Like last year’s Best of Film in 2011, this post rounds up the best movies of the year so far, and has been written in cooperation with special guest Ryan Brown. Since it’s only July, we have elected not to rank movies sequentially, but simply to list our favorites of the year so far, while also spotlighting a few rising stars and filmmakers. Enjoy.
It’s summer, ladies and gents, and that means two things: heat, and movies. We’ve had a pretty successful summer at the movies, with box office records broken left and right, more surprises than disappointments, and the promise of more to come – as of posting, we’re five days away from what is sure to be a smash hit and one of the biggest and best movies of the year, The Dark Knight Rises. So before Mr. Nolan comes and shakes everything up, we are happy to present our picks for the best films of the year, so far (in alphanumeric order!).
(This is a long post, so I’m hiding it behind the jump for your scrolling through archives pleasure.)
21 Jump Street
Jonah Hill is on a roll. Fresh from last year’s exceptional performance in Moneyball, he delivers us 21 Jump Street, a film written in part by Hill himself. Based on an old television series, Hill and co-star Channing Tatum go undercover as high school students. It sounds like a formulaic buddy cup movie, but what makes 21 Jump Street such a surprise is that it consistently evades that formula. It has interesting observations on the evolution of high school society, a large amount of self-referential humor, and – get this – it’s funny. Incredibly funny – probably one of the funniest movies since Superbad. Hill turns in a great performance as usual – though his performance here is much louder than previous ones – but most surprisingly he is upstaged throughout the film by Channing Tatum, who proves that he has comedic chops to rival the best comedy actors around today. The central duo is backed up by a great supporting cast of Ice Cube (as the stereotypically black police captain), Dave Franco (in a surprisingly good turn as an eco-conscious high schooler; he’s definitely James Franco’s brother) and bit appearances by Nick Offerman (perhaps deliberately channeling Ron Swanson’s dry humor) and Ellie Kemper (as a chemistry teacher disturbingly attracted to Tatum). It’s an exciting and hilarious ride throughout its two-hour runtime; easily one of the best comedies of the year. – Brandon
MPAA Rating: R
Recommended If You Liked: Superbad
Availability: Now on DVD/Blu-ray
The Amazing Spider-Man
This reboot had a difficult road ahead of it from its inception, struggling to manage audience expectations by introducing a new series merely five years after the last (and disgustingly horrible) incarnation of Sam Rami’s original trilogy. Luckily, Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer), who was hired for equal parts his talent and applicable last name, pulls off the second attempt at Spidey’s origin story to great success. Andrew Garfield, still hot off of Social Network hype, and Emma Stone, still hot off the being-Emma-Stone hype, are the heart and soul of the movie. Webb obviously has a much better sensitivity for human relationships then action, and the chemistry between Garfield and Stone is the brightest and best part of the film. It’s not that his action or villain focused sequences aren’t good, though a mostly lazy script certainly doesn’t do him any favors. At the end of the day, Garfield’s pitch-perfect performance as Peter Parker is what makes the film so good. It’s exactly how Spider-Man, the character, should be. Hopefully next time the script can keep up. – Ryan
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Recommended If You Liked: Uh, spiderman? I’m starting to wonder why I include this.
Availability: Now playing everywhere!
