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The Best Movies of 2012

February 18, 2013

By John Corrado

Silver Linings Playbook PosterEntertaining, moving, exhilarating and sometimes impossible to pin down in terms of genre.  These are just some of the words that I would use to describe my favourite movies of 2012, a year that brought us numerous films that deserve to be remembered.

Although we are now nearly two months into 2013, these are the movies from last year that have stuck with me.  This list comes just in time for the Academy Awards, being handed out next Sunday.

No matter how you cut it, 2012 was a great year for films, one that I’m still processing and absolutely want to get right in terms of my annual countdown.  This is why it took me so long to put this list together, because I wanted to make sure that I didn’t leave off any worthy contenders.

First up are my picks for my ten favourite movies of 2012, and below that I have also included a newly minted Special Jury Prize, as well as 25 honourable mentions and my thoughts on the best documentaries of 2012.  There were just so many great movies released last year, and equally telling is the fact that my list of honourable mentions includes just as many outstanding films as my top ten list.  This all adds up to a grand total of over forty excellent films, that are all worth seeing for their own reasons and in their own ways.  Enjoy!

#10: The Hunger Games: The first of two films on my list to star Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games is a thrilling and emotionally powerful blockbuster that feels both epic and personal at the same time.  Each year, two teenaged tributes are selected from each of the twelve Districts to compete to the death in the annual Hunger Games, and Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is chosen to be sent into the arena alongside the kind Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson).  This is a cautionary tale of how quickly things could devolve in society, and it encourages an important and timely discussion about the implications of violence for the sake of entertainment.  From the excellent performances to the impressive look of the film and haunting musical score, this is a triumph that delivers on multiple levels.

#9: Zero Dark Thirty: Dramatizing the decade long manhunt to track down and successfully kill Osama bin Laden, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty is a compelling and thought provoking thriller that provides the perfect companion piece to her Oscar-winning war film The Hurt Locker.  With an excellent performance from Jessica Chastain as the determined young agent behind the mission, this is an intelligently written and incredibly well made procedural, that charts the moral dilemmas and careful planning behind one of the most important chapters of our recent history.

#8: Argo: The tense and incredibly entertaining Argo is based on the true story of CIA agents Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) and Jack O’Donnell’s (Bryan Cranston) brilliant plan to rescue six Americans taking refuge at the home of the Canadian ambassador in Iran.  Amidst the political unrest of the country, they go in as a fake film crew pretending to shoot a science fiction movie.  Ben Affleck’s third film as a director, Argo shares a fascinating true story by making a version of the titular movie that was never actually made.  Playing as a tribute to Hollywood with a very true story that could have easily been fiction, this is a perfectly crafted piece of classic moviemaking.

#7: Moonrise Kingdom: A wonderful tale of young love set in the 1960s, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom follows Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward).  At twelve years old, they have been in love since last summer and have finally realized their dreams of running away together with stolen supplies and a suitcase filled with books.  Beautifully shot on 16mm, every frame has the look of a photograph, allowing for plenty of nostalgia at every turn.  Filled with style and substance, Moonrise Kingdom so beautifully evokes a few weeks in the life of these characters as set against the constantly changing backdrop of the 1960s, making us feel like we are twelve all over again.

#6: The Master: Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is drifting through a life of mental illness, before he stumbles upon a boat where he meets the charismatic Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his wife Peggy (Amy Adams).  Lancaster is the leader of The Cause, a cult founded on the belief that emotions brought upon by things that our souls experienced in past existences are dictating our lives.  As Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master delves into a deeply psychological study of the characters, I found it impossible to look away from the film.  With hypnotizing cinematography and stunning performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams, this is a mesmerizing study of addiction and mental illness.

