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The Top Five Films of 2012 (so far)

July 11, 2012

Six months have already passed us by, already? Huh? I know, it’s crazy. Time flies when you’re watching movies (writing and talking about them too), so the least you can do is watch some great ones. Therefore, it is once again time for our annual half-year list, where we rattle off our Top Five Films of 2012 (so far)! It’s a challenge to narrow all that movie-watching down to the best of them, but it’s also fun to see where certain movies show up more than once and how some are only mentioned once. These are the films that stand-out; they showed us something unique or different, made us laugh, challenged our thinking or just gave us a fun time at the movies!

This is our first year without our friend, Josh Larsen, but you can find his own Top Five over at Filmspotting (over there on the right), where he now co-hosts a popular weekly film podcast.

So, joining Keeping It Reel co-founder Paul Balsom and myself this summer are two Chicagoans, recent additions to the Keeping It Reel fold, if you will….

Matt Streets joined us a couple of months back and has been writing great reviews with a specific niche, plowing through the expansive list of Criterion films. Here’s what Matt had to say about the year so far in movies and his approach to this list, Wow, what a year for movies! We’ve had everything from record-breaking blockbusters, to challenging indies, and Oscar hopefuls.  As usual, I haven’t seen nearly as many of these wonderful films as I would have liked (“Moonrise Kingdom” I’m looking in your direction), but that is partially due to my new role as The Criterion Completist!  Still, I do manage to make it out to the megaplex every now and then, hobnob with the masses, and watch some glorious big screen cinema.”

Demetri Kouvalis is the owner and manager of The Patio Theater, a great classic movie palace in Chicago that has reopened for over a year now. It’s a great moviegoing experience at a steal of a price. Demetri and I recently started a weekly Keeping It Reel podcast, that we record right at the theater – if you haven’t listened yet, give it a try. We talk about movie news, review a film we both have seen and then discuss what we’ve been watching. The podcasts are posted here or on our respective Facebook pages.

Alright, enough already! Let’s get to our lists….



Matt – Goon

Jay Baruchel co-wrote and starred in this completely original and fresh sports comedy that rivals “Slapshot” as the greatest hockey movie ever made.  It wins by totally avoiding most clichés of the common sports movie, and by having the titular character Doug Glatt (played perfectly by the underrated Sean William Scott) act against type as a nice guy enforcer.  Alternately violent, hilarious and tender, Goon is a reminder that one should never judge a film by its cover. (available on iTunes, Netflix Watch Instantly & Amazon Prime) 

Demetri – Men in Black 3 

Who knew that so many years later, the “Men in Black” series would be back and better than ever? Will Smith is still funny and entertaining and the movie keeps to its original pace of fun action and comedy. (now in theaters) 

Paul – The Innkeepers

I love writer-director Ti West’s pacing, camera techniques, and overall style. West, mildly famous for 2009’s House of the Devil, comes back with this creepy hotel jumper that features fun performances by character-actors Sara Paxton and Pat Healy.  True to his previous films, West knows how to stretch out a story’s build-up just long enough to really get you going, and then once things get crazy, you’ll be jumping out of your chair! (available on DVD & Blu-ray, iTunes, Amazon Prime) 

David – John Carter

Looks like I am still in the minority on this one. I didn’t read or hear any positive rumblings when this Disney debacle came out on DVD recently and I guess I’m not surprised. The studio poorly marketed and promoted this movie and hardly anyone seemed to dig it once they saw it. Well, I did. I enjoyed the pulpy sci-fi feel of it and appreciated all the impressive visuals that brought to life Edgar Rice Burroughs’ creation. So, I guess it’s this year’s “Speed Racer” for me, another film I unabashedly supported when it came out. People like to heap on the hate though and seldom revisit a film with an open mind. (available on DVD & Blu-ray & and most streaming outlets)


Matt – Bernie 

If there was any justice, a performance like Jack Black’s in Richard Linklater’s dark comedy “Bernie would get a surefire Oscar nod.  Based on a true story, “Bernie focuses on the unusual relationship between Bernie Tiede (Black) and a rich widow (a wonderful Shirley MacLaine), and the unbelievable story that unfolds from it. Matthew McConaughey is hilarious as a local district attorney attempting to make sense of the whole mess, but Linklater scores big with his documentary-like interviews of the eccentric town locals who worship Bernie despite damning evidence to the contrary. (in select theaters, on DVD & Blu-ray on August 21, 2012) 

Demetri – Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson does it again, bringing an ensemble cast to tell a simple story of love, family and what truly is important in life. His stylized cinematography excels in “Moonrise Kingdom” and all of the actors bring their A-game, create a wonderfully innocent and entertaining tale.

