The top genre films of 2012

Posted by CB Droege

2012 had only a few truly disappointing films, so ranking them all becomes a tough call in some cases.

The award shows will try to find the best, but those are mostly popularity contests for the filmmakers, rather than contests of true merit. Box office take is not a good measure either, as lots of factors go into why one film gets watched in the theater more than another. My reviews attempt to look at the films from a literary perspective, and with a geek’s eye. With that in mind, here are my top 5 films for 2012

5 -Bourne Legacy

Hearing the basic premise of Bourne Legacy, it’s easy to dismiss it as just another Hollywood cash grab. A completed, high-yield trilogy is coming back for more with new actor. The studio could easily have slashed the budget for this film down to nearly nothing, restricting the talent and effects of the project down to B levels, and it would still have had nearly the same box-office draw, merely resting on the popularity of the three previous films.

Instead, they notched this film a few steps above the previous trilogy. Bourne Legacy has an outstanding script and a triple A budget. Everywhere one expects rehashed fights and effects, we instead find something we’ve never seen before – the motorcycle chase sequence had some particularly innovative moments – and everywhere we expect another clichéd sub-plot, we get a surprisingly dramatic character-centric exposition.

In addition, the film is much more revelatory that its predecessors, showing of the great world-building involved in the previous films, and in a way improving those films retroactively, since now we can finally see just how much work went into the background of the story.

The only thing keeping the film from getting even higher on this list is a few flawed devices, and a slight over-reliance on franchise knowledge.

4 - Looper

Like Bourne Legacy, Looper was a bit of a surprise. The previews made it out to be a run-and-gunner, but once in the theater, it turned out to be a much more cerebral film. Most films which involve time-travel, especially action films, are simply using it as a gimmick to forward the action without allowing it to be taken seriously. Looper, however, treats the subject with respect, allowing the audience to get a real hang of how it works, and to see that carry through the film to its conclusion.

It has the accessibility and clarity of Back to the Future, with the ‘science’ of Primer. Combined with a healthy dose of good Hollywood action sequences and amazing performances from both Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Bruce Willis, it earns its place on this list easily.

3 - John Carter

John Carter is perhaps the most underrated film of the year. It garnered some unfortunate bad press right before release, and the box-office reception was then noticeably affected, and the critical reception was merely tepid, with many reviewers criticizing its less-than-memorable villains and somewhat wooden performances, especially from Taylor Kitsch in the lead. To some extent they are right on both counts, but really, I think many reviewers simply didn’t get it. I grew up with Burroughs’ fiction on my nightstand. Some of my favorite stories are from the John Carter franchise, and almost all of modern science-fiction can trace its roots back to those stories. This is why it seems a bit trite and unmemorable to some. It’s not that there is little original in this story, it’s that this is the original story. We recognize all these elements from other science-fiction stories because this is where they came from.

With that in mind, the film is an excellent adaptation of those stories. The elements are borrowed from the source a bit haphazardly to make for a better Hollywood flow, but otherwise things run well. Lynn Collins plays the princess about exactly as I always pictured her – not a stereotypical ‘adventuring princess’, but the prototypical one - and Willem DeFoe shows that he can play more than one type of character, and that he can get into complicated mo-cap. The visuals are outstanding and the effects are stunning.

The only disappointment in John Carter is that its unpopularity has likely canned any thoughts of turning the film into a franchise.

2 - The Avengers

A lot has already been said about The Avengers, and it’s likely one of the few films on my list which will also appear on the top film lists everywhere else, probably even at the Oscars.

Of course, it’s a great action flick, with rousing effects, and terrific performances from all comers, but the real strength of the film is its ability to subvert and support the tropes of comics simultaneously, without showing a distain for them – it’s that distain that keeps Dark Knight Rises off this list, and a lack of subversion that keeps The Amazing Spider-Man out. It’s an incredibly difficult balance, and it takes someone who both truly loves comics, and understands the core appeal of fantasy story-telling. Joss Whedon was surely the right man for the job.

The Avengers is able to appeal to comics fans, action film fans, monster film fans, and critics all at once. And, if that’s not enough, it also serves as a dramatic cap on the first phase of Marvel superhero films, which consists of a carefully managed stable of multiple franchises, all of which are outstanding.

1 - Wreck –it Ralph

Wreck-it Ralph is filled to bursting with great material. It’s a classic children’s adventure film on the surface, yes, and can be enjoyed easily in that capacity, but the real appeal is the video game references. The film doesn’t just take place inside a video game world, it has a strong understanding of video game culture, and manages to speak directly to the video games generation. From old arcade games to modern console and PC titles, every scene has some nugget for video game fans, most of them buried in the wordplay of the dialogue or in the background scenery.

The film treats the video games culture with real respect, and manages to always poke fun without making fun, a distinction lost on most films that attempt to use or depict the culture. I don’t think there has ever been a film which so well speaks directly to this demographic.

It’s also a well-performed and artistic film, with not a moment of wasted action, superfluous drama, or unfocused emotion. The basic descent-into-hell quest is turned onto a sugary ear, and explored in a way that is at once compelling and amusing. Even the romantic sub-plot, which I usually criticize the mere existence of – because it’s so often entirely gratuitous – is well connected, and adds to the art of the film in a way that is rarely seen.

A rousing plotline, a tear-jerking mid-point, and a spirits-raising conclusion in a film that speaks directly to a culture that I hold dear. Wreck-it Ralph is, without a doubt, the best film of the year for me.