Best of 2012: Top 10 Movies


Somehow we arrive at the end of ten days of top ten lists, one hundred “things” in all. This is the last one; the ten absolute best movies I have seen this year. It was a fantastic year for the big screen, as while there were plenty of indie efforts worth writing home about, many of the blockbusters really stepped up their game in a big way. The unexpected, record-smashing success of one film in particular may have altered the way big studios think about their intellectual properties and release schedules for good.

I don’t profess to having seen all the movies that came out in 2012; heck, I didn’t even see all the movies I wanted to see in 2012. But I did see more than enough of them to make this list a tough one to put together. One thing I noticed about the list after I had finally decided on an order is how weird it looks to see so many movies on it that came out in the first two months of the year; that was so long ago it almost feels like they didn’t release this year at all. The odd thing about living in Australia is that we usually only get movies released late in any given year Stateside early in the next one, which means the majority of movie websites on the internet would have already discussed some of these big screen gems 12 months ago. But I’ll take what I’m given and I was given a lot of good movies in 2012.

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s scary. You have been warned, fanboys.


10. Hugo

The golden world of Hugo won much attention during last year’s award season for its brilliantly understated use of 3D (look how far we’ve come in 12 months – where is the talk of 3D now?), but that isn’t what made it stand out. Hugo is a heartfelt story appropriate for all ages and its affection for Hollywood’s early history is palpable, particularly in the second half of the story. The sentiment never comes off as cheesy, which could easily have been the case, and the whole film is all the more remarkable given it was directed by gangster film veteran Martin Scorcese.

9. Chronicle

Chronicle is a superhero film crossed with a found footage film. If that sounds intriguing to you, why haven’t you seen the movie? Go watch it! Rookie director Josh Trank does a bang-up job of combining the two genres, using clever interpretations of what a found-footage perspective can entail to bypass some of the problems traditionally associated with it. Meanwhile, his presentation of the classic “teenagers gain powers, this leads to stuff” cliche is so grounded in the reality of adolescent emotion that it becomes deeply unsettling when things inevitably go awry.

8. The Raid

Every single action scene I have seen since watching The Raid has fallen short of it in some way. The high-quality Indonesian heavy contact martial arts flick has spoiled me. Though the film doesn’t do very much at all outside of its plentiful action scenes, it doesn’t need to, because they are all so damn awesome. Nifty camera work and a relentless industrial soundtrack add to the brutal brilliance of the overall package, which transcends its single setting and dull colour palette to bring the art of the choreographed fight scene to visceral new heights.

7. The Hunger Games

When a “young adult” book trilogy is adapted for the big screen, there tends to be a bit of hype. When such a trilogy is one I’ve actually read and enjoyed, part of that hype is self-generated. As it turns out, director Gary Ross understands how to deliver on hype, and he did it with The Hunger Games by employing some clever, if occasionally rough-edged, techniques to sidestep a potential MA15+ rating while maintaining tension. Given the brutality of the subject matter, this is no small feat. The film’s performances also rock.

6. The Muppets

This one feels particularly long ago, as it came out barely two weeks into January. But it counts and it’s amazing. I actually never watched the Muppets TV show when I was a kid, but the brilliance about their first feature film in a long time is that you actually don’t need to know anything at all about them to enjoy the film. Jason Segel’s involvement helps it out, there are Hollywood cameos everywhere and the script is just so universally funny that the in-jokes become a bonus rather than a necessity. A magnificent return from the once beloved gang.

5. The Descendants

George Clooney is an awesome actor and it’s hard to argue that, but it has reached the stage where if he has chosen to appear in a movie then the script must be decent, which puts him on another level entirely in my opinion. In The Descendants he gives an amazing performance as a slightly hapless family man with a hilarious running style, for which he was deservedly nominated for yet another Oscar. Yet his supporting cast also steps up, unearthing a few young actors with bright futures. The Descendants is my favourite “quiet movie” of 2012.

4. The Avengers

The very idea behind Marvel Studios’ super ambitious mega tie-in film was largely expected to fail, purely because it had never been done before. But it didn’t. Instead, it felled box office record after box office record thanks to a multi-film arc half a decade in the making and some very rapid word of mouth support. The film itself succeeded so wildly as a coherent package thanks to one factor above all else: Joss Whedon. His masterfully accessible screenplay and direction made superhero fans out of even the most casual of filmgoers.

3. Argo

For Ben Affleck to have reached the lofty mark he set in his directorial debut with Gone Baby Gone not just once (with The Town) but twice now just boggles the mind. In Argo he has made a powerful film about a story so crazy it had to have actually happened in real life. The film introduces the ignorant to the Iranian hostage crisis of 1976 in a stunningly effective manner and then maintains a constant feeling of tension for the remainder of the movie, interspersed with some comic relief, until its knife-edge finale ratchets things up a few notches.

2. The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan’s incredibly influential Batman trilogy understandably had a lot riding on its final instalment, and while it would have been near-impossible to match the stars-aligning phenomenon that was The Dark Knight, the director delivered a truly epic third chapter nonetheless that elevates his caped crusader saga to new heights. Two newcomer villains give surprisingly memorable performances, the returning cast is exemplary as always and Hans Zimmer’s iconic score is utilised more potently than ever before. The ending also provides fantastic closure. Bravo.

1. Skyfall

I was umming and ahhing about whether this film or TDKR deserved top spot on this list, but in the end it was my vastly lower expectations and slightly better initial reaction when it came to Skyfall that elevated it above Nolan’s finale. Sam Mendes’ glorious celebration of 50 years of 007 brings back many of the “Bond bits” missing from Daniel Craig’s first two outings as the character, but it also shakes up the formula enough to be genuinely unpredictable. It also features the best Bond villain ever in my opinion, but you already know that.


Honorable Mentions

Les Miserables
21 Jump Street
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

One response to this post.

  1. Good list – most are high on my 2012 list as well. Other than The Descendants, which just really didn’t work for me. Argo also isn’t near as high on my list although it probably deserves to be. I want to see The Raid – a lot of people seemed to love that.


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