As we count down to the end of another year in cinema, it’s time to take one last look back and celebrate the year’s best films. It all comes down to this – after sifting through close to 400 movies this year, these are the films that made us laugh, cry and took our collective breaths away, these are simply the Best Movies of 2012.
Before we unveil our list, let’s go over the ground rules. There were many films that were successful financially this year but did not make our list. In addition, great performances in so-so films also came up short. We tried to cover the basis across all disciplines taking into account independents, animated, foreign as well as big-budget studio fare.
The bottom half of the list was pretty easy to compile, where the indecision and second-guessing occurred as we were trying to decide the final five spots. There were some candidates that deserved merit but we simply exhausted our allotted spots. So enough stalling, without further ado, here is our site’s Best Movies of 2012.
Silver Linings Playbook
Friends with Kids
Rise of the Guardians
The Top Ten
10. The Intouchables
This touching film, based on a true story, about the unlikely friendship between a wealthy French quadriplegic and his caretaker from the slums of Paris, on the surface appears to be a basic story that we’ve seen countless times. What elevates the film from good to great is the absolutely captivating and charismatic performance of Omar Sy as Driss. Sy walks a fine line between comedy and drama, taking a role that in most films would have been stereotypical and infusing him with plenty heart while constantly lighting up the room with his 1,000 watt smile. It is no wonder Sy made history as the first Black French actor to win the Cesar Award for Best Actor for his portrayal besting last year’s Best Actor Oscar winner, Jean Dujardin in the process!
9. Searching for Sugar Man
This film about two South African music fans obsessive search for information about a long-lost singer, Rodriquez, is the crux of this riveting documentary. Director Malik Bendjelloul crafts a truly remarkable tale tracing initially the life and later the whereabouts of the mysterious Sugar Man, Sixto Rodriquez, who recorded two underwhelming albums in the early 1970s that failed to catch fire with American audiences before he simply vanished. Fortunately for him, his music made it over to South Africa and inspired an entire generation of anti-apartheid activists who regaled the Sugar Man as a legend and an icon. Our favorite documentary of the year, the film is a lesson in perseverance and never giving up on one’s dreams!
Since winning his second Oscar for Best Director, Steven Spielberg has chosen several passion projects that for one reason or another failed to catch fire with audiences leaving many to think that the great director’s best days may be behind him. If history has shown when charting his career over his 40 years in the business, there are few directors that can match his talents when he is truly on his game. Enter his historical biopic, Lincoln, which also benefits from one of the year’s best performances courtesy of Daniel Day-Lewis in this story of the Great Emancipator’s battle to pass the 13th Amendment. It also doesn’t hurt that the film features a great script, score and solid supporting performances as well as a focused auteur.
7. Middle of Nowhere
Publicist-turned-writer/director Ava DuVernay clearly took copious notes earlier in her former career because after an impressive film debut in 2011 with the small indie, I Will Follow, her follow up has had the industry buzzing since its debut earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. This emotionally powerful tale of a dutiful, loving wife who supports her incarcerated husband doing a ten-year bid who undergoes her own self-discovery, would probably be a forgettable exercise for most directors but DuVernay’s intimate story is buoyed by a powerhouse performance from newcomer Emayatzy Corinealdi. Cinematographer Bradford Young gives the film a polished look that perfectly compliments DuVernay’s script and direction.
6. Les Misérables
The last time we saw director Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech was all the rave with many wondering about the talented auteur’s followup effort. Hooper chose the gargantuan task of adopting the international smash musical, Les Misérables to the big screen and the results are absolutely stunning. He brings the story of Jean Valjean and the French Revolution in all of splendor and epic glory. Boasting an all-star cast including Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and a star-making performance from Anne Hathaway plus the film’s soaring songbook is an intoxicating mix that will garner universal praise. Much like Jennifer Hudson’s Oscar-winning turn in Dreamgirls, Hathaway’s I Dreamed a Dream should bring her a well-deserved Oscar!
5. Beasts of the Southern Wild
There are not many directors that would build their entire film around a six-year old girl but Benh Zeitlin’s unlikely gamble paid off in a major way as critics and audiences buzzed over this small but heart-wrenching story. Newcomers Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry burn into audience’s consciousnesses father teaching his daughter painful life lessons amid catastrophic conditions in the Louisiana Delta. Wallis gives a tour-de-force performance that belies her age and lack of acting experience. It is that very inexperience that gives her performance such an edge of transparency and authenticity that draws audiences in. Henry provides ample support in addition to giving Zeitlin a strong one-two punch that is hard to beat!
4. Rust and Bone
In 1954, director Elia Kazan’s tale of a heroic longshoreman, On the Waterfront, showcased the relationship between two broken souls who strengthen each other despite their weaknesses is channeled by director Jacques Audiard in this triumphant story. Oscar winner Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts shine in this story of a brawler who comes to the aid and falls in love with a whale trainer after she suffers a tragic accident that confines her to a wheelchair minus her two lower legs. Their courtship is reminiscent of Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint’s performances in Waterfront. Cotillard is brilliant as a woman who loses her will to live and rediscovers her light through the kindness and support of an unlikely companion. Look for Cotillard to be a “contender” this awards season.
In a season of political drama, writer/director/actor Ben Affleck arguably delivers one of the best of the season in this gripping period drama. This little-known story of the crafty evacuation of six American embassy employees from Iran using a fake movie as a clever cover, strikes all of the right notes under Affleck’s thoughtful direction. Ensuring continuity, Affleck also stars in the film bolstered by strong supporting performances by Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and Alan Arkin. What makes the film so effective is the audacious nature of this tale based on a true story. Who knew that a movie about a fake movie used to free American hostages could be so damn entertaining?
One of the year’s best kept secrets and biggest surprises was this little independent film based on a true story about a young woman’s hellish experience at the hands of an overzealous, yet clueless store manager who assists a predator in afflicting psychological as well as physical discomfort upon an innocent and unwillingly store employee. Craig Zobel’s claustrophobic direction as well as the film’s slow-boiling approach succeeds in making audiences uncomfortable while making audiences reflect on their own morality. Co-star Dreama Walker sacrifices body and soul in one of the year’s most effective performances equally conveying innocence and emotional distress as a victim caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
1. Zero Dark Thirty
One of the seminal events of 21st Century were the events that transpired on 9/11 and the subsequent hunt for terrorist Osama Bin Laden. Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow recreates this ten-year manhunt with brilliant precision in this heart-pounding political drama. We experience the action and tension through eyes of Jessica Chastain as the lead character. While Americans often talk about liberty and freedom, seldom has one film shown the horrific and graphic political methodology that unfolds all in the name of national security. In addition to Chastain’s outstanding work, co-star Jason Clarke is solid as a hardened CIA operative that displays the country’s meticulous and harrowing approach to information-gathering. The last third of the film is worth the price of admission alone; brilliant Bigelow!!!