2012 was a great year for movies! I tend to say that every year, but fuck it here I go again. Week after week quality releases just kept coming out, and it’s a wonder that trips to the movie theater didn’t kill my rent money. Disappointment was fairly minimal this year, and at least three of this year’s releases received 5-star Facebook reviews from me. Still, I found it wasn’t too hard to put this top ten list together. All I needed to do was just…put them in the order that I preferred.
Note: Some of the foreign movies I listed technically came out last year, but all of these movies were released in American theaters in 2012
10. The Sessions
The feel good indie film of the year. The sessions is a movie about sexuality, that manages to be tasteful and explicit at the same time. John Hawkes also is phenomenal as a paralyzed poet desiring to lose his virginity, and Helen Hunt is as seductive as ever (pushing 50 I might add!). Don’t be surprised if this film makes you feel a little easier on the issues of religion, handicaps, and sexual surrogates.
Possibly the best Bond film yet. While Casino Royale certainly revived the series after the crap heap that was Die Another Day, Skyfall finds itself more Bond-ian by turning down the realism a few notches. The over-the-top set pieces, retro-yet-modern feel, and surprisingly different story all contribute to a film that really understands what works for Bond as opposed to Bourne and Mission: Impossible films. The best movie of this year to feature an iconic character, and keep in mind 2012 had The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man.
Rian Johnson has flirted with greatness before (namely in Brick), but Looper is what really sets him as a talent to look out for. Time-travel stories are hard to pull off, but Looper works as it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Part-gangster film, part sci-fi actioner, and all creative, Looper is exactly the type of film that makes you remember why sci-fi is so appealing. Just don’t think about the logic of it too much.
Ben Affleck continues to prove that he’s a very valuable director, and does so by moving outside of his comfort zone for his third directorial effort. Not a Boston-set crime film like his previous two, Argo is a stranger than fiction true story that acts as a firm reminder of our government’s dirty little secrets, as well as the impact film has on the world. Some of the funniest dialogue of the year too (Think of this movie without “Argo fuck yourself” popping into your head).
6. The Kid With a Bike
A tumultuous and heartbreaking film about childhood that all too few people have seen. The Dardenne brothers (A Belgian directing team) aren’t fussy with their direction, and instead keep the film as realistic as possible. It works so well on an emotional level, as there were at least three scenes in the movie that made me completely shudder. I’d say it’s on par with other recent foreign films such as The Return and A Seperation as an intense examination on family.
Call me sacrilegious, but I feel there was a crime film that came out this year that out did Tarantino’s contribution. The Norweigan Headhunters is a potent commentary on the cutthroat nature of the business world, but the real reason to see it is that it’s such a sinful pleasure. Viciously violent, perversely sexual, but never lacking a sly sense of humor either, Headhunters is the type of neo-noir that’s all too rare: one that’s hardcore yet tongue in cheek at the same time. With an American remake in the works, I recommend seeing the original before they Hollwood-ize the fuck out of this thing.
4. Moonrise Kingdom
If it’s not Wes Anderson’s best film, it’s certainly his most idiosyncratic. The indie heart throb has made a truly celebratory film that’s both beautiful and quirky. It really appears that Anderson’s dip into animation prepared him for a whole new canon of film making, as this is a film of his that will appeal to children just as much as their parents. What a cast too, and hopefully Bruce Willis will work with him again! It’s so great it’s enough to make you forget Life Aquatic ever happened
3. Zero Dark Thirty
The fact that there’s been such an uproar about this film’s “justification” of torture should be enough to tell you that Zero Dark Thirty is the real deal. Kathryn Bigelow has indeed surpassed her Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker by making a political thriller that is as relevant as they come, as it dissects the past decade’s exhausting war on terror. Jessica Chastain is stunning in it also, and may make you want to revisit other films that you didn’t even know she was in (I particularly recommend Take Shelter). I dare you to blink during the climax too.
The winner of the Palm d’or at this year’s Cannes film festival is most deserving of that honor. In many ways, it’s the masterpiece that Haneke has promised us throughout his career, as it’s a tender film that also utilizes his gift at capturing images that disturb us. Veteran actors Jean-Louis Trintigant and Emmanuelle Riva are phenomenal as a couple in their last stage of life, given us full comprehension of their pain. A difficult film for sure, and certainly not one that exactly attracts repeat viewings. The wisest of viewers, however, will be hailing this sad film for how life affirming it is.
1. The Master
2012 was certainly a year for auteur film makers, with Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Christopher Nolan, and Michael Haneke all putting out movies this year. Still, Paul Thomas Anderson arguably surpassed all of his peers by putting out a film that is both certainly an unmistakable entry in his filmography, yet such a brilliant leap forward for contemporary film as well. Wisely chosen to not give The Master a similar sense of momentum that There Will Be Blood had, the film is not quite PTA’s magnum opus. Instead it’s a towering meditation on modernism, power, and choice, carried by a transcendent performance from Joaquin Phoenix that puts him on the short list for best living screen actors. It’s a film that one can tell PTA was finding when he was shooting it, which is partly responsible for the film’s experimental nuance which has caused the film’s detractors to call The Master aimless film theory dribble. Those who don’t see the film as meandering, however, will find The Master to be impeccably acted, engagingly filmed, and both cold and heartfelt in it’s tone. Possibly the first film since early Terrence Malick that could be referred to as a surreal, masterfully crafted, and American work of art.
Honorable Mentions: Django Unchained, Alps, The Avengers, The Raid: Redemption, Silver Linings Playbook, Beasts of the Southern Wilds.