Mike’s Top Ten of 2012
Another year, another Top Ten list.
I was very pleased with this year. Definitely more so than 2011. This year felt like it had a lot of strong choices for inclusion on this list. Last year’s list was probably easier to compile, but that’s because I knew right off the bat seven or eight of the films that would make it. This year, I didn’t really know what was gonna make it, but I did know I’d have a lot of great films to choose from. And overall, it just felt like I was happier with the amount of choices available to me for this list.
In case you didn’t know — what I do every year is list my ten favorite films of the year, along with an 11-20 (as I do on all my top ten lists for each year), and then I also create lists of second and third tier films, which are basically my way of ranking as many movies as possible that I liked. The top ten are my absolute favorites, the 11-20 were my next favorite, and so on and so forth. The entire thing ends up being a top ten plus fifty more films. Last year, I struggled to round out tier 3. This year I had to cut off an extra ten films I could have included. So overall this felt like a strong year. Or maybe that’s because I wasn’t as negative about everything this year.
The other thing to note, before we get into the films, is that this is the only time I really ever rank my top ten. After this, it pretty much reverts to alphabetical order. It’s not really about the numbers so much as what’s on the list. I also, as I always say, try to think of the long game when I rank these films. I try to think of films that are most likely to remain on my top ten list when I revisit it in one, two, five years. So let’s get right into it. Here are my Top Ten Films of 2012:
(Note: I’ve decided to count down this year from 10-1. The last two years, I started with #1, and I’m not sure why. My guess is I didn’t put any thought into it the first year and did it last year because I did it the first year. So I’m gonna put a stop to that trend now, since it’s better when you count things down.)
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10. Silver Linings Playbook
Took me two watches on this one. Not that I didn’t really like it the first time, it’s just that it took me two watches to truly see the film as the film. I love David O. Russell’s work. I think Three Kings is one of the best films of the 90s. I loved The Fighter. I even love I Heart Huckabees. I think that movie is one of the most underrated movies of the past decade. And I went in expecting to really like this movie. But when I started watching it that first time, I think I got a bit caught up in the reaction to it. People talking about it as a Best Picture frontrunner and all that. I let spite get in. Not that it affected all that much. Since what happened there was, I watched the first half hour, going, “This is okay, but I don’t see why it’s so great,” but then the more the film ran, the more I liked it, until by the end I was with it 100%. So I did love the film, but the second time was when I really loved it.
What I love about this film, and it’s the same thing I loved about The Fighter — it’s that the film has a lot of human elements to it. A lot of this has to do with very specific patterns of behavior and interaction, and it makes everything feel the way it feels when you’re in the house with family and friends. Nothing in this movie feels scripted. It doesn’t feel like plot, and people talking lines of script. This just feels like people interacting. And you’re aware it’s a movie, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t have that sense of, “I can feel the writer working right now.” You get that chaos of four people screaming over one another at the same time, and it sounds like people actually talking. That’s why I really loved this. I also, of course, loved the two central performances. Jennifer Lawrence — what more can you say about that performance? She’s awesome. Maybe I could have used a little more arc to her character, but she did such a great job with it, I don’t care. And I totally get why Russell went with Cooper instead of Wahlberg here. Wahlberg wouldn’t have done this good a job with the movie. And I liked being able to see Robert De Niro in a role that actually allows him to do more than the series of ticks and gestures he’s devolved into this past decade. I didn’t see any of recent De Niro in the performance at all. And it was nice to see Chris Tucker get to play low key for once.
Not only that — this movie ends with a dance competition. What does it say about a movie when it can take one of the most contrived endings and make it feel fresh? I just really loved this movie, and it’s gonna be one of those movies I’ll be able to find myself rewatching a bunch, because it’s just so easy to put on. Not only that — it finally breathes some fucking life into the beyond stagnant romantic comedy genre. Thank god for that.
