THE REEL: Movie buffs judge best and worst films of 2012

Ben Conniff and Ryan Pait

Last year was a huge year for film. Movie-goers saw their favorite characters of books and comics come to life, and they were also able to witness some fresh and innovative ideas. But let’s face it: Some films clearly rose to the top of the heap with big name stars and stellar screenwriting, while others crashed in a fiery heap of wasted millions and destroyed careers. So, let’s take a look at the high fliers and, well, the other guys. Here are the best films, and the worst, of 2012 — chosen by WKU Herald movie reviewers Ben and Ryan.

Ryan Pait’s Best Picks for 2012

The Top: “Les Misérables”

Rather than looking at Victor Hugo’s famous novel and Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s musical with outsize specs, Tom Hooper reduces it all down to tightly-framed emotion in “Les Misérables.” Hooper assembles an all-star cast that includes Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman, and he draws achingly raw and passionate performances from all involved.

Hooper also makes the wise decision of having his actors sing live on set rather than pre-recording all the music in the studio—a huge risk to take, but one that more than pays off.

“Les Misérables” practically aches with emotionality, but it hammers on the themes of Hugo’s original story so well that it is hard to deny its power. Overwrought as it may seem, it is beautifully effective and an unforgettable experience.

Other Notable Contenders

“Anna Karenina”

Instead of playing it by the book, Joe Wright takes Leo Tolstoy’s famous novel “Anna Karenina” and truly makes it something of his own. Tolstoy’s book is basically a morality play set in imperial Russia, and Wright, with the help of screenwriter Tom Stoppard, turns it into a literal play: the entire film is set on a dilapidated theater stage.

Most of the movie revolves around the titular Anna (a radiant, powerful Keira Knightley) and her complicated love life, but Wright also devotes much-needed time to the story of Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kitty (Alicia Vikander), a plot line often dropped entirely by other filmmakers.

This decision helps to demonstrate the themes of Tolstoy’s novel — that there are all types of love. The final result is a visually sumptuous film with ace performances that gets to the heart of its source text.


The geniuses at Pixar have done it again: when I think of all the movies I saw in 2012, no movie brought me more unadulterated joy than “Brave.” The movie follows Merida (charmingly voiced by Kelly MacDonald) a Scottish princess determined to defy tradition and live her life the way she wants.

Much of the movie’s magic is in the twist of its plot, which I will not reveal here. But fear not: it is good. “Brave” is also unrelentingly hilarious. Especially notable are Merida’s triplet baby brothers, who are so adept at physical comedy that Charlie Chaplin himself would be proud. With a charming voice cast (Emma Thompson! Julie Walters! Billy Connolly!), gorgeous visuals, a rousing Scottish soundtrack, and a timeless lesson at its core, “Brave” is the best animated film of 2012.

“The Hunger Games”

That “The Hunger Games” would be adapted into a movie was inevitable. That it would be adapted into a movie that is this good is what is so surprising. Directed by Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit”) and with some screenplay help from author Suzanne Collins, “The Hunger Games” succeeds on the strength of its story and on the riveting, vigorous performance from Jennifer Lawrence as heroine Katniss Everdeen.

Ross gives the film a distinct and rugged look that suits the source material, and his supporting cast fills in the rest of the blanks amazingly. Keep an eye out for newcomer Amandla Stenberg as Rue and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta. Perhaps the best part about this film is that it only left me more ravenous for the saga’s next chapter.


With “Skyfall,” director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) gets the Bond franchise back on the right track—literally. The movie begins with a thrilling train set-piece, and just does not stop delivering the goods. Mendes relies on the strengths of his cast, and it is a wise decision: Daniel Craig is as cool as ever as James Bond, and the incomparable Judi Dench is as solid as a rock as M.

The film also reintroduces some classic characters into this newer iteration of the franchise: quartermaster Q (Ben Whishaw) makes his debut, and field agent Eve (the charming Naomie Harris) turns out to be more than she seems. Add in a delightfully twisted turn by Javier Bardem as the film’s villain, and you have the perfect recipe for a Bond film that is never shaky, but wonderfully stirring.

Ryan Pait’s Worst Picks for 2012

The Bottom: “The Lucky One”

I will admit that I originally saw this movie with my mom and sister because I knew I would be getting free lunch after. After suffering through “The Lucky One,” however, I don’t think it was worth it.

