Film.com Staff December 17, 2012
We know: 100 movies is a lot of movies. Are we saying you should run to the theater (or DVD retailer/streaming site of your choosing) to see each and every one of these? Not necessarily. But when you see as many movies as we do, you know this is just a fraction of the year’s offerings — and given the disparity in our writers’ personal top picks, we realized that one person’s #89 is another’s #7.
So we asked Film.com writers Scott Harris, Devin Fuller, Elisabeth Rappe, Joe Reid, Eric D. Snider, Amanda Mae Meyncke, Sandie Angulo Chen, Jenni Miller, Stephanie Zacharek, Kase Wickman, Kevin Polowy, Laremy Legel, Loquacious Muse and Breanne Heldman to help us build this exhaustive list by counting down the best movies of 2012 — all of them.
100. ‘The Loved Ones’
A mousy, timid girl takes extreme measures after being turned down by the boy of her dreams in Sean Byrne’s much-delayed Australian horror thriller, which finally reached American theaters this year. With black humor, vivid violence and unbearable tension, “The Loved Ones” makes sure you’ll never think of teenage infatuation the same way again. — Eric D. Snider
99. ‘Hit and Run’
Dax Shepard and David Palmer’s rambunctious comedy-romance “Hit and Run” shows clear affection for ’70s exploitation pictures like “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry” and “Eat My Dust” – and features more and better stunt driving than even the great (though perhaps not accurately named) “Drive” did. — Stephanie Zacharek
98. ‘Hope Springs’
It’s rare for a mainstream film of A-List stars to examine sex and relationships with unglamorous honesty. It’s even rarer for a such a film to focus on mature adults, making “Hope Springs” something of a unicorn. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones make the perfect painful couple, trying to figure out where it all went cold. — Elisabeth Rappe
An exploration of the life and many furtive romances of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, mainly set over a weekend as England seeks to make a wartime agreement with America. Suffering from a lack of action, compelling drama or interesting plot developments, Bill Murray’s performance is relentlessly fascinating and thorough. — Amanda Mae Meyncke
David France’s documentary chronicles the efforts of coalitions ACT UP and TAG back when the AIDS crisis was at its peak in the United States. Using video footage shot during the time period, the documentary provides an inspiring and emotional account of political activism at its finest. — Devin Fuller
95. ‘Premium Rush’
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is game for his role as a bike messenger on the run in the fast-paced and surprisingly enjoyable “Premium Rush.” The plot may be slight, but David Koepp’s exhilarating action film is perfect movie escapism that lets you turn off your brain for a while and just enjoy the ride. — D.F.
94. ‘This is 40’
Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann reprise their roles from the 2006 Judd Apatow hit “Knocked Up” to overlong, but entertaining results. Mann shines as the sympathetic Debbie, while Rudd (and Apatow by proxy) has no shame in letting himselves look like an unlikeable asshat. The movie also features a stand-out comedic performance from Megan Fox and the best running “Lost” joke you’ll ever see on screen. — Loquacious Muse
Taylor Kitsch came into this year being hyped as the Next Big Thing. And “Savages” shows why he could go into next year the same way, “John Carter” notwithstanding. Alongside Aaron Johnson, Kitsch anchored the best Oliver Stone film in years with a performance equal parts grit and wit. We think there’s more where this came from. — Scott Harris
Even those who can’t stand “Family Guy” can find pleasure at the sheer audacity of Seth MacFarlane’s story of a man (Mark Wahlberg) who just can’t let go of his crass, drunken childhood teddy bear come-to-life. This literal metaphor for the manchild in all of us plays like gangbusters, and has sequel written all over it. — Max Evry
The king of preppy cinema, Whit Stillman, is back after a 14-year hiatus since “The Last Days of Disco,” and the resulting film is his wackiest, most exuberant effort yet. The brilliant Greta Gerwig plays a bizarre college girl who tries to cure on-campus depression through dancing and ridiculously low standards in men, and the result is classic Stillman. — M.E.
Richard Gere anchors this tightly wound drama that explores the darkest secrets of a wealthy businessman as he seeks to avoid financial ruin and protect his family from his darkest enemy — himself. Twists and turns didn’t keep this upper echelon drama from flopping with the middle class. — A.M.M.
