FEATURE: Crunchyroll News' 2012 Favorites - Movies!

Hit the theater (or Netflix... or Redbox) with CRN's favorite movies of 2012!

Strangely, in a year that was supposed to be the end of the world, there were no disaster movies. Granted, there were movies that were disasters (did anybody actually see A Thousand Words?), but for the most part, 2012 was full of hits, big and small.

 

Having looked back at their favorite anime, manga and video games of 2012, CRN's writers and editors turn their all-seeing eyes toward film, along with Scott Green giving us a look at some of the best new books of 2012!

 

Patrick Macias


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Haywire- Director Steven Soderbergh goes lowbrow with a "female assassin on the run" story complete with all-star cast with no shortage of action. The result is a glorious gourmet B-movie. (Netflix)


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Karate Robo Zaborgar (2011, but no US release until 2012)- A grown up, enduringly neurotic reboot of an obscure ‘70s superhero show from Japan’s golden age era of junk that’s hilarious, demented, and a note perfect tribute to the spirit of the original. (Netflix)


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Chronicle- Deconstructed superheroes done right on a low budget, minus the clichés and just about believable no matter how twisted the story gets. In short, everything The Dark Knight Rises was not.


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Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie- I know I have terrible taste in comedies, but nothing else this year made me laugh or squirm harder. I know I am somehow less human because of this, but I am OK with that. (Netflix)


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The Raid: Redemption- The short-list of "greatest action movies ever made" has a new contender. And it might just walk home with the grand prize in the butt-kicking department. Seriously, stop whatever you are doing and just watch this already.


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Moonrise Kingdom- I’m really not a raging Wes Anderson fanboy, and half of you will probably hate this flick for being too mannered or twee, but wow, were those actual tears I nearly felt swelling up in the final reel?

 

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The Avengers- Had the Marvel zombie in me crawling on the floor, begging for more. If I was a little kid, this would probably be a formative filmic experience. The prospect of Thanos upping the game in the sequel has me frothing at the mouth. Literally.  

 

I think Skyfall was ok and slightly overrated, but it looked totally insane in IMAX.

 

I haven’t seen Killer Joe or Dredd yet, but I am pretty sure I will go ape over them.

 

Joseph Luster


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The Avengers- I was way late on seeing this—hell, I'm still catching up on the year in film to this day—but when I finally did I honestly felt like a 10-year-old boy. It was like mashing action figures together on a grand scale, and I can't imagine how they could have nailed things more perfectly. I'm lukewarm on a few of the big Marvel flicks, but Whedon and co. worked some real magic here and I can't wait to see what they do with the sequel. 


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The Raid: Redemption- Apparently you need a superfluous subtitle to get American butts in seats for a wild action movie. That's news to me, but The Raid delivered with or without "redemption," and only suffered from one waaaay drawn out fight. This is landmark action to watch again and again, and it'll be fondly remembered. 


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The Cabin in the Woods- Great example of tight and clever writing that translated perfectly to the screen. Seriously, read Goddard and Whedon's script after watching and note how little changes from page to screen. This could have easily been bungled, but the tone matches the material just right, and then it full-on delivers everything we want in the third act. 


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End of Watch- David Ayer's documentary-style cop flick can be hard to watch at times, and not just because of a couple brutal moments. Sure, its found footage conceit is completely unnecessary, but I challenge anyone to find on-screen adult characters more believable as best friends this year than those portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña.  


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Looper- There are some misfires in Rian Johnson's sci-fi time traveler, but the good vastly outweighs the bad. While everyone else scratches their head at a dubious plot and the usual paradoxes involved with time, I'm marveling at Joseph Gordon-Levitt's uncanny Bruce Willis impersonation. 


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Django Unchained- Even with more films to watch from this past year weighing heavy on my plate, I find it hard to believe any of them will top Tarantino's latest. Once again he doesn't disappoint, displaying balls the size of bean bags with this sadistic spaghetti southern. It has buckets of blood, of course, but it also has heart, and that's what ultimately lures us into the ride along with Django. Oh, and also Samuel L. Jackson. His is a character we won't be forgetting for a long time. 


