Hello again, and welcome back to my first-ever Rankings Series, Movies of the Decade. If you’re just joining in following this series now, I’ve been going back year by year through this decade (the 2010s) and unveiling or re-releasing my Top 10 movies of each year, with the final entry (The Top 10 Movies of the Decade) due to drop sometime around mid-May 2020 or a bit earlier. Today, I’ll be unveiling my Top 10 Movies of 2012. 2012 was a pretty solid year for movies overall, boasting some real game-changers for the cinematic landscape of the 21st century (including one you just might see at the end of this series), as well as introducing us to some fierce new filmmaking talents, and reminding us that Daniel Day-Lewis really is the man. And that wasn’t even all it offered. Veteran franchises continued to show how great they could be, and the country at large closed the book on a decade-long manhunt we weren’t sure would end by the previous year, making it the largest in history. It certainly was a year for growth and catharsis in Hollywood, and movies are all the better for it. But enough of my rambling on; let’s get to the good stuff. These are my Top 10 Movies of 2012.
10. 21 Jump Street
Remember those fierce new filmmaking talents I referred to a second ago? Well this is where all that starts. Phil Lord and Chris Miller burst big onto the scene with this 2012 feature film adaptation of an old cop show, delivering one of the best, funniest, and most intelligent comedies of the entire year. It’s because of the success of this movie that we now have The Lego Movie franchise, a pretty great Jump Street sequel, and the monumental awesomeness that is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. To this day, this is my favorite role Channing Tatum has ever played, and the one that reminded me (and all of us) how great of a performer he can really be. Flipping the script on high school life from the 80’s to now was a brilliant move on part of the writers, and it leads to some beautifully creative results.
It’s a real shame that Josh Trank ended up falling down the rabbit hole of a failed Fant4stic reboot (studio interference or otherwise) when what he could have been remembered for is this fun, clever supervillain origin flick with some really neat visuals and stellar performances from Dane DeHaan and Michael B. Jordan. On its surface, Chronicle might seem like a sure-fire Trainwreck, especially in an era where found footage movies were all the rage and most of them weren’t any good at all. That doubt soon fades when the originality of this movie hits, though, and it’s a pretty sweet ride the whole way through.
8. Wreck-It Ralph
Ah, yes, the movie that lost the Best Animated Feature Oscar to Brave. To be fair, I haven’t seen Brave, so I can’t really say which one of these two is better, but I did see Wreck-It Ralph, so I absolutely can say that it deserves to be on this list. It’s no small feat on the movie’s part that its charm, wit, and story all make it one of Disney Animation’s best films, and the vocal performances by the entire cast are terrific. The way this film weaves in classic video game characters and tropes with an old school nostalgia and a treatise on what really makes a hero is a treat to watch, and Venelope remains one of my favorite Disney princesses.
Casino Royale remains my favorite James Bond movie for just how well it re-invented the character and the pitch-perfect performances of Daniel Craig and Mads Mikkelsen, but Skyfall is pretty sweet too, and blending the old school, classic Bond with the new age material, beautiful cinematography, and one of the franchise’s better villains in Javier Bardem (even if his plan is a little too similar to the Joker’s from The Dark Knight) elevated this film to be one of the series’ best. I haven’t watched it in a while, so there’s not much else I can really say about it that would be of much merit, but suffice it to say, this movie (and its title song) will go down as true classics of the Bond brand if they haven’t already.
When I first got into reviewing films and collecting blu-rays, this was one of the very first two in my collection. Having watched it win Best Picture, I asked for this film and Lincoln for my birthday in 2013, received them both, and watched them back to back. I had already seen the latter in theaters, and so I knew how good it was, but I was surprised by just how quickly this film captured my attention as well. Argo isn’t just one of the most tense films without a single gunshot in it ever made; it’s also one of the best examples of how good Ben Affleck really is behind the camera when he’s working with the right material. The fact that he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for directing this movie remains one of the biggest awards snubs in Academy history, and to this day, it features one of my favorite underrated themes in film score history by Alexandre Desplat.
