Now it is time to dig into the list of what I consider to be my favorite films of 2012. I have to say that this was not the easiest list to put together. Theatrically, I have seen 120+ films this year, so there were a lot of films to give praise to and consider how to reference in terms of their placement on this list. Some of these films certainly affected me more than others, but there were plenty that were easily strong enough to potentially wind up on my year end list. As a result, the only course of action was to take, was to do my best to give praise to the other films on this list by being sure to have honorable and special mentions for all the films that were in contention. Still, I am very satisfied by this final list that I have put together, mainly because it is my list and it contains films that I really enjoyed the most this year, for various reasons. So here we go (by the way, lots of Easter Eggs hidden in the pictures):
There were a few really good documentaries that I was able to see this year that are definitely worth your time and I wanted to be sure to make mention of them somewhere.
Indies and Foreign Films:
Lots of good independent and foreign features come out all of the time. Here is a batch of honorable mentions that I really enjoyed and deserved year-end consideration.
A Bag of Hammers, Amour, Bernie, Goon, Jeff Who Lives At Home, The Kid with a Bike, Klown, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Safety Not Guaranteed, Sleepless Night, Sleepwalk with Me, Smashed, Sound of My Voice
For General Movie Goers:
In terms of mainstream fun, there were plenty of very solid films that hit theaters everywhere this past year, so here is a list of some more honorable mentions that fell into that category.
11-20 (In Alphabetical Order):
The amazing thing about this following list of films is that they could easily make up a perfectly acceptable top ten list themselves. This set of films is basically just as good as the set of films in my final top ten list, I just had to torture myself in an effort to provide some kind of order.
And now for the Top 10:
10. The Raid: Redemption – This is exactly the kind of reason that I love being responsible for my own top ten list. There may be a lack of ‘prestige-level’ entertainment in a film like the action-packed, Indonesian thriller, The Raid: Redemption, but that does not mean I should deny the fact that it was just a fantastic exercise in action filmmaking, made better by the thrilling intensity of its no holds-barred, take no prisoners approach. This was a movie that made me exhausted, while clinging to the edge of my seat, due to how involved I became in the superlative actions sequences that ran throughout this film (My friend stated that he was sweating, after the finale of one of the many intensely choreographed sequences). This was the story about a special police squat trapped inside an apartment building, forced to fight their way to the top, in an effort to stop a drug lord. The fact that it went from being a straight-up action film to being a kick ass martial arts film, as it went along, was just another way for writer/director Gareth Evans to do everything he could with this low budget, simply-structured film. It certainly left an impression on me and easily stood out among the many action-fests that arrived in theaters this year.
“Pulling the trigger is like ordering takeout…this is what it’s all about. This is the thing. This is the pulse. This is what I do.” (Review HERE)
9. Moonrise Kingdom – As an unabashed Wes Anderson fan, I was already excited to see what his latest feature had in store. The fact that it stands as one of his best pieces of work yet in the way he combines his idiosyncratic sensibilities with mainstream appeal is very impressive to say the least. The story revolves around young outcasts Sam and Suzy, who just want to be together, while the adults that care for them basically go crazy trying to find them. Moonrise Kingdom is a heartfelt story that works as an adventure-romance tale, with two wonderful performances from the lead kids involved is matched by the impressive roster of adult actors, who all have a great handle on the style of film that Anderson likes to make. What continues to impress me is how every frame of this film has something going on within it. Moonrise Kingdom has amazing art design and production values, which is just one great part of this wonderful film. And as one last note, I want to just keep supporting Bruce Willis, who gives such a great, understated performance, which deserves recognition. It’s all a part of this incredibly charming feature.
“I think you’ve still got lightning in you.” (Review HERE)
8. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – What if the scientists, astronauts, oil drillers, etc. failed in the mission to stop a giant asteroid from hitting earth? That’s the setup for a film that puts these stakes to comedic use. I previously described this film as everything I was hoping it would be. In another year, this film may have meant less to me, but the fact that I not only think Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a very good film, but one that it will stick with me as a film that hit me at very specific time in my life makes it something that I want to treasure. Beyond my own personal connection though, I really enjoyed watching this film because of its entreatingly bleak premise of the world literally coming to an end and what two people go through, as they go on a small road journey together, with varying goals in mind. It is a comedy, but does very well with the dramatic and romantic issues that become more important. Very good work from Steve Carell and Keira Knightley as well, in a film full of good actors and comedians. The bonus is how the film makes the decision to truly go for it in the way that it plays out and I applaud it for sticking that landing.
