KIKO MARTINEZ – Editor-in-Chief
10. Killing Them Softly
Criminals feel the effects of the 2008 financial crisis in this cynical and dialogue-heavy film by the director Andrew Dominik. Sure, it’s a bit heavy-handed, but also viciously funny.
9. The Imposter and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (tie)
With much respect for musician Sixto Rodríguez in “Searching for Sugar Man,” the most intriguing documentary subjects of the year were French serial imposter Frédéric Bourdin, whose detached personality is spine-chilling, and fearless Chinese artist/activist Ai Weiwei, whose invigorating spirit gives him the strength to stand up against an oppressive government.
8. Beasts of the Southern Wild
“I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right.” The same line 6-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) expresses can also be used to describe just how this indie fits into the grand scheme of cinema. Amongst the giants this year, this film by first-time director Benh Zeitlin can be overlooked. But without it, true fantasy is lost.
More than a historical drama about the 13th Amendment, Steven Spielberg’s biopic is an actor’s showcase led by the always formidable Daniel Day-Lewis as Honest Abe. It’s congressional theater at its most fascinating.
6. Moonrise Kingdom
Using his distinctly unique storytelling style and direction, director/writer Wes Anderson explores young love through the sentiments of two 12-year-olds during the Summer of 1965. The film is eccentric and sweet and Anderson’s best live-actioner since “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
5. Life of Pi
Although it came with the literary reputation of being unadaptable, director Ang Lee and screenwriter David Magee managed to take Yann Martel’s novel about a young boy and a tiger lost at sea and make it sing visually and narratively.
4. Django Unchained
In one of two films on this list about slavery, director/writer Quentin Tarantino takes a no-holds-barred approach and delivers another well-written, ultra-violent spectacle masked as a spaghetti western. Sergio Leone would be both proud and traumatized.
3. Zero Dark Thirty
Filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow follows her Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker” with another wartime thriller, this one centered on the intense decade-long manhunt for former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The final mission is mesmerizing.
This harrowing love story between two octogenarians features French actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva in heart-wrenching roles directed by Michael Haneke. It’s undeniably tragic without being sentimental and easily the best non-American film of the year.
1. The Master
It’s not a masterpiece like “There Will Be Blood,” but the works of auteur director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson over the last decade and a half are some of the most challenging films to dissect for anyone who dares to step into his bizarrely compelling world. None of his contributions, however, have been as demanding and dreamlike as this intelligent and alienating film loosely inspired by the early teachings of L. Ron Hubbard. The lofty concepts and ambiguous meaning of some scenes might incite indifference from some, but Anderson’s unconventional craftsmanship is precise. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s performance is beyond words, and Joaquin Phoenix’s take on the animalistic nature of man speaks volumes to the core elements of what makes the film such a devastating one to shake.
Honorable Mentions: Argo, Bernie, Chicken with Plums, End of Watch, The Grey, The House I Live In, The Impossible, The Intouchables, A Royal Affair, Rust and Bone, Searching for Sugar Man, Silver Linings Playbook, Wreck-It Ralph
JERROD KINGERY – Film Critic
After righting the ship with “Casino Royale” and then stumbling with “Quantum of Solace,” Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond finally delivers the 50-year-old series’ high point with an intelligent, exciting, and handsome outing that completes 007’s much-needed reboot.
This mind-bender of a time travel thriller pits Joseph Gordon-Levitt against an older version of himself played by Bruce Willis. The battle between the man who Gordon-Levitt is and the man Willis has become has no clear right or wrong, placing “Looper” alongside recent thoughtful sci-fi like “Moon” and “Source Code.”
8. 21 Jump Street
Don’t remember the TV series? Who cares? The unlikely duo of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum leads the way in this vulgar, hilarious comedy with enough nods to the original show to keep its dozen or so remaining fans from boycotting the existence of this film adaptation.
You could make a convincing argument that Seth McFarlane’s “Ted” is simply a live-action rearrangement of McFarlane’s TV hit “Family Guy.” But it’s still the funniest movie of the year, so what the hell does it matter?
6. The Dark Knight Rises
Of course the final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy couldn’t live up to the impossible expectations that greeted it, but the film manages to overcome its occasional bloat to finish off the bleak series with a glimmer of hope few thought Nolan would allow.
5. The Avengers
A gaggle of uneven individual Marvel movies somehow led to the creation of The Greatest Comic Book Movie Ever. Credit goes to both fantastic chemistry among the cast headlined by Robert Downey Jr. and the untapped (by the mainstream, anyway) genius of writer/director Joss Whedon.
4. Silver Linings Playbook
Movies not called “The Hangover” haven’t been kind to Bradley Cooper until “Silver Linings Playbook” came along. Paired with the always-great Jennifer Lawrence and a finally-engaged Robert DeNiro, Cooper delivers a performance that slips from comedy to tragedy so fluidly you may catch yourself laughing residually over scenes of deep sadness.
