As this is a personal top 10, I don’t feel guilty at all admitting my preference for genre films. I will also add there are a lot of movies I haven’t seen this year that I suspect I would have loved. Like, for example:The Master, Zero Dark Thirty, Turin Horse, Doomsday Book, Excision, Amour, so on and so forth. I didn’t keep track of what I watched this year, I may have only seen like 20 films, honestly. I thought Argo was a lame adult movie to make adults feel good about liking good movies. And, Central Park Five was my favorite documentary of the year, (but I didn’t see This Is Not A Film). And my least favorite film was Sound of My Voice (my review is here).
But these were my 10 favorites…
1) KILLER JOE (Dir. William Friedkin)
I was raving about how much I loved this film to a few friends at a bar when the bartender, whom I had been flirting with earlier, overheard me mention Friedkin and his previous film, Bug. He came over smiling to mention his fondness for that film, and I immediately started raving to him about Killer Joe. “It’s like a perfect movie! It’s funny and totally depraved and sadistic, and within the first ten minutes, it’s all bush and blood!” And then he said “Oh,” and walked away and stopped flirting with me forever.
So, William Friedkin still has it, even at 77. This was easily my favorite film of the year. I can pretty comfortably say, for many of the reasons I loved it so much, Killer Joe was not terribly popular. Chris (Emile Hirsch) decides to put out a hit on his mother after discovering she has life insurance. He seeks help from his father, her ex-husband, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), and they hire Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey). Joe refuses the job without the money unfront, until he meets Chris’s little sister Dottie (Juno Temple). Captivated by the ethereal, kung-fu loving young girl, Joe reconsiders what he’ll accept as payment.
This is another character drama that escalates to the point of being, in essence, a kind of domestic horror. Swearing, nudity, graphic violence, and an NC-17 rating. That and this was like the third completely awesome McConaughey performance this year (being, Killer Joe, Bernie, and Magic Mike). 2012 was the year of McConaughey being a total badass and a seriously impressive character actor instead of the dumb hunky surfer dude he’s always been before. So, if you like films that turn a group of people into a violent emotional circus, and you have a taste for intensity and extremely dark comedy, please go see this movie. Then call me, we’ll go out for beers and rave about it.
2) BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (Dir. Peter Strickland)
Berberian Sound Studio is a UK film starring Toby Jones as sound designer who has been brought to Italy to work on a giallo film. The soundtrack is the film’s main strength, because aside from the crazed lynchian ending, almost nothing blatantly horrific happens on screen in the film. But in the audio, a very different story is being told: one of a man going slowly mad by being forced to create sounds for horrifying imagery. This is the kind of horror film that non-horror fans will enjoy and praise, similar to the way many film buffs without a taste for the genre will declare The Shining to be the best horror film of all time. The audience that prefers hack and slash films, visceral, stylized, and heavy on the gore, will probably not have the patience for this one. But it’s beautiful and meditative, and extraordinarily creepy. It’s the best atmospheric horror film of the year.
3) HOLY MOTORS (Dir. Leos Carax)
I might be reading too much Philip K. Dick and watching too much meta-cinema, but I spend a lot of time thinking about existence. Recently I’ve been mulling over this idea that someone’s existence can be measured by the amount of space they occupy in the minds of others. This may not be the point of Holy Motors, but this idea kept drifting back to me as I watched Mr. Oscar changing and reappearing. Mr. Oscar is an actor, whose life is a series of appointments, real life scenes that he attends in character. This film is not bound to our world, but more of a world created entirely of and by cinema. Holy Motors manages to be extremely complex and sad, yet at the same time, playful, funny, and musical.
4) CABIN IN THE WOODS (Dir. Drew Goddard)
Cabin in the Woods was shot back in 2009. It was supposed to be released in 2010, but it was shelved. This incredible horror film created by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard sat there for two years, and when Lionsgate was finally wise enough to put it in theaters, it blew everyone’s minds. Cabin is an amalgamation of every horror trope in existence, layered into a hyper-meta story about a secret facility that is organizing the whole show for an unnamed, but very powerful audience. And while being so smart and so complex, it’s unbelievably exciting. Although it is satirical of the horror genre, it does what every other horror satire fails to: It loves the genre. It revels in the gore and the monsters and the camp. People keep calling Cabin in the Woods “the last horror movie,” but I think that’s bullshit. I think it’s inspiration to make more challenging genre films that are still gory and fun. Fingers crossed that happens.