You’ve probably already seen Marvel’s The Avengers by now, if the mind-boggling box office numbers are any metric to go by. If you have seen it, I’m sure you had a great time at the theater – above all else The Avengers is a tremendously fun movie that aims to please, and hits its target perfectly. It really could have gone either way – having to deal with six major characters, two of which had only spotty characterization in their previous films, without giving the impression that any of them are being slighted is a very difficult balancing act. Yet Joss Whedon pulled it off with aplomb – everybody gets their moment in the spotlight, even minor characters like Nick Fury and Agent Coulson. Sure, there’s not much substance here – but nobody who saw The Avengers expected there to be. They expected six superheroes swapping witty quips in between adrenaline-fueled action sequences. And that’s exactly what they got, in spades. – Brandon
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Recommended If You Liked: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, any non-Batman superhero movie
Availability: Playing in some theaters, DVD/Blu-ray September 25th
Cabin in the Woods
The less you know going into this one, the better. So with that being said, I’ll try to remain as spoiler free as possible, but read on at your own risk. Cabin In The Woods is the brainchild of cult-favorite Joss Whedon (Buffy, Serenity, something called The Avengers) and is without a doubt one of the most unique and twistedly delightful films I’ve ever seen. If Drive was last year’s soon-to-be cult classic, Cabin is this year’s claim to that title. It’s a horror-comedy, though not as much in the same vein as Scream as you may think– the movie abandons cleverness and commentary and simply smashes every horror convention to violent, ridiculous bits. You can’t help but sit back, enjoy the fireworks and laugh. – Ryan
MPAA Rating: R
Recommended If You Liked: Scream, Evil Dead, Army of Darkness
Availability: On DVD/Blu-ray September 18th
Jeff, Who Lives At Home
Jeff, Who Lives At Home is the latest release by the Duplass Brothers (Cyrus, The Puffy Chair) and arguably their biggest success yet. The lo-fi nature of the film allows its ruminations on fate and human relationships to evolve naturally and surprisingly, and oh yeah, it’s really funny. Segal steals the show as a pothead loser/devout believer in the balance and order of the universe, but the whole cast does a great job. It’s funny without being overbearing, and its emotional without being melodramatic, and it’s one of the year’s best and most surprising offerings. – Ryan
MPAA Rating: R
Recommended If You Liked: Cyrus, Funny People
Availability: Now on DVD/Blu-ray
Moonrise Kingdom is a Wes Anderson film, and that sums up most of what you need to know about it. It carries Anderson’s tradition of beautifully shot films with a quiet and quirky sense of humor, with at least one character played by Bill Murray. There’s a very simple but sweet story at the center of it, feeling neither preachy nor overtly self-important. There’s a great lineup of excellent actors turning in wonderful performances – I was particularly enthused by Frances MacDormand’s performance. It’s better than The Life Aquatic, but it doesn’t quite reach the level of Anderson’s best work (Rushmore, Tenenbaums), in part because of that simplicity. In a summer filled with action spectacle, Moonrise will provide a welcome change of pace, to a beautifully imagined and expertly realized world that tells a charming story without any unnecessary bells and whistles. – Brandon
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Recommended If You Liked: Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums
Availability: Now screening in some cities (Jacksonville included)
Alien has become a cultural icon in the 30-odd years since its release; naturally, Prometheus – a prequel-but-not-really to Alien had a lot to live up to. In a sense, it lived up rather well – it carries a distinctly Alien vibe, with its desolate vistas and interesting vision of the future (not to mention body horror as far as the eye can see), but is different enough to have its own identity. What is ultimately Prometheus’ singular failing is its insistence on separating itself from its predecessor. It asks a lot of interesting questions, and is brave enough to leave them unanswered. It is mysterious enough to make one question how it connects to Alien and where the events of the film will ultimately lead. It is intense enough to grip you to the edge of your seat throughout. But because it insists that it is its own film and does not rely on Alien, the mysteries aren’t quite as intriguing, and the questions it asks not quite as impactful. It’s a stunningly beautiful film that provides much fodder for Alien fans – but if you’re not one of them, you may find yourself ultimately disappointed. Nevertheless – for Alien devotees and fresh blood alike, it’s a thrilling ride. – Brandon
MPAA Rating: R
Recommended If You Liked: Alien, Blade Runner
Availability: May be in some theaters, on DVD/Blu-ray October 9th
Safety Not Guaranteed
This, as of right now, is my favorite movie of the year, and I’m going to keep this short in the hopes that it intrigues you and you go see it. Safety is about a trio of magazine writers attempting to write a story on a man who (get this) thinks he can travel back in time! so zany! I was a little skeptical in the first fifteen minutes or so of the film, but by the middle I was amazed how much the characters had grown out of their cariacture-y beginnings and how emotionally attached I was to all of them. There’s some really, really great comedic and dramatic sequences and performances in the film and it’s an absolute gem. It’s not a perfect movie but I don’t care, I just want to hug it. So don’t be a dick, go see it. – Ryan
MPAA Rating: R
Recommended If You Liked: (500) Days of Summer, Little Miss Sunshine
Availability: AMC Regency, AMC Orange Park, Regal Beach Blvd; o
n DVD/Blu-ray October 2012
Your Sister’s Sister
Lynn Shelton’s second film successfully accomplishes what, for my money, is one of the most difficult things you can ever attempt in filmmaking: making a purely dialogue driven, relationship-focused film without having it fall into melodrama or boredom. But that’s exactly what Your Sister’s Sister, starring Emily Blunt, Mark Duplass, and another actress whose name honestly escapes me, does. And to add to that, it was done without any script– all the actors worked off an outline and made up their lines on the spot. The premise of the film is deceivingly simple, revolving around a love triangle between the three protagonists. But the emotional honesty of the film is amazing– its likely due to the amount of improv, but the movie feels overwhelmingly real. This, combined with a fair share of laughs and a few curveballs, makes Your Sister’s Sister one of the year’s strongest outputs.
