The Ten Best Films of 2012

It’s been some ride. A record-breaking 64 new releases seen for the 2012 list. That number was 52 last year. And the previous all-time high was 60, set 25 years ago in 1987. Back then, I viewed most of the films the old-fashioned way—in an actual theater. How many of this year’s 64 did I attend at the local movie house or the vast shopping mall multiplex? 16. That’s right, exactly one-quarter of the total. The rest were via industry screeners, DVDs, Netflix streaming and cable’s On Demand channels–including PPV. It is possible to watch these films folks, because nowadays the viewing options are many. Whether or not you have the patience and dedication to seek them out is an entirely different story. I know some of you do (yesterday I had an e-mail exchange with a dear friend, who informed me that he had almost completed “Cosmopolis”! My heart swelled with pride. If I can reach just one…). Allow me some snob time though concerning general audiences…AKA, the masses. Opinion doesn’t really mean all that much to me if I sense that someone’s film knowledge is pedestrian at best. Tell me you love “The Godfather” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”–yeah, big deal…who doesn’t? Alert me during conversation that you can’t decide if your favorite Scorsese is “Taxi Driver” or “Raging Bull”? Now, my ears perk up a little bit. Confess to me that you may enjoy Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” slightly more than Welle’s “Citizen Kane”. We will now commence talking for hours! Among my points is this: I grow increasingly tired of listening to people taking me to task on how they “can’t understand how the critics liked (fill in the blank), when we hated it!” First of all, almost no one is ever able to supply me with the name of the critic that they read on a regular basis (critics to them, I imagine, being some large, faceless entity, conspiring in digital print to prod you into paying for bad movies). Then, of course, even gently suggesting that their film knowledge and appreciation is not quite up-to-par can turn one apoplectic. Sorry, but it’s true. The vast majority of movie-goers are lazy. Why do I present this now? Well, I’m bracing for the moments when someone comes to me deeming “The Master”, “Cosmopolis” or “Dark Horse” too weird. Or “Amour”, “The Loneliest Planet” and “Goodbye First Love” too minimalist. Or “The Deep Blue Sea” and/or “Oslo, August 31st” being too slow, depressing and bleak. Everyone is certainly allowed to present an opinion on these works, but if you don’t invest much time or effort into watching and comprehending some of the more complex offerings, then my estimation is that it’s not “the critics” that are off-base…it’s you. Last year, I had to hear from acquaintances who couldn’t grasp “The Tree of Life” or “Melancholia”. This year it will be something else. In other words (so I can wrap this rant up), if you want to be a part of the conversation, you’ve got to put in the work. If you’re not interested in doing that, then you’re not as big of a film lover as you profess to be. Simple as that. There, I’ve said it. Also, I need to alert you to another first concerning my now 27th annual Top Ten list. There has never been a tie. Until now. I’ve always avoided them like the plague. Other critics have done it, and I’ve also seen lists like “the 23 best films of the year”, or alphabetical rosters of 10 different films. I play by the rules. 10 films total, but honorable mentions are allowed and encouraged. And make the attempt to list a 1 thru 10! Yes, it’s awfully diplomatic to go all alphabetical, but save that for your also-rans. Yes, I realize nothing can be universally judged “the best”. Subjectivity does rear its ugly head, at times. But this is for fun. So, choose. Also, foreign films must be viewed with subtitles, and in their original language. So, if you’ve currently been enjoying “The Secret World of Arrietty” on cable television with its English dubbing, it doesn’t count. That’s not the movie I saw—my version was in Japanese. Think I’m being too artsy? There are 5 Best Picture nominees throughout the Top Ten and Honorable Mention, so I think I straddle that art/mainstream line pretty well, thank you. And yes, I’ve seen all 9 nominees for the Academy’s top honor, so four films didn’t make the final cut. And one of those is the most likely winner later this month! Well, let’s stop beating around the bush, and just get to it, I guess. Lastly I’ll add, is the observation that if you know anything about Cinema 2012–it’s been an awfully good year to be named Anderson. At least on my final tally. No matter how much I arranged, fussed and jiggered–it just kept coming down to Wes and Paul. And the Ten Best Films of 2012 are:      

          1) The Master          (official tie for the top spot)          1) Moonrise Kingdom  

3) Amour

4) Cosmopolis

5) The Loneliest Planet

6) Zero Dark Thirty

7) Oslo, August 31st

8) The Deep Blue Sea

9) Beasts of the Southern Wild

10) The Secret World of Arrietty

Plus, two that unfortunately just missed making the final roster:

Anna Karenina & Life of Pi

and, two incredible high-budget blockbusters, that broke all the rules, and ended up far out-doing their overblown genre competition:

The Avengers & The Dark Knight Rises

Honorable Mention (listed alphabetically)



Dark Horse

Django Unchained

5 Broken Cameras


Goodbye First Love



Searching for Sugar Man

2012’s Biggest Disappointments (for a variety of reasons) are:

Cloud Atlas (wasted talent)

The Devil Inside (poor follow-through)

The Hunger Games (ratings cowardice)

Ice Age: Continental Drift (flying on auto-pilot)

The Paperboy (losing courage come the finale)

This is 40 (letting Brooks & Lithgow be the whole show)

and two passable films that, given their pedigree, should’ve been MUCH better:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (THREE films, Mr. Jackson—really?)

Promised Land (can we rescind Damon’s 1997 screenplay Oscar, yet?)


3 comments on “The Ten Best Films of 2012

  1. Bravo, sir! Always enjoyable, especially with the rant. I am quite surprised to see a tie and am confident that, in the not too distant future, one of those will arise as the clear victor (although I have yet to see The Master, so I can’t predict which one). I am disappointed that Zero Dark Thirty beat Beasts of the Southern Wild. I still don’t think it’s got that “zazz” to place it so high. Perhaps I will change my mind on further viewings.

    • Oh, almost forgot…#6 and #9 are pretty darn close! Simply having them both in the body of the Top Ten shows how fond I am of the pair of them. And I’m not sure if you’ll build any love for “ZD30” on future views, but I’m also uncertain if I’ll be able to break that tie! I wrestled with it for months before ultimately throwing in the towel! ML

  2. Thank you, Brian. It’s a labor of love…but it does get exhausting keeping up. Especially when December and January unload the steady stream of awards favorites. While a good half of the films were spread out over months, the other 50% got crammed into about 9 WEEKS! And I still always miss something…I wish I had found a way to take a look at the critical smash, “Holy Motors”. Oh, well…I’ll review that when I finally watch it on DVD, but once the Top Ten is published, it doesn’t get revised. That would be a cheat. Also, the Ten Best list contains a number of films, viewed in the last couple of weeks, that haven’t received a review proper yet. That’s on its way too. And, as always, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! ML

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