Did I somehow overlook the Charlotte movie theater that was screening all the great films of 2012?
Reading the opinions of other film critics across the country, the consensus seems to be that this was a damn fine year for cinema, packed with motion pictures that deserve a place in (film) history. Yet out of the 130 titles I viewed over the past 12 months, I saw a hefty number of works that fully engaged my senses but overall didn't pack a cumulative punch that would lead me to designate this as an exemplary year for movies. Perhaps many releases will beautifully stand the test of time, but for now, I don't notice anything — not even in my own Top 20 — that deserves to be placed alongside the likes of No Country for Old Men, Black Swan, Milk, Sideways and numerous other masterworks from this millennium.
But enough grousing. Here, then, are my picks for the 10 best movies of 2012, followed by 10 worthy runners-up, other assorted superlatives, and one final raspberry reserved for the worst films of the year.
The 10 Best
1. ARGO (Ben Affleck). The best picture of 2012. After Gone Baby Gone, The Town and now Argo, anybody who still finds Affleck a figure worthy of ridicule is basically an idiot. Affleck is now 3-for-3 in the director's chair, an incredible percentage for anyone shifting gears in this industry. Based on a real-life incident in which six Americans were stranded behind the scenes of the 1979-1980 Iran hostage crisis, Affleck and writer Chris Terrio manage to craft an absorbing suspense film that also finds room for amusing interludes with seasoned vets Alan Arkin and John Goodman as the CIA's Hollywood connection.
2. ZERO DARK THIRTY (Kathryn Bigelow). Superior to the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker in almost every regard, the latest work from Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal is a tense and engrossing dramatization of the decade-long search for Osama bin Laden. And ignore the opportunistic politicians crying foul: This movie is pro-torture about as much as Schindler's List is pro-Holocaust.
3. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (David O. Russell). Bradley Cooper and especially Jennifer Lawrence deliver exemplary performances in this savvy seriocomedy in which two damaged people circle each other warily while coping with their own demons. Some familiar plotting is no match for the film's rich characterizations or generosity of heart.
4. THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (Lauren Greenfield). Greenfield set out to make a documentary about a sprawling new home being built by the obscenely wealthy Siegels, but the financial crisis of 2008 sent the clan's financial assets spiraling downward. Suddenly, a fine movie about material decadence and moral decay morphs into something even more riveting, with the added examination of a dysfunctional family trying to hold itself together.
5. SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN (Malik Bendjelloul). Only in the movies? More like only in real life, since this documentary follows the fantastic story of the musician Rodriguez, who disappeared in the early 1970s following poor U.S. sales for his debut album. But his songs inspired the anti-apartheid contingent in South Africa, and this film explores that phenomenon while also striving to find out what exactly happened to the missing-in-action artist.
6. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (Drew Goddard). Co-scripting with Joss Whedon (who also helmed the year's top-grossing film, The Avengers), Goddard takes a traditional horror-flick setup, places it in a blender and hits the "puree" button. What emerges is a decadent treat so tasty and so far removed from its genre roots, it's almost an act of alchemy.
7. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (Benh Zeitlin). This magical, one-of-a-kind experience about a little girl (Quvenzhané Wallis) living in a Louisiana bayou community marks the feature-film debut of triple-threat Zeitlin, who not only wrote and directed the picture but also composed (along with Dan Romer) its superb score.
8. SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD (Lorene Scafaria). Criminally underrated by most reviewers and virtually unseen by audiences, this lovely gem stars Steve Carell and Keira Knightley (both excellent) as lonely souls finding each other in the nick of time.
9. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (Christopher Nolan). Forget The Lord of the Rings: Nolan's high-flying superhero saga — a brainy, bruising triumph — is the only trilogy of modern times in which all three films managed to land on my 10 Best lists during their respective years.
10. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (Stephen Chbosky). Adapting his own novel, Chbosky fashions a coming-of-age tale that's sensitive, perceptive and exquisitely acted by leads Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and especially Ezra Miller.
