The Best Films of 2012

Best Movies of 2012

Author: Matt Cebreros

Can’t wait until the Oscars for someone to tell you what the best movies released in 2012 were?  Look no further.  I have assembled after many heated (and sometimes belligerent) internal conversations with myself, what is without a doubt the definitive list of the best films of 2012.  And no, Joss Whedon nerds, The Avengers and The Cabin in the Woods did not make the cut. 

UPDATE: At the time this was published, Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises held the #10 and #9 spots, respectively.  In order to account for Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook, they were booted from the list.

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10. Oslo, August 31st. (Joachim Trier)

Addiction and cinema go together like cheese wiz and Ritz crackers.  This year alone there were many good films handling the subject (Smashed and Flight, to name a few).  But whereas those movies took alcohol addiction and made it melodramatic and sentimental, Oslo, August 31st. quietly shows us a day in the life of 34-year-old Anders, a former heroin addict (among many other things) struggling to find a purpose in life.  It is poignant, profound, and one of the most observant films dealing with the subject matter that I’ve ever seen.  There is nothing but regret and harmful memories for him in Oslo, and we beg Anders to leave and start new somewhere, anywhere else.  But the ship has sailed without him, and Anders doesn’t believe that a new beginning is waiting.  This is an incredibly sad and true-to-life film.

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9. Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino)

While it’s a better movie than Death Proof, this is definitely in the lower half of Tarantino’s filmography.  The absence of Sally Menke in the editing room is felt here, as Django is at least 30 minutes too long.  That being said, a mediocre Tarantino flick is still better than 99% of what’s out there.  The first 45 minutes are some of the best material we’ve ever seen from him.  It’s bloody and excessive, the dialogue is ultra-stylized in typical Tarantino fashion, but most importantly the plot chugs right along at a brisk pace for the first act.  Christoph Waltz is mesmerizing once again, this time as the bounty hunter/dentist Dr. King Schultz.  DiCaprio and Foxx turn in fantastic performances as well (especially the former), but Samuel L. Jackson’s character felt like Tarantino stretching to give his favorite actor a substantial part.  I was never bored, but I was only intermittently impressed.  The highs far outweigh the lows, and that’s why Django Unchained deserves a spot on this list.

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8. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)

I’m a 21-year-old, Creative Writing major that nerds out over movies.  Which means I fit Wes Anderson’s demographic to a tee.  A huge part of me wants to hate Anderson out of spite (how dare you stereotype me!).  Alas, I’m just as big of a fanboy as all the striped sweater, TOMS and thick-frame glasses wearing, painfully ironic hipsters hanging out in your local coffee shop.  I love everything about this movie.  The theme of young love stifled by parental control really resonates with me, and I’m sure a lot of other people as well.  Anderson is at his whimsical best here, delivering a delightful addition to his idiosyncratic canon.

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7. Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell)

This David O. Russell guy is the real deal.  Silver Linings Playbook earned nominations in all four acting categories at the upcoming Academy Awards.  It’s saying a lot when a movie can make me like Bradley Cooper.  The always amazing Jennifer Lawrence is at her very best here (she has my vote for Best Actress), showing us she has impeccable comedic timing to go with her acting.  The film is working within the highly predictable and cloying romantic comedy genre, but Russell constantly keeps things fresh and in defiance of rom-com tropes.  Rather than one person changing who they are to accommodate the love of someone else, Silver Linings Playbook encourages that maybe, you just need to find someone to share in your madness with and love unequivocally.  It’s hilarious, touching, and features some of the best acting of the year.  Everyone should be able to find a silver lining in this one.

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6. Ruby Sparks (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris)

I went into this movie with no expectations, and left with a reminder of why I wanted to be a screenwriter in the first place.  Ruby Sparks is hilarious, moving, and downright brutal at times.  Zoe Kazan (who also penned the screenplay) is wonderful as the goofy titular character, and her off-screen boyfriend Paul Dano is fantastic as the awkward but endearing one-hit wonder author.  The meta concept of characters interacting with their creator isn’t exactly a ground-breaking premise for a movie, but there is so much cleverness and charm here that it feels fresh and genuinely insightful.  Believe me when I say that Ruby Sparks is more than just another quirky indie film.  I will go as far as saying that this is a better movie than Little Miss Sunshine.  I urge everyone who hasn’t already seen it to do so.

