‘The Impossible,’ ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and ‘Holy Motors’ are the best films of 2012

If you were to have asked me last June if 2012 was a good year for movies my answer would have been a definitive “no.”  Sure, “The Avengers,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and the long delayed “Cabin the Woods” provided some refuge, but for the most part the first half of this year was full of forgettable films.  This isn’t necessarily anything new.  The better prestige films always tend to begin their roll outs in September.  By December – all of a sudden – there are seemingly enough great movies for people to champion.  The difference with 2012 is that while there were a lot of very good movies, there weren’t necessarily a significant number of great movies.

In 2011, I chose “Shame,” “Drive” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” as my top three films of the year.  Those pictures would easily land the same slots in 2012.  More disappointingly, there has been a glut of films that have been severely overrated by my critical and media peers. Unfortunately, sometimes you want something to be so good you overlook is obvious weaknesses.  But, I digress…

My personal top 10 took quite awhile to settle on.  Luckily, the top four films were pretty set.  The bottom six were not and I’m honestly less passionate about them than I have been regarding films from recent year-end lists. The biggest challenge was picking no. 1.  In theory, I would make it a tie, but that’s a cop out and I decided to chose the picture that moved me more.  To each, his own. So, without further delay…

TOP 10 FILMS OF 2012

10. “Skyfall”
Not just the best Bond ever, but one of the best thrillers in the past 24 months. It also features, thanks to Javier Bardem, three of the most memorable scenes from a movie this year. 1. Silva’s entrance. 2. Bond and Silva’s island shooting competition and 3. M and Silva’s reunion at Mi-6. A classic.

9. “Moonrise Kingdom”
Longtime Wes devotees may disagree, but “Kingdom” has to be ranked as the best film of Anderson’s career. It perfectly captures his voice in an entertaining confection as an island of unhappy adults deal with the sweet indiscretions of young love.

8. “Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present”
There were a number of good documentaries in 2012, but “The Artist Is Present” haunted me for weeks. A must see for any artist no matter your age or experience.

7. “Argo”
A stunningly well made thriller whose screenplay delicately walks the line between mining laughs from its Hollywood origins to generating life and death tension during an improbable Tehran escape. Well done Mr. Affleck, well done.

6. “Keep the Lights On”
An impressive and moving drama centered on the ups and downs of a gay couple dealing with addiction in the first decade of the 20th century. Noteworthy for its historical accuracy and a top notch turn by Thure Lindhardt.

5. “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
The Sundance kid that could. A startling work from director Benh Zeitlin that has already cemented its name in independent film history.

4. “Cloud Atlas”
An epic and visionary tale from the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer that is far more ambitious than most of the films released this year.  Incredibly moving, “Atlas” is the best ensemble work of the year and destined to be remembered longer than some of this year’s more celebrated critical hits.

3. “Holy Motors”
Speaking of ambitious, Leos Carax’s latest is a fantastical art film that isn’t afraid to challenge moviegoers expectations of narrative cinema.  It’s a surreal day in the life of a man of many identities and  centered by a jaw-dropping performance by Denis Lavant (who would earn an Oscar nod in a perfect world). And like “Cloud Atlas” or “The Artist is Present,” you just can’t get it out of your head.

2. “Zero Dark Thirty”
Kathryn Bigelow’s startling achievement chronicles the 10 year hunt for Osama Bin Laden and intentionally leaves you pondering what’s next.  Not just for Maya (Jessica Chastsain), the CIA operative who makes it her personal obsession to find Bin Laden, but the nation as a whole.

1. “The Impossible”
A remarkable masterpiece from director Juan Antonio Bayona, “The Impossible” transports the viewer into the perilous journey of a family whose life is almost swept away by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami while on holiday in Thailand. Based on a true story – perhaps more true than any “true story” this year – the drama is a riveting experience that will leave you breathless and emotionally drained. No other film moved me more.


“Silver Linings Playbook”
A career pinnacle for David O. Russell.  Funny, moving and oh, so real.

“Perks of Being a Wallflower”
A great coming of age movie for adults. Will grow in stature over the years.

“Anna Karenina”
A gorgeous, expertly directed adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic novel. Imagine if Kate Winslet had been the lead instead of Knightley?

Two very good movies in one.

“The Cabin in the Woods”
Would have been a sensation if released two years ago as planned.  Now, an instant cult classic.

“The Dark Knight Rises”
Unfairly judged under a microscope because of its predecessor, “Rises” is still one of the best 20 movies of 2012 and easily one of the best comic book or superhero movies of all-time.

“End of Watch”
A very good movie featuring the best work of Jake Gyllenhaal’s career.


“Rust and Bone”
A great movie until it severely falters in the third act.

“Magic Mike”
The most unexpected polarizing studio release of the year.

“21 Jump Street”
Funnier than anyone ever expected. Almost makes you hope they don’t make the scheduled sequel.

“The Master”
Knockdown, classic performances. Unfortunately, most of the critics in America won’t admit they have no idea what it wants to say (and no, Anderson didn’t intend for it to be a rorschach test for moviegoers).

Loved the performances, but not sure some of Haneke’s choices work as intended though.

“Life of Pi”

The most beautiful second act of any film in recent memory.

Frustrating, but compelling.

Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts below.