It seems like every year the ticket prices and movie budgets go up a little more, but do the movies get better? Unwinnable’s picks for the ten best movies of 2012 were as diverse as we are, from documentaries to Bollywood musicals, indie dramas to franchise sequels. But when all was said and voted, these ten came out as the clear winners, with Marvel’s The Avengers as the far and away winner. Do you agree? Disagree? What does your top ten list look like?
The “Are You Surprised This is Unwinnable’s Movie of the Year?” Award: The Avengers
All right, this probably wasn’t the best movie of 2012, but this is Unwinnable, so give us a break. The lynchpin of “stage 1” of Marvel’s master plan to conquer our hearts, wallets, and movie screens, The Avengers links together the films Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America into a six-way superhero showdown. In addition to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, and Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers/Captain America, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanov/Black Widow and Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye, both briefly appearing in Iron Man 2 and Thor respectively, are introduced as full-fledged superheroes, and Mark Ruffalo completes the team as a surprisingly wonderful Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk. Together the six heroes have to stop Loki (Tom Hiddleston) from conquering the earth – and also keep an eye on Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and S.H.I.E.L.D. Add Joss Whedon as writer and director, complete with his snappy dialogue and acute nose for drama, and the heroes’ own egos, and it’s not hard to see why this movie won Unwinnable’s top spot.
- Jill Scharr
The “Ben Affleck is a Much Better Director than You Think” Award: Argo
During the Iran hostage crisis of 1979, CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) devises a plan to get six escaped embassy workers out of the country: they’re going to pretend to be location scouts for a B-list science fiction movie called “Argo.” The movie mixes the busy gravity of CIA headquarters with the self-aware humor and hullaballoo of Hollywood and the life-or-death anxiety of Tehran to great effect. Alan Arkin is particularly stunning as a snarky film producer who coins the conspirators’ catchphrase, “Argo fuck yourself!” and well earned his Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor. Affleck also earned a nom for Best Director and even if he doesn’t win, he’s proved himself an excellent director and really, really wants us to stop talking about Gigli and Daredevil, please. We love Argo (the movie, not the movie within the movie) because on top of its tense, fast pace and sharp dialogue, it’s a film that celebrates the power of storytelling and science-fiction in the real world.
- Jill Scharr
The “Nostalgically Symmetrical” Award: Moonrise Kingdom
This year, Wes Anderson astounded audiences with Moonrise Kingdom. A quirky Scout’s Honor play on a Romeo and Juliet story, Anderson took us on a journey through the eyes of innocent youth and young love. Moonrise Kingdom was, by far, my favorite film of the year and Anderson’s best to date. Just like the films preceding it, the cast delivered a constant screen-stealing struggle. The love story around which the film revolves is sweet, hysterical and perfectly sincere. I was blown away by the visuals in this film, the eccentric writing and the film’s time period ambiguity; everything feels incredibly tangible and real, but at the same time entirely implacable. Anderson manages to paint a gorgeous picture where the setting and subject matter fall into anonymity, but you can’t help but fall in love with it all the same. Your senses trust his artful ability to lead a cohesive story, and it’s all the more fulfilling when he does so successfully. Wes Anderson showcased his best work in 2012, and seems to only be getting better with every film.
- Erik Weinbrecht
The “Tongue Firmly in Cheek” Award: The Cabin in the Woods
Two directors – or worse, two entire crews – should never build separate halves of the same film. You’ll end up with incongruous mush, Hollywood says. Gosh, Robert Rodriguez caught hell for trying to give Sin City’s Frank Miller the credit he deserved for the graphic novel’s film adaptation. Don’t rock Hollywood’s boat by daring to collaborate. The Cabin in the Woods doesn’t list a second director, but you don’t need to wait through the credits to figure out that producer and co-writer Joss Whedon took a turn on the fancy chair – second unit director, specifically.
It’d spoil the movie to reveal which half was his, but his Whedon-ey fingerprints brighten the screen the moment they assert themselves. Really, spoiler warnings could be levied for much of this topsy-turvy horror flick’s details. Suffice it to say, the great truth of horror films – that the juiciest delights come from peeling back expectations – itself gets peeled back a few times by Whedon and director/co-writer Drew Goddard as this film dives toward its calamitous climax when two stark halves eventually collide. Here’s the rub, though: unlike so-called tongue-in-cheek films like Scream, The Cabin in the Woods looks directly at itself – through its two halves – and mocks itself before a goddamned Wayans can ruin the fun. And while I used to hate the film’s ending, I’ve grown to appreciate its permanence – its head-slice of the film’s canon, so that the bastard might never reproduce. Hollywood must hate that.
- Sam Machkovech
The “Beautiful Singing Voice” Award: The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy comes to an end with The Dark Knight Rises, a movie that gives The Avengers a run for its money as best superhero film of the year. Batman, thought guilty for the death of Harvey Dent, hasn’t been seen in eight years and Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse, his body and his mind ravaged by combat and the loss of his childhood love. But Bruce puts the costume on again when he encounters cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), and soon uncovers a plot to destroy Gotham orchestrated by the mysterious masked mercenary known as Bane (Tom Hardy).
