Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Listen, top 10 lists are annoying. I know. Believe me I know. But they’re also oddly compelling. I don’t know exactly why that is, but I find every year that I’m drawn to reading the categorized opinions of people I don’t really give a shit about just to see which movies I liked/hated made it onto their list.
I think it stems from being a movie kid in an era before the internet. Back in those dark days, where the only connection I had to hardcore cinephiles was relegated to the local newspaper critic and perhaps Siskel and Ebert on TV, hearing friends and family discuss their favorite movies of the year was always exciting. They were just like me!
All that said, I still find it difficult ranking movies not because I can’t put them in order of importance to me at the moment of the ranking, but because I have a hard time grappling with the idea that a top ten is set in stone, never to change ever forever and ever. Like most of you, my mood and evolving personal interests shifts films around on my all-time favorites list pretty fluidly.
So, with that in mind, instead of ranking them in order, I’m going to list all my favorite films of the year under the fairly obvious banner of “Quint’s Favorite Films of 2012.”
These will be movies that have impressed my emotional brain, my logical brain and sometimes both sides at the same time. There are a few on the list that are towering achievements in film that I will revisit maybe once every 5 years. There are quite a few that will be watched every few months or are the kinds of movies that if I scan through cable and any part of it is playing I’ll have to stop and watch it through to the end.
Remember this isn’t a proper ranking. I’ll make note of each film and how much I love it. There is one exception, which is the very first title in the below list, which is hands down my favorite film of the year. There’s your compromise! One #1 and a hodgepodge free-for-all list of other movies I found to be great or better in this year of our lord 2012.
HOLY MOTORS – This is not only my favorite movie of the year it’s also one of the most hotly divisive movies of the year. I very rarely pull this card because I think it’s incredibly insulting, but I feel those who most vehemently hate this film totally didn’t get it. And that’s okay. I don’t know if I fully “get it,” but I do understand that it’s not a straight narrative and am okay with that. Lots of people aren’t, but I love that it’s a love letter to performance and storytelling with the hands down best performance by an actor in any film you’ve seen this year. In one film Denis Lavant gives a career’s worth of performances and if you haven’t seen the flick yet, that’s all I’ll say about that.
But yeah, reading reviews of people who hate the film it’s quite clear it totally went over their heads, most of them usually saying something like “I still don’t understand it…” so it’s not like I’m being a dick when I say they flatly missed the boat on the film. I think it’s incredible as a piece of art, as an emotional movie-going experience and as an all around cinematic endeavor. Holy Motors is hands down my favorite movie of the year. Read my review here.
CLOUD ATLAS – If I were crafting a real deal top 10 of the year, I don’t know if Cloud Atlas would make the cut, but I can’t deny it’s one of the films I’ve thought back to the most this year. There’s so much going on in the Wachowski’s epic film that it’s hard to deny how expertly crafted it is. The recurring themes, visuals and music weave a masterful tapestry of deadly serious drama, incredibly silly comedy, breathtaking sci-fi and more than a tiny dose of WHAT THE FUCK?!? (Just look at the picture I used). In many ways it’s the big Hollywood version of Holy Motors in that it’s a very complex, dense world set up to celebrate the importance of storytelling in all its forms and genres.
GOON – I can almost guarantee this will be my most rewatched movie of 2012 (suck on that Paul Thomas Anderson!). Somebody really fucked up with this movie. Some suit somewhere decided this was a straight to VOD title and lost his/her company many millions. This is one of the best audience movies I’ve seen this year (saw it a film festival with a rowdy crowd, which is the way to watch a sports comedy, I tells ya’) and is so goddamned funny positive word of mouth would have spread like wildfire. Seann William Scott is a superstar in this flick and proves he’s one of the best comic actors working today. His performance is incredibly nuanced and complex for a guy who pretty much is there to just beat people up. I laugh out loud just thinking about this movie and my rewatches (it’s on Netflix, folks) have only increased the hold this movie has on me. Read my original review here.