By taking on this new trilogy, Peter Jackson risked tarnishing his own “Lord of the Rings” legacy, yet the film proves that the New Zealander is more than comfortable dipping his big Hobbit toe back into Middle-earth. A fight between Stone Giants and the “Riddles in the Dark” scene between Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis are just two of this first entry’s marvels. — M.E.
The astonishingly poignant debut film from director Benh Zeitlin is a lyrical, allegorical coming-of-age story about a remarkable 6-year-old girl and her father living in happy squalor in the Louisiana bayou. Quvenzhane Wallis’ extraordinary central performance adds to the beauty of this uniquely poetic film whose artistic, ideological, and visual loveliness was nearly unrivaled in 2012. — E.D.S.
Adapting a beloved novel for the big screen is tough. Selling a movie about kids killing each other to the general public is tougher. And a blockbuster featuring mostly unknown actrs? Forget it. Somehow, though, “Hunger Games” pulled it all off and became a pop culture phenomenon. The revolution was televised after all. — S.H.
Kristen Dunst, Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fisher star as mean girls grown up, on their baddest behavior, at their best friend’s wedding. Their booze-and-coke addled adventures begin when they nearly destroy Becky’s dress and go on an all-night bender to get it fixed before morning. Rebel Wilson stars as the bride-to-be… whom they’ve nicknamed Pig Face. It’s all so deliciously weird and mean. Plus, Adam Scott is in it! — Jenni Miller
Robert Zemeckis outdid his own plane crash sequence in “Cast Away” with an utterly riveting 10-minute sequence in which Denzel Washington flies a plane upside down as only a drunken cokehead would do. The fact that everything that follows this bravura sequence plays like an infomercial for Alcoholics Anonymous takes nothing from it, and co-star Kelly Reilly is terrific. — M.E.
Considering that Sam Raimi’s popular “Spider-Man” trilogy ended just five years ago, rebooting the whole shebang was a pretty big risk. But with big risks come big rewards. The action was epic, but the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone was even more epic. Spidey saves the day again! — S.H.
Elle Fanning stars as Ginger, an English teen in the ’60s who’s increasingly obsessed with nuclear war; her best friend Rosa (Alice Englert), on the other hand, is more interested in Ginger’s father. Writer/director Sally Potter’s vision of a teen threatening to explode with the secrets she’s keeping is dark but beautiful. The wonderful cast includes Christina Hendricks, Annette Bening, Oliver Platt and Timothy Spall. — J.M.
If you think you’d hate a slacker dramedy about a stoner who suddenly takes “Signs” as a philosophy, you’re wrong. “Jeff” is genuine heart, all about finally taking leaps big and small, and digging out of life’s sad ruts, even if the view isn’t what you imagined it would be. — E.R.
81. ‘On the Road’
This unfilmable novel finally hits the big screen thanks to “Motorcycle Diaries” helmer Walter Salles. Although somewhat meandering and lacking of emotional depth outside of Sal & Dean’s friendship, this adaptation tries its damnedest, with a stunningly transportive score and soundtrack, and a heartbreaking performance from Garrett Hedlund as the manchild who could never live up to the potential promised by his youth. — L.M.
Yes, Pixar finally caved and made a princess movie. But it’s the right kind of princess movie, filled with lush scenery, a feisty heroine and a searing mother-daughter conflict that can’t bury its emotional beats with crowns and castles. Forget the archery, the most empowering message is what it says about growing up and away from a parent. — E.R.
Platonic best friends don’t usually have sex to conceive a child they plan to raise together — not together. Writer/director/producer/star Jennifer Westfeldt and “Parks and Rec” funnyman Adam Scott pull off the unlikely scenario in this whip-smart ensemble comedy featuring her man Jon Hamm and the laugh-aloud genius of Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig and Chris O’Dowd. — Sandie Angulo Chen
Steven Soderbergh and former screenwriting collaborator Lem Dobbs have made a perfectly amiable ’70s-style spy thriller, but the real attention-grabber here is Gina Carano. The former MMA champion gave the action an immediacy and intensity that makes Jason Bourne look like an interpretive dancer, and has Carano peeling out at 100-miles-per-hour on the road to stardom. — M.E.
