Top 10 Films of 2012

There’s really no need for any yadda yadda here, these are my picks for the ten best films that received general release in 2012. Of course there are many 2012 releases I’m eager to see but haven’t yet been able to, such as The Master, which would probably make this list, so keep that in mind. Some mini-reviews are taken from my Letterboxd account. Make sure to leave your thoughts in the comments.

Cosmopolis1

IMPORTANT NOTE: 

I just realized after finishing this list that one of the best films of 2012, and one of my favourites, Cosmopolis, wasn’t present. Since I don’t have the time to go and re-edit this post, I want you to consider it an eleventh film on this list, even though if I’d remembered to add it, it would’ve appeared at about #5. It’s an absolutely fantastic movie and I’ve no idea how on Earth I forgot to add it. Fuck!

ALSO, A SPECIAL MENTION: This Is Not a Film: I cannot rank This Is Not a Film among any of the films I watched this year because it is not really a film and it would be unfair to rank it in this list or treat it as a movie. However, for the record, I gave it ten out of ten and thought it was stunning.

10: Margaret

Margaret1

Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret, at three hours, is a film many have found challenging, but which I found rich and rewarding. It is not without fault, admittedly. The editing is noticeably choppy and some sequences of the story do not seem to gel quite as nicely as they should, but I can see why Lonergan left them in. Anna Paquin is surprisingly superb in the central role as confused teenager Lisa, and as the many details of the story unravel Paquin’s performance remains strong and powerful. Despite its flaws, Margaret is an engaging, rich piece of work I’m glad I took the time to see. I think more films should be allowed to have such lengthy runtimes, as it allows the director to expand the story and its many details more fluidly and less hastily. I enjoyed it.

9: Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly

Andrew Dominik’s latest film sees him delve deeper into the crime genre, which he did previously with Chopper and to a lesser extent The Assassination of Jesse James. The film is Scorsese by way of Friedkin, and yet completely unlike something either of those directors would create. It is a brilliantly refreshing film, defying the genre clichés despite feeling like a genre film. Brad Pitt is excellent and “Now fucking pay me” is probably the best line of the year.

8: Oslo, August 31st

Oslo August 31st

Based on the brilliant 1931 novel which Louis Malle adapted into his phenomenal career masterwork The Fire Within, Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st is a haunting, beautiful, very well-crafted film about the darkest days of a recovering drug addict in Norway. It’s one of the most emotional films of the year, and many viewers, myself included, found it utterly devastating. The scene in the cafeteria is something rather special, deeply moving beyond words.

7: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Ono is a dedicated man who spends every day of his life working in his sushi bar, overseeing the work of his equally dedicated staff and striving to create the perfect sushi. He works tirelessly and patiently even though he is 85, and still appears exuberant, excited and passionate about his work. It is clear he will work until his death. There will be no retirement. Jiro’s story is wonderfully told in this well-directed documentary which has a haunting, wondrous soundtrack and is very well shot. I applaud the director David Gelb for this excellent work he has crafted, and all those involved in this great film’s creation and distribution, but more than anyone else, I applaud Jiro, for being a man so stunningly committed to his work I struggle to feel anything for him but deep envy.

6: Dark Horse

Dark Horse

Though many seem to hate Todd Solondz’s post-Happiness films, I like them all. Storytelling was his best movie, fantastic, depressing and utterly hilarious. Palindromes was clever, witty and emotional. Heck, even Life During Wartime, which most people hated, was enjoyable for me. Dark Horse continues the trend of Solondz films which audiences seem to hate but I love. Jordan Gelber is fantastic in the lead role as toy-collecting loser Abe, and Selma Blair is morose and downbeat as the ill Miranda (it is vaguely hinted she is reprising her role in Storytelling a decade ago); I still find her curiously attractive. Solondz is not quite as merciless here as he has been in the past, and Dark Horse was a lot funnier than I expected.

5: The Raid

The Raid

Easily one of the best action movies I’ve seen in a long, long while. There is something spellbinding about The Raid. The violence is gritty, mindblowing and fierce though almost balletic in its rhythm and movement. The 90 minute run time seems to spin and tumble by, each kick and fistpunch transforming the seconds of the movie into instants. That’s really all the film is: a series of instants, one after the other, overwhelming in their speed, choreography and frequency. It doesn’t falter for the moment, and keeps its audience’s eyes focused on the glow of the screen. Even as we flinch and curse, the strange attraction of the violence lures us in, and the experience is incomparable, scary and wholesomely satisfying.

4: Holy Motors

Holy Motors

Holy Motors is a movie I won’t even begin to try and describe, because I imagine its effect is greatest when you know as little about it as possible, but essentially it is a series of vignettes which the main character, Mr. Oscar, walks in and out of freely, playing a small but almost always vital part. Do I have a ‘favourite’? No, but the flower-eating madman running amok, the motion-capture suit sexual encounter, the accordion-and-drum ensemble entr’acte, the disappointed father, the philosophical dying man, the careless assassin, are all beautiful, brilliant parts played by Mr. Oscar, who himself is stirringly and excellently portrayed by well-regarded French actor Denis Lavant. The film is constantly enthralling, regularly thought-provoking and consistently brilliant on multiple startling levels and genres of cinema. It is more pure movie than any other film I have ever seen. It is masterfully directed, confidently acted and assuredly one of the most original, inventive films ever made.

