Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Best Genre Films of 2012

As I look back on my list of the 10 best genre movies of this year I notice there are no real "indie gems". What do I mean by "indie gems"? The tiny independent films that are unleashed onto a unsuspecting world, and slowly (but surely) excite the self-loathing, yet adventurous independent film community. Last year we had mini-masterpieces like Monsters, The Reef, and Rubber along bigger titles from Magnet Releasing that blew the collective minds of horror nerds and lovers of strange cinema alike. The only movie that came out of nowhere and thoroughly impressed me this year was the sorority horror tale Alpha Girls. That film felt like it was made with a, "if this is the only film we ever make then god-damnit everything is going in!" I love that about independent horror movies. Since Alpha Girls won't get a wide release until 2013 I will refrain from including it in my top 10 of this year.

My favorite movies of the year were large, lumbering messes that either delivered action, gore or aberrant behavior in deliciously satisfying ways. The films on this years list are not subtle, thought-provoking or clever, but they are intelligently crafted and beautifully executed. They are just bold, brash and full of kung fu/wolf punching/fried chicken madness! That isn't to say there aren't any indie gems waiting for me to discover. So if you believe that I missed a small yet mind-blowing flick then please let me know in the comment section below. So, without further ado, let the list begin.

10. Prometheus
Ridley Scott's Prometheus is a love letter to 50s pulp sci fi. It feels like a 200 million dollar remake of "Planet of the Vampires". OUT are the quiet horrors and real life characters of Alien and IN are the escalating shock moments of extreme violence and "Chariot's of the Gods" style bat-shit philosophy. Prometheus is the type of movie that I was waiting for a big name director to make and ruin their career with. Thank you Ridley Scott for being brave enough to be THAT director.

9. Savages
Savages is a violent, funny and completely underrated crime story. The film is a smart update on the traditional gangster tale. It forces two worlds to collide; 1) the new, super genius "wonderkids" of America who have all the smarts of Bill Gates and the good looks of Channing Tatum (dreamboat!). These Zuckerberg-eque wizards decide to get into the weed game since it has become "safe" and "legal" in California. And 2) The Mexican Drug Cartel which has been the new face of The War on Drugs for thirty years and makes the American Mafia look like Applebees. Director Oliver Stone shows a lot of restraint in his filmmaking, but he is completely unhinged in his writing and that is a perfect combination for an almost perfect crime story.

8. Goon
Goon is a mix between the filmmaking styles of Kevin Smith and George Roy Hill. It has Smith's beyond offensive potty mouth, but Roy Hill's sense of comradery and brotherhood. The film is also so funny I hurt myself while watching it the first time. It's a simple tale of a simple man that finds a simple but brutal niche in the game of hockey. But the film's real message is; don't give up on your dreams, even if you aren't talented or smart they can still be achieved by injuring everyone else, making you the only person left to fulfill them. A truly American story.

7. The Grey
The Grey is a nihilistic adventure film. I don't think there are many of those around so I don't know where it stacks up within that genre. This particular film is a harsh look at survival in the wilderness and an incredible examination of the resilience of the human spirit (whether it exists or not). The Grey is a "men surviving nature" film that could be compared to "Alive" or even "Aguirre: The Wrath of God", but its style is much more similar to last years grossly overlooked "The Reef." Nature in these two stories are represented by an actual physical threat that has teeth and a perverse need to jump out at our characters whenever they say things like, "I'm glad that's over". But really this movie is about Liam Neeson. The movie should have be titled  "Liam Neeson Versus"; Liam Neeson vs. The Elements, Liam Neeson vs. A Pack of Human Hungry Wolves, Liam Neeson vs. His Fellow Man and finally Liam Neeson vs God (in which Neeson looks the Lord in the eyes and says "fuck you, I do this for myself", figuratively speaking).

6. Dredd
Tonally Dredd is a throwback to action films from the 80s. That doesn't mean it is an overly masculine, homoerotic romp through some godforsaken jungle (although the 80s had plenty of those). No, Dredd is a terse, to-the-point cop story. It doesn't want to be a "tent pole" movie or event film. Dredd is what it is, which is excessive; excessively long action scenes, excessive and gratuitous violence and even excessive artistic splashes such as the use of slow motion during the many drug hazed shoot-outs. But all of this excess is done inside of a plot that is a race to the finish line. There is so much momentum in Dredd that unlike other films with similar stylistic touches (The Matrix sequels, and any film where a kid teams up with a robot) the film never feels self indulgent or narcissistic. Dredd feels like "just enough" sci fi craziness and futuristic body dismemberment and not a ounce more.

