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The Best Films of 2012

Written by on December 31, 2012 

Jack Giroux’s Best Films of 2012

If the whole Mayan apocalypse hoopla ended up correct, 2012 wouldn’t have been a bad way to end movie history. There were more than a few great films this year, some of which didn’t even make this top 10 or the honorable mentions. What did crack my favorites of the year were some of today’s finest filmmakers, and new ones, firing on all cylinders. They gave us the best of them, as we expect from pros like Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and William Friedkin. Let’s all hope 2013 reaches that high bar.

Honorable Mentions

Top 10

10. Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell)

Even David O. Russell can make “middle-of-the-road” feel fresh and new. Silver Linings Playbook hits every single beat we expect from a romantic comedy, yet coming from this director, he handles those formulaic moments with grace. A few punches may have been pulled by O. Russell, but, even so, he hits where it matters the most for this kind of film: the heart.

9. Lawless (John Hillcoat)

The only movie of John Hillcoat‘s any sane viewer can label as “fun.” Lawless is about as conventional as a period coming-of-age tale gets, but also as enthralling. Hillcoat makes every gunshot and brawl leave an impression, never forgetting the effect violence can have on people. While the ending of Lawless may toss that philosophy out the window for an all too padded ending, the Nick Cave-penned film is the type of crowd pleaser I hope we see more from Hillcoat in the future.

8. Killer Joe (William Friedkin)

A lovely little nasty piece of work. Tracy LettsKiller Joe, like many of William Friedkin‘s most famous works, isn’t afraid to rub an audience’s face in the uglier side of human nature. Killer Joe does just that, in a sophisticated, grimy B-movie way. Friedkin creates a fully realized world involving characters who seek more in life, and how that misguided desperation will lead to very, very bad things.

7. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow)

For a long time Kathryn Bigelow was a slightly above average B-movie director. With the exception of the fantastic Strange Days, Bigelow’s career came pretty close to workwomanlike. With The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, she’s developed her own voice, and a powerful one at that. Very few filmmakers can make 2+ hours of exposition this exciting, but Bigelow managed to make screenwriter Mark Boal‘s intricate script an excellent procedural.

6. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Lorene Scafaria)

Perhaps the most overlooked movie of the year is Lorene Scafaria‘s directorial debut. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is an incredibly charming piece of work. It never gets too quirky or overly sentimental for its own good. We love the two leads, Dodge (Steve Carell) and Penny (Keira Knightley), and, by the end, the saddest part of the apocalypse is they don’t get to spend any more time together.

5. Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino)

It must be so easy for Quentin Tarantino, as nearly every scene of Django drips in meticulous coolness. How does he do it? If he was being modest, perhaps his answer would be good casting. With Django, he certainly brought something out of both Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio; the former always felt like one of those actors who can’t fully immerse himself in a character, but he disappears in Django and while that’s never been a problem for the latter, he is unexpectedly able to crack a smile. DiCaprio relishes every single punctuation with villain Calvin Candie, and the same goes for Tarantino and the rest of his wild spaghetti Western.

4. Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh)

Here’s the funniest and tightest script of the year, which won’t get a single ounce of awards credit. Martin McDonagh instantly became one of today’s most exciting screenwriters with In Bruges, but Seven Psychopaths showed he’s becoming a real visual storyteller. The scenes in the desert are vibrant, providing the action movie aesthetic the film’s hero/villain Billy (Sam Rockwell) wants his life to look exactly like. Seven Psychopaths is how a writer does meta without getting all smug about it.

3. Cloud Atlas (Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer)

By far the most flawed film on this list. We can talk all day about how some of the makeup isn’t always top-notch or how the movie can get too silly, but similar to most projects that aim for the sky, I will greet failures along the way. However, when it does grasp its lofty ambitions, the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer make a grand, mesmerizingly structured, and romantic movie about the power of love, evil, and all things life. What stops it from landing in pretentious danger zone is the fact the Wachowskis and Tykwer aren’t afraid to deliver prime spectacle over heavier thematic questions.

2. Looper (Rian Johnson)

Rian Johnson‘s last movie, the joyfully bittersweet The Brothers Bloom, wasn’t for everyone. With Looper, he’s crafted more of a crowdpleaser, while never forsaking his own voice, a style which he seems to be consistently sharpening. Looper is his most complete and satisfying movie, where everything falls into place just right. While a good amount of science-fiction films never go beyond their nifty set up, Johnson sidesteps that problem with dramatic questions, propulsive character-driven action, and two terrific anti-heroes: young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and old Joe (Bruce Willis).

1. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)

Paul Thomas Anderson‘s tale of friendship feels five days long — rarely has that ever been a good thing to say, but it is in this case. As technically impressive as The Master and Anderson’s use of 65mm is, it’s Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd we’re memorized with, not Anderson’s camera. Anderson’s sixth movie isn’t an indictment of religion or cults, but a tragic friendship between Quell, who has no interest in life’s greatest questions, and a man, Dodd, who knows he has none of those answers.

The Film Stage’s Best Films of 2012

[Jordan Raup] [Dan Mecca] [Nick Newman] [Raffi Asdourian]

[Danny King] [Jared Mobarak] [Jack Giroux] [John Fink]

Follow our look back at 2012: The Year In Film

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