3: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Its style, grace and poetic camerawork reminiscent of Tarkovsky, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s movie is incredibly slow but assuredly confident and well-put together. It knows where its going and its conclusion may seem underwhelming to some, but it knocked me for six. Each shot in this film is delightful, the Turkish landscape seeming to be swallowed whole in much the same manner as the Iranian terrain was in Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry. The actors are brilliant and the film raises many questions. I need to see it again to fully understand it, but I’m still reeling from the experience.

2: Detachment

Detachment

I have always admired the style and skill of Tony Kaye, and he seems to be getting better with each film. American History X was a powerful but flawed film about intolerant youths in American society and the dangerous people they grow up to become. Lake of Fire, which I still believe is his masterpiece, was a relentless, graphic, brutal look at both sides of the abortion debate. I think it’s one of the finest documentaries ever made. And now we have Detachment, which incorporates elements of documentary and film, and like those previous two features, has depressing, saturated colours and a melancholy feel. Kaye’s direction is, as usual, spot on, helping craft a film that would otherwise seem messy and incomplete into a full, rich, absorbing character study unlike any other in recent years. Tony Kaye is a filmmaker with a lot to say, and unlike some other filmmakers working today, he knows how to say it effectively, punctually and powerfully.

1: Amour

Amour

Haneke. It’s always been Haneke. Having read the late Peter Brunette’s book on Haneke’s films, I was well-equipped and ready for another movie from my favourite living filmmaker, Michael Haneke (man, I just love saying his fucking name!) And Amour did not disappoint. In fact, it stunningly managed to exceed my expectations and is now one of my fifty favourite films of all time. As with all Haneke’s films, it’s incredibly well-crafted in meticulous detail. Each shot, whether chillingly stationary or gliding transparently, is utterly perfect. The acting is not just top-notch, but top class, some of the best I’ve seen in a Haneke film (Haneke always hires brilliant actors and knows how to direct them). Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva are absolutely fantastic in the lead roles as Anne and Georges (Haneke fans will snigger at their names), very believable and stunningly emotional as a married couple deeply in love and struggling to accept a sudden, horrific change in the form of Anne’s sickness. The movie hurtles towards its inevitable ugly conclusion, but many will find it difficult to stifle their tears. This is Haneke’s most beautiful, emotional, human film, and not only the best film of 2012, but the best film of the last few years.

What are your thoughts? Agree/disagree? Let me know in the comments.

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Posted on December 28, 2012, in Lists, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 39 Comments.

  1. Nice list. I have seen people debating Margaret on Letterboxd, and I’ve been meaning to get around to it.

    Did you see Killer Joe? I would rank it high for the year.

  2. Right now, Holy Motors is my favorite film of 2012. It’s just totally out there but also doesn’t need any idea of a plot to make a great film. I hope to see Amour and Zero Dark Thirty next year along with Promised Land as I’m going to see Les Miserables as my last film for the year.

  3. I’m counting Margaret as a 2011 release. Otherwise it would have totally made mine (already there in my all-time top 100). The only film that will make my top 10 of 2012 is Holy Motors, though I really did love The Raid a lot.
    You make me curious about Detachment. I might check that. Love Brody.

    • The way I see it, the extended cut of Margaret was released in 2012, and that was the version I saw. Definitely check out Detachment, it’s fantastic.

  4. I agree with Anatolia and Oslo, two of the best of the year. Also had a blast with The Raid. Really love the minimal, wall to wall action.

    I plan on catching up with Detachment, Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Holy Motors in the next week or so. I will check out Amour whenever I get access to it.

    Surprised Killing Them Softly made it. People I trust told me to stay far away from that film. Your summation further solidifies that it’s probably not my kind of film.

    I do need to catch up with Margaret (I consider it 2011), but I know there’s a particular version people are saying you should watch and I’ve yet to figure out how to get a hold of that one.

    I don’t ever plan on posting one of these lists. I’ll just have an ever-evolving list on bother letterboxd and my site that will continue to grow over the years.

    • I’m not overly fond of Killing Them Softly but it is very well made and is an interesting twist on the crime film, in that all of the characters are presented as utterly pathetic instead of glorified.

      The extended 3-hour cut of Margaret was released this year and that’s what I’m basing its inclusion on this list from.

      • I am overly fond of Killing Them Softly and was really happy to see it on the list since it’s taking a little bit of a beating with critics. It’s basically an American crime thriller as only a non-American could make, which makes it completely unique. It’s one of my favorites of the year. You nailed it- the final line in that movie is one I’ll always remember.

        I’ve added Oslo to my Netflix queue and will see it ASAP.

        • The more I let Killing Them Softly digest the more I like it. Not enough Liotta though, haha.

