One thing we at Place to Be Nation like to celebrate is the subjectivity inherent in entertainment — be it in wrestling, comics, music, television or, indeed, film. With that in mind, ten members of the PTBN staff will be picking the movies of the PTB generation. In this series, panel members will collect their five favorite films of each year, beginning with the year in which the oldest writer was born — 1976. The only rule given to each contributor was to provide his or her own criteria. Some writers may go with the most artistic films, while others might side with the most iconic blockbusters. We welcome your lists on Facebook and Twitter. Each staff member has submitted a list of five movies from 2012 ranked 1 through 5. A first-place vote is worth five points, a second-place vote worth four points, and so on. Using that point system, we have identified the top 5 movies of 2012.
2012 was a banner year in the comic book movie genre, as Marvel brought their grand vision of a superhero team-up to the screen, while Christopher Nolan brought his Batman trilogy to a close. But before we reveal the top 5, let’s see the movies that received votes, but fell short of making our final list.
Django Unchained — 8 points
The Master — 5 points
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — 4 points
Looper — 4 points
Moonrise Kingdom — 4 points
Zero Dark Thirty — 4 points
The Hunger Games — 3 points
21 Jump Street — 2 points
Dredd — 2 points
Flight — 2 points
Safety Not Guaranteed — 2 points
The Amazing Spider-Man — 1 point
Cabin in the Woods — 1 point
The Expendables 2 — 1 point
The Grey — 1 point
Les Miserables — 1 point
And now, let’s see the top 5 movies of 2012, as voted by the Place to Be Nation staff.
14 points, ranked by 5 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Aaron George at No. 1
Aaron George: So I’m sure by now everyone has beard the fan theory that “James Bond” is not someone’s name but merely a job title. I am a little ashamed to admit that when Daniel Craig gets shot off the train at the start of the film I thought they were pulling the trigger (ahahahahaha) on that theory. Boy am I glad that they didn’t, as this Bond kicked so much ass that the bar is now set so ridiculously high for Spectre that if they achieve it my levels of joy may rival the happiest Christian making out with Jesus.
This is far and away the most beautiful Bond movie ever shot. The way they shoot the fight in the skyscraper in Hong Kong should be studied in cinematography school for its brilliance. The shadowed fight set against a backdrop of stunning colors is breathtaking. The contrast of all the rustic scenes when they finally reach Skyfall is wonderful and continues to push forward the duality of “old and new” which has permeated through these new Bond films.
What’s also great about these is that they finally give us movies where we actually care about the plot and are totally invested in the characters from the very first line. Gone are the days where the actions of Thunderball were only felt for the two hours we were watching it. We’re in a world of consequence now, and the effect that has on the overall tension of the film is stunning. The action is tight and (somewhat) realistic and once again we’re treated to a vulnerable Bond, wounded by those he trusted and determined to be better. Sure Javier Bardem is weird and strange, but that’s just what a good Bond villain is. The plot has a few twists and turns and ends up making some ballsy choices, but everything feels organic and logical. Which can be difficult to do when you’re dealing with a spy who got shot off a train and survived only to drink with scorpions on his hand.
Besides the great script, acting and cinematography, Skyfall is also fan service or the highest order. We get the cars, Miss Moneypenny, Q, a new M (which makes Voldemort look like a wimp) even the god damned padded door in M’s office. If you’re a Bond fan and you’re not positively gleeful by the final moments then you should put on Gladys Knight and the Pips and slit your wrists. See it if you’re a Bond fan, see it if you’re a movie fan, hell just see it ok! It’s good.
4. Silver Linings Playbook
15 points, ranked by 4 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Glenn Butler and Russell Sellers at No. 1
Glenn Butler: It can be tedious to see a character do the dumbest thing they can do in a particular moment, and keep doing it, even if it’s in character. Silver Linings Playbook has an out that a lot of movies don’t, or at least don’t explicitly take advantage of, in that its two main characters are certifiably mentally ill. The description as a “mental illness comedy” invites some concern, as there’s a long tradition of unrepresentative and condescending tropes of Movie Crazies; Playbook does a surprisingly good job showing some of the ways mental illnesses can come about, some of the ways people integrate them into their lives, and some of the ways people’s lives are undone by them, all while remaining a comedy.
Pat (Bradley Cooper) is bipolar. We get to see both poles, and it’s what he thinks during his depressive swings that motivates him during his manic episodes. When we meet him he’s just getting out of an institution he was remanded to after a violent outburst against his ex-wife’s lover…or his wife, as he’d put it. One of the obsessions he’s been unable to give up is the idea that if only he works hard enough, he’ll be able to go back to his long-failed marriage as if nothing ever happened. He twists anything that happens to fit this narrative, as people do.
