Master. Cloud Atlas. The Perks of Being A Wallflower. The Central Park Five. West of Memphis. Silver Lining Playbook.

 

2012 JumpJosh on 21 Jump Street:

Who the hell thought this movie was going to be any good, let alone the funniest American comedy of the year? Not me. I had been expecting Hollywood to reboot Jump Street as a TV series one of these years, but the idea of bringing the show back as a wacky film comedy starring Jonah Hill reminded me of that aborted Jack Black Green Lantern project. Someone was going to come to their senses before things got too far. Then they didn’t. The real achievement here isn’t just that the film turned out funny, but that screenwriter Michael Bacall and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were able to make Jump Street funny without resorting to a detached satire of the original series like The Brady Bunch movie did. Jump Street actually works as a straight-forward comedy. And it is hysterically funny at times. I’d actually like a sequel.

Current rating: rating: 4 out of 5

Moment to savor: Without getting into spoilers, let’s just say a certain surprise cameo by a certain someone.

Performance to savor: Jonah Hill may be the Oscar-nominated actor and seasoned comedian, but Channing Tatum steals this movie from Hill. I never thought I’d type that sentence, but I just did.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Holy shit, Channing Tatum is funny!”

Buy it from us. | Tim’s Review.

 

2012 Detention Josh on Detention:

To call Detention “bonkers” is a gross understatement. It is beyond that. Over half a year has passed since I saw the film, and my brain is still reeling. I’m not entirely sure exactly what this movie is — is it a brilliant masterwork of controlled madness, or a hollow piece of meta confection that replaces substance with filmmaking artifice? I may never decided. But I am confident of two things: 1) This may be the weirdest movie I’ve ever seen that was made by a professional and successful director. And 2) If you view movies as an artform and not simply as an un-challenging avenue of entertainment, then you have to see it. This is definitely the “must see even if you hate it” film of 2012. The true madness to Detention isn’t even the off-the-wall subject matter, but writer-director Joseph Kahn’s ADHD presentation. The film is basically an entire season of a TV series, whipped through at feature length with disorientingly insane pacing.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Moment to savor: The opening scene in which the world’s most obnoxious high school meangirl breaks the fourth wall to introduce us to her world, before unexpectedly being murdered by a horror movie Slasher.

Performance to savor: Parker Bagley as Billy Nolan, a jock with cinema’s most ridiculous dark secret.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “This movie will make your brain shit its pants.”

Buy it from us. | Josh’s Review.

 

2012 CabinJosh on Cabin in the Woods:

This is a horror fan’s horror movie — a fact that some have used against the film. It isn’t trying to be scary. It isn’t really a horror movie. It is just a bunch of references you won’t even get if you don’t watch a lot of horror movies. Sure. But I do watch a lot of horror movies. It is your fault if you don’t. In a genre that even at its best is generally wallowing in repetition, Cabin is an island unto itself. It is truly unique. Even if you knew what to expect, you were nonetheless caught off guard when the film began with two government facility drones and immediately showed its hand. Cabin‘s script has Joss Whedon coming out the anus, for better or worse depending on your feeling towards Whedon’s Whedoniness. This very easily could have been a special two-part episode from Buffy or Angel. Admittedly, if you don’t like Whedon this could be a problem. So I feel fortunate that I happen to like Whedon’s Whedoniness quite a lot. The intentionally cliche college kids storyline loses some luster on repeat viewings, but the puppet-masters portions of the film only get better.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Moment to savor: The journey through (and unlocking) of the monster zoo, featuring a who’s-who of horror movie homages — my favorite being the pseudo-Cenobite and his spherical puzzle.

Performance to savor: The duo of Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. I really wish we could get a prequel TV series about these guys.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Someone got some meta on my horror movie.”

Buy it from us. | Renn’s Review.

