It is that time of year again when I list my favorite movies and then have my sexuality questioned for my choices! 2012 was an incredible year for movies and I feel like it is going to go down in history as one of the great years. If you were to look around at last year’s best of lists you will find a fairly eclectic and varied collection of films because there were just that many great films this year. This might have been one of the most difficult lists to do for this same reason.
Before I get to my list, I have to point out that it is a list of my favorites and not ‘the best’ which is an important distinction because this has more to do with how I reacted to these movies and what they left me with rather than me trying to dictate to others what the objective best is when such an attempt would be a fool’s errand. Obviously I have not see everything released this year but this list comes from an overall list of 76 films I have seen this year. Out of all of those there was a staggering number that were very good and it is brutal to have to trim all those down to 10 favorites. There are so many excellent movies this year I may post an 11-20 just to help me sleep a little better at night. Again, these are my favorites and not a definitive best/worst of any kind. I also do not discriminate against genre pictures so you aren’t going to find a list of nothing but awards season or art pictures. If you want to contribute with your own list and debate choices feel free to do so in the comments section. Please remember that my favorite movie list does not make me a virgin or change my sexual orientation any and if you find yourself angry enough to spew hate about differences opinion you should seek professional help. Moving on…
10. 21 Jump Street
An incredible surprise, 21 Jump Street offers up a hilarious take not just on the original 80′s show but also buddy cop movies in general. The movie fully acknowledges the silliness in both cop movies and remakes and then embraces both with open arms while still managing to have some heart at the center of it all. The script is great, the performances, particularly from Channing Tatum, are right where they should be and the movie hits on all cylinders. 21 Jump Street also features some of the best cameos ever for this type of movie so that is something as well.
9. Moonrise Kingdom
While impenetrable to those who don’t care for Wes Anderson’s style, Moonrise Kingdom is a funny and touching love story that deals with the innocence of youth and the intensity of young love. It is quirky and stylisitic in typical Anderson fashion and boasts excellent performances from both of the leads as well as a stellar mixture of Anderson mainstays and new comers. It is hard to place in the over all catalog of Wes Anderson films without seeing how it ages, but Moonrise Kingdom is a worthy entry and should not be missed by the director’s fans.
8. The Cabin in the Woods
Directed by Drew Goddard and co-written by Joss Whedon, the Cabin in the Woods is a masterpiece of horror deconstruction that takes the genre and lays it bear while at the same time lovingly embracing it. This is not a cynical attempt to disprove the genre but rather a love letter that adores it for everything it is, flaws included. At once hilarious, intriguing, and exciting with enough gore to satisfy any horror fan the Cabin in the Woods eschews expectations for something so much better. Those looking for straightforward horror with no winks or irony should look elsewhere but for hardcore horror fans who like to get deep in the vagaries of what horror is, there is nothing better.
7. The Avengers
Another Joss Whedon entry, The Avengers is the culmination of years worth of Marvel super hero movies that brings them all together for one big adventure. Ignoring for a moment the strength of the writing, the performances and the incredible action, it is an amazing feat that this movie was pulled off at all. That the Herculean juggling act was as successful as it was is nothing short of a miracle. Comics fans have never dreamed that they could have all these characters on the screen in the same movie and it felt more like a living breathing comic universe than anything we have seen previously. While there are probably better comic book movies, there may not be a better super hero movie and that is pretty amazing given just how high the odds were stacked against it.
6. End of Watch
The most criminally underrated movie of the year, End of Watch is an intense and compelling film about the day to day lives of a couple of cops. While some may be turned off by the partial found footage conceit of the movie, it goes deeper into the characters than the typical cop movie does and you feel like you really get to know them. It isn’t just a collection of busts and shoot outs and that is very refreshing. Also refreshing is the fact that they are good cops. There is no dark side to the guys or corruption to maneuver it is just a frank and revealing look at what these guys go through and what their lives are like. The performances are excellent and the direction from David Ayer is equally excellent. End of Watch sucks you in and hits you right in your emotional gut.
