Broke Bobby's Top Ten Movies of 2012
by Robert Sean Shankstone
Movies are a young man's game. In the last couple of years, they've also found a strong niche in supporting and appealing to young women. In my late teens and early twenties, I spent many a weekend traipsing in and out of the local Cineplex, attempting to hit every new release, no matter how big or small. Comedies, Indies, sci-fi, drama, and especially horror. I had a wide-ranging palate that would consume anything as long as it appealed to my cinematic senses. I loved some movies that most others hated, and vice versa. My tastes are not weird or subversive. They're no different from yours, or anybody else's. Though, I must note that I came of age in the early 80s, and stand on firm ground that the 90s were a desolated wasteland of horrible commercial garbage, for the most part. The late 70s and 80s shaped my tastes as a movie lover, so I go all in for throw backs, homages, and anything trying to resurrect John Hughes. That said, I also love the word "new", and the implications that it brings. I'm a fan of technology, and I have embraced 3D, IMAX, and 48 FPS for what it brings to the playing field.
Now that that is out of the way, let me tell you the real truth. I am broke. Like many of you out there, I am barely squeezing through each month on a fixed income, trying to provide for my family and my dogs. Entertainment is still very important in my household, but I do not make it to the local cinema as often as I would like. I sat in an actual theater only 11 times this past year. And all but three of those times, I was handed free tickets to an all-media screening by the fine folks working here at this site, or at one of my local radio stations. I don't have the money to pay for my family of five to get past the door too many times throughout any given twelve months. That gets way too expensive, even at the local Ninety-Nine Center (which has gone up to be called the two-hundred and fifty-center by my house in El Sereno). Instead, I have invested in Netflix streaming through a Samsung Blu-ray player, and I often drop two dollars at the local mom and pop video store just a few blocks away from my house. I refuse Redbox, sometimes purposely mixing it up with Redtube. I have also invested in an Epson home theater projector, which, though digital, still gives me that glow and hum I so love about going to an actual movie theater. I know a lot of people bemoan the death of communal movie-watching, but trust me, with as big as you can get this screen, and the fact that you can go to the bathroom whenever you'd like, smoke and drink whatever you'd like, and party it up with as many friends for as little as a borrowed DVD, its worth it. And a lot more fun.
That brings me to my stance in choosing a top 10 list for 2012. I was asked to consider my take on the matter, since you have plenty of critics offering their insight. They've seen a lot more movies than I have. This is the voice of the every man. An alternative. Hopefully it's a little different than your usual take on things. I don't go to the movies to critique them. I go to the movies to get away from life for two hours. To forget about the constant stream of bills nibbling through the door. To lose myself in a world I'll never get to in this life. I view movies as pure entertainment. I try to put my wicked thoughts to rest, and let the experience wash over me. Which is hard to do in this cynical, sinkable world. There's too much horrible shit going on right now not to have an escape that isn't drug related. That said, I know a bad movie when I see one. And sometimes, in the case of Ted or The Cabin in the Woods, something might just rub me the wrong way. Even if it's not necessarily a bad movie, per say. I never sought out a movie this year to hate it. Everything I saw because I truly wanted to. That's why I've chosen to forgo a 10 worst movies list. Bad movies are obvious. And I don't feel like dwelling on that negativity.
So, Let's get this party started. And yes, I am drinking the $3 champagne (thank you Fresh and Easy!)
#10. Raiders of the Lost Ark in IMAX
Did you see Raiders of the Lost Ark on the IMAX screen this year? If you did, then you know where I'm coming from. I know the movie is over thirty years old, but it's truly a timeless, perfect piece of cinema. And seeing it on the big screen is always the way to go. Its been traveling around various repertory theaters for years now, but this is the first time it was presented in IMAX, and wow, what a way to introduce the movie to your kids. The lack of CGI mesmerized mine into a state of slack jawed awe that even The Dark Knight Rises couldn't accomplish. It costs a little over $120 for a family of five to go to the IMAX theater. That's a lot of Christmas presents, and this is guaranteed entertainment. You just can't go wrong buying a ticket to see Raiders, no matter how many times you've already seen it, or how many different home video versions might be hiding away in your shed. It has the greatest truck chase in the history of cinema, captivating every single time you sit down to watch it. And Nazis get their faces melted off at the end. There is not one bad second in this movie. And, though it wasn't shot in IMAX, I can't imagine paying such a premium price to see anything else that was released in an IMAX theater this year. Marvel's The Avengers comes close. Wrath of the Titans ? Not so much.