 

2012 SleepJosh on Sleep Tight:

Considering that Jaume Balagueró wrote and co-directed REC and REC 2, I had certain expectations entering this film — especially because, like the REC films, Sleep Tight takes place solely inside an apartment complex. But Sleep Tight isn’t a horror movie. It isn’t even really a thriller. It is a quietly demented dark comedy that evolves into a devilishly tense dark-comedy-thriller towards the very end. The movie feels like a fucked up rendition of that section of Amelie where Amelie is messing with her jackass neighbor; changing his shoe sizes and such. I wasn’t that familiar with star Luis Tosar going into the film, but he is what makes the film skip along with such twisted charm. Cesar is a truly despicable character, a pure sociopath with a soulless motive. Yet you relish his every terrible victory, big and small, rooting for him to somehow get away with it all. At least I did. Maybe I’m a horrible person.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Moment to savor: A brilliantly nail-biting scene, when Cesar spills ether on his face while trying to make a silent, unnoticed escape — which of course makes doing so fairly impossible.

Performance to savor: As already mentioned, this is Luis Tosar’s movie through and through.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Remember to be extra nice to your building supervisor this year.”

Buy it from us.

 

2012 HeadhuntersJosh on Headhunters:

This blazing adaptation of crime novelist Jo Nesbø’s book is the kind of film that the pull-quote “thrill ride” should be reserved for, instead of the myriad action films that receive the generic appraisal year after year. Gripping, gleeful, and unpredictable, Headhunters is a walls-closing-in thriller that becomes doubly fun as the “how will our hero get out of this mess” tension is fused with “holy shit, where is this going” chase-movie intensification. And boy do things intensify. Headhunters is an utterly preposterous movie that borders on parody at times, but it doesn’t contain the kind of plot-holes that require you to turn a blind eye. Don’t get me wrong, much (hell, most) of the story will leave you with a dubious smirk if you pull it through ye ol’ logic machine. It contains a lot of one-in-a-million moments of chance, but it never quite gets out of step. Even with plot-holes the movie would be a great “thrill ride,” but it holds up well to repeat viewings because there aren’t any.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Moment to savor: When our hero Roger, left with nowhere else to run, decides to hide in an outhouse. In the lower portion of an outhouse. In the lower portion of the lower portion of an outhouse, using a tube to breathe while submerged beneath an unpleasantly authentic level of bathroom build-up.

Performance to savor: Eivind Sander as Roger’s gun-toting, hooker-loving accomplice Ove.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Part No Way Out, part The Fugitive, with a twisty-turny escalation towards exquisite lunacy to rival David Fincher’s The Game.”

Buy it from us. | Josh’s Review.

 

2012 HolyJosh on Holy Motors:

I’ve noticed a recurring theme in most reviews of Holy Motors — the reviewer starts off by saying that they aren’t sure they entirely understand the film, but that the film is brilliant anyway. It sounds rather lazy to say “It is genius, whatever it is.” But that about sums it up for me. Like most people, I too walked out of Leos Carax’s meta-fantasia with a sense of awed bewilderment. Not every part of the film worked equally for me, yet it never allowed me to withdraw from its grip. I saw the film at Fantastic Fest this year, a festival that often finds me seeing four or five movies in a single day — most totally weird and fringe. Yet Holy Motors lingered in my mind and keeps lingering. Like Detention, after a while, if I’m debating whether or not something is brilliant or just weird for its own sake, I have to concede that the mere fact that I’m debating this demonstrates that the film is special. And unlike Detention, Carax’s film takes time to linger. Holy Motors may never add up to something in my mind, but few films this year can compare with it on a scene-by-scene basis.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Moment to savor: There are so many strange moments in the film to choose from that my mind keeps straying back to a quiet and intimate car-ride conversation between our hero Oscar (in one of his many “roles”) and his daughter.

Performance to savor: It is hard to choose, everyone is – I’m just kidding. Denis Lavant tackles one of the most enviable (though surely terrifying to take on) acting roles I’ve ever seen. Lavant, playing multiple bizarre roles, takes the shtick of Eddie Murphy and drags it through the arthouse.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Holy Motors, more like Holy Cow!” – said in a Gene Shalit impression.