This documentary on the life and music of reggae legend Bob Marley from director Kevin McDonald is as in depth as it gets, detailing where Marley came from and where he ended up, never missing a beat traveling through the astonishing career that arose between, as he influenced and inspired an entire generation. Fascinating through and through, this definitive doc is a must see. — L.M.
76. ‘The Grey’
“Strap on those broken mini-bottles and prepare to fight some WOLVES!” That’s the movie we were sold, except that’s not the one Joe Carnahan made, which is actually a searing, sensitive survival tale in the Jack London mold. Yes, there are a few tussles with the hairy beasts, but Liam Neeson must truly conquer the fear within. Ahsooooo…. — M.E.
Ridley Scott gave fans some of what they wanted in “Prometheus,” but more importantly, he gave viewers a whole lot of what they didn’t even know they wanted. The film answered some questions but posed even more, which is just what the best sci-fi does. Now, when are we getting the sequel, Mr. Scott? — S.H.
Perhaps the most unsettling thing about Craig Zobel’s deeply unnerving “Compliance” is that it’s based on a true story. Yet it seems impossible to believe: a man pretending to be a police officer calls a fast food restaurant and convinces the manager to interrogate and humiliate an employee for stealing. The result is a chilling examination of how we perceive authority. — E.D.S.
If there was any question whether Brandon Cronenberg is the true offspring of David Cronenberg, this intriguing, slow-burning body horror about about a celebrity-obsessed society should settle the matter. The younger Cronenberg vividly creates a sterile-looking minimalist world in which people buy stars’ diseases (and worse), making darkly satirical observations along the way. –E.D.S.
72. ‘Anna Karenina’
Director Joe Wright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard have concocted a crazy, breathtaking adaptation of the Tolstoy classic. Set in a theater and peppered with finely choreographed dances, the film is sensual in every manner of the word. Keira Knightley and Aaron Taylor-Johnson have a sexy chemistry, and the ensemble cast is equally strong. — J.M.
Keira Knightley and Steve Carell may sound like strange traveling companions in Lorene Scafaria’s dark apocalyptic comedy, but as the film presents society’s collapse in the face of impending doom, you gradually understand how two very different damaged souls can be drawn together. Enjoy it while it lasts. — D.F.
Two best friends blow through a billion dollars making a movie, and must somehow repay their debts by re-opening and successfully running a mall. For fans of the sketch show “Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!” only, this raunchy, disgusting comedy features plenty of hilarious big-name guest stars. — A.M.M.
Hardcore fans were “dredding” the prospect of another bad adaptation (sorry!), but they had nothing to worry about, as Karl Urban pretty much owned the role as the future’s baddest badass, Judge Dredd. The plot may have been cribbed from “The Raid,” but the style was straight-up comic book punk. Mission accomplished. — S.H.
68. ‘Liberal Arts’
Josh Rador wrote, directed and stars in a film about a thirty-something guy (much like himself!) who gets a little too comfortable when he goes back to his alma mater for a beloved professor’s retirement party. Jesse (Radnor) falls for a beautiful, smart co-ed (Elizabeth Olsen) and begins to question the decisions he’s made in life so far. A lovely, if privileged, look at identity, age and possibility. — J.M.
The third directorial effort from Nicholas Stoller, which follows couple Jason Segel and Emily Blunt’s Tom and Violet, as more and more reasons arise to postpone their nuptials. The film is more of a middling selection in the pantheon of Apatow produced comedies, but is redeemed by a charming Blunt, smattering of laugh out loud gags, and an ultimately poignantly romantic message. — L.M.
Jack Black is no dramatic slouch, but no role has suited him quite as well as Bernie. He shines as the gentle, generous and fey mortician, likable even in his lapses. As good as Black is, it’s the cast of Carthage (all real citizens, including Matthew McConaghey’s mother) that really make this southern fried morality tale crackle. — E.R.