MPAA Rating: R
Recommended If You Liked: oh man, I don’t know.
Availability: Now playing at Regal Beach Blvd. (but who knows for how long!); on DVD/Blu-ray September 11th
Honorable Mentions: Magic Mike, Friends With Kids, Wanderlust, The Woman in Black, Chronicle, The Hunger Games
Note: Neither of us have seen Ted, To Rome With Love, Bernie or Madagascar but they’ve all been recommended . If you’ve seen anything else worth recommending you should totally, you know, leave a comment or something.
Other Notable 2012 Stuff (Thus Far)
Without a doubt one of the biggest rising stars of 2012. My current top three movies of the year are all heavily Mark Duplass-related. He’s co-writer/co-director of Jeff, Who Lives at Home, and the star of both Safety Not Guaranteed and Your Sister’s Sister. He’s also got a small role in People Like Us, and Kathryn Bigelow just pegged for him a role in her upcoming Bin Laden movie. Oh, he also makes music sometimes and he’s a star on the television show The League. Basically, he’s fucking everywhere, and he’s lucky enough to have everything he’s touched this year turn to gold. He’s also gotten to make out with both Emily Blunt and Aubrey Plaza on screen this year for the benefit of cinematic discovery and whatnot which is probably pretty cool for him too. OH! He has a sweet twitter account where he’s been recommending one Netflix Instant movie a day for almost a year. Point being, Duplass rocks. He provides a really honest, low key feeling to everything he does, whether he’s in front of or behind the camera. He’s well on his way to becoming one of the biggest names in indie filmmaking. – Ryan
Say what you will about his many questionable previous performances or his seemingly Mr.Potato head-inspired ears, but you can’t deny that Tatum is an ever-improving and increasingly interesting rising star. He surprised everyone by outshining Jonah Hill in this year’s 21 Jump Street and surprised everyone again with the less then semi-biographical, what-kind-of-movie-is-this feature Magic Mike, which disappointed middle-aged woman everywhere when it featured much more introspective character struggle than pelvic thrusting (though to be fair, many thrusting pelvises still made an appearance). Though The Vow made such little impact that I forgot it existed while writing this until right now, Tatum has still made great strides this year, increasing his roles to also producing and writing. It seems almost certain that whatever Tatum does down the line should continue to be increasingly eclectic, though still connected with the familiar giggling of both pre-teen and middle aged females. – Ryan
Though Emily Blunt has been making big strides though Hollywood since her role in The Devil Wears Prada, which is not a movie I’ve seen, sorry, she didn’t really show up on my radar until she starred opposite Matt Damon in last year’s The Adjustment Bureau. And that movie sucked. But this year, when she popped up in a slew of roles in the first half of the year, she stuck with me much more. Blunt’s been pulling off roles rapid-fire recently, starring in this year’s Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, The Five Year-Engagment, Your Sister’s Sister and the upcoming Looper all within a few months. She’s both incredibly funny and incredibly open and I would not be the suprised in the least if she becomes an A list star (if she’s not considered one already?) by year’s end. – Ryan
In the photo to the right, Friday Night Lights veteran looks up to the starry skys, questioning the meaning of his cinematic existence. Kitsch has been having a busy year thus far, starring in the lead role of three high-profile summer blockbusters. Unfortunately, all three of these movies have A) sucked B) been box office failures. One has to wonder if the man is cursed. With John Carter, Battleship, and Savages under his belt, Kitsch has proven his ability to grunt and and growl his way to financial disappointment. What was once a bright light for a television star to make it big has now become the underdog story of the century: one man. one curse. It’s yet to be seen if anyone will take the risk on him and bring him another project in an attempt to free himself from disaster. – Ryan