Movies You Should Probably Expect Me Gushing Over Way After They're Relevant- Killer Joe, Dredd, Holy Motors, Moonrise Kingdom, Argo, The Master, etc.

 

Scott Green


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Margin Call- Out on home video/streaming this year, you couldn't ask for a more effective dramatization or distillation of the 2008 financial collapse. Beyond the great performances, there's a brutally barbing bit about the results of geniuses spending their efforts concocting financial models rather than what we'd hope that the best and brightest minds would be doing.
 
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Django Unchained- Other than Kill Bill, which I loved in process, my appreciation for Quentin Tarantino movies tends to grow after the fact. My first reaction to Django Unchained was how remarkable it was that it held me through a nearly three hour movie without causing me to once think about the run time. As it stuck with me, I became more impressed by the lateral thinking QT applied to movie geek favorites. While I find that Tarantino is given to being won over by ideas that aren't as bulletproof as he's convinced they are, I think he made a tremendously entertaining movie out of drawing out the implications of the overlaps between American history and genre film.
 
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Scabbard Samurai- Celebrity TV comic-turned-moviemaker Hitoshi Matsumoto is back writing and directing a follow to giant monster kaiju spoof Big Man Japan and totally unique, best cherub junk movie ever, Symbol. The former was released in North America, while the latter just made the festival circuit. After this one played at venues such as the New York Asian Film Festival, I'm not going to hazard a guess as to if it follows Big Man Japan into home video or Symbol into obscurity.
 
The titular Scabbard Samurai is a former warrior who let his sword drop and his body and life fall apart after his wife dies in an epidemic. Sentenced to death for dereliction of duty, he is given 30 days to try to make an eccentric lord's similarly grief stricken son laugh, or commit ritual suicide if he ultimately fails.
 
This sets up the ritual for the movie's big middle. Everyone crowds around the stockade. The samurai is led in. The droopy former swordsman attempts the latest in an escaping entertainment routine, starting with what you might use to amuse a young kid while sitting around a table or perform drunkenly at a holiday party and building to grand cinematic spectacles. As his acts increase in complexity and danger, he wins over the crowd of spectators. Once each is complete, everyone turns to the heir. Seeing him sitting unmoved, the lord eats a sweet, and his assistant cries out the decree "seppuku!"
 
On the one hand, the movie works as a heartfelt parable, with plenty of eye-catching gags. On the other, especially in the Loius CK/Mark Maron/modern era of comedians, it's hard not to see Scabbard Samurai as a reflection on its creator's career and about comedy and entertainment, or at least about comedians/entertainers. Beyond exploring the relationship between pain and comedy, Matsumoto hits some provocative notes about the comedian winning over an audience and the extent to which that audience is willing to support the entertainer.
 
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Karate-Robo Zaborgar- Released on DVD/streaming this year, this homage to 70's tokusatsu wins you over with its affection for the source material. For all the groan-inducing gags, enough of the film is zany, warm, or spectacular that the movie is a pleasure to watch.
 
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Hissatsu: Sure Death- I think it was added to Netflix streaming in 2012--I definitely saw it there this year. Gintama watchers will recognize this 1984 movie version of a period drama TV series as the inspiration for the anime's memorable Zenzo Hattori kitchen break-in sequence. A cabal of assassins-for-hire live in Tokyo with a variety of cover professions from musical instrument makers to roofers to police officers. These cats become the mice when targeted by a killer known as "Copper" for the coin left in the victim's mouth. The resulting deathmatch between assassins plays out with a real "kitchen sink" approach to film making, from moments of real, sweaty tension to broad domestic dramedy to cheesy special effect gags, to wire-fu style action. Not so much a classic as a flick that holds up well, I had as much fun with this as any movie I watched this year.
 
