Pop Bitez Film in Review for 2012

2012 was definitely a mixed bag as far as film is concerned and while we wouldn’t go as far as saying it was a bad year, it wasn’t exactly one of the best either.

We’re a little late with our list this year as it took some time to make certain we saw all that needed to be seen and, as it happens, we now find ourselves deep in the middle of “Awards Season”, never fear, the nominations and self congratulatory events of the film world have never had an influence on us and, rest assured, they never will. In fact, with a few possible exceptions, it seems the Globes and Oscars are in more of a state of confusion than usual this year, which makes sense given the “WOW!” factor was really nowhere to be found in 2012.

What follows are our picks for the closest thing to “WOW!” we could find in 2012.

And with that we now give you the Pop Bitez Top 12 for 2012!

12. Lincoln

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Yes, it’s true, beyond Daniel Day Lewis‘ well established talents, the good Lord blessed the man with a natural, uncanny resemblance to our 16th President. In the theater they often say “directing is 90% casting”, but in the film world this is obviously not the case and is exactly why Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln isn’t placing higher on our list. Spielberg has been lauded for many decades as our preeminent film director and yet, when you look over the man’s filmography, you would have to agree his expertise through the years has been greatly overstated. Pacing it would seem is Spielberg’s Achilles’ heel, (have you taken a look at Close Encounters….lately?), and Lincoln, like last year’s War Horse, suffers from the director’s inability to succinctly and clearly tell a story. Sadly, he gets no help from Tony Kushner’s yawn inducing, butt numbingly dry screenplay, which punches up the cliches and regurgitates facts that sound as if they were lifted directly from your high school history book. Lincoln is on our list this year for the performances alone. We tend to judge our favorites of the year by which films we would willingly sit down and watch for a second and third time, Lincoln is the only flick on this year’s list that is the exception to our basic rule.

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11. Anna Karenina

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Director Joe Wright’s brilliant take on this classic novel is unlike anything you have seen before. Every frame of this film is filled with beauty, from it’s stars to it’s locations, it’s pretty people, in pretty places, using pretty words. We don’t see as many of these films as we should and, if it weren’t for Wright, we wouldn’t have had any costume dramas in 2012. As far as this genre goes, Anna Karenina is as good as it gets.

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10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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Every year brings at least a handful of “coming of age” flicks which is why it’s always so surprising when a film rises above it’s predecessors and offers something new to such a well worn genre. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a smart, funny and touching look at the heartaches and pains of growing up and is one of the best of it’s kind in several years. Director/Writer Stephen Chbosky and his excellent cast which includes Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller have delivered a film that will be enjoyed by many well beyond 2012.

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9. Safety Not Guaranteed

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Safety Not Guaranteed is a small movie with big ideas, which is exactly why we love it. Screenwriter Derek Connolly gives us an intelligent collection of characters we grow to care about, something not quite as easy as it may sound. Indie film, at it’s best, gives us relationships we can relate to and explores the human psyche and heart in a way that most of the major studio films have seemingly given up on. Thank God we still have a new crop of directors like Colin Trevorrow showing up every year to bring us stories that connect.

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8. Sound of My Voice

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Sound of My Voice is another of those small films exploring big ideas, it’s a tense, at times unsettling story that unfolds slowly until it eventually delivers on it’s promise. The less you know the more you will enjoy this indie gem so we won’t say much, suffice it to say Zal Batmanglij’s direction is spot on and the performances, particularly that of Brit Marling, are haunting and memorable.

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7. Cloud Atlas

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Cloud Atlas is a BIG movie exploring BIG ideas, now when was the last time you saw one of those? The Wachowskis, best known for their Matrix trilogy, are responsible for bringing us Cloud Atlas and, if not for the success of that previous series, would never have received a greenlight for this big budgeted journey through space and time, as a result, we find we have a new respect for that Keanu Reeves hit and miss collection. Cloud Atlas may be one of the most debated, love it or hate it films of 2012, we loved it. Ambitious, inspired and featuring some great actors in multiple roles, (a concept previously reserved only for broad comedies), this epic of the heart will be talked about for many years to come, we know it’s true true.

