Before the Academy announces its nominations for 2012, it's our turn to honor the best of the year.
The Gold Knight presents our Top 10 films of 2012. Deciding on a single set of 10 films that are the "best" is subjective. Because of this, our correspondents, along with editor James A. Molnar, will present their own lists.
Please share your thoughts on our Top 10 lists by commenting on this post, on Facebook or by interacting with us on Twitter. We would also like to see your Top 10 lists. Share below. (Find our past Top 10 lists here: 2011 and 2010.)
10. “Anna Karenina”
Joe Wright's adaptation of "Anna Karenina" offers a dazzling vision of Tolstoy's novel that frames the story as being less about love and more about lust. Setting the majority of the film inside a theater provides for a lot of unique visual tricks and gorgeous cinematography, and it's hard not to be swept away by the beauty of it all. Keira Knightley is excellent as the conflicted Anna, while Jude Law effectively kicks off a new chapter of his career as her stern husband Alexei (in another, better world, Law might have once played Anna's lover Vronsky, who as portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a weak spot in the film).
9. “Cloud Atlas”
"Cloud Atlas" is a large, sprawling movie that attempts to do a lot of different things over the course of 172 minutes and, shockingly, mostly pulls it off. The six stories it tells are sometimes only barely related to one another, yet upon repeat viewings it becomes easier to pick up on the recurring emotional themes that bond them all together. Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski's film didn't exactly light up the box office, but hopefully it will gain a respectable cult audience in the years to come.
8. “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Haters gonna hate, but in 2012 it was harder to find a more fully realized (and polarizing) debut feature than Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild." Young Quvenzhané Wallis' performance as six-year-old Hushpuppy anchors the film within the magical realist environment of "the Bathtub," a post-Katrina-esque environment filled with giant monsters and bigger storms. The film is a tribute to the communal spirit (both in front of and behind the camera) and a bold promise of young, future talents in both Zeitlin and Wallis.
7. “Holy Motors”
Leos Carax's first feature film since 1999 is pretentious as hell and is simultaneously about everything and nothing at the same time. And yet, it's hard not to admire his achievement, a film that's crazier than "Cloud Atlas" with one of the strangest and most committed performances of the year in Denis Lavant. Watching him eat Eva Mendes' hair, then act out a deathbed scene worthy of "Amour," then star in a musical alongside Kylie Minogue is absolutely fascinating.
Proof that Ben Affleck just keeps getting better and better as a filmmaker. "Argo" is a tense thriller that offers up some of the most suspenseful scenes of the year in spite of the fact that we know how it ends already. The film is filled with great performances from actors you might recognize but not be able to name, and the plan to rescue the American hostages is crazy enough that it would be hard to believe if it weren't true.
Michael Haneke is not a filmmaker known for his restraint, and indeed "Amour" portrays the final stage of life in unflinching detail. Yet, the effect is less cold and calculated than in his other films and achieves a greater emotional resonance. Emmanuelle Riva is heartbreaking as Anne, an octogenarian who suffers a stroke, while Jean-Louis Trintignant is excellent as her dedicated husband George. The power of the film is that it relates an event that we all must encounter in our lives. "Amour" is like a litmus test for your feelings on love confronting death: whether you choose to find the film disturbing or touching is strictly up to you.
After first seeing the trailer for Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," it was hard not to roll your eyes at just how boring the thing looked. So it turned out to be a pleasant surprise that the film was less a "rah rah Lincoln" piece than an exploration of the politics that helped pass the Thirteenth Amendment. Daniel Day-Lewis disappears into the role of Lincoln, providing a performance that will likely define the famous president for years to come. Tommy Lee Jones is also great as abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. It's refreshing to see a representation of 19th-century politics that avoids being stodgy, yet somewhat disheartening to reflect upon on how little has changed since the 1860s.
3. “Django Unchained”
Quentin Tarantino gives us an "Inglourious Basterds" style takedown of the Old South in his latest bloody offering. "Django Unchained" is a blaxploitation spaghetti Western like nothing else you've seen before, thoroughly condemning the practice of slavery with shocking levels of violence (cotton has never been sprayed so artfully with blood). As the villainous Monsieur Candie, Leonardo DiCaprio practically steals the film from the other actors, but Tarantino assures that Jamie Foxx's Django will have the last word. Foxx also has great chemistry with Christoph Waltz as his bounty-hunting partner, Dr. King Schultz. Word is that Tarantino had a much longer cut of the film, and another entire movie about the adventures of Dr. King and Django doesn't seem like a bad idea at all.