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY – For obvious reasons I can’t really view this film objectively, but my instinct is that a lot of geek love is being drowned out by talk of the tech around the flick. Having seen it twice, both in 48fps 3-D and 24fps 2-D, I can say that I’m not fond of 48fps, or at least what it does to Andrew Lesnie’s cinematography. Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but seeing the film for the second time in 24fps it felt like Lord of the Rings and I was enraptured. I fell into the story and the world and wasn’t distracted by the technology. I love Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth and feel very happy to live in that world a bit more. I also know a little bit of the secret fun stuffs in store for the future films and am giddy to see how that stuff goes over.
Also, on a personal level I spent so much time with the people making the movie that it feels a little bit like a yearbook to me. It totally makes me biased and I acknowledge that, but it doesn’t change how I feel.
THE RAID: REDEMTPION – Here’s another title that is high on the rewatch factor. The Raid is a shot of adrenaline in film form. You know what it reminds me of? It reminds me of the joy of discovering foreign action movies and just how crazy they would be. Riki-Oh, Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master movies and early John Woo, that kind of stuff. The Raid is a simple story with some of the craziest arrangements of action you’ve seen on the big screen in a long time. From gun-fu to some incredibly brutal knife and martial arts fighting, you feel the hits, slashes and shots. Plus they have one of the best henchmen since the glory days of ‘80s action. In my review I called this movie the real Expendables because it’s a legit return to ‘80s action sensibilities, not just a cast full of aging ‘80s action stars in a cheesy modern day action formula. Read my original review here.
LINCOLN – Minus a weak introductory scene and a head-scratching final 3 minutes, I think Lincoln is one of Spielberg’s best films of the last decade. As disappointed as I was to see Liam Neeson drop out of the movie, I can’t imagine this film without Daniel Day-Lewis’s Lincoln. It’s an outstanding performance that really captures the humor of the man in a way I haven’t seen pulled off dramatically. Lincoln is seductively quiet character study that feels even more contemporary than Zero Dark Thirty. That’s not easy to do even though Spielberg and Tony Kushner make it look like it is.
THE GREY – Speaking of Liam Neeson, remember that The Grey came out this year and it is a kick-ass survivor flick. If I was in plane that crashed in Alaska I’d want Liam Neeson to be the one to lead me through wolf country. No question. Yes, I have a soft spot for survivalist movies and this one tows the line between tragic drama and holy-fuck-did-you-see-the-creepy-night-eyes-on-that-wolf horror flick and when you have a cast of bickering manly men characters led by Liam Neeson in the middle of it all you end up with a really damn fine flick, if I don’t say so myself.
DJANGO UNCHAINED – Quentin Tarantino is entering an interesting era of his career. He still has a burning fire to tell stories, but it feels to me that he has put enough distance between himself and Pulp Fiction that he doesn’t feel the need to live up to that film anymore. I’ve loved the Kill Bills and Jackie Brown and Basterds, but Django is the first film where it really feels like he’s cutting loose and just having fun to me. That’s not to say he’s not taking the filmmaking seriously. He is. Django Unchained is a finely crafted cinematic love letter that is epic in scope and has some of the best personalities of modern cinema playing together in a big sandbox. And it has the bloodiest squibs I’ve seen this side of a Paul Verhoeven movie. Tarantino has murmured about retirement, but I hope he has stories to tell for decades to come because nobody does it quite like Quentin.
LES MISERABLES – I’ve noticed a lot of my colleagues have just looooooooved dogpiling on this film. It’s not immaculate, but I feel like if Tom Hooper’s name wasn’t on it, there would be a lot more respect thrown its way. The first half of this epic musical (or opera, whichever is more accurate… it’s a singing movie, so whatever that means) is incredibly emotional, touching and engaging. I’ve known of the play since my high school years, but have only ever heard the soundtrack, so it was a weird mixture of familiarity and new stuff to me as I watched the film. My favorite song was Master of the House and while you won’t see me calling this movie bullshit like a lot of my critic friends I will say Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter really dropped the ball here. The song is limp and the Thenardiers lack the spark of humor that keeps them being interestingly despicable. But that’s really the only thing I can fault the film for, personally. I’m not Eddie Redmayne’s biggest fan, but he’s fine as Marius, but the real stars of this film are Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. Hathaway’s performance of I Dreamed A Dream is flat out incredible. Hooper shoots it in one single close up shot and Hathaway tells the excruciating story of Fantine with subtle facial tics, eye shifts and some of the most perfectly timed tears I’ve ever seen. It’s heartbreaking and that single scene alone guarantees I’ll revisit this film many more times in my life.
