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Top Ten Movies of 2012



With the Oscars happening tonight, I thought I’d throw out my own personal favorite ten movies that I saw in 2012. Overall it was a solid year of moviegoing for me – I think I saw at least 40 movies in the theaters and most were enjoyable, if not great.

In no particular order, here they are:

  • The Avengers – The best superhero movie ever made. It’s no small feat juggling an entire team of A-List actors who each have starred in their own blockbuster action films and making each character feel significant. Glad to see Joss finally get his due in Hollywood as he’s one of the premier talents in writing and directing today.
  • Django Unchained – Some parts of this movie feel almost too ridiculous, but that’s part of its charm. Quentin Tarantino may be one of the most accessible film auteurs out there today. Even though this film was long, I had a huge grin throughout every minute because it was just so damn fun.
  • Silver Linings Playbook – I never thought I’d see a movie where Bradley Cooper actually turns in an Oscar-nominated performance, but here it is. The chemistry between he and Jennifer Lawrence is electric, and really elevates this movie to one of the best of the year. The fact that there’s a sports movie hiding underneath there is just icing on the cake.
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild – I’m not even going to pretend to know how to spell the girl who plays Hushpuppy’s name, but what an amazing performance from a first-time actor. Up there with her is the score to this film which is my pick for the best soundtrack of the year. The driving, emotional orchestral theme for “The Bathtub” matched with Louisiana Cajun melodies stir up an myriad of emotions that fit perfectly with the adventure in the movie.
  • Looper – Rian Johnson’s time-travel epic is probably one of the best sci-fi films to ever explore the topic without confusing the audience. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a younger Bruce Willis works surprisingly well. The time-lapse scene in the middle of the film was almost as powerful as the opening to Up, while the movie’s ending had my jaw literally agape for 20 minutes straight.
  • Moonrise Kingdom – No other word to describe this film but “charming.” Wes Anderson’s latest may not be terribly unique in his body of work, but his trademark quirky style really works for what’s essentially a story about young love. It’s hard not to root for Sam and Suzy in their quest to be together.
  • Argo – Ben Affleck has quietly become one of the best directors in Hollywood. Gone Baby Gone and The Town were great films in their own right, but Argo really takes it up a notch. Even though you may know how the story ends, you’re still caught up in the tension and drama of the journey there. You can’t help but want to get up and cheer by the end of the movie.
  • Arbitrage – I can’t think of the last time I thought Richard Gere was relevant, but he definitely made a great case for being back in this character study film. Not quite as likeably hateable as Gordon Gecko, but Robert Miller does his best to alienate everyone around him with his greed. The movie almost sways towards ridiculous plot points at times, but Gere’s outstanding performance keeps it grounded and relatable.
  • The Cabin In The Woods – An absolutely brilliant horror movie that isn’t quite your traditional horror movie. Without giving too much away, it’s both an homage and critique to the genre as a whole and is an unquestionable must-see movie, even if you don’t normally like “horror movies”
  • Perks of Being A Wallflower – Who doesn’t love a good coming of age movie? Almost everyone can identify with the pains of going through high school again, but most of us didn’t have friends like Ezra Miller and Emma Watson to lean on. “We accept the love that we deserve.” – might be the most insightful sentence I’ve heard in a long long time.

Review: Fez

Fez is probably the Indie game equivalent to Chinese Democracy. Five years in development, it’s won Independent Games Festival awards in both 2012 and in 2008. Yeah, that statement made me do a double take too. I’ll admit to not following the game’s development saga too closely over the years, except for noticing that Phil Fish, the game’s creator, is apparently a huge cock. But knowing that some of the best creative minds are giant douches, I didn’t hold it against him when buying and playing the game.