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Beasts of the Southern Wild- Beyond its unique reflection of a place and people, this fable of the southern Louisiana bayou feels organic and alive in a way few movies do. 
 
BOOKS:
 
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Red Country, by Joe Abercrombie-While it's been a long time since I have had much patience for fantasy novels, I make an exception for Joe Abercombie's--in manga terms, think of this as seinen.  For the Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire fans out there, it's worth noting that Abercrombie and Game of Thrones' George R.R. Martin are given to showy displays of mutual admiration. Think Lord of the Rings if the ring was a WMD, Gandalf was unbound by morality or compunction against interfering, and more likely to use debt manipulation and financial jiu jitsu than magic, whereas Aragorn was given to consuming rages that saw him kill friend as quickly as foe. Red Country is the third semi-standalone novel from the world, following the war story Heroes and Best Served Cold--a favorite, rotten-to-the-core revenge epic featuring characters like a poisoner otaku and the cannibal version of Fist of the North Star's Kenshiro. In Red Country's case, I wasn't as won over by the central spaghetti western homage as I thought I would be, and for all its carnage, it had a surprising amount of sentimentality and even silliness. Still, the novel manages a nice interplay of besting some expectations while subverting others.
 
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Bring Up The Bodies, by Hilary Mantel- Lawyer and son of a blacksmith Thomas Cromwell fights political deathmatches in the court of Tudor England. It's as evocative as its predecessor, Wolf Hall, but in this middle part of an accolade-collecting trilogy, the protagonist spends most of his time fighting to keep his position secure, allowing for fewer moments of laser-sharp insight or observation.
 
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The Twelve, by Justin Cronin- Though vampire dystopia goes into a couple other areas that I'm not really looking to invest more time into, in The Twelve, as with predecessor The Passage, Cronin goes at the material with a notably literary approach. The discursive work goes back and forward into various points in the time line of the vampire virus outbreak and  generations into a future in which humanity is the huddled prey of the "virals." While I was never invested in the plot and didn't particularly care about what happened to the characters next, I found the book's convoluted exploration of their inner lives and roles in the events fascinating.
 
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Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide by Hiroko Yoda, Matt Alt and Shinkichi- This follow up to Ninja Attack and Yokai Attack offers a look into the folklore behind the "dead wet girls" of Japanese horror like The Ring and The Grudge. The writing is sharp and informed, combining respect for the subject with a sense of humor. With illustrations and photos, it makes for an excellent coffee table book to just thumb through. Beyond that, the insight offered gives fans of Japanese media invaluable cultural context to the stories that they watch and read.

 

Nate Ming


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The Avengers- Marvel Studios really knocked this one out of the park! I've always felt that the "core" Marvel heroes like Cap and Iron Man constantly get pushed aside in favor of the X-Men, so it was nice to finally see Marvel's real heroes come out swinging. My only complaints are some obvious Joss Whedon bullshit and Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye not being a brash, cocky jackass.


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The Dark Knight Rises- Christopher Nolan and company did what they do best for a third and final time--taking a handful of the best Batman stories ever and mixing them all into one relatively cohesive film. Ever since Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, few people have tried writing an actual ending for Batman, but outside of a few questionable choices (like the whole "you should go by your first name" thing), it brought back the fun factor of Batman Begins along with the intensity of The Dark Knight. It's the Return of the Jedi to TDK's Empire Strikes Back--not as good, but definitely still good.


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Brave- It was a real toss-up between this and Wreck-it Ralph, but Pixar's Scottish fable hits the mark dead-on. Tomboy archeress Merida is a badass addition to the Disney Princess lineup, and the movie even calls out the age-old tradition of a girl having to wait for her Prince Charming--if she really wants to, she'll go out and find him on her own--if she even needs one in the first place. Plus, bear fight!


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The Expendables 2- The original Expendables showed me that you can never really go home again, but reunions are still fun. '80s action is sadly dead and gone, but The Expendables 2 improved on the original in every conceivable way, with insane fight sequences (Jason Statham vs. Scott Adkins! Sylvester Stallone vs. Jean-Claude Van Damme! Chuck Norris vs. a tank--off-screen, but who cares!) and something that was sorely missing from the original: one-liners. "I now pronounce you man and knife," indeed.