5) LOOPER (Dir. Rian Johnson)
In the future, time travel will exist. Using this, the mob has devised a method of execution in which a victim is sent back in time to a specific moment and location where an assassin known as a Looper will be waiting for them. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a Looper who has run into a problem, and it’s himself from the future. Older JGL is Bruce Willis, which is a bit reminiscent of Twelve Monkeys, which is a favorite of mine. Although Looper isn’t exactly the complex time travel film I had been expecting, it’s still really good science fiction. It’s an exciting, character driven story, most of which takes place on a farm. And, you have no idea how appreciative I am that Hollywood gave us a fantastic science fiction film that wasn’t just about CGI monsters, aliens, or robots and giant explosions. Thank you. Thank you so much.
6) FATHER’S DAY (Dir. Astron-6)
I did not think I was going to be listing a Troma film on my top ten of any year ever. But then again, it’s unfair to call Father’s Day just a Troma film, it’s an Astron-6 film that Troma produced. This also might be considered a 2011 film, but I saw it at a film festival in 2012 and it blew my mind so hard. It’s weird, surreal, hilarious, violent, and dark. The plot is so bizarre, it’s kind of hard to summarize well, but the film is about a couple of messed up guys trying to kill a supernatural father murderer. I love the way Astron-6 makes movies. I tend to hate the faux-retro thing that’s really popular in low budget cult cinema right now, but they actually get it totally right. I’m psyched to see Manborg, another of their feature films, whenever I get the chance.
7) THE RAID: REDEMPTION (Dir. Gareth Evans)
The Raid: Redemption (I have no idea why that Redemption is in there, do you? They added it for the US theatrical release) is what every action film should be. A police team invades a criminal apartment building, there’s a lot of guns and violence and everyone either dies or gets separated. Then one man (Iko Uwais) goes on an insane ass-kicking spree. There’s not too much to say about it other than that, pumping your fists in the air, and yelling “AWESOME!”.
8) SLEEPWALK WITH ME (Dir. Mike Birbiglia)
Sleepwalk With Me is a comedy produced by the people behind This American Life about a failing stand-up comedian who jumps out a window. And although this film is about stand-up, it’s applicable to just about any goal you could have as a floundering individual. Matt Pandamiglio (played by the film’s writer/director Mike Birbiglia) knows what he wants to do with his life, but he just doesn’t know how. He doesn’t have the confidence, and his drive isn’t hard enough to push him where he needs to be. But as he starts to reconsider aspects of his life, things start to make sense. Matt starts to have some actual life experience, and take some risks. And it’s nothing huge or earth-shattering, it’s just little things he should have been doing all along. Anyhow, this is why I usually stick to genre film. If you can’t tell, I got pretty involved with this film. My emotions were all over the place.
9) TIM AND ERIC’S BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE (Dir. Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim)
I’ve mentioned I like surreal dark comedies already, right? Tim and Eric have been perfecting their unique comedic style for years now, and the culmination is this film. It’s a mash-up of total nonsense, really low-brow humor, and technical jokes. That last one is always what gets me too. Editing and sound design jokes, I don’t know why. The film does have a plot, but it doesn’t really matter. Basically, if you’ve seen an episode of their show,Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! and laughed, you’re gonna love this movie.
10) PREMIUM RUSH (Dir. David Koepp)
This was possibly the most fun movie I saw this year. And the second Joseph Gordon-Levitt (yum) film on my list! Premium Rush is like East Coast Cellular. And, if you know me, maybe you’ve heard me explain the plot of Cellular in the actual time it would take to watch the film (it’s a thing I do sometimes after a few drinks). So, I love Cellular, and I love Premium Rush. The cast is rad, and it’s fast paced and fun and clever. That’s actually one of the movie’s strong points, the characters are actually pretty smart, clever people, but in a real world sense. Not in the way where JGL is fast talking, spitting quips and one-liners, but in an actual human I’d-hang-out-with-this-guy sort of way. The plot is a little silly and over-the-top, but how else are you going to propel a story about bike messengers racing against the clock in a life or death scenario? Also, bonus points for Michael Shannon’s character pretending his name is Forrest J Ackerman.
Special mention for John Dies at the End for being the most personal and conflicting cinematic experience I had this year. See my review for more details on that one.