ARGO – There are a couple big CIA themed awards darling movies this year and Argo is my favorite by far. In fact you may see a lack of that other supremely competent, but overrated film on this list, but by God Argo made the cut. John Goodman and Alan Arkin might have been what pushed Argo over. Goodman’s John Chambers is one of my favorite single performances of the year. He’s just such a likeable actor and he plays the legendary makeup man so perfectly that I had a big smile on my face whenever he was onscreen. Ben Affleck’s direction is spot-on as well. Much like how The Raid isn’t trying to emulate an ‘80s action aesthetic, it just does it, Argo isn’t trying to emulate a ‘70s aesthetic, it just does it. I half expected to see Alan J. Pakula’s name in the credits and that’s a massive compliment to Mr. Affleck.
THE MASTER – If I had to pick the most supremely crafted film of 2012 I’d point my finger at Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. It lacks spark of fun that Boogie Nights and even There Will Be Blood has, but it’s just as well put together as either of those two films. Joaquin Phoenix gives one of the best performances of the year as the supremely fucked up Freddie Quell. He transforms in a way that would make Daniel Day-Lewis proud. Seeing this film in 70mm was extraordinary and the interview scene between Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman is one of the most magnetic pieces of filmmaking I’ve seen this year, hands down. I was glued to the screen.
HEADHUNTERS – While this one was really a 2011 movie, I guess it saw general release in 2012 because it’s popping up in end-of-year discussions across the internet and for good reason. It’s a twisted little dark comedy out of Norway about an art thief who ends up way over his head as he juggles a trophy wife, mistress and rare stolen paintings. Oh, and that pesky assassin that pops up out of nowhere trying to kill him. Super fun, super funny and a rather off-beat all around experience. Good shit here. Watch on Netflix Instant!
SLEEPWALK WITH ME – Mike Birbiglia’s debut feature was one of my favorite film festival movies of the year. Starting with the Ferris Bueller-ish device of Birbiglia’s character talking directly to the camera this movie hooked me. It’s all about a struggling stand up comic and hits that perfect dramedy tone that so many attempt and fail at. I don’t want to say too much more in case you haven’t seen it, but I’ll be revisiting this one a lot. Watch on Netflix Instant!
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER – I’m already a sucker for coming of age movies and when this one snuck itself in front of me I found myself sucked in right away. I’d want to hang out with the kids in this flick. While the eccentric kids weren’t my clique in high school, these would have been guys I would have liked to hang out with… mostly because I would have a huge crush on the Emma Watson of the group, I have to admit (a hot chick who digs on Rocky Horror? Yes please!), but the damaged, yet optimistic tone of the group really rang true for my personal experiences with friends in high school. Logan Lerman surprised me here, carrying the film with a complex character that could have bordered on unlikable if he didn’t bring his A game. This is definitely the best he’s ever been and turned me around a bit on him. I predict this film will be as important to this generation as John Hughes’ best work was to that one. Read my original review here.
LOOPER – Rian Johnson’s Looper felt like a breath of fresh air. Original time travel with a dash of some crazy supernatural shit isn’t what you’re used to seeing at the cinema these days. There’s nothing like Bruce Willis when he gives a shit about what he’s doing and he gives a shit here. I love the tone, the filmic look and the science that is just realistic enough to let me get lost in the world and just crazy sci-fi enough to give us such awesome sequences as the Paul Dano Looper conundrum. If movies like Looper were the norm we’d be entering a new era of auteur studio filmmaking the likes of which we haven’t seen since the ‘70s.
