With the Oscars just around the corner about to prove once again how irrelevant they are by making some strange movie picks, the time has come to look back on 2012 cinema and choose the ten best films the year had to offer. It’s important to note that I didn’t have the luxury of seeing absolutely everything that came out this year, so an omission from this list is not necessarily an indication that I won’t love it.
I will say that there are several films this year that, judging by critical consensus, I expected to be head-over-heels for but ended up only tolerating (Holy Motors, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln). There are also a multitude of others that I enjoyed very much, but had trouble committing to putting them in my top ten (Bernie, ParaNorman, The Sessions).
Limiting myself to a top ten was no easy task. This really was one hell of a year for movies, and the completion was stiff. Without further ado, here are the best motion pictures of 2012:
10. The Avengers
Ok. I admit this is a strange way to start things off. However, I’d be lying to myself if I said I didn’t absolutely love Marvel’s The Avengers, even going so far as to see it three times in the theaters. I’ll concede completely that it’s little more than a popcorn movie that critics largely overrated. But it really is so much fun to watch, and it’s well-made to boot.
Considering this superhero epic was little more than an amalgam of other films, the fact that director Joss Whedon was able to make something so enjoyable from the mix is an achievement that should not be overlooked. My inner child who loves heroes and epic battles is absolutely in love with this movie. My outer adult thinks my inner child is one hell of a cool guy, and I’m glad I was able to suspend my disbelief enough to enjoy this thrilling spectacle.
A real change of pace from The Avengers, Amour is a quiet, intimate film with a powerful right-to-die message. This incredibly real story of an elderly couple whose lives are shattered by a stroke is difficult to watch, especially at such a slow and methodical pace. If you’re in for a night to feel hopelessly depressed, you’ll find Amour to be a haunting experience that stays with you long after it’s over.
This is a story of love being given the ultimate test, and the result is something very human for director Michael Haneke, a man typically known for his controversial, disturbing works. This was easily the best foreign film of the year, though I have no desire to watch it ever again.
A friend of mine called me moments after seeing Argo and said she was having a panic attack from the suspense of Ben Affleck’s latest thriller. I was a little late to see it, but I have to admit my friend was absolutely correct. This was one of the most tense movies I’ve seen in a long time, and that’s largely due to direction so perfect it makes even movie clichés feel original.
Mixing up the suspense is some unexpected comic relief, making Argo one of the most entertaining movies I have ever seen. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. It’s one of those films that just about everyone will enjoy.
7. The Grey
It’s just about wolves killing people, or at least that’s what the trailer lead me to believe. When I finally sat down to see The Grey, I was shocked by what I actually saw. This is a deeply moving, intelligent work, sold largely due to a solid performance by Liam Neeson.
This dark, deeply philosophical film about the overwhelming certainty of death is far more abstract than it appears at first glance. Sporting surreal effects and eerie photography, The Grey is an exploration of the complex battle between emotions and reason that surround our inevitable demise.
6. Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino finally takes on the Western genre by creating one of the sickest, coolest blaxploitation revivals ever made. Django Unchained pushes the racist language and violence to the limits of what is tolerable, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from a guy like Tarantino.
The good news is that Django Unchained is also smart. Not only is this movie masterfully crafted, with a cast full of Oscar-worthy performances, but it also has a very serious message about racism in slavery – almost too serious for what we’re used to with Tarantino. It’s a sign that the famous director is only going to improve from here on out, though it’s hard to imagine it gets much better than this.
5. Safety Not Guaranteed
This is the only entry to the list that frustrates me immensely, largely due to the last five minutes, which feature some ridiculous special effects tossed aimlessly into what is otherwise a damn-near perfect, simple movie. Still, despite its flaws, Safety Not Guaranteed is a wonderfully quirky, with characters that warmed my heart with their unusual charm.
There’s a scene by a campfire in this movie where Kenneth (Mark Duplass) sings a song to Darius (Aubrey Plaza) about the struggle to be unique in a world with so much structure. It’s a wonderful scene, and it works to sum up this movie perfectly. If you can open your mind to something a little different, Safety Not Guaranteed will hook you in and won’t let go.
4. Moonrise Kingdom
If you’re like me you’ve often wanted to escape the world, the rules, the influences, and start your own life free from restraint. That’s exactly what the kids in Moonrise Kingdom seek to do, and the result is something that can be described as both adorable and brilliant.
With incredible acting and some of the best visuals of 2012, Moonrise Kingdom is a true work of art. This is Wes Anderson at his best, and fans of his strange genius will not be disappointed. My only wish is that the story had stuck with the runaway kids just a little longer – that’s where the movie really shines.
Casino Royale was my favorite Bond film of all time – until now. After seeing what Sam Mendes has done with 007, I am now officially conflicted. Skyfall is a celebration of the fifty-year history of the franchise, but it’s also one of the greatest stand-alone films to ever grace the series.
In terms of direction and photography, Skyfall has little rival. Add in complex characters and a great script, and the result is something that’s truly extraordinary, even if it doesn’t always feel like a Bond movie. Some fans of the series may not like the maturing of the franchise, but others are going to be glad to get to know a James Bond who finally seems human.
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
The fact that this independent film cost less than $2 million to make is unbelievable to me. First time director, Benh Zeitlin, and the rest of the filmmakers at Court 13 have somehow managed to create one of the best movies of all time with very few resources. Beasts of the Southern Wild actually benefits from its low-budget cast of unknowns, feeling all the more real as it examines the unusual lives of an impoverished group of people living in Louisiana.
The Bathtub is a place being destroyed by a levy that keeps their community flooded, but that’s really only part of the story. In short this is a coming of age movie; the narrative follows the life of a little girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) growing up in these challenging conditions, while still maintaining her childhood innocence.
Some have called the movie arrogant or racist. To me it’s anything but; those claims are absolutely baseless. This is a beautiful, deeply moving film that you’ll remember for years to come. There’s nothing judgmental or insensitive about it whatsoever, and I hope the few critics out there on their moral soapbox won’t influence the Oscars too much.
Best Picture of 2012: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
I read the novel of the same name back during my first year of high school, and I remember being very fond of it. I was excited to see this adaptation, especially after learning that the novel’s author, Stephen Chbosky, was writing and directing the film himself.
This is Stephen Chbosky first credited feature, yet somehow he managed to create one of the greatest motion pictures I have ever seen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a genuine, heartwarming, and thoughtful coming of age story about a band of misfits, each with their own beautiful imperfections.
At times this movie made me smile, while other scenes brought unexpected tears to my eyes. The emotional complexity, the diverse characters, the laughs, the pain – it’s a wonderful examination of the human experience through the eyes of those who aren’t quite normal. My teenage self loved the novel, but my adult self thinks this movie is nothing short of flawless.
If you are (or were) a bit of a wallflower, this movie will speak to your soul in a way that surpasses the novel. The fact that this movie has been largely shafted by the major awards is depressing to me, but I am glad to see that most critics loved it.
Somehow, despite a year packed with so many great films, a simple story of the transition period that comes before adulthood is the one that moves me the most. If you’re already all grown up and the world has crushed your youthful expression, Perks of Being a Wallflower may just be the thing that brings it all back.