For the record, I still haven’t had the opportunity to see “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Amour” or “Life of Pi” yet. This may threaten to make this best of list seem incomplete, but who really has the time to see every single movie that comes out in a single year anyway? I’m just glad that 2012 was a better year for movies than usual and that it gave me at least ten truly great films to make a list out of.
2012 was a year that saw the end of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and the beginning of “The Hobbit,” Peter Jackson’s long awaited return to Middle Earth. It was also the year where the last “Twilight” movie was released, but I couldn’t care less about that. Furthermore, it was filled with a surprising number of movies about real life events we all knew the outcomes to, and yet they were still riveting to watch from beginning to end.
But what dominated our attention for a good portion of this year were the horrific shootings at a school in Newton, Connecticut and at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. It once again got many people to wonder if there’s a connection to the violence we see in movies and what happened in those American cities (newsflash folks, there isn’t). I figured we all sorted that out after the tragedy that unfolded at Columbine High School years ago, but sadly many still think that it has to do with what people watch. How about we consider doing more research into mental health issues and look at doing more about gun control? Wait a minute, forget about gun control. Let’s talk about bullet control instead, how does that sound?
Oh yeah, we had another Presidential election and thank goodness it ended in the way it needed to end; with Barack Obama getting a second term.
Anyway, here are my picks for the best movies of 2012.
Now many of you may snicker at me putting Seth McFarlane’s comedy on this list, but I don’t care. Even if there are movies from 2012 more worthy of ending up here, I didn’t enjoy them as much as I enjoyed this one. Whereas many comedies I see these days tend to be hit and miss, “Ted” had me convulsing with laughter endlessly. I loved how McFarlane brought that teddy bear to life both vocally and visually. I loved it’s ode to the 1980 camp classic “Flash Gordon” and that its star Sam J. Jones had the audacity and sense of humor to play himself here. And yes, I loved the fight scene between Ted and Mark Wahlberg. Batman and Bane almost have nothing on them!
Yes, “Ted” has a lot of crass humor, but it also has a big heart and a lot of important things to say about how we need to grow up sooner rather than later. It also had the great Patrick Stewart doing the movie’s narration, so what more could you ask for?
Steven Spielberg has been meaning to make a movie on the sixteenth President of the United States for many years, and he finally made it a reality this past year. “Lincoln” is the kind of historical movie I want to see more of; one where a famous person is made fully human with flaws and all and is brought down from the mythological status we have given him over the years. Spielberg is aided tremendously by the unsurprisingly magnificent performance from Daniel Day Lewis who never fails to disappoint. His performance as President Lincoln is brilliant in that he gives us a man who was modest but very thoughtful, and Lewis also shows how the man was gifted with a wonderful sense of humor we never knew him to have.
I also have to point out that, like many of Spielberg’s greatest movies, “Lincoln” doesn’t have a single weak performance in it. Among the standouts are Sally Field who gives another one of her tremendous performances as Mary Todd Lincoln, and Tommy Lee Jones who steals every scene he’s in as the fiery abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.
8) “The Master”
Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest movie has been perceived by many to be one of his weaker efforts due to its characters and their actions seeming quite opaque. It didn’t matter to me, however, that the movie had more questions than it did answers because it is as immersive a cinematic experience as Anderson’s other movies usually are. I love how unrestrained Joaquin Phoenix was in his invigorating portrayal of the physically and psychologically wounded war veteran Freddie Quell, and Philip Seymour Hoffman gives one of his best performances ever (and that’s saying a lot) as the charismatic leader Lancaster Dodd. But let’s not forget the fantastic Amy Adams who is mesmerizing as Lancaster’s Lady Macbeth-like wife Peggy who exerts a power over these two men that they can only dream of exerting over each other.
There’s also something to be said about Anderson’s dedication to filming this movie in a 65/70mm format as that hasn’t been done since Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 movie “Hamlet.”
This movie felt alive in a way most others don’t, and that made it all the more exhilarating to watch. After playing so many roles as the good looking guy we all wish we could look as sexy as, Bradley Cooper ends up giving his best performance to date as Pat Solitano, a man suffering from bipolar disorder who is desperately trying to stay one step ahead of his painful reality. Jennifer Lawrence, however, proves to be every bit his equal as the widowed Tiffany Maxwell who speaks her mind whether it’s in a politically correct way or not. Seeing these two interact with one another made for one of the most entertaining movies of the year.
I don’t know if writer/director David O. Russell is any easier to work with after hearing all those horror stories from the sets of “Three Kings” and “I Heart Huckabees,” but he still knows how to direct actors to great and spontaneous performances. He gets some excellent turns from Jacki Weaver as Pat’s mother, Chris Tucker who drops his manic comedy persona to play the super positive Danny, and Robert De Niro who gives his best performance in a long time as Pat’s OCD father who is ever so desperate to see the Philadelphia Eagles kick ass on the football field.