Both the belligerence and the obsessiveness are things Pat shares with his father, Pat Senior (Robert De Niro), who’s never been diagnosed or treated and never will be. The elder Pat’s obsession is the Philadelphia Eagles, and he builds elaborate rituals and superstitions around games, supplementing a sports gambling ring he manages. Everyone must be in their proper place on game day, the remote control must be positioned properly, and if they score while you’re holding a napkin you’d better be prepared to hold that thing for the rest of the day and come back next week.
Despite insurmountable evidence to the contrary, Pat continues to believe that if he can manage things just right, he can get back together with the ex-wife who got a restraining order against him. When he protests to his new friend Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) that he’s still wearing his ring, she shows him her own, which she’s still wearing some time after her husband’s death — his marriage is as dead as hers, and just as traumatically, despite his continued denial. Tiffany, whose husband was hit by a car on his way home from buying a gift for her, actually is the passive recipient of tragedy that Pat imagines himself as; her trauma-inspired illness drives her to a form of sex addiction that only serves to shame her and isolate her even further.
As this movie is also something of a love story, it invites the question: what does Tiffany see in Pat, anyway? A kindred spirit, maybe, or someone whose issues intersect with hers enough to intrigue her. For his part, it’s not until the very end of the movie that he can look away from the impossible reunion he’s been furiously justifying in his own mind. And yes, the fifteen-year age difference between the actors is a bit uncomfortable. Both characters are adults and can do what they want, and Tiffany’s sexuality is problematicized as part of her deeply flawed coping mechanism, but of course about 98% of movie relationships with significant age differences feature older men, so there’s a larger trend there. Despite this, they do develop some nice chemistry by the end of the movie, and Lawrence more than holds her own as one of the leads — I didn’t know how badly I wanted to see Jennifer Lawrence face down Robert De Niro until it happened. And of course her character does it by besting his in his overwhelmingly masculine world of sports-centered superstition.
Having now actually seen Silver Linings Playbook, it’s a hoot to remember it being advertised during the 2012 football season as a screwball football comedy, before awards buzz and Philly’s collapse shifted it to a different cultural space. It’s interesting to note the Eagles jerseys distributed among the characters: Pat’s DeSean Jackson jersey is used as an explicit metaphor by his father; other expected Eagles jerseys show up in group shots, including a Donovan McNabb or two, while Pat’s mother (Jacki Weaver), greatly put-upon by the men in her family, is the only character I caught wearing poor old Kevin Kolb’s number. Considering the shift in perception after the movie opened, it’s only appropriate that after all of the emphasis that the movie places on football as metaphor and pastime, its climax shunts the Eagles game to the background in favor of a dance competition; Tiffany’s narrative nearly overrides Pat’s, before the dialectic is resolved and the two end up in relative harmony. We should all be so lucky.
17 points, ranked by 5 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Anthony Estrada at No. 1
Anthony Estrada: Here’s what I love most about Argo. It’s a movie about a well-known historical occurrence, right? The series of events which comprise the story have already been determined — they’re not a mystery. We KNOW that American diplomats were taken hostage in Iran and we KNOW that they were successfully rescued, even if we’re fuzzy on the details. Now, even knowing all that, I experienced Argo with tension and uncertainty. That takes some ace storytelling.
Early in the film, Iranian protestors gather around the United States Embassy. They’re restless and angry. Those within the embassy watch though their window, cracking nervous jokes and trying to remain calm. The safeguards in place — fences and barricades — will surely protect them. The scene travels back and forth — aggression in the streets, fear in the building. Rage in the streets, panic in the building. The tension reaches its height and the protestors act, storming the embassy. Will the safeguards hold? We know that they won’t but the diplomats pray that they will and, as a viewer, part of me held onto that hope too. Of course, the protestors penetrate the embassy’s defenses and the diplomats are taken hostage. All except for a handful, who manage to escape undetected and find refuge in the home of a Canadian ambassador.
Word gets to the United States, and the world, of what has taken place. A political showdown ensues, with far-reaching implications. Mindful not to upset the fragile balance of this standoff, the CIA hatches a plan to rescue the hidden diplomats. They conceive of a fictional science fiction movie, which will enable their personnel to enter Iran under the guise of scouting locations for filming. It’s preposterous, inspired, and certifiably true. The CIA’s plan stumbles, detours and circles back around. Amazingly, it ends with the diplomats in an Iranian airport trying to con their way onto the tarmac and out of the country. Again, we know how this situation will play out. But there’s no relief for the viewer until that plane takes off. Do they make it off the runway? You can find the answer on Wikipedia in five seconds, but I think you’re better off setting aside two hours and watching this movie instead.
