We talk about movies a lot, and every year there’s the inevitable conversation where someone complains about how the business has run out of ideas. You know the complaints: some curmudgeon talks about the overabundance of remakes and sequels, noting how the dumbest properties now get a movie deal. Whenever this conversation happens, we think, “If you’re whining about the state of movies, obviously you’re not paying attention enough.” This year has been terrific for film buffs: there were ambitious art-films, heartfelt comedies, searing thrillers, and fully-realized nostalgia throwbacks. The breadth and quality of the year’s movies is, well, overwhelming.
In a year like this, it’s difficult to pick a conclusive list of the best films, so the BYT film team got scientific. All our movie writers – Jeff Spross, Toni Tileva, Svetlana Legetic, Alan Zilberman, Al Moore, Alan Pyke, Ross Bonaime and Logan Donaldson – submitted their top twelve movies of 2012, which were then tallied and ranked. So, without further ado, here are our top twelve movies of 2012, complete with a silly superlative and our concluding thoughts.
12. Best movie to watch with French or Italian dubbing enabled: Skyfall
Christopher Nolan ends his term as Batman director with a nearly 180 minute epic that hones in on Gotham just as much as it does on The Dark Knight. Our tortured hero spends a decent amount of time sidelined in his own movie. Nolan’s blueprint is another grand crime tale, almost becoming bloated while going for broke in the final installment — not only lacking an ever present but also missing a truly charismatic villain like the Joker (who basically carried The Dark Knight) or the double dose of Liam Neeson and the Scarecrow. This time around we got Bane, a ridiculously voiced strongman whose menace is not only physical but also, of course, deviously clever. Supplanting the need for a talismanic baddie, Anne Hathaway brings some morally ambiguous pep to the proceedings as Catwoman, while Joseph Gordon-Levitt fills in when Batman is not around.
9. Best movie involving scatological humor about George Washington: Lincoln
There’s a lot of interesting tidbits packed into Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. The blatant bribery and patronage (still legal in those days) that helped assemble a House majority to abolish slavery in the Constitution. Or Lincoln’s surprisingly high and unassuming speaking voice. But perhaps the funnest revelation is his penchant for long and rambling stories, often ending in surprisingly ribald humor – as evidenced by a long discussion on the virtues of placing a portrait of George Washington in a British restroom. Lincoln isn’t a perfect film. Its ending is gratuitously sentimental, it wastes too much time on domestic side plots, and like any film on issues facing black Americans that’s made by privileged white guys, it has a few blind spots. But when it shows Lincoln, a self-educated man of humble origins, grappling with the highest echelons of political power through intelligence, horse-trading, cajoling, moral ferocity and good old bloviation, the movie practically sings. Daniel Day-Lewis turns in what might be the best and most graceful work of his career, and Tommy Lee Jones finally gives the radical abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens the roaring and righteous portrayal the man deserves. -Jeff Spross
After seeing Safety Not Guaranteed, a teeny indie comedy about (fake?) time travel and (investigative?) journalism I posted a comment on our review of it, that was both brief and perfectly summed up my feelings for it: “just saw this movie and want to marry it.” A major reason for which is that I would, obviously, marry every single lead character/actor in it, gender/sexual orientations be damned. I would marry them more than any other cast I saw on the big screen this year (and with Friends with Kids, Celeste and Jesse Forever, Moonrise Kingdom, and Silver Linings Playbook all being around, there is some seriously stiff competition in this category). Here are the reasons why. In bullet point form:
- Mark Duplass’ Kenneth is the kind of dreamer (crazy guy?) that you know would never ever give up on you, your collective insane goals, or the right to rock a denim jacket and a bandanna like no one’s watching. Awesome stake-out dates guaranteed.
- Jake Johnson’s Jeff is that semi-disillusioned-sorta-curmudgeony-but-at-the-core-good-guy that you actually may stand a chance of saving from himself (and you know how women love a project). Also, very funny. Also, he plays Nick on “NEW GIRL” (unrelated to this movie but ALSO totally related)
- Aubrey Plaza’s Darius is just a deadpan, stone-cold fox of the highest order. Who also happens to be very vulnerable and sweet and super genuine and loyal, but you have to really earn her trust to see that side of her. Which, you can sense , will totally be worth the effort. And the bruising along the way.
- Karan Soni’s Arnau is your non-standard issue quiet, reliable, studious kid who you JUST KNOW has a freak flag that is JUST WAITING to be flown. A (long-term relationship) grower, if not an (instant potential) shower.
All flawed, all heartbreaking in their own way, all completely worthy of your undying love. Trust me. -Svetlana
7. Best hand-to-hand fight scene culminating with a repurposed fluorescent tube: The Raid: Redemption
The acute shortage of ideas in Hollywood action movies isn’t new. Asian studios have been putting out the best asskickery since long before The Expendables 2 and Lawless got greenlit, long before you were making Taken 2: The Retookening jokes on the internet. But The Raid outdid the past several years of global action flicks, by a damn sight, by combining the intricate, ruthlessly quick fight choreography that Hollywood seems incapable of with the gritty, undistracting camerawork that made the first Bourne movie (for example) so great. It’s the simplest possible premise: lock a squad of elite cops into a criminal-infested high-rise and force them to fight their way out past residents promised a lifetime of free rent if they kill the intruders. The guns are empty within the first twenty minutes, and it’s all machetes and nightsticks and tactical knives and open fists the rest of the breathless way. If I had money I’d pay someone to physically bury Michael Bay’s home with The Raid DVDs. -Alan Pyke
Five pals arrive at a cabin and immediately detect an ominous vibe. When they explore its dim basement, they find a number of bizarre artifacts. This might seem straightforward, but hold on-what the hell is up with the first scene of the movie, which shows the workings of some sort of corporate office? And why are two office lackeys talking about how locations around the world have failed and it’s “up to us” to succeed or face the worst possible consequences?
