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With July having just arrived, 2012 is a book halfway written. Given that the movie calendar dazzles more from July through December, the films from the first half of the year often get lost. This year, however, they shouldn't be. We've seen tons of surprise hits this year, many of which you'll read about below.
So like we have each of the past two years, we on the PAM staff have give your our five favorite films so far (it's always an end of the year Top 10, so halfway through it should be a Top 5). Each writer has ranked his favorite films this year and at the end we have our staff top five based on our Player Affinity composite ratings. After you see what we have to think, be sure to leave us your Top 5 in the comments below!
Sam’s Top 51. The Cabin in the Woods
Haywire, Moonrise Kingdom, and Brave all get honorable mentions here, but none could quite reach the joyful highs of the likes of The Avengers, which capped off Marvel's five-year cinematic master plan with charm and heart rarely seen in Hulk-sized blockbusters.
On the other end of the expense spectrum, Chronicle delved into an essential truth of superhero movies rarely explored by the big guns: having superpowers as a teenager would be f**king awesome! As unlikely as that was, to think that the 21 Jump Street remake was going to be anything but a steaming hot pile of garbage was lunacy. Yet, here we are, with a reboot for an ‘80s cop drama that found some engaging new angles on both the high school and cop comedy, while also unearthing Channing Tatum's comedic potential.
And with its melancholic subtitle, The Raid: Redemption sounds like the one serious drama to make the cut, but nay, a more accurate title would have been “The Raid: An Apocalypse for Knee Caps.” Combining the plot efficiency of Die Hard with the clean, and grizzly fight choreography of South Korean martial arts movies, The Raid is action filmmaking refined to its dizzying, gleeful finest. But all must stand in the shadow of The Cabin in the Woods, the meta-commentary to end all meta-commentaries. Funny, gruesome and gleefully absurd, while also thought-provoking for horror junkies, “Cabin” is the most exhilarating deconstruction of a beloved genre in ages, and the most entertaining film all year.
John’s Top 51. Sleepless Night
My #1 is probably the only film you haven't heard of. Sleepless Night is a French action movie available on video on demand during its short, uber-limited theatrical run. I caught it as part of the Tribeca Film Festival, and even if you're subtitle-phobic, give this film a chance. Think Taken, but ten times more badass. I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys a well-done white-knuckle thriller.
Take This Waltz features the best performance of the year (a contest that isn't even close) in Michelle Williams. Safety Not Guaranteed and Moonrise Kingdom are indie comedies full of heart, unique characters, and surprising writing.
Finally, The Hunger Games, which far surpassed the expectations of most, sneaks by the honorable mentions above thanks to a great lead performance from Jennifer Lawrence and the terrific world creation and story enhancement by director Gary Ross, whom I already miss at the helm of the series saga.
Max’s Top 51. The Avengers
Joss Whedon is likely to remember 2012 as the year he (finally!) arrived. Despite having to sit through a few painful experiences (looking at you Chernobyl Diaries) there have been some bright spots, but the brightest, most colorful spot of them was Whedon's The Avengers. It was already facing massive odds as nothing like it had been done before and took five-plus years to pull off. Whedon and company blew even the highest expectations out of the water with a sharp script, amiable cast and a final 30 minutes that arguably redefined how "blockbuster" should be used in summer films.
While The Avengers cleaned house, there were a few other gems to gleam. Fellow Whedon collaborator and "Buffy" alum Drew Goddard (in a fantastic directing debut) brought us The Cabin in the Woods, which both honored and refreshed the horror genre at the same time. While not the smash hit it deserved to be, it is sure to go down as one of the next cult classics. Beasts of the Southern Wild was our first glimpse of awards season (without the pretension) and it would be a crime to see it forgotten by the end of the year.
Chronicle revitalized the found-footage genre by being clever and imaginative, showing off what remarkable things can be done on a limited budget, and The Hunger Games took a pop culture sensation and managed to adapt it into something gripping and engaging, setting up the next big franchise that we're not embarrassed to say we enjoyed. So while 2012 so far hasn't been a feast of greatness, it has given us enough appetizers to hold out for the main course.
Julian’s Top 51. Brave
Well, we’re six months into the year, and unsurprisingly, it’s one of the later entries that is 2012’s best so far. Disney/Pixar’s Brave goes against the animation team-up’s own traditions to weave a beautiful narrative about – what else – breaking tradition. It would be one thing if the folks at Disney/Pixar weren’t up to the task, but they handle this new territory brilliantly.
