Tim Cowlishaw

Who Beat Lincoln? My Top 10 — No, Make That 20 — Movies of 2012

In Top Cat Goes to the Movies on December 27, 2012 at 9:12 am

Who Beat Lincoln? My Top 10 Movies of 2012 begins now…
(DISCLAIMER: I am not an official film critic. Or an unofficial one. I go to more movies than the average person but I don’t see everything, or almost everything, like critics do. If you read this list and say “Where’s ‘Dark Knight Rises?’ “ I never got around to seeing it. But it wouldn’t have made it, anyway. And if you read this list and say, “Where’s “The Avengers?’ ‘’ In that case, you’ve come to the wrong place but I couldn’t begin to tell you where to look.)
Since this was an excellent year and a few movies I really liked fell out of the top 10, I have expanded this to a top 20. I couldn’t have come close to doing that last year and, in fact, it would be impossible most years for me.
20. HITCHCOCK – If there are three films I know nearly every piece of dialogue from, it would be “It’s a Wonderful Life,’’ “Taxi Driver’’ and “Psycho.’’ The first remain an annual event. The other two relate more to a slightly disturbed childhood or young adult life. But since “Hitchcock’’ was ostensibly about the problems Alfred Hitchcock had making “Psycho’’ and how he was going to get the shower scene past censors, it had a chance to be great. Missed by a mile. I knew more about “Psycho” going into the theatre than I did coming out. Wasted efforts by some good actors.
19. THE GREY – I think I saw this last January so I’m putting it on list. Lots of wolves. Lots of snow. Lots of Liam Neeson showing toughness. And a surprise ending. But not much else.
18. MY WEEKEND WITH MARILYN – It seems like DMN film critic Chris Vognar (who you really should follow on twitter and read) called this a “bauble’’ and that’s exactly right. Michelle Williams does a great job playing Marilyn. Kenneth Branagh portrays Laurence Olivier as about what I expect he might have been like. But there’s not a heck of a lot here.
17. PROMETHEUS – I think I was supposed to like this more than I did. Maybe it was the sofas at the Inwood that nearly put me to sleep. It wasn’t bad or anything but I pretty much left the movie feeling the same emotions that Charlize Theron displayed throughout. Not a big sci-fi guy unless McCoy is saying, “I’m a Doctor, Jim, not a bricklayer.”
16. SEVEN PSYCOPATHS – Had more funny moments than expected but if you saw the preview, you got the basics. A movie being very cool about being a movie. For “Boardwalk Empire” fans, a rare (but brief) chance to see the long lost Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) along with not so rare appearance for Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) who was also in “Lincoln” and “Hitchcock.”
15. THE MASTER – See, I told you I wasn’t a critic. If I wrote for Rolling Stone, I guess I’d have it No. 1. I thought a lot about P.T. Anderson’s film after seeing it. For about half the time I was watching the film, I liked it. Loved Jonny Greenwood’s soundtrack (but that’s a given as a Radiohead fan). But by the end, I was pretty sure I wasn’t the only one that thought this made no sense at all and there was nothing here. I realize others see it quite differently, even consider it a masterpiece. But when I think about “There Will Be Blood,’ “Magnolia’’ and “Boogie Nights” I wonder how this falls into the same category with Anderson’s previous great works. For me, it doesn’t come close.
14. LOOPER – The rare time travel movie where I walk out saying, “I think I understood that!” Nice work by Bruce Willis.
13. FLIGHT – Really enjoyed Denzel Washington’s portrayal of a high-functioning alcoholic who has a chilling ability to lie to those around him (a subject with which I am not unfamiliar). Really enjoyed Don Cheadle because he is great at everything, even if it’s commercials for the World Series. But then about every 20 minutes I think they felt they were losing the audience so they popped John Goodman onto the screen performing in a completely different movie. Ends up all over the map but certainly worth seeing for Denzel in a different role.
12. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED – Love April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) on “Parks and Recreation” and she’s more than capable of carrying this indie film from start to finish. Won a screenwriting award at Sundance.
11. LIFE OF PI – I suspect the million readers of this book would rank this much higher. I missed the book. And I liked the film a lot, and I’m not a 3-D moviegoer at all. The only thing I didn’t care for would require a spoiler alert so I’ll just pass and say it was very good and would make top 10 for me almost any other year.
10. KILLER JOE – Not for everyone. But it was a big year for Matthew McConaughey and this role played a huge part. It’s dark. And it’s set in Dallas although if you recognize any of the sets, more power to you. Not sure if any of it was filmed here. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know William Friedkin (“The Exorcist”) was still alive. But he’s clearly still determined to scare the crap out of his audience or at least bother them to no end. I wasn’t a regular at KFC before this movie, and this film did not encourage me to give its products another try. The one thing I was thinking afterwards was that, knowing how many takes are required in some films, how much fried chicken Gina Gershon had to ingest.
9. SKYFALL – Never expected to see a James Bond film on this list. I pretty much checked out of this series when Sean Connery did. But Sam Mendes directed the very good “Road to Perdition” and “Revolutionary Road” and my favorite film of the last 15 years (“American Beauty”) so I gave it a chance. The 2-1/2 hours went by quickly. Hard to make a fight scene we haven’t witnessed before but the one in a Shanghai skyscraper at night filled with glass and reflections was just outstanding.