Michael Cain also stars as a heartbreakingly wonderful Alfred, Gary Oldman as the old and hardened Commissioner Gordon, Morgan Freeman as supplier-of-gadgets-and-financial-advice Lucius Fox, Marion Cotillard as a businesswoman with a connection to Bruce’s past, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake, a young police officer who hasn’t lost faith in Batman. The movie has its fair share of pacing problems and plot holes, but it makes up for it with an incredible cast; Anne Hathaway in particular makes a brilliant Catwoman. This is Batman as we’ve never before seen it on the big screen, and the result is a high-intensity story about limits, and what happens when we break them. My only complaint is that he doesn’t use the bat-grapple thing once in the entire movie. I love that thing.
- Jill Scharr
The “Clementine Who?” Award: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Though the world didn’t end as the Mayans predicted, if it did, we couldn’t find a better role model with how to deal with it than then-six-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis’ heart-rending performance in Beasts of the Southern Wild. There were bigger and stronger heroes at the multiplex this year, but no one could’ve navigated the flood-ravaged bayou (and her unravelling father’s vicious mood swings) better than Wallis’ Hushpuppy, unflappable in the face of apocalypse. Most showbiz kids nab roles that are cloyingly cute, like singing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow’” in Annie. Hushpuppy knows the sun ain’t coming out anytime soon, but that doesn’t seem to bother her much.
- Ethan Sacks
The “Thirteenth Monkey” Award: Looper
Rian Johnson’s science fiction thriller is an interesting take on the time travel and hitman genres. It features both of these tropes and plays with the contrasts of high tech and rustic, of parallel time streams and even a little bit about human mutation. Meanwhile, all of this stuff takes a back seat to the main plot involving the character Joe (played by Bruce Willis) traveling back in time to change how his life turns out. He realizes that if he kills a child he can stop the events of his future, but first has to go back in time and prevent himself from being killed.
Joe’s a Looper, a hitman of the future who kills the mob trash of the even more distant future sent back in time. Loopers are called this because one day they will be sent back a hit that, once accomplished, will turn out to be them as an old man from the future. They are given a ridiculous payout for this hit and can live out their days until that fateful hit occurs. The Looper Joe as a young man is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. When the older Joe sends himself back in time and prevents his hit at the hands of his younger self, it sets off a thrilling chain of events that immediately start changing the timestream. This is a fun science fiction action thriller with some brains to boot, which is refreshing in a time where science fiction is often an excuse for some mindless romp about robots, aliens, or alien robots beating us up. While there is a place for this, some variety to the genre is refreshingly welcome.
- Michael Edwards
The “Ballet of Violence” Award: The Raid: Redemption
I have never seen a movie as fluidly, beautifully violent as The Raid: Redemption. Neither talking about it nor stills do it justice. It needs to move.
That is only two minutes of the movie. There are 99 more minutes of head bashing, stabbing, shooting and nail biting thrills. This isn’t one of the best action movies of the year, it’s one of the best action movies ever made.
- Stu Horvath
The “Shaken Not Stirred” Award: Skyfall
Sam Mendes took the bloody shot at finding the perfect mix of the Daniel Craig’s gritty, realistic James Bond from Casino Royale and the comfort food tropes (one liners! Q! Aston Martin!) of the franchise from the last 50 years for Skyfall. And unlike a worn-down 007, the first time action director could hit a bullseye. Bond struggles to keep ahead of his tragic past and keep pace with a villain (Javier Bardem’s scene-chewing villain, Sylva), but has had his License to Kill both renewed and revitalized in the process. If Judi Dench doesn’t get a Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination for her performance as M, it can only be because an evil hacker manipulated the electronic voting tallies.
- Ethan Sacks
The “Big Things Have Small Beginnings” Award: Prometheus
I know Prometheus was hit or miss with a lot of viewers, but it placed high on my personal favorites list in 2012. Ridley Scott was again at the helm and was able to paint a bleak, yet curious backdrop for the latest addition to his Xenomorph plagued story. He introduced us to the completely svelt and alopecia-stricken Engineers who created us humans and then sought to snuff us out. Silly plot holes, an extremely ill-programmed cyborg and some seriously stupid scientists making horribly unscientific decisions aside, Prometheus was an excellent science fiction story that managed to be gritty as well as polished: the sound design and 3D were some of, if not, the best of the year. There was a healthy amount of fan appreciation in Prometheus, mostly surrounding the back story the “Space Jockey” and the rather accidental way one of Hollywood’s greatest monsters was brought into this world. If we get to see any continuation of this story, I’ll be curious to see whether or not Scott will further connect with the Alien films, or distance it.
- Erik Weinbrecht