Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
I saw a lot of movies this year; 371 in total, and 260 for the first time. With that being stated, it wasn’t particularly hard to come up with a best and worst list this year. I noticed quite a few themes that cropped up to condemn a film, and several movies I expected to see on my Best Of ended up on my Worst. With that, here are the 20 (yes 20) films I consider the best of the year. I’m always interested in discussing my list, or yours, so let me know in the comments if I left out a film that deserved a shot. Film titles with clickable links will take you to my original CC2K reviews.
Honorable Mentions (These films just barely made the top 20)
The Grey, Looper, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Wreck-It Ralph, The Words
I struggled on whether this film was worthy of the top 20, or was better off as an honorable mention. In the end, I’m still hesitant about the choice. Seven Psychopaths hits all the right notes, ranging from a comedy to a meta critique on screenwriting itself. The film is filled with one-liners and some fantastic performances from Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell, and Christopher Walken who I truly hope gets awards recognition (although he probably won’t). I just feel that there’s still something missing about this film that should have ranked it higher. I haven’t seen it since it hit theaters, and out of all the films on this list I remember it the least, but I guess that’s why it barely brushes at number 20.
Hick came and went without a trace, and despite 5% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (my Worst Of list proves there’s worse movies out there), I enjoyed the hell out of it. The film tells of a young runaway played by Chloe Grace Moretz, and the bizarre situations she gets into with a Southern sheen on it (the South seems to have made a comeback in 2012’s independent scene). To me, this film was all about the startling performance from Eddie Redmayne – who would go on to be the one shining light of Les Miserable. His despicable cowboy character is one to watch, especially if you believed the actor couldn’t play evil.
18. God Bless America
I know this film skirts the line between being a 2011/2012 release, but boy does it deserve some recognition. If there’s one thing that came across in several of the films this year it’s that America has some problems, dammit! God Bless America was director/writer Bobcat Goldthwait’s analysis of reality television, mass communication, and how people simply aren’t as “nice” as they used to be. With a nod to Bonnie & Clyde, God Bless America mixed the humor of mocking stupidity with the violence that comes from being unable to do anything about it.
I watched Bernie late in the game, and since I saw it in December I’ve watched it twice…it’s that good. Director Richard Linklater tells the story of mild-mannered nice guy Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) and his trial for the murder of his best friend/rumored lover Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). As Bernie himself details in the beginning of the film, Bernie is a mix of the comic and tragic, yet throughout you never once believe Bernie is a murderer. It’s a frothy film about friendship and murder, told by the nicest convicted murderer you could wish to meet.
16. Dreams of a Life
Dreams of a Life of only one of two documentaries that made this list, and boy will this movie stay with you. The tragic tale of Joyce Vincent, a woman found dead in her London home after three years, is a chilling story about the lack of communication within modern society. How could a woman who was seemingly loved by everyone she met be allowed to die alone and not be discovered for so long? The film will make you examine your own friendships, and ask the question “Who would notice if I was missing?” A stark documentary that expertly chills you and enlightens you to the human condition.
My review of Savages was pretty scathing, so why would I put it as one of the best of the year? To me, it’s 99% of a great movie, and as long as I turn it off before that atrocious second ending I think it’s a fantastic adaptation of Don Winslow’s book. Those who didn’t like it would probably take issue with Winslow’s book because director Oliver Stone presents one of the most faithful (aside from that second ending) adaptations I’ve seen in a long time. You might consider it cheating since I don’t want to consider the movie in full, but this is my list and it stays.
14. Moonrise Kingdom
Not everything director Wes Anderson puts out is gold, but it seems that his films of late are growing on me. Moonrise Kingdom not only looks gorgeous, in a year filled with beautiful imagery, but tells a sweet story about young love filled with the surrealistic touches you’d expect from an Anderson film. Moonrise Kingdom helped me plan out my Halloween costume for next year. Khaki Scouts, here I come!
13. Killer Joe
Director William Friedkin and screenwriter Tracy Letts don’t craft a movie you are meant to enjoy. That is enjoy in the sense of sitting down and wanting to escape. Killer Joe is a stark look at the cruel things people will do when they’re down and out, and utterly stupid. Matthew McConaughey changes his entire persona to play the atrocious “Killer” Joe Cooper, and he both enthralls you and repels you throughout the entire runtime. The infamous chicken leg scene is what got this slapped with an NC-17, but the sheer nihilism of the picture won’t help audiences find a bleak story that flirts with film noir.
12. 21 Jump Street
Up until a few weeks ago 21 Jump Street was in my top five, and I maintain it’s that good of a comedy. Who knew a remake based on an 80s television series could tell a fun story that introduced new characters, while lovingly paying tribute to the original and including a hilarious cameo from Johnny Depp? I’m not sure how I’d feel about a sequel, as the ending alludes to, but I enjoy watching this every time it’s on. It’s proof that reusing old material can turn out something better.
11. Safety Not Guaranteed
Safety Not Guaranteed is a simple, touching story about regret filtered through a funny time travel plotline. The film bases itself around the wacky idea of a man (Mark Duplass) wanting to time travel, and expands out to discussing the role of regret within our lives and what exactly we’d do with the ability to go back. It’s a movie that connects universally, in my opinion, and has some hilarious performances from Duplass and Aubrey Plaza.
