1. The Dark Knight Rises – Even if this film failed to outperform The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy ends with a bang. It may not be the absolute best film of 2012 but it is my favorite. The performances are pretty solid throughout. Bane (Tom Hardy) and Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) were both terrific additions for Nolan. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) was able to showcase some character depth, just as we saw in Batman Begins. Hardy’s subtle performance is one of the true delights of the film, as is Michael Caine’s heart-wrenching performance as Alfred. The film takes its time getting into the action, but it is worth the trip thanks to a fantastic last act.
2. Zero Dark Thirty – Kathryn Bigelow’s (The Hurt Locker) latest is a triumph on every level. This film is much better than The Hurt Locker, which won best picture at the 2009 Oscars. I liked that film but Zero Dark Thirty is one that sticks with you, and the performances are outstanding across the board. As a citizen of the United States this film should tug at you throughout the picture, from the opening sequence on 9/11 to that eventual death of Osama Bin Laden. Jessica Chastain (The Help, Take Shelter) will win best actress in a few weeks, and rightfully so. This is a must-see.
3. The Avengers – This was by far the funnest film of 2012 as it never quite takes itself seriously, yet is serious enough to work. The script, written by Joss Whedon, is as clever as anything on screen this year. Whedon (The Cabin in the Woods, Toy Story) also directed the film to astonishing success, as direction is not his forte. Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Chris Evans (Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) and Tom Hiddleston (Loki) all feed off each other rather beautifully. The special effects are terrific, and possibly the best of the year.
4. Argo – Possibly the best surprise of year. Ben Affleck (The Town, Gone Baby Gone) is starting to prove himself as one of the better directors in Hollywood. He recently won best director at the Golden Globe’s for his work here, and Argo won best drama. The film is based on an incredible true story and is packed full of tension, terrific acting, sly writing and hilarious moments from Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine, Edward Scissorhands).
5. Silver Linings Playbook – David O’ Russell’s (The Fighter, Three Kings) latest is the funniest film of the year, but also the best character drama. It is a serious best picture contender and all four lead characters are nominated in their respective categories. Russell’s script is bulletproof, the performances are beyond terrific, and the film is equally fun and dramatic. It is now playing everywhere, so see it.
6. Lincoln – Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood, Gangs of New York) has become one of the five best actors alive, and will likely win another Oscar for best actor in a few weeks for his performance as Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s wonderfully poetic biopic. Do not expect a war film–this is a slow-burning, beautifully acted and marvelously written film that is both entertaining and educational. This film is a serious best picture contender–probably the favorite.
7. The Hunger Games – This adaptation was one of the better surprises of 2012. Having read the terrific book I was quite excited to see Gary Ross’ version adapted for the screen, and it did not disappoint. Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone, Silver Linings Playbook) is beginning to take Hollywood by storm, and is currently the most sought-after actress in the business. Katniss Everdeen has become a very iconic character and with Catching Fire being released this November her stardom will only get larger.
8. Looper – Rian Johnson’s highly anticipated follow-up to The Brother’s Bloom and Brick is a fantastic success. It is a time-traveling thrill ride worth taking. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises, Inception), or “JGL” as I call him, is slowly becoming a household name thanks to wonderful performances like this one. I have never quite seen anything like this film, as JGL plays a young Bruce Willis. It is a film that is hard to describe, but one that has to be seen to believe and one that gets better with each revisit.
9. Moonrise Kingdom – Not Wes Anderson’s (The Darjeeling Limited, Rushmore) very best work, but one that should stand as one of his crowning achievements. He is easily one of the most creative directors alive, and always gets the most out of his actors. The story surrounds a group of boy scouts, led by Edward Norton (Fight Club, American History X) as you have never seen him before. Diehard Anderson fans, like myself, will love this film, but there is a lot to like for those who are unaware of his previous work. Definitely worth a watch!
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – This was a real treat, and one of the better “young adult” film adaptations I have ever witnessed. Be warned–this is not Twilight or Harry Potter stuff here, it has some real adult issues and warrants the PG-13 rating. Ezra Miller (We Never To Talk About Kevin, City Island) is a face to remember–he shines brightest here and will continue to do so for many years. Emma Watson, better known as “Hermione Granger,” is good here as well.
Honorable Mention: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Skyfall, The Cabin in the Woods, Frankenweenie.