My Top 10 Films of 2012

On Monday I will publish my extensive list of every single 2012 film I saw with a full ranking from first to last (which is currently somewhere around 90). I make that list every year and usually allow that to account for the obligatory “top ten list” that every movie website is required to publish. But since loads of people have been pining for an official list this year (read: “one guy casually asked if I was going to do one and then immediately stopped listening to me”), I bit the bullet and bought even further into the list making madness. A word on these rankings: Favoritism plays a part. In years past, films like The Muppets and MacGruber have made their way into my top 10 and while I stand wholeheartedly behind those picks (MacGruber is a comedic masterpiece), I would never include those films in the Best Picture discussion were I given a vote in the Academy Awards (or Golden Globes, or Critics Choice, or BAFTAS, or whoever else would like to give me a vote). Rewatchability has a say in these factors so while Midnight in Paris is probably a better film than The Muppets (and it did receive a nomination), The Muppets made my top 10 and Midnight in Paris did not. Blockbusters and popcorn films have their place in this world and as an unashamed fan of those films, they often find a place in my top ten, even if I wouldn’t necessarily consider them Oscar contenders. That said, 2012 was a particularly strong year for high quality blockbusters and as such, I’m moderately confident that nine of these ten films would have made my hypothetical Best Picture ballot (and the other wouldn’t qualify in the traditional sense). Take that as you will as we delve into my top ten films of the year.

Honorable Mention Wreck-It Ralph – John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer Lincoln – Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones In all seriousness I should make this list a Top 12 every year instead of the Top 10. It always seems like I go through physical pain in excluding about two films every year and this year is no different. Wreck-It Ralph was a true achievement in animated filmmaking, a Pixarian adventure wrapped up in a tidy Disney bow. I loved it and if I’m being honest I will probably watch it more times in the future than any other movie on this list. Lincoln loses points (and drops out of the top ten) for one reason and one reason only: rewatchability. It’s a tremendous film (and the favorite to win Best Picture given yesterday’s Oscar nominations) but it is one that I don’t imagine I’ll want to take in many more times.

10. Moonrise Kingdom – Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis When I first set out to put this list together last week, Moonrise Kingdom was on the outside looking in and suffered from having been pushed back in my memory by all the great films that dominated the end of this year. But I watched it again this week and was reminded of what an utterly joyous experience it really is. The dialogue is absolutely EXQUISITE and the charm of the young leads is undeniable. I am of the opinion that Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson’s best film to date and that, my friends, is saying something.

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild – Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry I have been championing this film since I first saw it back in July and I’m so glad to see the love it has been getting from the award committees. My excitement about most films tends to level off a bit over time with more viewings and more time to consider their merits. Beasts is the rare film that actually got better over time. It stuck with me for a week after seeing it and I legitimately spent time wrestling with it before coming out feeling like it was a tremendous achievement. Wallis, a tiny Oscar nominee for Best Actress, gives perhaps the year’s most gut-wrenchingly sobering performance of the year. I implore you to seek Beasts out.

8. Looper – Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt A young director with a vision, a tremendous and dedicated cast, and probably the year’s best concept equals out to a straight-up awesome movie. Looper is bold, sci-fi filmmaking at its best and prompted me to declare this era as a golden age for sci-fi. The performances are fantastic as JGL and Willis match each other perfectly and the script should have been nominated for an Oscar. Maybe best of all, Looper stands out as an example of great marketing as the trailers gave the viewer a taste of what to expect but kept a key plot point completely out of all the ads. Great, great piece of work.

7. The Other Dream Team – Arvydas Sabonis, Sarunas Marciulionis, Rimas Kurtinaitis I have a great love for documentaries but this is the first one to make my top ten in a given year since It Might Get Loud grabbed the top spot in 2009. The Other Dream Team represents what a friend of mine refers to as “Stolen Moments”: those little unexpected moments in life where you get to be a part of something spectacular. In this instance, some friends and I were able to see this inspiring little film at a screening attended by the filmmakers and some of the people featured in the film. It’s a beautiful film and one that resonates on a number of levels. 

6. Skyfall – Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench I confess that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the James Bond franchise. I’m slowly making my way through the entire catalog and I’m still having trouble differentiating between some of the earlier films. Skyfall, though, stands out in a class all its own. It has everything you want from a Bond film: spectacular action, pithy dialogue, and a great villain to push our hero. Skyfall also came equipped with a dynamic script and some of the best camera work of any film this year. For me, this is the best Bond movie to date and the first one that I want to watch over and over again.

5. The Dark Knight Rises – Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy I walked out of my midnight viewing of TDKR completely blown away and was so disappointed to see the backlash it received from critics and fanboys alike. I confess you haters had me doubting my judgment. So I went back and watched it again last week and reaffirmed my initial feeling: this movie is great. GREAT. Maybe it doesn’t live up to the standard of The Dark Knight but come on, that’s the best superhero movie of all-time so it would be unfair to expect such a lofty feat. I found this film to be incredibly satisfying and packed with emotions. I think The Dark Knight Rises is phenomenal and I’ll hear no further arguments to the contrary.

4. The Avengers – Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans The Avengers tops The Dark Knight Rises thanks to the all important element of sheer entertainment. If I’m being truthful I think TDKR is a better film but dadgumit, The Avengers is fun to watch. It’s also a very smart film, especially for a mega-blockbuster of this caliber and the fact that Joss Whedon (and really everyone involved with the Marvel franchise) was able to pull it altogether into a movie that was not only a huge hit with audiences but also an almost unprecedented level of critical acclaim. Kudos, too, to Whedon and his team for finally casting the right guy to play The Hulk and giving that character the treatment he deserves.

3. Django Unchained – Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonard DiCaprio To tackle the subject matter that Quentin Tarantino dove into is an accomplishment in and of itself. To do so while simultaneously making your movie one of the funniest of the year is another thing entirely. Django Unchained is one of the finest examples of screenwriting that 2012 has to offer and puts Tarantino’s boldness on full display. Moreover, Django features some of this year’s most memorable performances and despite the fact that only Waltz received an Oscar nomination, all of the main actors involved with this film were deserving of the award. Simply put, this is just a ridiculously well-crafted film that was only a step or two shy of becoming a masterpiece.

2. Argo – Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, Scoot McNairy I wrestled with the order of these final two films for a long time and to tell you the truth I’m still not sure that this is right. Regardless, Argo is one of those films that leaves such an impression on you that you never forget the first time you saw it. Very few films are able to keep the intensity going the way Argo does to the point that when the film finally reached its conclusion I took a deep breath and felt as if I hadn’t breathed in two hours. The pacing is PERFECT and I think the entire cast was absolutely spot on. And there are a ton of little details that Affleck and his crew nailed in an effort to make the movie as real and lifelike as possible. It’s a brilliant film that may very well be the best of the year…

1. Zero Dark Thirty – Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Chris Pratt But, for now at least, the top spot belongs to the film that is freshest in my mind and therefore has an unfair advantage. Sorry, Argo. There are any number of things that I could point out regarding the excellence of Zero Dark Thirty but I think the master stroke is Kathryn Bigelow’s ability to make the story personal without playing on artificial emotions. There’s nothing manufactured about what this movie is able to do and SO MUCH of its success depends solely on the performance of Jessica Chastain who handles this conundrum by giving us what I consider to be the year’s best portrayal. It’s a hard-hitting, intense, and expertly crafted film and one that I will never forget. Brilliant work by every single person involved.