Looking Back: Ethan Picks Six Surprisingly Great Movies from 2012
by Ethan Anderton
December 20, 2012
Just a couple days go, I counted down the five biggest disappointments from this year (2012) in film, which included a set of blockbusters that just didn't live up to the hype generated leading up to the release, and one that was a disappointment for entirely different reasons. But today, we're looking on the positive side of the year's films in the form of six excellent movies that sort of caught audiences off guard by exceeding expectations in some form. One had quite a reputation to live up to already, but most of the other picks were just surprisingly satisfying. So let's get down to my Six Surprisingly Great Films from 2012. Read on!
#6. The Grey
A man vs nature thriller release in January? No one was expecting much from director Joe Carnahan and star Liam Neeson with this film about a group of six oil workers trying to survive in the Arctic wilderness after a plane crash, but a pack of merciless wolves haunts their every step. And then we actually saw the film. Releasing this caliber of film in January was such a big mistake, it went back to theaters to be fresh in the minds of Academy voters when Oscar nominations roll around next month. That's how good this movie turned out to be. Not only does Neeson put in an outstanding performance, but the supporting cast was phenomenal, and the suspense rivaled most horror films. Maybe it's because we haven't seen a man vs nature film like this in awhile, but The Grey was a breath of fresh air.
#5. End of Watch
Sitting in the same boat as The Grey, this police drama from David Ayer (Harsh Times, Street Kings) felt like it was trying to get in on the found footage bandwagon at first. However, a return to theaters for an awards boost meant this was something to behold, and for anyone who didn't give this one a chance, you're missing out on one of the best on-screen duos of the year. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena feel like they've been partners for years and really make you believe in their characters, the relationships they have, and also the honor of the badge. Exhilarating chase sequences, powerful drama and some tension-breaking humor make this a must-see, and it's just too bad the acting pool is so competitive this year, because Gyllenhaal and Pena need some love.
Even though Joseph Gordon-Levitt looks nothing like Bruce Willis, the idea of him playing a younger version of the Die Hard star in a time travel film where he has to track down and kill his older self was enough to get audiences intrigued. But add the fact that director Rian Johnson (Brick, Brothers Bloom) is one of the finest filmmakers working today and made this his first foray into blockbuster action films, and you've got a real winner. Though the movie always seemed like it would be spectacular, it's always a toss up with time travel films and movies starring Bruce Willis. Thankfully, a creative story, top notch performances from supporting cast members like Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano and especially Noah Segan and Pierce Gagnon as young Cid and a finely crafted world made Looper a fine piece of original sci-fi.
#3. 21 Jump Street
If there's one duo that can rival Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal as buddy cops in End of Watch, it's Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street. The biggest question mark in this film was the recycling of an 80s TV show, a move that has become tired in today's show business. In addition, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller hadn't yet taken a dive into live-action filmmaking or R-rated humor. Finally, Channing Tatum hadn't really proven himself to be anything but a mannequin who can walk and talk. But with this film, Tatum showed off some amazing comedic chops, and for me, this film marked a turning point in his career where he becomes more than just a pretty face. Without a doubt, 21 Jump Street is one of the best comedies of the year, and we were not expecting that in the least.
#2. The Avengers
You might think a blockbuster comic book ensemble with five smash hit films preceding it wouldn't make this a surprise success. But what's really surprising is that director Joss Whedon was able to take four major comic book characters who all had their own films and different directors with varying storytelling styles and weave them into a much larger film with even more characters thrown into the mix. And can you believe that we actually have a comic book universe coming to life and expanding by way of multiple films? The fact that it's working so seamlessly is almost a miracle, and having Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. teaming up in this film with Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner was one of the most satisfying theatrical experiences of the year.
#1. Cabin in the Woods
With an initial trailer that made it look like nothing but a generic horror film (until a second trailer spoiled a little too much), this film just seemed like another tired entry in the long history of films about promiscuous and dimwitted teens just waiting to meet their gruesome end. But Drew Goddard (writer of Cloverfield) making his directorial debut (filmed in 2009) with the help of producer Joss Whedon made some waves and is still gaining traction by word of mouth as a film that didn't just fit into the horror genre, but turned it inside out and on its head. With a truly original story, and some amazing twists and turns, this is easily one of the most mind-bending and riveting films of the year, and we didn't expect that from a horror film.
So there you have it. This year has been full of phenomenal films, and while many more will get our praise next week when we start posting our personal Best Films from 2012 lists, these were the ones that really exceeded expectations or just caught us off guard. You'll probably see some show up in our Best of 2012. Are there any films that you were surprised to love so much or exceeded your expectations?