When it comes to compiling a "best of" list for the year in movies, lately these top 10s seem to be weighted heavily from the last quarter of the year. Save the summer release of the surprise hit Beasts of the Southern Wild and that superhero collective, known as Joss Whedon's The Avengers, the other eight films in our best of the year countdown all saw the light of day from October or later.
The race to be anointed the best of 2012 seemed a lock for the Ben Affleck directing and starring vehicle Argo when it premiered in October. Then it seemed with each passing weekend a new film challenged it for the top spot. From this weekend's Zero Dark Thirty to Daniel Day Lewis showing us why Lincoln is still relevant... it was a difficult task to put these ten films in order. But, we did it and it is with great honor that Movie Fanatic presents its Top 10 Movies of 2012.
Bond was back in a big way as Daniel Craig and company gave audiences the best 007 flick in decades, as stated in our Skyfall review.
Javier Bardem slithered into his role as villain Silva and his vengeance-seeking mission to make Judi Dench's M pay for past misdeeds was nothing short of brilliant. The fact that the franchise scored an Oscar-winning director in Sam Mendes who is also a lifelong James Bond fan only further took this stellar story to new heights. It may be a long shot to score a Best Picture nomination, but Academy members should seriously consider it. Skyfall is simply a great movie... regardless of its genre.
9. The Avengers
Everyone could not have been more excited for a movie as audiences were for Whedon and his The Avengers. After the successes of Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America... the challenge to bring these heroes together (along with the Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow) was immense.
Yet Whedon not only triumphed in a thrilling adventure that pleased general audiences and fans alike, but he crafted an ensemble drama where all of its parts were used effectively and efficiently. He also sprinkled in enough humor to catapult the film onto a best of the year list for its impeccable balance of action, drama and comedy. Want to stare at those superheroes forever? Download our collection of The Avengers wallpaper.
8. End of Watch
The fact that End of Watch is on our Best of 2012 list should not surprise. The writer of Training Day made his directorial debut from a script he wrote about two LAPD cops working the worst of the worst neighborhoods. As Denzel Washington scored Oscar gold for his effort on Training Day, so too should End of Watch star Michael Pena be expecting a nomination come January 13.
Jake Gyllenhaal is equally as terrific as Pena's partner as the two forge a buddy cop tandem that is as pitch perfect as we've seen since... Training Day. Haven't seen it yet? Don't miss our End of Watch trailer exclusive and run out and rent it!
7. Seven Psychopaths
As good as Gyllenhaal and Pena were at being good in End of Watch, the cast of Seven Psychopaths is brilliant at being bad. Of all our Seven Psychopaths, there is not one truly good seed. But, that is exactly why we adore this film from writer-director Martin McDonagh. Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Colin Farrell and Sam Rockwell turn in the best performances of their careers.
When Walken and Rockwell steal gangster Harrelson's Shih Tzu, Farrell is sucked into his friend's (Rockwell) deliciously gray world. The film crackles with electricity from beginning to end. Humor abounds (it's one of our Top 10 Comedies of 2012), violence and tension permeate and it all adds up to one of the best movie experiences of the year.
Oh, and those cameos from Tom Waits and Harry Dean Stanton only elevate this film's excellence. You would also be hard pressed to find a cuter canine on film in recent memory!
6. Beasts of the Southern Wild
This film proved that a moving and powerful story, coupled with stripped-to-the-bone brilliant performances from its leads, can always find an audience. Beasts of the Southern Wild came out of nowhere this summer in its tale of a dysfunctional father and daughter trying to survive in storm-soaked, post-Katrina southern Louisiana. Quvenzane Wallis gave a performance decades older than her eight years of life that will firmly plant her at the Dolby Theater come Oscar night.
Using otherworldly themes paired with the stark realism of the poorest of the poor world painted by director Behn Zeitlin, and the film itself should expect a Best Picture nod as well.
5. Life of Pi
There are majestic films and there is what Ang Lee did with Life of Pi. Taking an unfilmable book and bringing it to life in as vibrant a 3D film since Avatar, proved to be the masterwork of a director who already has achieved such greatness. The story of Pi and his travels from his native India to Canada and the shipwreck he survived while being stuck on a life raft for months with a tiger is nothing short of a movie marvel.