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9. Killing Them Softly
Man, did I love this movie. The first time I put it on, I immediately went, “Oh man, this is nothing like The Assassination of Jesse James.” And I meant that in the most positive way possible. I saw it from the credits. With those cuts. This is a movie that is deliberately trying to fuck with your expectations. And right there, I knew, “People are gonna hate this movie, and I’m gonna love it.” And I did. I love that nothing happens in this movie. 90% of this movie is talking. And it’s terrific.
The reason this is such a good crime movie is because it doesn’t involve the crime at all. This is all the shit that happens after the crime. We see the crime get set up, and why it’s happening (the reason why they think it’ll work is actually quite genius), then it happens, and then we see the aftermath. This movie is basically, “Here’s a bunch of guys who stole money, now let’s bring in a guy to find them, and kill them.” And that’s it. We follow the crime, and the cleaning up after the crime. And the violence in this movie is very small, but very punctuated. The scene where Ray Liotta is getting the shit kicked out of him felt so real to me that it made me excited. It made me excited in the sense that, “Oh my god, this is what would happen when some dude got the shit kicked out of him!” So rarely do I get that pleasure. Usually they do it, and it’s like all other movies do it. Maybe they make it look more gruesome, but otherwise it’s all the same. So that, coupled with the fact that the movie’s all talking — and that final scene… man, that final scene. I love when they cut to black on this one — this was one of my favorite movies of the year.
I watched it the first time and went, “Oh, this’ll be 11-20 for sure.” But the second time I watched it, I knew. I knew this would be top ten. This is one of those movies that may actually end up moving up a spot or two in a few years (you know, if I actually did this list again, with rankings). I’ll be able to watch this movie over and over. It’s so good. (Not to mention — nobody’s seen this! So it’s already one of the hidden gems of 2012. Probably gonna end up as one of the top hidden gems of the decade, too.)
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This one also took me two watches. My issue with this one when I watched it the first time was — I liked the concept, and I loved how they went about it, and I thought the writing was terrific, but I just felt the first time I watched it that they sped through things too quickly, and that there were also too many scenes that just weren’t that interesting. Which doesn’t make much sense at all. So I watched it again, and the second time, I got it. It all clicked, and everything worked. And without the second watch, this would probably have ended up at like, #10 or #13 or something like that. But the second watch really helped everything click for me with this one.
The film works beautifully, and the only thing I can say against it is that I wish they spend a little more time with it. Mostly the Hollywood stuff. Though it’s not really about that at all, so they did make a good decision there. I was just enjoying it so much, I wish there was more. This is such a great movie, and I totally get why it’s a big Best Picture favorite (for the nomination. The win is wide open at this point, it seems). I’m completely on board with this one. It’s a perfectly constructed, written, acted and directed movie. One of the year’s absolute best.
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7. The Impossible
I went into this movie knowing next to nothing. I think all I knew was that it was getting a late December release date, that it starred Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts, and I saw like a half a second of a trailer and knew it was about some sort of disaster and the family trying to get home. Otherwise — nothing. And a screener came into work and I started watching it, and, holy shit — this movie blew me away.
Right from the start — I’m watching it, and I’m engaged, and then that up there in the screenshot happens — holy fuck, that’s one of the best disaster scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie. It’s so good, you know most of it is CGI, and yet, it doesn’t feel like that at all. You’re right there in the middle of this, and it actually feels like it’s happening. And then the rest of the movie, with that kid (Tom Holland gives a fucking terrific performance here), and jumping back and forth between the family members, and the aftermath — my god, did I love this movie.
When I saw it, I wasn’t sure if it was gonna make the top ten, but ever since I saw it, few movies have stuck in my head as strongly as this one. I had to put it here. I really loved this. Few movies affected me as strongly as this one has, and since I don’t think it’s gonna get that wide of a release, I urge everyone to seek this movie out and see it. See it in the best quality possible, on the biggest screen possible. Trust me. It’ll blow you away too.
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6. The Dark Knight Rises
There was some question as to what was gonna happen with this one. I deliberately held off my opinion on it as long as possible, to give myself as much time to decide my feelings on it and as much of a chance to see it at least one more time outside the theater before I wrote up my thoughts on it. Because there was a lot of instant reaction to this at midnight. I was texting with a couple people at 3 am after this was over, discussing it. What I got out of it was that most people felt this was the best entry in the franchise, and my general feeling was that it wasn’t. So I told myself I’d wait, and watch it again when it came out on DVD before I put anything forward.
