Here are my personal favorites out of the hundreds of films screened in 2012. Your list will differ and that's perfectly fine as what entertained me might not have been your cup of tea.
Honorable Mentions: Amour, The Avengers, The Cabin in the Woods, Headhunters, The Intouchables, Les Miserables, Looper and Starlet.
More of the Best of 2012: Top 10 Comedy Movies / Top 10 Action Films
Silver Linings Playbook is the perfect combination of director, actors, and material. David O. Russell's style meshes well with the subject matter, and he handles this romantic comedy involving mental illness with patience and finesse. The characters, many of whom are suffering from some form/degree of mental illness, are likable and although we might not be able to identify with each of them, we can empathize with their situations.
This is no way a standard romantic comedy, but instead unique and strangely grounded in reality. The characters are totally unpredictable and the actors fully delve into these roles, making Silver Linings Playbook an all-around outstanding film.
Any one of the top four films on this list could fill the top spot, and Argo was in 1st up until right before I hit publish. Unlike the more controversial Zero Dark Thirty which has an ending everyone on the planet is aware of, this based on a true story drama tells the little known tale of a rescue operation led by a brave CIA "exfiltration" specialist named Tony Mendez (Affleck). Affleck not only handled the lead role but also directed Argo, and in doing so solidified his place as one of the best directors of his generation.
It's violent, uses horrible language (included the repeated use of the 'n' word), involves slavery and bounty hunters, overstays its welcome by about 20 minutes, and the third act's a bit of a mess. Yet Django Unchained is still one of the best movies of the year. It's Tarantino out-Tarantinoing himself. Everything audiences have come to expect and admire about a Tarantino production is delivered in this wild, wickedly funny, and totally politically incorrect Western comedy/drama/thriller/action movie. Plus, the combination of Christoph Waltz and Tarantino has become one of our favorite actor-director mash-ups.
It's not often the film version of a bestselling book is actually better than the source material. That is the case with The Perks of Being a Wallflower, thanks to the superb work done by Stephen Chbosky. Chbosky adapted his own novel for the screen, editing himself and bringing a fuller, more developed story to life in the film than he managed to do with the book. The author-turned-filmmaker also directed the movie and selected actors who perfectly fit each of the many key roles. There's not a weak link in the bunch, making Perks one of my picks for the best ensemble of the year. And Logan Lerman's a real revelation, terrific and heartbreaking in the lead role of a wallflower who blossoms once he falls in with a group who appreciate his stillness and accept him for who he is.
Christopher Nolan completes his Dark Knight trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises, tying up loose ends while leaving an opening for further Batman adventures. And although some critics and Batman fans don't believe it quite lived up to The Dark Knight, as someone who never read the comics and whose only knowledge of the bat-eared superhero comes from the feature films, I felt like Nolan's Batman finale exceeded expectations. He was able to put closure to storylines left hanging while presenting a film that could stand on its own.
As a movie fanatic who never understood the attraction of the Batman character from viewing pre-Nolan films, Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy not only made me a fan of the franchise but drew me into Bruce Wayne's world in a way in which none of the previous movies were ever able to do. Thank you Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, and the rest of the Dark Knight crew for making a believer out of this skeptic. I'll truly miss visiting Gotham, which is something I never thought I'd say before Batman Begins won me over.
I knew when this was released that it was going to be overlooked come awards time and I was right. Other than a few random mentions (usually in reference to Jake Gyllenhaal's performance), David Ayer's gritty, realistic, in-your-face buddy cop drama has been overlooked for end of the year honors. Why? Maybe it's the genre or the found footage aspect, or maybe the lack of attention at the box office had something to do with it. It received a "Certified Fresh" stamp on RottenTomatoes with 134 critics giving it a "Fresh" rating and it almost doubled its $7 million budget over its opening weekend, yet you really didn't hear much about it after its release - and that's too bad for adult moviegoers. Hopefully End of Watch will find the audience it deserves on DVD.
My inner rebel cheered the decision to include The Hunger Games on my top 10 list, and I'm positive I'm one of the few critics who has this film on their annual best of list. But as a fan of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy, I believe the film version of her first book is one of the most faithful adaptations of a bestseller to date.
As I said in my review, The Hunger Games is "deeply unsettling and tragic, a dystopian tale that skewers reality TV among other questionable social obsessions. The Hunger Games can not and should not be dismissed simply as another young adult thriller with a pretty heroine stuck between choosing two equally appealing guys. Suzanne Collins' novels can't be summed up that easily, and neither can The Hunger Games movie."
Jennifer Lawrence was the perfect choice to tackle the role of Katniss, and director Gary Ross surrounded her with a first-rate group of actors who meshed well with Collins' descriptions of the colorful supporting characters. The Hunger Games left us with high hopes for films two, three and four.
Being a huge fan of In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths was one of the 2012 films I was most anxious to check out. And while I don't think it's quite as good as In Bruges, writer/director Martin McDonagh does deliver a film that not only makes you laugh out loud but also has heart - and cute dogs. Yes, McDonagh pretty much had me sold when he made one of the main characters a crazy gangster who's obsessed with his dog. And then to have Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken teaming up as dognappers who take good care of the purloined pooches and quickly return them to their rightful owners...well, McDonagh would have had to completely screw up the execution of this premise to not get my support. Add in Colin Farrell - reuniting with his In Bruges director - playing a struggling screenwriter who gets pulled into this weird dognapping scheme and Seven Psychopaths is a crazy good time at the movies.
Zero Dark Thirty is a very, very difficult film to watch. There are graphic scenes of torture which filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow does not obscure from view, the subject matter brings to the surface a wide range of emotions, and there was more controversy surrounding this film's release than any other in 2012. Was it going to be a political statement in support of President Obama? Does it make the case that torture led to the clue which ultimately led to bin Laden's hiding place? And how much access did director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal actually get to the real documents and other material from the CIA and other government sources? So much controversy, so few firm answers. Bigelow's dramatic retelling of the manhunt for Osama bin Laden was alternately slammed by the media and politic pundits and praised for its realistic portrayal of the events that led to bin Laden's death. And all this came before anyone had seen a single frame of the actual movie.
Is the film accurate? Did the torture of a detainee lead to the crucial piece of evidence needed by the CIA? Bigelow and Boal are first in line in pointing out this is a feature film based on real events but that some artistic license had to be taken (and crucial events in the timeline had to be either discarded or compressed) in order to make the 10 year hunt into a two hour movie. And no, I personally don't believe (and neither does a bipartisan group of senators) that the filmmakers got all of the facts straight. However, given that we know the outcome of the hunt, Bigelow's still able to keep the audience in suspense and keep the adrenaline racing as the Navy SEALs embark on one of their most crucial missions to date. Is it entertaining? Yes. Is it a documentary? No. But that said, I do believe that the based on first-hand accounts of actual events statement that kicks off the film needed to be expanded upon to include wording that informs the audience not everything they're about to see is real.
Like Paul Thomas Anderson, Terrence Malick, and the Coen Brothers' films, Wes Anderson movies are never met with a "that was all right" reaction. You either love or hate them - there's no middle of the road, and Moonrise Kingdom was no exception to that rule.
Anderson is brilliant at casting actors, and Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, and Frances McDormand are terrific. However, this one's all about the kids and Anderson's found some fresh, interesting faces who not only handled the material but elevated it.