Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 10 Films of 2012

Sometimes when I look back at a year in movies I can easily discern a theme that ran through that year's releases.  With films like Midnight in Paris, The Tree of Life, Super 8, The Artist, and Hugo, it became very clear that nostalgia was a prevalent force in the theaters in 2011.  With the country falling on hard times and people reaching back toward a time when things were better, or at least in how they were remembered, it made sense that nostalgia would dominate at the box office.

However, a single theme hasn't jumped out at me to help define this year and instead I am left with many to choose from.  Was it the year of the ambitious/flawed film (Prometheus, John Carter, Cloud Atlas), the superhero (The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-man, The Avengers), the visionary artist (The Master, Django Unchained, Moonrise Kingdom), or even of the thinking-man's genre film (The Grey, The Cabin in the Woods, Skyfall)?

For me, 2012 was a year full of great potential that quickly became a year of multiple disappointments.  Directors that I loved were given free range to indulge their worst traits, be it an inability to control the length of their films or a general disregard for what makes a solid narrative.  Films that initially seemed strong quickly deteriorated in my mind, acting only as a temporary fix to my movie-going addiction.

There wasn't a single film this year, of the 57 (an all-time low) that I saw theatrically, that would have cracked my top five films from last year.  All of those were films that I loved and was excited to share with everyone.  As a result of my wanting to love all of the films that make my Top 10 Movies of the Year list, I'm amending my list and presenting my Top 1 Movie of the Year!  Drum roll please:

1.) MARGARET by Kenneth Lonergan

Technically I'm starting this list off with a cheat.  Margaret was originally released in only two theaters in 2011 before it was unceremoniously pulled off the screen days later.  Shot in 2005, Margaret is a story of a young girl, Linda (Anna Paquin), who has a critical role in a fatal bus accident in New York City.  After its release, the film quickly gained an underground following.  That group became so vocal that the film wasn't just released on DVD this year but was given an extended cut as well.  Linda's story, about becoming an adult in a world that doesn't seem to care, is the core of the only film that had me saying the "M" word this year.


I typically reserve my love and adoration of a film for one that I believe is transcendent and offers more than just entertainment.  That’s not to say that I don’t love genre entertainment, because anyone who reads this blog will know that I do, but I adore films that reveal more upon further viewings the most.

Typically my list ends up getting filled up with these transcendental films, just by the nature of what I ended up caring the most about.  However, I feel like this year’s “art house” offerings didn’t live up to previous years’ offerings by being overly opaque (Holy Motors) or narratively messy (Sound of My Voice).

Most of my disappointment with 2012 can be placed squarely on my shoulders in that I did not watch nearly as many films as would be typical for me.  As the Programming Director of the Annapolis Film Festival, where I’ve watched over 200 films, my time was severely limited in what I watched.

That being said, there are a number of other films that I’ve watched this year that I think are great films that I unashamedly enjoy a ton.  Are all of them highbrow films that will change the viewer’s life?  No.  Either way, here are my Top 10 Films of 2012 That I Enjoyed a Great Deal, Warts and All:

1.)  THE CABIN IN THE WOODS by Drew Goddard

It comes as a total shock to me that my favorite theatrically released film of the year would end up being The Cabin in the Woods. Week after week it remained at the top of my list, even after rewatching it several times. What makes this film so great is that it manages to not only comment and to lovingly poke fun at the horror genre but it is also one of the best entries in the genre this year.

The direction of Drew Goddard is so assured and perfectly calibrated that as a horror fan, I could feel the screws turning and count down the seconds until the next perfectly timed scare. It successfully deconstructs nearly every overused horror movie trope in the book while delivering a third act that has to be one of the greatest moments ever recorded on film.

Did I mention that this is also one of the funniest films released this year? No well Im doing that now. This is also one of the funniest films released this year! It is a film that is also great for those people who arent typically into horror films as its humor and setting provides a good deal of distance from the horror that makes it more fun than scary but never in a way that removes any of the tension.

What more can you say about a film that effectively ends an entire genre of movies?


Everything about the trailer for Silver Linings Playbook signaled to me that I would hate this film. Ever since Garden State, love story films featuring needlessly quirky people have become so common that any novelty has long since warn off. Then I saw the film. Instead, Silver Linings Playbook is a great film about how we can't all solve our problems alone. It is a celebration of love and family with just a dash of mental disorder to spice things up. It is powerfully cinematic in the most effortless of ways, proving that sometimes it is best just to leave pretensions at the door.