 

2012 ScreamJosh on The American Scream:

Unlike Michael Stephenson’s previous breakout documentary, Best Worst Movie, which had an absurd film production to recount/re-live, a host of long-lost cast members to revisit, and two decades worth of bizarre fan growth to explore and highlight, The American Scream‘s subject matter is comparatively wispy. Halloween home haunters are a mildly interesting topic, maybe enough for a solid five-minute news segment.  These are just average people putting together complicated but completely inconsequential holiday decorations. If they fail, what will happen? Kids will shrug and move on to the next house on the street to get some candy; which they’re going to do regardless. The stakes are non-existent. This is Stephenson’s challenge. And he succeeds by not bothering with “stakes.” There is no faux sense of urgency or drama. Stephenson and his crew are interested in the people and what motivates them to put so much blood and sweat into something that will only exist for a few hours on a single evening. Unsurprisingly, what he comes away with is very funny. The big surprise is how moving and inspirational the film is.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Moment to savor: The “pay-off” in which we finally see teens and parents with small children, dressed up in their Halloween best, going through the home haunts. It is an odd experience to tear up with joy seeing small children nervously clutching their parents with terror. But goddammit, I did. Many times.

Performance to savor: Victor Bariteau is the heart and soul of the film, but his oldest daughter, Catherine, in the secret star. When Catherine excitedly dumps out a box of mutilated Barby dolls, and then tells the camera, “I hate Barbies,” a whole generation of young male horror fans surely found a new crush.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “The Halloween movie that will make grown men cry.”

Buy it from us. | Josh’s Review.

 

2012 RalphJosh on Wreck-It Ralph:

If 2012 is our indicator, it seems that Disney and Pixar have gone Freaky Friday and been brain-swapped. Pixar’s Brave felt decidedly Disney to me, and Wreck-It Ralph was Pixar through and through. Somewhat inexplicably, video games have proven elusive to filmmakers. Even ignoring all the heinous specific game adaptations, just the concept of a video game – the aesthetics, the rules, how we perceive them – has historically been embarrassingly represented in movies. Ralph gets video games the same way Toy Story got toys, and Roger Rabbit got cartoons. The film is not as perfect or ground-breaking as either of those other films, but Ralph filled a void. And it filled it well, with genuine inspiration and heart. It would have been easy to phone in this film, relying solely on “Hey, remember this game?” references, but Ralph sought to build a world instead. Pixar’s influence is felt most in the world-building area, where director Rich Moore cleverly uses video game logic and limitations to craft the inner-workings of Ralph‘s world — I’m hard pressed to think of another recent movie that left me with such a strong desire to continue exploring its universe.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Moment to savor: The scene in which Ralph smashes Vanellope’s new car was easy to see coming. The fact that the moment nonetheless got to me emotionally was not.

Performance to savor: Alan Tudyk channeling Ed Wynn as King Candy.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Finally someone made a good video game movie!”

Buy it from us. | Josh and Tim’s Review.

 

2012 Sleepless NightJosh on Sleepless Night:

This movie floored me with its awesomeness. The movie kept reminding me of De Palma’s Snake Eyes. The two films don’t share any story or stylistic similarities, but the single-location setting and real-time pacing nonetheless kept my mind making the connection. But whereas Snake Eyes only worked (if it worked for you at all) because of sheer De Palma/Nic Cage gonzo verve, Sleepless Night also packs legit dramatic punches. The film is just balls-out kick ass. Don’t know any other way to say it. It is tense, fun, funny, inventive, never lets up, and is totally fulfilling. It also features one of the best fight scenes in the past ten years — a seemingly endless and increasingly wince-inducing fist fight between our hero and one of the film’s many antagonists in the club’s kitchen, while the bewildered (and at this point, comically indifferent) kitchen staff try to keep out of the way. Subtitles aside, this film could not be more accessible for Americans unless it starred Tom Cruise. Of course, an American remake is already in the works. Probably with Tom Cruise.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Moment to savor: The aformentioned thrilling, knock-down bare-knuckle kitchen brawl.

Performance to savor: Tomer Sisley as Vincent. This is a one-man kind of film, and Sisley owns it.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “It reminded me of Snakes Eyes, only actually good.”

Buy it from us.

 

2012 RaidJosh on The Raid: Redemption:

Gareth Evans and his white-knuckled bruiser of a film seemed to come out of no where this year. Cutting his chops in Indonesia, Evans came to us a fully-formed action director, with a visual “voice” ready to hit those high-notes. It isn’t that hard to fill a movie with wall-to-wall mayhem, or brutal fights, but it is incredibly hard to do so and keep us all engaged and on the edge of our seat. The Raid did that. And then some. The film is practically the definition of a “no story” film, making all the Die Hard comparisons it got rather off-base — The Raid‘s narrative makes Die Hard‘s story look like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Evans’ film is so single-minded it shouldn’t work. Yet Evans found poetry in the film’s utter simplicity, and slapped down his calling card with a loud bang. There’s a new sheriff in town.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Moment to savor: The tense, Hitchcockian scene with our hero Rama stuck inside a wall, as a thug randomly stabs a sword through the drywall to see if anyone is hiding within.

