2012 was a great year for movies. There were some gems and then there was John Carter. The less said about that one the better. I haven’t been a particularly big fan of the Oscar movies this year with the exception of Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, and Life of Pi. And there were certainly some shocking omissions. Not a single nod for The Dark Knight Rises, really? There were some truly polarizing films this year that couldn’t quite stand up to the nitpicky nerds who have nothing better to do than find every conceivable plot hole and inconsistency in every summer blockbuster. There were so many good movies this year it didn’t take much effort to come up with a solid list of 20 movies worth seeing. I’m not sure if this list accurately reflects the word “best” but these are certainly my favorite movies of the year. Here’s hoping 2013 is even better.
1) The Dark Knight Rises (dir. Christopher Nolan)
The only movie I saw three times in the theater was “The Dark Knight Rises.” The concluding chapter of the immensely popular Batman trilogy is soaring and rousing closing chapter and caps off the series in a tremendously satisfying way. Although, I realize, not exactly to everyone. Much has been said about various plot holes and some implausibility but with a movie this entertaining that stuff doesn’t really matter. Any movie that followed the success of “The Dark Knight” was bound to be scrutinized under a microscope. This movie worked on every level for me, it belongs on such a great scope that it just feels epic. As the final chapter it feels like there’s so much more at stake. The finale was so exciting and thrilling and an ending so pleasing I can’t help but want to watch it again and again.
2) Argo (dir. Ben Affleck)
Ben Affleck has become a creative force to be reckoned with. This is his third feature film and it’s the third time his films have my year end list. “Argo” is arguably his best film, and it’s a film deserving of all the praise and awards its been honored with. “Argo” tells the true story about the CIA’s mission to help American hostages escape from Iran in the 1970s. The film is taut and thrilling and actually very funny. It’s sort of a strange mix of “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Munich.” The film’s highly praiseworthy 70s style and aesthetic is simply marvelous. You’d swear this was a film made at the height of the American New Wave. And it’s the best of the Oscar-nominated bunch.
3) Prometheus (dir. Ridley Scott)
Ridley Scott triumphantly returned to sci-fi filmmaking with this long gestating project that changed form just as many times as the alien creature that inspired it. It began as an “Alien” prequel, morphed into its own entity, and then sort of morphed back into an “Alien” prequel again. The story follows scientists on an otherworldly mission to discover the creation of humanity. But there are a few bumps along the way as they begin to breed a new life form of their own. Starring Noomi Rapace in a strong female lead ala Ripley, she’s destined to discover the creators of man and ends up giving birth to her own disgusting creature in the film’s most disturbing sequences that will certainly be remembered for years to come. It’s a film that refuses to answer all your questions and is as provocative as it is engaging and beautiful.
4) The Impossible (dir. Juan Antonio Bayona)
This impeccably crafted disaster drama is based on a real family’s ordeal during the terrible 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The wave killed thousands and thousands of people. Bayona has meticulously recreated the events in an equally horrifying and impressive way. It’s not always the easiest film to watch but it’s simply intoxicating. The performances are outstanding especially Oscar-nominee Naomi Watts and a young Tom Holland playing her eldest son. The two share a fascinating screen presence as mother and child who refuse to give up hope of reuniting with the rest of their family. A truly gripping, realistic, and rewarding cinematic experience.
5) Frankenweenie (dir. Tim Burton)
Tim Burton returns to stop-motion animation with a vengeance with this stylish gothic tale about a boy so attached to his loving dog that he tries to revive it Frankenstein-style after its hit by a car. This wonderfully fun and quirky tale, filled with Burton’s trademarked weirdness, is shot in glorious black and white with lovingly created bizarre characters and a fun story about the power of friendship between boy and dog. This is arguably one of the most quintessentially Tim Burton-esque films the auteur has directed since 2007’s Sweeney Todd and certainly one of the most purely delightful.
6) Looper (dir. Rian Johnson)
What a truly original, thought-provoking, and entertaining movie this is. Those are the elements the best science-fiction films have to offer and Looper is no exception. Taking place in the future where time travel has been invented but quickly outlawed, goons send hits back in time where “Loopers” kill them and dispose of them. Eventually they’re forced to “close their loop” but killing the older version of themselves. Joseph Gordon-Levitt comes face-to-face with his older self, played by Bruce Willis, who goes on the run. The film features terrific performances and effects – it’s truly destined to be a modern sci-fi classic.