Michelle Williams is a woman considering an extramarital affair in Sarah Polley’s understated drama. The object of her affection is her handsome neighbor (Luke Kirby), though her husband (Seth Rogen) is a kind, funny man who loves her. The film doesn’t shy away from the consequences of infidelity, but doesn’t condemn her for her actions either. — D.F.
64. ‘Magic Mike’
A bunch of hot actors playing strippers? We’ve got our single dollar bills ready! See, it’s easy to dismiss the movie as an excuse for a ladies’ night at the multiplex. But Steven Soderbergh has directed a nuanced drama that shows off Channing Tatum’s serious stripping dancing acting skills and features the best performance of Matthew McConaughey’s career. — S.A.C.
63. ‘The First Time’
I agree: a movie about two teens – one from “The Secret Circle” and one from “Teen Wolf” – falling in love for the first time sounds totally twee. But, thankfully, Britt Robertson and Dylan O’Brien are better actors than their previous credits and bring a wonderful realness to a small movie about a seemingly epic weekend that’ll leave you feeling nostalgic about your own epic high school weekends. — Breanne Heldman
62. ’21 Jump Street’
Two young cops must learn from each other as they go undercover in a high school in their attempts to uncover a drug ring. Hilarious performances by Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill take this remake from tired-out concept to fresh-faced comedy genius, with a slew of one-liners and more. — A.M.M.
61. ‘The Impossible’
In the fact of unsurmountable tragedy, a family is torn apart in the horrifying 2004 tsunami that struck Thailand. Powerful performances from Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor drive this exhausting and uplifting tale that explores the power of the human spirit and the importance of love and determination. — A.M.M.
German filmmaker Christian Petzold has fashioned a striking, slow-burning narrative from the remnants of the East-West German divide. “Barbara” is a political drama, a mystery, a love story, with a great performance at its core: Nina Hoss says more with her half-haunted, half-hopeful eyes than a hundred lines of dialogue ever could. — S.Z.
Sure, Bane’s line delivery was a little overwrought. And it’s unclear how a rope sling healed Bruce Wayne’s broken back. But “Dark Knight Rises” cements the overarching theme of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy: Batman is the superhero we neither appreciate nor deserve, because we’re too deluded to realize why we need him in the first place. — S.A.C.
You wanna talk about a film that was completely missed? Look no further! This hilarious comedy was Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to the well-regarded “In Bruges,” and featured tremendous performances from Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, and Colin Farrell. Did I mention Bonnie the Dog? See it for Bonnie the Dog! — Laremy Legel
57. ‘Cloud Atlas’
Tom Tykwer and Wachowski Starship absolutely owned the term originality this year with this colossally ambitious epic that spanned centuries and race/gender/narrative barriers. Not since D.W. Griffith’s “Intolerance” have filmmakers dared to fail on such a grand scale, and believe us when we say this is the kind of movie George Lucas and Steven Spielberg wish they could make if they only had the balls. — M.E.
Ti m Burton had to wait over a quarter of a century to realize his dream of a “Frankenweenie” feature film. So when he finally got the opportunity, you think he was going to blow it? Not a chance. It just goes to show that some things are worth waiting for. — S.H.
55. ‘Les Miserables’
Do you hear the people sing? It is the song of a gloriously overwrought musical, finally brought to the big screen so that everyone denied a live production can finally weep to “I Dreamed A Dream” and “Let Him Live.” There’s flaws, but it’s hard not to sing (and sniffle) along, especially since the star-studded cast can actually sing. — E.R.
Hear that? That’s the sound of you going “WHOA!” dozens of times during the hard-as-nails fight scenes in this Indonesian action bonanza. Just as the SWAT team ascends the 15-story drug dealer compound, director Gareth Evans announces himself confidently as a next-level filmmaker to watch. Warner Bros. please let him make the next Batman! — M.E.
53. ‘Rust and Bone’
Marion Cotillard proves herself as one of the best actresses of her generation with her role as a woman who loses her legs after an accident at SeaWorld-type amusement park. Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts is also strong as a struggling single father who aids her in her healing process. — D.F.
