THE GREY (Honorable Mention)
“The Grey” is a strange coalescence of intense, brooding drama and monster-movie CGI trickery. But, it features one of Liam Neeson’s finest performances to date, and its heavy sense of atmosphere lingers long after the film ends. Even though it came out in January, it was one of the year’s heavy-hitters and had it relied a little less on special effects, it might have cracked my Top 10. Its beautiful solemnity spoke to a lot of filmgoers, and rightfully so.
WANDERLUST (Honorable Mention)
No movie made me laugh harder in 2012 than David Wain’s “Wanderlust.” Despite another uninspired performance by Jennifer Aniston, the film is a blast. Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux are hilarious and Alan Alda gives the film an unexpected moral compass. The direction is surprisingly slick, too. If you like your comedy absurd and R-rated, this one’s for you.
DJANGO UNCHAINED (Honorable Mention)
Quentin Tarantino’s talent is undeniable and “Django” is one of the most finely-tuned efforts of 2012. Waltz, DiCaprio, and Jackson turn in terrific performances. However, I’d like to see Tarantino branch out in the future, perhaps trying his hand at a different genre. This marks his 4th revenge-oriented piece in a row.
Original Review: Django Unchained
MEN IN BLACK III (Honorable Mention)
The third “Men In Black” film was one of the great comeback stories of the year. It had been 10 years since the reviled “Men In Black II,” and nobody expected much from a third film that was riddled with on-set script issues. Against all odds, it turned out to be an amusing time travel romp with an amazing performance by Josh Brolin (as a younger Tommy Lee Jones) and an inordinate amount of heart. The third act of the film is heartbreaking in all the right ways, retconning what we thought we knew about the previous two films. A fourth entry might be in the pipeline, but “III” is a perfect ending to the series.
10. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER
Like a professional driver on an obstacle course, “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower” expertly avoids teen-movie cliches while breathing life into a dying genre. Ezra Miller is the standout, but the entire cast holds its own in this wonderful adaptation of Steven Chbosky’s book (coincidentally, written and directed by… Steven Chbosky). I wasn’t expecting much from the film, so I was really taken aback by some of its stronger moments. Overall, it has great character work and some inspired insights into the horror show that is high school.
Original Review: The Perks Of Being A Wallflower
9. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
David O. Russell’s latest is a little dopey at times, but the oustanding performances by Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper were apparently good enough to awaken a long-dormant Robert De Niro. This is the best he’s been in ages. The screenplay is appropriately as unfocused as its leads, and the picture is better for its messiness. One of the most heartfelt releases of the year, “Silver Linings Playbook” deserves all the acclaim it’s received.
Original Review: Silver Linings Playbook
“Amour” is a devastating piece of cinema from Michael Haneke, one that likely won’t garner many second viewings. In portraying one of life’s ugliest truths so vividly, Haneke has made a strikingly unique picture featuring two strong lead performances that’s certain to propagate discussion for years (if not decades) to come.
Original Review: Amour
7. THE IMPOSSIBLE
Many of the films on this list are absolutely stunning on a technical level, and “The Impossible” is up there with the best of them. It’s a remarkably simple, true story that deserved to be told (and deserves to be seen) on the big screen and Naomi Watts’ performance is one of the best of the year. Part summer blockbuster, part intimate drama, the piece is a rollercoaster of visuals and emotions and an eye-opening harbinger of top of the line special effects on a relatively low budget.
Original Review: The Impossible
6. LIFE OF PI
As life-affirming as it is awe-inspiring, Ang Lee’s “Life Of Pi” is a another of 2012’s special effects bonanzas paired with first class storytelling. The universality of a boy and his pet provided an easy access point by which to meditate on love, faith, and loss. Lee’s direction has never been better and Richard Parker is as wonderfully realized as any animated character in film history.
Original Review: Life Of Pi
5. MAGIC MIKE
“Magic Mike” is a deft mix of crowd-pleaser (primarily aimed at females) and character study that makes a strong argument for digital photography. Projected at 4K resolution, Steven Soderbergh’s cinematography is lush, bordering on ultra-realism. The club scenes are expertly shot, but it’s the film’s quieter moments that make it one of the year’s best. Between this and “21 Jump Street,” Channing Tatum had a great year.
Original Review: Magic Mike
4. MOONRISE KINGDOM
This is Wes Anderson’s most accomplished work to date, quite a feat considering his exceptional filmography. The screenplay is nice, full of the Wes-isms we’ve come to expect, but it’s the direction that soars. The film’s climax is one of the most memorable of 2012 and the cast is uniformly spectacular. Anderson has become one of the great auteurs in Hollywood and deserves all the success that comes his way.
Original Review: Moonrise Kingdom
Speaking of great direction, which seems to be the theme of this list, Affleck hit a grand slam with “Argo.” On a technical level, it’s astounding, but that shouldn’t detract from its nuanced screenplay and lively performances (Scoot McNairy, who had a breakout 2012, shines here). Liberties were taken with the story, but the real-world implications of these events remain anchored by Affleck’s decision-making – from the ingenius storyboarding in the opening credits to the heart-pounding suspense of the third act.
Original Review: Argo
2. THE MASTER
Joaquin Phoenix’s writhing, unsettling performance is flawless and Paul Thomas Anderson’s shot composition in unrivaled. My excitement to see “The Master” made the first viewing fly by. The second was much more challenging, making it obvious that each subsequent viewing of the film will be a process of peeling back different layers. Is it frequently hard to watch? Yes. Is it a master class in filmmaking? Absolutely.
Original Review: The Master
“Flight” spoke to me more than any other film in 2012. It’s a wildly impressive fusion of a director, Robert Zemeckis, at the top of his game, a screenwriter, John Gatins, expertly blending personal experience with an array of creative narrative choices, and a tremendous lead performance by Denzel Washington. And while Washington has received most of the praise, Kelly Reilly, James Badge Dale, and the rest of the cast and crew deserve tons of credit for bringing this story to life. This is classic Hollywood filmmaking at its best, and for my money, the best film of 2012.
Original Review: Flight