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6. Skyfall

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After the incredibly disappointing Quantum of Solace we really we’re expecting much from Skyfall, of course if we’d stopped to consider the previous brilliance of director Sam Mendes we might have had higher hopes. Mendes has officially raised the bar on the Bond franchise with this one incredibly high. After seeing it a second time, we’re convinced, not only is this the best Bond flick in several decades, it’s easily one of the best pictures of 2012. Note for note, this is as good as it may ever get for the true Bond fan.

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5. The Avengers

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Just as Sam Mendes raised the bar on Bond, Joss Whedon delivered what we believe is the greatest comic book film of all time. Yes, you read that right, the greatest! Take note Marvel and DC, this one is going to be nearly impossible to top.

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4. Les Miserables

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As far as widely debated films are concerned, next to Cloud Atlas, Les Miserables is probably the second biggest film this year to evenly divide audiences and, like Cloud Atlas, this is another love it or hate it flick. We loved it and yet, while Tom Hooper delivered some of the most incredibly inspired moments in movie musical history, it is his unfortunate missteps, (a few very nearly unforgivable), that kept this movie from being our number one pick for the year. Les Miserables isn’t perfect, but it was much closer than some of us expected and for that reason alone, it belongs high on everyone’s list of the best films of 2012.

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3. The Sessions

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In some circles this is the exact type of movie they often refer to as “Oscar Bait” only, this time, the film is more than worthy of the awards consideration. John Hawkes and Helen Hunt brilliantly carry a movie that, in other hands, could have easily been a weepy disaster.

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2. Silver Linings Playbook

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David O’Russell surprises again with our second favorite film of 2012, Silver Linings Playbook. We imagine the title probably kept many of you from seeing this one in theaters and we can’t blame you, the title, while good for a book, is not a marquee grabber. The script is perfect, the cast is perfect and, wow, Robert De Niro can still bring it on, who knew, (it’s been a few years Bob)!

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1. Life of Pi

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Ang Lee, we officially can now forgive you for the incredibly awful Hulk. Lee accomplished the seemingly impossible this year by bringing to the screen a novel that was widely believed to be unfilmable, but then that only makes sense, the film is about faith and Lee, rightfully so, had a lot of it. The visuals are stunningly beautiful as is the message of the film and, in our opinion, there was no movie better in 2012 than Life of Pi. You will notice our list does not separate Best Film from Best Director, only in the strangest of universes does that make any kind of sense, so our Best Director of 2012 is Ang Lee.

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Honorable Mentions

Indie Game

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Indie Game is a brilliant documentary that follows the journeys of indie game developers as they create games and release those works, and themselves, to the world. (currently available on Netflix).

The Master

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From the Master himself, Paul Thomas Anderson, we get a thinly veiled look at the early days of a very creepy, celebrity religion, (you know, the one Cruise and Travolta give all their money?). Joaquin Phoenix delivers the kind of performance that convinces us, once and for all, if not for acting this guy would be chopping up hitchhikers and burying them on the side of the road somewhere in Idaho right now.

Zero Dark Thirty

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If we believed the version of this story presented by Kathryn Bigelow, (or even the one from Obama’s Whitehouse), this film would have placed high on our list. Don’t get us wrong, it is an excellent movie, no question, we just refuse to accept it as “a recreation of actual events”. We aren’t exactly conspiracy nuts but, when it comes to this tall tale, our bullshit detecting needle is way off the charts.

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Best Documentary:

Searching for Sugar Man

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Sixto Rodriguez was a Detroit folksinger who had a short-lived recording career with only two well received but non-selling albums. Unknown to Rodriguez, his musical story continued in South Africa where he became a pop music icon and inspiration for generations. Searching for Sugar Man is one of only a few non-political documentaries this year and, as far as we’re concerned, is by far and away the best of 2012. This flick will surprise you big time, it’s one of those stories that could only be presented in non-fiction terms as it is very nearly unbelievable.