7) Skyfall (dir. Sam Mendes)
Who would of thought British stage director turned art-house film director Sam Mendes would be what the James Bond series needed oh so badly? One of the best movies in the long running spy series, “Skyfall” features terrific action, character development, and emotion – the later two nearly a first for the series. The film has the cojones to kill off Bond before the end credits – don’t worry he’s not really dead – and features a wickedly good turn by Javier Bardem as one of the series most charismatic and insane bad guys. Judi Dench gives a wonderfully emotional performance as M, who actually - surprise - turns out to be one of the best Bond girls ever. I was enthralled the entire time; it gives long time fans hope that the series will endure another fifty years of movies equally as good.
8) Ted (dir. Seth McFarlane)
Easily the funniest comedy of the year (with 21 Jump Street a surprising close second). This wickedly funny and smart high concept comedy from the mind of the guy who created TV’s Family Guy, invites us to believe in the story of a man and his real-life best friend teddy bear. A child’s wish is apparently a powerful thing in this film as it turns a boy’s teddy bear alive. The talking bear quickly becomes an international sensation and then becomes a has-been. As an adult Ted (voiced by McFarlane) is still best buds with his human counterpart played by Mark Wahlberg who begins to drive a wedge between him and his girlfriend played by Mila Kunis. This movie is filled to the brim with filthy scatological humor and it’s freaking hilarious. The movie has fun with typical genre conventions but it does take itself seriously enough that you don’t realize just how quickly you become invested in Ted as a real character (and some really nifty CGI effects help).
9) Sinister (dir. Scott Derrickson)
It just wouldn’t be my top ten list without a great horror movie making it on here. I’ll admit that 2012 was not a very good year for horror. But it did produce a very scary film that is on the level of last years Insidious. “Sinister” is an odd hybrid of “found footage movie,” “ghost story movie,” and “murder mystery.” A true crime writer moves his family into the house where strange murders had previously occurred (bad idea) and then he finds reels of the most disturbing home movie footage you’ve ever seen in you live. Welcome to America’s Scariest Home Videos. There are some truly warrant scares here and the film’s story never quite goes where you expect it. Truly fun stuff for fans of the genre.
10) The Hunger Games (dir. Gary Ross)
Let’s credit director Gary Ross, who made the wonderful fantasies “Big” and “Pleasantville” for making The Hunger Games work as a thrilling and exciting film. It’s story is essentially for adults: in a dystopian future teenagers are forced to kill each other as part of a sadistic reality show. Yet this is somehow a popular young adult novel that young girls seem to fawn over as if it had teenage vampires in it. It has way more in common with “Battle Royale” and “Series 7: The Contenders” than “Twilight.” This is a no-holds-barred science-fiction thriller that simply amazes. Jennifer Lawrence gives one of two great performances this year as Katniss who volunteers to take part in the “Hunger Games” to save her sister’s life. Everything about this world is fascinating from the clothing to the architecture to the disturbing way the bourgeois leaders pimp the children and teenagers out as they prepare to fight to the death. It’s still bizarre to me that it has such a strong following for such a young demographic, but it was disturbing and dare I say and rather fun; and it’s as far from the quality of Twilight as you could ever imagine.
11) Life of Pi – Beautiful photography and stunning visuals. One of the most emotionally rewarding films of the year.
12) Wreck-It Ralph – Truly original and classic. A wonderful nod to nostalgia with terrific animation. How is this not a Pixar film?
13) Django Unchained – Tarantino’s bloody good time revenge Western. Gripping, with some truly memorable performances and moments.
14) ParaNorman – A great year for animation includes this wildly fun stop-motion animated tribute to the horror genre.
15) Silver Linings Playbook – A fun, quirky, and ultimately uplifting romantic comedy with really likeable performances.
16) 21 Jump Street – Destined to fail, this surprisingly hilarious comedy is another win for nostalgia.
17) Wanderlust – A criminally underrated romp from the hilarious Wet Hot American Summer weirdoes.
18) The Amazing Spider-Man – A fun and thrilling, if slightly unnecessary, summer blockbuster. But it’s definitely worthy of the Amazing in its title.
19) Hitchcock – A great behind-the-scenes look at the Master of Suspense’s making of Psycho. Truly rewarding for Hitchcock fans.
20) Killer Joe – A completely bizarre and disturbing thriller. Exactly what you’d expect from William Friedkin.
And a tribute to 2012 in film:
And a tribute to 2012 in film: