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Mini Review: Silent Night (2012)

Silent Night #1

by Steve Habrat

In November of 2012, Anchor Bay Films quietly snuck Steve C. Miller’s Silent Night, a loose remake of the 1984 Christmas slasher Silent Night, Deadly Night, into select theaters and then quickly released it on Blu-ray and DVD just a few short weeks later. Were us horror fans really that bad that we deserved a lump of coal like this?! Apparently yes, yes we were. From the get-go, it is obvious Silent Night is winking at the horror fans that will undoubtedly flock to it over the years. But too often, the film is awkward and amateurish, consistently confusing pulpy gore for honest scares to the point where it is almost maddening. To make it worse, this abysmal waste of time can’t seem to smoothly deliver anything resembling a good joke. It’s so bad, folks, that even a beloved genre star like Malcolm McDowell can’t even sell it, and believe me when I tell you that he tries very, very hard to make this formulaic snoozefest work. The only positives that you will find in Silent Night are the homicidal Santa, who prefers to toast his victims with a flamethrower, and a scene in which one character gets their head chopped in half with an axe. That is where this turkey’s joys begin and end.

Silent Night picks up on Christmas Eve, where the citizens of a small Midwestern town are gearing up for a massive holiday celebration that invites hundreds of Santa Claus impersonators to get in on the fun. Among the citizens looking forward to the holiday activities are Aubrey Bradimore (played by Jamie King), a sheriff’s deputy still attempting to get over the loss of her husband. The celebration seems to be getting off to a smooth start, aside from one belligerent Santa (played by Donal Logue) who is making children cry in a local park, but things take a nasty turn when a small-time porn director and his star wind up brutally slaughtered at a local motel. Bradimore, fellow deputy Giles (played by Andrew Cecon), and the town Sheriff, Cooper (played by Malcolm McDowell), launch an investigation, but they realize that this massacre isn’t an isolated incident. After watching a videotape that was rolling during the murders at the motel, the officers discover that their suspect is dressed as a morbid Santa Claus, making it extremely difficult to track down the killer and bring him to justice. As the sun sets and the celebration kicks into high gear, several more citizens turn up dead, but the quest to track down the maniacal Santa gets personal when one murder strikes close to home for Aubrey.

Silent Night #2

Silent Night opens with a pitch-black opening credit sequence that suggests that what we are getting into is going to be a straight-shooting horror movie that wallows in shadowy suspense. Miller’s camera is trained on the killer as he makes his chilling Santa mask, suits up in that jolly red suit, and torments one victim with an axe before offing him in a totally unexpected manner. It’s a sturdy stage setter, that you cannot deny, but once Miller emerges from that dark cellar and lets his killer loose on the town streets, the film quickly plummets. Almost every death scene is completely wooden, shot with a jittery camera and strung together through fast edits that resemble something out of a heavy metal music video. These death scenes will undoubtedly please gore fans, as the blood sprays in every single direction, but they never rise above being gross. Now I’m certainly not one to complain about gross, but Miller never even considers injecting an ounce of terror into any of these scenes. They just flail around on the screen with sudden blasts of music, the same old lazy jump scares that we have all come to expect from uninspired horror exercises such as this. Furthermore, the “ick” moments seem to lack a punch of originality, especially a scene in which a wannabe porn star is crammed into a wood chipper. It’s nauseating enough, but it seems like more of an obnoxious cry for attention rather than a vicious little surprise.

In addition to the lack of solid scares, Miller can’t seem to get his actors to do much with Jayson Rothwell’s clunky script, which is bogged down with clichéd dialogue and leaden one-liners. McDowell taps into his fiery wit and bug-eyed smugness, but even he can’t make some of the jokes work. It’s almost painful watching him spit out lines like “what is this, Glee?” to one caroling officer. And to think that this is the same man who played the sadistic Alex De Large in A Clockwork Orange! King’s Aubrey fares no better, as she just sulks around and forces a brooding side to her one-dimensional heroine. Cecon’s Giles is also pretty painful, a dimwit only present to bite it in an idiotic death scene. The only two actors who seem to rise above the material are Logue, who gets to have a bit of fun as a cranky Saint Nick who rants and raves about the holiday season, and Ellen Wong, who shows up as the perky Brenda, the wisecracking secretary of the police station. Overall, while all of the bloody mayhem and tongue-in-cheek approach may sound tempting to horror fans, Miller’s Silent Night is a flat, clumsy, and scare-less affair that bores more than it thrills. Aside from it’s chilling killer, it is just another careless remake that should have remained shelved at the studio.

