There are hundreds of movie trailers released each year, which many of the films promoted we do not get the chance to see or we brush them off because of poor marketing. But if we don’t take the risk and never open our movie palettes to embrace the unknown, how will we ever know what’s good? There were plenty of movies in 2012 that I had very low expectations for, but after sitting down and watching what were assumably stinkers, I had discovered I was completely wrong to misjudge them. See the most surprising films of 2012 after the break.
10: End of Watch (David Ayer)
Synopsis: This film follows the daily grind of two young police officers in LA who are partners and friends, and what happens when they meet criminal forces greater than themselves.
Gyllenhaal hasn’t really proven himself to be a badass nor has Michael Peña shown that he can be a good lead or co-leading man; how could this possibly go well? Aside from the unnecessarily random documentary-style filming, End of Watch is a very engaging buddy cop movie that will make you believe these two actors have been BFFs. Peña and Gyllenhaal form a terrific partnership where you wish you could see a prequel with them in police training academy together. The varying levels of tension and comedy works immensely well, and director David Ayer was able to capture the heart within the story. End of Watch would not have worked if these actors weren’t believable, and they pulled it off brilliantly.
9: Chronicle (Josh Trank)
Synopsis: Whilst attending a party, three high school friends gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery underground. Soon, though, they find their lives spinning out of control and their bond tested as they embrace their darker sides.
Sure, found footage films have run their course, but there is something about Chronicle that sets it apart from the rest. Director Josh Trank was able to take the fascination of the superhero genre and infuse it within the raw emotion of a found footage format. The bond between the two pair up quite well. With a little more budget, Chronicle could have been a lot more action oriented. While seeing the high schoolers (Dane Dehaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan) grow into their powers is fun to watch, it’s the character development and drama between the friends that works the best. This may be as close to a live-action Akira movie as we’re going to get.
8: Bernie (Richard Linklater)
Synopsis: In small-town Texas, the local mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow, though when he kills her, he goes to great lengths to create the illusion that she’s alive.
I never go out of my way to see a Jack Black movie. There is something about him that doesn’t draw me in, which could be due to Gulliver’s Travels, The Big Year, and Year One. His over eccentric bafoon roles turn me off, but there are moments when he can really shine and surprise me with his depth. Bernie is one of those moments. Black was able to fit into the character of Bernie perfectly. This story asks a lot of great questions and Linklater draws you in with what he is able to get out of Jack Black’s fantastic performance.
7: Dredd 3D (Pete Travis)
Synopsis: In a violent, futuristic city where the police have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner, a cop teams with a trainee to take down a gang that deals the reality-altering drug, SLO-MO.
Remakes are such dangerous territory for filmmakers. They can either be successful like Dawn of the Dead; add nothing to what has been already established like The Amazing Spider-Man; or they can be a complete waste of effort like The Nightmare on Elm Street. No one was really asking for a Judge Dredd remake, but we got one anyways. And fortunately for us, Dredd turned out to be far more than anyone could hope for. Dredd is a hard R, there is no getting around that. Think The Raid: Redemption with more guns and gore in a futuristic setting. The 3D was pretty, but mostly useless. Karl Urban embodies the brooding Dredd to a tee and his chemistry with Olivia Thirlby is kinetic. Every moment is an adrenaline rush. Dredd is the perfect franchise reboot, but unfortunately it went very under-the-radar and most likely won’t be green-lit for a sequel. It will, however, return in comic book form and progress the world newly established.
6: For a Good Time, Call… (Jamie Travis)
Synopsis: Former college frenemies Lauren and Katie move into a fabulous Gramercy Park apartment, and in order to make ends meet, the unlikely pair start a phone sex line together.
The synopsis alone for For a Good Time, Call… is absolutely eye-roll inducing, but for some sick reason, this little film works on too many levels. Lauren Miller and Ari Graynor (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist; Jesse and Celeste Forever; Whip It) make an impeccable duo. For a Good Time, Call… acts in someways like a romantic comedy between these two besties rather than them chasing/crying over boys. It’s quite refreshing; the smart, raunchy comedy is a bonus. What surprised me the most is how well the direction stayed consistent and never veered off course. There is a lot going on in this movie – job hunting, romance, and a flowering friendship – but it all ties together nicely. Having Justin Long play their gay BFF is also added value.
5: Rise of the Guardians (Peter Ramsey)
Synopsis: When the evil spirit Pitch launches an assault on Earth, the Immortal Guardians team up to protect the innocence of children all around the world.
I was very reluctant to see Rise of the Guardians when it released in theaters. DreamWorks is known for injecting too much pop culture references into their movies very unsubtly. With a tattooed Santa (Alec Baldwin), a wise-cracking Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), and a teenage Jack Frost (Chris Pine), I feared for the worst. There was a lot of buzz circling this film that I couldn’t ignore, and I was not steered wrong. There was a lot more depth than what I had initially assumed and the characters were all very likeable, especially Sandman. The animation was very slick. Anything to do with Sandman or Pitch Black (Jude Law), the Boogeyman, was remarkable. It’s a great story for kids and has a lot of good messages to take away. Despite a strange plot hole in the end, Rise of the Guardians turned out to be a lot of fun and one of DreamWorks’ best.