This bouncy, messy, fact-based piece of rowdy entertainment about Virginia moonshiners during Prohibition follows a potent movie formula: an indestructible hero (Tom Hardy as the nearly unkillable Forrest Bondurant), a scrappy underdog (Shia LaBeouf as his eager-to-please brother), a memorable villain (Guy Pearce’s fastidious and vicious federal agent), several moments of triumphant violence, all peppered with wisecracks. — E.D.S.
Those who can handle the body count will be rewarded with a well-acted look at how hitmen are just doing their job – one that Brad Pitt’s no-nonsense contract killer knows is done best quickly and quietly. A testosterone-propelled endeavor, the male cast is top notch, including standout supporting players Scoot McNairy and (of course) James Gandolfini. — S.A.C.
This fable about tiny little people contains a massive amount of charm and whimsy, with Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli turning out a family film about family. Kudos also for not taking the cheap way out with the main boy character who is ill. — M.E.
49. ‘Life of Pi’
Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s popular novel provides some of the most stunning visuals of the year in excellent 3D. The story of a boy, a tiger and a boat is a profound look at physical and spiritual perseverance in the face of tremendous obstacles that avoids being preachy. — D.F.
A shocking documentary that sheds light on the age-old problem of bullying, and four different stories of children who suffer daily, from those who sit and take it, to those who react violently. This documentary is a disturbing call to action for an ongoing and serious problem. — A.M.M.
“V/H/S” shoots a much-needed jolt of energy into the found footage genre. The anthology film follows a group of thieves who break into a house and discover a series of terrifying VHS tapes. “V/H/S” serves up horror in perfect bite size chunks that ultimately leave you wanting more. — D.F.
46. ‘End of Watch’
From David Ayer, writer of “Training Day”, “End of Watch” follows two young police officers (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena) who uncover a dangerous secret. The film manages to elevate both the cop and handheld genres and the ease with which Gyllenhaal and Pena bounce off one another is just as riveting as what they face outside of the confines of their cop car. — L.M.
45. ‘The Master’
When you think of Paul Thomas Anderson the word that comes to mind isn’t director or auteur, it’s visionary. Anderson creates films that make you think; even when they’re uncomfortable or confounding, they’re always unforgettable. Whether you think of the film, one thing is undeniable: Anderson, Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman are masters of their craft. — S.A.C.
In this divorce comedy, Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg star as a still-close divorced couple who’re not quite sure what they want. While they go looking for it, they might just lose the best thing that ever happened to them. Poignant and moving, intelligent without being pretentious. — A.M.M.
43. ‘Pitch Perfect’
Who knew that a movie about a college a cappella competition could be this awesome? Hilarious and engaging, chock full of wonderfully inventive a cappella numbers, “Pitch Perfect” contains all the hallmarks of a youth aimed comedy cult classic and is one of the best surprises of 2012, mostly due to Rebel Wilson’s break out performance as Fat Amy. — L.M.
42. ‘The Avengers’
The fact that “Avengers” was the biggest box office hit of the year wasn’t really a surprise given that it starred several of the most popular actors and characters in film. What was a big surprise is the fact that it was also totally awesome. Way to go, Joss Whedon! — S.H.
41. ‘Perfect Sense’
Looking for love? You might have luck if it’s the end of the world. “Sense” is a dark and quirky romance that throws two people together in the midst of pandemic and riots. Sure, it’s heavy handed (love is what truly holds people together) but it’s an unusual spin peppered with some hot and heavy moments. — E.R.
Director Joshua Marston’s first feature since 2004’s “Maria Full of Grace” once again unself-consciously immersed itself in cultural extremity. Taking a look at Albanian blood feuds, not from a political or statewide angle but via the teens bearing its undue burden, “Blood” is perceptive, curious, and illuminating. — Joe Reid
Frédéric Jardin’s electrifying thriller – about a corrupt cop (or is he?) whose life turns upside down when the kingpin he ripped off on the sly kidnaps his teenage son – takes place almost entirely at a Parisian mega-club over the course a single blood-soaked night. The results get occasionally repetitive, but no less riveting, as our wounded antihero (Tomer Sisley) becomes increasingly desperate to find his son, hidden somewhere in the bowels of the venue. By the end, you’re practically begging him to do his best Mel Gibson impression and holler, “Give me back my son!” … You know, in French. — Kevin Polowy
38. ‘Promised Land’
When a natural gas company sends their top man to buy up a small town, he finds more than he bargained for, in this exploration of small town America is fascinating and entirely lacking in condescension.. This moving drama features outstanding performances from Matt Damon, John Krasinski and Rosemarie DeWitt. — A.M.M.
