Favorite Films of 2012

I went to a lot of movies in 2012, and I seem to have done a better-than-average job of picking which films I saw – a good 2/3 of this list I would label as “good” movies, and I only really hated a few. So, here are the films I saw in the theater in 2012, from worst to best.

30. Prometheus

A total failure from start to finish, and the only film that made me angry I ever believed it could be good.

29. The Woman in Black

28. The Amazing Spider-Man

Worse than the 2002 version in every way.

27. Lawless

I was excited for this film because I loved Nick Cave and John Hillcoat’s last collaboration, The Proposition. Sadly, this is three hours of Shia LaBeouf mugging in a zoot suit. Even Tom Hardy can’t save this movie.

26. The Campaign

25. John Carter

Not as bad as it was made out to be, but not very good, either.

24. Les Miserables

I love the musical and I loved some of the performances here. But the cinematography, art direction, editing, sound mixing – you know, the stuff that makes this a movie – were a disaster.

23. The Hunger Games (see episode 21 of Pop Cultural Osmosis)

22. The Bourne Legacy

21. The Dark Knight Rises (see episode 26 of Pop Cultural Osmosis)

20. Haywire

19. The Intouchables

18. The Secret World of Arietty (see episode 21 of Pop Cultural Osmosis)

17. Beasts of the Southern Wild

16. Brave (see episode 25 of Pop Cultural Osmosis)

15. Robot & Frank

14. The Hobbit

13. Seven Psychopaths

12. Chronicle

A great superhero movie that’s marred by its silly found-footage conceit.

11. Cabin in the Woods

The moment that the elevator doors all open at once was the most exuberant filmmaking moment of the year.

10. 21 Jump Street

The funniest movie of the year from the unlikeliest source. Maybe the best TV-to-film adaptation in movie history.

9. Argo

Affleck continues to mature as a director, if perhaps not as an actor. This movie could easily have been reductive or pedantic; instead, it was smart and thrilling.

8. Skyfall

The best Bond film since – I’m not even sure. Goldfinger, maybe? Skyfall is somehow able to perfectly balance the inherent ridiculousness of the character with genuine stakes and drama. Plus, Mendes and Deakins are the best craftsmen ever to work on the series.

7. Django Unchained

The film’s first half is much better than its second – the action flags a bit once they arrive at Candeyland. But this is still Tarantino’s best film since Pulp Fiction, a perfectly-crafted, always-entertaining film that also makes – in its own manic way – a number of nuanced points about American slavery.

6. Cloud Atlas

I can understand why people hate this movie, but I loved it anyway. Crazily ambitious, heavy-handed, and seemingly destined for failure, Cloud Atlas is also a film devoid of cynicism and blessed with enormous emotional generosity. What can I say? It worked for me.

5. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

A beautiful, beguiling film. Gary Oldman’s performance is masterfully restrained. I’ve watched this movie over and over and I find something new to appreciate every time.

4. Looper

One of the best sci-fi films in years. (For more, see episode 28 of PCO.)

3. Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson’s best live-action film, and perhaps the best live-action film Wes Anderson is capable of making. Moonrise is such the perfect distillation of his style that I have trouble seeing how he’ll ever top it.

1. TIE: The Avengers / Lincoln

A cheat! One is the best superhero film of all time, written and directed by a geeky cult-hero made good. The other is America’s best director teaming with America’s best playwright to make a film about America’s best President. They both play so directly to different passions of mine; I don’t think I could possibly choose.

Movies I wanted to see but didn’t have the chance: The Master, Zero Dark Thirty, Amour, Silver Linings Playbook, Safety Not Guaranteed, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Searching for Sugarman.

I was a little bummed about how few indie or limited distribution films I saw in theaters this year, but on the other hand, the studio offerings were uncommonly great. Right now it seems like arty little films are what I’m really excited about going forward (Upstream Color, Mud, Inside Llewyn Davis, Escape from Tomorrow) but that’s probably just because Sundance is going on so that’s what people are talking about.