#9. Juan of the Dead
A guy hooks a metal telephone wire to the back of his pick-up truck and does a donut in the middle of a flesh-eating horde, decapitating at least fifty zombies in glorious fashion. It's a cheer-worthy moment that rests up against the lawn mower chewing scene from Braindead (aka Dead Alive). The zombie genre has been played to the hilt, and I personally thought it had nothing left to offer. Especially with The Walking Dead running through every trope in splendid fashion on TV. But then along comes this scrappy take on George A. Romero's initial concept, also giving a firm nod to the inventive Shaun of the Dead as well. Like the Romero films before it, Juan of the Dead uses zombies as a backdrop for some much needed social commentary. The action here takes place in Cuba, offering a not-so-subtle dissertation on the country's politics, where the undead are simply dismissed as dissidents. Juan and his chubby best friend Lazaro (God, he looks good in a wetsuit) decide to capitalize on the country's growing health crisis by starting a ghoul clean-up service. They don't necessarily make a killing, but their efforts do bring about some of the funnest moments seen in any film this year. The kills are highly inventive, while also it serves a higher purpose: Its mindless, highly enjoyable entertainment that just happens to carry a strong human message. It doesn't ever hit you over the head with that message, instead offering you the choice to either watch this as ballistic surface fluff, or as a deep theological commentary. It certainly holds up on repeat viewings because of that, making it this year's District 9. It holds its own with both Dawn Of The Dead and Shaun of the Dead, making for a great trilogy. It's like looking at the same event as it unfolds in three different countries, and what such a viral outbreak might mean to the people inside those countries. It's really about looking at old ideas in a new way.
#8. God Bless America
Director Bobcat Goldthwait really squeaked this one in under the rug, didn't he? It came just before tragedy struck various different states throughout the country this year, turning gun control into the hottest issue of 2012. Though a mainstay on Netflix, it didn't raise as many shackles with its May release as it might of, had it premiered in July or December. While a bit on the sleeve with its anger issues, God Bless America is coming from a real, heartfelt place. A dark and ugly place that somehow manages to find the light in mass gun killings. While many brought up Gangster Squad and its movie theater massacre in light of the Aurora killings, no one in the media made a peep about Joel Murray's 49 year-old Frank, who, in the middle of a life crisis, takes a sixteen year old girl under his wing, and together, they go across country eviscerating the bodies of those who deserve it the most. They take on reality show celebrities, annoying people, and in one instance, they even blast up a movie theater full of talkers, texters, and sit kickers. The movie remains a timely essay on guns in our culture, even if that wasn't Bobcat's intention. Though the film refuses any solid stance on gun control, you need only listen to Goldthwait's stand-up comedy to hear where he lands on the issue. He's a long-time critic of the NRA, and his musings have always involved thoughts of suicide and the inherent problems of using the media and entertainment as a scapegoat. As far back as 1986, the comedian was daring people to blame him for planting ugly seeds in the minds of today's youth. Here, he fights against that. And does it with careful humor and passion. The greatest thing about God Bless America might just be the relationship between Frank and his protégé Roxy. It doesn't follow the easy route. There are no sexual overtones shared between them. We get one cringe-worthy moment that is rectified by a scathing monologue from Frank about young women and their need to look attractive to men. What strikes as unique is that this isn't really a father-daughter union. Its not unrequited love. It's a friendship, shared between two people who, under normal circumstances, shouldn't be seen in public standing so close to each other. I think that's what the movie is truly about. A common understanding of humanity, and a shared viewpoint on the world between two drifting, incredulous souls who are beyond the breaking point. They've lost their tolerance for the Idiocrac-izing of America. It's about two very different book sleeves covering the same book. One is sleek, and glossy, and young, pretty and new. The other is old, and torn, and weathered, and a bit ugly. But inside are the same words, and those words just don't want to watch or listen to American Idol or Glee anymore. It's a classic American tone poem sold through the sensibility of one very angry man. Bobcat Goldthwait is making his mark as one of the best directors working in comedy today. I'll say it, even if you won't...I think he's a little bit better at his job than Ben Affleck.
