I managed to see 47 movies released in 2012, not counting a couple of re-releases or the dozens of other movies I watched. Of the 47 I saw, 44 were in the theater. I estimate that my total number of movies watched in 2012 is somewhere between 150 and 200. While that’s nothing compared to what I’m sure others were able to see and review, it’s a personal record for me.
It was an amazing year for US movies. I wish I had seen more new international films, but since I taught a class on the history of film in the first half of 2012, most of my time with foreign cinema was older stuff. Therefore, this list is definitely US-centric.
Note that I have a separate list on Facebook with my ratings of all the 2012 movies I saw that may differ slightly from this (meaning that some movies with higher ratings in my other post may be lower than other movies on here. The reason for this is that those ratings were usually given within a day or two of watching the movie and are more of a gut reaction than I hope this list to be. That being said, there are no movies on this list that received lower than an 8/10 from me originally.
10 Holy Motors (Leos Carax)
The one foreign-language movie on my list comes in on the tail end. Holy Motors is a trip of a film. It shows us the day in the life of Mr. Oscar, an actor of sorts who has several appointments throughout the day to play characters not in movies but in actual situations. The episodic nature of the movie will leave viewers with their favorite and least favorite scenarios since some are stronger or more striking than others. The performance by Denis Lavant is the best of the year, and he deserves all the praise he is getting for it.
9 Wreck-It Ralph (Rich Moore)
Disney managed to not only meet the criteria of “a video game movie that’s not horrible and doesn’t insult its intended audience” but exceeded all expectations when they released a good movie that happens to be about video games. It’s visually stunning, has a great mix of action and humor, and it really deserves its place in the Disney animation pantheon as probably the best non-Pixar 3D animated movie of all time. See my much longer review/summary of the movie here.
8 Chronicle (Josh Trank)
The first half of this movie is my favorite movie of 2012. It’s what I think would really happen if a few dumb teenagers somehow got super powers. The “found footage” style of filmmaking helps this quite a bit as it’s sort of like the characters are documenting themselves as they grow and develop their gifts and use them for the same sorts of stuff that you’d expect a bunch of teenagers to use them for. The second half isn’t as strong as it becomes a bit more superhero vs supervillain, but as a whole it still deserves its spot on my top 10 and was probably the biggest surprise of the year for me since I watched it without thinking it would be too great.
7 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Peter Jackson)
Specifically, this spot is for the 48fps version of the movie, which is the one I saw. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and was among the most visually stunning film going experiences I have ever had. As a casual fan of Tolkien’s works and Jackson’s previous movies, I knew what I was getting myself into as far as the story and characters were concerned, and there were no surprises there. I’d call them adequate. However, I really hope that high frame rate movies take off and gain the same kind of popularity that 3D has in recent years.
6 Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow)
Who would have thought that a movie based on an Internet meme would be anything besides terrible? Safety Not Guaranteed is, in fact, the former but is anything but the latter. It’s the best comedy of the year, but it’s not the kind of comedy you’d think given the subject matter. The characters are believable and genuine, and the plot of a group of journalists trying to find and write a story about a weird guy who believes he can time travel is handled wryly without being silly.
5 The Avengers (Joss Whedon)
The other two superhero movies released this year were both a bit of a letdown. The Dark Knight Rises was okay, but had some serious faults and couldn’t live up to its predecessor. The Amazing Spider-Man was made for no other reason than Sony was contractually obligated to do so, and the film was an empty shell of what a good Spider-Man story could be. The Avengers, on the other hand, got everything right, and it was clear that Whedon and everyone working on the movie had a lot of love for the story and the characters. The action, humor, and visual experience captured the feel of comics in a way I haven’t seen since Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
4 Life of Pi (Ang Lee)
Full disclosure: I have not not read the book and do not plan to. The story of Life of Pi is not why it is on this list. It’s the most beautiful movie I have ever seen, with some of the greatest shots in cinema history. The Hobbit may have been a more exciting experience due to the higher frame rate and my familiarity with the story and previous Lord of the Rings films, but Life of Pi is a movie I’ll probably use to show off new TVs in the future. It’s the only movie that uses color better than Speed Racer, which is what I used to use as my Blu Ray of choice.
3 Les Miserables (Tom Hooper)
I’m not usually a big fan of musicals, but Hooper’s version of Les Mis hit all the right notes (pun intended) for me. I liked that most of the movie was done in a sing-song way and that (with the exception of Russell Crowe) the singing was well integrated into the story. It’s an emotional movie that gets even more powerful after the famous song in the trailer, and it’s definitely the best filmed version of the play to date.
2 Cloud Atlas (The Wachowskis)
Cloud Atlas has some of the most impressive interwoven storytelling I have ever seen in a movie, and I am a huge fan of complicated and overlapping plots. The constant shift in visual style and tone was jarring to some but refreshing to me. I’m one of the few who enjoyed The Wachowskis’ Speed Racer, which was a visual masterpiece. Now, I can firmly say that they have made a complete masterpiece in every way. The ambition of Cloud Atlas will be hard to match by future filmmakers.
1 Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh)
Really, Josh? You’re probably asking. A movie about dognappers with Christopher Walken is your number one of the year? Yes, that’s right. Seven Psychopaths is a movie that is essentially being made as you watch it. A struggling screenwriter starts the movie with nothing but a title (“Seven Psychopaths” of course) and begins to both write and experience the rest of the movie as it happens. It’s very hard to explain, but the movie is hilarious and is a great example of metacinema that isn’t trying too hard to be 8 ½ like some others that have tried similar ideas in the past. The performances are all top notch, with Colin Farrell as the lead backed by Walken, Sam Rockwell, and Woody Harrelson. McDonagh is better known for In Bruges, but I find Seven Psychopaths to be the more interesting film The reason it’s my number one is simply that I am a sucker for clever storytelling and this movie ranks right up there with some of my favorites of all time in that aspect.