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From popcorn perfection to animation experimentation, foreign finesse and good old Hollywood hokum, 2012 delivered the shiny cinematic goods and then some. Here are our choices for the titles that took on the challenge, and won.


 

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The Amazing Spider-man

Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Sally Field, Martin Sheen, Denis Leary, Irrfan Khan, Chris Zylka

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The Amazing Spider-man


Imagine a superhero movie where the action histrionics or comic code tropes weren’t the main focus. Instead, this new version of Peter Parker is a boy with a mysterious past, a geek speak present, and a wholly unknown future. Then add a terrific love story with a balanced female companion, a memorable (and melancholy) villain, and a lot of interpersonal panache. In fact, (500) Days of Summer‘s Marc Webb clearly wanted to pull the genre out of its standard storytelling stereotypes. He fashioned a fascinating character study into which all of Spidey’s splash could rest in—quite comfortably, it turns out. Bill Gibron


 

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Ted

Director: Seth MacFarlane
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane, Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi

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Ted


At its core, Ted is a story of love and friendship, the fantastical tale of a young boy who wishes his teddy bear would come to life – and does, resulting in a 25-year friendship. The concept could easily spiral into the typical, saccharine-saturated pablum churned out by Hollywood schlockmeisters. However, when delivered by Seth MacFarlane, it feels real. MacFarlanedemonstrates a knack for coaxing believable performances from his actors,as well as an ear for slice-of-life dialogue peppered with bawdy humor and genuine sentiment. While the film’s concept could easily see all characters – human or stuffed/CG – transmuting into one-dimensional tropes, Ted’s script and solid acting from Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis ensure real, warm and fuzzy feelings by the end of the film – with a side of glorious raunch. Lana Cooper


 

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The Hunger Games

Director: Gary Ross
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Amandla Stenberg, Willow Shields, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland

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The Hunger Games


The film version of the first act of Suzanne Collins’ dystopian trilogy offers a Coles’ Notes of Orwell, Huxley, and Wells filtered through the inflated sense of self-righteous injustice that animates all teenaged rebellion. The vivid agrarian deprivation of District 12 and conspicuous consumption of the Capitol are rendered with directness and humour (the latter thanks largely to a delightful Stanley Tucci). Jennifer Lawrence gives her Katniss Evereen a compelling combination of suppleness and steel, and director Gary Ross’ camera-shaking cinema-verité style bears fruit and builds realistic tension as the titular Games begin and the blood begins to flow. The Hunger Games is a professionally-crafted and sometimes even transcendent youth-oriented blockbuster that depicts and seeks to resist capitalist hegemony, and that deserves our appreciation. Ross Langager


 

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Marvel’s The Avengers

Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson

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Marvel’s The Avengers


Everything about The Avengers, and, of course, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, was a colossal gamble, so to see it pay off in such a rewarding manner made Joss Whedon’s gleeful ensemble film an even greater achievement. Not only did fans and critics willingly accept such diverse characters with such disparate backgrounds co-existing, they embraced it. And they were right to: Whedon’s long experience with handling ensemble casts, character development, story, dialogue and, of course, action, made him the perfect man for the job to assemble earth’s mightiest heroes. A perfect synthesis of film and comics, brought together by a man who cut his teeth on television? More gambles like this, please. Kevin Brettauer


 

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Seven Psychopaths

Director: Martin McDonagh  
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Tom Waits, Woody Harrelson, Zeljko Ivanek, Abbie Cornish, Gabourey Sibide, Long Nguyen, Harry Dean Stanton, Michael Pitt, Michael Stuhlbarg, Kevin Corrigan, Olga Kurylenko

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Seven Psychopaths


The title of Seven Psychopaths tells you everything you need to know about the movie. Irish playwright/screenwriter/director Martin McDonagh takes a good many steps back from the existential and moral dread of his excellent 2008 debut In Bruges and enters into the world of metafilm, where everything is as playful as it is blood-soaked. For both McDonagh and his fictional counterpart Marty (Colin Farrell), the act of writing is to embrace the psychopaths both in them and around them. Whether it’s a Quaker with a haunted past (Christopher Walken, in a understated and powerful performance) or a dog thief-cum-serial killer (Sam Rockwell, perfectly channeling McDonagh’s id), Seven Psychopaths demonstrates that many different crazy people in a person’s life can be extensions of that very person’s life. Simply put, we all burden others with our psychopathy, and they in kind return the favor. To write is to entire the world of the insane, and few films have captured that fact as hilariously as Seven Psychopaths has. McDonagh is only on his second film, but if his pen is as loaded as the weapons of his characters, his status as a classic Irish playwright will undoubtedly carry over to his career in cinema. Brice Ezell


 

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ParaNorman

Director: Sam Fell, Chris Butler
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, John Goodman

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ParaNorman


In a big year for animation that saw the release of no fewer than three Halloween-appropriate cartoons, one of the medium’s very best in any genre was Laika’s ParaNorman, a funny, spooky, and heartfelt stop-motion picture with handmade craft visible in every frame. Filmmakers Chris Butler and Sam Fell expertly evoke an atmosphere equal parts New England and eighties Spielberg, and their designs mixed with the vocal performances of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, and Casey Affleck, among others, create more believable young characters than found in many live action child performers. Jesse Hassenger


 

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The Dark Knight Rises

Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Matthew Modine

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The Dark Knight Rises


There’s only so much that can be done with Batman that doesn’t inevitably dip into the terrain of hokey. Batman Begins was probably the least Batman movie ever, and The Dark Knight benefitted from having the most memorable and disturbing Batman villain. Unfortunately, once you use up the Bat’s origin story and create the seminal Batman film featuring the best villain ever put to paper, there’s very little that can be done with the story before it starts getting ridiculous—just look at the Schumacher atrocities. What Christopher Nolan, et al. managed to do with the final chapter of his Batman trilogy was nothing short of a miracle. He kept the loom and grit of the previous film in check, while staying true to the Batman story. The visceral action sequences and oppressive theme latent throughout The Dark Knight Rises helps solidify this trilogy of a seemingly silly character (he dresses up as a bat to fight crime, for christ’s sake) as one of the most intricate and involved character studies of our time. Complemented by some fantastic performances by Bale, Cottilard, Hardy, and a surprisingly convincing standout performance by Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises is a wonderful conclusion to one of the best superhero trilogies… ever! Enio Chiola


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