The Top 10 Films Of 2012

Screen Shot 2012 12 11 at 4.46.25 PM 576x360 The Top 10 Films Of 2012

I have been reviewing films regularly since 2004, and I am not sure I have ever enjoyed the job as much as I did in 2012.

From January all the way through to December, we have been spoiled with all sorts of cinematic riches. Many great established filmmakers delivered some of their best work to date – Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Judd Apatow, David O. Russell, Kathryn Bigelow, etc. – while many new or developing voices – like Steven Chbosky, Rian Johnson, Colin Trevorrow, Benh Zeitlin, and more – burst onto the scene with refreshing passion and vision. At the multiplex, blockbusters were generally smarter and bolder than the usual crop of Hollywood cookie-cutter fare, while local arthouses and independent cinemas were constantly filled with vibrant and intriguing efforts. If 2012 did not produce the sheer quantity of masterworks as 2010 or 2011, it possessed deeper and more consistent quality from beginning to end, and whether you were a critic or just a fellow film enthusiast, chances are you had a fair share of highly memorable experiences throughout the year.

Whittling down the cinema of 2012 into a mere Top 10 Films was no easy task, and I tortured myself quite a bit over the final rankings and inclusions. I find it ridiculous how many truly great films I had to leave off – there will be a ‘Next-Best’ list early next week to honor these titles – but when I sit back and look at my final countdown, I am happy with how it represents my personal cinematic journey these past twelve months. Top 10 lists are, of course, nothing but subjective, and of the 100-plus new films I saw this year, these are the 10 that mean the most to me.

The countdown begins on the next page, and clicking on the title of each movie will take you to my original review of the film. Two links will take you away from We Got This Covered to my personal blog, where my work was published before I joined the staff of this website.

Enjoy, and here’s hoping 2013 matches up to what these last twelve months have offered.

Begin the countdown of the Top 10 Films of 2012 on the next page…

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10. Not Fade Away

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Revolving around the lead singer of a teenage rock & roll band and his hometown community in the 1960s, David Chase’s Not Fade Away in no way purports to reinvent the way we view this tumultuous and thoroughly documented period of American culture. The film instead offers a spectacularly smart and layered screenplay, an insightful and unvarnished portrait of 60s middle class culture and social mores, a lot of top-notch vintage rock & roll, and some of the most nuanced, finely observed characterization of 2012, thanks in part to wonderful performances from John Magaro, James Gandolfini, Jack Huston, and Bella Heathcote.

Is it enough to re-establish the way we view or dramatize the era? No, but it is an embarrassment of cinematic riches nevertheless, one that substantially deepens and augments my personal understanding of the period while offering some razor sharp insight into our ever-changing modern culture as well. That is more than enough to make Not Fade Away one of the top films of 2012, and I very much hope it finds an audience when it debuts later this month.

Not Fade Away will open in limited platform release starting December 21st, and roll out across the nation in January 2013. 

9. Skyfall

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The best ‘blockbuster’ of 2012 by leaps and bounds, Skyfall is the best 50th birthday present any franchise could ask for – assuming any other series could make it to the golden anniversary in such good shape. Sam Mendes and his team of wildly talented collaborators have crafted the ultimate 007 flick, not just on the surface – with clever gadgets, insightful callbacks to franchise iconography, beautiful women, a great villain, and, courtesy of Roger Deakins, the best damn cinematography of 2012 – but also underneath, where an exploration of Bond’s psyche, motivations, and past form the film’s surprisingly resonant subtext.

Skyfall may be a potent action drama, but it is also a wicked smart deconstruction and reconstruction of James Bond, the icon and the character, on levels meta and textual, offering a thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking examination of why Bond endures, both as an on-screen legend and a harrowing secret agent. No other ‘event’ picture this year came close to matching Skyfall in sheer all-around effectiveness; after 50 years, it is still abundantly clear that nobody does it better than Bond, and I would not have it any other way.

Skyfall is currently playing in theatres nationwide. 

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8. Looper

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Rian Johnson’s Looper does not just represent science-fiction at its smart and provocative best, but marks a stirring evolution in what storytellers can achieve when exploring the human element of grand, culturally ingrained futuristic concepts. Time travel has rarely been put to such good use as it is here, employed not as a vehicle for action or mind-bending plot mechanics, but to ask some vast ethical questions about how personality and identity are forged through time.

The film is, of course, an aesthetic marvel on all fronts, and what action beats there are play absolutely marvelously, but Johnson puts character and theme front and center at all times; the top-notch cast – headlined by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt – matches or surpasses the best efforts of their respective careers, while the audience is continually led to states of moral and emotional turmoil. Few films this year, regardless of genre, asked this much of their audience, or gave as much back in turn.