“This isn’t the f***ing ark, Diane! This is the Titanic! And there is not a life raft in sight.” (Review HERE)
7. The Cabin in the Woods – This is the kind of horror film that will ruin other new horror movies that come after it, yet I still would not say that is scary, nor do I like to describe what it is about to newcomers. All I really like to say is that it works on so many levels and is more than just knowingly clever. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard got together one weekend and wrote this film. Somehow they got the funds to make it, and then it sat on the shelf for a few years, as MGM worked out their bankruptcy issues. As The Cabin in the Woods finally hit screens, with me doing my best to shield myself from what its actual plot was, it became obvious that the film was destined for cult classic status. I guess I can go a little into it, the film starts a standard-type horror film about college kids and then turns into something much more, commenting on its genre, while reveling in the kind of mayhem that people have come to see. It is very funny, in both a dark way and because the dialogue is plenty witty and amusing, but also an incredibly bloody feature. It easily fits as the kind of films that I want and love to see, and it has found its way onto this list pretty easily.
“Look, you guys stay in the rambler. I’ll get help. If I wipe out, I’ll f***ing limp for help. But, I’m coming back here. I’m coming back with cops, and choppers, and large f***ing guns, and those things are going to pay.” (Review HERE)
6. The Grey – Here’s a film that arrived in January and has stuck with me all the way through the year. It took a long time for me to consider other films from this year to be better than The Grey. Joe Carnahan’s survival thriller that pits Liam Neeson and a group of men against nature, after surviving a horrific plane crash, was an intense and affecting film, which was much better than the initial marketing suggested. Those who thought it would just be Neeson throwing punches at wolves were given much more than that, as the film had so much more going on in its story and themes. It certainly helps that I believe Neeson gives a performance that is up there with Schindler as his best work as an actor. He brings a believable intensity to his role, which calls upon him to really delve into the psyche and faith of his character, recalling what he has dealt with in the past, and measuring it against what he is up against now, as he battles to preserve his own life and the lives of those who are with him. The strong work from some of the supporting actors (notably Frank Grillo, whose star will be gaining momentum soon), the chilly cinematography, and the overall visceral filmmaking truly elevates the film much further than expected, as it continued to stand as one of my very favorites of this year.
“Don’t move. Stare right back at them.” (Review HERE)
5. ParaNorman – This is a film that catered to all sorts of things that I love in movies. It is a stop-animated zombie film, designed to be watched by kids, but certainly not afraid to delve into darker and more meaningful subject matter. The filmmakers were clearly indebted to 80s Spielberg, Romero, and John Carpenter movies, and managed to churn out something of their own that is very worthwhile. This was the studio Laika’s follow up to Coraline, which involved a young boy who can communicate with the deceased facing off against zombies, a witch, and a town that doesn’t understand. It is a monster movie, with some scarier-type stuff in it, but it actually manages to assign purpose to the zombies featured and provide more depth to these characters, and the many other people featured in this film, than one would expect. Additionally, the film is already a lot of fun and very creative (more impressive given that Laika does everything by hand, with minimal CG), but the fact that the film also has several good messages elevated it even further for me. Paranorman was able to touch upon bullying far better than the documentary Bully ever did and still had plenty of time to provide lots of entertainment. The great score by Jon Brion, visual style, voice acting, and more all made this film the best animated feature of the year and one of the standout films of the year as a whole.
“There’s nothing wrong with being scared Norman, so long as you don’t let it change who you are.” (Review HERE)
4. Looper – Here is the story of an assassination business that didn’t think ahead, which is impressive since the targets come from the future. What I love about writer/director Rian Johnson’s time travel, action/thriller is how it is not even really a time travel movie. Sure, the central premise revolves around time travel, with a specific conundrum that involves having your older-self screwing up your present life, but the film takes a very interesting turn halfway through, elevating it beyond convention. The script is very confident in its courage to move in a much different direction, while still knowing how to be a quality piece of entertainment. Both Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordan Levitt do great work, but some key performances from Emily Blunt and young Pierce Gagnon are just as important as well. There is also nice work done with designing the future world that these characters exist in, which provides the film with a very distinctive personality. The fact that Looper is also just a really cool movie in general as well, given the style, dialogue, and all else that comes with it, is just another way to firmly have this film sitting high in my list.