Grade: D-

Silent Night is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

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Anti-Film School Recommends This Film…

Django Unchained (2012)

Django Unchained

Hey readers,

After what felt like an eternity (just slightly under four months, actually), Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece Django Unchained is finally available on Blu-ray and DVD. If you didn’t see my Top 10 Films of 2012 list, then you didn’t know that this ultra-violent and ultra-entertaining spaghetti western was my pick for the best film of last year. Funny, action packed, stunningly well-written, and unflinching, Django Unchained also features some of the best performances from last year (wait until you see Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio). The Blu-ray isn’t particularly bursting with features, however, there is a documentary called Reimagining the Spaghetti Western: The Horses & Stunts of Django Unchained, a look at the costume designs from Sharen Davis, and a feature called Remembering J. Michael Riva: The Production Design of Django Unchained. If you’re a fan of cinema or a Tarantino nut, you might want to high tail it over to Best Buy to pick up their special edition that comes in some nifty packaging that will look mighty cool next to your Tarantino XX collection. So, if you wish to read the Anti-Film School review of Django Unchained, click here, and if you’re curious why I picked it as the best film of 2012, click here.

-Theater Management (Steve)

Django Unchained Blu Ray

Anti-Film School Recommends These Films…

Lincoln (2012)

Lincoln (2012)

&

Killing Them Softly (2012)

Killing Them Softly (2012)

Hey readers,

For the second week in a row, there are some new Blu-rays that just have to be in your growing movie collection. First up, we have Steven Spielberg’s breathtaking Lincoln, a biopic that resists all the trappings of the biopic genre. While it is a must-own for the Academy Award winning performance from Daniel Day Lewis, grab up the four disc set which includes such features as a Making Of documentary, a look at how Daniel Day Lewis jumped into the role of Honest Abe, and a look at the marvelous period detail of the film, to name a few. In addition to Lincoln, we also have the brutal gangster thriller Killing Them Softly, one of the most underrated films of 2012. While the political commentary may have turned most viewers off, this a seriously startling and unforgettable piece of filmmaking that made my list of the 10 best films of 2012 (Lincoln was also on there!). The Blu-ray of Killing Them Softly comes with a handful of deleted scenes and a Making Of documentary. If you wish to read the Anti-Film School review of Lincoln, click here, and if you wish to check out the Killing Them Softly review, click here. If you want to see where each fell on the 10 best films of 2012 list, click here.

-Theater Management (Steve)

Lincoln Blu-ray

Killing Them Softly Blu-ray

Anti-Film School Recommends This Film…

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Hey readers,

Yesterday, Kathryn Bigelow’s arresting thriller Zero Dark Thirty was released on Blu-ray and if you have yet to see this firecracker of a film, you need to go out right now and pick it up. Seriously, it is collection worthy. Zero Dark Thirty was easily one of the best films of 2012 and is the type of epic film that rewards with each new viewing. The Blu-ray features a look at the making of the film, a look at how the cast trained for their roles, and a look at Jessica Chastain’s role as the tough-as-nails Maya. If you wish to see where Zero Dark Thirty fell in my top 10 films of 2012, click here to find out, and if you wish to read my review of the film, click here. So, it is that time again to whip out those credit cards and add a kick ass movie to your movie collection!

-Theater Manager (Steve)

Zero Dark Thirty Blu ray

V/H/S (2012)

V/H/S (2012)

by Steve Habrat

Over the past few years, the tanking horror genre has been desperately searching for a way to make itself scary again. For a while, it turned to “torture porn” and the Saw franchise in the hopes that people would tremble in fear, but Jigsaw and his merry band of copycats soon wore out audiences with their gore-drenched games (When the singer from Linkin Park is starring in your movie, you know you’ve hit rock bottom.). With interest diminishing in torture porn, Hollywood then turned to the “found footage” subgenre to instill fear in the hearts of every man, woman, and child. The result was the lackluster Paranormal Activity, a film that grew increasingly frustrating the more one thinks back to it. Naturally, Paranormal Activity was a huge success and three pointless sequels and more copy cats emerged in its wake. There is no doubt that the “found footage” well is running dry, but miraculously, a handful of up-and-coming horror directors (Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, and Radio Silence) found a way to put a relatively creative spin on the subgenre. Acting as more of a Tales from the Crypt anthology, V/H/S is a flawed but surprisingly devilish “found footage” flick that will certainly impress but not totally floor horror fans looking for a decent scare. These days, it really doesn’t take much to impress us, even if you deliver a film that is half good, it ends up being a winner. V/H/S is bound and determined to win us over, bringing everything from ghosts to aliens to slasher killers to vampires to the party.