And now that I had the chance to see this on Blu-Ray, my opinion is — I don’t care. I don’t care if this is better or worse than The Dark Knight. I really don’t. Just like I don’t care if Empire is better than New Hope or Return of the King is better than Two Towers or Fellowship. I don’t care because I love this trilogy. I love all the movies in it and I’m gonna watch them all regardless of whether one is better than the other. I think Christopher Nolan accomplished something incredible with these movies, something that’s going to be copied, but not repeated, for a long time. The only question I had with this movie was where it was going to end up on this list.
This movie honestly could have ended up top five for me as easily as it could have ended up as #10. It also was gonna end up as #11 for a second. So I put on the Blu-Ray a couple of weeks ago and watched it, and what I felt was — I love this movie. I was engaged throughout, and any problems I had with it had to be taken in context. I think some parts of this film drag a bit, I think Christopher Nolan’s weaknesses as a writer show more strongly in this film than they did in Inception. But ultimately, this is a film I can rewatch without issue every time. And that counts a lot more than putting something like Argo here, which, while I loved Argo, let’s be honest — in the next two years, I’ll rewatch Argo probably a maximum of two times. This movie I’ll end up rewatching twice by August. So dropping it lower in the rankings would have only been a statement that I don’t consider this film as good as Dark Knight. But since I don’t give a fuck about that comparison, I was free to do whatever I wanted with it.
And honestly, I felt #6 was the most appropriate place for it. Since it wasn’t one of my five favorite movies of the year. I loved it, and I’ll rewatch it a bunch, but I just didn’t get that strong burst of excitement from this that I got from the remaining five films on this list. So #6 felt like the most appropriate place for this. Since, let’s be honest — it has to be a top ten. The amount I’m gonna rewatch this — it would be spite and spite alone that kept it from this list. But I also wanted to be realistic about how much I liked it. So this spot felt appropriate. Amazing, but not “shit my pants” amazing.
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I couldn’t fight it. I fucking loved this movie. I watched this shit twice now — once in the theater and once not too long after it. And I don’t see a single flaw in this movie. People want to argue logic and shit, especially the people who got sick of all the reaction this and wanted to find a reason to not like it as much, but honestly — it’s a time travel movie. And as such, there are always going to be logic points to argue for and against. But, to me, when it’s a time travel movie, I put myself firmly in the writer and director’s hands (here they’re the same person) and let them decide how much or how little I’m willing to go along with. And here, I went along with everything. Anything I could have argued against was pretty much taken care of with that conversation up there in the screenshot. With Bruce Willis going, “I’m not here to talk about time travel. If we do that, we’ll be here all day, drawing graphs and shit.” And that’s it. Right there.
This movie sets up the important rules of time travel that we need to know that are important to the plot, and everything else, it goes, “Look, this is some complex shit, let’s not get into it. We have a story to tell.” And right there, that allows it (and me) room to go, “There’s some gray area here. So there can be a reason that did or didn’t happen, but it’s not explained and why do we need to get into that when we have an awesome movie in front of us? Why do we need to figure that out? It’s not like it changes that much.”
What I loved most about this movie was how quickly it grabbed me and how I didn’t know where it was going until the very, very end. That is to say, until there was that one moment in the cornfield at the end, I had about three or four different possible endings in my head, and when a particular thing happened (I don’t want to ruin it. But basically when Bruce did what he did the second time), only then was I able to go, “Oh, so that’s how it’s going to end.” The movie kept quite a few possibilities up in the air for the longest time.
The other thing I loved, which is more of a personal thing — I normally hate sci-fi movies. I’m talking full-on sci-fi movies. This movie is clearly sci-fi based on the time travel, but — if you’ve seen the movie, it does such a good job of grounding you in this reality that you don’t really treat it as sci-fi. And there’s one moment that happens right at the end that clearly marks it as sci-fi. It goes full-on sci-fi right there. And normally, when that happens, I’d start checking out and lose interest. But here, when that happened, I was right with it. I was like, “YEAH! LET IT HAPPEN!” It takes a special movie for me to have that reaction.
