2012 has been quite the cinematic year, filled with myriad triumphs and a number of unfortunate letdowns. For the first time we saw a summer that included the release of a Nolan Batman film that was not the best release of the summer (it wasn’t even the best superhero flick of the summer). Auteurs like Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson and Steven Spielberg released new pictures, while David O. Russell, Ben Affleck, Rian Johnson and Joe Wright offered up entries that suggest they too belong among Tinseltown’s best and brightest.
Oscar darlings Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”) and Tom Hooper (“Les Miserables”) delivered the follow-ups to their Best Picture winning features, and are poised to clash for Oscar’s top honor this awards season. Seth MacFarlane brought his trademark, envelope-pushing humor to the big screen in “Ted” and Peter Jackson took us back to Middle Earth in “The Hobbit”.
The world ended and was saved at least a few times. More than one political scandal brought a fake nation to its knees. Oh, and Tom Cruise dressed up in leather pants with a jewel-encrusted demon adorning his crotch.
Yes, it’s been some kind of year. Presented, without further adieu (and in alphabetical order because ranking seems to gameify what should be a celebration of great motion pictures), my picks for the 10 best films of 2012.
Doubtless many will be off-put by Joe Wright’s directorial choices, but divisive as they might be, those stylistic decisions are what make this adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s timeless epic a marvel. The whole film is shot as if on a stage, the perfect metaphor for the very public nature of Anna’s scandal and troubles. Keira Knightley delivers another solid period performance as the titular Anna, while Jude Law steps into the unfamiliar role of her cold and utterly without charm husband. Tom Stoppard deftly adapts Tolstoy’s giant tome into a stylish tale of seduction, scandal and heartbreak, all of it highlighted by a terrific score from Dario Marianelli.
Ben Affleck’s third feature film continues the trend of phenomenal work that has audiences more than willing to forgive him for missteps like “Gigli” and “Daredevil” (even if they’re not likely to ever stop making jokes about them). “Argo” – like “Lincoln” – is a film rooted in history, which means the ending is already known to viewers, and yet, it is one of the most taut suspenseful films to emerge this year. Expertly written and acted, “Argo” is a cinematic triumph worthy of Affleck’s potential as a filmmaker.
“The Avengers” is the year’s highest grossing picture. While that in and of itself is no sure indicator of greatness, in the case of Joss Whedon’s hero-packed tale acclaim and audience adoration go hand-in-hand. Whedon adroitly blends four franchises into a masterwork of the superhero genre. As packed as the film is with Whedon’s trademark wit and flair for epic showdowns, the rewatchability of “The Avengers” is off the charts, and thanks to its massive success, the whole world now believes what geeks and Whedonites have been preaching for years: “In Joss we trust.”
Quentin Tarantino brings his directorial talents back to theaters everywhere with his first film since 2009’s “Inglorious Basterds”. Last time out Tarantino blew the idea of what can and can’t be done with a World War II film out of the water–this time around he’s putting the wild back into the wild, wild West. Reuniting with “Basterds” breakout star, Christoph Waltz and stirring Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson (of course) and Don Johnson, (yes, that Don Johnson) into the mix, Tarantino once again breathes new life into a long stale genre with his singularly unique style.
End of Watch
“End of Watch” is one of the most overlooked dramas of the year, a harrowing and gritty cop drama, that’s as realistic as it is intense. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña deliver stellar performances as LAPD officers who find themselves on the hit list of a violent gang. The film is shot with an intimacy that puts viewers not a step behind, but right next to Gyllenhaal and Pena, heightening the experience of what is easily the best cop drama in recent memory.
Tom Hooper is coming off a Best Picture and Best Director win for his last outing, “The King’s Speech”. He’s right back in awards contention with his take on perhaps the most famed musical of all time, “Les Miserables”. Hooper assembled an incredible cast and didn’t fail to deliver. He brings an unexpected intimacy to film that is epic in scope and achievement. Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman give the best performances of their careers, accompanied by strong turns from the likes of Russell Crowe, Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen. “Les Miserables” is a heavy, heart-wrenching, but ultimately life-affirming tale that lives up to the hype.
The scope of Spielberg’s portrait of President Abraham Lincoln’s struggle to ensure the passage of the 13th Amendment is incredible to behold. It is all too easy to consider this film a masterclass in acting and overlook the overall production value and the strength of the script as well as Spielberg’s direction. Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones carry the day to be sure, but that all the other components of the film work together so beautifully without taking away from the performances is exceptional, too.
Wes Anderson’s quirky and beautiful story of two young misfits who fall in love and run off together is wonderfully imagined, and somehow captures the ineffable spirit of childhood. As beautifully designed and shot as it is entertaining, “Moonrise Kingdom” is one of the year’s most engrossing features.
The Perks of Being A Wallflower
Stephen Chbosky wrote and directed this adaptation of his cult novel of the same title. Adeptly translating his tale of the triumphs, tribulations, agony and ecstasy of youth to a vastly different medium, Chbosky somehow maintains the spirit that has made his novel such a cultural touchstone. This, coupled with a talented young cast led by Emma Watson, Ezra Miller and Logan Lerman yields one of the best coming of age films to emerge since John Hughes was in his prime.
Silver Linings Playbook
Every now and then a film comes along that is so expertly made that it’s difficult to point out exactly what makes it great, because it’s just about perfect from top-to-bottom. David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook” is one such film. Writing, direction, and most of all exceptional performances from an exceptional cast (Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper, Chris Tucker, need I go on?), combine to make “Silver Linings” a sheer joy to watch. Revolutionary it may not be, but there is nothing out there quite like “Silver Linings Playbook”.
**Zero Dark Thirty
“Zero Dark Thirty” is as yet unseen in Colorado, as in most of the country, but if the final product packs even a fraction of the intensity that punctuates the trailer, it is all but certain that Kathryn Bigelow’s big screen follow up to 2008’s Best Picture winning, “The Hurt Locker”, will claim a spot as one of the best of the year. Call it eminent domain, call it presumption, but this bonus slot goes to the presumed Best Picture contender.
- “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”
- “The Master”
- “The Hunger Games”
- “The Cabin in the Woods”
- “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”