5. Les Miserables
A film version of the stage musical, Les Miserables is a stunning achievement that is as moving as it is heartbreaking. With stunning vocal performances, the film feels more like an opera as there is very little spoken dialog and it is amazing how well the performances are conveyed on screen without feeling at all stagebound. It is a sweeping epic of a film with gorgeous sets and landscapes that soar as high as the voices of the performers. Singing in camera, the performances are not canned and you are not watching lip syncing giving you the best combination of a film and stage musical imaginable. The songs are beautiful and the story is as breathtaking as any I have ever seen. Anne Hathaway, in particular, is brutally excellent in a performance that will leave you in tears. Even if you don’t think you are into musicals you owe it to yourself to experience this film. And besides, where else are you going to see Wolverine, Catwoman, the Gladiator and Borat singing together?
4. Silver Lingings Playbook
Probably one of the most poorly marketed films I have ever seen, I initially had no interest in seeing what looked in the trailers like a mindless romantic comedy. What I got was a deep and brutal look at the challenges of mental illness and what that does to families and friends. The movie is certainly funny at times and there is romance in its way but Silver Linings Playbook has a lot to say and says it very well. Bolstered by tremendous performances by Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook goes places most films can’t or won’t go with mental illness and shows it how it is. I have honestly never seen a more accurate portrayal of the manic phases of Bi-polar Disorder on film ever. This movie manages to be both horrifying and uplifting and does both without ever feeling manipulative. In any other year, this would have been my favorite film. It is a testament to how strong of a year it was that it is number four.
3. Life of Pi
A triumphant return to form for Ang Lee, Life of Pi is a wonderful film that presents a grand adventure fraught with danger and a spiritual center that brings it all together. The story of a boy who survives the sinking of the cargo ship he and his family were riding on by sharing a life boat with a tiger, Life of Pi is a rare film that can tackle religion and spirituality without ever feeling preachy or overbearing. The effects are absolutely incredible as the animals are CG but the audience would never be able to tell. Offered in 3D, this is one of the few films to really make the illusion worthwhile. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the film and I left blown away and edified in a way I haven’t been since 2006′s the Fall.
A historical drama about the rescue of American diplomatic personnel hiding with a Canadian ambassador in Iran in 1979, Argo is funny, suspenseful, and engaging and manages to do these things all that the same time. Directed by and starring Ben Affleck, the film takes a historical incident that has an ending that is well known and makes it a tense thriller that will have the viewer gripping his or her seat. Knowing how it all turns out is not a roadblock for Affleck as the final 20 minutes of the film are so tense that I am not sure the audience in my screening were actually breathing. Affleck is smart enough to know that with stakes and tension this high you need a pressure valve and he deftly weaves humor through the story in the appropriate places to give the audience some room to breathe before the next gripping moment starts to close in. I love Affleck as a director and he knocks it out of the park here.
1. Django Unchained
As satisfying of a revenge tale as I have ever seen, Quentin Tarantino brings the flavor of the Italian spaghetti western to the south in a story of a slave turned bounty hunter who goes up against a ruthless plantation owner to rescue his wife. Tarantino is a master at elevating genre and here uses the over the top action and extreme violence of the spaghetti western to ground the larger issues of slavery and racism. Through this prism Tarantino can highlight the horrors of the time after drawing the audience in with humor and cartoonish action. This is a hard hitting best of both worlds effort that delivers more than it promises and does so with terrific performances from all its principles. Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio stand out in an excellent cast that never stumbles. I would change nothing at all about Django Unchained and it is yet another superlative entry into the Tarantino library.
Alright so there it is. Again, there were so many excellent movies this year that this list was painful to put together as there are so many worth mentioning and the order of these is a loose one that could change pretty easily depending on mood. I may do a list of 11 through 20 but if not honorable mentions include Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, the Hobbit, Perks of Being A Wallflower and the Dark Knight Rises. Let me know in the comments if you agree or disagree so long as you keep it classy and if you disagree please show us your list. It is just more fun that way.