Geek films dominated the box office in 2012, but that does not tell the whole story. Some movies lived up to impossible expectations. Others bombed as expected. Some movies that nobody had heard of in 2011 turned out to be amazing, while other movies that had a huge build-up were mostly greeted with disappointment. It’s hard to pick out one overarching story but I would say it was this – in an increasingly fragmented world, geeks are the last bastion of the collective experience. We all made fun of Bane’s voice, we all debated Peter Jackson’s high frame rate film making and none of us went to see John Carter, no matter how good it actually was. Recently I was made aware of a few film critics lamenting the fact that “film culture” is dead. They would prefer to write a nostalgic obituary for when everybody in a Woody Allen movie had seen the same Kurosawa film and then discussed its symbolism while smoking in their New York apartment. Well, I don’t live in New York, and I don’t smoke. When I want to hang out with people who’ve watched the same movies I did, I check out the gifs on Tumblr and I read the reviews and comments on sites like this one. Film culture is alive and well and , although a bit different, geeks are the keepers of the flame.
Anyway, here’s my Top Ten Geek Films from 2012:
10. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Yeah, it was pretty much exactly what the title told you it would be. And every once in a while that’s exactly what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for that 300 ridiculous gonzo-ness fix, this was the best you could do this year. What really took it to the next level was the completely insane action sequences masterminded by Night Watch and Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov. While author Seth Grahame-Smith supplied that novel source material and the screenplay, only in a Bekmambetov movie could a vampire throw a horse at Abraham Lincoln.
9. Wreck-It Ralph
If you haven’t heard that this is the movie that does for video games what Toy Story did for toys, you have now. It’s not a Pixar movie, but honestly it’s better than the actual Pixar movie that came out this year, so whatever. Did I ever think I’d see a big budget Disney animated film that included cameos from M. Bison and the Paperboy from Paperboy? No, I did not. And on top of that it’s actually good.
8. Casa De Mi Padre
This is the Best Comedy of 2012 that You Never Saw. Why didn’t you see it? Well, for one thing, it’s almost entirely in Spanish. And stars Will Ferrell. Speaking Spanish. Hilarity ensues. This movie commits so entirely to its mission to parody overly-dramatic Mexican telenovelas that, at one point, the film stops and a crawl explains what you would have seen there if things hadn’t gone awry on set. The entire thing is just utterly bizarre and that’s kind of the point. If this movie did not exist, nobody else could have invented it.
7. The Hunger Games
The book was fun and it’s really about something to a far greater degree than even some of the higher films on this list. The movie took that base and didn’t mess with it too much. Jennifer Lawrence put in a great performance as the story’s central character, Katniss Everdeen, who is now an icon in her own right. Gary Ross did a fine job with the direction and I don’t think many fans of the books were disappointed. And, best of all, we might FINALLY be able to put to rest the idea that a female lead can’t carry an action movie to box office success.
6. The Dark Knight Rises
The long-term takeaway on the climax to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy has been mixed and what I’d say about it is that it’s more iconic than actually good. For one thing, the plot makes almost zero sense but if we remember something from any movie this year, there’s a decent chance it will be Tom Hardy doing his Bane voice. Or Christian Bale climbing out of a pit to the insane, rhythmic chanting of the prisoners below. Or Gotham in the snow. And if we don’t care about iconic moments, what the heck are we doing here?
The 50th Anniversary James Bond flick somehow turned out to be both THE Bond movie and a Bond movie unlike any other. Director Sam Mendes, best known for American Beauty, not only shot one of the year’s most beautiful films but he dives into James Bond’s backstory in a way no one had before him. Meanwhile, Javier Bardem and Judi Dench stole the show from Daniel Craig with a pair of great performances. I wouldn’t want every Bond movie to be like this, but as a one-off it was pretty much perfect.
4. The Cabin in the Woods
This was the year the rest of the world, outside the passionate Buffy and Firefly fandoms, discovered Joss Whedon. But before he made the highest grossing movie of the year, he wrote this crazy deconstruction of the horror genre and asked his protégé Drew Goddard to direct it. The release was then delayed a year for a 3-D conversion that was eventually abandoned, and then delayed further by the same MGM bankruptcy that delayed Skyfall and The Hobbit. But when it finally hit screens in February, it still felt fresh. This is a slasher flick in which the killer represents the idea of horror movies themselves and it’s even much more.
My wife and I didn’t exactly know what to expect from this time travel movie from the director of Brick, but I remember us walking out of the theater, turning to each other and saying, “That was really great wasn’t it? I had a really great time. Did you have a really great time?” Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a near-future mob enforcer and Bruce Willis is a future version of himself. Every part of Looper is meticulously crafted. It’s not just a great action movie, it’s that rarest of beasts, a truly smart action movie.
2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
If nobody disagrees with me on the high placement, that would be truly unexpected. I’m a lifelong Hobbit fan who loved the way Peter Jackson did justice to one of my favorite books so, I might be biased. Unlike some of the other long movies on this list, The Hobbit rarely felt long. It introduced a new cast of characters while still existing in that wonderful LOTR film universe that I could just keep running in the background of my life on a loop. In a long, busy year full of great movies, this is the only one I saw twice in theaters and I never regretted it for a moment
1. The Avengers
Marvel was building to this unprecedented on-screen superhero team up for years, through two Iron Man movies, one Incredible Hulk, one Captain America, and one Thor. And when they got there, EVERYONE went to see it. And I thought it lived up to the hype I created in my mind. The #1 movie of the year was, for once, also the most fun movie of the year thanks to writer/director Joss Whedon and a great cast painstakingly assembled (get it?) over a period of several years. And it was fun to watch Loki’s alien army blow up my home town of Cleveland in the third act.
Prometheus – I found it highly enjoyable out of context, if that makes any sense, and it had a lot of great moments I wished were in a better package.
John Carter – A much, much better movie that anyone gave it credit for. I know no one saw this in theaters, but if you ever get a chance to catch it on TV, it’s well worth it.
Robot & Frank – Frank Langella turns in a great performance as a near-future old man with dementia who gets a live-in helper robot.