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My 10 Favorite Films of 2012

As Cheech Marin says in Ghostbusters II, “Well… better late than never.” It has taken me much longer to compile my top ten list of favorite films for 2012 than I originally anticipated. A combination of laziness, missing a couple movies here and there, and more laziness led me to this tardiness, but I think I’ve finally landed on a list of movies that I’m happy with.

I can’t quite gauge the general feeling most people have about the films from 2012. I’ve heard many praise it as a year of thought-provoking indie films and fun, substantive blockbusters. I’ve heard others condemn it as an utter borefest full of bloated, self-indulgent art films and overblown, idiotic popcorn tripe. I suppose I fall somewhere in the middle. I certainly didn’t get to every movie that came out last year, but I definitely saw more than most people get to. It was a year like most– some good, some bad. Many were forgettable and a couple were brilliant. I think that’s a pretty constant trend.

My list this year differs somewhat from last year. My 10 Favorite Films of 2011 were relatively low-profile. Sure, Midnight in Paris was a surprise hit and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had a lot of buzz, but most of my favorites were little seen. To my surprise, I picked several popular hits this year, or at least films that were hotly discussed. You won’t find The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises, though…

Anyway, here are my ten favorites of 2012, complete with descriptions (some are longer than others; and a couple are linked to my reviews):

  • 1. Django Unchained – Quentin Tarantino’s western/action/comedy/romance about a freed slave and a bounty hunter is one of the best times I’ve ever had at the movies (the fact I was in a nearly all black theater helped) To anyone who has kept up with my blog, this pick probably doesn’t come as a surprise. I went into the film with high expectations and I still ended up blown away. I chose not to write a review because I don’t think there’s much I can say that hasn’t been said already. More importantly, I’m very proud of the article I wrote earlier in the year about the issue of racism/racists and filmmaking. I made some accurate predictions about the reaction to the film and it has been by far my most popular and divisive article. I thank those of you who complimented me on the piece, as well as those of you with differing but civilized opinions. And to the minority of anonymous, racist trolls who go around threatening people on the Internet without so much as a picture or a name to identify yourself, I hope you get cancer before dying in a house fire.
  • 2. The Master – Paul Thomas Anderson was sadly robbed of an Oscar nomination for best director– if he makes a movie, it should always be a given that he’s one of the best directors, no questions asked. This unconventional story about a wayward man who finds some solace and guidance in a charismatic cult leader will be a movie that film scholars will look back on for years. It’s dense and ambiguous, which bothers some, but don’t let that description scare you away. The performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams are all personal bests and the cinematography is as gorgeous as anything you’ve ever seen (though it was also snubbed by the Academy). Producer Megan Ellison should be praised for getting this film off the ground.
  • 3. Amour – In typical Michael Haneke fashion, this film is devastating. In atypical Haneke fashion, it’s not violent or particularly provocative, yet it may be his most soul crushing film to date. This story of an elderly woman’s declining health and her husband’s desperate attempts to keep her going will stick with you, I promise.
  • 4. Zero Dark Thirty – Perhaps the most personally surprising film of the year, I expected to be underwhelmed by this film. I was totally wrong. This meticulous and grueling look at the hunt for Bin Laden is a well directed, impeccably acted detective story that shows how rewarding and how dangerous an obsession can be.
  • 5. Compliance – A horrifying look at how awful human beings really are and it’s based on (several) true stories… I love it. The criminally underappreciated Ann Dowd gives perhaps the finest film performance of the year as a fast food restaurant manager who allows one of her young employees to be exploited and degraded. It’s a tough movie to watch, but its unflinching honesty is something more filmmakers should strive for.
  • 6. Looper – Time travel films have been done to death, but this one is a cut above. It’s witty, fresh, and full of fun performances. Even more wonderful, however, is the fact that I did not see the twist of this movie coming. That’s rare, especially from a time jumping sci-fi film.
  • 7. The Deep Blue Sea – Quiet and understated, this character study about a flawed woman and her flawed relationships takes its time with delicate, mature pacing. Rachel Weisz’s wonderful role was sadly overlooked by the Academy this year, which is a shame because it might be the best work she’s ever done.
  • 8. Lincoln – I expected just a bland, straightforward biopic, but I was pleasantly surprised by this ambitious yet personal look at Abraham Lincoln’s struggle to abolish slavery. It’s lengthy but never drags, and multiple memorable supporting performances help Daniel Day-Lewis’ truly amazing work shine even brighter.
  • 9. Haywire – A thriller/chase film that feels like a blast from the ’70s, this smart spy flick is another example of why it sucks that the great Steven Soderbergh is retiring. The fight scenes are among the most authentic and visceral as I’ve ever seen in a movie, which in no small part is due to the film’s lead, MMA fighter Gina Carano.
  • 10. The Snowtown Murders – This creepy tale of small-minded bigotry and manipulation is based on the true story of one of Australia’s most notorious serial killers. It’s a terrifying look at the power one man can have when playing off the fears of those around him.

And the list is complete! I had to shave off a few that really impressed me, such as the utterly charming Moonrise Kingdom. And I was enthralled by the sheer weirdness of Killer Joe and the unabashed glee of Get the Gringo‘s crime/organ harvesting storyline, but I just couldn’t make room. But honestly, this list wasn’t all that difficult to put together because I was so disappointed in many of the films that I was originally chomping at the bit to see. Prometheus is one of the biggest movie letdowns I’ve ever experienced; Argo is enjoyable, but it’s also rather superficial and obvious (Affleck was deservedly snubbed); Silver Linings Playbook is pleasant enough, but it’s a sanitized, cutesy look at mental illness; and Flight is one great performance surrounded by overwrought directing and a mediocre script.

Lucky for us, the fresh originality of Looper and Django Unchained, the bold historical depictions of Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirtyand the unflinching look at the ugliness of human nature in films like Compliance and The Master makes 2012 a rather impressive year for movies. I’ve already seen some of the films on my list more than once and I plan to go back and revisit them all again in the weeks and months to come. Many are now available on Blu-ray and DVD, so I encourage you to watch them and compare them against this year’s Oscar nominees. I promise you’ll find some gems.

I’ve read a ton already, but feel free to reach me on Twitter at @cinejordan or email shortcomments@gmail.com if you’ve put together your own list of favorites. I’m always on the lookout for new perspectives on movies I’ve already seen or suggestions of movies that I’ve missed. If nothing else, leave a comment below and tell me what you think.

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