#7. Tim and Eric'$ Billion Dollar Movie
And speaking of very angry men. Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim are pissed off at pop culture, and go at it with a fork and knife in Tim and Eric'$ Billion Dollar Movie, eating at the gut like a couple of tapeworm ridden pigs. Here is a searing white-hot look at what's wrong with our world today. Tim is especially rabid. He is the true embodiment of sad clown, and I think his work is misunderstood. The guy is a phenomenal actor. He bares his teeth down, and goes for the jugular in The Comedy, the best singular performance of the entire year. Despite sharing cast members, Tim and Eric'$ Billion Dollar Movie and The Comedy are on opposite sides of the cinematic spectrum in terms of their story content and intention. But at that, they are the only two movies I attended this year where people stood up and were very vocal about their desire to leave. In Tim and Eric'$ Billion Dollar Movie, theater patrons started disappearing early on, when the two stars go for a high-pitched screaming, wrestling match in an indoor pool with Zach Galifianakis. In The Comedy, I witnessed different two couples leave the moment Heidecker started in on his sister-in-law monologue, which plays like a scene out of a horror movie. This is new cinema. This is interesting, inventive stuff that no one else has the guts to attempt in a marketplace filled to the brim with remakes and sequels, and throw-away trash like the board game inspired Battleship. That both pieces could stir-up that kind of passion in this day and age is amazing. People will stay seated through true garbage like The Apparition, but this propels them into the lobby? I've seen both movies a couple of different times, because something keeps pulling me back in. These are works to be studied, and admired. This is high art sold with lowbrow intentions. Some of it is hilarious. Some of it is dark and evil. I feel that all of it comes from a genuine place. And The Comedy? No one has captured the disaffected Hipster culture quite like it does. At times very ugly and hard to watch, it stands as a true time capsule of this past decade. Maybe it doesn't get the recognition it deserves here, in 2012, but I think audiences will find it in the years to come, and they will slowly come to understand that its not just some cheap throwaway indie shot on a shoestring budget.
Back to The Future is sold with a flawless execution in its set-up of jokes, and the propulsion with which it comes to its conclusion. It's a million different working pieces that all meld together, forming a nearly perfect cinematic experience. It's in the way that one seemingly innocuous moment sets up the next, and the way the logic of its mythology becomes interlocking. You can't dispute how well the screenplay, written by director Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, works in selling home the story it wants to tell. Though Klown has absolutely nothing to do with Back to The Future or time travel, it's the same kind of movie experience. It starts out innocently enough, slowly rolling along, bouncing from one awkward encounter to the next. It's all about the set-up and the pay-off, which creeps upon you in unexpected ways. There are no unnecessary jokes or scenes in Klown, the story of two friends who are unexpectedly saddled with a ten-year-old boy moments before departing on a sex-fueled canoe trip. Every bit of dialogue is working to sell the next unexpected sight gag or raunchy bit of fun. It is a perfectly timed, long form joke that works on all levels. And the punchline is spine shattering. Despite their nearly X-rated, and wrong-headed buffoonery, it's hard not to completely fall for Klown's three male leads. This is a Danish road trip movie with a Lars von Trier sensibility. Truly unique. It takes the gross-out comedy genre from the late 90s and revives it with a fresh breath of ball ache. It's the raunch version of a Rube Goldberg cartoon. And the fact that it is nearly all improvised makes it even more amazing.
#5. 21 Jump Street
Watching 21 Jump Street, I just didn't want it to end. I was enjoying it that much. It's the true predecessor to Superbad, and a fine example of why Jonah Hill is one of our best working comedic actors. His chemistry with Channing Tatum is electrifying. Channing is one funny motherfucker. And it's hard not to fall for him here. But it's the momentum and energy on display that really pushes this film to greatness. It's an accidental kind of magic that can't be manufactured. There is a natural goodwill emitting off the screen, and the fun being had by the cast becomes infectious. It just exists in the cosmos as a real, palpable thing. The script is solid, taking its cue from an 80s style of filmmaking and storytelling. It then refashions that into something new and fresh for this era. This is one of the best TV to Film adaptations every made, and there are few of those. It has the best car chase seen in any movie this year. And its take on street drugs is timely and hilarious. When people heard there was going to be a movie version of 21 Jump Street, they feared the worst. Jonah Hill brought his best. We got something we weren't expecting, at all. And that's a nice surprise at the movies.
#4. Safety Not Guaranteed
Here is a film that truly allows us to believe in magic. The impossible. It's a sci-fi fantasy planted firmly in reality, which brings a gravitas and weight to it that most time travel movies simply don't have. It works like Peggy Sue Got Married in realizing change is possible late in life. And like that film, maybe it won't really connect with you on an emotional level until you're older and have packed on some much-needed life experience. It's the best-aged Scotch, and to truly enjoy it, you need to have moved passed the bottom shelf house whiskey. Its what I imaged a time travel movie would look like in 2012. And the cast? What an amazing line-up we have performing here. Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson, and Mark Duplass all have a strong weekly television presence, and you don't think of any of their shows while watching them in Safety Not Guaranteed. They bring none of their past performances with them, which is an amazing feat for a trio of actors to pull off. And when Mark Duplass pulls out his Zither to play an original piece of music, prepare to nudge a bit of cream and red-scrape the tip on your zipper. Its more amazing than the best 3D CGI Joss Whedon can give you. Ends are always the hardest thing to pull off in any movie. When we invest this heavily in a story, we need that perfect climax to make it all worthwhile. Safety Not Guaranteed doesn't disappoint, giving us one of the best pay-offs seen this year. This is top-flight entertainment that deserves more recognition. It's a perfect yin to Hot Tub Time Machine's yang (and that was one of my favorite movies of 2010).