V/H/S picks up with a group of small time thugs being asked by an unknown employer to break in to a secluded home and steal a mysterious videotape. The thugs are not told what is on the tape, only that the will know it when the see it. As the thugs explore the home, they stumble upon a room with a dead body propped up in front of several television screens and a VHS player. Curiosity gets the best of them and they begin watching the video insider the player. The thugs witness a bizarre string of videos that include three obnoxious guys trying to pick up girls at a local bar, a married couple on their honeymoon, four friends on a camping trip, a video chat between a disturbed young woman and her boyfriend, and a Halloween video of four friends exploring what they assume is a staged haunted house. All the videos seem to start harmless enough, but each segment soon erupts into unspeakable horror and carnage.

V/H/S is the type of film that gets by with the element of surprise. You can’t wait to see how each of the segments, which all last about twenty minutes, will play out and spiral out of control. Being an anthology, the segments end up being hit or miss, which ends up throwing the entire project off. The strongest installment is without question Ti West’s unsettling “Second Honeymoon,” which relies on eerie knocking on a hotel door and a staggeringly realistic murder to spook the audience. It was easily the strongest twenty minutes of the entire movie, unsurprising because West is certainly a talented guy (See The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers for further proof). Perhaps the lowest point of V/H/S was Glenn McQuaid’s “Tuesday the 17th,” a Friday the 13th style slasher with perhaps the goofiest killer ever conceived. This is where the quality really dips and the lull carries over into Joe Swanberg’s bizarre “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger.” This segment starts off creepy enough but manages to completely fall apart as it goes on, even though it unleashes an impressive twist in the final few minutes. The other two installments, David Bruckner’s “Amateur Night” and Radio Silence’s “10/31/98,” are wicked fun, especially the Twilight Zone-esque “10/31/98.” The arching story, Adam Wingard’s “Tape 56,” which follows the thugs on their quest to find the tape, is also a real creep out even if it seems a bit anticlimactic (wait for the scene in the basement).

V/H/S (2012)

One of the biggest problems with the “found footage” subgenre is the unconvincing acting, which is meant to seem realistic but often comes off as strained or staged. These directors are forced to turn to relatively unknown actors and actresses due to the idea that a well-known face will instantly drain all the “realism” from the experience. V/H/S naturally turns to a cast of relatively unknowns and the results end up being a mixed bag. The best acting comes from Joe Swanberg and Sophia Takal in West’s installment and the thugs in Wingard’s segment. I really disliked the thugs of “Tape 56,” who enjoy ambushing young women and lifting up their shirts for the camera. Just hearing the woman scream in terror as they charge her was enough to make this viewer very uncomfortable. The worst acting is definitely found in “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger,” especially from Daniel Kaufman’s James, a guy who seems to be completely unfazed as an apparition (or is it?) runs into Emily’s bedroom.

If you are someone who likes plenty of gore with their scares, V/H/S has you covered, never shying away from a grisly shot of entrails being ripped out of someone’s chest or a severed head rolling around on the ground (just to name a few). For a film made on a shoestring budget, the effects are absolutely incredible. “10/31/98” is an effects heavy offering and “Second Honeymoon” features a grisly murder that seems a bit too real (there is barely a cut to be found). “Amateur Night” features a nifty shape shifting character and even a brief glimpse of a monster gliding through the air. This proud beast is drenched in darkness to make it extra creepy, relying on the idea that the less is actually more. If you’re the type who favors plenty of gratuitous sex and nudity, you’re also in luck because there is plenty to go around. Boobs are flashed, people film themselves having sex, and the girls are even treated to a full frontal of one terrified male character. Overall, for all the hype surrounding the film, V/H/S actually lives up to all the positive word-of-mouth surrounding it. It certainly would be better if “Tuesday the 17th” and “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” were cut from the middle section of the film but we’re stuck with them. It would also have been nice if the filmmakers found a way to tie everything up in a more satisfying manner, but there is still plenty of creativity to keep this one lodged in your nightmares for quite some time.

Grade: B-

V/H/S is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Argo Wins Best Picture!

