The 2012 Halftime Top 10

July 12, 2012
A thought by James Berardinelli

When did I start compiling "half-year" Top 10 lists? Looking through my records, this looks like the ninth consecutive year I have engaged in this exercise. I'm sure I'm not the only one who does this, but it's not as prevalent an activity as the one that goes on toward the end-of-the-year, where getting a list out first has for some reason become a big deal. This year, I decided to have a little fun with the way in which I released the titles on the halftime list: I tweeted them, one or two per day, over a one-week period. Maybe I'll do that in late December. Or maybe not.

Why do a Halftime Top 10? The answer to that question has not changed since the first time I tried this in 2004: it's to recognize worthwhile films that will (mostly) not make the end-of-the-year Top 10. Just because the best movies of the year generally arrive in October, November, and December, that doesn't mean there weren't some compelling, interesting, and/or entertaining movies released in the dog days of February and March and the summer wasteland of May and June. Many of these are easily forgotten when it comes time to generate full-year Top 10s. No title with less than ***1/2 has ever made one of my end-of-the-year Top 10 lists. The Halftime Top 10 gives the best of the *** movies a shot for special recognition.

Eligibility rules are simple. The posted date of a theatrical review (not a video review) must be between January 1, 2012 and June 30, 2012 (inclusive). The determination is not strictly tied to the release date of a film (platform releases, especially of late-December films, can stretch well into the next year).

How many of these titles will appear on the end-of-the-year Top 10? If history is an indicator, between two and four. Numbers 1 and 2 are virtual locks, although their final positions will be determined by what arrives between July and December. Number 3 is questionable, with a chance slightly greater than 50% of making it. Numbers 4 and 5 probably won't survive the cut unless the second half of the year is disappointing. Anything lower than 5 has no chance. For what it's worth, the two highest grossing films of 2012 (thus far) are both on this list, dispelling (at least temporarily) that perception that there is zero correlation between quality and popularity.

Here's the list, in reverse order:

#10. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World: Curiously, this is the third film released in the past twelve months that concludes with the world ending (the other two: Melancholia and The Cabin in the Woods). Its lack of box office prowess may indicate that people in general are less obsessed with that possibility than the media or Hollywood. Maybe it's a case of Harold Camping overexposure. At any rate, the end of the world aside, this is an affecting romantic comedy with just enough of a twist to make it appealing to those who like big-screen romance but prefer that it (a) not take place in high school, (b) not feature a bunch of 20-somethings trying to play teenagers, and (c) not follow a connect-the-dots plot. (Currently in theaters. DVD release: autumn 2012.)

#9. Take This Waltz: Oddly, Take This Waltz would make an intriguing double-feature with #10. The latter is all about short-term love, when circumstances dictate there are no consequences and things never decay out of the so-called "Honeymoon phase." This movie, however, is all about what happens when the first blush of a love affair has passed. It's about longing and temptation and how, in relationships, cycles repeat. It also makes a compelling point about how movies objectify women, but that's a secondary consideration. (Currently in theaters and VOD. DVD release: tbd.)

#8. The Hunger Games: 2012's big early winner, The Hunger Games wasn't a surprise hit, but it caught everyone, including analysts, flatfooted with how much it made during its opening weekend. The success of the movie not only guarantees that the rest of the trilogy will make it to the screen (spread over a total of four cinematic installments) but means that other young adult series will be fast-tracked. That’s not a concern if the other franchises are more like The Hunger Games and less like Twilight. (DVD release: August 18.)

#7. The Grey: I guess Taken converted Liam Neeson into an action hero, a role he fulfills admirably in this movie, which is both a meditation on man's bestial nature and a man vs. nature adventure saga. The open-ended conclusion (which is not resolved by a post-credits snippet) caused some frustration but is perfectly pitched for this movie, especially once we come to understand the whole truth about the main character. Not really mainstream, but compelling. (Currently available on DVD.)

#6. The Raid: Redemption: Roger Ebert awarded this movie one star, inciting widespread outrage across the Internet. I'm not sure whether he didn't "get it" or whether he was turned off by the violence and the comic book tone. Admittedly, the plot is thin, but this is as pure an adrenaline-and-testosterone cocktail as could be found in theaters this year. It's as good as action gets - white-knuckle, edge-of-the-seat variety. A copy of this will find its way into my personal DVD collection when it's released. (DVD release: August 14.)

#5. The Intouchables: Slammed by some critics as being too melodramatic, I found The Intouchables to be surprisingly light in the manipulation department. It's a romantic comedy/buddy film without the romance. I have yet to find a non-critic who didn't enjoy the film, and many of the "general public" adore it. It's as "American" a film as I have seen emerge from France in recent years and requires a certain suspension of cynicism to work. (Currently in theaters. DVD release date: tbd.)

#4. Bully: Probably best remembered for the controversy surrounding its MPAA classification, Bully failed to make the kind of box office impact that was hoped for. It's an important film but maybe the best place for it to play is in schools, not theaters, where the problem has taken root. One of the movie's messages - that in today's culture, those who are doing the bullying often don't see themselves as bullies - may hit home. (DVD release: tbd)

#3. The Avengers: The blockbuster that has redefined what a "Superhero Movie" needs to be. Future installments of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Spider-Man, Batman (post-Nolan), Superman, and all others will be operating on a new playing field. The movie arguably doesn't hold up as well as one might hope on a second viewing or on a smaller screen, but seeing it for the first time in a huge auditorium offers an experience not to be missed. (Currently in theaters. DVD release: September 25.)

#2. Moonrise Kingdom: Perusing my reviews of previous Wes Anderson films, you might get the idea that I'm not his biggest fan. This is true. Sometimes, I think he's a too self-indulgent and self-consciously quirky for his own good. Not when it comes to Moonrise Kingdom, which is not only arguably the best movie Anderson has made but among 2012's most magical cinematic endeavors. (Currently in theaters. DVD release: autumn 2012.)

#1. A Separation: Some will argue that this should be a 2011 movie; after all, it opened in New York and Los Angeles in December 2011. But most cities didn't see it until 2012 and my review wasn't written until January. A Separation came as close as any film has come to **** without getting achieving the top rating. It could end up being the best film of 2012 and will almost certainly be in the Top 3. Powerful, direct, tense, emotionally devastating - all those descriptors apply. It reveals more on a second and third viewing, which is one hallmark of a great movie. Fans of loud, obnoxious, cookie-cutter productions need not bother, but anyone who enjoys a movie as something more complex and meaningful than a colorful distraction should seek this out. (DVD release: August 21.)