And as so effectively teased in the Life of Pi trailer, Lee's film is much more than a lesson in visual vibrancy. The story runs the gamut from a lesson in religion and God, and an inspirational survival tale to a chronicle of the interconnectedness of every soul and natural presence on the planet. And by the way, it must be seen on the big screen. Period.
4. The Impossible
Much has been made of the switching the real life nationality (Spanish) of the family that survived the 2004 Thailand tsunami to the lily white British clan we see in The Impossible. It is hogwash as what's relevant is what these five family members went through. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts and their kin arrive at their Pacific Ocean paradise and merely days later are run over by a wall of water that killed or injured hundreds of thousands of people.
The family is separated and the true story gives us sob-worthy reunions between them on multiple occasions and (without giving away too much) further enhances our faith in fate and the kindness of strangers -- even while their world has been washed away. Hinted at in The Impossible trailer, Watts expresses emotional explosions that run the gamut that should land her an Oscar nod... and she may even win. Also acting years beyond his age is her onscreen son whom Watts spends much of the movie with trying to find help... Tom Holland. Expect to hear a lot from the young actor in the years to come.
We knew Daniel Day Lewis was the perfect actor to play Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's epic tale of the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. But, when that first Lincoln clip appeared and we saw Lewis, it was one of those moments where you say, "Just give him the Oscar." Then... we witnessed the film.
Yes, it's very "legislative" and less a biography. But, a biopic is not the film that director Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner sought to make. And thank heavens, as what audiences are treated to is not only a performance for the ages by Lewis, but a story that triumphs human rights and puts the spotlight on what could be argued is one of the most important time periods in our entire history.
At the outset when that first Argo trailer appeared, it was clear that Ben Affleck scored on so many levels. He proved he was one of the best directors working today and showed acting chops that reminded audiences why we first fell in love with his work all those years ago.
The previously unknown story of how a CIA agent (Affleck) used the guise of making a Hollywood sci-fi film to get Americans out of Iran who had managed to escape the takeover of our embassy was tailor-made for the filmmaker's talents -- both onscreen and off. Then, he got a fantastic cast together, including John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston.
Even though we know what happened, the tension is still thick as it can be as Affleck gets closer and closer to getting those Americans out of a country whose love of the west was at an all-time low. The sign of a good filmmaker is also to know the beats of his film. Affleck tossed in enough humor and self-reflective moments throughout his movie, that the film cooks on all levels until its triumphant conclusion.
1. Zero Dark Thirty
Any other year and Argo would be our top film. But the story of the greatest manhunt in history -- the search for Osama bin Laden -- coupled with the filmmaker behind it, Kathryn Bigelow, and Zero Dark Thirty is as good as it gets on film in 2012. Bigelow, fresh off of sweeping the Oscars for The Hurt Locker, returns with her next stroke of brilliance that does the uncanny. She brilliantly captures a decade-long search for the most wanted man in the world in the span of two hours.
With her opening moments of the film, she gives the audience the reason why a CIA operative (Jessica Chastain) spent ten years of her young life seeking to bring justice to someone who killed thousands of innocents.
We cannot say enough of how Bigelow managed to give viewers just enough information as the film moves forward. But, that is exactly how the U.S. progressed through the search, as teased in this Zero Dark Thirty clip. There were little victories shadowed by hundreds of useless leads. In the middle of it all was a woman who never quit, who kept pushing her superiors to trust her gut. The director executes the penultimate scene -- where in the dark of the night in Pakistan, SEAL Team Six achieved their mission -- with mind-blowing awesomeness.
Sure, we know what happens... but the suspense is nerve-wracking nonetheless. And that is a tribute to a filmmaker in Bigelow, along with her screenwriter Mark Boal, who seem to be just beginning to hit their stride.
Honorable mentions: The Hunger Games, Chronicle, Lawless, People Like Us, Cloud Atlas, Moonrise Kingdom, Looper, Silver Linings Playbook, Cabin in the Woods, Hitchcock, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Hitchcock.