I've never written a second top ten for my honorable mentions before -- I typically just throw them in, without comment, at the end of my list -- but In a year as good as 2012, ten best films just isn't enough. In my best of 2012 list, I joked (honestly) that with so many amazing movies to choose from, you could disqualify my top ten and force me to hand in my next ten favorites, and I would be totally content. And the more I thought about that, the more I wanted one more chance to write about these terrific movies.
So here's our last year-end list at Criticwire, the "other" best films of 2012. If you missed any of the previous lists -- The Best Worst Films of 2012, The Best Flops of 2012, and My Favorite Film Discoveries of 2012 -- then I just provided you with links to all of them. Onward to 2013; let's hope in twelve months we're all faced with equally tough listmaking choices, and with a year of movies so good that titles as exceptional as the ten that follow count only as "honorable mentions:"
A prime example of the sort of experimental artistry that can be achieved in the world of VOD and DTV (though this movie did get a small theatrical release). Like his amoral scientists who bring battlefield dead back to life as brainless killing machines, director John Hyams revived the "Universal Soldier" mythos and made it more ruthlessly effective than ever before. Abandoning most of its earlier (and goofier) sci-fi premise for psychological horror, this installment follows an amnesiac (rising martial artist Scott Adkins) as he investigates his family's murder at the hands of former good-guy UniSol Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme, channelling Marlon Brando in "Apocalypse Now" to genuinely unsettling effect). Most of the requisite action is backloaded to a brilliantly fluid and frenetic finale; the first hour is a truly audacious mindfuck, tripping on hypnotically lysergic imagery. The result: the most delightfully weird Dolph Lundgren movie in history.
19. Magic Mike
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Criticwire Grade: B+
2012's winner of The "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" Award for the Best Onscreen Use of a Penis Pump. "Magic Mike" was the better of Steven Soderbergh's two 2012 films, but not by much (the other, "Haywire," just missed this list). This unlikely blockbuster (which made $167 million worldwide on a $7 million budget) was full of surprises: an impressively soulful lead performance -- not to mention some truly impressive exotic dancing -- from hunky Channing Tatum, and a insanely magnetic supporting turn from Man of the Year Matthew McConaughey. Sold (rather wisely) as a bawdy romp, "Magic Mike" was actually something a bit more complicated. Beneath the spray tans and G-strings, this was one of the most perceptive recent movies about America's economic downturn, with the nuanced character work and bleak plot twists of a vintage New Hollywood dramedy.
18. Moonrise Kingdom
Directed by Wes Anderson
Criticwire Grade: B+
My favorite Wes Anderson film since "Rushmore." I've wondered why I liked this one, but found so many of his works in the interim frustrating or downright infuriating. Eventually, I came to the realization that both "Rushmore" and "Moonrise Kingdom" have teen protagonists whose idealistic worldviews fit more effectively into Anderson's aesthetic of childlike wonder. That said, this movie might have Anderson's all-time greatest adult cast too: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, Jason Schwartzman, and, of course, Bill Murray. Over the years, I've become like a heroin addict when it comes to Anderson's movies: I've built up a tolerance, and the same fix doesn't get me as high as it once did. "Moonrise Kingdom," though, was like undiluted movie opium. Pure bliss.
A dubious philosophical achievement, but a profound technical one, including some of the most convincing CGI characters ever created and the best 3D cinematography I've ever seen (at least in 24fps). It's yet another visual triumph for Ang Lee who may be the most underrated visual stylist on the planet; the man simply knows how to tell stories with images (and iconic ones at that). That's no easy feat when your setting is a tiny lifeboat lost in the Pacific Ocean, and your cast totals just one actual human being and an assortment of digital animals, including the unforgettable Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. I don't know that "Pi"'s ending works, but if it does, it's only because Lee brought those 200 days at sea to such impossibly vivid life.
Like "Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning," this is another superb, unconventional action film that lived primarily on VOD rather than in theaters. This one is French, and follows a cop of questionable ethics (Tomer Sisley) as he infiltrates a drug dealer's posh Parisian nightclub in order to rescue his kidnapped son. Largely contained to that single location, "Sleepless Night" is an exercise in pure, claustrophobic tension, as the cop chases his son as he's chased by the drug dealers and by cops who might be even dirtier than he is. When you see three hundred movies in a year, you find yourself in the position of understanding and predicting where most of them will take you before they get there. With twist upon twist and Sisley's ingeniously resourceful detective, you were always struggling to keep up with "Sleepless Night."