I figured this was gonna end up around #6 or #7 for me, but, the more I thought about it, this felt right. I really fucking loved this movie. And it didn’t diminish at all the second time I watched it at all. Also, just gonna throw it out there, since I’m sure it was me, but — when I watched this movie the first time, I was just sort of watching, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary, and then I got to that scene in the diner and all of a sudden went, “What the fuck is wrong with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s face?” It took me that long to realize they made his nose up to look more like Bruce Willis. Had no fucking clue.
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4. Moonrise Kingdom
I think this one had more to do with me not really knowing what it was about. If I was properly paying attention to this, I’d have been all over it and would have expected it to be around here. But because I did my whole “not watching trailers” thing, I really wasn’t paying attention at all to what this was gonna be. Because I knew I was gonna see it. They already had my money. I think I watched the trailer once. And it was at work. It debuted while I was at work, and we watched it. But even then, I didn’t really get a sense of what it was about. (Though I will say — when I went back and watched it again, you totally do. So good job on my part not really paying attention to it.) So I went in not really knowing what I was getting, outside of a Wes Anderson movie.
And good god, was this a perfect film. First off, if it’s not already known — this is exactly the kind of film I go for. These little romantic comedies with children in them. Little Manhattan, Flipped — this is my thing. Hell, I’ve written one of those movies. So the second I realized that was what this was about, I was already at the point of pissing myself. I was so excited. And then, it being a Wes Anderson movie — I love his stuff so much. Especially lately. I’m not really a huge fan of his early stuff. Rushmore and Bottle Rocket. I love his later stuff. I think Fantastic Mr. Fox is a perfect movie, and I think The Life Aquatic is the best live-action movie he’s done. So this movie was perfect on every conceivable level for me.
Sure, Wes Anderson is guilty of mostly doing the same thing every time. But I happen to like that thing. And I also think this is the first movie of his that actually has a heart. There’s actually some emotion to it. And I think that’s what separates it from his recent efforts, specifically The Darjeeling Limited. You can see him working toward having more emotion in his actors’ performances, and I really like that trend. I think it’s leading to better and better films from him. But this one — absolutely perfect. I was hoping for the longest time this would end up top five for me, and it did. I’m not even mad it fell out of my top three, because I love my top three, and if this is my #4 on the year, that’s a really great sign for the year. Because I fucking love this movie, and have already watched it three times this year.
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Come on, now. Errybody knew, before they walked through the goddamn door, that this was gonna be top five.
There was no way that a Bond movie was gonna be this good and not make my top five for the year. There was just no way. It was actually #2 for a long time until it was unseated at the very last minute. And I don’t feel bad about that, since Bond is on its own ranking system anyway. It has its own franchise to contend with, and it being a top five for the year is pretty much all you need to know how good it is. So I didn’t mind that so much.
But — I loved this movie. I really loved it. My expectations were so high that when I watched it, I didn’t have a reaction toward it. That’s because my energy and anticipation was so high, and the film met it, so the whole thing cancelled out. Which is great. Since there was no way it was gonna exceed those expectations, and if it didn’t meet them, then it would have been a Dark Knight Rises scenario, where I would have to have been like, “I need another watch to decide.” Here, I knew. I was with this movie all the way and loved every goddamn second of it. Put it this way — when the biggest gripe about a movie you have is a pair of fucking CGI Komodo dragons — it’s a good thing.
There’s so much to like about this movie — that opening sequence, that title song and sequence — Roger Deakins’ cinematography… man, if that guy gets robbed of an Oscar AGAIN… — look, I’m not gonna waste my time going through this entire movie, talking about all the shit I liked. This is on a lot of people’s top ten lists for the year and it’s almost universally acclaimed. You know this is good. All I’m saying is — I’m pre-disposed to love this movie, being a huge fan of the franchise, and I had very high expectations for it. And it more than met those expectations and made me insanely excited for the next entry in the franchise.