Performance to savor: Yayan Ruhian as the diminutive yet ferocious Mad Dog.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “It won’t just entertain you. It won’t just rouse you. This movie will kick your ass.”

Buy it from us. | Josh’s Review.

 

2012 BullheadJosh on Bullhead:

If your perception of Belgium is based solely on In Bruges, then Bullhead will change your mind like a punch to the face. Writer/director Michael R. Roskam takes us into the criminal underworld of the Belgian cattle industry, where illegal beef hormones are peddled with the same seriousness and danger as cocaine. Roskam uses this familiar Sopranos-esque setting as a backdrop for the tale of Bullhead’s antihero, Jacky Vanmarsenille, a tortured and rage-consumed gorilla who juices himself with just as many steroids as he gives his cows. The fact that Roskam and an unrecognizably beefed up Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust & Bone) make you not only feel sympathy for Jacky, but at times find him somewhat adorable as he awkwardly attempts to woo an old crush, is what makes the film far more than a straight gangster flick.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Moment to savor: The horrifying flashback detailing Jacky’s childhood injury.

Performance to savor: Matthias Schoenaerts consumes this film.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “This movie has balls.” [That won’t make sense if you haven’t seen it.]

Buy it from us. | Josh’s Review.

 

2012 ZeroJosh on Zero Dark Thirty:

I thought The Hurt Locker was an exciting and excellently directed film, though I did not think the overall product was quite as number-one-film-of-the-year phenomenal as the rest of the critical community did. But Zero Dark Thirty finds Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal’s reaching their stride examining similar themes and characters, not to mention locales. The film’s extreme topicality should have hurt it (for me at least), but Bigelow’s casual yet fraught direction rooted the film to its characters in a way that prevented it from being ripped-from-the-headlines sensational. The film has been accused of validating torture, but I never felt that the larger conversation about torture was based solely whether or not it ever worked. Because obviously it works sometimes. Zero Dark Thirty is about the people doing the torture. Bigelow and Boal tell us the story from their perspective, doing bad things so we can all take the moral high-ground. We live in a world of grey areas, some very dangerous ones, and it would have been incredibly disingenuous for Zero Dark Thirty to have presented things otherwise. The film has also stirred up controversy of a far stupider and less grey-area kind — the idea that Kathryn Bigelow is over-rated because she is a woman, and an attractive woman. Hollywood does love a good real-life narrative. Maybe Bigelow wouldn’t be getting as much attention right now if she weren’t an attractive woman. So what? I couldn’t care less what motivations get good films made. None of these misogynist detractors seem to say similar things about Hollywood’s current boner for handsome Ben Affleck, or its boners for George Clooney or Robert Redford before him. Bigelow has been making excellent films since the mid-’80s. I’m not really sure how anyone can see Zero Dark Thirty and feel that Bigelow is being coddled by the industry unfairly. The film is complex, provocative, and electric at times.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Moment to savor: The lengthy climactic compound assault is what pushed this film from a 3.5 to a 4.5 for me. The whole sequence is gorgeously taught. The almost mundane efficiency with which the Navy Seals carry out their mission heightens the peeking-around-the-corner intensity to horror movie levels, and realistically delays the catharsis of the ending we already know is coming — in turn making the film’s final moment fully resonate.

Performance to savor: Jessica Chastain. Her emotional freak-out on Kyle Chandler is the thing Oscar clips are made of.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “The critics Osama been laudin’ this film with praise.” Boom!

