Mid-Year Movie Review: The Best and Worst of the Silver Screen

From the excellent Moonrise Kingdom to the awful Total Recall reboot, here's your guide to future Netflixing.

In two weeks, the summer movie season will have officially ended. There have been some highlights (The Avengers), some low-lowlights (A Thousand Words), and some … undecideds (Prometheus). This also means that one or more of this year’s Best Picture nominees have already been released. (At this point last year, The Help, Midnight in Paris, and The Tree of Life were in the theater or on DVD.) So here are my picks for the best and worst of 2012 so far. And though I have not yet been able to see many possible award-worthy films—like Your Sister’s Sister, Safety Not Guaranteed—this hasn’t stopped me from making this arbitrary  list of films. Do you agree with my picks? Let me know in the comments section.



Best Movie: Moonrise Kingdom

Filled with gorgeous cinematography, brilliant actors, pitch-perfect sets, Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson’s best live-action movie since The Royal Tenenbaums. This simple tale about teenage love is touching, funny, and quirky. It’s a movie you can’t help but smile long after you’ve left the theater.

Runner(s)-Up: The Avengers; Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope


Best Action Movie: The Raid: Redemption

A rookie cop joins an elite squad as they fight their way through an Indonesian tenement filled with ruthless criminals. Gruesome, high-adrenaline, and bloody awesome.

Runner(s)-Up: The Grey


Best Actress: Michelle Williams, Take This Waltz

Williams gives another stellar, raw performance as a young wife who must decide between her husband (Seth Rogen) and an artist (Luke Kirby) across the street. The three-time Oscar nominee again proves why she is one of the foremost talents working today.

Runner(s)-Up: Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises; Noomi Rapace, Prometheus


Best Actor: Liam Neeson, The Grey

We’ve become so used to Liam Neeson the pissed-off father and the pissed-off god, we forgot that he is the extraordinary actor of Kinsey and Schindler’s List. In The Grey, while still very much an alpha-male, he plays a man grieving his wife’s death and struggling to stay alive after a plane crash in the Alaska wild. For lesser actors, a script that contains disparate moments of high tension (all scenes with the wolves) and quiet reflection (memories of his wife), would be difficult. But Neeson is commanding, compelling in each moment.

Runner-Up: Jack Black, Bernie; Luke Kirby, Take This Waltz; Michael Fassbender, Prometheus


Biggest Surprise: Cabin in the Woods

Who knew that a high-concept, horror film completed in 2009 and left in the legal quagmire of MGM bankruptcy, would be, well… this good? Cabin—written by Avengers’ director Joss Whedon—is a smart, genuinely scary film that is utterly original.

Runner(s)-Up: Chronicle


Best Breakout Performance: Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, Moonrise Kingdom

Gilman and Hayward may not have careers after Kingdom, but their performances—as star-crossed lovers in Wes Anderson’s beautiful film—are perfection.

Runner-Up: Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild


Worst Movie: Total Recall

What happens when you remake a cheesetastic Schwarzenegger film and take out all the fun and self-deprecation? You are left with this shiny, insipid mess.

Runner(s)-Up: This Means War, A Thousand Words


Biggest Disappointment: The Bourne Legacy

Many might point to Prometheus or The Dark Knight Rises as the biggest disappointment of the year. (However, how could any film live up to those massive expectations?) But for me, it is Bourne Legacy. With a flimsy plot, flashy but pointless action sequences, and countless dull scenes of people looking at computer monitors, it is a failed attempt at franchising the Bourne movies. Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass are sorely missed.

Runner(s)-Up: Rock of Ages


What the Hell Was That?: Bill Nighy in Total Recall and Wrath of the Titans

We love us some Nighy. From Love Actually to this year’s charming The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, from Shaun of the Dead to Hot Fuzz, he is a brilliant character actor who creates memorable (and often funny) characters. Yes, he likes to make blockbusters (the paychecks have to be much better), but he had the unfortunate luck of appearing in two of the worst films of 2012 (so far): Total Recall and Wrath of the Titans. At least he sat out this year’s latest Underworld sequel.

Runner-Up: Magic Mike’s penis pump; Tom Cruise in Rock of Ages