Based on the Nicholas Sparks novel of the same name, “The Lucky One” follows Logan Thibault (Zac Efron) as he connects with Beth Clayton (Taylor Schilling), who he believes to be his guardian angel, after he finds her picture while on a military tour. The movie ends up being a 100-minute commercial for flannel shirts and the Louisiana tourism board, and because it is based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, someone has to die.

I think my mom’s reaction summed it up best: my sister and I realized that she fell asleep during the movie’s climax, and woke her up to tell her. Her response? “Who cares? This is stupid.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

The Other Losers

“Mirror Mirror”

Tarsem Singh’s “Mirror Mirror” is not near as clever as it thinks it is. A bland re-telling of the tale of Snow White, the most confusing part of the movie, for me, was that I had no idea who it was made for. Children will find it boring, and adults will find it annoying.

Lily Collins is pretty and has some perfectly-sculpted eyebrows, but that is not enough to fill out the movie’s flat version of Snow White. Julia Roberts and Armie Hammer also co-star, playing the evil queen and Prince Alcott. The two go for broke, taking embarrassing material and committing full-force to it, but the end result is demeaning both for them and for the audience.

These two deserve better, and we deserve better. Perhaps the worst part is that this movie could have been interesting if Singh had pushed hard in one way or the other. Instead, he heads for the easy middle ground and the end result is not even remotely entertaining.

“One For The Money”

Has there ever been a movie more fittingly-titled than this one? Another entry on Katherine Heigl’s list of increasingly and astronomically bad career decisions, “One For The Money” is an embarrassment for everyone involved in its making.

And it is also embarrassing for those not involved—based on Janet Evanovich’s popular novel of the same name, I can hardly believe that this movie was what fans of Evanovich’s work were expecting or wanting. Stephanie Plum (Heigl) may perhaps be interesting on the page, but something is lost in the translation to film: as Plum, Heigl lacks wit, charm, and spunk.

She does have a terrifically terrible New Jersey accent, however. With a plot that is beyond transparent and a rather ugly reliance on tired stereotypes (Sherri Shepherd plays a prostitute—why?), “One For The Money” is lowest common denominator entertainment of the worst kind.

“Rock of Ages”

It is extremely hard to ruin classic rock songs like “Don’t Stop Believing” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” but boy, does “Rock of Ages” try its hardest. Directed and choreographed by Adam Shankman, the man behind 2007’s ridiculously charming and energetic “Hairspray,” “Rock of Ages” is about as flat as the wigs of its characters.

The movie’s soundtrack is entirely composed of rock songs of the 80s, passably performed by a big-name cast, so that is one factor that works in Shankman’s favor. Such big names include Alec Baldwin, Paul Giamatti, and Catherine Zeta Jones, but even they cannot add weight to the paper-thin roles they are given.

Shankman also makes a huge miscalculation by casting Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta as his leads—the two have zero chemistry and collapse under the pressure of trying to keep this movie afloat. Tom Cruise is mildly interesting as rocker Stacee Jaxx, but that is not near enough to help this mess.

“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part Two”

As bad as it is, “Breaking Dawn Part Two” is probably the best of the “Twilight” movies because of the hilarity it provides. Everybody involved in this film, including the cast (Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner) and director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls”) seems to have given up trying to take anything about this movie seriously.

The worst part of “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part Two” is that the “Part Two” is so painfully unnecessary—there is absolutely nothing in this movie that could not have been squeezed into 2011’s first installment. With a script as thin as Stephenie Meyer’s novel is thick, this entire experience is a mess. There are no stakes here, but in the end it does not matter: the final stake has thankfully been put through the heart of this franchise.

Ben Conniff’s Best Picks for 2012

The Top: “Silver Linings Playbook”

To paraphrase Alynda Wheat of People Magazine, is it a “rom-com”? Is it a dramatic “treatise on mental illness”? Is it “a love note to the Philadelphia Eagles”? Yes. 

Silver Linings Playbook is as healthy a balance of all three as you’re likely to see, making it the most endearing, fascinating, and entertaining movie of the year. A razor-sharp script and keen direction from David O. Russell (The Fighter, Three Kings) along with fine performances from Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro make this the feel-good movie of 2012.

Other Notable Contenders

“Life of Pi”

The latest from director Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain,” “Hulk”) tells a riveting story of survival and self-discovery posed against gorgeous set pieces and eye-popping special effects. Leading man Suraj Sharma keeps us hooked and makes us believe that he really IS Pi, as he discovers what he’s made of during his time at sea.