Argo (1)

Congratulations to Argo for taking home the Best Picture Oscar!

And the Oscar goes to…

85thacademy

Hey readers,

The 85th Annual Academy Awards are tonight at 8:30! If you’re a film buff, you are more than ready to get the show on the road. For those who can’t watch or don’t really care to sit through the ceremony, Anti-Film School will have you covered with live updates of the winners. Watch the post throughout the show and I will indicate who takes the Oscar in every category. On with the show!

-Theater Management (Steve)

Best Picture:

“Amour”

“Argo” WINNER

“Beasts of the Southern Wild”

“Django Unchained”

“Silver Linings Playbook”

“Zero Dark Thirty”

“Lincoln”

“Les Miserables”

“Life of Pi”

Best Director:

David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”

Ang Lee, “Life of Pi” WINNER

Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”

Michael Haneke, “Amour”

Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

Best Supporting Actor:

Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained” WINNER

Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master”

Robert De Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook”

Alan Arkin, “Argo”

Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”

Best Supporting Actress:

Sally Field, “Lincoln”

Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables” WINNER

Jacki Weaver, “Silver Linings Playbook”

Helen Hunt, “The Sessions”

Amy Adams, “The Master”

Best Actor:

Daniel Day Lewis, “Lincoln” WINNER

Denzel Washington, “Flight”

Hugh Jackman, “Les Miserables”

Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook”

Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master”

Best Actress:

Naomi Watts, “The Impossible”

Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty”

Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook” WINNER

Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”

Quvenzhané Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

Best Original Screenplay:

“Zero Dark Thirty”

“Django Unchained” WINNER

“Moonrise Kingdom”

“Amour”

“Flight”

Best Adapted Screenplay:

“Lincoln”

“Silver Linings Playbook”

“Argo” WINNER

“Life of Pi”

“Beasts of the Southern Wild”

Best Animated Feature:

“Frankenweenie”

“The Pirates! Band of Misfits”

“Wreck-It Ralph”

“Paranorman”

“Brave” WINNER

Best Foreign Feature:

“Amour” WINNER

“A Royal Affair”

“Kon-Tiki”

“No”

“War Witch”

Best Visual Effects:

“Life of Pi” WINNER

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

“The Avengers”

“Prometheus”

“Snow White and the Huntsman”

Best Cinematography:

“Skyfall”

“Anna Karenina”

“Django Unchained”

“Life of Pi” WINNER

“Lincoln”

Best Costume Design:

“Anna Karenina” WINNER

“Les Miserables”

“Lincoln”

“Mirror Mirror”

“Snow White and the Huntsman”

Best Documentary Feature:

“Searching for Sugar Man”. WINNER

“How to Survive a Plague”

“The Gatekeepers”

“5 Broken Cameras”

“The Invisible War”

Best Documentary Short:

“Open Heart”

“Inocente” WINNER

“Redemption”

“Kings Point”

“Mondays at Racine”

Best Film Editing:

“Lincoln”

“Silver Linings Playbook”

“Life of Pi”

“Argo” WINNER

“Zero Dark Thirty”

Best Makeup:

“Hitchcock”

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

“Les Miserables” WINNER

Best Music (Original Score):

“Anna Karenina”

“Argo”

“Life of Pi” WINNER

“Lincoln”

“Skyfall”

Best Music (Original Song):

“Before My Time” from “Chasing Ice”

“Everybody Needs A Best Friend” from “Ted”

“Pi’s Lullaby” from “Life of Pi”

“Skyfall” from “Skyfall” WINNER

“Suddenly” from “Les Misérables”

Best Production Design:

“Anna Karenina”

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

“Les Misérables”

“Life of Pi”

“Lincoln” WINNER

Best Short Film, Animated:

“Adam and Dog”

“Fresh Guacamole”

“Head over Heels”

“Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare’”

“Paperman” WINNER

Best Short Film, Live Action:

“Asad”

“Buzkashi Boys”

“Curfew” WINNER

“Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw)”

“Henry”

Best Sound Editing:

“Argo”

“Django Unchained”

“Life of Pi”

“Skyfall”

“Zero Dark Thirty” WINNER

Best Sound Mixing:

“Argo”

“Les Misérables” WINNER

“Life of Pi”

“Lincoln”

“Skyfall”

The Best and Worst of 2012

Best of 2012

by Steve Habrat

I’ll be honest with you, folks, this was a difficult list to do this year. There were a ton of really great movies released in 2012. While I haven’t even come close to seeing every film released, I did try to catch all the biggest movies that made their way to the local theater. I was hoping to have this list up last week but I have fallen behind due to coming down with the a nasty case of stomach flu. So, without further ado, here are my picks for the finest films of 2012, some honorable mentions, and the five biggest stinkers I sat through. Oh, and number 10 is a tie. Please don’t hurt me.

