Top 10 Movies of 2012

10. Pitch Perfect

Movies get bonus points for coming out of nowhere and surprising me, which is exactly what Pitch Perfect did. I like Anna Kendrick and a capella singing just fine, but neither would typically be enough to get me to the theater by themselves. What I do love are movies about contests that We’ve Just Gotta Win and this one is hilarious (especially – but not only – thanks to Rebel Wilson).

9. The Dark Knight Rises

Not as great as The Dark Knight, but it’s a good finale to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. It proved once and for all that Nolan’s Batman is not the comic-book Batman, but I’m okay with that. I not only like the way Nolan finishes the series, I wish the comics would wrap up the same way.

The thing I was most excited about for this film though was seeing Catwoman and it didn’t disappoint me on that level. Anne Hathaway narrowly edges out Julie Newmar as my favorite Catwoman (only because Newmar’s version had a touch of crazy that I don’t think the character needs).

8. The Cabin in the Woods

Embraces most of what I love about horror movies while making fun of everything I hate. The ending isn’t perfect, but the rest of it sure is.

7. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I’m a sucker for elderly British people and stories about second chances. This was right in my wheelhouse on so many levels.

6. Skyfall

I haven’t actually talked to anyone who’s called Skyfall the best Bond movie ever, but I’ve heard that such people exist. If I were to meet someone with that point of view, my response would be, “Really?” Because I don’t think they’re thinking that through very well.

Skyfall is a lot of fun, it’s gorgeous, and it works both as the 50th anniversary of the Bond series and as the finale of the trilogy started in Casino Royale. I especially love it from that last perspective. Say what you want about Quantum of Solace‘s dumb story and boring villain, but one thing that film did right was continue the story of Bond’s relationship with his country as personified by M. Skyfall pays that story off in a beautiful way while also reintroducing elements from the pre-Casino Royale films that I didn’t realize how much I’d missed. It’s also got a great villain and covers its themes in interesting ways. It’s a great Bond film.

But the best ever? No way. It owes too much to the early Connery films to seriously consider letting it surpass them. I’m not even sure I like it as much as The Living Daylights or Casino Royale.

5. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

My including The Hobbit this high on the list is all the evidence anyone needs to verify that this Top 10 is my personal one and not an attempt at the 10 Objectively Greatest Movies of the year. If I were being objective about it, I’d agree with the critics who point out that Peter Jackson is indulging his every whim at the expense of telling a tight story. There’s a reason that he released a Theatrical Cut of the Lord of the Rings films and then an Extended Edition for DVD. A lot of people simply don’t have the patience to sit through scenes that legitimately could have been deleted to improve the pacing.

That said, I’m solidly in the camp of people who will only ever watch the Extended Editions of Lord of the Rings. I love all that extra stuff. I love seeing Middle Earth that fleshed out. I absolutely don’t mind seeing Jackson do the same thing with The Hobbit. But I also can’t be too harsh on those who do mind it. Jackson risked alienating those folks when he chose not to release a shorter, theatrical version, so it’s fair for them to say it didn’t work for them.

Even for me, it’s not perfect. With Lord of the Rings, I love pretty much every change Jackson made to Tolkien’s novels, but I miss the Bilbo that was blustered out his front door and into adventure by Gandalf in the book. Jackson’s Bilbo begins his journey too eagerly for my taste. He’s too heroic too early. It felt right as I watching it, so maybe I’ll re-evaluate after I’ve seen all three films, but it feels like Jackson needed to speed up Bilbo’s character development in order to make him more likable in this installment of the trilogy.

That – and the fact that it is the first installment in a trilogy instead of a complete story – keeps The Hobbit from being higher on my list.

4. Mirror Mirror

I’ve already written about Mirror Mirror a couple of times, so I’ll spare us all another review. I really, really love this movie though.

3. Les Misérables

I knew I was going to have problems with this movie from the first time I saw the trailer and teared up listening to “I Dreamed a Dream.” And I was right. Through the whole film, if I wasn’t crying over the human misery, I was crying from the joy of hearing those songs again.