I’ve seen a lot of time travel movies throughout my lifetime, but Rian Johnson’s “Looper” is one of the most ingenious I’ve ever seen. It reminds you of all the ones you have seen before like “Back To The Future” and “12 Monkeys,” but it soon becomes its own thing and feels unique to those we remember best. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who had a banner year in 2012, does some of his best work here as Joe Simmons, and Bruce Willis reminds us why he remains a star after all these years as the Joe Simmons from the future. Some movies end up drowning in their own cleverness, but “Looper” doesn’t and it’s all the better for it. I got a kick out of all the directions this movie ended up taking as it mixed it up with different genres throughout.
YES! I GET TO PUT A JAMES BOND MOVIE ON MY TOP TEN LIST!!! I love it when all the elements in a 007 film come together, and that’s what director Sam Mendes made happen with this latest entry in the long running franchise. Mendes succeeds in reinvigorating this series with a bit of the old and the bit of the new, and it makes you eager to see what will happen next. Daniel Craig has more than proven that he’s as good a Bond as Sean Connery ever was, Javier Bardem proves to be one of the scariest and most unnerving Bond villains ever, both Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe are fantastically chosen Bond girls, and Dame Judi Dench gives a franchise best performance as M. On top of that, you have some beautiful cinematography from Roger Deakins, a terrific film score by Thomas Newman, and one of the best Bond theme songs ever courtesy of Adele. This may very well be my favorite James Bond movie ever!
Christopher Nolan concludes his Batman trilogy in an emotionally satisfying way that had me leaving the theater with a big smile on my face. Whether it’s as good as “The Dark Knight” or not doesn’t matter at this point because we are thankful that this one works as well as it does. In many ways “The Dark Knight Rises” is more about Bruce Wayne than it is Batman as it gives us a superhero that is infallible and capable of being seriously wounded. Christian Bale completes his tour of duty with honor, Tom Hardy gives us an unforgettably brutal villain with Bane, Anne Hathaway knocked our socks off with her interpretation of Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman), and Sir Michael Caine brings us to tears as the loyal butler Alfred. I could not be more satisfied at how this series of Batman movies came to its conclusion.
As of now, there should be absolutely no doubt that Ben Affleck is an A-list director. “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town” should have made that abundantly clear, but for others it took his brilliant “Argo” to wake them up to how good he is behind the camera. Affleck’s film on CIA operative Tony Mendez’s attempt to rescue six U.S. diplomats from Tehran, Iran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis was an endlessly riveting thriller that kept my attention fully from beginning to end even though the outcome was never in doubt. It also proved to be a hilarious satire on the strange way Hollywood goes about making movies, and both Alan Arkin and John Goodman lend terrific support as movie industry players who haven’t lost their sense of humor in spite of their cynicism.
2) “The Impossible”
Oh man, I was not the least bit prepared for how this movie would floor me emotionally. A.J. Bayona’s “The Impossible” looks on the surface to be your typical disaster film, but it is so much more than that. It’s recreation of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami is absolutely harrowing in its impact, and you come out of it feeling like you lived through it with the characters who were lucky enough to have survived it. Naomi Watts gives another one of her emotionally raw performances as Maria, and she continues to astonish with her immense powers as an actress. Ewan McGregor gives one of his best performances ever as Maria’s husband Henry, and newcomer Tom Holland is very impressive as their son Lucas who is forced to grow up very quickly in the wake of this horrific tragedy. While it is a powerful story about the human spirit and what it can overcome, the movie never loses sight of how devastating the tsunami was to Thailand, and you come out of this cinematic experience utterly shaken at what you have just seen.
Now this was one of the harder times in recent memory when it came to choosing my pick for the best movie of the year. It was tempting to go with either the one I watched the most or the one which shook me the most emotionally. But when it came down to it, I felt it necessary to choose a film that I admired to where I couldn’t find anything wrong with it. With that said, this is my pick for the number one movie of 2012:
1) “Zero Dark Thirty”
Okay I’m just gonna say it, Kathryn Bigelow is a fucking awesome filmmaker! “Zero Dark Thirty” is further proof of her brilliance as a director as she, along with her “Hurt Locker” screenwriter Mark Boal, creates an objective look at the people who helped to bring down 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden. It doesn’t matter that we know how the story ends because Bigelow sucks us in so deeply to the story of Maya (Jessica Chastain kicks ass), a CIA officer who goes from being a sensitive rookie to one who is infinitely obsessive and relentless in her pursuit of Bin Laden.
You never just watch explosions go off in a Kathryn Bigelow movie, you feel them go off around you. She makes you feel like you’re in the same room with these characters as they put their lives on the line to bring down Bin Laden, and she makes you keenly aware of that ticking time bomb that has the possibility of going off at any time. But at the same time, neither Bigelow nor Boal are out to make you feel any certain way about this manhunt nor or they out to make any political statements about it. “Zero Dark Thirty” is a movie that pays tribute to the unsung heroes who are not in a position to get the credit they deserve in bringing down the biggest terrorist target of them all.
One other thing, this is not a “pro-torture” movie as many have accused it of being. It merely accepts the fact that our government participated in the torture of prisoners whether we liked it or not, and there is nothing glamorous in its portrayal of it which comes across as anything but pleasant.
From start to finish, Bigelow succeeds in giving us one of the most intense movie going experiences we could ever hope to watch, and it is infuriating that she was denied an Oscar nomination for her work here.
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):