 

2012 KlownJosh on Klown:

Mikkel Nørgaard’s international break-out comedy (soon to be remade for subtitle-phobic Americans) is actually a film adaptation of the popular Danish TV sitcom Klovn, in which comedians Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen play fictionalized versions of themselves. Yet, aside from missing some of the humor in seeing respected Danes playing themselves in the film (such as filmmaker Jørgen Leth), Klown is so goddamn funny that you don’t need any context whatsoever to laugh your ass off. The jokes stand on their own, with nothing lost in translation. The film takes some inspiration from The Hangover, keeping all the ribald humor but pushing things into darker and more uncomfortable corners, and – oddly enough – walks away with a more heart-warming and uplifting conclusion for its efforts.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Moment to savor: The scene in which Frank, while trying fruitlessly to get some sleep, is asked to lend a helping finger while Casper is awkwardly having sex next to Frank in the same bed.

Performance to savor: Casper Christensen. Casper is the “Vince Vaughn” of the film, though we’re talking Swingers Vaughn, not Fred Klaus Vaughn.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Thumbs up…your ass.”

Buy it from us. | Josh’s Review.

 

2012 AvengersJosh on The Avengers:

If the war-weary and economically stressed ‘00s were following a similar filmmaking trajectory as the war-weary and economically stressed ‘70s, then The Avengers must be the new Star Wars. I didn’t know it until my ass was in the theater seat, but apparently I’ve burnt out on the gritty, unsmiling post-9/11 phase of filmmaking. I’m ready to start having some fun again. Most everyone seemed to enjoy The Avengers, but most were also quick to dismiss the film once it came to discussion of “true” quality, as though making a movie spectacularly entertaining is somehow easy. If such is the case, why am I so painfully bored with so many mainstream action films? The Avengers has a threadbare-leaning-towards-non-existent story, but Joss Whedon was savvy enough to know that too much story would just get in the way. There are times when we don’t need to take everything so seriously. The Avengers was such a time. Marvel Studios, their filmmakers and actors, had already put in the time and ground work. They’d played the season. Whedon had the Pro Bowl. He not only pulled off and stuck the landing on Marvel’s questionably high-concept franchise orgy, but he did so with far, far more aplomb than I could have expected even in my most adoring moments of Whedon’s TV career. I knew he’d deliver the banter, but I was uncertain if he could deliver the action and scope. I’m now fine with Marvel jerking around with however many franchises they’d like, as long as we get an Avengers sequel of this comparable quality every few years.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Moment to savor: It is a herculean task to select just one savory moment in what is essentially a montage of savory moments, but measuring the decibel level of audience shit-losing from the two times I saw the film in the theater, the winner has to be Hulk’s cathartic Droopy Dog-style ass-whooping of Loki.

Performance to savor: Mark Ruffalo. After two other Hulk films that couldn’t figure out how to make Bruce Banner even a quarter as interesting as his green counterpart, Ruffalo did the impossible — he made us not mind if he took awhile to get angry.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Hulk smashed my expectations.”

Buy it from us. | Josh’s Review.

 

2012 DjangoJosh on Django Unchained:

I saw The Hobbit and Django in the same week, and it was hard not to see the two films as kindred spirits. In both we can see a director with the resources and prestige to indulge himself with a meandering, masturbatory three hour film the could easily have been significantly shorter and still accomplished its narrative goals. The big difference between the two is that I desperately wanted The Hobbit to be a full hour shorter, and – pardon the expression – apparently I’m more than happy to watch Quentin Tarantino jerk off on whatever the hell he wants for as long as he wants. If it weren’t for Death Proof, I’d be tempted to say Tarantino is infallible when it comes to lengthy dialogue and irregular structure, because no matter where Django rambled or moseyed, it felt on the money, expanding upon all that came before it in the film. It takes a special, unique sort of film to feel like an instant classic while you’re watching it. But it is becoming old hat for Tarantino at this point. Django has also caused me to turn around on Jamie Foxx. I wasn’t happy with his casting originally. Now I can’t imagine it any other way. Foxx’s eyes brought palpable fire and rage to his performance.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Moment to savor: Calvin Candie’s epic phrenology speech.

Performance to savor: Samuel L. Jackson’s sycophantic and eminently hatable Stephen. Jackson takes a Stepin Fetchit-esque stereotype and conjures a plantation-era Littlefinger [that's a Game of Thrones reference for the un-indoctrinated.] In a film overflowing with extremely unlikable characters, Jackson’s Stephen inspires a special level of hate.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Tarantino jerks off on us again, and it tastes… Okay, I’m sorry. I’ll just stop there.

Tim’s Review.