Ava DuVernay’s contemplative sophomore drama follows a lovely young wife (Emayatzy Corinealdi in a powerful star-making debut) who’s figuratively stuck in the titular state of being while her husband (Omari Hardwick) serves a prison sentence that’s destroying their live together. Lovingly directed and expertly acted, it’s a shame more people didn’t see the indie drama. — S.A.C.
What do you get when you cross “The Sixth Sense” with a dash of “The Monster Squad”? “Paranorman,” one of the darkest kid flicks you’re likely to see. It’s a haunting story about intolerance, fanaticism, outcasts, and regret, but mixed with enough humor, heart, and stunning animation to make it go down easy. — E.R.
The prototypical film that wows audiences at festival screenings but doesn’t find the audience in deserves in theaters, “Kumare” follows the journey of Vikram Gandhi, as the Indian-American director-subject transforms himself into a guru (and very easily attracts disciples) as part of a sociological experiment that comments on our need not only for “legit” spirituality, but to follow. “Borat” is the easiest comparison to make here, and while this film has its comedic moments at the expense of its unwitting subjects, it’s never disrespectful and has some unexpected twists. In other words, you feel a lot better about it in the morning. — K.P.
A lot has been done with found footage in recent years and a lot has been done with superhero stories. Yet “Chronicle” managed to find a way to make both feel new again, thanks to its intense story about three kids who gain, and then struggle to control, superhuman powers. Unexpectedly good. — S.H.
Unless you took a “Jews of the Diaspora” class in college, chances are slim you know anything about the Jews in pre-WWII Algeria. The protagonist, a talking cat who wants to explore his master’s religion, helps viewers explore the intersection of culture and faith (and felines) in this fascinating adaptation of French graphic novelist Joann Sfar’s books. — S.A.C.
This indie comedy stars Aubrey Plaza as a young woman investigating a possibly disturbed man (Mark Duplass) who puts out a newspaper ad seeking a time traveling companion. The film offers up just the right amount of quirk as the two bond over an experiment that might not be as ridiculous as it appears. — D.F.
The most savory documentary of the year presented 85-year-old sushi maestro Jiro Ono, whose 3-Michelin-star restaurant is considered to be numero uno among aficionados of the raw stuff. Besides presenting near-pornographic depictions of the most delicious goddamn food you’ve ever seen, it also imparts the anxiety of Ono’s son/coworker Yoshikazu, who fears he may never live up to him. — M.E.
30. ‘The Sessions’
A film about sex that you could watch with your parents, “The Sessions” features excellent performances from John Hawkes as a 38-year-old virgin who is paralyzed from the neck down and Helen Hunt as his sex surrogate. The film is touching, funny and inspiring without coming across like a Hallmark movie with full frontal nudity. — D.F.
Lauren Greenfield’s documentary about one of the wealthiest families in America turned into something profoundly more complex after the 2008 financial crisis hit. The most remarkable aspect of the film is how the Siegel family remains tremendously sympathetic in spite of being completely out of touch with reality. — D.F.
A methodical, powerful, and at times upsetting look at the day of a man temporarily let out of rehab to go on a job interview, and the realities of his troubled past that confront him along the way. This intimate Norweigan drama from director Joachim Trier explores the nature of guilt and regret to devastating proportions. — L.M.
This not-a-film from Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was famously smuggled to Cannes via a cake last year after Panahi was banned from filmmaking in his native country. Ever since then, the film, partially shot on an iPhone, depicting Panahi’s house arrest in Tehran, has been making massive ripples in the filmmaking world, heralded as devastating, moving, and courageous. — L.M.
26. ‘Wreck-It Ralph’
No matter what anyone tells you, this was the year’s best animation. The setting? A video game world come to life, cleverly voiced by John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman. This was the most Pixar film of the year, even though it wasn’t Pixar, a veritable must watch. — L.L.