5. Lawless
Lawless is a classic gangster tale that hits every note perfectly without feeling derivative. The film believes in its story and characters so much that we never feel like it's treading on the same plot points of other gangster film, which it certainly is. There is too much conviction to Lawless to be a copycat. The story of three bootlegging brothers battling for independence from the law and big city gangsters during Prohibition lives totally in the moment. The film never descends into De Palma or Coppola operatic insanity, which could have looked amazing, but would have shined a huge spotlight of the pedigree of the films that came before it. Thankfully Lawless plays everything straight and "real" and we fall in love with all three brothers, their sexy significant others and even the scene chewing super-gangster bad guy played by Guy Pearce. If Savages was near perfect, Lawless hits perfection on the nose with a Tommy Gun blast.

4. God Bless America
I won't pretend that God Bless America is a great film or even a complete film, but I have to admit that God Bless America is the most emotionally satisfying film of 2012. The basic idea is that there is a guy who goes around killing every horribly ignorant and repulsive Reality TV star in Hollywood without fear or punishment. He keeps a sexy barely legal teenage girl by his side, who has an even larger blood lust than him. The two then Bonnie and Clyde their way to infamy and pulp novel self discovery. Call me a shallow person, but that is all I really need in a movie. What also helps it that the tone of the film is satirical and it balances absurd comedy and dramatic moments well enough that the movie never come off as ugly. God Bless America is a pop cultural catharsis.

3. The Raid: Redemption
The best word to describe the modern day martial arts masterpiece The Raid: Redemption is "boner". I know that is crass and not very "writerly" of me (fuck, neither is writerly), but The Raid: Redemption is fucking boner! Some have described the film as "video game like" which is appropriate in the way the film's structure is multi-leveled, ending with the "big boss" finale. But comparing The Raid to a video game does not do the film justice. I felt more engaged with the stoic lead character and his fellow trapped police officers (trapped in the ultimate tenement complex from hell) than any video game character ever. The Raid is another movie that benefits from the sincerity of the filmmakers and cast since there are action movie cliches abound. But the reason that this movie is number 3 on the list is the ACTION. Each fight is a set piece that is visceral, immediate and tells a complete story within itself. Watching the Raid is an exhilarating experience. The rush you get from watching all of the blood spraying and bone snapping releases blood to your head and extremities that results in a BONER.

2. Killer Joe
William Friedkin is nearly 80 years old, but he has made his strangest and most perverse film to date, which is saying a lot from the guy who directed Cruising. Killer Joe is a redneck noir that never introducing one like-able character. Instead you stare at these slack-jawed co-conspirators like anthropologists looking at a primitive culture. There is sex, savagery, selfishness and the uncontrollable lust to corrupt anything that may be pure.
A repulsive trailer park family filled with incredible character actors decides to kill one of their kind to cash in on the life insurance. Enter Matthew McConaughey's Killer Joe, a hit man that seduces and intimidates his way into their family. Why he wants to join their pack is never really revealed, but once he is double crossed one of the greatest endings in recent memory begins. Instead of the normal shoot-out or brawl Friedkin unveils the most disturbing and psychologically traumatizing dinner ever conceived. Killer Joe is the work of a nut, but a masterful nut.

1. Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino has made his most complete film since Jackie Brown. Structuring "Inglorious Basterds" and "Kill Bill" into chapters was novel and somewhat refreshing but Django's traditional 3 Acts makes it much more satisfying. Do you know what else is satisfying? Killing white southern plantation owners! It just doesn't get old. Shooting them in the head, shooting them in the heart, even blowing them up with dynamite. I could watch them die for days. Django Unchained is an opera of killing stupid white people. Mixed into all of this is a very understated performance by Jamie Foxx who channels both Clint Eastwood with his sneer and The Duke with his swagger. Samuel L Jackson completes the film as THE WORST PERSON IN THE HISTORY OF CINEMA. A great revenge film that will be equally celebrated and dismissed for years, but never forgotten.
((Poster by The Rahzzah)

Thank you for reading this list. Here are a few Honorable mentions:
FDR: American Badass; Beyond the Black Rainbow; Haywire and Cabin in the Woods

The End


  1. The Avengers, Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall were all great too (especially Skyfall), but since those films got SO MUCH press this year I decided not to include them. What is one more review for The Avengers out of the 2000 internet reviews for The Avengers? What else does anyone need to know about it other than it was cool?

  2. Did you see Excision or the Loved Ones (I know it was made in 2009 but didn't get released until this year.) yet?

  3. I saw The Loved Ones. If I was doing a Top 15 it would definitely be in there. I haven't seen Excision yet.

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