Leonardo DiCaprio Django Unchained

2012 might just be one of the most memorable years in recent cinema history. There was a lot of films that blew me away in 2012. I know that seems to be the case almost every year, but 2012 felt particularly special, with films from greats like Ridley Scott, Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino. It was hard breaking it down to just a short list of films, but against all of the odds I’ve managed to do just that. Well, kind of. Continue reading below to see my personal favorite films of 2012.

This list is based on films that have seen a US release in 2012. I’ve tried my best to keep up with all of the latest releases, but I’m not perfect and I haven’t seen ‘em all. The only big one that I haven’t seen that I feel might make the cut is Kathryn Bigelow‘s Zero Dark Thirty. I won’t be seeing that one until mid-January. Aside from that film I feel that I’ve seen almost all of the contenders or at least the ones that I thought I’d like enough to include on my top twelve list.

2012 was mostly a strong year for summer blockbusters, counting out John Carter , which failed to find an audience, despite it being a great piece of original sci-fi and The Avengers dominating every corner of the world, even though it wasn’t the perfect superhero team-up that I had hoped for. 21 Jump Street might just be the funniest thing released all year, while The Amazing Spider-Man proved to be a worthy reboot that established a similar story, but with a slightly different edge. Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus easily takes the cake for most split-down-the-middle reaction. I liked it a lot initially and I still do enjoy it in doses, but as the year went along I found many more films that are top-tier material.

My list is sort of a cheat, because I just couldn’t bring the total down to ten. I tried and tried to narrow it down to an even ten, but you’re just going to have to make twelve work.

Behold below my personal favorite films of 2012. This list is not meant to be the end-all of lists or the deciding factor of quality. This is simply a mix of films that I thought highly of from a critical standpoint as well as calculating complete overall enjoyment and value. Simply put I can watch any one of these over and over and talk about them all day long.

Recent Top Ten lists: 2011

12. Killing Them Softly Killing-Them-Softly-Poster-Blow-Up

Andrew Dominik‘s mobster flick Killing Them Softly is a stylistic and relentless look at our country’s current economic climate and what the future holds. It’s far from subtle, dropping on-the-nose political dialogue and speeches every fifteen minutes, but that doesn’t entirely hurt the film or make its message less powerful. Killing Them Softly is a potent and miraculously-shot mobster film with a driving performance from the always-on-the-money Brad Pitt. Repeat viewings have only helped me back up the claims I’ve made in my review and I honestly think that this is one of the best-shot films 2012.

11. The Dark Knight Rises

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Christopher Nolan‘s epic conclusion to The Dark Knight trilogy is a remarkable piece of cinematic history. It’s rare that a comic-book sequel manages to top the previous in terms of overall quality. I truly believe that The Dark Knight Rises is better than the critically praised The Dark Knight. The Joker’s iconic performance will forever go unmatched, but Tom Hardy‘s menacing Bane is equally important in the Bat Saga and Christian Bale and Michael Caine help drive the story of Bruce Wayne home with a touching dash of emotion.

Nolan’s direction shares similarities with the two previous Batman films, but Rises exceeds at escalating the scope and action and making it the biggest and best film of the trio. The Dark Knight Rises is a rewarding and satisfying way to end one of the best superhero trilogies to ever grace the big screen.

10. Cloud Atlas

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The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer push the medium of film to new heights with Cloud Atlas. Never before have I seen a film this big deal with so many intricate and personal things all at once. It’s great storytelling that’s interconnecting and deeply rooted. I can see why it failed to find an audience, because it’s the most risk-taking film of 2012. It’s something that isn’t afraid to both entertain and challenge us as an audience and I will forever be grateful to the filmmakers for making the movie and allowing me to experience it.

9. Haywire

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Steven Soderbergh‘s slick espionage throw-back spy film stirred up little discussion in January, yet I find myself revisiting it on a monthly basis. Mostly because of Gina Carano‘s tough-as-nails, yet sexy as can be character that brawls with the best of ‘em. Soderbergh directs this one with confidence, allowing you to actually watch each and every fight from a distance, with a camera that’s pulled back and relaxed, opposed to most of today’s action films. The camerawork here is amazingly placed and next-level stuff. The fighting choreography is impressive and bone-crunching, while also grounded in reality. Soderbergh thrives at being different and taking chances and Haywire is one of those chances that pays off.

8. Magic Mike

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Steven Soderbergh round two, only this time with more Channing Tatum. Soderbergh’s male stripper flick might look like another summer movie to attract the ladies on a warm night, but the reality of it is much more relevant to current hot topics circulating the country. Magic Mike is trademark indie Soderbergh working on multiple layers simultaneously. He’s telling the far-from-ordinary tale of a male stripper’s rise and fall while also responding heavily to the shape of our culture after an economic recession. Magic Mike‘s importance stretches out far beyond G-strings and cowboy outfits. If only people would give this one a chance.