Check out the Top 25 Movies of 2012 on NextMovie
At last, “Slapshot” has a dirty, bloody, stinky little brother, and his name is “Goon.” It skirts along the classic underdog template, but peppers it with such madcap humor, warmth, and blood that it feels like you’ve never seen a loser score a winning goal before. It’s the best comedy you didn’t see this year. — E.R.
Cinema gets a deluge of horror films every year, but there are few that are as funny, sharp, and broadly crowd-pleasing as “Cabin in the Woods.” It’s unconventional, and breaks genre rules even as it describes and plays them out for you, before soaking the screen in enough blood to make even the most dedicated gorehound happy. Best part? There can never be a sequel. -– E.R.
23. ‘Ruby Sparks’
Zoe Kazan writes and stars in Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ follow up to “Little Miss Sunshine” in this film about an author (Paul Dano) who wills a female character he is writing into existence. The unfairly overlooked film is clever, heartfelt, original, and even a little bit moving, featuring an excellent performance by Kazan and memorable score from DeVotchKa member Nick Urata. — L.M.
One of the better environmental docs in recent years, “Oasis” takes on the global water crisis while intertwining stories of despair and urgency from both within in our borders (where, surprise, surprise, it seems the worst) and internationally. The real-life Erin Brockovich even pops up throughout to add some flair (though truth be told, she can be kind of a downer). All told, though, this is the type of documentary that succeeds in that it will make you seriously question your own habits, and possibly start yelling out to the world, “Stop wasting water you bastards!” — K.P.
If you think you’ve seen every variation on teenage sexual awakening, “Turn Me On, Dammit” will teach you otherwise. It takes that uncontrollable, confusing, and painful phase, pins it on one frustrated girl, and splashes her agony across an entire village. Laugh at Alma as you will, and be purged of your own hormonal memories. — E.R.
Featuring the best ensemble cast of 2012, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” was all about potential. Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, and Emma Watson showed off huge talent that portends the next generation of Oscar winners. This was also the rare film where the director was the author of the book the film was based upon. — L.L.
Enough with bromances, bring on the lomance. This tiny indie comedy about an unlikely pair of friends (and their phone sex hotline) is infinitely quotable, and more relatable than you would think for a movie about boning on the phone. Pairs well with a bottle of rose and a good friend.– Kase Wickman
This odd-couple dramedy showcases the beauty of upper-class Paris and its poor minority suburbs with humor and wit. Omar Sy’s unlikely live-in aide is irresistibly charismatic and matched in dry wit by François Cluzet, who plays his rich paralyzed charge. Both poignant and hilarious, it’s a must-see buddy flick even for those who don’t usually appreciate subtitles. — S.A.C.
Is there anything that Joseph Gordon-Levitt can’t do? In a year where he seemingly appeared in every film, JGL turned in possibly his best performance in the time travel epic to end all time travel epics. We wish we could travel back to the fall and see it for the first time again. — S.H.
Set in the near future, a retired elderly jewel thief (Frank Langella) and his robot accomplice begin to cause a stir as they commit crimes. A moving and earnest portrayal of Alzheimer’s and the difficulties of aging gracefully in a world that values youth and technology above all else. — A.M.M.
Director Michael Haneke’s most tender film to date, Amour depicts an elderly couple’s last months together with compassion and honesty. Propelled by Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant’s heartbreakingly authentic performances, the one-set drama shows the love, devotion, fear, anger, sadness, loss of pride, and, finally, loss of self that results from a long marriage devoured by illness. — S.A.C.
This documentary is a chilling look at what went wrong with the Central Park Jogger case, a brutal attack that shook New York City and the nation. Directors Sarah Burns, Ken Burns (her father) and David McMahon have put together a masterful film that gives the viewer an incredible insight to the city at that time, roiling with racial tension, and how five innocent young men were wrongly convicted. — J.M.
After an excruciating four year hiatus, James Bond and Daniel Craig finally returned with “Skyfall” And neither the character nor the actor missed a beat, teaming with Sam Mendes for what some consider the best in the franchise’s 50 year history. Five decades later, Bond still hits the target every time. — S.H.
