My Top 15 Movies of 2012

It took me long enough, but I finally got around to seeing 95% of the universally recognized “good” movies of the year in order to write this list. I didn’t want to pull a repeat of last year where The Artist swooped in after the fact and took the number one spot and screwed everything up.

This time around, I’ve also expanded the list to fifteen movies, as there were just too many I didn’t want to leave out and I figured you wouldn’t mind. I usually ended up doing “honorable mentions” in past lists anyway. It’s been a great year for film, and I look forward to sitting down and writing this post annually.

Assembling this list does not make use of some mathematical formula where I give weight to which films had empirically the best acting, directing, cinematography, and so on. Rather, this is a list of the fifteen movies I enjoyed the most this year, in some vague order of how much I enjoyed them. Yes, I understand that Dredd is not technically a “better” film than Django Unchained, but I did like it more, and I’ll try to explain why. List starts below:

15. Looper

Why it Made the List: I’m a sucker for sci-fi, and have been a fan of Rian Johnson since he first directed JGL in Brick. I was amazed by the work Gordon-Levitt did to look and act like a younger Bruce Willis, even though it was probably not entirely necessary for the story. It was slick and stylish and unique to the time travel genre. It’s more of a thinking man’s Terminator,  if you want to put it that way.

Why It’s Not Higher: But it’s not exactly as fun as Terminator, and not really as smart as other time travel-ish sci-fi movies like say, Source Code. It started to lag in the middle when Gordon-Levitt met Emily Blunt on a farm, and the film kind of puts things in park from there until the end.

14. Django Unchained

Why It Made the List: Tarantino is an amazing director and consistently pumps out great movies, the majority of which at this point are centered on Revenge with a capital R. No one does over the top pulp quite like him, and his stark look at the realities of slavery makes no apologies for itself in Django. Add in phenomenal performances by Leo DiCaprio and Sam Jackson (though not Oscar worthy, for some reason) and you’ve got yourself a winner.

Why it’s Not Higher: Number fourteen probably seems rather low to some of you, but with the above said, this is probably my least favorite of Tarantino’s films outside of Jackie Brown. It’s almost TOO straight forward of a film and he doesn’t bother messing with timelines or pulling out grand twist endings like he does in his other films. You know what’s going to happen, and then it happens, and that can be a touch dull, despite all the bloodshed.

13. Zero Dark Thirty

Why It Made the List: Though some disagree with my assessment that Kathryn Bigelow does military realism better than almost anyone, I think this film was an expert way to blend both intelligence and military operations. She takes ten years of a manhunt and expertly condenses it into a few hours, and even if we know what’s going to happen, it’s still gripping.

Why It’s Not Higher: The film can lag in parts, and it’s sort of odd that it goes out of its way to be completely apolitical. It could have sparked an interesting debate about torture or surveillance or the war or terror, but takes no sides and shies away from tough questions.

12. Argo

Why It Made the List: Ben Affleck is fast becoming one of Hollywood’s best directors, something no one probably ever would have predicted. With Argo he showed that he can break outside the Boston crime drama and make a fantastic film about anything. He perfectly recreates the 1970s in both America and Iran to the point where it feels like you’re living in the decade, and has to star at the same time as directing. Amazing.

Why it’s Not Higher: There was just something about this movie that didn’t really stick with after the fact. It was great at the time, but I didn’t think about it once until it started winning everything in the Golden Globes. And I think Affleck may have taken too many liberties with the story, like I don’t think there was literally a car chase on the tarmac as they were escaping, and it felt a little too “Hollywood-ized” at times.

11. Skyfall

Why It Made the List: Technically speaking, this is the best James Bond movie ever made, bar none. Yes, I might have enjoyed Goldeneye more and everyone will always talk about Dr. No and Goldfinger, but Sam Mendes has made an astonishing film that truly gets to the roots of who Bond is, and deals with issues of age and a modern era of espionage that’s making secret agents look dated. The cinematography might be the best of any film on this list, and the movie is a visual masterpiece.

Why It’s Not Higher: While I appreciate the focus on age, Skyfall can be a bit heavy handed with its themes. And though the story is a good one, there are far better action thriller plotlines out there, and I think we’re being a little bit biased just because this is Bond.

