Cinema Fanatic’s Favorite Fifteen Films of 2012

I really loved most of what I saw in 2011 (and actually my favorite film from 2011 I saw in 2012, but I will post more about that tomorrow). As for 2012, a lot of what I saw I felt kind of neutral about and a handful of films I downright hated (which is a rarity for me, really). I’m not sure what it was, but 2012 just didn’t live up to my expectations. That said, I did compile a list of fifteen films that I really loved. I wasn’t able to see Zero Dark Thirty or Amour before the end of the year, which I would have liked to have seen before compiling this list. Alas, they don’t open in San Francisco until after the new year. If you want to see all the 2012 releases I watched, you can do so here.


1. Any Day Now (dir. Travis Fine)


Nobody saw this movie but me and what a shame that is. It played in San Francisco for only two weeks and I am so glad I saw the very first showing of it. I wish I had had enough time to see it more than once. I cried through the entire film. Not necessarily because it was sad (though parts are really sad), but rather because it just felt so perfect. It’s the same kind of connection I feel with Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters. The first part of the film is one of the most perfect romances I’ve ever seen and the latter half of the film is searing social commentary. The film is about a drag queen cabaret singer (Alan Cumming in a role that should have earned in more awards season buzz than he’s getting), who falls in love at first sight with a closest lawyer (Garret Dillahunt). Cumming’s character winds up taking in the son of his neighbor who gets sent to jail for drug possession. He falls in love at first site with the boy – who has Down Syndrome – as well. The rest of the film shows the formation of their “unconventional” family and how hard they fight to keep it. This is a film that could easily have fallen into melodrama, but there isn’t a false move in this film. If you find it playing in a theater near you, don’t hesitate to see it – and be sure to bring a box of tissues.

2. Poulet Aux Prunes (Chicken With Plums) (dir. Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi)


This is another film that no one saw but me. I was lucky enough to see it at the San Francisco International Film Festival was writer/director Marjane Satrapi in attendance. I got to see it again at the Lumiere Theatre (where I worked all summer before it closed). Sadly, it only played in San Francisco for a week. On the surface, it’s about violinist  Nasser Ali, who decides to will himself to death after the destruction of his beloved violin, but really it’s about love, loss and the nature of being artistic. This is another one that made me cry throughout. Mathieu Amalric is one of my favorite actors and he gives a devastating performance in this film. Hopefully, it will be available for rent sooner rather than later and everyone can finally experience this film and hopefully cry as much as I did.

3. Magic Mike (dir. Steven Soderbergh)


A movie that a lot of people didn’t see because it was set in the world of male stripping. Those people are stupid. Then you had people who saw it because it was set int he world of male stripping. Those people then complained that there was too much plot and not enough stripping. This film just couldn’t catch a break. I think it’s one of Soderbergh’s most personal films and if he does stand by his word and retire after Side Effects comes out next year, it’s a great goodbye to world of filmmaking. Matthew McConaughey steals the show and he really ought to receive an Oscar nomination for this performance. I know I’ve got my fingers crossed for him.

4. Cloud Atlas (dir. Tom Tykwer, Lilly Wachowski, Lana Wachowski)


Another misunderstood and oft-hated film that I really could not love enough. I wish I had had time to see it more than once since there is just sooo much going on and for every bit that I caught, I know there are things that went right passed me. I think it’s a film like Fincher’s Zodiac that requires multiple viewings to peel back all the layers and like that film, no matter how many times you watch it there will always be more layers to peel.

5. The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)


Where do I even begin with this film? I was lucky enough to see it in 70mm at the Castro Theatre a few weeks before its initial release and I fell in love with it immediately. I sure do hope it makes its way to a Best Picture Oscar nomination, or, at the very least that Joaquin Phoenix’s stirring turn as Freddie Quell at least lands him a much deserved nomination. Really, though, he should win the award. He’s operating on an entirely different level than any other actor I saw this year. His performance in this film reminds me of Michael Shannon in Take Shelter last year, another performance (and film) that went to another level and thus got completely ignored by the Academy. Regardless of its awards season standings, this is a film that won’t be long forgotten from a filmmaker who is so advanced at the craft of filmmaking, you wonder why others even bother.