#3. Better Than Something: Jay Reatard
Imagine if Kurt Cobain died a couple of months after Bleach was released. He'd be remembered and eulogized the way Jay Reatard is in this gut punch of a music documentary. Reatard was posed to be the "next big thing". He was on the verge of ushering in a new era of true hard rock music that was poised to smash our past decade of decadent pop sensibilities into oblivion. But like Bradley Nowell of Sublime, Jay passed away before he even reached the eve of his true success, and thus, he has become an underground legend and cult icon in the music scene, especially in his home state of Tennessee. The young, troubled man was as notorious for his rage-fueled stage shows as he was for his infectious garage rock. The movie follows this angry rocket of talent as he blazes a path through the indie rock scene of the early 2000s, releasing an unprecedented number singles, EPs and full-length records over the course of fourteen years. All the while, he is being chased by the grim reaper, prophesizing his impending death as though he actually knows the date and time he will pass from ,and transcend, this world. In that sense, the movie serves as an edge-of-your seat thriller. Born Jimmy Lee Lindsay, the musician is allowed to tell much of this story in his own words, which is rare for someone who passes too soon. But in this case, too soon never seems to be soon enough. Directed by Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz, Better Than Something stands as a testament and a document to the legacy of this young man, who will continue to gain fans long into the great beyond. It is as thrilling as it is sad, and it stands as my favorite documentary of the year.
#2. Marvel's The Avengers
"I read comic books as a kid." Why does it feel like most directors and producers are saying this with a gun next to their head? Does it give them some much-needed street cred? It's like Richard Simmons saying, "I listen to Eminem!" Who gives a crotchmonk? It means nothing...At least most of the time. Here, it actually did mean something. Joss Whedon's natural history as a nerd and a collector of paper paid off in an unusual way. I dare you to say there was a more entertaining movie this year. Pound for pound, fist swing for fist swing, Marvel's The Avengers delivered on its promise, and became the number one movie of 2012. Deservingly so. It's not "the best" movie by any means, as the critics like to point out. If I had a hammer for every blogger who said, "After the fourth showing, Marvel's The Avengers is really starting to show its cracks." I'd have a lot of broken jaws in the hospital. Seriously, what is wrong with people? After the fourth time? This movie was worth its ticket price in sheer enjoyment. Seen in 3D, it's a giant rollercoaster ride that doesn't stop from beginning to end. It's why most people go to the movies. To get lost, and escape reality for a few precious hours. In facing the fiscal cliff, and the coming Civil War, and raising taxes, and oranges that cost $7 a bag, we need movies like Marvel's The Avengers to take the pressure off our curetted spines, and our bleeding kidneys. This is pure escapism as an art form. I'm surprised its not on more people's top ten lists. I didn't read comic books as a kid. And I loved the snot out of it.
#1. Django Unchained
Was there any other reason to go to the movies this year? Is there an American director who's better at entertaining an audience than Quentin Tarantino? Those are questions I keep hearing as we close out this year in cinema. Most of the movies on this list, I saw in the comfort of my own home. Django Unchained was the one film I had to go see on the big screen. Quentin Tarantino is one of the last remaining directors who truly cares about 35mm, and I had to honor that. His gift is that he knows how to stir and move an audience like no other. He knows how to set up the perfect payback, which works marvels when it comes to a revenge thriller. He gives us a hero in Jamie Foxx that is impossible not to root for. Quentin builds and builds the tension in a meaningful, semi-sadistic way. He shows us things that are going to get under our skin, so that when it comes time for retribution, we're standing up out of our chair, rooting for Django to murder all those that have done wrong. Not just to him, but to the lingering souls grounded in this revisionist take on a brutal history. The movie is thrilling like no other. It pays true homage to the Westerns of yesteryear, with an eye towards the future. It borrows as much as it gives, making it the most satisfying movie experience of this past year. Django Unchained is the true definition of a movie. It simply entertained me like no other movie did in 2012. Except for maybe Big Tits Zombie. But we'll save that for a later date.
Thank you for letting me bend your ear. I hope you have a wonderful and prosperous New Year. And, hey, let me know if there's a fun movie I should check out! I need to add more watchable entertainment to my Queue!