My Top Ten Films of 2012

Well here we are again, my friends/readers/animals. This year’s top ten list was a doosy. After an abysmal year of films in 2011, we had quite the bounce back in 2012.

Now just to be clear this list is what I feel was truly the best ten films of the year. It’s by no means my favorites list. Some of these I am dying to rewatch, others, not so much. So take my opinions with a grain of pepper. Here we go…

First off, here are some films I was unable to see before the year ended:

Killer Joe, Cosmopolis, Frankenweenie, Wreck-It Ralph, Paranorman, The Imposter, Searching for Sugar-Man, Celeste and Jesse Forever, End of Watch, Funeral Kings, Robot & Frank, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Room 237, Rust and Bone, Smashed, The Sessions, The Grey, Detachment, Detention, Gimme the Loot, and Fill the Void.

Honorable Mentions

Wuthering Heights (Dir. Andrea Arnold)

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After her previous endeavor into the mind of teenage angst (“Fish Tank”), Arnold delivers again with a story based on the 1847 novel by Emily Bronte. Filmed with Arnold’s trademark 4:3 aspect ratio, Heights is filled with crazy good visuals and colors that give organic life to the green and gray landscape of the moors. The story is clearly a difficult one to film in an engaging way, yet Arnold figures out ways to somersault over that tightrope. Featuring amazing performances from both the young and older versions of the two lead characters, the film is still bit slow at times, but nonetheless a unique and engaging experience.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Dir. Benh Zeitlin)

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As far as feature film debuts go, this is one of the greatest. Beasts offers a sprawling adventure story of a young girl named Hush Puppy who embarks on a tale that echoes Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are”; except for Beasts, it is with the backdrop of a Hurricane Katrina-esque disaster. The acting from both Hush Puppy and her daddy are incredible, and it teaches the viewer all there is to know about humanity and humility. It tends to get a bit too abstract and bizarre towards the tail end of the third act, but the film still holds on its own.

Seven Psychopaths (Dir. Martin McDonagh)

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McDonagh’s follow up to his previous masterpiece “In Bruges” has just as many laughs, but not nearly as much flow. Nonetheless, Psychopaths is such a fun meta movie to watch. Dry humor and wit is practically pouring off the screen, and Sam Rockwell & Christopher Walken give two of the most underrated performances of the year. Given the film falls under this year’s recurring theme of messy third acts, but it still proved that McDonagh is one of the most engaging and original filmmakers out there today.

Dredd 3D (Dir. Pete Travis)

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Pete Travis and Alex Garland rectified what had been, for more than a decade, a dead franchise. Dredd is all kinds of fun, but has the heart and soul that is missing from so many of its action brethren. It has a plot similar to “The Raid: Redemption”: law enforcement agents are forced to fight their way up to the top of a slum building. The difference here is that Dredd actually has an engaging story to top its incredible action scenes. Combined with its tight script, pounding music, and great performances by Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, and Lena Headey, this is one of the best action films to come out in recent years.

Skyfall (Dir. Sam Mendes)

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With stellar directing from Sam Mendes and the beautiful style of Roger Deakins, Skyfall became one of the best Bond films ever made, and hands down the best looking of the series. Daniel Craig and Judi Dench give it their all as members of a dying breed forced to match wits with the frightening, evil genius, Silva, played by Javier Bardem. Bardem is clearly having an absolute blast playing this character, and is is one of the most memorable Bond villains the series has had in a long time. Bogged down by a “Home Alone”esque conclusion and an unnecessary role played by Albert Finney, Skyfall narrowly misses being the best Bond film of all time; it still, however, is up on the rankings with plenty of action, thrills, “Bond humor”, and Naomie Harris making a shave the sexiest thing ever.

10. CABIN IN THE WOODS (Dir. Drew Goddard)

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After laying away in the bowels of Lionsgate’s vault for years, Cabin in the Woods finally was able to see the light of day, and my God was it worth the wait. Filled to the brim with horrific “Evil Dead” like humor, and that Joss Whedon dialogue we’ve all come to know and love, Cabin is one of the best horror films to come out in recent years. Surrounded by abysmal remakes and ripoffs, Whedon and Goddard provide the horror audience’s commentary on how they are all sick and tired of the bullshit and want something fresh.

Favorite scene: Horror icons on the loose!

9. THE AVENGERS (Dir. Joss Whedon)

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The fans waited around like kids on Christmas Eve for this one, and Whedon was finally able to deliver the supergroup film we had all been waiting for. Never loosing touch of the characters, their mythologies, and giving everyone an equal stake, Whedon was able to perfectly balance out all the components of this huge story, which is why it was such an entertaining ride. Tom Hiddleston’s performance as the arch-villain Loki gives the audience a wonderful villain, and this takes nothing away from the entire Avengers cast who keep doing what they do best (especially from newcomer Mark Ruffalo). Given it’s an hour and forty minute buildup to its climax, but dammit it’s so worth it (unlike other super hero films of 2012).

Favorite: NYC finale. Need I say more?

8. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (Dir. Colin Trevorrow)

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Writer Derek Connolly serves up one of the best and most honest scripts of the year. Safety is a film all about past/lost love. These feelings come from both the main plot and one of the most well written subplots I’ve ever seen. Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza are awesome together as the two would-be time travelers, and not-so-quietly in the background is “New Girl” actor Jake Johnson who also gives a great performance as Jeff. Much like “Cabin in the Woods” this is a wonderful well rounded film, delivering from start all the way up to finish.