10. Silver Linings Playbook

Why It Made the List: I didn’t know anything about this film until I sat down in the theater, but it was easy to see why everyone was raving about it. Bradley Cooper gives a fantastic performance almost no one thought he’d be capable of, and Jennifer Lawrence managed to charm me despite me being annoyed with her past roles. It’s heartwarming, to use a clichéd term, and very, very hard not to like.

Why It’s Not Higher: Though it’s very sweet, it can be almost too much so, and the fact that nearly everyone in the film has some sort of mental or emotional disorder can make it seem like everyone is trying a bit too hard for Oscars.

9. The Grey

Why It Made the List: God, I love this film. Usually movies released the later winter months get forgotten about come the end of the year, but The Grey has stayed with me in a way other films have not. I expected Liam Neeson being a badass fighting wolves, and I got that, but I also found a powerful film about God, death and everything in between. I was blown away by how much more there was to this film than the surface let on.

Why It’s Not Higher: It can be kind of an exhausting experience, taking place entirely in snowy woods. Outside of Neeson, there weren’t many other characters to root for, and as they were picked off one by one, it felt a bit too formulaic at times.

8. Dredd

Why It Made the List: If there was a “Beat Expectations by a Mile” Academy Award, Dredd would take home the gold. Everyone is sick to death of reboots, but what happens when one is done right? What happens when they accidentally make a reboot better than the original? That’s what’s happened here. The camp of Stallone’s version has been stripped away, and we’re left with a brutal R-rated action flick more badass than any of its type in years. It’s a shame it’s one of the year’s biggest box office failures, as it’s in no way deserved.

Why It’s Not Higher: Dredd could feel a bit claustrophobic, taking place entirely inside one grungy high rise apartment. The world outside it looked fascinating, and it would have been fun to explore. Also the plot resembled this year’s The Raid, a little too closely for my liking.

7. Les Miserables

Why It’s On This List: I don’t know much about Les Miserables other than watching one of its variants on TV when I was a kid. But when I saw Tom Hooper’s fully realized onscreen here, it was hard not to be impressed. The sets, the costumes and most importantly the singing, recorded live on set not in a studio, was just out of this world. It’s an emotionally gripping film that nearly had me tearing up by the end, and that doesn’t happen often at all these days.

Why It’s Not Higher: It can be a bit tiresome to listen to nearly EVERY line being sung. Conversations that could have taken a few seconds are instead stretched into ten minute segments and it can make the film drag. Also Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter felt really out of place here as the comic relief.

6. Wreck-It Ralph

Why It’s On This List: It’s becoming clear that Disney doesn’t need Pixar to produce its animated hits. Rather, Wreck-It Ralph was far more enjoyable than it’s Pixar counterpart this year, Brave, though being an avid gamer may introduce some sort of bias here. But it’s hard to deny that the worlds the animators created here from the 8-bit to the hi-def were truly stunning, and the voice cast was the most perfectly assembled of any animated movie I’ve seen in years.

Why It’s Not Higher: Though it’s very, very good, it’s unclear if the movie is actually a “legend” of the animated feature scene the way we think of movies like The Lion King or Toy Story. But that said, given time, perhaps it will be.

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Why It’s On This List: This film wasn’t playing in all that many theaters and wasn’t exactly loved by critics, but this is a textbook case of a film meaning more to me personally than it did to others. I was shocked at how well Logan Lerman was able to play…me in the film, or at least some version of me in high school, an awkward, shy guy with an impossible crush on a friend. The film moved me in many ways, and really struck a chord of authenticity throughout. This was teenage life. My own, really.

Why It’s Not Higher: Comparisons to my own life stopped when the film takes a very, very dramatic and dark turn near the end, it’s powerful, but felt out of place. I realize that’s likely the book’s issue however, not the film’s.

4. Life of Pi

Why It’s On This List: I’m a huge fan of the original book, and I was absolutely convinced that no one would ever properly be able to adapt it into a movie. Mercifully we were spared an M. Night Shyamalan version, and Ang Lee took over and created a film that can’t be described as anything other than masterful. It’s a powerful tale that touches on life and the truth (or falsity) or religion. I was amazed the film managed to make a CGI tiger such a believable cast member, as that seemed like an insurmountable task. On top of all of this, it rivals Skyfall for being one of the most visually beautiful films of the year.

Why It’s Not Higher: All this said in terms of pure entertainment, it was simply eclipsed by the next few films on this list for me.