2. “The Master”
No film in 2012 was more thought provoking than Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master." Whether you were infuriated or astonished by it, it was impossible not to have an opinion on the thing. First billed as a takedown of a Scientology type of religion, "The Master" turned out to be something far more difficult to pin down, a meditation on religion, masculinity and power. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman's first processing sequence might actually be the best scene of 2012, as each man progressively reveals more about himself while trying to maintain their power over the other. A lot of people left the film wondering, "Who is the master?" But I think the film's response to that question is "Does it matter?"
Could there ever have been any other number one? (Yes.) But honestly, Kathryn Bigelow's film is a bravura take on the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the price we all paid to get there. The film's depiction of torture has been one of the major talking points, with some proclaiming it offers a dangerous glorification of the practice. The CIA has also disputed the film's accuracy (only to find itself being investigated by the Senate Intelligence Committee for allegations of allowing filmmakers improper access to classified information). Regardless of whether or not the film is ultimately 100% accurate (and it's not because no film really ever is), "Zero Dark Thirty" is still the most thrilling film experience of the year. Jessica Chastain displays the wear of her decade long search in the final moments of the film, and it's really only then that we fully understand and question the sacrifices made. Was it all worth it? It's not the film's position to say. That answer is still unknown.
3. “Darling Companion”
Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline lose their dog in the mountains and learn to love again while searching for him. Lawrence Kasdan has made great films out of small plots before, but this is not one of them. A lot of talent goes to waste.
2. “Dark Shadows”
The biggest crime of Tim Burton's update of the 70s soap opera was just how plain boring it was. Johnny Depp provided some mild amusement as an occasionally ruthless vampire, but other than some nice production design, the whole thing was a flaccid affair.
1. “The Paperboy” (The Best Worst Movie of 2012)
Now by putting it at number one, I don't meant to imply that I would never want anyone to see Lee Daniels' follow-up to "Precious." On the contrary, I think everyone should see this thing. For these (slightly spoilery) reasons:
- The film is told in flashback by Macy Gray. Yes, that Macy Gray.
- Nicole Kidman and John Cusack give each other orgasms… with their minds.
- Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron's face.
- There is a murder mystery, but no one cares about it after the first hour.
- Matthew McConaughey gets into some weird S&M stuff.
- The film objectifies Zac Efron like "Transfomers" objectifies Megan Fox.
- For these, and many, many more reasons, "The Paperboy" is the best worst movie of 2012.
10. “Django Unchained”
A kick-ass, slam bang action movie featuring all the spot on dialogue and hyper-violence we’ve come to expect from Quentin Tarantino, "Django Unchained" is somehow both a love story and a bounty hunter movie, all set against the backdrop of slavery. And it’s NOT racist.
9. “Killing Them Softly”
"Killing Them Softly" is a not so subtle, but still very effective neo-noir thriller about gangsters doing gangster things. But the film’s comment on the link between thievery and the American financial crisis are what really make it stand out among the pack.
8. “Moonrise Kingdom”
Wes Anderson’s latest effort is also his most enjoyable. "Moonrise Kingdom" is a pastiche of nostalgia and young love, filmed beautifully and with a great eye for detail, as can be expected from the auteur.
Ben Affleck is proving himself to be an even better director than he is an actor. "Argo" is the most thrilling film of the year, but it’s true greatness comes from it’s willingness to never take itself too seriously.
6. “Miss Bala”
Gerardo Naranjo’s Mexican drug-trafficking movie got rave reviews on first release, but seems to have been largely forgotten now that we’re in awards season. "Miss Bala" is a terrifying film featuring a tour-de-force performance by Stephanie Sigman, who plays Laura, a beauty pageant contestant caught in the middle of a petrifying drug war.
5. “Magic Mike”
It was the year of Channing Tatum and Matthew Mcconaghey, and they both peaked with "Magic Mike." Probably the most fun I had at the movies this year, Steven Soderbergh’s “male stripper movie” is sexy, cool, tender-hearted and surprisingly deep.
4. “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
A tender, lovely film about hope and redemption and disaster, featuring the year’s best protagonist in six-year-old Hushpuppy, played by Quvenzhané Wallis, who deserves an Oscar nomination for her performance.
It was a great year for genre pictures, and "Looper" is probably the best one. It’s a creative masterpiece that flows from scene to scene with the type of originality we’ve come to expect from Rian Johnson, one of the most vital up-and-coming voices in American cinema.
Part horror, part sci-fi, part workplace comedy, "The Cabin in the Woods" is a feast for fans of any of those genres, and an immensely smart deconstruction of the way horror movies have eluded easy categorization within the American film world.
1. “The Master”
The strangest, most exasperating film of the year, Paul Thomas Anderson’s uncompromising exploration of the vulnerability of the human mind is also the boldest "filmic" vision of the year.
Honorable Mentions: "This Is 40," "Skyfall," "Life of Pi," "The Comedy," "Safety Not Guaranteed," "Bernie," "Sleepwalk With Me," "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," "Prometheus," "The Avengers," "Kill List" & "Damsels In Distress."