Looper is not currently playing in theatres, but is scheduled for release on DVD and Blu-Ray December 31st.

7. Lincoln

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A period drama about America’s greatest President, directed by the legendary Steven Spielberg and starring the incomparable Daniel Day-Lewis? I must admit that the entire affair sounded far too good to be true, but then I saw the movie, and it surpassed my wildest expectations. The key participant here is actually screenwriter Tony Kushner, whose smart and involving writing immerses us in Lincoln’s world during one of the most crucial months of his Presidency, cutting straight to the heart of what made this man a historically great leader, and crafting countless other fascinating characters in the process. Spielberg’s direction is subtle and measured, restrained but not stagey, as some have suggested, while Day-Lewis crafts one of the year’s great cinematic icons as the title character. His Lincoln is a thoroughly complex, endlessly compelling man, a figure so entrancing that listening to him speak is an edge-of-your-seat experience.

Yet the film’s greatest accomplishment may be its remarkable ability to place these crucial events in a larger historical context, offering a powerful reminder of how far America has come and how far yet we have still to travel. Just as President Lincoln and his allies did so long ago, we too stand on the shores of history, and it is positively life affirming to be so powerfully reminded that those shores can, indeed, be transcended in the most meaningful of ways.

Lincoln is currently playing in theatres nationwide.

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6. Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook Bradley Cooper Jennifer Lawrence The Top 10 Films Of 2012

A rousing crowd pleaser about psychological damage and emotional healing? Silver Linings Playbook only seems oxymoronic because it is the rare film that understands how closely related each point in the vast gauntlet of human emotions are, and that creating an atmosphere of insight, spontaneity, and authenticity will always resonate strongly on levels dramatic, humorous, or tonally intertwined. We are unaccustomed to a film with such broad audience potential that explores the hearts and minds of its characters so deeply, or has such obvious understanding and affection for the community they inhabit.

Assisted by tremendous performances from Bradley Cooper, Robert DiNiro, and especially Jennifer Lawrence, director David O. Russell has crafted a film that feels truly alive; when a filmmaker achieves cinematic immersion this total, we are bound to love the experience, for we see ourselves and our own complex feelings on screen, feelings so raw and genuine that they blur the line between comedy and drama, reflecting instead our specific realities in all their infinite intricacies.

Silver Linings Playbook is currently playing in theatres nationwide.

5. The Secret World of Arrietty

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This quiet and evocative animated masterpiece from Japan’s Studio Ghibli arrived in the United States last February, and to say it absolutely floored me would be an understatement. First-time director Hiromasa Yonebayashi may be working off a script by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, but he establishes a bold and distinctive artistic voice all his own, crafting a magnificent visual palette defined by softly stylized character and line work, inviting storybook backgrounds, and vivid, painterly colors.

Combined with Cecile Corbel’s stunningly beautiful music, Arrietty is an aesthetic marvel, but what pushes it into 2012’s upper echelon are the wonderful characters – the titular heroine is one of Ghibli’s best – and powerful storytelling. Miyazaki and Yonebayashi have taken the bare essentials of Mary Norton’s classic novel The Borrowers and reconstituted them for a tender and poignant story about the nature of isolation and the resilience of the human spirit. The film may be aimed at children, but it offers viewers of all ages more insight, introspection, and mesmerizing cinematic wonder than nearly every other theatrical release of 2012, and absolutely deserves its high spot on this list.

The Secret World of Arrietty is currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray. 

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4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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No film in 2012 took me off guard quite as forcefully as Steven Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, an emotionally battering experience that strays painfully close to my own high school challenges and recollections. This is absolutely not a typical teenage drama, but a deeply felt, highly personal chronicle of identity and desire, one that abandons the standard, recycled talking points in favor of a serious discussion about the emotional issues that plague young adults. It is agonizingly authentic and remarkably well-observed, layered deep with the rich, nuanced precision of a great novel and channeled through three of the year’s very best performances. Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, and Emma Watson are all sensational, each capturing the raw and fluid nature of adolescence as well as any performers I have ever seen.

Chbosky has made something truly special here, a dynamic and vulnerable piece of filmmaking that understands and validates the complex emotions of modern teenage life. Though Perks, like many of the films on this list, is certainly not for everyone, those it speaks to will be almost unspeakably affected, and I count myself among those who view this as an instant and unforgettable classic.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is currently playing in select theatres nationwide, and will arrive on DVD and Blu-Ray February 12th, 2013.