MOONRISE KINGDOM – I remember when the trailer hit for Moonrise Kingdom and the movie geek community was all like “That looks like such a typical Wes Anderson movie,” like it was a bad thing. I said the same thing in my head, but in an excited geek squee that’s only slightly more masculine than Harry’s constant usage of the word “giggle.” And the movie didn’t disappoint in that regard. Forget that I’m a sucker for coming of age movies anyway, Moonrise Kingdom was the second of two movies Bruce Willis appeared in this year where he showed up with his A game. Everybody did, actually and Wes Anderson takes all his quirks and style fetishes and rolls them all into a concentrated dose of Wes Anderson goodness. That does was too much for a lot of people. I am not one of those people. Read my original review here.
THE AVENGERS – I love The Avengers the same way I love JJ Abrams Star Trek. It’s big, full of personality, super fun and really shouldn’t work but does. Joss Whedon does a great job of balancing a huge cast and finding time to give every one of the 47,032 main characters a moment to shine. There are some weak spots to the film, the biggest being a lack of threat felt by the invading alien horde (I’ve seen the film three times and if you put their faces in amongst a buch of other random sci-fi faces I couldn’t point them out), but the little nitpicks don’t come close to overriding the pure escapist fun of watching these huge personalities clash in entertaining ways for 2 hours. Next to the original Iron Man, this is my favorite Marvel movie so far. I’m hoping James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy is able to push ahead of the pack though. I love me some Rocket Raccoon and Groot. Read my original review here.
CABIN IN THE WOODS – This is the year where I finally felt like I didn’t have to lower my head in shame when people started geeking out over Joss Whedon. I’ve never disliked the dude or actively hated his work, but Buffy was way too overhyped for me by the time I got to it and Firefly was cool, but I never really went bananas for it like most of my fellow geeks did. The double-whammy of Cabin in the Woods and The Avengers turned me around a bit, opening up a whole new circle of welcoming geek love. As a lifelong horror fan, I was totally onboard with this loving everything-and-the-kitchen-sink darkly funny horror tale. It really does feel like Whedon and director Drew Goddard just listed off everything they like about horror movies and figured out a way to make one big horror geek hug in film form. I’ve already revisited this movie a few times on Blu-Ray and I’ll do so a few more bazillion times before I shuffle free this mortal coil.
THE INNKEEPERS – This is another one that doesn’t feel like a 2012 movie for me since I saw it at a film festival in early 2011, but it’s on the eligibility lists for 2012 titles, so I’m going to include it here. Ti West’s The Innkeepers is a slow burn (which should have been a given the second you heard it was a Ti West movie), but to me that’s incredibly refreshing. West spends the first half of the movie making you really like the two leads, played by Pat Healy and Sara Paxton. Paxton’s Claire is actually my favorite thing about the movie and not just because she’s totally adorable. She has a best friend cute energy that really makes the horror stuff that happens in the last half super effective because you’re engaged by her curiosity in the haunted hotel that she works at while at the same time nervous because you know this is a horror movie and shit is gonna get serious real soon. Ti West’s strong suit is building tension and establishing a creepy tone and The Innkeepers is a prime example of him working at his best. You can check it out right now on Netflix Instant and read my original review here.
THE AMERICAN SCREAM – A lot of great documentaries got talked about this year, but The American Scream, from the great team behind Best Worst Movie, seemed to slip under a lot of people’s radars. I fetishize Halloween a bit. It’s my favorite holiday and has been since I was a kid. Also, being a first time homebuyer in 2012 I can say this documentary inspired me to do up Halloween right. I didn’t quite go through the lengths that the haunters do to celebrate the holiday, but I did incorporate some animatronic zombies, including one that spewed fog on trick r’ treaters and another that came to life via motion sensor and caused quite a few started yelps from the little astronauts, pirates and princesses that came to the door. I knew I wanted to do up Halloween for my first year in the house, really establish my seasonal dominance on the block, but The American Scream made me take it up to the next level. It’s such a charming, fun and heart-warming documentary about people who build up little neighborhood haunted houses that I know I’ll revisit it every season as I get in the mood for Halloween. Watch it right now on Netflix Instant!