Paul – Prometheus 

Ridley Scott’s (“Alien”, “Blade Runner”, “Gladiator”) latest sci-fi action thriller has gotten a lot of flak from press and moviegoers alike, but I enjoyed this one. Yes, the crew members make some remarkably awful decisions, and yes there are a few sizable plot holes. However, I thought this movie was beautiful (and worth the price uplift for 3D), fun, has a few great acting performances, and is one of those movies that begs to be theorized about and discussed. Some complain that “Prometheus” isn’t even worth theorizing about, but have fun and enjoy it, then go check out everybody’s theories online after you see it! (still in theaters)  

David – Moonrise Kingdom

Still have to see this one again. The fact that I want to and that I tend to smile whenever I replay scenes in my head, means it deserves another viewing and a place on this list. You don’t necessarily have to be a fan of writer/director Wes Anderson to enjoy this look at two tweens in love and the complicated lives of the adults that surround them. You just have to recall that moment in your own adolescence, when you realized that you were in love and that no one else mattered except that person and that no adult could possibly understand what you’re going through. (Pssst – you were wrong about that last part). The usual Anderson players are great, as are newcomers: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Frances McDormand. (now playing in theaters)


Matt – Marvel’s The Avengers

Well, they finally got it right.  Hollywood, with a major assist from writer and director Joss Whedon, scored huge with “The Avengers”, the best mainstream superhero movie ever made.  With an all-star cast, stunning special effects, and an innate understanding of the source material, “The Avengers” is simply some of the best fun I’ve had in a movie theater in a looong time.  This is old-school Spielberg, big budget, widescreen filmmaking at its best.

Demetri – The Cabin in the Woods

Not your ordinary horror flick. This movie does a good job at bringing in the scares and the gore, but at the same time, parodying the genre in a bunch of fun and different ways. A highly entertaining movie, especially for those who enjoy the horror genre.

Paul – The Cabin in the Woods

I’m sure by this point in the year – if you follow movies at all – you’ve heard the name Joss Whedon hammered into your face all too many times. He’s a writer-producer on this film and the writer-director of The Avengers (which you may or may not read about later), and he crushed it with Avengers and did the same with The Cabin in the Woods. The Whedon-Goddard (Drew Goddard directed this film) team did a fantastic job turning the horror genre on its head and brings a really fun and original “horror” film. This one was unlike any I’ve ever seen of its genre.

David – Sleepless Night

Here’s one that utterly floored me and took me by surprised. It was generating some good buzz from the Tribeca Film Festival, but once I saw it – well, let’s just say that this is what I look for each year! A film that will introduce me to new actors or filmmakers and excel at its given genre. In this case, it’s the thriller genre. Don’t judge this French film by its title, it’s not about an insomniac. Director Frédéric Jardin takes us on a wild ride, as we follow an ambiguously moral cop into a crowded nightclub, watching him evade both a local drug dealer and his goons and fellow officers – all to save the life of his son. Well-written, fast-paced, and filled with compelling characters. I’ve seen it described as “Die Hard in a Nightclub” but there’s so much to it. (available for rental on iTunes & Amazon Instant)


Matt – God Bless America

Bobcat Goldthwait delivers the angriest American film since “Natural Born Killers”.  Everyday dude Frank (Joel Murray) learns that he has an inoperable brain tumor, gets fed up by the unrelenting stupidity of American culture, and goes a bloody killing rampage with the 16 year-old Roxy (Tara Lynne Barre).  From right-wing commentators, to religious zealots, to reality television stars, no target escapes Goldthwait’s withering gaze, or wavering rifle sight.  This seemingly controversial movie absolutely died at the box office, which means that everyone must be watching “American Idol” or something. (available on DVD & Blu-ray, iTunes and Amazon Instant) 

Demetri – Marvel’s The Avengers 

Everyone had high expectations for this movie, and surprisingly it delivered. The characters work well with each other (even when their egos clash) and Whedon’s writing comes through great through these well-known icons. The movie took a while to get going but once it started it didn’t stop. The action was crazy fun!