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2. Les Misérables
I tried not to let this be #2. I really tried. But by the midway point of this movie, after Hugh Jackman had that great number in the church, and Anne Hathaway fucking DESTROYED “I Dream a Dream” (that was a fucking showstopper, that one. God DAMN! I’d nominate her for just that song alone), by the time they had those outdoor shots of France before all the battle scenes, I threw up my hands, resigned myself and said, “Game over.” Because I knew. I knew this was gonna be #2.
We all know the musical is one of my two favorite film genres. I am predisposed to liking a good musical. And this one — it has everything.
I got nothing else. I just fucking loved this, and this is my #2 for the year. I fucking loved this.
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1. Django Unchained
There wasn’t really much of a chance anything else was gonna be my #1 this year. If this movie was even almost as good as that script was, it was an automatic number one for me.
Aside from the fact that the western is my favorite film genre, Quentin Tarantino’s movies are always incredible. Almost every single one of his movies probably would have been #1 for me in their respective years, had I ranked them for all of them. And this being what it is — there was really no question about this.
I don’t even have all that much to say about this one. I just sort of put my arms up and go, “Just — look at it. That’s why it’s #1.”
I’ve watched this twice already. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Easily my favorite movie of the year.
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Now, here’s my 11-20 for the year. The order here isn’t really as specific as the top ten. Basically the order gets less specific as we go further down:
11. Cloud Atlas — I had this as #12 until about a minute ago. The more I think about this movie, the more I love it. I love how ambitious it is, and I love how it tries to tell a story that’s something more. I thought it was absolutely beautiful, and I thought the people who didn’t like this are ridiculous. I enjoyed every minute of this movie, and I’m gonna enjoy this movie for years to come. This is definitely an unofficial top ten entry for me.
12. Lincoln — It’s a terrific movie. The only thing that really kept it out of my top ten was the fact that it was such a boring good movie. And I mean that in the sense of, “Of course this was great.” You know it, I know it. It’s just not an interesting top ten choice. So I’m glad I didn’t have to put this on by default. That said — the movie was incredible. I loved how he resisted the urge to focus on the war. I loved how many famous people joined the film for small roles (kind of like Django). I loved Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance. I loved Tommy Lee Jones’s performance. The only thing I can say against this movie — it’s not really a top ten for me. Just outside it.
13. Promised Land — I fucking loved this. In a weaker year, this would be a top ten movie. Easily. I really loved how this was structured, how low key it was, how it felt like a John Ford movie. I love the way it ends. This movie, for what it is, is perfect. And it’s another one that I know not enough people are gonna end up seeing from this year. This is one of the reasons I felt so good about this year, because I knew I had this in my back pocket as a top ten film if I needed it.
14. The Master — It’s gonna take a couple more watches for me to unravel how I feel about this film, but even so, this always felt like the right spot for it. I didn’t love it enough to put it top ten, but I sure as hell liked the shit out of it. I really admire this movie a lot, and I think, whether there’s more to it or less to it than I saw upon first viewing, I still feel like it’s gonna remain around here for me in terms of 2012 films.
15. Seven Psychopaths — I fucking loved this. Not as much as In Bruges, but that movie is just, perfection. This is just awesome. It’s so much fun, and hilarious. This is the perfect spot for this. I enjoyed the shit out of it, but not enough to make it a top ten. That’s why I love the 11-20, so I can praise stuff like this. Man, I loved this movie.
16. Anna Karenina — One thing you’ll see me do a lot more than other people is really love films that go outside the box a bit. Not completely. I still am a big fan of conventional, Hollywood filmmaking. (It comes from me loving 30s movies so much.) But I like when movies try something new, like Cloud Atlas and what it did with the actors playing six characters of different eras, ages, races and genders. And I loved this, taking a story that’s been made into films many times and is so incredibly well-known that it’s difficult to keep interesting. So Joe Wright takes it, sets the whole thing on a stage and makes the whole thing this great cinematic, theatrical experience. I fucking loved it. I loved every minute of it. I thought it was one of the best viewing experiences I had this year. I’m gonna support this film forever because of that. And I’m very disappointed in the people who tossed this film aside because he went unconventional with it. Because if he shot it normally, people would have been like, “This is exactly what we expected with this. It looks great, was well-made, but man… what a boring and obvious nominee this is gonna be.” Who the fuck wants that? That’s why I loved this.
