2012 was a really exciting year for film. We saw the culmination of a masterpiece world building franchise from Marvel Entertainment, perhaps one of the best 007 movies ever made, and Ben Affleck showed once again that there’s much more to him than haters would have led you to believe. It was actually really difficult to compile just 12 films for a best of list. Some great movies were left completely off my list such as Wreck-it-Ralph. The film is a joy and it truly tickles the funny bone of geeks that grew up with video games in the ’80s and that still play them now. Jiro Dreams of Sushi was a masterpiece documentary that follows the family of one of Japan’s greatest sushi chef’s and the film features some truly beautiful sushi cinematography! There are others, but I’m already giving myself two extra entries in this list just to play with the “12” gimmick.
These sorts of lists are just pure opinion. What I like about them though as a movie fan is by reading them I might discover some gem of a film that I haven’t seen or heard about or I might be convinced to give a movie a chance that I was planning to pass up.
OK, enough babbling, here are my Top 12 films of 2012.
As you’ll see from my list I tend to love documentary. I think some of the most intriguing stories and characters come from real life. This documentary is one of those films that make a switch in subject matter that I imagine the filmmakers didn’t even expect. The film starts off following a real estate mogul as he and his family begin work on building the country’s largest house. At one point though during the process the bottom falls out of real estate and the film then switches to following the family as they simply try to stay above water. It’s sometimes sad, often just weird, and always fascinating.
11. Indie Game: The Movie
Here we have another documentary, this time we are following a few very small companies, one of them is literally a one man operation, as they develop independent video games. The film is primarily a character study delving into the personalities of people who want to spend their lives hunkered down over over a computer screen typing code for days, months, and sometimes years. Along with the character stories the film also follows the success and failure of some game releases. Fans of video games of any kind should give this one a look.
10. Paradise Lost III: Purgatory
The first Paradise Lost film is easily one of the most expertly executed crime documentaries ever made. It follows the “West Memphis Three”, three teenage boys accused of murdering two young boys and leaving their mutilated bodies in a creek bed. The first film followed the trial that eventually sent them to prison. The second film, also fascinating, followed the boys appeals process, and now all these years later this third film follows the attempts to get the boys a new trial, all of the celebrity involvement, and the eventual release of the boys. Now, the fact that they get out isn’t a spoiler. The way in which it happens is the real story here and it’s truly heart wrenching. Again filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Synofsky team up to bring us a truly riveting tale and they finally get to put a cap on a story they started over 20 years ago.
9. Killer Joe
Wow what a surprising little movie from the man who brought us The Exorcist. Emile Hirsch plays a young man buried in debt with a trashy family that’s unable to help him. So he conceives a plan to hire a hit man played by Matthew McConaughey to kill his mother so that his sister can collect on an insurance policy. The problem is the hit man wants his money up front and since the kid has no money he ends up having to give up something else very dear to him as collateral. This movie has a truly weird vibe to it. It’s easy to see that the man that directed the stellar Ashley Judd film Bug also directed this one. The cast is fantastic with Gina Gershon leading the pack at the top of her game. Juno Temple is someone I wasn’t previously aware of but she is amazing in this film. Killer Joe also features one of the most jaw-droppingly awesome last act’s on film this year.
Looper was the little sci-fi film that could. When I saw the trailers for the film early on I wasn’t really excited for it. Sure the main cast was great featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis but the story just seemed a little been there done that. The super violent almost indie feeling sci-fi film that Looper ended up being is just awesome. It’s straight and to the point but it’s well acted and directed. It’s pulp science fiction at its best. I couldn’t have been happier to see Bruce Willis jump into a great film that wasn’t one of his previously existing franchises.
7. Django Unchained
Some Quentin Tarantino fans may scoff at this awesome film being pushed so low on this list but for me it’s in just the right spot. I loved the film, the heart of it, the low brow humor, the violence, and the retro feel of it. These are easily my favorite roles ever from Leonardo DiCaprio and from Jamie Foxx. The film is a joy to watch from beginning to end. Having Franco Nero get a cameo in the film is also just awesome, With that said the film is another wonderful mess from Tarantino being too long and slow in a few spots and there is at least one cameo in the film that is just too distracting and it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. With that said though, Django Unchained is still one of Tarantino’s best films and it proves that he’s still got a lot more to say as a filmmaker.