#5: Jeff, Who Lives at Home: I first saw Jeff, Who Lives at Home at TIFF back in 2011, and immediately knew that it would be finding a spot on my top ten list for this year.  Jeff (Jason Segel) lives believing that there is an order to the universe and that every little thing is happening for a reason.  When his mother (Susan Sarandon) sends him out to get some wood glue, he ends up spending the day changing the life of his brother (Ed Helms) and invariably effecting everyone around him.  The excellent acting carries the film, and every character and storyline is handled brilliantly, as Jeff, Who Lives at Home seamlessly builds to a conclusion that could only be described as beautiful.

#4: Beasts of the Southern Wild: Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her father Wink (Dwight Henry) live together in separate shacks.  Their homes have been precariously built amongst the natural landscape of The Bathtub, a forgotten corner of New Orleans filled with intriguing characters.  The landscape becomes a character within itself, as the rising water that threatens to swallow The Bathtub becomes one of the many environmental allegories in the film.  Boasting incredible performances from newcomers Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a beautifully made and deeply moving film about the bond that we will always have to where we came from.

#3: The Sessions: At 38 years old, Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) is still a virgin and lives much of his life through an iron lung, because he had polio as a child.  But with the support of understanding Catholic priest Father Brendan (William H. Macy) and kind sex surrogate Cheryl (Helen Hunt), he sets out to realize his goal of virginity lost.  Based on a true story, there is a tenderness to The Sessions that makes it feel deeply touching and undeniably real.  With brilliant performances from John Hawkes, Helen Hunt and William H. Macy, this is an entertaining and ultimately profoundly moving look at spirituality, sexuality and the need for those with disabilities to feel wanted.

#2: The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Adapted from his beloved novel, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a film that has stuck with me in a deeply personal way.  Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a wallflower, on the outside always looking in, and left to start his freshman year of high school on his own.  But then he meets the exuberant Patrick (Ezra Miller) and the beautiful Sam (Emma Watson), two high school seniors who bring him into their world.  With a deeply moving story that is brought to life through wonderful performances and an excellent soundtrack, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the best movies about teenagers since John Hughes was in his prime.

#1: Silver Linings Playbook: An excellent script and brilliant performances help the touching Silver Linings Playbook reach greatness, one of the most entertaining and moving films of the year.  Pat (Bradley Cooper) has just gotten out of an eight month stay at a mental hospital.  With the support of his superstitious father (Robert De Niro) and put upon mother (Jackie Weaver), he tries desperately to find a silver lining in his situation.  But as he tries to realize his delusional dream of winning back his ex-wife, he starts falling for the equally fragile Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence).  The screenplay never hits a wrong note in the way that it so eloquently blends humour and heartache, leading up to one of the most satisfying and life affirming final scenes in recent memory.

Special Jury Prize:

Monsieur Lazhar:  A release schedule that got Monsieur Lazhar nominated for Foreign Language Film at last year’s Academy Awards, but only released in 2012, makes it a perfect choice for my Special Jury Prize.  Even as we reach the end of Monsieur Lazhar, we never know why an elementary teacher would hang herself in the classroom of a Montreal school.  There are so many things that can’t be explained in this quietly powerful and beautifully acted Canadian film, but at its heart is a story about embracing life.  Mohamed Fellag brings warmth and depth to the nuanced title character, and Émilien Néron and Sophie Nélisse are both excellent as the two young leads.  This is a bittersweet and deeply moving film that reminds us the importance of being alive amidst the sadness that life can bring.

Honourable Mentions: Amour, The Avengers, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Brave, The Cabin in the Woods, Cloud Atlas, The Dark Knight Rises, Django Unchained, End of Watch, Flight, Frankenweenie, Hope Springs, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Men in Black 3, ParaNorman, People Like Us, Premium Rush, Robot & Frank, Ruby Sparks, The Secret World of Arrietty, Skyfall, Take This Waltz, Wreck-It Ralph, Your Sister’s Sister.

The Best Documentaries of 2012: Bully, Chasing Ice, How To Survive a Plague, The Imposter, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, The Queen of Versailles, Room 237, Searching for Sugar Man, Stories We Tell, Tchoupitoulas.

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