It’s so awkward when your sister sleeps with the guy you’ve always been secretly in love with, especially when you dated his dead brother and your sister is a lesbian. Yup, this could have been terrible, but writer/director Lynn Shelton and stars Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt have crafted a sweet, funny and sometimes sad love story. The sisterly warmth and teasing between Blunt and DeWitt is a delight; “Your Sister’s Sister” isn’t just concerned with romantic love, but familial love as well, which adds a depth that most love stories are lacking. — J.M.
Veteran comedian/first-time director Mike Birbiglia does something that Billy Crystal, Woody Allen, and Judd Apatow were never able to quite pull off: Making a film that honestly portrays the life of a stand-up. Lauren Ambrose plays Birbiglia’s long-suffering girlfriend as neither a victim nor a shrew but as a loving woman who little by little realizes their relationship is kaput. — M.E.
Although the subjects of “West of Memphis” have appeared in three documentaries already, Amy Berg is essential viewing for any documentary-lover and/or supporter of the West Memphis Three. With support from producers Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson, Berg has crafted an emotionally moving yet exhaustive look at the case that greatly benefits from the behind-the-scenes support that Walsh and Jackson have offered the WM3 case over the years. It’s an indictment of our justice system, but also a story of hope and love. And, eventually, freedom. And hopefully a full exoneration. This story is not over. — J.M.
We often view historical icons as cold marble statues, impossible contextualize in this time and place. Thankfully, Daniel Day-Lewis has brought an amazing portrayal of Abraham Lincoln to life, showing us there are modern lessons to be learned from generations past. Steven Spielberg’s best film in years; “Lincoln” will be a big player at The Academy Awards. — L.L.
Leos Carax’s first full-length feature in more than 10 years – exhilarating, mournful and always stunning to look at — is a love letter to movies, and to life. It could almost be a film made in a time before language, a rendering of modern life – or modern lives – as a kind of cinematic cave painting. With songs. And a white stretch limo. And Kylie Minogue. — S.Z.
What a documentary! There’s awesome ’70s music, a tale of redemption, and a real life mystery being solved. Actually, it’s best if you know nothing about this film going in, so you can fully allow the heart-warming tale to wash over you. — L.L.
Despite the small contingent of cynics who will always cringe at his twee sensibilities, Wes Anderson managed to craft his most accessible and heartfelt film to date. Bruce Willis is better than he’s been in years, and Edward Norton and Frances McDormand fit right into Anderson’s Charlie Brown-esque world of childish imagination. — M.E.
Oscar winning documentarian Kirby Dick’s revelatory film will make civilians sick at what servicewomen have to endure. Women in the armed forces face not just persistent sexual harassment but rape and the just-as-scarring humiliation of officers who cover it up and villainize (and in some cases freakin’ charge) the victims for reporting the crimes against them. — S.A.C.
This devilish slavery-revenge fantasy is fueled as much by raw, brute emotion as it is by Quentin Tarantino’s crackpot movie-nerd genius. Shot by Robert Richardson, it’s also one of the most gorgeous-looking pictures of the year: An elegiac winter-western sequence, set amid snow-capped mountains, is practically a mini-movie unto itself. — S.Z.
Ben Affleck’s hostage drama “Argo” is more entertaining than a picture with so much talking ought to be. And Affleck himself, playing a dashingly low-key CIA operative, makes late-’70s facial hair sexy again. Well, almost. — S.Z.
Mental illness is rarely played on film this gnarly, and there’s real maturation out of leads Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence throughout. Director David O. Russell (“The Fighter,” “Three Kings”) continues to crank out films that vary in range but remain similar in excellence. — L.L.
Kathryn Bigelow returns to the directors chair in this expertly crafted, tense, well thought out and authentic,process movie about the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. Jessica Chastain is getting raves for her intense portrayal of CIA agent Maya and the film is stirring up loads of controversy for its honest portrayal of US involvement in torture. — L.M.
Argo, Django Unchained, Holy motors, Lincoln, Moonrise Kingdom, Searching For Sugarman, Silver Linings Playbook, The invisible war, West of Memphis, Zero Dark Thirty