Near the end of the 2000 movie High Fidelity (based on the Nick Hornby book of the same name), main character and record store owner Rob Gordon (John Cusack) starts his own label and decides to call it: “Top 5 Records.” Throughout the movie, Gordon and his staff, Barry (Jack Black) and Dick (Todd Louiso), come up with various top 5 topics. Primary to Gordon’s character arc is his top 5 most memorable break-ups. Other topics include the top 5 songs to play on a Monday morning and the top 5 side ones, track ones. In Hornby’s book, Gordon lists his top 5 films (Godfather, Godfather II, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, and Reservoir Dogs — me thinks Gordon likes the gangster flicks ).
Top 5 lists are great and work for almost any topic, especially movies. Top 3 lists are too short. Less variety and debate to be had. Top 10 lists have too many options to consider in a casual conversation with friends. But a top 5 list has enough items for various opinions, but can be easily remembered and recalled. Fodder for conversation over a pint at the pub or a coffee at the local shop.
And that should be the bench mark for any top 5 rated movie — does it inspire post viewing conversation? After the credits start to roll and the overhead lights in the movie theater come up, is your mind still processing what you just saw and heard? Do you want to ask questions to fellow moviegoers about the film other than, “What did you think?”
This is what I took into consideration when deciding my Top 5 Picks for Best Movies of 2012. I have not viewed every movie that was released in 2012 — far from it, in fact. That said, I do believe I have an internal barometer for choosing to view such movies, regardless of and sometimes contrary to, the opinions of professional film critics. After all, they are all opinions. What compels one to tears may cause laughter in another — what a sick freak, right
“There are a lot of rules,” Gordon says at the end of High Fidelity, referring to what goes into making a great compilation tape. I imagine that also applies to a top 5 list. But I didn’t want to get into the weeds with too many rules, so for my list, I just decided to break it down into the best movie in each of the following 5 categories: (1) action, (2) drama, (3) comedy, (4) documentary, and (5) foreign film.
Think about Gordon’s aforementioned top 5 movie list — all gangster movies. And while I think they are some great picks for a top 5 list, they limit the breadth of film topics. Without the categories I just mentioned, my gut reaction top 5 films of 2012 would be: (1) The Dark Knight Rises, (2) Skyfall, (3) The Bourne Legacy, (4) Looper, and (5) Act of Valor (Note: I have not seen Zero Dark 30 yet, or I’m sure it would be on this list). My male mind went right to action movies. Hey, the heart wants what it wants, right? But, taking my time and thinking about it for a bit (and clearly I did or else I would have written a brief introduction instead of this lengthy one — hang in there, nearly done) I realized that I did see dramas, comedies, documentaries, and foreign films in 2012 that would make my list.
So, for your consideration, here are Chris’ Top 5 Picks for Best Movies of 2012 (by category):
(1) Best Action Movie of 2012: The Dark Knight Rises. Director/Writer Christopher Nolan caps off his trilogy on the Batman franchise with an action filled and well told story of Bruce Wayne/Batman and his faith in and dedication to the people of Gotham (which really looks like NYC in this one — see movie continuity). Christian Bale gives another solid performance, but Tom Hardy as Bane is positively diabolical. The movie is big right from the start with the action sequence on the CIA plane, but it takes its time with character arcs like Joseph Gordon Levitt’s John Blake and Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle. And I completely fell for the twist (via palm to forehead followed by a muffled “D’oh!”) about Bane and the League of Shadows — as to its leadership. A subsequent viewing of the film allowed me to piece together the clues before the climactic reveal. Although this may be Nolan’s last Batman movie, he does leave the door open at the end of the film for future sequels.
(2) Best Drama Movie of 2012: The Grey. This Joe Carnahan directed film is about a group of oil-men who survive a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness, only to be hunted by a pack of wolves. The film captures the feeling of being so helpless and exposed to nature for persons out of their element, who must strip away their known sense of humanity and fairness, and replace it with one word — survival. Liam Neeson plays John Ralph Ottway, who is hired by the oil-company to shoot wolves. Before the crash, Ottway had composed a suicide note to his wife and was about to kill himself when the howl of a wolf stopped him. After the crash, Ottway clings to survival and acts as group leader to protect against the elements and wolves. But has this event shaken his suicidal intentions? Will we learn more about Ottway’s wife? The movie’s climax left me sitting in my seat at the theater as the credits rolled. I really enjoyed seeing Neeson playing this type of role as opposed to the Taken movies. I felt like I was right there with Ottway as the movie’s story progressed asking myself, Could I have done that when survival is on the line? (Note: I was torn between this and Beasts of the Southern Wild for best drama. Quvenzhane Wallis as Hushpuppy is amazing.)
(3) Best Comedy Movie of 2012: 21 Jump Street. When I first heard there was going to be a movie version of the TV show 21 Jump Street, I was excited. When I heard it was going to be a comedy, I was much less excited. So with lowered expectations, I went to see Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play screw-up bike cops who end up going undercover at a high school to infiltrate a drug ring. The pair could have stood on their own with their own comedic chops, but add in Ice Cube as Captain Dickerson and a cameo appearance from Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise as their 21 Jump Street characters (Tom Hanson and Doug Penhall, respectively), and let the belly laughter until tears form in your eyes commence. It’s the type of comedy where inept frustration erupts in verbal, nonsensical rants of the highly ridiculous nature. For example, while trying to blend in at science class, Jenko rambles the following: “One particle of unobtainium has a nuclear reaction with the flux capacitor – carry the ’2′ – changing its atomic isotoner into a radioactive spider…” They say the secret to comedy is timing and Hill and Tatum’s delivery of wacky/raunchy humor is hilariously punctual.
(4) Best Documentary of 2012: Searching for Sugar Man. Documentaries can be a hard sell to a mass audience. It can feel more like watching a project instead of being entertained. That said, ‘Sugar Man’ is the kind of documentary that has a compelling story and layers to it. In the early 1970s, Sixto Rodriguez was a Detroit folk-singer who had a short-lived recording career. But in South Africa, Rodriguez’s music was resurrected and he existed as a pop-icon for many there. In the 1990′s, two Cape Town Rodriguez fans decided to find out if the long-lived rumors of Rodriguez’s death by suicide was true. It takes the two on a strangely heartfelt journey where more is found in their quest than hoped, and the realization that long lost artistic dreams came true for a Detroit construction laborer. What can be sweeter than a heartening true story about dreams and faith?
(5) Best Foreign Film of 2012: Once Upon A Time in Antolia. This Turkish film follows a prosecutor, a doctor, police-officers, and gravediggers, as they search the generally uninhabitable Anatolia region for a buried body with the aid of the two suspects in the murder. The stories about what happened conflict with each other and make the truth a foggy mess. The idea of closure lingers because the murder suspects, two brothers, one of whom is mentally challenged, are unsure of the body’s location. However, after the group stops to eat one of the brother’s (Kenan) lets slip, with a little help from alcohol, what happened the night of the killing. I don’t want to give much more away after this, but the film is well worth the watch, even if you are a moviegoer who dislikes having to read subtitles.