We’re at the halfway point of 2012 and it’s time for Movie Fanatic’s annual look at the top movies of the year (so far). It’s been a varied year and one that has been filled with shock and awe. We knew The Avengers would be so fun, but also one of the best films of the year? And we adore Wes Anderson and had high hopes for Moonrise Kingdom. But would it be more The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou than The Royal Tenenbaums?
As is the case with most years, there is a film or two that takes us by surprise -- one that came out of nowhere and blew us away. 2012 had several of those… so sit back and enjoy our Top 10 Movies of 2012 (so far).
10. 21 Jump Street
Admit it… when you first heard of a big screen version of the 1980s TV series that put Johnny Depp on the map, the first thought was: Why? Then, add in the fact that the film was being presented as a comedy that would produce countless 21 Jump Street quotes and your second thought would be: Really? Toss in the fact that it would star Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill and the next thought is: Seriously? Yet, in one of the great surprises of 2012, 21 Jump Street scored on many levels. It is funny, charming, suspenseful and yes... one of the top movies of 2012.
One of the more brutish hockey movies ever filmed also is one of the flicks about the sport that has more heart than any other. Seann William Scott is the title character, a bar bouncer who is recruited into minor league hockey as an enforcer. He barely knows how to skate. But, he sure knows how to throw a punch. The audience goes on a journey over 90 minutes that is equally hilarious and heartfelt, and surprisingly features Liev Schreiber in one of his best roles as Scott’s primary inspiration and foe.
8. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
One of the art house film world’s quickest to make it to $100 million at the box office is also one of its most charming. A who’s-who of British talent, including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson star in this film about a group of older folks who give up everything in their homeland of the U.K. to pursue life in India at the titular establishment. The film is pure joy.
A foul-mouthed teddy bear and Mark Wahlberg join forces to anchor one of the best comedies -- if not the best comedy -- of the entire year. Seth MacFarlane leaves Family Guy’s restrictive TV world and unleashes his true comedy wit that will be hard to beat in 2012. We are not alone in our passion for Ted: The film opened to an astonishing $54 million in the middle of the blockbuster summer movie season and rightfully so. The film is a marvel to behold. Just a sampling of Ted quotes gives a glimpse into the brilliance of this silly, silly film.
6. People Like Us
Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks discover they are brother and sister after their father’s funeral. Director Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek) channels his real life story into one of the more moving and fascinating looks at family in recent memory. Oh, and that Michelle Pfeiffer deserves an Oscar nomination for her performance as Pine’s onscreen mother.
5. The Cabin in the Woods
Joss Whedon is having a year for the ages. The man behind The Avengers served as co-writer of The Cabin in the Woods. The filmmaker took the horror genre and turned it on its head. The movie stars Chris Hemsworth (also from The Avengers) as the leader of a group of friends who head to the woods for a little rest and relaxation. What happens next is pure creative brilliance.
4. The Hunger Games
Expectations could not have been higher for fans of Suzanne Collins’ bestselling series and its jump to the big screen. Producers immediately scored on several fronts: Casting Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, naming Gary Ross writer-director and hiring Josh Hutcherson as Peeta and Liam Hemsworth as Gale. The film is a pulse-pounder and one of the rare films that can be witnessed multiple times (this writer has seen it four times). To say we’re looking forward to Catching Fire is the understatement of 2012 (so far).
3. The Avengers
Whedon goes two-for-two in 2012 as his film not only gave us great The Avengers wallpapers, but exceeded expectations and did the impossible: Produced a killer Hulk movie where two previous efforts failed. Another difficult task: Give adequate screen time to all those superheroes who are gathered in one film, present a plot that fits into the Marvel universe and yet also create a film that stands on its own. Whedon's flick gave us beats of humor, action, suspense, thrills and power that few films achieve. Is it too early, and too outrageous, to ask the Academy to consider The Avengers for Best Picture? Hardly! It's more than the top money maker of the year, it is one of the year's absolute finest examples of cinematic greatness.
2. Moonrise Kingdom
Anderson scores in the most unlikely of ways with Moonrise Kingdom. The film is a love story centering on the romance of a couple of tweens living on a remote New England island in the early 1960s. The filmmaker’s cast astounds, including Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis and Edward Norton, but it is his youngest stars -- Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward -- who steal scenes left and right from Anderson’s veteran cast. Quirky, charming and all cinematic delight… Moonrise Kingdom is another on this list that needs to be seen again, and again.
1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
It is rare that a first time filmmaker scores as extraordinarily as Benh Zeitlin did with Beasts of the Southern Wild. The film is an astounding, emotional, powerful and unforgettable tale of a father and his young daughter living on one of the secluded islands south of New Orleans. The film inspires in its showcasing of a community known as the "Bathtub" as it has already been badly beaten by Katrina. How it rallies when a horrible storm further dampens their hope for survival is as uplifting and beautiful as movies get. Saw it a month ago and still cannot shake it.