From A to Z – The Top Ten Movies of 2012

by Alan Rapp on December 28, 2012

in Top Tens & Lists

2012 turned out to be a pretty darn good year at the movies. There were two films which I gave perfect scores to this year, one of which the majority of the country won’t be seeing until early next year. I’m breaking my own rule of including it on the list, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Between these two films, which naturally open and close the list (as it’s presented alphabetically), are eight other films rounding out the class of 2012.

Cutting down my list to ten means I need to speak for a moment on films that barely missed the cut. John Carter was the year’s most under-appreciated film, The Cabin in the Woods turned the horror genre on its ear, Ang Lee delivered an amazing journey with Life of Pi, Wreck-It Ralph was this year’s best animated feature, Safety Not Guaranteed was a terrific little sci-fi flick almost no one saw, and Moonrise Kingdom was director Wes Anderson‘s best film since The Royal Tenenbaums.

Enough with what didn’t make the list, let’s get down to discussing what did:

All the World’s a Stage

Anna Karenina

The first movie on our list, and one of only two movies I gave perfect scores to this year, is director Joe Wright‘s breath-taking adaptation of Leo Tolstoy‘s legendary novel Anna KareninaKeira Knightley stars in the title role of a rich Russian socialite whose world is turned upside down by an affair with the dashing dashing Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Set almost entirely in an old theater which is transformed around the characters from lavish dwellings to train stations and race tracks (and everything in-between), Wright’s presentation of Tolstoy’s novel is a treatise on love itself that is lavishly and expertly explored through terrific performances and good old-fashioned movie magic.

Currently in theaters

The Best Bad Plan We Have

Argo

Director Ben Affleck thrilling adaption of the real life rescue of six United States diplomats (Tate DonovanClea DuVall,Christopher DenhamScoot McNairyKerry Bishé,Joe Stafford) during the Iran hostage crisis under the guise of making a Hollywood movie is the best, and by far the most complete, work he’s done yet behind the camera. Affleck also stars as the CIA agent responsible for the plan who recruits a Hollywood makeup artist (John Goodman) and producer (Alan Arkin) who set about creating a fake movie as a means of extracting the diplomats from the Canadian Ambassador’s house in Iran.

Currently in theaters

Assemble!

The Avengers

You have to hand it to writer/director Joss Whedon. When faced with the no-win situation of combining four separate Marvel Studios franchises in a single film the Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator proved more than up to the task. The best film of the summer features Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) coming together to save the world from Loki and an alien invasion. Every choice Whedon makes here  is the right one as the film not only gets the individual characters right but their interactions and internal squabbles as well.

On DVD and Blu-ray

Deep in the Bayou

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Presented through the harsh reality and wonderment of six year-old girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), Beasts of the Southern Wild is an amazing independent film about a young girl dealing with situations far beyond her control. Not only is Hushpuppy forced to deal with the ailing health of her father (Dwight Henry) but the outside world which encroaches into her world forcing the inhabitants of the rural Louisiana bayou community out of their homes with the threat of a hurricane on the way. Mashing up the harsh reality of extreme poverty with a young girl’s wild imagination, first time feature director Benh Zeitlin delivers one of the year’s most unique films.

On DVD and Blu-ray

The Master of Suspense

Hitchcock

Hitchcock is a terrific little film likely to be overshadowed by several more highly visible films in the glut of awards contenders. The film, through some inspired casting choices and direction, captures not only director Alfred Hitchcock‘s (Anthony Hopkins) attempt to adapt Psycho (a book no one besides the director wanted to see on the big screen) but also provides an in-depth look at his most important collaborative partner – his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). Hopkins, Mirren, and Scarlett Johansson are all terrific. The shower scene alone is worth the price of admission.

Currently in theaters

The End of Slavery

Lincoln

Steven Spielberg‘s character study of President Abraham Lincoln during his final four months in office is far less a Civil War movie than an examination of Washington D.C. politics and the maneuvering it took to reunite the Union and end slavery in the United States of America. Daniel Day-Lewis gives yet another strong performance as and Sally Field is a standout as First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.

Currently in theaters

When Freddie Met Lancaster

The Master

Speaking of films carried by a pair of terrific performances, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson‘s thinly-veiled examination of Scientology offers two of the year’s best. Joaquin Phoenix does what he does best with this role of a troubled former Navy seaman who is befriended by the charismatic leader of a cult (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in this exceptionally well-acted character study of a mutually dependent relationship between two deeply flawed individuals.

On DVD and Blu-ray

Almost Too Good to be True

Searching for Sugar Man

The list’s sole documentary, Searching for Sugar Man, is an amazing true story of forgotten American folk singer Rodríguez who, without ever knowing it, rose to legendary status in South Africa where he became more popular and influential than Elvis Presley. The documentary by Malik Bendjelloul focuses on two South African fans searching for answers and wading through rumors of Rodriguez’s death only to discover the musician was very much alive and had returned home to America working as a handyman in obscurity, completely unaware of his cultural impact on the other side of the globe.

Available on DVD and Blu-ray January 22

Dancing, Crazy People, and the Philadelphia Eagles

Silver Linings Playbook

Writer/director David O. Russell‘s latest is an adaptation of Matthew Quick‘s novel about a  teacher (Bradley Cooper) who moves back in with his parents (Robert De NiroJacki Weaver) after spending eight months in a mental institution following a violent outburst after discovering his wife’s affair. On paper the film sounds like Hollywood cliche, but what Russell delivers is a film deeper, and far more entertaining, than it has any right to be. Jennifer Lawrence puts in a strong supporting performance as the young woman almost as screwed up as our protagonist who offers her friendship to help Cooper’s character win back his wife.

Currently in theaters

The Best Movie of 2012

Zero Dark Thirty

I usually refrain from including films which haven’t yet gotten a limited release which allows me the ability to review it before the end of the year. Zero Dark Thirty is playing only in New York and Los Angeles and you’ll have to wait two more weeks before the film opens wide across the country and I’ll be able to post my full review of director Kathryn Bigelow‘s examination of the United States’ decade long hunt for Osama bin Laden. Here’s what I can tell you: It’s amazing. Bigelow outdoes herself with the best movie of the past three years.

Jessica Chastain stars as an obsessed analyst and our window into the search for the leader of Al Queda. The film takes us from her character’s first day in the field, witnessing the waterboarding of a terrorist suspect, to the day after the successful raid of SEAL Team Six a decade later. Bigelow’s follow-up to The Hurt Locker is a character-driven obsession, a world-spanning mystery, an intense drama, and stark look at the policies and practices that led to the capture of the man who planned the 9/11 attacks. Zero Dark Thirty pulls no punches and makes no excuses for the length or breadth of the search, or the methods used. It neither celebrates nor condones the body of work (including torture and rendition) that went into the search for Osama bin Laden. What it does deliver is a compelling, intensely involving tale of a filmmaker at the top of her game and continuing to improve.

Opens wide in theaters on January 11

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