5- The Grey: Possibly the year’s biggest surprise. I reluctantly went in expecting a “Taken with wolves” style Liam Neeson action show, and was presented with a brutal, stark and unremitting study of Man’s struggle against his own mortality. Backed by luscious visuals of Alaska and supported heavily by the fact that the film was shot on location in the middle of real snow instead of a safe green screen studio, The Grey is a harrowing yet highly involving adventure.
4- Silver Linings Playbook: So refreshing to see people with real problems in a romantic comedy. David O. Russel smashes through the genre’s overly played-out conventions in order to bring a fresh spin to the typical “Disturbed quirky people find each other against all odds” premise. Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence are both tops, but it’s Robert DeNiro’s performance as the OCD dad that stands out. Welcome back from Fokkerland man, we knew you had one more left in you.
3- Django Unchained: Finally, a Tarantino steal-fest I can fully appreciate. After the aggravatingly tone-deaf Kill Bill, Death Proof and Inglorious Basterds, which try to exist in two completely separate universes of grindhouse fodder and sophisticated art-house cinema. But this time Tarantino brings us a full blast spaghetti western blood fest. There isn’t any higher purpose here other than to present the gnarliest Leone-Peckinpah mash up, and I loved it.
2- The Master: Confounding and perplexing to be sure, and definitely needs multiple viewings, but it’s impossible to disregard the visceral power of Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow-up to the masterful There Will Be Blood. The cinematography is nothing short of breathtaking. The narrative is uneven and at times feels choppy and broken, but I can’t help but feel this was intentional since the Scientology-like religion it depicts is just as much confusing and disorienting. Not for everyone, to be sure, but the greatest enigma of 2012 nonetheless.
1- Argo: After two solid films as a director, Ben Affleck decides to dive into Costa-Gavras territory and presents perhaps the best political thriller of recent years. Tightly structured and executed, it swings back and forth effortlessly between The Player and All The President’s Men with a dash of Munich in between for good measure. Excellent performances all around and the finale that takes place in one of the most boring places on earth, a passport checkpoint, is more exciting and nerve-wracking than any traditional action movie gunfight or chase scene.
5- Total Recall: Pointless remake of a classic, completely sidesteps the psychological and philosophical implications of the original in order to present the blandest sci-fi actioner of the year. CGI-heavy, groan inducing, full of lame performances (Colin Farrell sleepwalks through the movie).
4- Silent Hill Retribution: More like a feature-length video game cut scene than an actual movie deserving of theatrical distribution. I kept waiting for the game pad to pop up in front of my seat so I could start playing but of course that never happened. Cheap, ugly, uninspired and worst of all for a horror movie, boring.
3- The Watch: I think it’s time for the writing team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg to take a break. I loved Superbad but the amount of homoerotic jokes they randomly stuff in multiplies by ten with each script. Pretty soon, I expect them to pen a movie simply called Gay Joke. Supposedly a sci-fi comedy a-la Ghostbusters, all of the jokes fall flat, Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill and Vince Vaughn are all on autopilot and the brilliant Richard Ayoade from The IT Crowd is tragically wasted.
2- Once Upon a Time in Anatolia: I try to support Turkish films as a Turkish filmmaker, but this was Chinese water torture doled out 24 frames per second. Art-house idol Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest Tarkovski stroke-fest is needlessly slow, plodding, unnecessary and full of philosophical gibberish. It got many awards celebrating its minimalism. But there’s a difference between being a minimalist and having absolutely nothing of value to say.
1- Rock of Ages: Even if I liked or remotely tolerated 80s hair metal (I don’t, not in the least bit), this piece of turd would still end up as nothing but a hackneyed cash-grab without a sincere bone in its supposedly hard-rocking body. Nothing but bubblegum nostalgia for the airhead generation, the fact that it tries to sell mundane shopping mall music as “real rock ‘n roll” is the cherry on top of this shit sundae.