3.) SAMSARA by Ron Fricke

How could a film with no characters, story, or dialogue be so dramatically rich?  It's a great question and one that goes back to what makes film such a powerful art.  Samsara's beautiful images from around the world are able to say everything the film needs to say through how these images are juxtaposed. A simple cut from a massive chicken factory to an overweight family greedily eating chicken at KFC has more on its mind than any other image created this year. It is this understanding of the power of the consecutive image that takes the dialogue from the screen and places it squarely in the minds of its audience. Samsara was able to terrify, humor, educate, and (best of all) enlighten me.

If anything, it needs to be seen just to witness what a man does with green makeup paste, it is what nightmares are made of.

4.) SKYFALL by Sam Mendes

I called this The Best Bond Ever and I stand by it. It would typically be enough for a Bond film to have fantastic action set-pieces, attractive women, a crazy villain, and a twisted plot but Skyfall took it a step further by using Bonds 50th Anniversary as an opportunity to examine Bonds value in culture and whether or not he is a character that will stand the test of time.

The result, Skyfall, makes the answer a clear and definitive YES! Some criticized the choice of Sam Mendes (Into the WildAmerican Beauty) to direct the film but he proved them all wrong. 

Also, did I mention Roger Deakins was the cinematographer on Skyfall?

5.) THE DARK KNIGHT RISES by Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan was able make a sequel to The Dark Knight that was not only satisfying but also managed to tackle new themes and grounds in the already overcrowded superhero genre. Are there plot holes and leaps in logic in the film? Certainly! However, all of it is buried beneath the incredible weight of Nolan's percussive montage filmmaking style.

6.) THE GREY by Joe Carnahan

The Grey is the unique genre film that manages to elevate its basic premise, a group of survivors attempting to survive the Alaskan wilderness while being chased by bloodthirsty wolves, by utilizing its familiar trappings while simultaneously wrestling with greater themes. In the case of The Grey it is the notion of impending death and when submission to its powerful jaws is appropriate. This is the proof that genre filmmaking can also have something powerful on its mind.

7.) RUBY SPARKS by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

Silver Linings Playbook showed that characters can be more than just quirky compilations of character traits but Ruby Sparks shows just how shallow these quirky "manic pixie dream girls" of Garden State and (500) Days of Summer are when brought into the "real" world. This "real" world follows the life of Calvin (Paul Dano) who discovers that the girl that he's been writing into his novel has suddenly sprung to life and that anything he writes about her will miraculously will come true. What follows is a brilliant deconstruction of not only modern film romance but also the mistreatment of women in cinema.

8.) THE AVENGERS by Joss Whedon

This is the film that I’ve been waiting my entire life to see, the most fun I’ve had at the theaters this year, and the end of a promise started all the way back with Iron Man in 2008. How could a film feature all of these characters, give them each interesting storylines, have a compelling and menacing villain, and still work?

Joss Whedon did the impossible and figured it out! Watching all of my favorite Marvel heroes battle an endless number of space aliens in a fully realized New York City was the fulfillment of a number of dreams. I’ve never stood up in a theater and shouted at the screen and I’m embarrassed to admit that - when the Hulk beat the snot out of Loki - I did just that.

Being a dork has never been so cool.

9.) ARGO by Ben Affleck

Simply put, this film is an awesomely constructed exercise in creating tension in cinema and all thrillers should take notes from this film. The opening to Argo is so masterful that it makes its own ending appear weak. Argo’s opening sets up the stakes of the film so successfully that the rest of the film is haunted by the images that came before it. 

What will befall our characters if they fail? We already know from the beginning! Now if only the characters and depiction of the Iranian citizens were equally as rich.

10.) LIFE OF PI by Ang Lee

Were it not for its problematic bookends, Life of Pi might have been at the top of this list.  Its story of a boy caught adrift at sea with a Bengal tiger is exactly the transcendent tale that I adore.  It asks its audience to question the role that storytelling has in their lives in a way that is truly unforgettable.  All of this is strengthened by an incredible performance by a first-time actor (Suraj Sharma) and some technical wizardry that allows a tiger to come to life on screen.

Honorable Mentions:

The MasterOnce Upon a Time in Anatolia, The Queen of Versailles, The Secret World Of Arrietty, Moonrise Kingdom, Django Unchained, Combat Girls, Wreck-It Ralph, Kill List, and Chronicle.


  1. Great list and as I would expect from you a few totally fresh never heard of pics. Margaret and Ruby Sparks are now must sees!

    Nicely done!

  2. Dark Knight Rises over Avengers...Prepare for fisticuffs Wednesday.