5. Best movie where you feel considerable sympathy for a child murderer: Looper
One of the most emotionally upending moments of Looper is when Bruce Willis, playing the older version of Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) walks into a house containing a young child we know he’s intent on killing. He’s traveled back to the past to prevent the rise of the criminal mastermind who will eventually kill his wife, and this kid is on the shortlist of candidates to grow up to become said mastermind. “No way he’s gonna do it,” you’re thinking. “He’ll get there, and realize that even though he loves his wife he can’t do this.” They don’t show it, technically, but the way Willis collapses in self-hating grief when he re-emerges from the house makes things plain: He fucking did it. And that’s the kind of movie Looper is. The noble hero becomes a child-murderer, the selfish asshole becomes a decent man, the upstanding mother is protecting a child who could be a monster. It’s one of the most jagged, intelligent and unnerving moral visions to hit cinema this year. And that’s on top of being one of the most conceptually and visually creative sci-fi action movies to come along in several years. It’s very much worth your time. -Jeff Spross
4. Best credibility beard: Ben Affleck in Argo
I may be going out on a limb here, but without Affleck’s crucial beard, there is no Argo. When Affleck sells his crackpot plan to rescue six Iranian embassy workers, the CIA director must be thinking, “Surely a guy with a beard like that knows this plan is crazy enough to work.” When Affleck attends a fake Hollywood script reading, he easily fits in with all the other industry assholes because, yes, his beard makes him look like he’s waiting to leave the event for an orgy. When Affleck tries to convince the embassy workers that they must put their lives in his hands, they believe him because his beard puts him in the “no bullshit” contingent of the clandestine service. Don’t get me wrong: Argo is a damn fine thriller, with masterful f-bombs and a confident, efficient climax. I’m just saying the “so crazy it must be true” premise relies on Affleck repeatedly asking people to trust him, even when he’s lying through his teeth. It’ll be an underrated performance, unfortunately, since the Credibility Beard gets in the way of his expressive, melancholy eyes. -Alan Zilberman
3. Best nostalgia For the 90s/early 2000s in a movie set in the 1960s (also best use of a shoe): Moonrise Kingdom
As much as I enjoy the films of Wes Anderson, I haven’t loved a film of his in over a decade, with The Royal Tenenbaums. I’ve been an apologist for his work, even defending The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited to angry friends as we leave the theater. But with Moonrise Kingdom, his films started to pop again, with a combination of childhood naiveté and the joy of first love. His dry humor is at an all time best and for the first time in years, all his supporting characters are given depth and a sympathy that is missing in many of his films. Anderson has always had nostalgia for the past, which comes across in all of his films, even if it’s for an era he wasn’t alive for. So by going into the sixties, Anderson has finally come back around to the types of films in his halcyon days, while learning from his past mistakes, and making one of his best films. -Ross Bonaime
2. Best movie to see Bradley Cooper go from smarmy to charming in: Silver Linings Playbook
The silver linings abound in the thoroughly disarming Silver Linings Playbook, a glorious mash-up of a mental health issues/rom-com film. Jennifer Lawrence’s character would pull a Daria on the manic pixie chick trope and her self-referential (and terribly not-hot) neuroticism–welcome the new (good kind of) crazy girl on the block. This kind of crazy girl can have a outcrazying-each-other conversation over family dinner with a bipolar guy and call him out on *his* poor social skills. She can talk anti-depressants with the best of them. Bradley Cooper channels his ADD-addledom from Limitless in playing a regular guy who is thrown knee-deep into the world of therapy sessions and “exit strategies,” all the while jogging with garbage bags on to lose weight. DeNiro plays a football-obsessed but loving father with sheer comedic gusto. If there ever is an underdog story from the shrink-wrapped world of “we all have issues,” this is easily the most charming one of all. And yes, what’s a little romantic comedy without some Dancing With The Stars type action!? Whatever cliches are to be found are easily forgiven in this utterly ebullient celebration of “staying positive.” Excelsior! -Toni Tileva
1. Best superhero of the year: Beasts of the Southern Wild
The moment Quvenzhané Wallis’ Hushpuppy emerges on the big screen, you know you don’t stand a chance. Ben Zeitlin’s tale of love and natural disasters has many amazing, magical yet realistic things in it, but none can match the force of nature that is its heroine. An untrained pre-schooler from the depths of Louisiana bayou, with a confident grin and the best fro in showbiz since little orphan Annie captured the hearts of all of the states united, she is truly a celebration of America at its finest. The kind of celebration America didn’t (maybe?) know it needed. A celebration embodied in a little girl that is also a “man” and a “boss lady” (according to her Father), who brims with the kind of confidence, resilience and can-do attitude that matches some of the greatest characters this country has ever produced. In a year that brought us Katniss Everdeen, Princess Merida, Catwoman and other more traditional girl power heroines, Hushpuppy stands proud and tall. She’s head and mental shoulders above them all, a true example of when a GIRL really wants something, a GIRL gets it. If I was to buy one action figure this year, it would be that of Hushpuppy. If I was to pre-sign up to lead a presidential campaign for any
girl woman in 2036, it would be Quvenzhané Wallis’. Lets just hope no one and no one thing ruins her till them. We’re looking at you, Hollywood. Don’t mess this one up. For all of us. -Svetlana
Those are the best of movies of the year. Are we wrong? Tell us why in the comments.