Haywire was one of the most ass-kicking films I’ve seen in a long time, and it gave us our first new female action star in Gina Carano. Director Steven Soderbergh continues to surprise with this small-scale films that feel larger, and that’s true in Haywire. The film is 90 minutes of Carano’s action spy character Mallory Kane beating the living crap out of the hottest men alive, and I loved every second of it. It’s a gut-punch of an acknowledgment to the female hero that’s been sorely lacking.
It’s hard to find a film marketed to teenagers that doesn’t deal in angst or supernatural romance. That’s probably why The Perks of Being a Wallflower is set in the 80s. Regardless, the film is a sweet story of growing up, coping with mental illness, and surviving high school. The performances, particularly from Emma Watson and Ezra Miller, are astounding and worthy of accolades although that appears to be rare. It’s hard to find a movie like this that details high school with all it’s mundane contrivances and moments of sheer joy. Watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower made me yearn for high school, or at least the people that populate the high school of this film.
I hate Family Guy, which should show you how excited I was to see Ted. I ended up eating a lot of crow here, because Ted has blossomed into my favorite comedy of the year. It’s instantly quotable, and blends the trash humor of Seth MacFarlane with the heart that can only come from the tender story of a boy and his talking teddy bear. I also applaud MacFarlane for his fun 80s throwbacks throughout. Any movie that includes a third act involving Sam Jones and Flash Gordon deserves the love. I still won’t watch Family Guy.
ParaNorman combines the horror of Shaun of the Dead with the adventurous atmosphere of The Goonies, and that’s a heady combination of films to be sure. The animation from Laika is breathtaking and detailed. The story gets darker than audiences might be expecting, but this was one of the best animated kids films out this year, and there were quite a few. It had the humor that Frankenweenie lacked, and more well-rounded characters then Wreck-It Ralph.
6. The Avengers
The superhero movie of the year didn’t follow a man dressed as a bat, but a series of superheroes banding together to fight the forces of evil…and aliens. Director Joss Whedon proved that not all superheroes have to be morose as evidenced by the witty repartee exhibited within The Avengers. The acting is dynamite, even from Scarlett Johansson, and the action was pulse-pounding throughout. In a year where Batman failed to live up to his final series of expectations and exploits, it was nice to see a bunch of heroes who didn’t take themselves too seriously.
Ben Affleck continues to blaze a trail as a director, and his latest film Argo might be his best yet. The film is a tightly wound thriller detailing the events surrounding the Iranian hostage crisis. Ben Affleck presents a fully accomplished and contained story filled with pulse-pounding suspense. The ending scene in the airport is one of the most suspenseful scenes I can recall, and shows Affleck’s precision with regards to dialogue, camera movement, and sound. The script itself is also filled with humor, facts, and a sense of community between the hostages and their savior Tony Mendez (Affleck).
The Cabin in the Woods is an intriguing film in that it follows the horror formula to a fault, while at the same time subverting and exploring why that formula works so well. Director Drew Goddard and screenwriter Joss Whedon go beyond simply setting up a group of mindless kids in a cabin, but exploring why that formula works so well; and what exactly they might be trying to protect us from. It’s funny as hell, with a gory ending filled with the stuff of nightmares that’s worth rewatching over and over.
3. Sound of My Voice
This might be another cheat since it’s a 2011/2012 film, but Sound of My Voice is a bewildering conundrum of a film that will leave you questioning and hypothesizing long after it’s over. I watched this over three months ago, and I can still enter into discussions with my mom about elements within the narrative. I loved the mystery of the narrative, aided by the alluring Maggie (Britt Marling), and the blend of sci-fi integrated into a cult film/quasi-documentary. By the end of the movie you’ll be left with more questions than answers, but you’ll want to discuss all of them with others who have been lucky enough to be inducted into the film’s mystery.
2. The Imposter
The Imposter is a series of adjectives all detailing the lies that people tell. It’s fascinating, infuriating, frightening, and spellbinding. It’s the number one documentary of the year, in my opinion. The film tells the story of the disappearance of Nicholas Barclay, and he reappeared in four years later in Spain; his identity taken by a French con artist. The kicker comes when the conman was actually taken in by the missing boy’s parents which opens up a bigger story about how this grieving family could be fooled, and if that masked their own dark deeds. It’s an amazing true story that will make you question everything you know, as well as the character presented. Not only are you being asked to believe this story, but certain elements are introduced that make you wonder if you’d have thought about them at all if this conman hadn’t said them. Director Bart Layton is a wunderkind who blends reenactments with documentary footage creating a film that everyone should see.
1. Django Unchained
Django Unchained is receiving its share of criticism, but I had a hell of a time watching this movie. Quentin Tarantino creates an homage to the spaghetti western that is humorous, bloody, violent, and fun. The film is three hours, but never feels like it as Tarantino keeps the settings, characters, and situations consistently moving. I do agree that a few scenes could have created a tighter film, but the story and the acting, particularly from Leonardo DiCaprio are sensational. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that’s lethal, gory, and a good time at the movies.
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.