SMASHED – This little dramatic comedy was one of my favorites of Sundance 2012. Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, what’s really impressive about this tale about a woman gaining and maintaining her sobriety is that it doesn’t come across as preachy. I honestly have no idea how they pulled that off, but there’s a lot of grey area in this movie. In any other film Aaron Paul’s character would become a villain, the boozy enabler husband who keeps tempting his wife off the wagon, but due to the writing by Susan Burke and James Ponsoldt and the performance of Aaron Paul his character is much more complex. He really cares for his wife and wants to support her, but just fails as a husband. If this film had come out in the heat of awards season Winstead would be talked about for an Oscar nod, but even if the awards circuit doesn’t recognize her work here, the great leading performance will live on in this flick. Read my original review here.
WRECK-IT RALPH – It has all the heart of a Pixar movie, but made fully by the Mouse House. This is the first year where Disney and Pixar put out movies and I preferred the Disney film. I didn’t hate Brave, but it feels like a traditional Disney princess tale whereas Wreck-It Ralph has the broader adult/child appeal and plays in a much more fun universe. Ralph’s an interesting character, a bad guy who wants to be good, and the evolution of his arc gave all the pop-culture video game references a nice skeleton to lay over, making the movie more than just a “hey, remember Street Fighter?” type of hollow entertainment. This is my favorite animated film this year.
PARANORMAN – Stop-motion had a strong year. Paranorman is just right up my alley in every possible way. I mentioned already I’m a sucker for coming of age flicks and Halloween stuff, so when you have both gathered under a stop-frame animated flick that’s like mixing peanut butter and chocolate for me. It’s everything I love in one spot. Plus John Goodman’s in there (he was in, approximately, 42,832 movies this year), so… more win.
FRANKENWEENIE – What really grabbed me about Frankenweenie was it felt like Tim Burton was invested again. Just like how Bruce Willis seemed to start giving a shit again this year, Burton really seemed to find his passion again with Frankenweenie. The man’s a professional and I like a lot of his recent work, but there’s a spark in Frankenweenie that makes it feel a little more personal, like his initial run of films. Plus, stop motion in black and white go together amazingly well. Super fun little flick.
PITCH PERFECT –I know this seems silly and if you told me I’d include Pitch Perfect amongst my favorite films of the year when the trailer came out I would have told you to put the crack pipe down and get some help. But then I saw it and when a gusher of vomit opened the film I started shaking my head in disbelief. And it only got weirder after that as its wide dark comedy streak became more and more apparent. Sure, it’s about an a capella group trying to regain their former glory and the recruitment of a freshman alternative chick with some new ideas and a great voice. I did write this one off after the trailer. All the Fat Amy jokes alone felt tired and uninspired, but when I heard good word I reluctantly plopped down my money and gave it a try. I’ll be honest, if Anna Kendrick didn’t star in the movie I might not have made the plunge, but I knew going in that no matter what she’d be adorable and worth watching for a couple hours. Pitch Perfect is a prime example of why you don’t judge a book by its cover. This is one that is going to keep finding its audience and have recurring screenings at places like The Alamo Drafthouse for decades to come.
END OF WATCH – Speaking of Anna Kendrick being adorable, End of Watch was another pleasant surprise. The first person camera found footage aesthetic is not my favorite thing in the world, but it is incredibly effective in David Ayer’s cop drama starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. This flick is intense and really gets you to see Gyllenhaal and Peña as real people and not just boring ol’ hero cops. They’re flawed, they’re funny, they’re deadly serious… they feel real. And Anna Kendrick does the chicken dance, so that alone makes it worth the watch, right?
CHRONICLE – Josh Trank’s “teens find get superpowers” found footage flick shouldn’t have worked, but thanks to some inventive new twists on the conceit of found footage and an amazing breakthrough performance by Dane DeHaan as the sympathetic outcast that is tempted into some dark places by his newfound powers this one was an out of left field surprise for me this past year. In the years to come, DeHaan’s going to become A-list huge and we’re going to look back at this one as really tapping into his talents to mold what could have been a simple character into a complex and explosive package of converging emotions. Read my original review here.