          Oslo doesn’t have the French New Wave feel that Malle instilled in it (it looks completely different and is obviously modernized) but it packs an enormous punch.

  5. Great list and I’m surprised by some of your choices. I can understand your love for Amour, it’s really a movie that’s hard to fault, although personally I did think it was slow. Then again it was part of a movie festival and when you see 5 movies in one day your patience might be tested a bit more.

    Still want to see Holy Motors since it’s been getting such mixed reviews.

    Jiro was an excellent documentary which I really enjoyed.

    Killing Them Softly will be high upon my own top 10 list, which I hope to be able to write soon.

    I wouldn’t expect a movie like The Raid on your list, but like you I just love it. One of the best action movies I have seen in a long time, just like you.

    • I never had any problem with Amour‘s pace, but I guess that’s just because I’m used to it from Haneke.

      Definitely see Holy Motors and Killing Them Softly soon. I wouldn’t say the former has been getting mixed reviews as such. I haven’t seen a single negative one yet!

      The Raid is just really fucking enjoyable. Gosh I loved it.

  6. Ooh, I just watched the Raid last night! Such fun, why can’t all action movies be that cool! Holy Motors just left me happy. I’ve not even tried to review it because I can’t – I don’t know how! Loved Oslo, 31 August too.
    Have been dying to see Jiro, I think I’ll get the DVD or blu-ray with my Christmas money. And I love your mention of This Is Not A Film. If I remember correctly we watched it at almost the same time, I remember talking about it on Twitter. Reduced to tears.

    • Jiro really surprised me, it was a hell of a lot better than I expected. Gorgeous cinematography and flooring soundtrack. We did see This Is Not a Film the first time, and if I put it on this list, it would be #1. Holy fuck what an amazing work of art.

  7. Bloody hell, I left a comment here but I think I shut my computer down without even posting it. Awkward. Anyway.

    You’ve seen Holy Motors, Detachment and Amour? By what witch-craftery?! I’m dying to see all of them, but none of them have release dates, so…

    Margaret counts as a 2011 release for me, but it is still top dollar. The only other film I’ve seen is The Raid, which I must buy from my pile but I keep forgetting to get my sister to get it for me. I can’t wait until those darn R18 stickers are no longer an issue.

    Also, you really do need to see Killer Joe. And Bernie, too, since that’s by Richard Linklater and it is a really cool film.

    • You can view Detachment here but sadly Holy Motors and Amour are no longer available. Anyway, I strongly recommend you watch Detachment since I fucking love it and you will too.

      I must see Killer Joe. And I keep forgetting Linklater made Bernie. It’s essential for me, then.

  8. Great list man, some interesting choices there.

  9. Nice list. Loved Holy Motors, Oslo, August 31st, and Margaret. Also a fan of Detachment, Anatolia, The Raid, and Killing Them Softly. Can’t wait to see Amour!

  10. Surprised to see Killing them Softly, as it didn’t seem to be getting good word of mouth. From what i heard it hits you over the head with its message, but i guess that didn’t happen with you.

    Also, i wasn’t a fan of Cosmopolis. Felt very inaccessible to me, kinda like with A Dangerous Method(With that said, i think i enjoyed Cosmopolis a bit more, but not by much)

    • No, that didn’t happen with me in regards to Killing Them Softly, but I could see how someone could gather that interpretation.

      Cosmopolis, I feel, is inaccessible purposefully, and those not interested in its subject matter and/or Cronenberg’s dark and disturbing way of presenting it are better off leaving the film alone. Never saw A Dangerous Method, strangely.

  11. As you know I’m waiting impatiently to see Dark Horse and it’s a pleasure to see it on this list. I just rented The Raid to see what all the fuss is about so hopefully I’ll share your enthusiasm. I remember you calling Killing Them Softly a bit of a mess on letterboxd so I’m surprised to see it feature here but sometimes enjoyment beats style in these things. I found the same with my end of year list, only finding 7 out of 76 films suitably enjoyable in 2012.

  12. From your list, I’ve only seen Killing Them Softly and The Raid. Loved both. I actually gave up on Holy Motors at the 30 minute mark and just read about the rest of the plot online. It’s just not for me.

    • Ah well, fair enough. As you know I loved Holy Motors but it is a bit of a struggle if you’re not prepared for it and willing to let it suck you in.

  13. Nice list Tyler. Killer Joe and Headhunters would be part of mine. Beasts of the Southern Wild also. The one I really want to see though is Amour.

  14. Killing Them Softly, Oslo, and our dear Haneke… great list here. I’m watching Once Upon a Time in Anatolia this weekend, can’t wait for that one.

    Superb picks, my friend!

  15. Great list! I’m glad Oslo, August 31st made the cut. And I am REALLY looking forward to Amour.

  16. Great list. I still need to see Holy Motors and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Glad you loved Amour as well. I also highly recommend The Master.

  17. Hey, Tyler, what did you think about Life of Pi?

  1. Pingback: Everybody’s Talkin’ 12 – 28 (Year-End Chatter from Other Bloggers) | The Matinee | Cinematic Passion & Perspective

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