3. Cabin in the Woods

Why It’s On the List: Call me a Whedon devotee if you like, but this was my favorite horror film in years, quite possibly ever. It’s a complete deconstruction of the genre, and is the one of the most creative concepts for a film I’ve seen in years, horror or otherwise. The final payoff is exceptionally satisfying, particularly the last half an hour or so, and that’s really all I can say without giving the whole game away.

Why It’s Not Higher: I will admit that it can take a while to spool up, because for the first 30-40 minutes it does seem like every teen slasher movie ever made. Granted that’s on purpose for the sake of the story, but it’s not always fun to watch.

2. The Avengers

Why It’s On This List: When you watch a movie with a smile on your face for the entire duration, you know it’s done something right. Here again we go to Joss Whedon who quite simply did the impossible in combining all the available Marvel franchises into one film that was easily better than its individual pieces. It’s thrilling from start to finish and unexpectedly quite hilarious, and it’s hard to remember the last time I’ve heard a theater roar and cheer and laugh the way they did both times I saw this film.

Why It’s Not #1: This was a tough call. Two movies in the same genre, yet in many ways complete opposites. But I just had to go with what I felt in the end.

1. The Dark Knight Rises

Why It’s #1: I know this puts me in stereotypical nerd fanboy land here, but I would be lying to myself and to you if I said this was not my favorite film of the year. I walked out of the IMAX theater in total shock after it was over, like a warm fuzzy glow had descended over my entire body. It took some time to wear off, but even after I was simply in awe.

This film has many detractors, and I’m one of the very few who is content to argue that yes, this film was actually better than the last, The Dark Knight. After viewing each multiple times, I found that it’s easy to get lost in Ledger’s Joker, but in reality the actual content of the film was better organized and executed in The Dark Knight Rises. I thought Tom Hardy’s Bane was phenomenal, and it’s unfortunate that he doesn’t get enough credit due to Ledger’s immortal performance.  The themes of wealth and power and loss and redemption were well woven through the narrative. The twists may have been expected, but they were still well handled, and for me, this was a perfect way to end Nolan’s trilogy.

Why It Could Have Been Lower: I would be remiss to claim the film as perfect. The timelines get a bit wonky during the long “nuclear threat winter” in the middle of the film, and I will admit the very end felt a bit heavy handed. The end could have been a bit more subtle if it was cut as a smile crossed Alfred’s face in the cafe.

These were my picks, and I’m really anxious to hear yours. You can berate me for my opinion if you like (no Hobbit???), but remember, it’s just that, an opinion. I can’t wait until next year when I’ve seen another fifteen incredible films. This is why I do what I do.

  • Cube

    Ehh. Avengers over Batman easily.

    The reasons:

    1. The Avengers had a story that filtered the previous movies and tied them together and presented an actual new story. In DKR, most of the plot points were the same as the first in the series. Even the mysterious villain reveal was from the same family as the first and dies in an accident (first one was a run away subway and then in this one his daughter dies in a Batmobile accident).

    2. Avengers knows it’s fantasy but doesn’t wink at the audience about it and the fantastical seems legit. In DKR, it wants to be rooted in reality but too many unbelievable things occur-Gordon’s letter just happens to end up in Bane’s hands, Batman’s broken back is fixed with rope, and many other events that just seem to happen because it has to.

    3. In the Avengers, the heroes actually do heroic stuff. In the last Batman flick there is hardly any Batman in it and when he does make an appearance he does more talking than anything exciting.

  • DaveyJ

    Nice article, I just wanna say one thing. I know it’s a subjective list, so it’s entirely up to opinions, but I feel the need to share my thoughts on this:

    Django Unchained is criticized for its predicable plot. This is a good point, but at least the plot was very well crafted, the movie was shot very well and the actors were all great. When I compare it with the Avengers, that last movie is a big mess. I enjoyed it and it had some very cool moments, but in the end the story was pretty stereotypical blockbuster nonsense, there was no intent to tell a good story, it all had to just lead to (amazing) action. And the end wasn’t that good either.

    I only highlight some of the negatives of The Avengers of course, and the positive points in this article names are good, but overall I personnally wouldn’t rate it that high at all.

  • Bernardo

    I like the new format in which you present your favorites. Although I don’t agree with much of your choices.

    Great post.

  • DaveyJ

    I know I just posted a comment but and my previous post was also about the Avengers, but I wanna react to Cube:
    There was also so much wrong with the Avengers. Just to name a few (SPOILERS!!!)(SPOILERS!!!)(SPOILERS!!!)(SPOILERS!!!)