It feels weird to be talking about Joss Whedon’s breakthrough – he’s long been a wildly successful cult figure, the man behind such beloved creations as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog – but this year he really hit it big as a mainstream, household name. Cabin in the Woods bears his name as a screenwriter, and he directed mega-hit The Avengers. In the case of the former, I was very surprised that it caught on the way it did; Drew Goddard, the director directed a number of Lost episodes and has been one of the big guys at Bad Robot for a while. Coupled with a Whedon script, I felt certain it was going to be a cult hit – but I was wrong, because it hit it big. Then of course, a few weeks later, The Avengers hit theaters and became the highest grossing opening weekend and continued to shatter records in its theatrical release. Whedon proved here that he can handle the characters of other filmmakers just as well as he can handle his own quirky characters, and that’s a talent that will serve him well. The days of Whedonesque are over; Joss Whedon is no longer a cult icon, and I am incredible excited to see where he goes next. – Brandon
We’ve got a lot of good stuff coming up in the rest of the year (and, as we noted above, there are several movies out now that neither of us have seen). While taking note of everything that’s left in 2012 would take quite a long time, here’s a quick glimpse of some of the most promising films in the back 9.
The Dark Knight Rises
It’s sure to be a massive hit – Nolan’s final Batman film promises an epic conclusion to two of the most stellar superhero films in cinematic history, films that proved superheroes can be used to tell psychologically thriller stories as well as popcorn action fare. We can only hope that the film can stand proudly alongside The Dark Knight, a feat that is no easy task given the high quality of its predecessor. The film hits theaters on July 20th.
The newest film from notorious genre bender Quentin Tarantino has been described as a “Southern”, a western film set in the darkest days of the South. Jamie Foxx stars as a slave offered freedom by a German dentist (Cristoph Waltz, from Tarantino’s previous film Inglourious Basterds) in exchange for helping him kill two men who we are led to believe have it coming to them. With an all-star cast also featuring Leo DiCaprio in his first villainous role, it looks to be another great addition to Tarantino’s filmography. Look for it in theaters on Christmas Day.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Peter Jackson takes us back into Middle-earth with this prequel to his magnum opus, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Starring Martin Freeman (Sherlock‘s Dr. John Watson) as the titular Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, the movie looks to be just as stunning as the original films. The film is also one of the first to be shot in 48 frames per second at 5K resolution, in 3D no less; expect one of the most visually impressive films since Cameron’s Avatar, as well as one of the best fantasy films since the original Lord of the Rings films. Look for it on December 22nd.
Welcome back, Mr. Bond. After 2008’s disappointing entry into the legendary franchise, Quantum of Solace, Daniel Craig is finally stepping back into the role in Skyfall, the new film from acclaimed director Sam Mendes. While everything surrounding the film is rather hush-hush at the moment, a seasoned director like Mendes at the helm suggests that we’re in for quite a treat. Look for it in theaters November 9th.
The Great Gatsby
Baz Luhrmann, the director of Moulin Rogue!, brings us this adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the title character. While we haven’t seen too much of the film, the trailer suggests that the film will be full of visual spectacle – and given Luhrmann’s penchant for visual flair, that sounds like a great thing. Look for it on Christmas Day.