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5. Looper (Rian Johnson)

For Looper, Rian Johnson took a simple, awesome idea and just went for it.  The reason why Philip K. Dick is the greatest science fiction author of all time is because he was a genius with awesome ideas, and he just went for it, sometimes to a fault.  Is it easy to poke holes in the diegesis of the world and complain about the practicality of the premise?  Yes, but that’s not the point.  The point is to be thought-provoking, but more importantly it’s to entertain.  And what’s more entertaining than pitting Bruce Willis against Bruce Willis?  Johnson pushes the plot through the suspect motives behind the premise, focusing on not getting caught up in sci-fi semantics.  The result is a stylish, well-acted, and action-packed time-travel romp that despite the slow-paced middle act is still one of the best sci-fi (Holy hyphens, Batman!) movies I’ve ever seen.

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4. Argo (Ben Affleck)

When I left the theater after having seen Argo, I thought to myself, “Wow, that might be the most technically competent movie I’ve ever seen.  It nailed everything that makes a great movie.”  I was curious to know what other people thought, so I eaves-dropped on a conversation two young women were having on their way out.  What did they have to say? “Oh my god, Ben Affleck is so fucking hot with a beard!”  You see?  She totally got it.  We may not have gone in looking for the same things, but we left satisfied (that girl probably in more ways than one).  The point being, there is something for everyone to enjoy about this movie.  It has solid performances, masterful directing, an intriguing plot, and one of the most suspenseful third acts of all-time.  Oh yeah, and Ben Affleck with a beard, apparently.

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3. Cloud Atlas (Lana and Andy Wachowski, Tom Tykwer)

You know what my first question was when I heard Cloud Atlas was being made into a movie? “How the hell are they going to pull that off?”  Well, they pulled it off, and Cloud Atlas blew me away.  Many critics agree it’s ambitious to a fault.  Is it ambitious?  Yes, incredibly so.  With six separate stories being told at once and a nearly three-hour running time, there’s certainly a lot to chew on.  But from both a screenwriting and technical perspective, this film is a marvel.  The fact that the story is cohesive is remarkable as it is, but it’s interwoven and presented so successfully that it makes for a powerful and emotional movie-going experience.  The visuals are dazzling.  The performances are top-notch (mostly).  Cloud Atlas is everything that a movie should be.  And that’s the true-true.

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2. Life of Pi (Ang Lee)

Life of Pi is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  Ang Lee has crafted a true marvel of a movie.  The incorporation of 3D is the best I’ve seen yet.  It feels seamless and organic, with very little of that obtrusive factor that hinders so many 3D experiences.  I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times I just sat in my seat with my mouth agape, in complete awe of the absolute beauty on the screen.  If there is one word to describe Life of Pi, it would have to be “magical.”  But above the spectacle of the image, what really struck me was the emotional resonance of the story.  Pi’s journey tested his devotion to his Gods, but more importantly it tested the strength of my tear ducts (which are not very strong, FYI).  I had full-on tears streaming down my face at least four times.  This is maybe the most bold and poignant blockbuster ever created.  I would be selling Life of Pi short by calling it a great movie, because it’s so much more than just a movie.  It’s a moving, transcendent life experience that must be seen to be believed.

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1. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)

I was working at a movie theater when this was screening.  I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that at least ten people a day (even on the slow ones) walked out of this movie.  That’s how you know it’s good.  Making this list was very difficult for me, except for where to rank The Master.  When the credits ended, I wanted to stay glued to my seat and wait for the next screening.  I wanted to immediately sit through another 140 minutes of Joaquin Phoenix scowling at me.  I had questions with no answers, I had certain shots I wanted to revisit, but most of all, I just wanted to lose myself in this movie again.  The Master is one of the most compelling and engrossing films I’ve ever seen.  I was completely entranced by every performance, every score decision, every frame put before me.  P.T. Anderson is continuing the tradition of serious and challenging movies in the vein of the legendary Stanley Kubrick.  This is a masterpiece, and one that I hope cements Anderson’s status as a true, for lack of a better word, master of the medium.

Honorable mentions: Amour, The Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, Seven Psychopaths, The Cabin in the Woods, Bernie, Lawless, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Avengers, ParaNorman.

Let me know what your favorites of the year were in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “The Best Films of 2012

  1. A solid list and enjoyable write up. I’m glad to see some mention made to Ruby Sparks. While I wouldn’t put it in my Top 10 of 2012, it definitely left an impression is a movie I’d watch whenever needing a bit of introspection.

    There were so many movies I wanted to see and, despite catching over 30, I’ve still missed out on so much.

    • I was lucky enough (in a sense) to work for one of the big movie chains for six months, so I was able to see tons of stuff. But still, there are quire a few notable ones I have yet to see (Beasts of the Southern Wild, Holy Motors, Safety Not Guaranteed, etc.). And thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed my post!

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