As a long-time Ben Affleck fan, it pleases me to no end to see the unfairly-maligned actor emerge from his own dark ages as an immensely talented and respected director. His “Argo” is a tight thriller with generous globs of comedy thrown in for good measure that manages to captivate even with its outcome being a matter of historical record.
2. Wreck-It Ralph
Disney out-Pixared Pixar with this clever valentine to ’80s video game nostalgia. John C. Reilly is perfect as the titular villain-turned-hero, and Sarah Silverman’s Vanellope Von Schweetz balances sassiness and sadness better than her stand-up act might lead you to believe. Cameos from video game icons like Pac-Man, Qbert, and Zangief help cement the faux-retro “Fix-It Felix Jr.” video game in reality, changing Ralph and his newly-created cohorts into old friends once visited in arcades long ago.
1. Zero Dark Thirty
The 2011 SEAL mission that killed terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden is still fresh in the minds of most Americans, and the fact that we aren’t very far removed from that time, our time as a nation that used morally suspect tactics such as torture to achieve our goals, leaves “Zero Dark Thirty” feeling even more harrowing than the average film about war. Was the endgame justice? Or was it revenge? Is there a difference? “Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t answer those questions for you, making its impact that much more powerful.
CODY VILLAFANA – Film Critic
It feels like I say this every year, but this year it really rings true: what a terrible year for movies. I don’t mean to sound like the stereotypical hard-to-please curmudgeon film critic, but the amount of mediocrity put out this year was absolutely staggering. Out of the 105+ (and still counting) movies I saw in 2012, I saw some movies that I would consider “very good,” but I can say unequivocally that nothing truly blew me away. Still, a top-10 list must be made regardless, so let’s get into it….
10. Killing Them Softly
One of the more puzzling pieces of film critique this year was the “F” CinemaScore for the latest Brad Pitt-starring vehicle “Killing Them Softly.” Given that “Here Comes the Boom” received a CinemaScore of A and a Rotten Tomatoes score of 38%, not much stock should be taken into this scoring system. Still, I was left baffled by what was so offensive to audiences. Sure, it’s a little dialogue heavy, but writer/director Andrew Dominik makes the film so well-written, sharp, and at times hilarious that the conversations are well worth your time. Not to mention, Dominik shows some serious directorial chops, integrating comedic moments and brutal, stylized violence seamlessly. Besides, the film is worth watching for James Gandolfini’s perfect supporting role alone.
9. Indie Game: The Movie
I saw this documentary about independent video game production at SXSW with absolutely no expectations and I was profoundly impressed by what I got out of it. Though on the surface, it is a documentary about the development of independent games like “Super Meat Boy” and “Fez,” it is far more than that. It shows the passion and the painstaking hard work that goes into creating a product not solely for mass consumption, but for the satisfaction of one’s self. You don’t have to be a gamer (I’m certainly not) to enjoy this film and get its message. It is a must-see for anyone who considers themselves to be a creative type.
8. The Intouchables
When watching the trailers for this film about a poor African American thug becoming the caretaker of a rich quadriplegic, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be melodramatic schlock. I was wrong. While “The Intouchables” is certainly a crowd pleaser, it is also an earnest and touching film and quite often extremely funny. There are also fantastic performances from both of its leads, Francois Clozet and especially Omar Sy. This was France’s submission for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and if Michael Hanneke’s “Amour” turns out to be too grim for Academy voters, expect “The Intouchables” to take home a statue.
7. End of Watch
Looking back at 2012, I believe “End of Watch” to be one of the most overlooked films of the year. What “End of Watch” lacks in the way of a traditional plot and storyline, it makes up for with pure rawness, grittiness and emotion. Shot in a handheld, almost home movie style, “End of Watch” is a wholly visceral experience, as if the audience is along for a day, or in this case, several days in the life of an LA cop. What makes this film stand out above any other cop movie is the chemistry between its leads, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena. Both actors give career-best performances and leave the audience feeling that they’re watching best friends and partners on the job. Simply put, Gyllenhaal and Pena have some of the best on-screen chemistry seen in any movie this year. With a little bit of exposure, “End of Watch” is poised to be a future cop-movie classic.
6. The Avengers
There are a thousand reasons why “The Avengers” shouldn’t have worked. There are a ton of characters (some which I felt had poor lead-up movies) and expectations through the roof, just to name a couple. But it did work, and beyond that, it worked spectacularly. Most of the credit belongs to writer/director Joss Whedon who not only created an interesting storyline complete with unique ways of pairing off the characters to let the actors play off each other, but also a sharply-written script that was legitimately funny. I realize that putting a tent pole comic book movie this high on a top-10 list full of indies and foreign films is a little strange, but here’s what it comes down to: The most fun I had watching a movie this year, hands down, was with “The Avengers.” And in a year of such mediocre cinema, that has to count for something, right?