THE BEST: 

Frankenweenie

ParaNorman

10.) Frankenweenie/ParaNorman

This might be cheating but I’m sort of lumping these two together. Usually, Pixar’s animated offerings are snagging a spot on my top 10 but for the second year in a row, Pixar failed to live up to the quality of their previous films (Up, Toy Story 3, Wall-E).  Plus, maybe I’m a sucker for macabre stop motion animation. After two massive duds (Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows), Tim Burton finally returns to form with the black and white Frankenweenie, a touching story about a boy and his undead pooch. Maybe you have to be an animal lover and have a soft spot for the Universal Monsters, but I have a feeling that this film will gain a following in the years to come (hopefully by more than just the Hot Topic crowd). Then we have ParaNorman, the hilarious and relentlessly clever zombie romp from Laika about a misfit named Norman who can talk to the dead. It is really hard for me to pick one film over the other but if I honestly had to, I think I’d go with Burton’s big-hearted and downright adorable creature feature. I know what it is like to loose a pet that you love very much and Frankenweenie really nails that feeling. Don’t get me wrong though; both are extremely sweet movies that are infinitely better than Adam Sandler’s obnoxious Hotel Transylvania.

Killing Them Softly

9.) Killing Them Softly

Some dismissed Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly as too heavy handed and about as subtle as a sledge hammer to the teeth. Who cares?! Killing Them Softly is a chilling, apocalyptic, atmospheric, and darkly hilarious gangster film that sends the viewer away more than a little freaked out. Using the 2008 presidential election and the recession as the backdrop, Dominik’s film contains little to no hope and is a grim reminder that in America, we are all on our own. No politician is coming to save us and put us back on our feet. Featuring a powerhouse performance from Brad Pitt (No Oscar love?!) and some truly disturbing sequences (Ray Liotta receives a shockingly brutal beating in a rainstorm and Pitt blows a gangster away as Ketty Lester’s haunting ‘Love Letters’ echoes on the soundtrack), Killing Them Softly is a black-as-night gangster thriller that will stick with you for the rest of your life. I think John over at The Droid You’re Looking For can back me up with this one making the list.

Moonrise Kingdom

8.) Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson’s whimsical tale about young love in the last days of summer is his quirkiest and most heartwarming film yet. It is the type of film you would want to watch on a warm summer evening with someone you love. Credit should go to the two irresistible leads, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, the runaway tykes who have more of a grasp on true love than the warring, irresponsible adults who look after them. While Moonrise Kingdom belongs to the kids, the adults certainly do their best to match them. Bruce Willis is outstanding as a heartbroken cop hot on the trail of the runaways while Bill Murray and Frances McDormand steal every scene they are in as dysfunctional parents. And we can’t forget Edward Norton’s bumbling Scout Master Ward, who gets the film’s best line (Jiminy crickets, he flew the coop!). Brimming with innocence and adventure, Moonrise Kingdom may just be Anderson’s masterpiece.

Beasts of Southern Wild

7.) Beasts of Southern Wild

Talk about a film that could move mountains! Benh Zeitlin’s radiant fable about six-year-old Hushpuppy and her life in the Louisiana bayou called “the Bathtub” possess a grimy beauty that took the cinema world by storm earlier this year at Sundance. It went on to be the little film that could over the summer. While I was worried that Beasts of Southern Wild would become a victim of its own hype, the emotional beating the film dishes out and the stark reality of the environment left this viewer staggered. It also didn’t hurt that it contains a jaw dropping performance from the pint-sized Quvenzhané Wallis as the curious little Hushpuppy. You’ll beam as the film focuses on the complex relationship between Huspuppy and her unpredictable father, Wink, who is battling a mysterious illness, and admire the resilience of the individuals who call “the Bathtub” home. Optimistic and brave even in the face of devastation, loss, and heartbreak; Beasts of Southern Wild is a film that overflows with hope and courage. Seek this one out immediately.