“I don’t want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.” (Review HERE)
3. Seven Psychopaths – The story of a man writing a screenplay about seven psychopaths, which has only gotten him so far as the title, before things are turned upside down, due to the kidnapping of a Shih Tzu. Similar to a choice like The Cabin in the Woods, Seven Psychopaths is definitely my kind of movie, as it has a lot of fun being a dark, hitman comedy, but it also knows how to turn the table its own genre, as Martin McDonagh’s incredibly witty screenplay both acknowledges the film it could be like, then doubles back and examines what kind of film it is. It is in the league of films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and definitely held my attention throughout. The fantastic casting in this, which includes Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, and more, are all doing great work here, with a standout performance from Christopher Walken, who I believe is giving one of his very best performances, capturing both the comedic side of Walken, which many have embraced, and the more introspective side, which he can truly excel at, given the chance. Oh, and the film is very funny. It is also way bloodier than one may expect, but the humor is definitely present and very appropriate, given the zaniness of how this film plays out. I was completely taken in by Seven Psychopaths and I thought I would have a hard time finding any to match, but there are still two more films on this list…
“You didn’t think I was what? Serious? You think I’m not serious just because I carry a rabbit?” (Review HERE)
2. Zero Dark Thirty – I really did not know what to expect from this film, after first hearing about it. Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal already won Oscars for another film based around the war in the Middle East, so seeing them tackle a real life event about the hunt for bin Laden could have just felt like an ambitious idea that did not quite work as effectively. I got only half of that right. Zero Dark Thirty is quite ambitious, but fantastic in the way it presents a harrowing procedural anchored by a terrific performance from Jessica Chastain. Given Boal’s background as a journalist, the film is a thoroughly researched piece of entertainment, which presents a cinematic version of how a decade-long search played out, but does little to sensationalize the events. It tackles bureaucracy, torture, investigation, and other methods, which leads to the thrilling, but realistically straight-forward climax. It is long, somewhat cold in its presentation, but done incredibly effectively. Regardless of the controversy that seems to be surrounding it, I was happy to take away the thought that this film was in no way leaning to justify or condemn actions that were taken by the people involved. Zero Dark Thirty exists as a procedural journey about people dedicated to their work and how their (mainly Chatain’s) tenacity led to an ultimate, but uncompromising success.
“You can help yourself by being truthful.” (Review HERE)
1. Django Unchained – It is always an event for me when a new Tarantino film comes out. Django (the D is silent) may not be as ambitious as something like my favorite film of 2009, Inglourious Basterds, but it is just as entertaining and in the same league as something like my favorite film of 2004, Kill Bill Volume 2. This is the story of a bounty hunter and a freed slave teaming up to take on an eccentric plantation owner and the movie is just a blast to watch, given the wonderful dialogue, the setting, the characters, and all the ways that Tarantino attempts to subvert the spaghetti western genre by adding his sensibilities to it. His cast are all doing fantastic work here, with Christoph Waltz continuing to be wonderful, Leonardo DiCaprio having the most fun he’s had in quite some time on screen, Samuel L. Jackson doing some hilarious (and finely chilling) work, continuing his wonderful working relationship with Tarantino, and Jamie Foxx keeping a subtle cool as the lead. The film is just pure cinema, given the scope of the picture, the violent mayhem that ensues on screen, the colorful production values, and how Tarantino has provided his take on this time in American history via his scripting for this story. And all of this is pulled together by another wonderful Tarantino soundtrack. My most anticipated film of the year has found its way to being my favorite of the year and I am very pleased for that to have been the case, even in a year full of amazing films.
“Come on over. We got us a fight going on that’s a good bit of fun.” (Review HERE)
Films I Wish I Had Seen:
The Bay, The Central Park 5, The Deep Blue Sea, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, The Impossible, Samsara, Sound of Noise, Stand Up Guys, This Is Not A Film
And that should do it. This ended up being a pretty fantastic year for movies, with the fall-winter period, in particular, delivering on a lot of promise. I am happy with all of the films I have represented and hope to catch many of the ones I missed soon. I also hope that more people check out some of these films they have not seen, particularly some of the independent features and documentaries that could always use more love. This upcoming year seems promising as well, so I can only hope to be as satisfied as I currently am with 2012.
Be sure to check out everyone else’s Top Ten Lists HERE