Favorite scene: Jeff puts it all out there, and tries to commit to his former flame.

7. DJANGO UNCHAINED (Dir. Quentin Tarantino)

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The reliable QT delivers yet another sharp and entertaining film in the form of a tribute to the bloody/violent/blaxploitation westerns of the 70’s. Samuel L. Jackson finally has a role he is able to act in again as Stephen, who is the definition of pure evil; and Leonardo DiCaprio narrowly beats out Javier Bardem as the most gleefully villainous performance as slave-owner Calvin Candie. Topping off this all-star cast is Jamie Foxx as the quiet/methodical Django and Christoph Waltz as yet another charming German, Dr. King Schultz. The film has some drawbacks such as Kerry Washington’s underuse, and a redundant explosive climax, but Django is still a fun film to watch, and has that trademark Tarantino dialogue I can listen to for hours on end.

Favorite scene: Candie bargains with Schultz and Django for the life of Broomhilda. Bloody hands guaranteed!

6. HOLY MOTORS (Dir. Leos Carax)

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Carax unintentionally offers a spiritual sequel to David Lynch’s masterpiece “Mulholland Dr.” with his own surrealist film, Holy Motors. Where Lynch comments on the studio system, Carax comments on the mind of an actor. The lead, Denis Levant, shows off how he is the modern day Lon Chaney by vanishing right before your eyes into role after role. Each anecdote is entertaining to watch, but at times can get a bit lengthy such as Kylie Minougue’s little music number. This is still an insane film to view and the perfect thing to put on at 2am.

Favorite scene: A whole new definition of motion capture.

5. AMOUR (Dir. Michael Haneke)

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Michael Haneke offers up one of the most beautiful, painful, and original films about love I have seen in a long long time. I won’t delve too much into this story for it will give everything away, but needless to say, Amour is one of the most powerful movies of the year. Essentially a story that takes place within the confines of one location, the audience is propelled into a tale commanded by the towering performances of its two leads and the dialogue. It still succeeds in getting its message across and proving that true love exists.

Favorite scene: The last ten minutes. Unbelievable.

4. MOONRISE KINGDOM (Dir. Wes Anderson)

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Oh that Wes Anderson can just do no wrong. Making yet another film about pure innocence and young people in love (seems like love is a recurring theme this year), Moonrise Kingdom is up there as one of Anderson’s best films. As always he is able to get the most of an ensemble cast entailing veterans such as Edward Norton and Frances McDormand, but also newcomers in the form of the child actors. Anderson’s bizarre visual style is present surrounded by a world of oranges, greens, and yellows. It’s both a wonderful, subtle period, and an extremely well written film. There’s little to complain about with this one.

Favorite scene: The adults regroup in the church still looking for the children. All hell breaks loose.

3. ZERO DARK THIRTY (Dir. Kathryn Bigelow)

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Bigelow directs yet another character study that takes place within the confines of America’s war with Iraq, only this time it’s also about one of the greatest manhunts in human history. Being bogged down by the ridiculous publicity of its torture scenes and the complete mismarketing of the TV spots, Zero Dark Thirty is still, much like its main character Mia, a wonderfully slow and methodical movie. A great improvement upon her last film, “The Hurt Locker”, Bigelow is able to pace out this long film into Tarantino-esque chapters. The supporting cast around lead actress Jessica Chastain are incredibly talented, and the story delivers a great build-up and pay-off in its climax. Let’s hope Bigelow can direct films half as a good as these when they’re not about the Iraq War.

Favorite scene: The final raid.

2. LOOPER (Dir. Rian Johnson)

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Surprise surprise. The film I have been waiting quite a while for was finally delivered to me; And boy was it incredible. Rian Johnson follows up his previous, more grounded film “Brothers Bloom” with this slick stylistic neo-noir sci-fi thriller in the vein of such films as “Blade Runner” and “The Terminator.” Getting Bruce Willis off his ass (in addition to Moonrise Kingdom) and into a great role, we see old Brucey-boy square off with all-star actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays the conveniently named looper, Joe. Noah Segan, Emily Blunt, and Jeff Daniels also give great supporting performances that have been going fairly unnoticed. This movie will absolutely blow your mind. It’s complete with slick camera work, a unique and well written script, and one of the best scores of the year.

Favorite scene: Old and Young Joe meet and talk in the diner.

1. THE MASTER (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

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Yep, the one I just wrote about. PTA has gone through the years making these wonderful homages to past directors. “Boogie Nights” to Martin Scorsese, “Magnolia” to Robert Altman, “There Will Be Blood” to John Huston, and now finally with The Master he goes the more surrealist route with Stanley Kubrick. The visual language and bizarre structure of Kubrick is there, also combined with the best performances of the year by its three leads: Joaquin Pheonix, Amy Adams, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. It also boasts the best score of the year by one of the best composers out there, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. While it still gets a mixed response, I still feel this is one film everyone needs to watch. It’s filmmaking and film-watching at its finest; a movie we can all discuss.

Favorite scene: Initial processing. Don’t blink.

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Well that’s that for the year. I’ll be back soon with my look at the films of Richard Linklater!

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