2. The Dark Knight Rises
25 points, ranked by 6 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Nick Duke and Greg Phillips at No. 1
Greg Phillips: Ultimately, these lists are personal. They represent the films that made the biggest impressions on each of us, regardless of how others may have viewed them.
Despite being divisive among fans of the franchise (and non-fans, of course), the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy may just be my favorite movie of them all. Why do I love it so much? It basically realized my vision for how Bruce Wayne should go out. It’s the closest thing we’ve ever seen – or ever will see – to a happy ending for the caped crusader, and I am (as should be obvious by now) a sucker for A) conclusions and B) happy conclusions.
Like Return of the Jedi and Return of the King before it, The Dark Knight Rises wraps up the threads established from the very first installment of the series, continuing the overarching themes while ultimately being a story of heroic inspiration. What a lot of people, in my view, fail to see in these pictures is that, in many ways, they’re more heroic than any of their contemporary superhero films. These are movies about flawed human beings failing and then rising above those failures. They’re about the ability of one man to make a difference – a theme beautifully realized in Bruce’s impassioned farewell speech to Jim Gordon. From the first movie, it was made clear that Nolan’s Batman was a realist. In this world, there are no superhumans, no Lazarus pits in which to soak. It was important that Batman be a symbol (an idea bandied about by everyone from Denny O’Neil to Frank Miller), and this Bruce’s goal was to show Gotham what it could be instead of what it was. To show the good people that they didn’t have to live in fear, and the criminals that they did.
And, frankly, this movie was pure fan service to me. I have always been a hopeless Catwoman/Batman ‘shipper, and we get to see their relationship realized better than it has in many of the comics I’ve read. We get to see Alfred make the bravest choice he possibly could – to stop enabling Bruce’s suicidal addiction. And, most importantly for me, we got to see the closest thing we’ve ever gotten to Dick Grayson on screen. Sure, John Robin Blake is really an amalgamation of three or four different Robins from the comics (Dick Grayson’s police job and heroism, Jason Todd’s street orphan upbringing, Tim Drake’s detective skills and solving of the great Batman mystery, Carrie Kelly’s place as the inspiration for an aged, retired Batman to come out of retirement), but don’t make any mistake. Only one character came to my mind when I watched that closing shot of Blake rising in the Batcave – my favorite superhero, Mr. Grayson.
1. The Avengers
34 points, ranked by 9 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Kati Price, Steve Wille and Andrew Woltman at No. 1
Steve Wille: It’s time to come clean. Despite being a fan of comic books and superheroes, I didn’t see any of the Marvel movies outside of the Spider-Man and X-Men pictures until The Avengers. I’m sorry, Ben Morse. My preferences gravitate toward the street-level heroes of the Marvel Universe who (and I’m saying this without any sense of irony or sarcasm) have always seemed more relatable to me than a cryogenically frozen war hero or a billionaire megalomaniac. I’ve also avoided reviewing many of the blockbusters rated in our look back at the movies of the PTBN Generation until now. Generally, I enjoy independent films and can get a bit snobbish about what I choose to see.
Yet here I am, reviewing one of the biggest blockbusters of the past few years, a veritable color-by-number on how to rake in big cash at the box-office. And, after hearing the positive reviews from some trusted sources, I went. And it was fabulous.
The plot is forgettable; in fact, I had to research what Loki, Thor’s brother, threatened Earth with. But this isn’t a movie designed for thinking; it’s a colorful, action-filled romp. Roger Ebert referred to the film as “an all-star game, or the chef’s sampling menu at a fancy restaurant.” Seeing the A-list cast of actors and actresses interact while portraying larger-than-life characters is a joy, and recalls People Magazine’s “Sexiest” issues (Hemsworth, Renner, Downey, Ruffalo, Evans, Johansson, oh my!). The movie shows off the latest in 3D and special effects technology, and, though fantastic in the theater, I wonder how it will hold up in ten years. Written and directed by fanboy and fangirl favorite Joss Whedon (with an assist from Zak Penn), The Avengers comes as close to a Marvel comic book as you can get in 2012, and really launched the next wave of comic book films. If it failed, I believe we wouldn’t be seeing as many expensive, all-star blowouts in the future. But it took in over 1.5 billion dollars in ticket sales worldwide, landing it as the number three highest grossing movie ever, insuring a cavalcade of entertaining popcorn fare for at least a decade into the future. And in between complaining about the latest indie flick lasting for only a week in my small city, I’ll make sure not to miss any more of these superhero blowouts again.
That does it for 2012. To see the full breakdown of all 10 ballots, click here. Check back soon to see the staff’s top 5 movies of 2013!