I’ve seen Les Misérables on stage a few times. It’s my favorite musical and the reason I think Phantom of the Opera is over-rated. So I’m very familiar with the songs, but I don’t own a cast recording and can’t listen to them any time I want. I’ve never cared about hearing the songs outside of the context of the story as presented by actors.

But because I love those songs – and the story – so much, I’ve longed for a version with actors that I could own and watch whenever I want. In other words, I’ve been wanting this movie for about twenty years. And it was everything I hoped it would be. (Even Russell Crowe, who isn’t an especially strong Javert, but has a perfectly lovely singing voice outside of that.)

The only reason Les Misérables isn’t higher on my list is because I can’t separate it from my feelings about the stage production. I don’t know how I would’ve felt about it if I wasn’t already in love with it from the moment it was announced.

2. The Avengers

Oh, wait… I mean the other Avengers movie about a red-headed spy in a black catsuit.

I seriously reconfigured my Top 3 movies I don’t know how many times right up to the point of writing this post. There was a long time this year that I couldn’t imagine any movie bumping The Avengers from first place.

A lot of my love for the movie is because it never should have worked. If I’ve learned anything from a lifetime of movie watching, it’s that movies are never as awesome as we hope they’ll be. From the moment Samuel L. Jackson appeared at the end of Iron Man, we were all thrilled by the notion of an integrated universe of Marvel superhero films all leading to an all-star Avengers movie. But admit it, you didn’t think it would deliver, did you? I certainly didn’t. It couldn’t possibly live up to the awesomeness of its premise.

Except it did. It totally did.

And, in the process, it gave us the Hulk movie we’d all been waiting for.

1. Looper

Outside of its being really stinking good, the reason Looper is number one on my list is because it’s not based on something I already loved. I had to give it bonus points for being a completely original story about characters I’d never heard of before. And what a story.

I dig a good, tightly plotted time-travel story as much as the next person, but what I really love are stories that make me think and re-evaluate my opinions about people. I can’t talk about how Looper does that without going into spoilers, but it’s so much more than just a fun, scifi movie and deserves to be Number One.

Let’s do Nerd Lunch

I have my Top 10 Films of 2012 post all ready to go, but I’m gonna push it back to tomorrow in favor of telling you that I got to join in one of my favorite pop-culture podcasts this week. Nerd Lunch is typically hosted by three guys and I love the way they organize the show. They always keep a fourth chair open for a guest and in addition to whatever the week’s topic is they have cool, recurring features like Nerd To Dos and letting each guest ask a question of the next guest.

One of the usual hosts, Jeeg was absent this time, but CT, Pax, and I talked about non-superhero comics. We discussed some classics, some ones we grew up with, ones we love now, ones we want to try, ones we don’t want to try… We even spent a little time trying to define what constitutes a superhero comic and I got to create a rock band from characters of a TV show of my choosing. It was a blast and I hope they ask me back, perhaps to defend Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, which I totally volunteered to do, but I’m up for whatever. Call me maybe.

Anyway, I hope you’ll give it a listen and yell at your mobile device when we don’t mention one of your favorite comics. That’s what I do with most podcasts I listen to and it’s half the fun.

I co-wrote a movie. Wanna see?

If you’ve got nine minutes and want to see a musical, modern-day Western that I had something to do with (featuring geeks vs. bikers), here’s your hook-up.

The film was made in 48 hours as part of the Minneapolis 48 Hour Film Project. My sister was the production manager and she invited me to join her on the writing team with her friend Erin. I had a blast doing it.

Kill All Monsters, Alterna Comics, and Kickstarter

Here’s the final, lettered cover of Kill All Monsters, Volume 1: Ruins of Paris. You might notice the Alterna logo in the lower, right hand corner, which is something that we haven’t really said a whole lot about yet. I want to clarify a little about that and why – even though we have a publisher – we’ll still be holding a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the printing.

First of all, Jason and I are both thrilled that Alterna is the official publisher of Volume 1. They publish some cool genre stuff like The Secret Adventures of Houdini and New York Times bestseller, FUBAR, so we feel like we’re in good company there. Also, we retain 100% ownership of Kill All Monsters and give up no rights or money if the comic ever gets adapted to other media.