Silver Linings Playbook

6.) Silver Linings Playbook

Let’s be honest for a moment, the romantic comedy has seen better days. Most of the romantic comedies that come out of Hollywood today seem sugarcoated and downright clichéd. Well along comes David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, a gritty, hilarious, and touching story about love lost and love found. Credit should go to Russell, who presents serious character meltdowns with a stinging sense of humor, inviting us to laugh at the extreme ways love makes us behave. The film also owes a lot to the performances from Jennifer Lawrence, Jacki Weaver, Robert DeNiro, Chris Tucker, and Bradley Cooper, an actor that I am usually not a big fan of. Bravo Silver Linings Playbook for making me a fan, at least until the next Hangover movie comes out. In addition to being a sweet love story, the film is also a delicately handled family drama that reminds us that no matter how tough life gets, we can get through it with a little help from our loved ones, even if they sometimes seem crazier than we do.

Lincoln

5.) Lincoln

For the few people out there who still argue that Steven Spielberg is a big budget action hack, I point you towards Lincoln, one of the finest and most accomplished films of Mr. Spielberg’s career. A warts-and-all look at the final months of the 16th president’s life and his push to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, Lincoln is an unflinchingly rich glimpse inside the world of politics that demands to be seen twice. Meanwhile, Daniel Day Lewis slips into the role of Abraham Lincoln and then completely disappears into his skin like you wouldn’t believe. It is the performance of the year that all but guarantees him the Best Actor Oscar. At over two hours, Spielberg consistently refuses to adhere to the normal biopic rules and smartly ignores Lincoln’s early years. Instead, he simply paints a portrait of a man with a heavy heart and in the process he managed to humanize a larger-than-life hero. 

Zero Dark Thirty

4.) Zero Dark Thirty

Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal’s controversial look at the hunt for Osama bin Laden has been skewered by both political parties, one side claiming that it glorifies torture and the other screaming that it glorifies the Obama administration. How about you all shut up and take Bigelow’s film for what it is— a (mostly) honest if a bit fabricated-for-the-sake-of-story thriller that is essential viewing for all Americans. Zero Dark Thirty ultimately belongs Jessica Chastain’s tough-as-nails Maya, who oversees this seemingly never-ending firestorm with white-hot confidence. You’ll marvel at her no-nonsense approach to eliminating her target, the self-assured woman in a room full of skittish males who him and haw over how to attack our enemy. And I can’t forget the brilliant, white-knuckle final sequence, when the SEALs finally close in on that now famous compound in grainy night vision. While not nearly as tense as the almost flawless The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty is a brooding morality tale that is left on the table for debate.

The Dark Knight Rises

3.) The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan’s final installment in his Batman trilogy is just as epic as he promised and just about as bleak as comic book movies come. While I’m sure this is a controversial choice to have in my top 10 of the year, I argue that Nolan once again expertly uses Gotham City to mirror our troubled times. There are hints of the Occupy Wall Street movement here and explorations of the War on Terror there, but it is the sheer scope of the film that truly holds us. Many say it takes a back seat to 2008’s game changer The Dark Knight but I have to go with this snarling beast over the other. It isn’t without flaws and Nolan is juggling a lot of ideas here, but The Dark Knight Rises reminds us that summer blockbusters do not have to simply be candy colored fluff. It demands that the comic book movie genre be taken seriously as high art and it plays by its own rules. This is a fitting and towering climax for one of the best trilogies of recent memory.

Argo

2.) Argo

After delivering two impressive Boston set thrillers (Gone Baby Gone and The Town), Ben Affleck goes global with Argo, which deals with the Iran hostage crisis of 1979. Argo finds Affleck smoothly navigating through astonishing but true events while measuring out a pinch of nostalgia for film buffs everywhere (I loved the retro Warner Bros. logo at the beginning). Perfectly paced, funny and light when it needs to be, and nerve racking where it really counts, Argo is a film that is the true definition of a crowd pleaser. When you aren’t hanging on how well made the film is, be sure to take in the wonderful performances from Alan Arkin as a cranky movie producer, John Goodman as the wisecracking Hollywood makeup artist, and Affleck himself as CIA specialist Tony Mendez. It may all be a bit predictable but you just can’t turn away from this liberally charged plea for peaceful approaches to violent conflicts. A must see of the highest order.