This film might just be Keanu Reeves’ best film to date. You might say it’s a little inside baseball but for a true fan, of film it’s a must see. In this documentary Reeves sits down with filmmakers and discusses the good and the bad of digital filmmaking and how it has changed the process of making films and enjoying them. Perhaps the most fascinating point made in the film is that of archiving films for posterity. Film as a medium will always be viewable. If you have to you can just hold the strip of film in front of a light and you’ll get an image. Digital film is ever changing and there’s no guarantee that the format upon which a digital film is archived today will be viewable in twenty years. It’s really interesting to hear some of the best filmmakers out there discussing their art and the evolution of it.
5. The Cabin in the Woods
This film has been in the works for a really long time and I started to wonder if it was ever going to come out at all. Fortunately the film was worth the wait. Here’s a question: what happens when you put Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, the two men that brought us Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in a hotel together for two weeks without interruption? The answer is Cabin in the Woods a hip modern take on both horror and science fiction with clever dialogue and a funny and conversation worthy message. This film manages to spoof classic tropes of horror without literally being a spoof film. I knew I was going to enjoy the film when I settled into my theater seat but I had no clue just how amazing it was going to be.
I enjoy the Bond movies. I’m definitely not a rabid fan but at the same time I’ve seen virtually every one of them that has made it to the theater in my adult life. I loved the sort of refreshing take on the franchise that Daniel Craig brought to it with Casino Royale but I hated Quantum of Solace. I checked out Skyfall with a good amount of trepidation and what I found was the most personal and character driven Bond movie ever made. This film brought a new layer of humanity to the character that hasn’t been present before. The film also managed to honor everything that the previous films were and still softly reboot the franchise with a fresh yet retro take on it. I came out of the film ridiculously excited for the next one.
3. The Master
The Master is easily the most complex film of 2012. It’s not complex in story but in character. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as a young man fresh out of the military trying to find himself. He’s a sad and lonely person full of anger. He works several jobs and can’t seem to find his place. Everything changes for him when he meets Lancaster Dodd played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Dodd is a post WWII guru who melds pseudo-science with morality based religion to craft his own religion called “The Cause.” Much was made of this film being a riff on scientology when it hit theaters but it really only uses some pieces of scientology to ground the characters in a reality we are all at least somewhat familiar with. The film is really about the layered relationship of these two characters. The two leads are phenomenal as they always are and Amy Adams is a true scene stealer. This isn’t light Saturday night viewing. It’s a meaty and deep story that requires your full attention.
2. The Avengers
OK so yeah we’re back to Joss Whedon. Don’t most geek things lead back to him at some point? Sure the story here isn’t as complex as The Master but the successful execution of this film was a monumental task. Marvel Entertainment made history by crafting franchises around so many different characters (Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, and Captain America) and making them all co-exist in the same world, and then bringing them all together in one film! Whedon also wrote the script for this film was another masterful decision by Marvel. Whedon knows comics but he also knows how to build ensemble casts (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly). The Avengers is a roller coaster ride of a movie with big fun action, fantastic character moments, and and it doesn’t feel like it’s dumb in the way that so many summer movies do. This film could have been a complete disaster but instead it’s historic in all of the right ways.
Ben Affleck directed this riveting suspense film that recounts one of the most “unique” CIA rescue missions of all time. This film is so well executed and so suspenseful I found myself questioning what I remember about the actual story while I was watching the film. I remember when the story hit the news after Clinton de-classified it but by the end of the film I was thinking I remembered the ending wrong. Affleck stars in the film and he’s great but his directing skills here truly overshadow his acting. The film is set in the ’70s and it feels period perfect. The film also brilliantly finds a way to snub its nose at Hollywood and feature some really great comedic moments without disrespecting the subject matter at all. John Goodman and Alan Arkin have amazing chemistry together so much so that I think they should do more films as a team. Bryan Cranston gets a small role in the film and he finds a way to shine in it. If you only watch one film from this list then watch this one. The story is fascinating and it’s almost perfectly rendered on screen here. I truly am excited to see what Affleck will direct next and I believe he should get a best director nomination for this film.