8. DJANGO UNCHAINED – It’s not as good as “Inglorious Basterds’’ but it’s still damn good. And that’s despite the fact that Quentin Tarantino’s depiction of violence always (for me) takes away from any film because it’s so over the top, who can take any of the rest of it seriously? People don’t explode like hamburger when they get shot…except here. I know Spike Lee’s criticism of Tarantino turning the slavery issue into a Sergio Leone western, and I understand that point as much as I can without being able to empathize with it. There is a certain discomfort about watching so many white actors dropping the N-word so cavalierly (it is 1858 in Mississippi, after all) and a mostly white audience laughing along with it. But Tarantino isn’t much for social causes. Spike Lee should understand better than I do that he makes films for people to listen to and think about. Tarantino makes movies for people to look at and say “Hey, I get that obscure reference.” Beyond that, Christoph Waltz is just too good throughout for this movie to fall out of my top 10 despite some reservations about it as a whole.
7. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK – It’s funny that a new movie can feel almost dated because of the main characters’ love for Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. I’m still amazed that Jennifer Lawrence can possibly be the same young woman who was at the center of “Winter’s Bone’’ two years ago. If you saw it when it came out, you surely noticed how uncertain audiences were to laugh at certain scenes or lines. That’s not a bad thing. That’s real life.
6. SMASHED – This film might have been in Dallas for a week before disappearing, I’m not sure. It’s a shame. I would have hoped Aaron Paul (Jesse in “Breaking Bad”) would have been enough to pull in the audience, but the star is Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She plays his young wife and is someone who realizes they have a drinking problem and decides to stop and finds that stopping might end one very large problem but opens up unexpected new ones with the people around her (another topic with which I have gained some familiarity). Go see Nick Offerman (Parks and Rec’s Ron Swanson) in a completely different role.
5. SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN – This would have been an amazing documentary even if the man from Detroit known to almost no one in this country but almost everyone in South Africa named Rodriguez couldn’t sing. But he can. His sound is a cross between Dylan and Jose Feliciano, and he made two albums in the ‘70s that did nothing here so he vanished back into construction work and occasionally ran for political office in Detroit while he was somehow becoming a superstar in South Africa. Years later he got the applause he deserved there. Played at House of Blues here a couple of months ago and, except for the usual assholes talking throughout the show, it was a solid performance.
4. ARGO – Who had Ben Affleck on their list of “Next Marginal Actor Slated to Become Great Director?” OK, he’s better than a marginal actor even if he fell into some bad habits after making it big. When I think of “Good Will Hunting” although it’s really Matt Damon’s film, the scene I always remember is Affleck’s monologue near the end telling Damon he doesn’t want to see him hanging out and drinking beer and watching Patriot games in 20 years. “Argo” is an amazing tale set during the Iran hostage crisis. Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston (Walter White in “Breaking Bad”) carry it even if Affleck is the central character. Of all the nervous moments I had watching movies this year, No. 1 without a doubt had to be the “get that plane off the ground” feeling in this one.
3. MOONRISE KINGDOM – I was temporarily stripped of my hipster card by local restaurateur and full-time film buff Josh Babb (Kenichi, Shooters) a few years ago when I admitted to not liking “Royal Tenenbaums.’’ I hope to get it restored by placing Wes Anderson’s best film at this lofty spot. It’s about young love and awkwardness and scout camp and other things I can’t begin to explain. It has a host of big-name stars (Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Ed Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton) but the kids at the heart of the film are the reason you love it.
2. LINCOLN – Ranking somewhere alongside “Miami Heat’s chances to make the playoffs” you will find “Daniel Day Lewis’ chances of winning an Oscar for Best Actor.’’ To say he gets Lincoln just right is to suggest I know what Lincoln was like. I’m old but quite that old. But his is a performance – amidst some great supporting work by David Straithairn and Tommy Lee Jones – that makes you say, “That’s got to be just about right.’’ You watch Lewis getting into one of Lincoln’s storytelling moments and start thinking, “Are the other actors on screen scared to death of screwing this up?” The shouting scene between which Lewis and Sally Field as his troubled wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, is as powerful as anything on the screen all year.
1. BERNIE – I have a very test for determining which movie was the best of a given year. It’s the one I went to the Magnolia to see three times. That’s in part because I saw it first by myself, then knew I needed to take my kids to see it. Rachel was in Europe, so I took Ben. Then when she got back, Ben and I took Rachel. Good grief, my parents pretty much dropped out of the movie-going business 20 years ago, and they went and loved it. Obviously, Jack Black and McConaughey and Shirley MacLaine are excellent at the core of a movie based on a Skip Hollandsworth Texas Monthly article about a murder in Carthage, Texas. But the East Texas townspeople shot in Richard Linklater’s documentary style – some real townspeople, a few actors like scene-stealer Sonny Carl Davis – generate even more laughs than the major stars. Yes, it’s a murder-comedy and it’s based on real events. And it’s as good as Jack Black will get I’m afraid. And I wouldn’t mind seeing it a fourth time this afternoon.

  1. Happy to see Bernie again…..with you soon dad HAPPY NEW YEAR

  2. That’s a respectable list. You can replace My Week With Marilyn when you get a chance to see Zero Dark Thirty.

  3. As a Cowlishaw fan, it was nice to see a tweet to clue me in to this blog’s existence, & as someone who hasn’t seen more than a dozen movies in the past 18 months, this post was a useful tool to remind me of some of the flicks I’ve been meaning to see.

    Bernie was one of those dozen I mentioned, & what was so incredible about that flick was that you pretty much go into the movie knowing what’s going to happen, but Black’s performance is so good, that you still kind of doubt it til the very last minute. It’s like he successfully works to erase the built-in spoiler.

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