Paul – Moonrise Kingdom

I am not typically a fan of Wes Anderson films – with the except of “The Darjeeling Limited”, which I’m aware I’m in the minority for liking – but “Moonrise Kingdom” really struck a chord with me. It’s a really innocent little movie about youth, unbridled love, and trying to fit in, yet is tied up in the Wes Anderson bow that we all know. Perfectly symmetrical camerawork, a great soundtrack, and a well-cast group of actors make this a must-see.

David – The Cabin in the Woods

This film was the biggest delight and probably the most fun I’ve had at a screening this year. What looks like yet another horror stereotype of a bunch of teens heading out to a cabin for a weekend of fun, sex, and drugs, turns out to be something that no viewer sees coming. It’s obvious co-writers, Drew Goddard (who also directs) and Joss Whedon thoroughly enjoy the genre and want to give fans like themselves something special. Boy, do they ever. The last hour of the film turns into a kitchen sink smorgasbord filled with one bloody/funny scene after the next – that is, if the kitchen came from a geeky fanboy. The script is witty, hilarious and relentless and I look forward to seeing all the DVD extras. I’ve been recommending it to everyone even if they’re not into horror, just for them to see where it goes. (coming to DVD & Blu-ray on September 18th) 


Matt – The Cabin in the Woods

But by far the most fun I had in a theater this year was watching “The Cabin in the Woods (the other Joss Whedon film to come out this year) in a packed theater full of shrieking, shocked filmgoers.  This is without a doubt one of the most original horror films I’ve ever seen, and the best modern one since “The Descent”.  The reasons are all the unbelievable twists and turns, and, because total ignorance is the best state in which to watch this film, I will refrain from any plot description.  The ante has been upped dramatically for any future horror films, so hopefully this is the beginning of a renaissance of sorts for the genre.

Demetri – Prometheus 

A great companion piece to the original “Alien”, Ridley Scott comes back and shows us he’s still got what it takes to immerse his audience in a sci-fi world. The 3D adds another element to the film, a depth that co-exists with how small humans are in the grand scheme of things. Fassbender gives a great performance and Scott brings in just enough horror to freak you out without getting gory or too violent. As a sci-fi fan, I loved every minute of this movie.

Paul – Marvel’s The Avengers

What’s not to like about a big group of superheroes being awesome altogether in one giant movie? I really loved everything about this Joss Whedon film, and really loved The Hulk for the first time in any of these recent Marvel films. “The Avengers’ is good clean fun and I’d recommend it to anyone.

David – Marvel’s The Avengers

This one exceeded my expectations. Not that I doubted writer/director Joss Whedon (yes, him again), it’s just that combining so many superheroes in one movie has never been done before.  But the Buffy and Firefly creator, who knows a thing or two about making an ensemble cast work was the right guy for the gig. Each hero has enough time (at over 2 hours) to shine here, especially Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, whose jade alter ego is given his best big-screen representation yet. The plot surrounding the devious Loki (wonderfully played by Tom Huddleston) is formulaic in the best Villain 101 sense, but it’s the fantastic set pieces, the easy-to-follow Comic Book Action, and the clever dialogue flow that makes “The Avengers” a unique summer blockbuster. (now in theaters) 

HONORABLE MENTIONS (in no particular order)

Matt – The Grey, Rampart, Prometheus

Demetri – The Grey, 21 Jump Street, Chronicle

Paul – Chronicle

David – The Grey, 21 Jump Street, Chronicle, Goon, Prometheus, Bernie, The Kid with a Bike

Avengers poster art by Ken Garduno

Avengers poster art by Dave Perillo 

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