5. Django Unchained
Recently, I wrote a piece for a blog called “Film for Thought,” run by Amy Smith, in which I laid out why I think this is Tarantino’s best movie to date, despite the classic natures of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, as well as the boundless Tarantino-isms of Inglorious Basterds and The Hateful Eight. I’ll link to that post here so you can read it on her blog (and maybe check out some of her other stuff), as well as a link to the full version of it (soon to come), but suffice it to say, Django Unchained has everything working for it that would absolutely not work in less skilled hands. Christoph Waltz as a German doctor/bounty hunter, Jamie Foxx as a slave turned rebel, Leonardo DiCaprio as an out-and-out villain? None of this should line up as well as it does, and yet, it remains Tarantino’s best work to date, largely because underneath all the Tarantino-isms, the narrative is about black liberation and tearing down a system that doesn’t deserve to be saved, the only way to fight it being to blow it to kingdom come. It’s a brave take to have in a feature film, and the whole cast and crew pull it off beautifully.
4. Silver Linings Playbook
It’s been slightly subject to the laws of diminishing returns and the future controversies around J-Law do sour it a bit, but Silver Linings Playbook remains one of the funniest, most joyous experiences, with one of the best scripts in rom-com history. Yes, J-Law did win the Best Actress Oscar (and fell up the stairs going to receive it), but it really can’t be overstated just how great Bradley Cooper is in this movie. He nearly steals every single scene he’s in, and I’m convinced the only reason he didn’t win Best Actor that year was because he faced the heaviest competition ever (more on that later). The supporting cast are all really great as well, and even though it doesn’t have as accurate of a commentary on mental health as it likes to think it does, this remains a charming, fun movie to watch, if only for those supporting performances alone.
3. The Avengers
It may not be my number one movie of the year, but make no mistake about it, The Avengers is one of the most significant, game-changing events in cinematic history. Before this, no one even knew for sure if cross-branded, shared-universe continuity could be fully coalesced into a satisfying, fun, engaging whole, but after its release, it seemed like every studio ever created was (and still is) trying to replicate its success with their own “cinematic universe(s).” This was one of the most important movies in history to get right, and not only did they get it right, Marvel Studios, the whole cast, writer/director Joss Whedon, and everyone that worked on it knocked it out of the park. There’s a reason that 360 shot of all the Avengers together for the first time as their hero selves (still this whole series’ greatest shot), paired with the most iconic superhero theme since Superman, was re-created 11 years later in the biggest box office hit in history, and it’s because The Avengers delivers all the goods and then some.
Initially, this was my favorite movie of 2012, but in the re-evaluation (since I had never officialized my list before this), some things ended up getting shuffled around, and now it’s my #2. That’s still pretty great though, and Lincoln still features my favorite leading performance of that year with Daniel Day-Lewis as the titular 16th President of these United States (man I miss talking about a President and not shivering with rage). It’s truly a magnificent turn, but just as magnificent are the film’s score by John Williams, its direction by Steven Spielberg, and the supporting performances by Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones. The decision to focus this biopic about the human side of Abraham Lincoln on his quest to ratify the 13th amendment rather than his whole life gives the film a focus and drive not seen in many biopics, and despite some smaller inaccuracies in the narrative, Lincoln might well be the definitive movie about both the passing of the 13th amendment and the man who passed it.
1. Zero Dark Thirty
There’s no concrete timeline of when this movie began shooting, but there is a bit of news stating that director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal were already making a movie about the 2001 attempt to catch Osama Bin Laden in Tora Bora when they learned of the news he had been killed (they were location scouting in Romania at the time). They then began to re-work their story into what would later become Zero Dark Thirty, the best film of 2012 and one of the director’s greatest works to date (maybe even better than her Best Picture-winning The Hurt Locker). Coming at a time just over a year after the hunt for the man behind 9/11 had ended, this movie was a tightly-scripted, tense, brutal ride following the decade-long search by CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) that grabbed you by the throat and never let go. Yes, its depictions of torture are more commercialized than factual, and of course there are a few inaccuracies here and there that mesh with standard Hollywood screenwriting, but Bigelow’s narrative about a woman’s 10-year hunt for the most wanted man in the world is fast-paced even in its slower moments, and the raid scene on the compound at the end is a seat-clutching, nail-biting finisher that easily goes down as one of the best scenes in war movie history.
And those are My Top 10 Movies of 2012! What do you think of this list? Would you re-arrange anything? What are your Top 10 of 2012? Let me know in the comments section below! Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you at the end of next month with My Top 10 Movies of 2013!
- The Friendly Film Fan