    -The behaviour of Loki was just stupid, why the hell would he go to the Hulk who then just smashes the hell out of him? Just a small symptom of not caring about logic and story, just like the tesseract.

    -‘Knowing it’s fantasy’ doesn’t mean they can just get away with everything.

  • Postal

    I completely agree with your thoughts on Dredd. I saw it based on your recommendation. And I will go see the others on this list I haven’t gotten around to yet. But I couldn’t disagree more about Avengers. Avengers seemed to me to be too much like the Stallone Dredd. Too formulaic. Big cast with no good material to act with, ‘splosions, generic aliens we don’t care about, more ‘splosions, triumphant music while cast poses and looks all heroic, necessary in fighting before they come together to take on the alien things with some ‘splosions…

    Wait, now that I’ve written it out like that I see I was wrong. I apologize. Take out Schneider and the original Dredd seems more original and engaging than Avengers.

  • Pijus

    While I enjoyed The Avengers and Batman, the film that I enjoyed the most last year was The Hobbit. The story of Thorin Oakenshield just hit me right in the feels.

  • Caleb K

    Bit of a dude’s list but I ams what I ams
    15. Life of Pi
    14. The Raid Redemption
    13. Django Unchained
    12. Expendables 2
    11. The Grey
    10. Prometheus
    9. Dredd
    8. Amazing Spiderman
    7. Avengers
    6. Argo
    5. Wreck it Ralph
    4. Cabin in the Woods
    3. The Hobbit
    2. Skyfall
    1. Seven Psychopaths

  • sirgregory

    Thanks for your 2012 list. Movie lists is what first brought me as a follower to Unreality. You help me discover movies I never would have considered.

  • Sven

    Zero Dark Thirty? With all do respect – there is only one place in the world that cares about this movie. The rest are about right.

  • tonyctitan

    I feel really bad about Dredd. It did terrible at the box office and what really bumbs me out is that there probably wont be a sequal. That movie was just awesome violent fun.

  • Purd

    Sven, what are you saying about Zero Dark Thirty? I thought it was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.

  • Cube

    Yeah, the idea that Loki would bring together the people most likely to bring him down is dumb. I completely agree. Still there are plenty of people who do things that just set up their own failure.

    Still, DKR is not nearly as good as the two parts that came before it. Avengers was better than the parts that came before it.

    On a different note, I though Looper was OK but nearly the great movie everyone made it out to be.

    ****SPOILERS-At the end why did JGL kill himself? That was dumb. He should have just shot his hand off or shot himself in the knee. That would have made Bruce’s hand disappear or crippled him so he couldn’t chase the mom and kid anymore. He didn’t have die. That was just there to give the movie an “oh wow, the character we care about died” ending.

  • Cube

    Meant to type that I thought that Looper was NOT nearly the great movie THAT everyone made it out to be.

    It was good, better than most, but not worth all the hype that went with it.

  • marty’s bong

    I’ve been waiting on this for a while now, glad you finally delivered. Are we going to see a list of your favorite video games of the year too?

  • MattChi


    I feel the exact same way.

  • MetFanMac

    I don’t understand your complaint about Zero Dark Thirty. If the film took a clear stance against/for the issues, then all complaints would be directed against IT for sensationalizing/dismissing/glorifying them, rather than starting debates on the issue itself, which I think is what it accomplished if the other reviews I’ve read are anything to go by.

  • Deke

    I very much enjoyed this list, good read.

    The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises were definitely my two most enjoyable movie theater experiences of the year, and upon viewing them both again on blu-ray this past weekend, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t also agree with your ranking of them.

    Also, I thought The Grey was fantastic, and it’s refreshing to see it get some credit. I think too many people went into the movie expecting it to be an all out action flick, and were disappointed that it wasn’t as mindless as they were hoping (I blame the trailers). Sure it had it’s flaws, but man, that ending still gives me chills just thinking about it.

  • Big Jeba

    Batman: The Dark Knight Rises is the greatest mistake of all time!

  • Steve2

    Expendables 2 for this guy. As I’ve said on this site many times before,I’m an action nut all the way. Watching EX2 is like literally seeing all my childhood play-time with action figures come to life. Not only that, but Sly himself did it FOR the fans. How many other actors/directors can say they intentionally made something specifically for the fans? Sure we got it 25 years later than we’d wished, but better late than never I say.