Meanwhile, Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games might be a bit too obvious with its Marxist metaphors, but it took huge risks with its somber mood and gritty action sequences. Oh, and Jennifer Lawrence was something of a revelation in it. Ted has quite a few issues with its narrative, but I haven’t laughed along with a movie that much since Bridesmaids. Kudos goes out to Seth MacFarlane, who’s the film’s MVP as the hard-partying teddy bear.
The Avengers does a relatively good job at putting so many distinct and already well-defined characters into one story; it’s also got some of the best action sequences ever put to film. Still, the story isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, and what Joss Whedon did to Hawkeye was a poorly devised cop-out. Finally, there’s Mirror, Mirror. Although we’re still waiting on what are hopefully the better movies of the year, it’s fair to give credit where credit is due: the film’s delightfully entertaining and gorgeously costumed (R.I.P. Eiko Ishioka), and Julia Roberts is clearly having a ball as the evil stepmother.
Simon’s Top 51. Chronicle
If I were to say to you that my favorite film of the year so far was a superhero movie, what would be your guess? (And no, I didn’t snag some sort of secret screening to The Dark Knight Rises.)
Gotcha! It isn’t the $200-million, ambitious Marvel mega-ensemble The Avengers, but rather Chronicle. Twisting the found-footage format ever so slightly, along with what we would even consider to be a “superhero” film, Chronicle is a cautionary tale about the influence of power and an exploration of teen angst and the difficulties of finding your place, bundled up in a gripping and tragic package.
Having to settle for second (despite my adoration of Joss Whedon) The Avengers is a genre-changer – the culmination of a risky superhero setup that redefines how to approach an action spectacle. One superhero will no longer be enough – nor will one genre, which brings me to The Cabin in the Woods, which is written by, hey — Joss Whedon! This satirical slugfest makes a little bitch out of horror conventions before ending things on its own terms without a care in the world about how people will receive it.
My favorite foreign dose of 2012 arrives from Sweden in the form of Headhunters, a smart, tight, often intentionally repellent thriller that benefits hugely from its leads (particularly Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as a sadistic assassin) and some great exchanges of dialogue. Finally, there is the one film to divide them all, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. At year’s end you can expect to see this sci-fi epic in as many bottom five lists as you do top, but I found this cerebral, atmospheric thriller to be twice as interesting for the questions it didn’t answer than for those it did.
Kieran’s Top 51. The Avengers
Topping my mid list is The Avengers. As a superhero fan and a self-confessed “Marvel Monster,” it was a movie that I was looking forward to and it did not disappoint, supplying great action, high concepts and letting us see all our favorite characters work together.
Because of living in the UK, sometimes movies are released the following year to their US release dates. That is the case of the indie drama Martha Marcy May Marlene, a movie that was bold, hard-hitting and centered around a fantastic performance from Elizabeth Olsen.
There are two highly entertaining non-English movies in my list. The first is Headhunters, a darkly funny thriller from Norway that was exciting, fast-paced and a very well written movie. The other is the action movie The Raid: Redemption, one of the best pure action movies and martial arts movies in years with adrenaline-pumping action sequences throughout. It will satisfy your blood lust.
Last but not least is Prometheus, which has been suffering from a backlash but I felt that it was still an intelligent sci-fi film that was more than the usual schlock that passes itself off as a blockbuster. It was a movie that attempted big themes and ideas about the origins of humanity, the blending of science and theology, like a dark 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Steven’s Top 51. The Avengers
It’s been an impressive start to the year so far. Normally the May and June movies make our lists thanks to decrepit winter offerings, but films from January, February, March and April all made our lists. To me, The Avengers, however, has to be considered the best, simply because of the scale, the accomplishment and raising the bar for action and entertainment.
I was fortunate enough to catch Beasts of the Southern Wild already, the opposite from “Avengers” in pretty much every way. A powerful, engaging and imaginative story that combines folk tales and realism like we haven’t seen before, it’s something to behold. The Grey was another gritty nature film featuring an intense story with adrenaline pumping turns and a performance from Liam Neeson that went above and beyond.
The Cabin in the Woods makes the list also for raising a genre bar, breaking down horror conventions and twisting them with glee, a horror film more entertaining than you’d even imagine. Finally, Prometheus wowed with scale, vision, big ideas and bigger performances.
The Player Affinity Movie Staff Top 5(based on movies seen and rated by at least four PAM writers)