We start the Top 7. You finish the Top 10.
Well, it's July, which means two things - the summer movie onslaught is underway, and the whole movie year itself is almost half over. Some films have made the journey since January very difficult, (Good Deeds, Act of Valor, One for the Money, Rock of Ages), while some surprising others have certainly kept things interesting (The Woman in Black, Chronicle, Polisse, The Flowers of War).
And yet, in our post-Artist Oscar-winning movie world, the strongest stance this year seems to come from the action movie, which has delivered better fare than any other genre. With movies like The Avengers to The Raid: Redemption, the genre has made the most efficient of re-evaluations to earn the most space on this list (The Hunger Games would likely be in my top ten, for what it's worth). Also joining successful action movies are a few "cult favorites," which haven't lost their unique charm even months after release. To get a taste of the much more bizarre corners of 2012, I encourage you to seek them out.
With respect to all films released domestically since January, here are the seven best films of 2012 so far.
7. Ted (8/10)
Recap: A 35-year-old Boston man (Mark Wahlberg) must grow up or lose his girlfriend (Mila Kunis), despite the bad influence of his bong-ripping talking teddy bear friend (voiced by Seth MacFarlane). Reason: A small miracle in itself, Ted provides a constant stream of hilariousness not often experienced in current mainstream comedies. From start to finish, as it works through its simple concept and unique take on arrested development, while also amusing itself greatly with Flash Gordon nostalgia, Ted reveals itself to be what “Massholes” especially would call “wicked f**kin’ funny.” Ted rejuvenates the “bromance” partnership, adding a Bostonian spin that saves Massachusetts from weak portrayals in the process.
6. Haywire (8/10)
Recap: A private-company assassin (Gina Carano) hunts down those who sold her out after a failed mission in Barcelona. Reason: With director Steven Soderbergh having already won the Oscar for “Best Director” (in a year in which he was twice nominated) and fully exercised both mainstream and arthouse bones, Haywire is not concerned with being perfect in the spectrum of either cinematic classes, though it reaches out equally to both. The story of Haywire, however intricate its backstabbing scheme may be, doesn’t have much subtext to recognize the film as arthouse, despite the presence of dynamic color tints and montages. Yet on the other side of the bridge, the invigorating fight sequences do not steer the course of Haywire, something that will surely surprise multiplex visitors with pure expectations of a female Jason Statham flick. As represented in his many knockout fight scenes in the victorious Haywire, it’s not a matter of who hits first – it’s who kicks the most ass.
5. God Bless America (8/10)
Recap: A divorced father and bored employee with a medical death sentence decides to go on a rampage and kill people who are not nice. He is joined by a high school girl named Roxy (Barr). Reason: What keeps God Bless America from being a psychotic comedy adaptation of the “Mean People Suck” bumper sticker is its top inspiration, which is much simpler, yet more difficult, than gunning down reality TV stars or Bill O’Reilly-like ignoramuses. God Bless America is the most violent movie ever made that asks people to just be nice.
4. The Avengers (8/10)
Recap: Earth’s mightiest heroes (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye) join together to defeat an evil space alien (Tom Hiddleston) from destroying the world. Reason: With no hesitation, this is absolutely the most successful film to come from Marvel Comics’ crazy money-driven scheme to throw every superhero and villain possible on the big screen, and such gratitude should be directed to director Joss Whedon. He is the master chef who treats the previous known brands as distinct flavors, not main courses, allowing them to effectively complement one another in surprising way ways. Although this is bound to spawn a whole new batch of insignificant spin-offs, he has made a delicious blockbuster du jour out of a group of superheroes who are not strong enough to carry whole movies on their own.
3. Detention (8/10)
Recap: After a horror movie-inspired serial killer slashes someone on their campus, a group of suspect high school seniors (Josh Hutcherson, Shanley Caswell) are put into detention during prom night. Reason: Detention is packaged like a Hollywood movie, if Tinseltown productions still had cojones. With each passing scene Detention gets bigger and crazier, until its eventually talking about time travel, action movie heroes, slashers, and TV hands in the same sentence. And as it immerses audiences into these mix-and-match delights of dark comedy, horror, and science fiction, Detention displays extreme self-awareness for everything that it’s trying to do. Just as Kahn is sure to throw in at least two personal digs to himself in the script, Detention provides great intellectual comfort because it knows itself inside and out. Even when the third act seems like a brain aneurysm waiting to happen, Detention is an immersing experience your full attention wants to be kidnapped by.
2. The FP (9/10)
Recap: A futuristic civil war in California’s Frazier Park is fought by two gangs who competitively play the dance game “Beat Beat Revelation.” This one is for people who think that “midnight movies” are only played at that certain time because that’s when all cults meet; being talented at “Dance Dance Revolution” is not required. Reason: From two brothers who worked on the underrated exquisite classic of “F**k You” cinema, Crank: High Voltage, the mentality of The FP is indeed very self amusing, much like something like David Gordon Green’s Your Highness, etc. It must have been great fun to make, yet the audience becomes in tune with the brilliance of The FP once its tone becomes crystal clear at the very beginning. The FP does whatever it wants, and we love it for that very reason. It takes “over-the-top” to sky-high levels of creativity, making everything as positively wild as possible, from its blistering dialogue, to thrift-store robbing costuming, to archetypal performances (which are great), to even the way the film ends itself. Mixing in nudges and punches at ’80s movie macho-ness with the recent craze of flashy dance movies, The FP provides immaculate entertainment for the midnight movie crowd, and beyond. Some might get it, and some will not. For those who become in tune with the hilarious serious stupidity of The FP, this is full force indie filmmaking at its most awesome.
1. The Raid: Redemption (9/10)
Recap: The film uses the martial arts styling of Pencak Silat, and features Evans' second film with Silat champion Iko Uwais. Already set for two sequels and an American remake, The Raid: Redemption is a monumental moment for the action movie genre. Reason: With an appetite for action like no other, The Raid: Redemption is a monumental moment for the genre that does not recognize limits. This intense film delivers as many action sequences as it can fit into its running time, and orchestrates each climactic dance of head smashes and stomach kicks with unforgettable finales. Made in Indonesia by a Welsh filmmaker, it’s the way that extreme action should be – and absolutely the way it should look. Definitely bound to leave you limping out of the theater, The Raid: Redemption is also destined to assume the same throne of the genre’s prestige bestowed to previous imports like Ong Bak or Oldboy. And if writer/director Christopher Nolan doesn’t bring his grade-A action game this summer with The Dark Knight Rises, this one can boast an even stronger guarantee of being this year’s must-experience action movie.