As I was eagerly hunting for new information about the upcoming Academy Awards, I realized that I had yet to post what I thought were the best films of 2012. So I set out to make my list. However, since the list was so varied, and all the movies had meant such different things to me, I decided to make the list alphabetical rather than the usual numeric. And since I endeavor to live dangerously, I decided to make it a top 13 list. (Come on, don't you feel luckier already?)
Additionally, I want to reiterate, that as this is my list, some movies may not be present because of the simple fact that I didn't get around to seeing them, such as “Compliance,” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” And so without further ado:
Argo. This is the rare spy thriller that's realistic yet engaging, informative and smart without being pretentious, and stays strong without making anyone the villain. Ben Affleck stars in and directs the story of how the CIA planned to rescue a group of Americans trapped in Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis by having them pose as a Canadian film crew for a movie. It's also suspenseful and has great comic relief in the form of the Hollywood guys who help sell a fake movie.
The Avengers. Is there anything better than a smart action movie? Writer-director Joss Whedon pulls off an almost impossible balancing act with great characters that all get attention, a great villain, and a really fun, great story. The female roles are also incredible. Add it all up, and you can walk out of the theater fully entertained without feeling dumber or guilty.
Beasts Of The Southern Wild. A beautiful, astonishing movie made on a shoestring budget about a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy who lives in a proud, off the grid community. She's perfectly suited to it, but everything changes after Hurricane Katrina, and she must undertake a hero's journey and learn how to live and love in the new world that awaits her. Quvenzhané Wallis, who plays Hushpuppy, has a forceful presence that some adult actors only dream of having, making this film all the more unforgettable.
The Cabin In The Woods. This is another feature from Joss Whedon that brilliantly subverts and comments on the horror tropes we've come to take for granted and goes so much deeper. Great characters and a killer (no pun intended) ending make this one something new just when you thought horror had nothing else to offer.
Dead Weight. This was my favorite film at the Milwaukee Film Festival. It takes place in an America that's been devastated by zombies run amok. Zombies have always been a metaphor for a variety of issues, but here they're used as a character study for Charlie Russell, a man who becomes more and more willing to do the unthinkable. Made in a week and shot in Wisconsin on a miniscule budget, it's smart, realistic, and surprisingly heartbreaking.
The Hunger Games. What kind of society would not only allow their children to kill each other every year, but cheer them on while watching the bloody spectacle on TV? “Hunger Games” explains this. It's based on the popular teen series that manages to appeal to people of all ages. At the center is Katniss Everdeen, one of the greatest characters ever created. The book refuses to condescend or sugarcoat, and it addresses a variety of issues such as the effects of war, class, gender, and the nature of humanity itself. The movie hits all the right notes and even adds scenes that weren't in the book, which actually manage to fit perfectly.
The Invisible War. This documentary takes on the subject of rape in the military and how and why the system allows rapists to escape justice. It aims for the head as well as the heart as it discusses the rapes, the aftermath, the legality of injustice, the complexities of the system and how it affects the military response, and a spark of hope at the end that could signal change to come.
Killer Joe. “A totally twisted deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story.” That's the tagline for this movie, and I couldn't have said it better. When Chris Smith finds himself deep in debt to some local criminals, he decides the only way to get out of the hole is to kill his mother and collect the insurance money. In order to “do this right,” he decides to hire the police detective aptly dubbed Killer Joe, who just happens to have a side business as a hired killer. What could go wrong? As Joe, Matthew McConaughey has a terrifying presence that you have to see to believe. He's the movie's center as a wolf among a flock of foolish, tainted lambs too dumb to run the other way.
Lincoln. If this list was arranged from best to worst rather than alphabetically, “Lincoln” would be at the top. Daniel Day-Lewis embodies Lincoln as a fierce pragmatist who seeks to rid the country of the evil of slavery by any means necessary and pay any price to do it. This is rare film that aims for the greatest heights that cinema can possibly achieve, and positively soars and sings when it hits them all. It's a movie that focuses on legalities and legal disputes that remains as riveting as an epic battle.
Looper. This is another action movie that doesn't talk down to you. But where “The Avengers” is a more lighthearted romp, “Looper” uses time travel to explore whether humanity can ever learn from its mistakes, and how our choices have the power to either doom or save ourselves.
ParaNorman. It's always nice when kids' movies actually respect kids. Only a lonely, misunderstood boy who can talk to the dead has the power to save his town from a witch's curse, but it gets more complicated after the witch and a few zombies are unleashed. The film takes a very dark route while remaining appealing to children as well as providing enough food for thought for parents. It may be all about death, but it feels fiercely alive from start to finish.
The Silver Linings Playbook. If you find yourself questioning whether the indomitable Jennifer Lawrence will ever be able to move on from teen roles and play an adult once “The Hunger Games” has run its course, you'll find all the answers you need here. She's the love interest of Pat, played by Bradley Cooper, a man who's been released early from a mental institution and is determined to get his life back on track. Both of them have fun, crazy chemistry and great delivery, not to mention one of the best finales I've ever seen in a movie.
Wreck-It Ralph. This is another movie for kids that doesn't forget that their parents tend to be in the theater with them. Our hero is Ralph, the villain of an old arcade game who is also shunned in his real life by the game's other residents. In search of acceptance and happiness, he starts visiting other games. When he happens upon a candy-themed kart racing world, he soon comes across a character named Vanellope, who has more in common with him than he thinks. I didn't think any sidekick could hold her own against Dory from “Finding Nemo,” but Vanellope does that and more. “Wreck-It Ralph” does what few movies can: it shows that even if you know how the journey will end, there can still be a few unexpected turns that you didn't see coming.
A few runners-up: A Girl Like Her, Chasing Ice, Hope Springs, The Master.