4: Looper (Rian Johnson)
Synopsis: In 2074, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past, where a hired gun awaits. Someone like Joe, who one day learns the mob wants to ‘close the loop’ by transporting back Joe’s future self.
Rian Johnson. I’ve never been a fan of his work. The Brothers Bloom and Brick just never did anything for me. So when I heard the writer-director would be developing his own time travel story with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, I was skeptical, but kept my ears open. It’s always a wonderful experience when filmmakers can surprise you, and Mr. Johnson slapped me across the face with Looper. There is so much that could have gone terribly wrong with this film. Johnson holds his own and does a stellar job building the world the loopers exist in as well as taking on the burden to logically make time travel work for the story. Looper isn’t a perfect movie, but nothing feels at a loss or a waste of time. I wish we could have explored this world more, it felt a bit small, but the setup is original, the main characters are fascinating, and the themes are strong.
3: 21 Jump Street (Phil Lord and Chris Miller)
Synopsis: A pair of underachieving cops are sent back to a local high school to blend in and bring down a synthetic drug ring.
A thin Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, what could be so funny about that? Everything. Another remake this year was able to surprise audiences and myself thanks to the ludicrously well-written screenplay and incredible chemistry between the leads. The directors and cast knew what they had on their hands, ran with it, and it all worked out for the best. Not a beat goes awry throughout 21 Jump Street and it’s one of the funniest comedies of 2012. The fact that they were able to pull this movie off with the unlikely Channing Tatum blows my mind and I only wish he had started comedy sooner. There’s a lot that this buddy cop movie offers, including action, romance, and excellent comedic timing; a wild-ride for anyone.
2: Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh)
Synopsis: A male stripper teaches a younger performer how to party, pick up women, and make easy money.
Channing Tatum strikes again. Who knew a movie based loosely on the past career of C-Tates as a male stripper would be engaging enough to keep our attention. Let’s get this out first: the performances on stage by Matthew McConaughey and Tatum are hilariously amazing. Seeing their performances would make anyone jealous over how physically fit they are or the moves they possess? The ladies swoon over these guys and it makes me want to go to the gym just thinking about it. (Put down the fork fatty.) Looking past the eye-candy, Soderbergh does a fine job at piecing together a cleverly hidden drama. Audiences who looked forward to Magic Mike thinking they were going to get an almost two-hour long striptease got a character study on a man who was going through some difficult life choices. McConaughey and Tatum are spectacular on stage, but it wasn’t just their on-stage performances that grabbed my attention, it was their acting, which completely threw me for a loop.
1: Pitch Perfect (Jason Moore)
Synopsis: Beca, a freshman at Barden University, is cajoled into joining The Bellas, her school’s all-girls singing group. Injecting some much needed energy into their repertoire, The Bellas take on their male rivals in a campus competition.
If you watch the trailer for Pitch Perfect, it looks like a horrible compilation between Bring it On, Stomp the Yard, and Glee. Instead, movie goers were handed one of the greatest guilty pleasure movies of all time. It’s something you have to see to believe. Putting together a group of actors who are not very well known, especially for their singing abilities, and throw them into a wacky comedy about collegiate a cappella, it sounds like a recipe for disaster. I went in with the lowest expectations, and as the movie progressed, the grin on my face became wider and wider. By the end, I was completely blown away at how tremendously effective Pitch Perfect functioned.
Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air; 50/50; Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) is a wonderful actress – I won’t admit that she is in The Twilight Saga – but the rest of her ragtag group of cast mates were rather unknown until the release of Pitch Perfect. I knew Brittany Snow through Nip/Tuck as a crazy racist-Nazi-psychopath, but didn’t think she would be cut out for comedy after seeing John Tucker Must Die. Adam Devine is uproarious in Workaholics, but I didn’t know how he would fare without his TelAmeriCorp buddies. Rebel Wilson had never proved, up to this point, that she would be a standout comedic actress. And the rest of the group, including Skylar Astin, Anna Camp (The Help), Ben Platt, Alexis Knap (Project-X), Ester Dean, and Hana Mae Lee were practically or completely unheard of to me. How would their shenanigans play out on screen? Well it isn’t number one on my most surprising of 2012 list for nothing.
The chemistry of the Bellas plays to the film’s advantage, each character with their own quirky personality. There really are no stakes other than the fact that they wouldn’t win nationals, but no matter how low they are, it is still very amusing to watch. Not one scene is lost or wasted and almost every moment is unpredictable. All of the performances are entertaining, the music is very timely, and the story flows pretty naturally except for this strange father-daughter relationship between Kendrick and her professor father played by John Benjamin Hickey; it’s a bit forced.
Overall, Pitch Perfect is just a terrific and highly enjoyable movie experience for mostly anyone. It’s really hard not to like.
P.S. John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks as the competition announcers are simply the best thing to happen to a “competition” movie ever.
All plot synopses can be found on IMDb.com