3. The Grey

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Mismarketed as a high-octane action flick upon its entirely inappropriate January release, Joe Carnahan’s The Grey is, in truth, a top-notch survival story about man’s relationship with the unknown, and one of the most insightful, passionate, and uncompromising cinematic efforts of 2012. Set against a tremendously realized ‘man versus wild’ narrative – one brought to life with incredible cinematography, terrifying wolf effects, and precise command of tone, pace, and tension – the film delves deep into concepts of masculinity, death, and faith, presenting a bleak but entirely valid worldview wherein we are, each of us, ultimately alone.

Liam Neeson gives his greatest performance to date as a man defined by a sad and empty existence, and who discovers, over the course of one of the most horrific experiences imaginable, that rallying against the void, with everything he has, may be the only ‘meaning’ one can truly attain. The Grey may not be a pleasant experience, but as a brave, hauntingly beautiful expression of fundamental human doubts and fears, it has few equals.

The Grey is currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray. 

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2. Cloud Atlas

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This bold and beautiful masterpiece was the first film I saw after my father died this October, and to call it a healing experience would be a profound understatement. Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings have laid it all on the line with Cloud Atlas, have opened their hearts as fully as possible and offered an artistic window into their own deep-seated beliefs on love, life, death, friendship, and so much more. It is rare I see filmmakers work so hard to hide so little, to use cinematic expression to its fullest to relate such intensely personal thoughts, feelings, and philosophies. Yet this is what Cloud Atlas does, and it achieves every single one of its goals so effectively that when I saw the film, I swear I could feel my father’s spirit in the theatre, watching the movie alongside me, revived by the film’s blindingly beautiful belief in the eternal marks one life can leave on others, and on the world at large.

This is filmmaking at its most daring, innovative, and astoundingly heartfelt; that it was largely ignored by critics and audiences this October is no matter. Like the souls of its characters, Cloud Atlas will echo and resonate across the eons, a potent epitome of humanity’s wondrous ability to express emotion through art.

Cloud Atlas is currently playing in select theatres nationwide and will arrive on DVD and Blu-Ray February 5th, 2013. 

And the number one film of 2012 is…

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1. Django Unchained

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As great, deep, and varied a year as 2012 has been for cinema, it took Quentin Tarantino hardly any time at all to make me forget about everything else. With remarkable craftsmanship, a top-notch ensemble, and the year’s very best screenplay, Django Unchained immediately had me hooked in a way nothing else these past twelve months could compare to.

Over the course of two-and-a-half riveting and explosive hours, Tarantino subverts, explores, and ultimately rewrites the iconography that fuels the Western genre, using film as a method to account for the horrors of the past and the past as a method to account for gaps in cinematic representations of history. The result is a spectacularly powerful film, one more stylish, profound, and wildly, unequivocally satisfying than anything in Tarantino’s filmography, or, indeed, anything else released in 2012. In looking to the past, Tarantino has crafted a potent masterpiece for our times, one that towers ridiculously tall over what has been an all-around fantastic year for cinema.

Django Unchained will arrive in theatres nationwide on December 25th.  

What did you think of the year in film? Would any of these movies make your top 10 list? What films did you love that were not included? Sound off in the comments and help us reminisce on a wonderful year at the movie theatre! 

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  • http://twitter.com/MinimeJer05 Jeremy Lebens

    Agreed on the placement of DJANGO and THE GREY.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kserenyi Kenneth Serenyi

    Avengers and Batman were much better ‘blockbusters’ than Skyfall

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Lack/100000619690152 Jonathan Lack

      To each their own. I feel “Skyfall” is more substantive than “The Avengers,” and more cohesive and fully realized than “Dark Knight Rises.” All three are great movies. I just feel “Skyfall” is the best. Hence its placement on the list. Both “Avengers” and “Dark Knight Rises” made my second-ten list, though, which will be published early next week.

  • http://www.facebook.com/roshanjg1 Roshan Jacob George

    good list..But i feel a top 10 movie list without tdkr is incomplete.

  • bumboclot

    Good choices. Can’t wait for Django. Cloud Atlas, Looper, 007, the Grey were all top notch. I would put Lawless and Beasts of the Southern Wild up there as well.

  • http://twitter.com/mraustinbond Austin

    Great list! I am yet to see Django Unchained, but absolutely adored Cloud Atlas. Looper was really good, even though the third act started to drag and the time travel logic made no sense (I know you’re not meant to draw diagrams with straws, but still…). The Grey was painful to watch in a good way.

    I didn’t like Les Miserables, The Hobbit Pt 1 or The Dark Knight Rises. I really liked Wreck-it Ralph though.