It’s that time of year again, the time that I simultaneously cherish and dread: the time to pick my top movies of the year. While this is never an easy feat, it’s especially hard this year because 2012 turned out to be the best year for movies in as long as I can remember. It started out rough, filled with disappointments…and then once summer came along, BOOM — just like that, the surge of greats began, and didn’t stop until Christmas day.
As an avid movie-lover, it’s hard to take a year of obsessive movie watching and whittle that year down to a mere list. I tossed and turned over which of my beloved movies wouldn’t make the cut, constantly flipped around the order, re-watched some of the movies I was unsure about – until I was mentally exhausted and left with what I can safely say are my personal 15 favorites of 2012:
15) Café de Flore – The best movie you never saw, director Jean-Marc Vallée’s look into love in all its forms is an abstract, beautiful little film. The music, choppy editing, and exploration into soul mates and reincarnation make this a film you won’t soon forget.
14) Queen of Versailles – This documentary about a couple who set out to build a 90,000-square-foot replica of Versailles (the biggest single-roof home in the country) is so interesting because the story changed while filming: what started out as a depiction of the ultimate American Dream unexpectedly turned into a riches-to-rags story once the 2008 financial crisis hit in Lauren Greenfield’s engaging Sundance winner.
13) Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson’s delightful story about two kids who run away together is sweet, funny, odd and totally memorable. With an all-star cast (made up of Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, and Bill Murray), Anderson’s signature farce and color scheme, and an array of moments that’ll make you smile from ear-to-ear, this tale of first love is the kind of quirk that is palatable to all.
12) Django Unchained – Christoph Waltz as a dentist-turned-bounty hunter, Leonardo DiCaprio as a despicable, over-privileged man-child, and Samuel L. Jackson as a foul-mouthed servant that betrays his own race – these three unforgettable performances are just part of the reason Django is quickly becoming the talk of the town. Quentin Tarantino brings his usual flair to this slavery-revenge story; he takes a serious subject and infuses it with so much humor and wit that it’s hard not to love.
11) The Cabin in the Woods – I hate to sound elitist…but I’m willing to bet that those that didn’t like Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s brilliantly self-aware slasher-comedy just didn’t fully *get* it. It pays homage to some of the great horror movies, and provides some real scares and a ton of laughs, making for a movie-going experience that is pure, blood-soaked fun.
…And now for the top 10:
10) 21 Jump Street – Who would have thought that a movie based on the cheesy TV series from the ‘80s would be anything but a train wreck? Surprisingly, 21 Jump Street turned out to be the absolute funniest movies of the year, thanks to a gut-busting script and Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as the film’s hilarious duo. Jump Street puts most other buddy cop/bromance movies to shame.
9) The Dark Knight Rises – While many seem to be split on this one, to me, this is a film that transcends the superhero genre. Nolan’s ambition gleams on the film’s every frame. This is the utterly intense final chapter that fans of this series needed and deserved. One with an ending that couldn’t be more perfect or poignant – an ending that does justice to one of the greatest film trilogies of all time.
8) Zero Dark Thirty – I can say this with absolute certainty: the last 30 minutes of Zero Dark Thirty, which uses night-vision to show the perspective of one of the Navy SEALS, are some of the most intense I’ve seen all year. Jessica Chastain’s performance as the CIA agent that devotes her every waking moment to hunting down Osama Bin Laden is by far this year’s best lead female performance – one that you can bet will take home the big award at this year’s Oscars.
7) Ruby Sparks – This was one of the most criminally underseen and underrated movies of the year. Ruby Sparks tells the story of a writer (played by the always fantastic Paul Dano) who finds that the dream girl he’s been writing about has somehow materialized. This charming, whimsical picture is more than just a sweet romantic comedy – it opens up a thought-provoking conversation about relationships, and what it truly takes to stay happy in one.
6) Life of Pi – Based on the bestselling, “unfilmable” novel, this is one of the most visually stunning movies I’ve seen in quite some time. Multilayered and magical, Ang Lee took a story that very well could have started to drag and turned it into a thrilling adventure that explores the nature of faith.
5) Argo – Tacking the real-life story of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, I found myself alternating between laughing (thanks to hilarious performances from Alan Arkin and John Goodman) and shaking during the film’s riveting second half – even though I already knew how the story ended. This is all due to brilliant direction by Ben Affleck, who’s quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s finest.
4) Skyfall – Never thought that a Bond movie could be worthy of a Best Picture nomination? Think again! This third addition to Daniel Craig’s Bond franchise is the best yet. Featuring gorgeous cinematography by Roger Deakins, Javier Bardem as one of the creepiest villains of the year, and a clever, sharp script, Skyfall has the look along with a surprising amount of substance, making it the full package.
3) Silver Linings Playbook – Director David O. Russell’s latest film, starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Tucker and Robert De Niro, has more than enough charm and heart to satisfy your romantic comedy needs. In fact, Silver Linings is a movie that abides by the rules of the rom-com while never quite feeling like one. Boasting a plot that is wonderfully all over the place (we get mental illness, football craze, and even a ballroom dance competition), and honest, funny performances from its cast, this is an absolute delight to watch. If you’re looking for an upper: skip the pills. See Silver Linings Playbook instead.
2) The Perks of Being a Wallflower – This adaptation of the popular teen novel is a tender, heartfelt look at high school, and the friends that make it worthwhile. With breakthrough performances by its young cast and a heavy sense of nostalgia, Perks feels like a classic in the making.
1) Les Misérables – While certainly not without its critics, no other movie this year made me feel that sort of rousing, chills-all-over type of passion and emotion like Les Misérables. Les Mis pulls you in with its tremendous scope, gorgeous music, and heartbreaking performances from its stellar cast, including Oscar-worthy turns from Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman. This is a movie musical done right. Tight close-ups let the actors shine during their big moments, and sweeping cinematography gives this story the grand feel that an epic of its nature demands. Most importantly: fans of musical theater who really give Les Mis a chance to sweep them away may even forget they’re in a move theater — you’ll want to break out into roaring applause by time the curtains fall…err, I mean, credits roll.