2012 has been strange year. For me, it will probably be remembered as the year of disappointments. That’s not saying that everything I was hoping would be good was bad, just that most of the films I hoped would be great merely turned out to be good. This ended up happening for films like “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Django Unchained,” “Lincoln,” and “Moonrise Kingdom.” There were even some movies that I was hoping would be great that ended up being too disappointing to even recommend, like “Skyfall,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and ”Amour.”
But enough about that, what else really sets this year apart is the fact that I had to struggle to fill up a list of ten films that I deemed good enough to be called the ten best of the year, meaning that there aren’t even any honorable mentions. I managed to fill the list, but not without including some much smaller movies that most people probably haven’t even heard of. However, when it comes to those films, hopefully you’ll be encouraged to see them as they’re definitely worth a look.
So, without further ado, let’s begin the countdown of the Best Films of 2012:
10. Room 237 – This is a documentary that has been making the rounds at festival circuits throughout the year. It’s a fascinating look into Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” featuring several theories that various people have in regards to what the film is actually about. These include such interpretations as the film really being about Native Americans, The Holocaust, and the faking of the moon landing, the latter of which is probably the most famous theory revolving around the film. The theories are rather farfetched, but it certainly makes for an intriguing look at Kubrick’s psychological masterpiece that will never have you looking at the film the same way again.
9. A Royal Affair – A captivating film of political and romantic intrigue in Denmark. It tells the story of a young woman who is brought to Denmark to be the Queen to the insane King Christian VII. Her stay there has her falling in love with the King’s physician, who also happens to be his best friend, creating a dangerous love triangle. Aside from the romantic aspects, it also deals with the bringing of enlightened ideas to the country, ideas that the Queen and her secret lover conspire to bring about for the betterment of society. It’s a lot for one film to handle, but it pulls it off quite well, and with spectacular visual splendor.
8. I Declare War – This will probably be the least known film on the list, having only played at one or two festivals. It’s the simple story of a group of kids playing a game of war, and taking it way, way too seriously. It’s a fascinating look at some very active imaginations at play. On top of that, it’s got a great dose of humor and some surprisingly good performances from the young cast. It’s unclear at this time whether it will be getting an official release, but hopefully it will at least come out on Blu-Ray sometime in the future.
7. Wreck-It Ralph – This is a great throw back to arcade gaming that can be appreciated by old gamers and newer gamers alike. It uses the fascinating concept of allowing video game characters to cross over into different games to great effect. Throw in an engaging story and interesting characters and you have the best animated film of the year.
6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Here we have a great look at what it’s like to be an outcast in high school. The film focuses on a young man who finds himself accepted into a strange group of friends that he becomes very close with. All the while, there’s a bit of a mystery as to what happened in the young man’s past that has made him the outcast we meet at the start of the film. The film features some wonderful performances from Ezra Miller, who has done a complete 180 from his astounding performance in last year’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” and Emma Watson, who is doing a good job of distancing herself from “Harry Potter.” However, what was perhaps most shocking of all was discovering that the lead role was played by Logan Lerman, the same kid from that silly “Percy Jackson” movie. Just goes to show that the right material can make all the difference in showing talent.
5. Holy Motors – There’s no easy way to describe the trip that is “Holy Motors.” This French film is simply about a man by the name of Oscar, who travels around in a limo, keeping various appointments and playing different roles at each stop. At one appointment, he’s a beggar on the street, at another, he’s a crazed man eating flowers in a cemetery. What does it all mean? Who are his mysterious employers? But perhaps the most important question of all is: Does it matter? The film is bizarre, yet spellbinding, as we follow Oscar from place to place, so much so that you won’t even find it out of the ordinary when a young woman he meets randomly bursts into song. This would easily be my choice for Best Foreign Language Film of the year.
4. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Despite not connecting with the critics very well, there were still a few of us that found this to be a wonderful journey. It certainly had its shortcomings, such as certain parts feeling superfluous, but Jackson has once again managed to capture Middle Earth in a beautifully-crafted film. It captures the events of the book quite well in addition to giving us extra pieces to surprise even those that are very familiar with the text of Tolkein’s novel. This being the first of a trilogy, it is rather hard to judge it as a solo film at this time. The parts that seem superfluous now may make much more of a difference down the road. We’ll just have to see over the next two years if Jackson’s vision was really worth a trilogy of films.
3. The Cabin in the Woods – Here we have the best horror film to hit the big screen in several years, but not only that, it’s also the most intelligent of its genre since Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven’s “Scream.” It’s a film that works best by knowing as little about it as possible going in, so all I’ll tell you Is that it’s about a group of teens who visit a cabin in the woods, only to find that there is something very, very strange going on. It’s a completely unique take on the old “cabin in the woods” formula made famous by Sam Raimi in “The Evil Dead.” The filmmakers weren’t kidding when they put out the tagline “If you think you know the story, think again.”
2. Cloud Atlas – The first time I saw “Cloud Atlas,“ I wasn’t quite sure what to think. It was a lot to take in on one viewing. Overall, I had liked it, but, like I stated in my original review, I had felt like it hadn’t quite gotten to the point it was aiming for. However, a second viewing had me changing my mind and marveling even more than the first time. This is an astounding film, brilliant constructed. Weaving together six different stories, spanning several centuries, it deals with themes of imprisonment and freedom in a way that have never been seen before. This was an incredibly ambitious project from the Wachowski Siblings and Tom Tykwer that took a uniqueness of vision to accomplish. It is a gorgeously-crafted film that will be discussed and remembered for a long time to come.
1. Les Misérables – If you read my review of the film, then it should come as no surprise to find this in the top spot. This spectacularly-mounted production of the beloved stage musical has everything you could want in such a film: beautiful music, fantastic performances all around, great production design, fascinating characters, and an emotionally-charged story. Tom Hooper has treated this material with the utmost of care and delivered a film that is worthy of going on the list of great musical adaptations. Like many others on that list, it took several years to come about, but it was definitely worth the long wait.
2012 did indeed have some great movies to offer, even though it did take a little digging around to find a few of them. It’s hard to say whether this year was better than the last. On the one hand, last year’s list had no four-star films, but a few 3.5s that didn’t quite make the list, whereas this year, I had exactly ten with one of those being a four-star film. It’s not so hard to say that this year’s list is a lot more obscure than last year’s, but again, hopefully it will encourage a few of you to seek them out. In closing, I’d just like to wish you all a happy new year. Here’s hoping we’ll be treated to several great films in 2013.
Also be sure to check out my list of The Worst Films of 2012.