3. “Holy Motors”
A sumptuous feast for the eyes with very little payoff, “Holy Motors” left me with many questions, not the least of which was “What’s the point?”
2. “John Carter”
A long, dull, not particularly original sci-fi action movie, and a waste of the talented Taylor Kitsch.
1. “Cloud Atlas”
“Cloud Atlas” is an absolute ordeal to sit through. Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis have turned an absolutely beautiful book into a boring amalgam of all of the worst, most pretentious cinematic techniques in an American film this year. If you can make it through the schizophrenic three hours without wanting to put a bullet in your head, congratulations. You have more resolve than me.
When looking back at my year at the movies, I have to say, coming up with this Top 10 list was really difficult. Not because I found it hard to narrow down my list to 10 movies, but because I was frankly underwhelmed with the movies I saw. There were a lot of movies I had high hopes for and then they flopped.
I will take into account that I didn't watch as many films as years past and I haven't seen two films I believe would make it onto this list: “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” which doesn't open until the 11th.
But the following 10 movies are the best I saw in 2012, plus all are eligible for the Oscars:
10. “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”
This was just such a sweet film. The rapport between Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor is wonderful.
9. “Les Misérables”
I know, it's hard to believe this is so low on the list, but I love this musical. I found myself split between really liking the movie and disliking it. I get that Tom Hooper was trying to be raw and emotional with the acting and the singing, but if you're going to do the music, you need singers. I kept getting pulled out of the story particularly when Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Eddie Redmayne were singing. On the other hand, I found the rest of the cast to be great, particularly Anne Hathaway and Samantha Barks.
Also low on the list, but mainly because I found myself bored. Perhaps it was because I'm not much of a history buff. I didn't know much about the inner workings of Lincoln's cabinet or home life until discussing the movie later. But it doesn't stop me from saying that there were some unbelievable performances put forth in this film.
7. “Wreck-It Ralph”
Definitely my favorite animated film of the year. Loved all the voices and the nerd in me was happy. I've also been told I act a little like Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman), who was my favorite character in the movie to begin with.
6. “The Hunger Games”
As a big fan of the books, I was thrilled with how they made the transition from book to big screen. And Jennifer Lawrence was the perfect Katniss. The casting was spot on.
After "Quantum of Solace," where it felt more Jason Bourne versus James Bond, I was hoping the Bond series would turn it around. They really did. Javier Bardem was an awesome, yet psychotic, villain. The storyline was great and the opening sequence featuring Adele's song was very cool.
4. “For a Good Time, Call…”
I don't think I've laughed at a recent comedy as much as I did this one. It was witty and still had its emotional moments. Plus all the comedians who cameoed as callers were hilarious.
To fake a Hollywood movie to get out of such a scary situation? Crazy. To find out it really happened? Crazier. But the movie was a great mixture of comedy and drama with the added historical footage. Ben Affleck outdid himself.
2. “Django Unchained”
Absolutely amazing. I was completely enthralled with this movie. I think the only time I was pulled out of the movie was when Quentin Tarantino made a cameo with a funny Aussie accent. But this was an awesome combination of storyline, character chemistry and a soundtrack. This would be my No. 1 movie of the year if I didn't have the emotional tie with my top pick.
1. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”
I missed Middle Earth. While a lot of people thought this movie was slow and boring, the three hours in the theater flew by for me. I have no idea how they'll split this over two more films, but I'm ready to see how. The intertwining of "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" at the beginning of the movie was great. I loved all the dwarfs and the game with Gollum. I will admit the goblin part was too long.
3. “Rock of Ages”
Cringeworthy. However, I found most of the singing to be okay.
2. “Darling Companion”
This was a non-starter. I couldn't have cared less about the people in this film, I did care about the missing dog though.
1. “What to Expect When You're Expecting”
Terrible. Absolutely Terrible. Please stop packing movies full of celebrities and giving them plotlines that just don't work, are extremely unfunny and just a waste of time.
The past year has been a whirlwind for movies, especially since I have been seeing more movies weekly with my new gig as movie critic for WNWO-TV and 1370 WSPD-AM. The major complaint I still have, however, is getting access to the "cool" movies. Screenings stopped in Toledo over the summer and now one must either head to Detroit or Cleveland for movies, or see them at their midnight premiere.
Movies I was not able to see as of press time: “Amour” and “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Strengths in 2012 at the box office included some very well made superhero movies and book adaptations. With that, here are my Top 10 movies of 2012, all of which I gave five out of five stars. (For the full order of the 55 theatrical releases I saw, check out my list on Letterboxd.)