Django Unchained

1.) Django Unchained

Dare I say that Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino’s best film yet? Even better than Pulp Fiction? You better believe it is. Alive and gushing with the love of cinema and exploitation flicks of the 70s and 80s, Django Unchained is the most entertaining and satisfying movie of 2012. While many have complained over the unflinching use of the N-word and accused Tarantino of using slavery simply for escapist entertainment, I argue that he certainly doesn’t sugarcoat this dark chapter in American history (what we see here is pretty horrific if you ask me). At nearly three hours, this blaxploitation/spaghetti western epic is constantly witty, charismatic, and downright refreshing. It is bursting with some of the best performances of the year (Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson are all top notch) and it gets better every time you see it (I’m currently at two times and debating a third trip to the theater to see it). Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that Django Unchained is Tarantino’s ultimate masterpiece, a blood-drenched valentine to the cinema of yesterday. I’m not kidding when I say that Tarantino had me smiling from beginning to end.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: 

The Avengers is an earth-shaking superhero mash-up that beams with jingoism.

Les Misérables is a bloated but soaring musical with knockout performances from Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman.

Skyfall is one of the most exciting and playful Bond films yet.

Looper is a refreshingly original science fiction drama.

Lawless is a chilly look at Prohibition.

The Cabin in the Woods gives the horror genre the jolt it has been searching for.

21 Jump Street is a raunchy and downright hilarious action comedy.

THE WORST: 

Silent House

5.) Silent House

Marketed as being one single shot and presented in real time, this cheeseball horror flick about a girl trapped in a house with what may or may not be a supernatural killer suffers from poor acting and a completely preposterous climax.

Rock of Ages

 4.) Rock of Ages 

This bland musical set to rocking 80s tunes is all glammed up with nowhere to go. Not even a superb Tom Cruise could wake the party up.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

3.) Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

The abrasive follow up to the god-awful Ghost Rider finally gives the fans what they want and shows them what it looks like when the demonic hero urinates.

That's My Boy

2.) That’s My Boy

Adam Sandler goes R-rated and manages to produce one of the most offensive and unfunny films you will ever see. Keep away from it at all costs.

Total Recall

1.) Total Recall

The remake no one was begging for, this poor excuse for a science fiction thriller is like watching someone else play the dumbest video game ever created. I may never forgive you for this, Colin Farrell. Not even the three-breasted alien prostitute could make it interesting.

Les Misérables (2012)

Les Misérables (2012)

by Steve Habrat

Two years after Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech took the world by storm and made off with the Best Picture Oscar, the British director returns with a film so immense and extravagant, you won’t be able to believe your eyes. Hooper’s Les Misérables is certainly a worthy follow up to The King’s Speech, but in size and scope, Les Misérables blows it right out of the water. As epic as they come, Les Misérables is a big Hollywood blockbuster (and a shameless one at that), one sure to run away with awards like Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Best Production Design at the Academy Awards, but just like its predecessor, the film bowls over the viewer with one gigantic tidal wave of emotion after another. Just when you thought you’ve recovered from one heart wrenching moment, Hooper unleashes another one almost instantly. The film, and the stars who inhabit it, belt their hearts out as tears stream down their muddy faces, singing live over having the lyrics dubbed in post production. Each and every one of them will give you chills, especially Anne Hathaway’s teary-eyed “I Dreamed a Dream.” For as high as this film flies, it could still have stood to have at least forty minutes cut from it, mostly because by the final act, we do begin to feel it’s epic runtime of two hours and forty minutes. It appears that Hooper was wildly faithful to the musical and the novel by Victor Hugo, which is both a blessing and a curse.

Beginning in 1815, prisoner Jean Valjean (Played by Hugh Jackman) is released on parole by chilly prison guard Javert (Played by Russell Crowe) after serving a brutal seventeen-year sentence. Valjean is cast out into the world without any food or a home but is soon taken in by the kindly Bishop of Digne (Played by Colm Wilkinson), who offers him a hot meal and a bed. In the night, Valjean steals some of the Bishop’s silver and then flees, only to be quickly caught by local authorities. The Bishop insists that he gave Valjean the silver as a gift and demands that they let him go free. Moved by the Bishop’s kindness, Valjean breaks his parole and sets out to make a better life for himself. Eight years pass and Valjean, who goes by a new name, is now the mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer and a factory owner. Employed at his factory is Fantine (Played by Anne Hathaway), who is discovered by her co-workers to be an illegitimate mother sending money to her sick daughter, Cosette (Played by Isabelle Allen), and is fired by the foreman. Desperate, Fantine turns to prostitution to make money but one evening, Javert confronts her after she attacks a belligerent customer. Javert tries to haul her off to jail but Valjean quickly stops him after he recognizes her from the factory. Near death, Fantine begs Valjean to find her daughter and to take care of her. Valjean agrees and sets out to find Cosette, but Javert begins to suspect that Valjean is the prisoner who broke parole eight years earlier and he begins hunting him down.

