Top 10 Films of 2012
Another year has passed us by, which means it is time once again to look back and select ten films that made me swoon and will likely stand the test of time as a result. In all I saw just over 50 films that were released in the calendar year 2012 so without further ado, here are the ten that came out on top for me.
10. Hitchcock Perhaps no other film this year tickled my love of cinema history more than director Sacha Gervasi’s look at the making of Psycho. The film isn’t particularly hard-hitting and probably not even close to being 100% accurate but it remains 1000% fun in no small part thanks to Anthony Hopkins’ sterling performance as the world’s greatest filmmaker, Alfred Hitchcock. Hopkins loses himself completely in the role with a perfect blend of humor, sadness, and psychosis. And not to be outdone is Helen Mirren as Hitchcock’s wife and partner in filmmaking, Alma Reville, who opens our eyes to life behind the scenes with the Master of Suspense. This is a total powder puff of a movie, but its one that still has me grinning from ear to movie geek ear.
9. End of Watch I initially walked into End of Watch with the eye-rolling attitude of “Here comes yet another buddy cop movie…” but came out completely blown away by what I had just seen. The friendship that is built on screen between Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena is so potent and believable that if you’re not sobbing by the end of this flick there may in fact be something wrong with you. Some of the film’s use of the “found footage” concept is questionable but that point becomes moot as the plot builds and the horrors of the dark side of Los Angeles come to bear. This is truly worth the attention it never got.
8. The Dark Knight Rises Christopher Nolan’s third and final entry into his outstanding Batman trilogy came into theaters under the cloud of tragedy but when the dust settled a truly masterful film remained. In many ways this is a film that requires multiple viewings for its true greatness to be revealed. Upon first viewing it is almost overwhelming with an abundance of characters, motivations, and consequences but with subsequent viewings Nolan’s different layers peel away leaving a film that is vastly rich and ripe for analysis. The year’s other big superhero flick, The Avengers (which I had an absolute blast with), ultimately doesn’t hold up as well as Nolan’s finale on multiple viewings and doesn’t make it onto this list for that reason alone.
7. Lincoln Steven Spielberg made an appearance on my list year with the old fashioned but charming War Horse, but this year I find myself honoring him for a film that is much more impressive due to the sheer level of maturity on display. Daniel Day-Lewis leads the charge in a masterful performance as our 16th president trying to end both slavery as well as the Civil War. He is supported though with strong performances from Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, James Spader and a great script from Tony Kushner who makes the slave debate both understandable and engaging. Hands down Spielberg’s best film since Munich.
6. Argo Ben Affleck wowed us again this year with this humorous and tension-filled tale about the Iran hostage crisis and the brave extraction of a small group of diplomats hiding in the Canadian ambassador’s house. Affleck perfectly balances the inherent humor of the CIA’s sci-fi movie cover story and the horror of the consequences if they are caught and proves once again that he is a directing force to be reckoned with. For confirmation of this check out the film’s climax at the Tehran airport. You will be on the edge of your seat without question.
5. Beasts of the Southern Wild My list thus far has been dominated with fairly big films from big directors with big budgets but one of the most powerful films of the year actually came from a first time director with a miniscule budget. The world depicted in Benh Zeitlin’s film manages to both be stunningly real and fantastical all at once thanks to the charming performance of young Quvenzhane Wallis as Hushpuppy who acts as our tourguide through life on the other side of the levee. The way she sees the world is all at once beautiful, adorable, frightening, and poetic. In a nutshell, it will leave you speechless. In fact, the entire cast of unknowns plays their roles with such realism that you’ll be convinced you’re watching the most engaging documentary of all time. It is magical.
4. The Master I am an unabashed fan of director Paul Thomas Anderson and his latest effort did nothing less than blow me away. With gorgeous cinematography and spell-binding performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman I was riveted from the first frame to the very last. Watching Hoffman attempt to tame and control the uncontrollable Phoenix was a treat that I couldn’t get enough of and Anderson directs it all with such steady power that demands attention as well as respect.
3. Skyfall It is no secret that I have been and always will be a life-long James Bond fan, but nothing had quite prepared me for how much I was going to love Skyfall. With the steady and stylish direction of Sam Mendes and another perfect turn by Daniel Craig as 007 the series was able to break fresh ground in terms of plotting and characterization while also bringing back classic elements like Q and Miss Moneypenny much to my delight. Javier Bardem gave us a classic Bond villain unlike any that came before him and Judi Dench gave an award worthy performance in her final turn as Bond’s boss, M. For a series that’s already been around for 50 years this is a promising start for another half century.
2. Zero Dark Thirty The hunt for Osama bin Laden is something that consumed our country’s intelligence efforts for nearly ten years and ultimately ended with the real life villain’s demise at the hands of Navy Seals. This effort is depicted with stunning realism and tension by director Kathryn Bigelow in Zero Dark Thirty, a film of masterful quality that has been unfortunately distracted by hard-headed (and misguided) discussions of its political stance on torture. Films fans who are able to look past the rhetoric and just revel in great filmmaking will be in for a great treat as Jessica Chastain gives the female performance of the year, which happens to include the delivery of my favorite line of the year. You’ll know it when you hear it…
1. Django Unchained And finally we come to the top of the list and I should not be surprised that Quentin Tarantino’s latest cinematic masterpiece finds itself in that position. Tarantino has a knack for pulling together films that bowl me over with their genre-bending mix of humor, action, and fantastic dialogue and this one was no different. In tackling the subject of America’s horrific history of slavery Tarantino lays bare the grim reality of life for African Americans before the Civil War as well as the ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy for those who abhor the practice past and present. By turning the fantastical revenge element into a blood-splattered action spectacle Tarantino may lose some viewers who think the subject should only be dealt with in the utmost seriousness, but those who prefer to indulge in the glorified cinema of what-could-have-been will find themselves in movie heaven. Career-topping performances from Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, and Leonardo DiCaprio along with yet another perfect Tarantino soundtrack certainly put me on Cloud 9 while watching this and I hope you’d like to join me because I plan on revisiting that place as often as possible.
Honorable Mentions: Here are some films that just barely missed the cut and are definitely worth your time: Moonrise Kingdom, The Avengers, The Raid: Redemption, Looper, Prometheus, and Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope.
The Not-As-Good-As-You’ve-Been-Lead-to-Believe List: The following flicks were far from terrible and in some cases are pretty darn good but not worthy of the hoopla they seem to be garnering this awards season: Silver Linings Playbook, Les Miserables, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Life of Pi.
The Shit List: I wouldn’t dare call any movie the worst of the year since I know I avoided 10 movies far worse than every bad movie I saw but these flicks were certainly enough to make me slap my forehead and pray for it to end soon: Butter, Wrath of the Titans, Snow White and the Huntsman, The Watch, and The Tall Man.
Images courtesy of Andrew Cooper, SMPSP, The Weinstein Company, Suzanne Tenner, and Fox Searchlight.