6. Moonrise Kingdom (dir. Wes Anderson)


Another Anderson, this time Mr. Wes Anderson, a filmmaker whose distinct style makes him simultaneously one of the most loved and most reviled filmmakers currently working in Hollywood. I think even if you hate his work, you cannot deny his prowess when it comes to film as an art. I saw this film in theaters twice and it may well be my favorite of all of Wes Anderson’s films, though I will need to watch it at least once more before I’ll allow it to dethrone The Royal Tenenbaums just yet. As you probably know by now, I love love stories and I thought this was one of the sweetest love stories I’d seen in years. I’m also a huge Bruce Willis fan and I must say, I was delighted that he finally found a comedic role worth his talent again.

7. Beasts of the Southern Wild (dir. Benh Zeitlin)


I guess a lot of people hated this film or felt that it was hollow and exploitive? I don’t agree one bit. I felt so connected to Hushpuppy and her world. She reminded me of me as a child, though I grew up exploring abandoned fields on the edge of a small cowtown in Northern California, rather than the titular southern wild of the Louisiana Bayou. Regardless of your feelings towards the film, the talent that new-comer Quvenzhané Wallis demonstrates cannot be denied and I have my fingers crossed that she manages to make history and become the youngest Best Actress nominee in Oscar history because I definitely believe she deserves it.

8. Killer Joe (dir. William Friedkin)


What a crazy fucked up slice of Southern gothic his is. Tennessee Williams would have loved it methinks. This is the second of three films featuring Matthew McConaughey that will show up on my end of the year list. I’ve always liked him and I’m glad he’s finally being able to play character roles. He’s one that got kind of trapped playing romantic male leads for far too long and it’s great that he’s finally getting his due. He’s truly terrifying as the titular Joe and after you watch this film you’ll never be able to look at fried chicken the same way again.

9. Argo (dir. Ben Affleck)


Speaking of people finally getting their due, let’s talk about Ben Affleck. He’s now directed three films, all of which received 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. His latest film is one of the frontrunners for Best Picture this year and he’s been tipped as almost a sure thing for a Best Director nomination. I have loved him since I saw Good Will Hunting in theaters when I was 11 and although he and Matt Damon won Oscar for their screenplay, he took the popcorn flick route (well, and a pretty damn great turn in Shakespeare in Love), while Damon followed up with many a critically acclaimed film and thus Affleck became kind of a joke (well, that time with J. Lo didn’t really help). But now with three critically acclaimed and commercially successful films in five years, I can finally come out of the Affleck loving closet and people have no basis for making fun of him anymore. Whoops, I haven’t even mentioned why I loved this film yet. I got distracted. Anyways, this is a straightforward political thriller with just the right amount of comedy made without much directorial flash, which is not a bad thing at all. Affleck let the material and the characters carry the film and carry it they did. I hope Alan Arkin gets himself another Oscar to go with his win for Little Miss Sunshine so he can have bookends. He more than deserves it.

10. Lincoln (dir. Steven Spielberg)


I wrote a proper review of this film, which I linked above, so I’m not going to write too much here other than to say that I loved this film a lot more than I thought I would. It wasn’t what I was expecting and I think Spielberg is at the top of his game with this film and I would not complain one bit if it sweeps the Oscars this year.

11. Les Misérables (dir. Tom Hooper)


I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this film after the first trailer and didn’t really get all that excited until they started releasing some behind the scenes featurettes with the cast talking about the process. Then I was sold. Surprise, surprise – I cried a lot during this film. I loved its breakneck pace and if Anne Hathaway doesn’t take home Oscar gold for her show-stopping rendition of I Dreamed A Dream, then she has every right to go home a cry for a week. I loved this so much that when it was over I just sort of sat in my seat trying to take it all in. I can’t really understand what’s not to like about it, but again it’s a film that many people hated. To each their own, I guess.

12. Bernie (dir. Richard Linklater)


I can’t believe I didn’t see this in theaters when I had the chance! What a bizarre little film. It’s based on a true story and in a style reminiscent of Reds, it’s a mixture of fictionalized recreation of events and interviews (although, in this film the interviews are with the real people from the town and in Reds, if memory serves, it’s actors playing the real people). Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? A documentary? Sure. It’s all of those things and more. Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey give flawless performances. It’s available streaming on Netflix and is well worth your time.