Each and every frame of Les Misérables looks like it cost almost $100 million dollars to project onto the screen. The makeup effects are absolutely astounding, especially the aging of Jackman’s Valjean as the story progresses. Every smudge of dirt and speck of filth so perfectly splattered across each actor’s face. Another standout moment is when Valjean trudges through the sewer with rebellious student Marius (Played by Eddie Redmayne) and human waste covers them from head to toe. It is appropriately nasty to the point where you can practically smell the stench. The costumes are all wildly detailed and eye catching, especially a jacket worn by Valjean with a massive collar. Then there are the special effects, especially the overhead shots of small villages and growing cities that are so fussy, they make you want to tear your hair out. Hooper hurls his camera directly at them to focus in on one specific character standing on the edge of a cliff or riding a horse through the streets. Later in the movie, there are one or two scenes that feel more like indoor sets rather than outdoor locations, which sort of take us out of the moment. I couldn’t help but wish that Hooper would have at least attempted to shoot them outside but I can’t imagine that he would have been able to pull off some of the environment detail that he was going for if he chose to shoot outside.

Les Misérables (2012)

The other big draw to the big screen adaptation of Les Misérables is the live singing done in front of the camera rather than the music studio. While many critics and audience members have complained that it was a failed experiment (I don’t really understand why they think it was a failed experiment), I personally liked it and found that it adds a layer of realism to the bombastic gloss of this expensive epic. It allowed Hooper to apply long takes of his actors doing the thing that pays them millions of dollars— act. Sure there are a few brief cuts here and there, but Hooper lets the camera sit (and sometimes pace) with all the actors. We get up close and personal views of brokenhearted emotion heating up and then boiling over as the viewer hangs on the frame in a state of awe. While some of the voices are certainly not going to nab a record deal (looking at you, Mr. Crowe), you still have to admire their confidence to let their voices soar. The lack of a true professional makes things all the more realistic and down-to-earth. Some musicals (not all) loose me when the actors sing like trained professionals.

While Les Misérables is beautiful to look at, the film wouldn’t be what it is if it wasn’t for the downright incredible performances at the heart. While I’ve never downright hated Jackman as an actor, I could never really see the big deal about him but with Les Misérables, I am a true believer now. This guy is fantastic as Valjean, the tortured ex-prisoner who had his life turned upside down over stealing a mouthful of bread. While it is Jackman’s show, the one who makes off with the movie is Hathaway as Fantine, a woman forced into a life of hell. I promise that you will practically fall out of your seat when she performs “I Dreamed a Dream” as she battles back tears of embarrassment and defeat. It is a rare scene where the audience member actually wants to leap to their feet and break into applause. Crowe is great as the relentless Javert, who is always hot on Valjean’s heels. I can’t say too much for his vocal performance but the fact that he is really trying is good enough for me. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter drop by to add a bit of (grotesque) comedy to the mix as Thénardier and Madame Thénardier, a couple of pick pockets who are taking care of darling little Cosette. Amanda Seyfried is a bit stiff as the adult Cosette, as is Redmayne as her suitor Marius. They get a last act love story and while it is effective, neither of them make us root for them like we should. Samantha Barks is also present as the Thénardier’s daughter Éponine, who secretly loves Marius. Barks wins our empathy with a lovely but painful solo performance in the rain.

While Les Misérables won’t win over every single viewer over, if you’re a fan of the book or the musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, you are going to gush over Hooper’s achievement. I’d also say that if you enjoy musicals like I do, you are probably going to be hooked for a good majority of the movie. If you’re a casual moviegoer, be prepared for the longest two hours and forty minutes of your life. I still felt that the film ran a bit too long and some of the musical numbers could have been trimmed for a tighter and more inviting runtime, but there really isn’t one weak number of the bunch. Another minor complaint I had with the film was the fate of one of the characters, which just seemed downright bizarre and random. Overall, Les Misérables is overblown, funny, thrilling, mildly romantic, raw, repulsive, and most importantly, moving. It may have its flaws but is has everything a film fan could want in a movie and it really is a beautiful work of art to lay your eyes on. A phenomenal achievement for the very talented Mr. Hooper and the musical genre.

Grade: A-