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My Top 10 Favorite Movies from Summer 2012 (Chris Bumbray)

And so, the summer of 2012 is finally winding down. Going into it, many of us were overwhelmed by the incredible number of huge tent pole films being released, and sure enough- in terms of box office dollars 2012 was relatively boffo. The biggest battle of the year was, as –predicted, between Marvel’s THE AVENGERS, which went from being a tent-pole movie into a cultural phenomenon, and Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, the release of which was tragically tainted by the mass murder in Aurora.

Personally, I found the summer of 2012 to be just average. I loved both AVENGERS and TDKR, but upon going through a list of the other summer movies, I found that of the big films, those were really the only two that were pretty much unanimously acclaimed, with the others being a mixed bag. But- there were still a lot of good movies to come out, and the following is my top 10 list- including one dishonorable mention for good measure.

1- THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

In the DARK KNIGHT RISES vs. AVENGERS battle for the summer 2012 crown, I’m firmly in the TDKR camp, although I’ll concede that financially, AVENGERS is the champ. Artistically is a different story. I really, really liked THE AVENGERS, but I loved THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. To me, Nolan’s trilogy has never been about action or spectacle (although he always delivers both- particularly in IMAX), but rather the emotional journey of our caped crusader, Batman. He’s my favorite comic book character, and the way Nolan redefined him for a new era is absolutely breathtaking. These films are so good that even mainstream critics are in on it, and you can expect Warner Bros., to launch a strong Oscar campaign in the fall. There’s been a backlash against this installment, which I’m a little puzzled by- but like most bold films, they’re bound to be divisive. As far as I’m concerned, this has been a perfect trilogy, and the thoughtful but triumphant conclusion to TDKR is a perfect way for it to go out. All-in-all, this is just an amazing film- and so far my favorite of not only the summer, but the year.

2- THE AVENGERS

While THE AVENGERS didn’t hit me the way TDKR did, I still had a phenomenal time with it- and there’s no arguing that Joss Whedon hit a home-run with this. Not only was it a financial hit, but it became something of a pop-culture phenomenon, and you can expect Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and all the other Marvel heroes to rule the box office for years to come. As a whole, THE AVENGERS is my favorite of the Marvel films, mostly due to Whedon’s deft mix of humor, spectacle and emotion- bringing to mind his best work on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL and FIREFLY. The mammoth cast of superstars meshed perfectly- with newcomer Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk being a standout (give him a solo movie!), and the spectacle delivered in spades- although I think Whedon and co., should ditch 3D and shoot in 65mm IMAX for the next go-round. Still, as far as summer blockbusters go, this is one of the best we’ve gotten in years.

3- LAWLESS

LAWLESS is WARRIOR all over again, in that it’s an awards-caliber drama, featuring standout work by co-star Tom Hardy, that’s been dumped on the famously weak Labor Day weekend. While this at least saw Cannes, I really wish The Weinstein Co., was giving this a little more love, as director John Hillcoat’s tale of Virginia moonshiners battling a sadistic, bent government agent played by a preening, eyebrow-less Guy Pearce is a winner. It delivers on all levels, simultaneously working as a shoot-em’-up actioner, a period piece, a thoughtful drama, and even (at times) a dark comedy. The ultra-violence (including an on-screen gelding and a brutal tarring and feathering) will likely turn off some viewers, but to me- this is Hillcoat’s best work since THE PROPOSITION. It’s a great film that needs (and thoroughly deserves) the support of anyone that craves intelligent, full-bodied adult entertainment.

4- MOONRISE KINGDOM

MOONRISE KINGDOM is yet another wonderfully whimsical winner from director Wes Anderson. Arguably his best work since THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, his story of two twelve-year olds who’ve fled into the New England woods on the eve of a hurricane is the kind of film that someone like Francois Truffaut would have made fifty years ago. It’s a beautiful piece of work, with standout performances by the amazing ensemble cast, including Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, and young Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. Expect this one to get some major love come awards season.

5- THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

I’m still really surprised by the fan backlash against THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. Granted, nobody can argue that it’s not an ultimately unnecessary film, with Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN films having held up well-enough that a full on reboot wasn’t needed. However, Marc Webb’s film is way better than we could have anticipated, and to me it’s much better than any of the Raimi films. Some have complained that it lacks action, and while yes, maybe that’s true, there’s still more than enough web-slinging and eye-candy to generally satisfy audiences. I was actually quite happy that Webb focused on the relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey, as it’s the chemistry between star Andrew Garfield (the ideal Spider-Man) and Emma Stone that sets this apart from other superhero films. I really hope Sony continues with the franchise under Webb’s stewardship, as he seems to be on the brink of something really exciting. If the series continues in this direction, I have a feeling many of the people that dismissed this will come around by the time the next one hits theaters.