The reason we still need to do a Kickstarter campaign though is that Alterna’s not a traditional publisher. As their website explains, creators pay for their own print runs and for shipping books to distributors. For Alterna’s cut of the profits, they handle all the pre-press, coordinate with the printer, and get the book distributed through Diamond, comiXology, and a few other channels so that the book will be available in comics stores, bookstores, and on mobile devices. Basically, it’s like self-publishing, but with the benefit of Alterna’s experience in the business side of getting comics to market. Frankly, a couple of rookies like us are thrilled to have the help.

More info as I get it, but right now, I’m just excited that the book’s moving closer and closer to becoming something we can hold in our hands.

10 Honorable Mention Films from 2012

20. The Five-Year Engagement

I lost patience toward the middle when it took some really stupid decision-making to prolong the engagement to five years, but even when it stretched credibility, the movie never stopped being funny or having Jason Segel in it. It wins points for both of those things.

19. John Carter

Nowhere near the mess that lots of people claim it was; just not as spectacular as it should have been for the talent involved. It’s a fun, scifi escape with a couple of legitimately great moments; we just all hoped for so much more.

18. The Amazing Spider-Man

“Expectations” are a recurring theme on my honorable mentions list this year. I didn’t have high ones for The Amazing Spider-Man and like most people, I questioned the fundamental existence of the project. It was made for purely cynical, We Have to Do This or Lose the License reasons.

But though it contains some highly unnecessary rehashing of the Sam Raimi material, it also found some new things to do with its tone and the central relationships. It’s worthwhile for Peter and Gwen alone.

17. ParaNorman

I love the theme in ParaNorman about being your own person and not letting other people define you. Also: the animation is amazing. I wasn’t totally in love with the character designs though, and since that’s what I was looking at for most of the film, that’s what keeps it out of my Top 10.

16. The Hunger Games

I’m disappointed that this isn’t in my Top 10 for the year, either. I totally thought it would be, but during the second viewing I found myself getting bored. I kept myself entertained by focusing on Jennifer Lawrence’s wonderful performance, which communicated very well the horror of Katniss’ situation. Without her internal monologue though, it was hard to get what I wanted from her moral struggle over how to act in the arena.

Still looking forward to Catching Fire, but I’m more detachedly curious about it than wildly enthusiastic like I was for this one.

15. Underworld: Awakening

In a year that brought a disappointing entry in the Resident Evil movies, I’m thrilled that we got a worthy film in my other favorite horror/scifi adventure series starring a woman. Awakening pretty much punts and launches a Bold New Direction for Underworld, but it’s a good direction with some likable, new characters and I enjoyed it very much.

14. 21 Jump Street

I want to say that this is so much better than a movie based on an all-but-forgotten TV show has the right to be, but even though that’s true, it’s not really fair to suggest that that’s all 21 Jump Street has going for it. It’s just a very funny movie, period. That it gets a small part of that humor from pointing out and making fun of its sordid roots is just frosting for the cake. I’d probably rate it higher if not for the skeevy romance between Jonah Hill’s character and a high school student.

13. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

Listen: After the horrible piece of derivative crap that Madagascar 2 was, I’m as surprised as anyone to find Madagascar 3 on this list. In fact, I didn’t want to see it at all when it was announced. It wasn’t until it got a 79% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes that I had to see what the heck was going on with this thing. To my surprise, it was hilarious and – more importantly – original. It also pretty much wrapped up the saga with a nice bow on top, so I don’t expect to be interested in a Madagascar 4, but never say never.

12. Haywire

No, Gina Carano is not a great actress. And the plot of Haywire is nothing new. But the movie makes up for both of those things with heart and authenticity. I wrote a full review of it, so I’ll point you there for more thoughts, but it really was one of my favorite movie experiences of the year.

11. Moonrise Kingdom

This was my first Wes Anderson film since Rushmore, which I never quite forgave for stealing Bill Murray away from movies like Groundhog Day and The Man Who Knew Too Little. Seeing Moonrise Kingdom makes me want to find out what I’ve been missing. It’s a small movie, but a lovely one, and makes great use of its setting and awesome cast.