Top Ten Best Movies of 2012

Here I will collect my thoughts on the creamiest of the cream of the crop. As we plunge further into Awards Season, it’s important to remember the dear-departed films of yesteryear. These are the movies I most enjoyed in 2012. Let me know if you agree or not by tweeting me @shorester.

I liked how the bong was a thermos. Genius!

10. The Cabin in the Woods

Director Drew Goddard surprised me many times in the best Whedon-fueled movie of the year. The Cabin in the Woods starts with the abrasive surreality of Funny Games then dips back toward rote idiocy, only to turn the tropes of the horror genre on their head in way that I wish Scream had. Reminiscent of the equally funny Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, this paint-by-numbers slasher picture evolves into a twisted tongue-in-cheek mind-bender. I loved the clever blend of horror and comedy. A movie so esoteric and strange, replete with genre meta-commentary is usually shot down at a scripting stage. Cabin‘s mere existence is proof that sometimes the filmmakers and the filmgoers are on exactly the same wavelength.

Argo Fuck Yourself!

9. Argo

Ben Affleck further proves his filmmaking prowess with Argo, a steeped-in-history yet too-juicy-to-be-true tale of espionage and Hollywood magic. Affleck stars as real life spy and award presenter Tony Mendez, the man behind one of the strangest and most roundabout escapes in history. Mendez enlists a team of Hollywood executives to build hype around a fake movie, a movie that will provide a cover story for the real operation: a rescue mission to save American hostages. The tense direction and wonderful cinematography make this movie more exciting than your average trip to the airport, although security is just as painstaking.


8. The Dark Knight Rises

Nay to ye haters! The Dark Knight Rises closes the Dark Knight trilogy in fine fashion, tying together the first film and the second nicely, while adding enough new elements to provide the necessary drama. As a fan of the franchise, I can’t help but praise the picture for its ability to accurately present a Batman story in the light I’ve always wanted to see: as if the old Animated Series had been brought to life, shot-for-shot. Sure there’s a gritty air of realism to it, but this is a cartoon, complete with the outlandish villains and their equally ridiculous plots to back it up. To those who claim Rises is a travesty in comparison to its predecessors, I will remind you: Batman never intended to be Oscar bait. Ledger raised it to that level. And insulting the follow-up for never matching an uncanny performance by an unmatchable actor is short-sighted. This movie makes no attempts to replace or undermine the power of The Joker’s role in this universe, only to show the next horrifying inevitability. Conquering the psychological torture of a madman was no easy feat, and overcoming the intense physical challenges of Bane is Batman’s final battle. Kudos to this flick for rounding out the Ra’as Al Ghul story line. Now let’s move on to Clayface.

WTF is Happiness Therapy? Also, I wish American movie titles were more honest like this too.

7. Silver Linings Playbook

This movie was a great surprise. The previews made it look like a romantic comedy, or an awkward dramedy, neither of which really fit the bill. This film is a character study with the same vibes and undertones as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There can be no doubt that this is Bradley Cooper’s finest performance to date, and Jennifer Lawrence is unstoppably charming playing opposite him. It’s weirdly nice to see Chris Tucker again, even in a limited role. DeNiro’s father character begins fairly predictably then evolves into one of his gentlest and most nuanced performances. There’s a lot of good acting in this picture. The movie leaves you with a feeling that is far more pleasant than you’d expect from any movie about mental illness, and that includes another movie on this list. I enjoyed the ride throughout, and I hope that David O. Russell continues to innovate.

So Fresh! So Fierce! So UNSTOPPABLE.

6. Zero Dark Thirty

This film was predictable because I watched a lot of news last year. That being said, this movie is something of an upgrade from your standard episode of Homeland. Though it’s hard to say Claire Danes is any less talented than Jessica Chastain, the stakes are higher, and wouldn’t you know it, this all “really happened.” I put that in quotes because the CIA made me. They said if I claimed that Zero Dark Thirty is based on a true story they would do stuff to me that they would never ever admit that they would ever do to anyone. But you know what? They can kiss my {REDACTED}. I loved the emotional roller coaster of Zero Dark Thirty and would gladly compare the experience to a ride at Universal Studios, if the comparison didn’t make me feel so tawdry and cheap. We get it now. Katherine Bigalow knows how to direct a movie. Now can we stop forcing her to film in the desert? Give that poor woman a break!

What a great movie!

5. Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson is consistently one of my favorite directors, and this movie is nearly perfect. It’s a spirited love story with enough family drama to make it a spiritual prequel to The Royal Tenenbaums. Everything takes place in Anderson’s too-twee universe as usual, but this time the emotions are grounded like in Rushmore. Only the visuals feel pretty but unknowable. We hear two stories of star-crossed love and get funny performances out of wonderful actors. In some ways the whole thing feels like a response to the delightful innocence exhibited by Anderson’s so-called children’s movie, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. In the end, we’re left with a charming anecdote of a film that provides as much edgy humor as heart.


4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

This film was another surprise. I had not anticipated liking it, but having it recommended to me I gave it a shot. Perks is not only a great film, it’s a boundary pushing one. Sold to me as coming-of-age story with some American version of Hermione, I was shocked to discover that this film had more heart and integrity than most movies about full-grown humans. The hard part is discussing its emotional affect on the viewer without revealing too much of the plot, so I’ll simply say that once you’ve given your heart over to the characters, you’re in for a bumpy ride.

Cool Pic Bro

3. Beasts of the Southern Wild

I watched this movie with my family, and we all struggled to make heads or tails of it. It’s like a trip through the rabbit hole for people in the upper-middle class, and I think that’s why it’s so effective. Not only is it strange and sometimes wonderful to live with Hushpuppy and her family, it’s also tragic. Beasts is a microcosmic example of life’s beauty. All living things struggle to stay alive, and yet, what of the inherent futility? Beasts suggests that there can be delight in spite of the tragedy, and that the struggle for life can be beautiful in itself.

Let's Go Exploring!

2. Life of Pi

The sheer beauty and spectacle of the journey cannot be overstated. Everything fires on all cylinders, from the acting of the young lead to the special effects work abounding in every frame. Beyond the sheer sensory overload, there’s something magnificent about presenting an audience with a movie about religion that is non-denominational. It forces them to think and to consider the nature of faith without preconceptions. Even when the movie is heavy-handed or worse, intellectually stimulating, there’s something noble and artistic about Pi’s ability to communicate with the viewer visually. Life of Pi is a living work of art.

I guess I can see why he was so desperate to get back to her.

1. Django Unchained

An edgy, exciting movie no matter how you slice it, Django Unchained surpasses Inglorious Basterds in terms of skillful use of revisionist history. Django faces its controversy head on, forcing the viewer to do the same. Rather than shy away from the violence or brutality, Tarantino exemplifies it. But never does Tarantino want you to forget his purpose. This isn’t a Lincoln-like attempt to recreate minutia in detail. This is a character study by way of Kill Bill, a revenge picture with wonderful dialog and fantastic performances. Leonardo DiCaprio succeeds in shaking the dust off his character work, and Christoph Waltz shines as well. Jamie Foxx’s understated, restrained performance may deserve the most credit. Rather than embracing the blacksploitative origins of such a ’70’s-infused premise, Foxx plays Django as realistically as possible, giving a terse and evocative performance that provides the heart of the movie.

I did not see The Master or Cloud Atlas, so let that be known. I plan to, but it’s already February and therefore, far too late to wait on my account.