The 3-D is incredible, especially if you’ve got a pack of flying fish or a million meerkats headed your way. The tiger is also vivid and so well-detailed, you’d swear it was real. Sharma’s reactions would make you believe this is true. As far as visual style, picture Avatar meets “The Jungle Book” with a peppering of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” thrown in. “Life of Pi” is an incredibly engaging feature that blew my expectations away.

Steven Spielberg’s captivating period biopic follows President Abraham Lincoln’s crusade to end the Civil War and get the Thirteenth Amendment passed to abolish slavery.

Much funnier than I anticipated, “Lincoln” is a marvelously entertaining feature that’s sure to be a major player at the Oscars in February. Who knew there was such entertainment value surrounding the passing of a federal law?! Daniel Day-Lewis is a revelation as Lincoln.

“Django Unchained”

Quentin Tarantino is at his gratuitous best once again in “Django Unchained,” a film about two 19th century Southern bounty hunters starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Classic Tarantino style is on display here (colorful characters, over-the-top violence, an interesting soundtrack, unique cinematography, and moments of side-splitting humor), but “Django” is one of the director’s best efforts yet. All the acting performances are terrific and help make the movie as entertaining and satisfying as it is. Samuel L. Jackson steals the show with my favorite supporting performance from an actor this year.


Ben Affleck’s dramatization of the now-declassified Iran hostage situation of the late 1970s and early 80s is a nerve-wracking nail-biter. It features little to nothing by way of onscreen violence, but captures perfectly the raw emotional tension of the six American diplomats held hostage and trying to escape from under the noses of their brutal captors.

What makes the film even more engrossing is the idea of creating a big-budget science fiction film to help get the Americans out of Iran. The characters all know it’s a bad idea, and one even notes that “it’s the best bad idea we have,” but it’s a blast to get a little crash-course on filmmaking in the midst of such gripping drama. As director, Affleck makes the audience feel the same urgency and tension that’s present within each character, allowing “Argo” to become a moviegoing experience unlike any other this year.

Ben Conniff’s Worst Picks for 2012

The Bottom: “The Devil Inside”

There’s a reason why January is “film dump” month, and no film supports that assertion better than the god-awful “Devil Inside.”

This found-footage horror thriller about a young woman who travels to Rome to visit her ailing mother and to study exorcism features a trailer that’s scarier than the film itself. The few cringe-worthy elements build to the most forced, dissatisfying, and just plain terrible ending of any movie I’ve ever seen, ruining whatever good the movie has going for it, which isn’t much.

The Other Losers


Who knew Peter Berg’s big-budget incarnation of the classic board game would start off with inklings of humor and a decent human story? The first twenty minutes lay a foundation for what could’ve been a solid blockbuster if the template was followed.

Too bad that story is thrown overboard and left to drown thanks to huge, shiny special effects. A textbook display of style over substance that makes “Transformers” look like “Citizen Kane”.

“Chernobyl Diaries”

Yet another venture into the found-footage horror genre is “Chernobyl Diaries,” about a group of thrill-seeking students who go to visit the abandoned Ukrainian city in an attempt to discover its secrets. Poor development and even worse execution turn this film into a nuclear disaster of its own. This is one of the least-scary horror movies I’ve seen, and it takes itself far too seriously.

“Paranormal Activity 4”

As a fan of the franchise, I’ll admit I was thrilled to see another sequel. I keep waiting for the mystery of the first three “Paranormal Activity” films to be solved and my burning questions to be answered. Is it so wrong of me to hope for some solace in part four? Evidently so. “Paranormal Activity 4” answers absolutely nothing about its predecessors and seems out of place in the franchise’s narrative. It’s not even that scary. I especially love the third film for its consistent sense of dread, inventive scares, and fresh spin on the story. “4” has none of that and left me scratching my head even harder than the last installments. This film is a major derailment that I can only hope is fixed in “Paranormal Activity 5.”

“The Campaign”

This political satire starring funny-men Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis isn’t nearly as funny or as edgy as it should be. The supporting cast of Jason Sudeikis, Dan Akroyd, John Lithgow, and Dylan McDermott are never given any true time to shine.

They’re all forgettable, which is a testament to poor writing. You’d think a comedy about dirty congressional politics that features major players like Ferrell, Galifianakis, Akroyd, and Lithgow would be side-splitting, but “The Campaign” never comes close. I’ll vote for the other guy.