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Runner Up: Queen of Versailles

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Those of you always barking about the “one percenters” will find much to love about the Queen of Versailles but then, as usual, you would be missing the point entirely. Yes, there is a certain schadenfreude enjoyment at watching those living “too large” for some of you but, consider this, when the wealthy fall, how far behind do you think the rest of us will be? Has anyone ever been employed by a poor person? Some will see this film as a grotesque comedy, we see it as a horror film, a harbinger of our darkest days still on the horizon. See you on the soup lines, dumbass.

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Best Animated Feature:

Paranorman

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Paranorman is not necessarily what we’d call a “family film”, unless you’re ok with having to explain a few facts of life to your youngest. That being said, it was easily the most inspired, funny and surprisingly beautiful animated feature of 2012.

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Runner Up: Wreck it Ralph

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Wreck it Ralph might have made it to our top spot this year if it weren’t for the hideousness that is Sara Silverman. Sorry but she grates on the nerves, animated and otherwise. Loved this flick but the casting of Silverman did not make it easy.

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Best Horror: Cabin in the Woods

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It was a very good year for Joss Whedon fans, who produced this one at the same time he was directing The Avengers. This time around Whedon left the directing duties to Drew Goddard who does a bang up job of standing ever single horror film cliche on it’s head. Cabin in the Woods is easily the most scary fun we had in a theater in 2012!

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Best Screenplay: The Trouble with the Truth

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Every once in awhile we come across a screenplay that we wish we’d written ourselves, in 2012 The Trouble with the Truth was that screenplay. Kudos to director/ screenwriter Jim Hemphill for his very impressive debut and also to John Shea and Lea Thompson who so brilliantly brought Hemphill’s words to life. Keep an eye on Pop Bitez and we’ll let you know when the DVD and/or Instant Streaming is available, (hopefully very soon!)

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Best Sci-Fi: Looper

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Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis, playing the same character no less, make Looper work, and work it does, in a tense, edge of your seat kind of way. Sci-fi these days is a lot more miss than hit and this one definitely hits in a big way. Here’s hoping Looper will usher in a new era of smart Sci-fi, we need it bad.

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Best Surprise: Snow White and The Huntsman

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From the trailers for Snow White and the Huntsman we had zero hope for this flick, so much so that we skipped it on the big screen which definitely proved to be our mistake. There really is no way an adaptation of Snow White with a decidedly Lord of the Rings treatment should be any good and yet it is, it’s very good, which is why we’ve chosen as our Biggest Surprise of 2012.

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Best Actor: Hugh Jackman

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We’re a little gay for Hugh Jackman these days but then, who isn’t? The man’s man actor puts all of his talents to the test and succeeds with a career defining performance as Jean Valjean, the born again convict and step daddy on the run. We can’t actually think of another A- list actor who could have even come close to what Jackman accomplishes in Les Miserables and, if there are any shortcomings in his performance, (maybe one or two quibbles), the fault is with Tom Hooper’s uneven direction and has nothing to do with Jackman as an actor.

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Runner Up: John Hawkes

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John Hawkes gets more and more impressive with every role and it’s only a matter of time before he has one of those golden gods on his mantle piece. In The Sessions Hawkes plays a man who spends most of his days in an iron lung who, on a few occasions, is able to live a fuller life by way of Helen Hunt’s vagina for hire. Hawkes was terrifying in last year’s Winter’s Bone and heartbreaking and funny in The Sessions. It almost makes us want to go back and watch Deadwood all over again, maybe we will.

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Best Actress:

Helen Hunt

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We’ve never been all that big of a Helen Hunt fan but damned if the woman didn’t completely change our minds with her fearless and beautiful performance in The Sessions.

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Runner Up: Jennifer Lawrence

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Jennifer Lawrence can do it all and at this point, out of all the other actresses of her generation, is clearly our favorite. We worried for her in the above mentioned Winter’s Bone, we cheered for her in The Hunger Games and we fell in love with her in Silver Linings Playbook.

