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From 'Cabin' to 'Looper,' Celebrating the Unsung Heroes of 2012 Cinema

Heights Staff

Published: Sunday, January 27, 2013

Updated: Sunday, January 27, 2013 20:01

Another year, another Favorite Movies list. I once again find myself surprised by my final choices for top films of the year. Almost every single movie that I was excited about pre-2012 disappointed me, while I wasn’t aware of many of my post-2012 favorites until mere weeks before they were released. And so, as 2013 begins, here are my choices for the unsung heroes of 2012.

The Cabin in the Woods
This horror-comedy, courtesy of Buffy/Avengers extraordinaire Joss Whedon, snuck into theaters last March, after spending three years on the shelf due to MGM’s studio troubles.  What starts as a film that seemingly revels in every horror cliche becomes a hysterical, gory, self-aware delight as the film becomes both a scathing commentary on modern-day horror films and an excellent case for why horror is still a necessary American film genre. Whedon’s trademark, witty dialogue is present in each scene, and Drew Goddard’s assured direction keeps the film running smoothly under 100 minutes. Add in a comically gifted cast that includes Chris Hemsworth and Whedon alum Fran Kranz, and Cabin in the Woods becomes a can’t miss scare/laugh fest.

In a year where the reliable PIXAR’s Brave was heavily anticipated for featuring a female lead character, Disney’s other big animated film actually stole the spotlight for being the most clever, emotional, and fun family movie of the year. What could have been a Toy Story-knockoff becomes a great movie in its own right, thanks in large part to the well-written lead characters, voiced confidently by the gifted actors John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, and Jane Lynch. The story is a delight from beginning to end, as “villain” Wreck-It Ralph stumbles through one arcade game after another in an effort to prove that he can be a hero, too.

While The Dark Knight Rises was the most talked-about blockbuster by far in 2012, the new Bond film Skyfall came the closest to greatness of any popcorn movie last year. By telling a grittier, more personal Bond story that revolves around Judi Dench’s ‘M,’ Skyfall is more complex and rewarding than any 007 movie of recent years. The film moved at an assured pace, choosing not to introduce its all-time great Bond villain, Javier Bardem’s psychotic Silva, until almost halfway through the film. Daniel Craig brings his A-game once again to a reimagining of Bond as a weathered spy. And who hasn’t listened to Adele’s ‘Skyfall’ theme song a thousand times already?

This small-scale, yet suffocating and intense sci-fi film rocketed into theaters last fall, an original work by Rian Johnson, a man previously responsible for two of Breaking Bad’s best-directed episodes. Dealing with time travel, Looper doesn’t lose its head in the mechanics of sci-fi, a fact that Old Joe (Bruce Willis) explains to his younger self (Joseph-Gordon Levitt) in a diner halfway through the film. Instead, this thriller preoccupies itself with telling a unique story of a man who must kill his older self to avoid being killed himself. While this film frequently stretches the ‘Awesome’ meter to 11, its greatest achievement lied in making Gordon-Levitt look exactly like a young Willis. Kudos also to Gordon-Levitt for adopting the mannerisms of Willis perfectly.

Life of Pi 3-D
Anyone who has talked to me about film knows that I despise 3-D movies. In my first-ever Heights column, written a year and a half ago, I gleefully insulted what I surmised to be a money-grabbing gimmick. After seeing Life of Pi, however, I can no longer say that the new technology is always without purpose. I was amazed by scenes of Pi and his tiger, stranded on the ocean, in which the sea seemed to dip back past the screen while the two companions appeared to be hanging out in the middle of the theater. Without a doubt, this was the most beautifully-shot movie that I saw last year. That the film’s spiritual narrative packed an emotional punch was just icing on the cake.

I couldn’t make this list without choosing at least one film that has been making the Awards-season rounds. In Ben Affleck’s hands, Argo is both a thriller that succeeds in building most of its tension from dialogue rather than action and an entertaining Hollywood story about a group of big shots stringing together a risky, yet creative, plan to save American hostages in Iran in 1980. Those who are easily turned away by “Based on a True Story” movies will be missing a cinematic feat. Affleck, Arkin, Cranston, and Goodman give highly energetic, memorable performances. And even though he wasn’t nominated for Best Director, we all know that Affleck, at the height of his career comeback, was the real winner of 2012.

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