7. The Raid: Redemption

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The Raid: Redemption is an ass-kicking experience that reinvents the action genre without even breaking a sweat. There’s hand-to-hand work in this film that puts Tony Jaa and Jackie Chan to shame. It doesn’t hurt that the film’s story isn’t half bad either, with just the right amount of time spent on each character to make you care about them, but never for too long to break the fantastic pacing. The Raid shakes up the action landscape and will probably inspire about a dozen US rip-offs, on top of its already announced US remake.

6. The Grey

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Liam Neeson turns in a performance of a lifetime in Joe Carnahan‘s The Grey. On the surface The Grey looks like your average bad-ass survival film and while it very much is that; it’s also a philosophical journey for one man as he stares death in the face. Neeson’s brutally honest and emotionally enduring performance carries this one across the finish line as one of the most surprisingly personal films of the year, especially after reflecting on how close this one hits to home for Neeson.

Carnahan’s direction is a lot more thoughtful and composed than we’re used to, with long shots that play on the cold arctic setting and Marc Streitenfeld‘s somber score. The Grey might have pissed off of a lot of movie fans looking for an action film, but it pleased those in search of something much more meaningful.

5. Jeff, Who Lives at Home

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Mark and Jay Duplass‘ indie comedy Jeff, Who Lives at Home might be considered just another under-the-radar comedy to most, but to me it’s a thoughtful and unexpected drama that’s full of heart. Jason Segel and Ed Helms are compelling as opposite brothers that are drawn together over the course of a day as life’s events unfold. Perhaps the reason why this one has sat with me and remained an important entry on my list is because of how the Duplass Bros. approach the idea of connectivity throughout with such a strong understanding of how important everything in life really is. Jeff breaks the mold and never stops surprising.

4. Looper

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Looper is Rian Johnson‘s monumental piece of revolutionary science fiction. It echoes sci-fi classics like The Terminator, while boldly stepping into the future, giving us next-generation action and drama without once losing its drive. Joseph Gordon-Levitt transforms into Bruce Willis by way of make-up and prosthetic work, but the true bond is formed in the acting and JGL‘s ability to recreate Willis’ likenesses and mannerisms. The performance helps drive the film’s looping story home and Johnson’s direction shows us that there’s still such thing as smart sci-fi without having to write a novel on the background of time-travel and if it’s plausible. Johnson knows how to apply it to the film without giving it too much unneeded focus.

3. Killer Joe

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Killer Joe is an incredibly dense and powerful film that represents an approach that hasn’t been used in film for a long time. Audiences will disown the film, but mistakenly so, due to the sexual content and uncontainable rage. These are the reasons why the film stuck with me and why I couldn’t turn my eyes away. It’s not shock cinema or a film that tries striking at your cords for the hell of it. William Friedkin has made the best film of his in thirty years and in doing so gets another Oscar-worthy performance out of Matthew McConaughey.

2. The Cabin in the Woods

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Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon‘s The Cabin in the Woods is a genre-defying meta masterpiece that breathes much-needed life back into horror and in a massive way. I still stand my first reactions to the film, where I called it revolutionary and a blueprint for cinema to come. The Cabin in the Woods is the biggest game-changer of 2012. This film took the crown as my favorite of 2012 early on up until only recently. Still, for a good majority of 2012 I called this one the absolute best and I still stand by its greatness.

1. Django Unchained

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Quentin Tarantino‘s latest just might be his masterpiece. Django Unchained is clearly his best piece of work since the Jackie Brown/Pulp Fiction days. Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz give two memorable performances that will go down as some of Tarantino’s finest writing and Leonardo DiCaprio finally plays an over-the-top baddy with immense effectiveness and wit.

Django bleeds through with style and homage, while also literally spilling gallons and gallons of good old-fashioned blood. Not a single actor is wasted in this long, but never long enough southern that will have you jumping back in line immediately after watching it. You’re in for a treat come Christmas Day.

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That just about does it. 2012 is closing up, which means 2013 is starting to look a lot more fun and exciting. I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to watch so many great flicks this year and I cannot wait to dive into next year’s films with the same amount of enthusiasm.

If I had to name a few films coming out in 2013 that I’m personally looking forward to I’d say Man of Steel, Pacific Rim and Gravity are constantly in thought, with a dozen other films that I can’t seem to name at the moment.

Hopefully 2013 proves to be as bold and defining as 2012 has been for film. Those that say the golden years are behind us clearly haven’t ventured out to their local theater, because week-after-week I keep getting greeted with surprises from known and unknown talent, with quality films from all genres.

2012 was successful for comic-book adaptations and geek culture and that doesn’t seem to be stopping with 2013. Will audiences get tired out just yet? Also, how do you think 3D and HFR3D will advance over 2013?

What were some of your favorite films of 2012?