What the what? Apparently we’re already at the halfway mark for 2012. How does the year stack up for movies thus far? It’s been fine. No more junk than usual and a significant handful that’s the cream of the crop, with a smattering of enjoyable, certainly not great, spread amidst it all.
These half-point top tens are always kind of fun, with less yelling involved in the selections, and a chance to recommend lesser known movies without fretting that one’s list won’t be complete until every awards nominee is seen. Sometimes a cinephile feels an overwhelming guilt about not partaking in every single thing out there; not in June. The following ten aren’t all masterpieces or even all great. They are all worth your time.
10. Jeff, Who Lives at Home
This is the perfect example of an enjoyable film, with a significant issue (a less than stellar storyline featuring Susan Sarandon) that would keep it far from nearly any end of the year best of list. End of June; just right. The new Duplass brothers release takes the standard man-child story, here in the form of Jason Segel, and perhaps doesn’t entirely turn it on its head, but leans it enough to feel fresh. The narrative goes in some pleasantly surprising places, before it crescendos into a ridiculous and entirely earned finale that is likely to put a lump in many a throat.
9. Safety Not Guaranteed
Romantic comedies don’t come much stranger than Safety Not Guaranteed, the not-so-simple story of a girl who, amidst researching whether or not a man is genuine about a time travelling journey, finds a new spark in her life. While gangly in parts, this movies finds its warmth in the snark-turned-sweetness of Aubrey Plaza, wrapping up her multi-season growth on “Parks and Recreation” into feature length. She’s an absolute delight to watch as she begins to fall for a madman/possible genius (Mark Duplass). With its longing for the past and the hiccups that occur while trying to overcome it, this movie is a pleasure and hopefully a sign of a fresh new talents in the forms of writer Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow.
8. The Hunger Games
The Avengers had a lot more laughs, but The Hunger Games, even with its issues, is the movie that clings tighter weeks after seeing it. Both blockbusters are worth watching, yet the former lacks a character that is more than a series of, admittedly excellent, clever one-liners, while Jennifer Lawrence’s turn as Katniss Everdeen lingers. Rarely in Hollywood movies do heroic leads feature strength and trepidation in such a compelling concoction, one that is worth watching a second time just to see.
7. Damsels in Distress
For awhile, a long one at that, it appeared that Whit Stillman was never coming back to the big screen. Fourteen years after the spectacular Last Days of Disco, Stillman finally returned with his unique outlook, bring the riotously funny Damsels in Distress with him. With a strong ensemble, led by the always excellent Greta Gerwig, Stillman’s latest is a wry view of college students letting their stoic principles run amok, without altogether ripping these twenty-somethings apart for having them. Not to be enjoyed by all, to be adored by those whose wavelengths match Stillman’s mindset.
6. 21 Jump Street
People often throw around the phrase, “This ____ doesn’t have the right do be that good.” Sums 21 Jump Street up pretty well, a movie version of the hit 1980s television series, minus the self-serious tone and replaced with absurd laughs. Television remakes and Hollywood satires are typically tiresome, yet here is a movie crackling with energy and, best and most surprising of all, gave us the comedy stylings of Channing Tatum.
5. The Secret World of Arrietty
An adaptation of Mary Norton’s children’s classic The Borrowers by Studio Ghibli, the finest animation studio in the world for well over twenty years; of course it works. With a delicate screenplay by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s directorial debut refrains from broad gestures and yearns to be loved. The Secret World of Arrietty is a soft film that lets you come to it, with a magical touch that roots itself in how ordinary its world is to its inhabitants, while remaining extraordinary to us.
4. Moonrise Kingdom
Yes, Wes Anerson’s new film brings to mind his past works. As he has done before, Anderson has made a stunningly beautiful movie, full of wit and surprising drama, that manages to use a combination of original score and catalogued songs in perfect unison. You know, the normal Wes Anderson thing.
3. Cabin in the Woods
Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s love letter to horror films, both good and bad, has pound for pound more laughs than any other movie thus far in 2012. Chemically imbalanced youths, Japanese schoolgirls, office drones and a unicorn are but a few of the delights to be discovered while watching Cabin in the Woods, a movie that by all accounts should run out of steam after its first act, yet trucks along with ease to a ridiculous and bombastic conclusion that deserves all of its gory goodness.
2. Kill List
Whether or not Ben Wheatley turns into the next great maker of horror-tinged thrillers doesn’t matter; he will always have Kill List. Wheatley’s picture is about as unnerving and uncomfortably enthralling as movies get, with a tale of one hitman’s three-person assignment growing increasingly odd, not in regards to the victims, but how they react to their imminent deaths. With a tone that’s more kitchen-sink than bombastic, a terrific cast (Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring) and a final twenty-minutes that guarantees shaking and quaking, Kill List is one of 2012’s quintessential must-sees.
1.The Kid with a Bike
The Dardennes’ The Kid with a Bike, with apologies for the severe hyperbole, is a perfect treasure and of such quality that it makes all of the New Year’s Eves and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunters worth it. The masters of the miserable, said with utmost respect, the Dardennes take their distinct ability to present films that are both lyrical and startlingly realistic and have made a movie about hope, love and forgiveness. The basics are easy; a young boy (Thomas Doret) has been left behind by his father and, while throwing a major fit, meets a woman (Cecile De France) willing to take him into her care. Structurally there isn’t much more to the tale, emotionally it’s blissfully profound. Doret gives one of the finest child performances of recent memory, while de France is graceful without being simple. It’s a parable as only the Dardennes could produce and, again apologies for the hyperbole, maybe the best movie to come along in this young decade.