The Next 10 (Honorable Mentions, In Preferential Order): Life of Pi (Ang Lee); Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson); Skyfall (Sam Mendes); The Invisible War (Kirby Dick); Ted (Seth MacFarlane); The Avengers (Josh Whedon); Premium Rush (David Koepp); A Royal Affair (Nikolaj Arcel); Amour (Michael Haneke); Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino)
Best Actor: Jack Black, Bernie; Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour; John Hawkes, The Sessions; Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln; Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook; Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty; Emmanuelle Riva, Amour; Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea; Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Best Supporting Actor: Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower; Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained; Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty; Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, A Royal Affair; Simon Russell Beale, The Deep Blue Sea
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables & The Dark Knight Rises; Ann Dowd, Compliance; Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect; Charlize Theron, Prometheus & Snow White and the Huntsman; Doona Bae, Cloud Atlas
Overrated: Crazy Horse; The Grey; Killing Them Softly; Room 237; Rust and Bone
Underrated: Anna Karenina; Cloud Atlas; Friends with Kids; Hotel Transylvania; Jack Reacher
Disappointments: The Amazing Spider-Man; Hope Springs; Lincoln; On the Road; Promised LandThe 10 Worst
1. TIM & ERIC'S BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE In my original review for this celluloid abomination, I wrote that it was "about as funny as discovering that you have cancer, AIDS and a brain tumor all on the same day." This declaration led to prolonged chastising from the pair's online male fans, who haughtily explained to me that Tim and Eric were comic geniuses precisely because they weren't funny, and the humor rested in their patented anti-humor. OK, I get the anti-humor in this unwatchable ode to diarrhea and other unpleasantries, but I'm still waiting for the other shoe — the funny one — to drop.
2. BATTLESHIP The worst movie Michael Bay never made, this numbing "adaptation" of the board game (but with aliens added to the mix) unexpectedly turned out to be one of the year's biggest bombs, a welcome signal that there are still signs of intelligent life at the U.S. box office. By shamelessly pandering to just about every demographic, this jingoistic nonsense ended up appealing to none.
3. SAVAGES Give it up for Taylor Kitsch, who in 2012 alone managed to star in Battleship, John Carter (an even bigger flop than Battleship) and this dreadful drug yarn from the perpetually free-falling Oliver Stone, who once upon a time won Oscars on a regular basis but now only helms theater-clearers like Alexander and Savages. So between Kitsch and Stone, who needs a new agent more? We'll let a coin toss decide.
4. THIS MEANS WAR This is the sort of moronic romcom usually earmarked for Katherine Heigl, Kate Hudson or Jennifer Aniston, so it's depressing to see Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon reduced to such dribble — to say nothing of her rapidly ascending co-stars Tom Hardy and Chris Pine. An abysmal ending is quickly followed by an even more ghastly epilogue — an achievement worth noting, I guess.
5. THE LORAX The year's worst blockbuster — only 10 other movies grossed more! — is officially titled Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, but this obnoxious and irresponsible toon flick perverts Theodor Geisel's classic book to such an extreme, it might as well be named Stephenie Meyer's The Lorax, Bret Easton Ellis' The Lorax or even Glenn Beck's The Lorax.
6. THAT'S MY BOY Admittedly, this turkey is easier to take than past Adam Sandler atrocities like Grown Ups and Jack and Jill. On its own terms, though, it's hard for a comedy to succeed when its ingredients include Andy Samberg as a doofus named Han Solo, Nick Swardson telling an obese stripper to "use my face as your toilet!" and a plotline involving Sandler and Vanilla Ice gang-banging an 88-year-old grandma.
7. ALEX CROSS Out of his Madea getup, Tyler Perry still proves to be a drag in this distasteful drama in which the title detective tracks a psychopath named Picasso. Even Matthew Fox's awful (and awfully campy) turn as this killer isn't as jarring as the filmmakers' casual cruelty toward all the victimized women in this sordid saga.
8. HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET Between the commercial success of The Hunger Games and the critical success of Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence won't be giving a second thought to her other 2012 release, an imbecilic thriller that's been gathering dust on the studio shelf for years. And we shouldn't, either.
9. THE WATCH Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill headline this miserable comedy — and notorious box office dud — about a neighborhood watch. Released just five months after the Trayvon Martin tragedy, it would seem to have been a victim of poor timing until one realizes it would be pretty unbearable any time of the year.
10. HITCHCOCK / HYDE PARK ON HUDSON Steven Spielberg's Lincoln at least does a measured job of presenting its central figure as both the iconic giant of history and a flawed man of the moment. Conversely, these hatchet jobs on Alfred Hitchcock (played by Anthony Hopkins) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray) paint these brilliant men as little more than repellent, lecherous fools lucky to be doing anything more than stocking supermarket produce.