13. ParaNorman (dir. Chris Butler, Sam Fell)


I didn’t know what to expect when I went to see this film. Somehow I managed to not see a single trailer for it before I saw it in theaters and when it ended I couldn’t believe how much I loved it. It’s a great take on dealing with loss, as well as what it’s like to feel like an outsider. I thought it did a pretty great job of “teaching” the audience something without really being all that preachy. Also, it’s a real treat for fans of older horror films and let’s just take a minute to appreciate the amazing stop motion technique used to bring this film alive.

14. 21 Jump Street (dir. Phil Lord, Chris Miller)

14_ 21_jump_street

I almost didn’t see this film. I used to really dislike Channing Tatum. But I was in North Carolina on business last spring and I had per diem money and this was pretty much the only film playing at the theater near my hotel that looked somewhat decent and it had Jonah Hill and I like him. So I went. And I freaking loved it. If you’ll notice, Mr. Tatum is in two of my favorite movies this year. Somehow his stupid face has won me over and I am as surprised as anyone that I now count myself as a Channing Tatum fan. I think I have watched this movie more than any other 2012 release and it’s one I will probably rewatch often. I think it’s one that is a lot different than you’d expect from the trailers and if you avoided watching it because of them, give it a try and maybe you’ll be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

15. The Impossible (dir. Juan Antonio Bayona)


This was the last 2012 release I managed to watch in theaters and what a last film to choose. It’s a pretty harrowing look at the 2004 Tsunami and tells the true story of a Spanish family that was on vacation when it hit. Although the film has a completely Spanish crew and was funded in Spain, the family was changed to British. I’m guessing this was for financial reasons. Regardless, Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor give some of their greatest performances to date as a mother and father, husband and wife who basically go through hell trying to keep their family together during one of the greatest natural disasters in recorded history. Tom Holland – who originated the role of Billy Elliott on the London stage – gives one of the greatest screen debut performances in recent memory as the oldest child. This is another film that could have been much more melodramatic and emotionally manipulating than it was, instead it’s just a powerful look at one family’s grit and determination as they try to survive the disaster together.

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on December 31, 2012, in Top List and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. Agh, I’ve only seen three films on your list!

  2. Nice top 15! I haven’t seen them all but a good proportion of those are in my top 10/15 too (will post tomorrow). Killer Joe is actually in my top 3 – a lot of people see me under a new light because of it, but I just can’t shake it off. McConaughey is incredible! I hate myself for not having seen Magic Mike yet. It came out at a time where I didn’t have much time to go to the cinema, but I’m planning to catch it very soon now it’s on DVD.

  3. I seen Moonrise Kingdom and it was my first Wes Anderson film. I say that I am in love with his works 🙂

  4. bernie paranorman and 21 jump street all deserved more praise! well done.

    i have to disagree on one choice though—and every time ive said this ive been socially crucified—but i thought the master was SO underwhelming! i am a huge pta fan but i felt like he really dropped the ball in the writing department here. i kept waiting for the “subtle” story to bloom and it just never did. i mean dont get me wrong, it was a beautiful film visually (Malaimare’s photography was insane) and nobody can ask for better performances but i felt so let down by his writing which is his strongest talent impo.

  5. Good to see some love for 21 Jump Street and Moonrise Kingdom, the funniest and the greatest film I’ve seen from 2012 respectively. Were you not a fan of Cabin In The Woods? I liked it (rather surprisingly actually) Also a big yes to Killer Joe, that was unbelievably good.

  6. What about Amour? Holy Motors? Have you watched them?

  7. Well here’s a heck of thing: the only one of these movies I have seen is Magic Mike. 🙂 But then it was the only one that came to my town and it was a special – all women audience – and we made over $1000 to pay off the new roof. There was one 18 year old and I sat near a women in her mid to late 70s who seemed to enjoy it very much. The front row got pretty rowdy and the warm up act was a local business man stripping. Very fun. I thought McConaughy was brilliant and sleazy. Some of the ladies didn’t like it because of the sleaze in the story part but everyone enjoyed the dancing. I had a really nice time at the event.

  8. I’m glad you liked Les Miz. A lot of people have been trying to make me embarrassed for sincerely liking it, even though it’s really goddamn entertaining. You know 100000x more about cinema than they do, though, so thanks for validating my opinion.

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