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Best Supporting Actor: Javier Bardem

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What would James Bond be without a great nemesis? Kind of a bore, right? Well, Skyfall is anything but a bore and part of it’s very deserving success is due in part to Javier Bardem’s amazing performance. Not only is he the best Bond villain to come around in a very long time, he’s the best crazy ass bad guy to hit the big screen since Heath Ledger’s Joker.

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Runner Up: Mark Ruffalo

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Eric Bana couldn’t do it, Ed Norton couldn’t either but Mark Ruffalo sure did! True, a lot of the success of bringing the Hulk to the big screen and not stinking the place up is due to Joss Whedon’s excellent writing and directing but still, there is no ignoring the fact that Ruffalo nails the character with his soft spoken Dr. Bruce Banner and his not so soft spoken big green guy. Thank you again, Ed Norton, for being such a pain in the ass to work with that they chose to recast the role, your loss was without question our gain!

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Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway

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Bottom line, there isn’t another actress working today who could do what Anne Hathaway does in Les Miserables, it is a performance for the ages, beautiful and devastating, and she more than deserves every single award that is certain to come her way this year.

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Runner Up: Amanda Seyfried

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So much has been made of Samantha Bark’s performance as the painfully underwritten Eponine in the big screen adaptation of Les Miserables that Amanda Seyfried’s Cosette has been unfairly lost in the shuffle. The truth is, we’ve seen Les Miserables on stage several times and always loved Eponine but have been bored to death by Cosette and, after watching the film a second time, we’re convinced Seyfried’s is the more impressive performance. On film we’re actually a bit underwhelmed by Eponine and fall in love, hard, with Cosette and the credit belongs exclusively to Amanda Seyfried’s sweet and heartfelt performance.

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Biggest Disappointments of 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

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Obscuring 75% of your villain’s face is no way to follow up the Oscar winning villain from your previous film and allowing the God awful indistinguishable accent adopted by Tom Hardy didn’t help either. What is it about trilogies that the third installment, in almost every case, fails to live up to the 2nd film in the series? Too long, too lame and very disappointing.

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Brave

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Pixar set the bar high for themselves a long time ago and, these days, has been floundering and struggling. When John Lassiter took over as the head of Animation at Disney after the merger between the House of Mouse and Pixar, we expected the quality would increase and the craft would come first over the mass merchandizing and marketing, which is why we stand slack jawed and shocked that the exact opposite has happened. True, we were thrilled to have a new film from Pixar that was NOT a $equel but sadly, Brave does not live up to films like Up, Wall E, Finding Nemo, Toy Story or even A Bug’s Life. We didn’t hate Brave but we didn’t love it either and that was definitely a big disappointment for us.

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Django Unchained

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We’ve seemingly been waiting forever for a Western from Tarantino and this just ain’t it. The Star F*cking Golden Globes awarded Quentin with a Best Screenplay Award this year for what we believe is one of his all time weakest scripts. The character development or rather the lack there of, in a screenwriting class would have earned the overrated filmmaker a C grade at best. It seems we’re supposed to care about Jamie Foxx’s character based solely on the fact that he is a slave and, in the end, we don’t know him anymore than we did in the beginning, which is to say, not at all. Hip contemporary tunes played over a period piece, unsavory villains waxing poetically and philosophizing anti-heroes. please, enough already, it’s all played out Quentin and is no longer novel or very imaginative. At this point it would be daring and rebellious for you to just offer a film straight up, without all the signatures and gimmicks but, somehow, we doubt you have it in you.

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This is 40

This Is 40

If you asked Judd Apatow to name his top 5 comedies of all time we’re betting every title he would offer up would have an average running time of approximately 90 minutes, which is why it is so hard to understand why he consistently breaks this big screen comedy rule EVERY TIME with films that come close to the 2 1/2 hour mark. Judd, the best clowns know when to leave the party and yet you are repeatedly guilty of staying until the hostess begins to uncomfortably clear her throat. Every one of Apatow’s films has something we love but, in the end, he just doesn’t have the clarity of vision to tell a tight story. Brevity is the soul of wit Judd, which is why This is 40, like all of your other films, is soul-less.

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