5. Rust and Bone
Another French movie cracks the top 10, this time a bit more gritty. “Rust and Bone” tells the story of a whale trainer who loses her legs in an accident and a man who street fights to make money for his child. The film focuses mainly on the relationship between these two, and it succeeds on the strength of stellar performances from Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts. What makes “Rust and Bone” so special is that it’s one of the best directed films of the year, as director Jacques Audiard once again delivers a film in his raw and unique style.
4. Your Sister’s Sister
A top 10 list of mine isn’t complete without a small, charming indie, and that’s exactly what “Your Sister’s Sister” is. This film about a very unique love triangle is not only very dialogue heavy, but interestingly enough, largely improvised. Mark Duplass (who had a great year both in front of and behind the camera) continues to be one of the more underrated working actors and turns in maybe the best performance of his career thus far. Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt are also fantastic in this very funny and sweet indie film. “Your Sister’s Sister” was only shown in San Antonio for a couple of weeks, so it’s very likely that it didn’t even register on a lot of people’s radar. As I tell everyone I can: give an indie a chance.
3. Life of Pi
Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” is nothing short of a visual marvel. Based on the novel that has often been thought of as “unfilmable,” it is one of the very few instances of 3D technology being put to good use, as it allows for the film to take place in an expansive and vast universe. Nearly everyone I have spoken to about this film has said that the film “looks stupid” or “bad” according to trailers and TV spots. I wonder if this kept a lot of people from seeing the film. What the trailers don’t show is how interesting and entertaining this fantastic story of survival is, how incredible the CGI is, and how easy it is to get invested in what is happening on screen.
2. Silver Linings Playbook
“Silver Linings Playbook” is an interesting film because it isn’t anywhere close to perfect and in fact, it’s a bit messy. But these qualities mirror its lead characters so appropriately that I don’t mind the flaws at all. In fact, they are part of the reason that I found this film so damn endearing. The best part of “Silver Linings Playbook,” by far, is the performance of Bradley Cooper who deserves an Oscar nomiation for his career-best role. Also great in the film are Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro in a very welcome return to form. This is a film about a lot of things: mental illness, sports, and relationships to name a few. But above all, “Silver Linings Playbook” is a superb tale of two wounded souls helping each other out and forming an unexpected, albeit rocky bond.
1. Zero Dark Thirty
Katheryn Bigelow’s film about the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden is not only the best film I saw this year, but also the most well made. This film contains a ton of information, names and cities and manages to do an exceptional job of providing enough meat and potatoes information to leave the viewer feeling informed. The editing is also top notch as the film is able to span across 7 or 8 years seamlessly and never get boring. While the actual mission to kill Bin Laden is a large part of the movie, taking up most of final act, the majority of the film is really about a woman’s endless pursuit in finding information that leads to Bin Laden himself. This is an absolute showcase for actress Jessica Chastain who dominates the role and delivers the best female performance of the year, well on her way to an Oscar. The acting is top-notch across the board with strong performances from Jason Clarke, Mark Strong and virtually everyone who appears on screen. Perhaps the most impressive part to me about “Zero Dark Thirty” was its ability to de-politicize the events and present them solely as the proceedings that led to Bin Ladens death, gory details and all. “Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t hit theaters until January 11th, so be sure to catch it before it cleans house at the Oscars.
Honorable Mentions: Argo, Bernie, The Master, The Secret World of Arrietty, Seven Psychopaths
Here are also some of the worst things film critic JERROD KINGERY said he saw this year…
This is what happens when a rival movie studio decides to make their own version of “Transformers,” only without A) any Transformers or B) any of the rich characterization of the “Transformers” films.
Playing for Keeps
What’s the point of making a romantic comedy that seems to actively hates women? Were the filmmakers counting on big box office receipts from men who loved Gerard Butler in “300?”
With its weird structure as an incredibly dull story wrapped in another nonsensical story and enough hammy performances for an Easter feast, “The Words” feels like a made-for-Hallmark Channel movie that somehow stumbled into theaters, somehow dragging Bradley Cooper along with it.
Act of Valor
In the wake of “Zero Dark Thirty,” the chintzy pandering of “Act of Valor” becomes even more egregious. It’s cast of actual Navy SEALs–who are clearly not trained actors–simultaneously makes the movie that much worse and an unassailable piece of pro-troop propaganda. Detractors hurled accusations of disrespect at anyone who dared criticize a film featuring real-life American soldiers, even though the shamefully jingoistic storyline wouldn’t make the cut as a B-plot on “Homeland.”