Ignore all those other lists. They're tainted. It's just about the end of the year, and it's time for critics like me (and inferior critics) to look back over the year that's passed and pick out the shining jewels of quality that floated to the top of the ocean of turds. 2012 was actually a pretty good year for movies in a lot of ways, with interesting flicks coming from all over the world, Hollywood included. Here are the ten that I thought were must-sees in 2012.
Rian Johnson's exceptional time travel movie gleefully embraced all of the paradoxes inherent in the genre and twisted them to its advantage. Anchored by a spectacular Joseph Gordon-Levitt performance as a past-tense triggerman disposing bodies for a future Mafia, the story took some seriously unexpected turns on its way to an affecting conclusion. Great production design was just the icing on top of the cake.
Of all the year's superhero movies, Avengers was the one that really grabbed the Marvel Universe by the throat. Under the capable direction of uber-geek Joss Whedon, this flick was a love letter to the comics of our childhood, with crackling dialogue and unforgettable action scenes. Easily the best Hulk movie ever made as well, and he was just part of the whole story.
Time travel was on everybody's minds this year, it seemed, but few handled it as well as this quirky indie comedy. When a team of reporters travel to track down the writer of a mysterious classified ad, they get caught up in crime, conspiracies and even a little romance. Aubrey Plaza from Parks & Rec proves she can carry a movie, and the ending amazingly doesn't cop out on anything.
Martin McDonagh's latest is a shaggy dog story - quite literally - but no movie this year made me laugh quite as hard with its audaciousness. When a struggling screenwriter gets caught up not just with a pair of dog thieves but a legion of serial killers. It's childish, immature, foul-mouthed and absolutely impossible to quit watching, even though it bombed pretty hard at the box office.
Josh Trank's teenage superpower film gave us the dark side of the Spider-Man coin - sometimes with great power comes great psychosis. When three friends discover that a chance encounter has given them telekinetic abilities, their whole lives go straight to hell. People should stop talking about that Goddamned live-action Akira movie, because this is as close as we're gonna get.
Paul Thomas Anderson's weird, slow-moving Scientology allegory is really about how two men can give each other the best and the worst of themselves and survive. When an alcoholic World War II veteran (played by Joaquin Phoenix, happily returned to acting from being a weird bearded creep) falls in with the leader of a strange religious group, all kinds of sheez goes down. Amazing performances help you deal with the many intense issues this movie brings up.
Easily the best of the Daniel Craig Bond movies, bouncing back from the disappointing Quantum of Solace. Skyfall deals with the secret agent in a time of transition, as changes in MI6 threaten everything we know about Bond's way of life. An excellent villain (played ably by Javier Bardem) and respect for the series' tradition without being enslaved to it made this one truly special.
Tarantino follows up Inglourious Basterds with another testosterone-charged historical fantasy, this time in the greasy, embarrassing American South of antebellum days. Christoph Walz is an actor who I'll see in anything, and he turns in such a great performance as a German bounty hunter / dentist that you'll wish Tarantino had released his first cut, which was 40 minutes longer. Jamie Foxx also redeems himself for every bad movie he's ever made in the lead role. Yes, including Stealth.
Sure, it was a little affected and hokey, but if you can sit here and say that you walked out of this completely unique, lyrical fantasy set in the flooded bowels of Louisiana feeling nothing then you're some kind of stupid robot. In a year where we saw champions of justice like Batman, Captain America and Spider-Man all hit the screen, it's saying something that the undisputed hero of the year was a six year old girl named Hushpuppy.
Not as much a movie as a total headcharge into the very cortex of cinema, Leos Carax's Holy Motors was the movie I felt like talking about most in 2012. Following Mssr. Oscar's twisted journeys through his day will make you actually think about the whole rickety machinery behind movie magic, as well as the perplexing nature of "acting" as a vocation.