The Ten Best Geek Movies of 2012
And into the breach I step.
It was not just a strong year for genre movies, but a year in which all types of filmed entertainment borrowed heavily from the geek worlds, with an Anna Karenina set in a TARDIS-like theater of infinite inside space, and an Oscar-favorite procedural about a CIA analyst whose obsession with minute details and lack of a love life contributed to her finding Osama bin Laden. It was a year where some our favorite properties swung for the fences and hit, like The Avengers with Joss Whedon, while others, such as John Carter, went all in and lost the house. It was a year when – regardless what you think of the final outcome – Rupert Murdoch’s company gave Ridley Scott a couple hundred million to make a movie that says God doesn’t exist, but rather we were created by pissed-off albinos to incubate their weapons of mass destruction. Plotholes aside, I like living in a media world that permits such things. It was also a year when geek franchises from the ’60s – Bond and Avengers – got an upgrade, and gamers came of filmmaking age.
We may at times – okay, often – argue about what “geek” is, and there might be one or two entries on the list that allow for a more expansive notion. But this is a focused top ten – you won’t see, for example, Michael Haneke’s Amour on this list, though it would easily make it on a comprehensive one. And when you get to my number one, I’m fairly sure most of you will scratch your head (I would have, too, had not it been called to my attention at the last minute). Just bear in mind: this is not about box office or outside acclaim, but about my assessments. If you disagree with them, do the opposite of what I say every time and you’ll be good to go.
10. Wreck-It Ralph.
On the one hand, yes, this does follow a classic Disney formula of the outsider finding acceptance and a new family. On the other, it’s so loaded with gamer in-jokes that my former editor suggested it should be called “Easter Egg: The Movie.” Any cartoon that can incorporate the classic NES cheat code and a kill screen at the end of the credits deserves our kudos.
A canny reversal of zombie cliches (the undead are more scared of us than vice versa), a genuinely scary and temperamental witch, and the metaphor of psychic powers as a stand-in for nerddom. Yes, Norman’s obsessed with toys and collectibles – because it’s his way of dealing with his day-to-day ghostly conversations. Now, if only the merchandising department would actually make some of that cool swag Norman has in his room…
8. The Cabin in the Woods.
One of two movies this year that changed my opinion of Joss Whedon, and you can probably guess what the other one is. I’ve always appreciated that the man has talent at telling a tale, yet could rarely get passed his cooler-than-thou dialogue – Buffy’s teens always sounded to me like middle-aged Nerdist podcasters, while Firefly’s predictions of more-complicated-than-necessary sentences never rang true. But with this spot-on satire of basically every modern horror movie ever made (at once!) he won my heart. Talk away.
7. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Take the Lord of the Rings formula, apply it to a book I prefer, add humor, a better theme tune and some radically new and ultra-clear visuals…I’m in. Make it into five movies if you like, Peter Jackson. As long as they’re all as fun as this.
6. Robot and Frank.
Some good old science fiction of ideas here, in more of a literary tradition than a comic-book one. Frank (Frank Langella) is a retired thief with dementia. When he’s given a robot assistant (voice of Peter Sarsgaard), the machine logically determines that his mental health will recover if he does something he’s especially good at – so it proceeds to help him be a burglar again. Funny and devastating in equal measure; one moment in particular makes the reality of dementia sink in like a sudden anvil to the forehead. But ultimately, the fact that it’s Frank Langella and a robot ought to be enough to get you to check it out.