Like many recent platformers, there’s essentially two games in Fez: the “easy” one which leads you to a minimum number of cubes to see the game’s ending and the “hard” one, which tasks you to collect all of the game’s hidden cubes in order to see the “true” ending.The game is essentially a 2D platformer with the “twist” of being able to rotate the environment in four directions, kinda like rotating a cube around.  The basic gameplay is pleasant enough, but isn’t terribly mindblowing, especially if you’ve played Echochrome before. I imagine those who haven’t seen the MC Escher-like trick of 3D to 2D perception platforming would get a kick out of playing Fez for the first time.

For those not going for the “hard” anti-cubes, the game quickly degenerates into a simple “collect the shiny thing” set of tasks. That’s not necessarily a negative thing, especially for those who love nostalgic 8-bit gaming, but it does leave Fez as simply an ok to “good” game played in that way. The fact that the game is riddled with technical issues like slowdown, choppy graphic transitions, and outright game crashes to dashboard doesn’t help matters much. However, due to the way the game is presented at times, it does give apologists the explanation that these technical bugs are “working as intended” as an artistic statement.

The “hard” game in Fez is a doozy and it’s where I imagine most of the rave reviews and “mindblowing experience” reactions to the game are coming from. It’s essentially a hardcore cryptography/linguistics challenge with some neat fourth-wall breaking moments. For example, you’ll have to break out your smartphone’s QR code reader in order to get a button sequence to get one of the anti-cubes. Or, you’ll have to look at Fez’s achievement list for a clue towards getting another. From reading the GAF, it appears that obtaining many of these anti-cubes requires you to successfully decrypt things like a hieroglyphics alphabet along or a Tetris block orientation code. In full disclosure, I had zero interest in whipping out my Moleskine and doing a Robert Langdon impersonation so as soon as I had the required number of “obvious” cubes to watch the game’s ending, I did.

All of these puzzles are fairly obtuse, and there is no handholding or guiding by the game. It’s probably the most frustrating part of this game because there’s barely any context for solving most of the puzzles. One of the best qualities of Braid I thought, was the elegance in which you are introduced to each puzzle. Jonathan Blow nailed the difficulty curve and environment presentation to give you all the tools that you needed to solve the game’s puzzles by simply using the techniques that you’ve practiced throughout the game. Fez, by contrast, requires you to have the mentality to be able to perceive and decode the subtle “clues” in random game locations. If you didn’t make a Rosetta Stone for the symbols (or didn’t want to do that work), well tough noogies, you’re locked out of fully completing this game.

If you’re the type of person who loves ARGs and assembling pieces of a Rosetta Stone while you explore environments, then you should stop reading right now and go give Fez all your money. If you’re like me, and prefer to watch Tom Hanks solve the Da Vinci Code rather than do the work yourself, then you’re probably going to be less impressed with Fez. It’s not a bad game, but it’s certainly not the Indie masterpiece that 5 years of hype may have let you believe.

(Also, the “normal” ending to this game is predictably very abstract with a pretentious tone. If you’re expecting any insightful, life-changing revelations from playing through Fez, you’d get more answers from the Mass Effect 3 ending than this game.)


Spike Video Game Awards 2010 Retro Diary

Did you know that each December, Spike TV hosts a Video Games Awards show?

No? Well, I wouldn’t blame you. I’ve been mortified by the show each year by the sheer amount of pure awkwardness crammed into a two hour time period. It’s a delicious blend of Hollywood celebrities who are clearly paid an appearance fee to read poorly written teleprompter lines and games developers who are thrust into an environment where they have to act like charismatic celebrities.

As a games connoisseur, the awards themselves tend to offend me because they’re not something I give a crap about. “Best Performance By A Human Male”? Come on. That’s just an excuse to bandy about names like Martin Sheen and Gary Oldman because someone paid them a princely sum to come read some lines for a video games. It’s like giving an Oscar for “Biggest Name Bought For A Movie.”

Since the awards show is usually held in Los Angeles (this year it was at the convention center downtown), we thought it might be fun to do a little running diary for the live telecast. However, as both you and I had better things to do this past Saturday night, this will be a retro diary as I watch the telecast from my DVR.

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