    Dredd comes in a close 2nd for me because, as much as I hate to admit it, for all the love and care Sly put into EX2, the truth is that Dredd is more of an 80s action movie throwback whether it was intentional or not.

    Django comes in 3rd cuz it was awesome. Those fake blood squibs QT used were obnoxiously overdone, and I loved it. Oh, and the story and performances were good to 🙂

  • nice list, Paul!

    Even though you deserve to be slapped for having the mediocre Dark-“kick my spine into place”-Knight Rises at the top and no Hobbit… 😉

    But, to each his own, I guess … ^^

  • Shiki

    I can see why people like to bash on The Avengers now when they saw the movie like 20 times (I know I did), but the feeling I got after watching them was indescribable. Also, Dredd was so awesome, they have to make a sequel with a more epic villain that takes place in more places than just one megablock.
    Still, nice list. No Hobbit, but nice list!

  • justin_g

    Good list! I’ll have to check out some of those movies that I haven’t seen yet.

    However, I still can’t believe TDKR is at the top of people’s list. That movie seemed like such an afterthought (you can tell Nolan really wasn’t into it) with so many plot holes among other disappointments (eg. the whole Batman not being Batman for 8 years and only being in the film for like a half hour etc.). If it wasn’t for Bane, that movie would have been MUCH harder to watch.

  • johnc

    @ Cube, it was because that wouldn’t have guaranteed that his future self would’ve been stopped.
    He needed to guarantee that the vicious cycle would be negated, hence phrase of closing the loop. I would consider it to be very on-the-nose with the thematic elements. Even so, it was quite beautiful in terms of character development, given that it was a split second decision.

  • johnc

    Avengers is a bit high for my liking, ZDT was a mess precisely for the reasons you mention, Paul (posing tough questions, but not answering them), and TDKR, while phenomenal, is iffy for #1 spot. I do believe it was the best of the trilogy (with TDK basically riding Ledger’s death [admit it]).

    I left the theater astounded, no doubt. It was monumental. There’s just a few tweaks that would have propelled the movie into a classic. Namely, showing Alfred smiling at the end and cutting. Batman has always been about the symbol, not Bruce Wayne. It doesn’t matter if Bruce lived or died. The Batman is immortal. The best way for him to keep that status is if the audience wasn’t shown what Alfred saw. At that point, the audience makes the distinction and comes to realize that it doesn’t matter.
    Batman will live on. Physically, through JGL. Mentally and emotionally, in the hearts and minds of Gotham’s citizens.

    To those complaining about the “realistic” tone of TDKR (and subsequent plot holes), you should look at the other movies. Gritty and generally more grounded is a better descriptor. Suspension of disbelief flies out the window when I watch any of them, so I just accept it as a series that played it fast and loose here and there. The nitpicking of TDKR is actually more inconsistent than the supposed plot holes. Honestly, most of the detractors probably consist of contrarians and hipsters. Or those with ungodly high expectations.

  • I’ll use some of the movies listed here as suggestions as I haven’t seem them. I only watched your top 2 movies and I have my doubts about both. Avengers is essentially a fun movie to watch but one that I will only watch once.
    TDNR’s had sky high expectations it could never live up to. It is possible that I liked the Hobbit even better than those 2 (I know you hated it) hehe.

  • In the UK, “Les Miserables”, “Django Unchained”, “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Wreck-It Ralph” all either were or will be released in 2013.

    As such, this is my 2012 list (which can also be found at my own blog with explanations). It was originally a top 10 list with runners up, but I’ve improvised the final portion to make it a top 15:

    1. A Royal Affair
    2. Sound Of My Voice
    3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
    4. Skyfall
    5. The Revenant
    6. Detention
    7. Cabin In The Woods
    8. The Innkeepers
    9. The Grey
    10. The Amazing Spider-Man
    11. Avengers Assemble
    12. Young Adult
    13. Prometheus
    14. Chronicle
    15. Looper

  • Susy26

    TDK was simply a better movie, not just because of The was a better executed’s like a perfect crime thriller..also it can stand alone, as one movie…TDKR connects to BB, which bored the shit out of me…TDKR doesn’t deserve to be at the first opinion

  • Ethan

    No Beasts of the Southern Wild? No mention of The Master? tsk tsk