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Skyfall- I've been a Bond fan all my life, and while Daniel Craig is great as 007, I've been somewhat let down by Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace for basically being Jason Bourne movies that just happened to star a British guy named James Bond. In a great change of pace, Skyfall actually feels like a Bond movie, with exotic locales, the return of series mainstays like Q and Moneypenny (c'mon, you didn't expect that to be her?), a rare look back at Bond's origins, and Javier Bardem stealing every single scene he's in as one of the franchise's most memorable villains. The scene where Bond jumps off a train car getting ripped in half, lands, and then adjusts his cuffs upon standing shows that we've finally come full-circle, and Daniel Craig has fully, truly taken over as Bond. It's the little things that really count.


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Argo- On the complete flipside, Argo is a spy movie with no insane gadgets and no action whatsoever--just nail-biting tension and sharp dialogue. Ben Affleck has quickly turned from "that dumbass who starred in Jersey Girl and Gigli" to "that f**king genius who made Gone Baby Gone and The Town." The suspense slowly ratchets up tension all the way to the endgame, where--like the entire movie--creativity and intelligence trump brute force and fear.


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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey- While rewatching The Lord of the Rings in preparation for this, a friend asked me why there weren't many dwarves. The answer was simple--they were all in The Hobbit, and maybe that's why I loved the film so much, and why I'm breathlessly anticipating the next two. Peter Jackson is without a doubt the best person to make Tolkien films, judiciously clipping unnecessary story elements (for the millionth time, we did not need Tom Bombadil's house of horrors) while happily flipping the bird to the most unimaginative parts of Tolkien fandom (Bilbo was not confused by the storm, they were stone giants fighting atop a mountain). Also, Richard Armitage has once again turned me into a massive fanboy of Thorin Oakenshield, one of the out-and-out coolest characters in fantasy literature.


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The Grey- It's more manly to admit that you're afraid than to hide behind a tough, posturing facade. Originally advertised as "Liam Neeson vs. a pack of wolves," The Grey is so much more--it's a very heavy film that makes you realize just how far down the food chain we are without modern comforts and technology. It's a movie about men, and the bonds they form in crisis, and how the guy who talks the most and puts on the biggest show is usually the one who buckles when he's needed the most. Plus, the poem Liam Neeson recites at several points in the movie is one of the best battlecries I've ever heard.


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The Cabin in the Woods- Horror movies are a morality play that follow a formula--we've known this for decades. By taking a well-worn premise (zombie redneck torture family!) and completely deconstructing a genre we know inside and out, The Cabin in the Woods is a great parody of horror movies that happens to be a great horror movie in itself, chock-full of nods to all the horror greats, past and present. Keep your eyes peeled for Left 4 Dead's Special Infected!


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The Raid: Redemption- Martial arts movies come in two varieties: the crazy fantasy adventures like Iron Monkey, and the raw, brutal ass-kicking of Fist of Legend. The Raid: Redemption clearly falls into the latter camp, featuring Iko Uwais brutalizing an entire apartment complex worth of bad guys with the not-very-famous Indonesian fighting style Silat. Fast and vicious choreography and an oppressive, almost horror-movie atmosphere are the highlights in a movie where the action just does not stop--this is, without a doubt, the single best action film of the year.


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Honorable Mention: Lockout- This came pretty close, though. Lockout is Guy Pearce channelling the long-lost spirit of Kurt Russell's Snake Plissken, and features Maggie Grace giving as good as she gets with rapid-fire banter as they sneak, brawl, and blast their way through an orbiting prison satellite populated with the worst of the worst.

 

And that wraps up 2012's CRN Favorites! What were your favorite movies of 2012? What are you most looking forward to in 2013 for anime, video games, or movies? Sound off in the comments!

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