6- PROMETHEUS

PROMETHEUS is the victim of extraordinarily high-expectations, with the excitement generated by Ridley Scott’s return to sci-fi leading us all to expect another ALIEN or BLADE RUNNER. While this does indeed share some DNA with ALIEN, it’s simply not in that league- although it’s a pretty damn good film in its own right, and far better than most will admit. It’s classy, thoughtful sci-fi, with some amazing FX’s work even if the plot is admittedly convoluted. The things I loved about PROMETHEUS, namely the production design, Fassbender, Idris Elba, and the great alien c-section scene, more than make up for the not so great things, including a puzzling role for Guy Pearce, and a two-dimensional part for Charlize Theron (who at least looks great). I’m looking forward to revisiting this one.

7- MAGIC MIKE

I know, I know- MAGIC MIKE? When I heard Steven Soderbergh was putting off retirement to helm a Channing Tatum stripper movie, I thought it sounded awful- but damn if they didn’t pull it off. Granted, MAGIC MIKE is a lot more SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER/BOOGIE NIGHTS than SHOWGIRLS, so it’s a more palatable movie to guys than you’d think. Tatum has never been better than in this tailor-made (reportedly autobiographical) part that has finally seen him come into his own. Matthew McConaughey also has a great, self-parodying bit as his half-crazed boss that, along with his amazing part in KILLER JOE, has launched one of the most intriguing comebacks in years.

8- SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED

I’m sorry to see that SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED, after winning over audiences at Sundance, didn’t really break-out the way many of us who saw it there thought it might. It did relatively well for an art house release, but to me- this was another 500 DAYS OF SUMMER that just got lost in the summer shuffle. Nevertheless, once it hits DVD/Blu-ray/Netflix, I strongly urge people to give it a shot. PARKS & RECREATION’s Aubrey Plaza is terrific as a skeptical magazine intern, who tries to get close to a wannabe time-traveler (a standout Mark Duplass)- but finds herself falling in love instead. It’s a sweet little indie that I’m sure will one day find the audience it deserves.

9- TED

TED is a far from perfect film, and the whole last half-hour of the film kinda fell flat, but when it was funny, it was damn funny. For 75% of its running time, I was all but rolling on the floor of the movie theater laughing my ass off, and anyone who appreciates Seth McFarlane’s FAMILY GUY brand of humor will love this. Given the boffo box-office, that amounts to a lot of people. While the talking bear owns the film, Mark Wahlberg once again shows that he can be really effective in comedy and the FLASH GORDON/OCTOPUSSY references are gold.

10- THE BOURNE LEGACY

THE BOURNE LEGACY has been demolished by most critics, and the middling box office suggests that this will inevitably be Renner’s sole entry into the franchise before Matt Damon comes back to claim what’s rightfully his. But- on its own, THE BOURNE LEGACY is still a very entertaining spy-caper, with a cool “Flowers For Algernon” style twist- that most people hated, but I loved. The ending is abrupt, and it’s a little short on action, but under Tony Gilroy’s classy direction, BOURNE LEGACY is better than it should have been- and hopefully Renner will get his own franchise sooner or later, as the guy has what it takes to be a star.

THE WORST- BATTLESHIP

The summer of 2012 had its share of dogs, including the awful TOTAL RECALL remake, THAT’S MY BOY, ROCK OF AGES, and Oliver Stone’s SAVAGES- which should have been great, but was fatally miscast, overwrought, and graced with the single worst ending of the year. But the real disaster was, without a doubt, Peter Berg’s boneheaded BATLLESHIP. A dumb-ass alien invasion flick that makes the work of Michael Bay look elegant by comparison, this is one for the books in terms of just how bad one of these tent pole movies can be. Poor Taylor Kitsch, who- after this, SAVAGES and JOHN CARTER (better than people say) saw his 2012 bid at stardom fall flat. That said, BATTLESHIP is far from his fault, as the atrocious, moronic premise and Berg’s ADD-direction (amazing to think the same guy did THE KINGDOM), and Rihanna sank this BATTLESHIP.

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