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Top 10 Films of 2012

2012 was an enigmatic year for film. There were an unusual amount of really good films but few great ones. In any case, I present my --purely subjective-- top ten list of 2012 films...but first, the runners up.

It was exceedingly difficult to make a list of just ten but it would kind of feel like cheating if I'd stretch the list to a greater number. All of the following films were truly excellent but just couldn't secure that top spot.

Runner-ups (in no particular order):

  • Argo
  • The Avengers
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • The Cabin in the Woods
  • Chronicle
  • Cloud Atlas
  • Flight
  • The Grey
  • Magic Mike
  • Seven Psychopaths
  • Skyfall
  • Wreck it Ralph

Onward to the 10 finalists:

10. Bullhead
Even though this Belgian drama was technically released in 2011, it hit the USA in early 2012 and it packed such an unforgettable punch that it's imprint lingered for the entire year. It's very rare when a film's conclusion both legitimizes the entire process and ups the emotional stake to heart-breaking levels but Bullhead is that rare film. Chartering the nature of violence and the inescapable shadow of childhood, Bullhead explores the dire notion that we do not control our destiny- it is irrevocably pieced together from our experiences. Though it is often hard to watch, it is eerily sincere in its frankness.

9. Lincoln
A stirring and smart courtroom drama elevated by strong performances across the board. It's hard to think of anyone this year who put in a better leading performance than Daniel Day Lewis an the eponymous 16th president and Lincoln scores major points just for that. Although we can debate the accuracy of this biopic, Lewis plays Lincoln as a gentle hearted idealist struggling to change the ethos of his time. The film is all about political positioning and pandering that draws a close comparison to the bipartisan politics of 2012. Tommy Lee Jones plays his typical grumpster self but in this case he absolutely kills it.

8. Prometheus
Ridley Scott revolutionized both the sci-fi and horror genres with his 1979 flick Alien and after 33 years returned to make a quasi-prequel to his cult hit. The result: Prometheus. A surprisingly quiet and talky feature about the roots of human existence, Prometheus walks a fine of being too heady and out there while occasionally stirring in goopy scares. Though some may question the true ambition behind this film, the eye popping effects, the simply beautiful visual canvas and a first-rate android performance from Michael Fassbender make this one of the years finest.

7. Moonrise Kingdom
Meticulously crafted and unapolegetically blunt, Moonrise Kingdom puts the oddness and neurosis of director Wes Anderson into the hands of pubsecent children. Featuring a host of nods to classic films from Sergio Leone to Shawshank Redemption to Lord of the Flies, it dutifully illuminates the strangeness of youth experimenting with love. Moonrise may be more awkward and less earnest than Anderson's other films but the healthy dollops of whimsy, beautiful framing and star supporting cast make it better than most other films of the year.

6. The Dark Knight Rises
Although excessively lengthy and sorely missing the Joker, The Dark Knight Rises is a perfect conclusion to one of the best trilogies of all time. It's unrelentingly dark and surely not for kids but it continues the exploration of the Jungian hero's journey in the post 9/11 era. And say what you will about Bane, but he is the first legitimate threat to the throne in terms of his brutish psychique. This is a true epic whose sprawling length and exhaustive story closes out the Bruce Wayne account in grandiose manner. While others may herald Nolan's other Dark Knight crusade as his finest, this closing chapter is nonetheless cathartic.

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
An exercise in knowing how to make the little things matter, Perks is a touching film that's earnest and understated on all fronts. It didn't hurt that this one came out of nowhere and manages to yet managed to stick with us throughout the year. Although the story of struggling through school and finding your place has been done before, its hasn't been done with some genuine honesty. Going forth, this is the guidebook for investing an audience in a relatively minor story.

4. Looper
An imaginative sci-fi thriller chock full of hauntingly memorable moments. This is a study in the dark and imaginative that doesn't suffocate the audience by pandering to their needs . The character motivations are admirably strong and it all takes place in a really fleshed out and lived in future world more similar to the grime of Children of Men than the sleekness of 2001: Space Odyssey. It's undeniably refreshing to see a film that so aptly balances cerebral ideas and good old fashion shoot-em-up sensibility.

3. End of Watch
It would be a vast understatement to refer to this film as the best of the "buddy cop" films. Instead let's call it what it is: a powerfully acted, genuinely funny, heartbreakingly emotional piece of film with pitch perfect chemistry between the two leads. While the whole found footage format may be growing tiresome for some, it's used effectively and poignantly here resulting in our being witness to a realism that escapes most film. Our earned emotional investment in the drama that unravels is a testament to the comradery between the two seasoned leads with Michael Pena in particular giving the most under-appreciated performance of the year.

2 . Silver Linings Playbook
David O'Russell proves once more that he is a true master of character drama as this is pure magic that cuts to the heart of the human condition. It's brutally blunt, funny, insightful and real. It tenderly deals with mental illness without a thick coat of gloss and the performances are all top notch. Jennifer Lawrence is truly magnetic, Bradley Cooper is showing a new and promising side and De Niro has finally stopped calling it in and delivers a real emotional punch. Although society labels Silver Lining Playbook's subjects as "crazy", we could all learn a lesson about honest and open communication from them.

1 . Django Unchained
Django Unchained represents all that's great about cinema-it's daring, smart and challenging without being pretentious and groveling. This splatterfest symphony has all the earmarks of a Tarantino film- flashy superimposed text, snappy dialogue, terse banter, larger than life characters and an emotional revenge narrative- but it uses the backdrop of the slave-ridden south to expose the nastiness of our nations past. The sad truth- this is pulp fact, not fiction. While it's not for the faint of heart- be prepared for torrents of blood and no short measure of the "n-word"- Django Unchained is that rare masterpiece that will have you laughing out loud one moment and in jaw-dangling horror the next.

For my full review click here.


So in recap:

10. Bullhead

9. Lincoln

8. Prometheus

7. Moonrise Kingdom

6. The Dark Knight Rises

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

4. Looper

3. End of Watch

2. Silver Linings Playbook

1. Django Unchained

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