10. “Pitch Perfect”
The story follows an all-girls a cappella group and it is fun to watch on screen. The editing is well done, the music and songs mixed are fantastic and the comedy is spot on. Rebel Wilson ("Bridesmaids") gives a great performance as Fat Amy and Anna Kendrick does some fine acting as well. It’s a great time at the movies.
With Sam Mendes directing and Roger Deakins behind the camera, "Skyfall" is a great action film with hints of 007. The villain, played by Javier Bardem, is thrilling and delightful. Bond himself, played again by Daniel Craig, is great and comes with a backstory, less polished and more enjoyable than previous Bonds audiences have seen.
8. “The Amazing Spider-Man”
The formula is the same: Teenage boy gets bitten by a radioactive spider and his already complicated life gets even more complex. Yet the way in which the writers and director go about “The Amazing Spider-Man” is remarkable. It’s as if they lived in a world where a Spider-Man movie didn’t already exist, a world where Tobey Maguire was just a racehorse jockey. Comparing this “amazing” film to the 2002 adaptation is inevitable. The 2012 iteration is surprisingly good and refreshing. Ten years later, audiences are treated to an even better film, breaking the general reality that remakes can never quite live up to their predecessors. And thank you Sally Field for being in this movie. (Read full review.)
7. “Marvel’s The Avengers”
An atypical summer moviegoing experience and one of the best superhero movies I’ve seen, ‘The Avengers’ works because of the script. Director and screenwriter Joss Whedon has crafted a movie that allows all of the superheroes to breathe (and bicker). Those interactions are the best part of the film. Stellar 3-D also adds to this box office phenomenon.
Ben Affleck's latest film is based on a declassified true story that used the cover of a movie to help extract six Americans stuck in Iran. Affleck makes sure to set up the conflict in this film very carefully. This is not an action movie. It's a slow-building thriller that works to explain the story carefully and precisely. Alexandre Desplat provides a perfect background motif with his score in one of the year's best movies.
5. “Moonrise Kingdom”
This movie is inventive in so many ways, thanks to director Wes Anderson. From the unique, meticulous cinematography and editing to the fanciful script, “Moonrise Kingdom” is one of the best films of the year. When two young lovers run away from home to meet up, audiences are treated to a fun adventure.
4. “The Odd Life of Timothy Green”
I make no apologizes for putting this movie on my Top 10 list. There is something magical about going to the movie theater. And when movies capture that on the screen, it’s something to behold. Magic and fantasy rule and drive this movie. Timothy (CJ Adams) is wonderful, innocent and great to watch on screen. Jennifer Garner and Shohreh Aghdashloo make this movie a favorite of 2012. (Read full review.)
3. “Silver Linings Playbook”
The offering from David O. Russell is a picture of real life and how the hardest thing can sometimes be living with others and communicating. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence provide some spot on acting. Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver are also wonderful in one of the best movies of 2012.
A master class all the way around: excellent acting by Daniel Day-Lewis (an Oscar-worthy performance), Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones; impeccable screenplay by Tony Kushner ("Munich"); beautiful cinematography by Janusz Kaminski ("War Horse" and "Saving Private Ryan"); a quiet and perfect score by John Williams; and Steven Spielberg's direction is icing on the cake. The release of this movie about the last few months of the 16th president's life was perfectly timed and it could just win the Best Picture Oscar — if it can hold off "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Argo."
The best movie of the year, based on an excellent book of the same name. Where this movie shines is in the screenplay, which author Stephen Chbosky adapted himself. He also directed the movie. It's his story and vision executed very well for the big screen. Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller are perfect as the leading characters. "We are infinite."
Honorable Mentions: “Looper,” “Django Unchained,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Artist,” “Big Miracle” and “Cloud Atlas.”
3. “The Watch”
At times, “The Watch” struggles to figure out if it wants to be a comedy, drama, thriller or action-adventure movie. “Marvel’s The Avengers” was better able to traverse these genres seamlessly. The 98-minute film’s R rating also seems wasted. (Read full review.)
2. “Alex Cross”
Where this detective thriller fails is in basic filmmaking. It's hard to get past the horrible editing and screenplay. It would be a stretch to air this movie on the Lifetime Movie Network. Tyler Perry, playing the title character here, should stick to directing himself in comedies, where he is successful. Matthew Fox ("Lost") is one of few bright spots in the film as the serial killer.
1. “Playing for Keeps”
Where this movie finds its groove is with Jessica Biel — the best part and character of the movie. Where this movie doesn't work: everything else. (Although Catherine Zeta-Jones is a fun desperate soccer mom.) We've seen this all before. There is the standard romantic comedy formula and then toward the end, the misunderstanding that could derail everything. And then eventually, they live happily ever after — together. Could the filmmakers have tried any less?
Dishonorable Mentions: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” “Chronicle” and “Total Recall.”