21 JUMP STREET – If you haven’t noticed a trend in films yet, we’re in the “pleasant surprises” section of the list. I’m totally turned around on Channing Tatum because of this film. I know some fellow critics have come out as always being “team Tatum” but I honestly couldn’t see it before he unleashed his impressive comedic timing in this film. He’s flat-out hilarious in this film and shows the personality I’ve wanted him to show in films for years. The movie is my kind of silly and despite still not being completely comfortable with skinny Jonah Hill it’s going to be on heavy rotation for years to come.
WEST OF MEMPHIS – Having followed the West Memphis Three case for well over a decade thanks to the great serious of Paradise Lost docs by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, Amy Berg’s epic documentary on the faulty prosecution of three teens in rural Arkansas grants as much closure as is currently possible. Berg doesn’t redo the Paradise Lost films, but rather digs in-depth with the people involved. West of Memphis somehow manages to be both activist and fair. Produced and guided by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, the doc uncovers new evidence that exonerates the long-imprisoned WM3 and points a very clear finger at the real child-killer that still walks the streets today. It’s a great watch and is one of the very few 2012 movies I’d put the label of “important” on. Read my original review here.
I DECLARE WAR – I am proud to have presented I Declare War with its first award as a juror at ActionFest. I described this inventive little flick as “Platoon via Bugsy Malone” in my review and that’s pretty much what it is. Kids play war and we see it through their eyes. Sticks turn into guns, rocks turn into grenades and suddenly the game starts looking less and less like a game and more like Full Metal Jacket. Characters go full on crazy, war tropes are toyed with and I couldn’t help but become sucked into the world. I Declare War is a small film out of Canada, with a cast of newcomers, and thanks to the recent tragic shootings I doubt we’re going to see it open huge in the US, but it remains one of the more pleasant discoveries of 2012 for me.
DREDD – Dredd shares a lot more with The Raid than just the same basic scenario. The reason Dredd is kind of fucking awesome is because it’s not trying to be a throwback to over-the-top violent crazy action flicks. It just is one. Karl Urban’s ego isn’t so big that we have to see his face 5 minutes into the movie, so we get a hardcore shoot-em-up sci-fi action flick that is true to the books and is just different enough from the standard studio genre picture to really stand out. Dredd just goes for it and does so with a huge amount of style and swagger. This is another one I believe will find its audience and in 10 years people will forget it was a massive flop.
PAUL WILLIAMS STILL ALIVE – Paul Williams is a musical genius, no question about it. His movie music work (Bugsy Malone, Phantom of the Paradise, Ishtar, The Muppet Movie, etc) alone makes him a genius, but there’s so much more to the man than that. This documentary does what a good doc is supposed to: it lets us get to know Paul Williams as he really is, warts and all. This one was one of my favorites out of SXSW last year and still stands high in my estimation as I look back. Read my original review here!
JOHN DIES AT THE END – Don Coscarelli’s adaptation of David Wong’s bizarro genre-combining book of the same name is a whole lot of fun. Coscarelli has been saddled with inadequate budgets for years now, but he makes the best of them. It’s a young man’s movie, looks ten times bigger than what he spent on it and he gathered together an amazing cast of established vets like Paul Giamatti and Clancy Brown as well as fresh faces, like the two leads Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes. It’s nutty, it’s weird, it’s creepy, it’s funny and has an energy to it that is lacking in so many indie productions these days. Read my original review here.
DETENTION – And finally there’s Joseph Kahn’s Detention, which finally found its way to some sort of distribution after polarizing audiences at film festivals for the last year and a half. It’s a lovingly nostalgic ‘90s comedy/horror/sci-fi/I don’t know what ADHD addled story that will either impress you with its schizophrenia or annoy the piss out of you. There is no inbetween with this movie. Also, it has a time traveling polar bear, so any argument against the movie is invalid.
There you go. I liked a lot of other movies this year, stuff that didn’t get included like Silver Linings Playbook, but my criteria was movies that I either wholly admire the exquisite craftsmanship put into it or will rewatch a few dozen times in the next year. That’s the above.
So, apologies for not doing a simple top 10, but I hope you enjoyed scanning through my list of favorite movies from the last year.