17. Bachelorette — Man, I loved this. The first time I watched this, I was laughing my ass off. I was completely ill-at-ease, watching the three of them do what they did, going, “No, no… don’t do that… don’t do that,” and watching shit get worse and worse. This was one of the best surprises of the year for me. And I watched it again like three days ago and still loved it. I loved how easy it was for me to put this on again, and how watchable it is. I stand by my statement that this is what Bridesmaids should have been, and that this is a much better movie than that one is. Real hidden gem of 2012, this one.
18. Wreck-It Ralph — What an enjoyable movie this is. I went in figuring it would be really good, and that’s exactly what I got. This was just a joy, from start to finish. A complete and utter joy. I love to include at least one movie that just makes me happy (and by include I mean — I hope there’s at least one every year), and this is definitely that one for this year. This movie makes me so happy. It’s not one of Disney’s absolute best, but it’s definitely one of their better entries of all time. Definitely in the top 40% of their stuff. (For those who can’t do math, I’m saying it’s in top 21 among their 52 animated films.)
19. Beasts of the Southern Wild — It was just a beautiful film. It took me two watches to really see it. The first time I thought it was good, but overhyped. The second time I got to see it without the “response” hanging over my head. It always comes back to people. People ruin shit. When I saw this the second time, I loved it so much more.
20. Life of Pi — This was another one I loved a lot more the second time. More than Zero Dark Thirty, which was originally here. I still hate the framing device, and think the overt religious message at the ending was fucking ridiculous, but the film itself was a thing of beauty, and that should be respected.
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So that’s the top 20. Here’s tier two…
Tier two generally consists of the films I really liked. The Top Ten are almost exclusively 5-star and 4.5-star films. The 11-20 are all 4 and 4.5-star films. Tier 2 is the rest of the 4-star films, and maybe some 3.5-star films, if there are spots left.
Tier two: Amour, Arbitrage, End of Watch, Flight, The Grey, Haywire, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hunger Games, Jeff Who Lives at Home, A Late Quartet, Quartet, Premium Rush, Prometheus, Safety Not Guaranteed, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Smashed, Ted, 21 Jump Street, Why Stop Now, Zero Dark Thirty
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Tier three, especially this year, is almost exclusively 3.5-star films. The idea is that the top three tiers are all the films (though, as I said, there were like ten more I had to exclude because of the amount that I had this year) that I liked more than just the typical, “Yeah, that was good.” They’re ones I liked quite a bit, and are ones that I’d strongly recommend to people. “Yeah, that was good” is just that. But these — these are ones where I go, “Oh I liked that one. You should check it out. It’s good.” That’s the difference between tier three and everything else.
Tier three: The Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers, Brave, Butter, Compliance, Cosmopolis, For a Good Time Call…, Get the Gringo, Hitchcock, Hysteria, Jack Reacher, Magic Mike, Man on a Ledge, Not Fade Away, People Like Us, The Raid: Redemption, Ruby Sparks, The Sessions, 3,2,1… Frankie Go Boom, Upside Down
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One final thing I want to say before we end this year: watch movies twice. There were several movies on this list (specifically in the top ten) that, the first time I watched them, I wasn’t totally on board with them. I liked them, but I wasn’t totally there. But the second time — I definitely liked them a lot more. So some movies (and I’m talking like, big movies, the ones that a lot of people seem to like that you might not have) deserve a second chance and should be watched twice before you decide your opinion on them. Most movies deserve a second chance before you decide your opinion. There’s too much of people deciding something was great or terrible based on the initial watch (since that decision is often made immediately after leaving the theater or as soon as the credits start rolling). Give it a minute. Play the long game. Movies deserve more than just the instantaneous reaction. They exist for more than just an initial watch.
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And that concludes our 2012.