This has been a huge pivot point for movies in how they’re made and distributed. 2012 was the year where the film industry turned its back on 35 millimeter film (which has been the standard for well over a century), with digital projection no longer just an option but the standard. At the same time a filmmaker like Paul Thomas Anderson shot a movie on 70mm – a format that hadn’t been used since the mid 90′s. Video on Demand is on the rise, and this year has launched a number of good films that hit home video at the same time as theatrical – VOD is developing into a viable platform for independent cinema. This was also the first year to screen a 48 fps film, with 60 fps films on the way. And where we go from here is anyone’s guess.

For those who went to to the biggest films of the year, there was definitely a sense of diminishing returns with months of films that either failed to deliver or looked terrible from the outset. It was the year that brought us John Carter, Battleship, Dark Shadows, The Amazing Spider-Man, and the end of the Twilight franchise. But that said, 2012 is one of the strongest film years we’ve seen in ages, and as much as some of the big movies were misfires, films like The Hunger Games, The Avengers and Skyfall delivered big budget thrills and characters to care about. Here now is our list of the top ten films of the year, with ten honorable mentions and five films that were underrated.

Our Top Ten (presented in alphabetical order):

1. Argo

Ben Affleck‘s thriller, about the risky rescue of six Americans who hid in the Canadian ambassador’s home in 1979 after Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, is wildly entertaining. The film starts with a bang, and the action doesn’t stop until the very end. Despite knowing the outcome of the story, the movie keeps you at the edge of your seat the whole way through. That’s a testament to the talents of the man behind (and in front of) the camera. – Laura Aguirre

 

2. Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas is a beautiful story that touches upon the mystery and majesty of our lives and the souls that may have crossed paths time and time again throughout the ages. Anyone who had doubt over The Wachowski‘s own filmmaking style, their vision, should have been silenced after seeing this picture. Their combined talent with co-director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) brought out this epic story of love, loss and a look at humanity in general. There’s also some magnificent performances from Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Ben Whishaw and even Doona Bae. – Melissa Molina

Read our review of Cloud Atlas

 

3. Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino‘s Django Unchained is a worthy successor to Inglourious Basterds. It’s an underdog story with attitude. Despite his limitations, Django’s (Jamie Foxx) determined to find his wife. In the midst of the violence and savagery, that’s the main arc, which makes this a beautiful story of faith and perseverance. Django is terrifying, hilarious and inspiring all at the same time. But we’ve come to expect greatness from QT. It’s great to see that he delivers.  – Krystal Clark

Read our review of Django Unchained

 

4. End of Watch

End of Watch doesn’t have a traditional plot, and what’s amazing about it is that we’re watching things as they happen to two on duty cops. It’s able to mimic a reality that makes it breathtaking, and keeps the viewer on their toes. There’s also the amazing bromance between stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena. The duo easily had the best onscreen chemistry we’ve seen all year (platonic or otherwise). – KC

Read our review of End of Watch

 

5. Holy Motors

Francois Truffaut, in describing Boris Karloff‘s death scene in 1932′s Scarface, said this: “He squats down to throw a ball in a game of ninepins and doesn’t get up; a rifle shot prostrates him. The camera follows the ball he’s thrown as it knocks down all the pins except one that keeps spinning until it finally falls over, the exact symbol of Karloff himself, the last survivor of a rival gang that’s been wiped out by Muni. This isn’t literature. It may be dance or poetry. It is certainly cinema.” And when talking about things that are certainly cinema, Holy Motors is unquestionably cinema. Following Denis Lavant as he goes through his day’s work transforming himself into a monster, into a father, into a dying man and more, Leos Carax‘s film drops its audience into the film and asks that they enjoy the wavelength of these sequences, that play like sketches, all building to a climax that is at once silly and melancholy. But almost every scene and sequence in the film goes in unexpected directions that often generate conflicting emotions. And the reason they do is because Carax understands that when a film is firing on all cylinders it achieves something that can be only explained by watching the thing. Also, accordions. – Damon Houx

6. The Master

The Amnesiac to There Will Be Blood’s Kid A, Paul Thomas Anderson’s tricky and phantasmagoric The Master takes many of the themes from its howling epic of a predecessor (two men’s very different responses to loneliness and alienation  within an ever-expanding America, violence both emotional and physical, quenchless ambition) and condenses them into a quiet and darkly ruminative dull roar.  Initially seeming as drifting and aimless as Joaquin Phoenix’s soul-shattered and body-twisted WWII vet, the film’s deceptive and seemingly minor-key structure reveals itself as a haunting—and haunted—character study of a lost soul who clings to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s L. Ron Hubbard-like Master, who may very well be just as lost, if not more so.   Small in scale and yet huge in its philosophical questioning and its absolutely gorgeous 70 mm projection, The Master’s ambiguities may not answer every narrative question posed, but the film resoundingly confirms the reach, beauty, and potential of both modern cinema and PTA’s direction. – Travis Woods

Read our review of The Master

7. Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom is a strange yet fascinating coming-of-age movie. Wes Anderson‘s latest chronicles the young love between two eccentric teenagers who decide to be runaways together. This precious film is held together by his charming visual style and the strong performances, in particular those of newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. Kingdom is an enchanting piece of filmmaking, and a soon-to-be classic. – LA

(Editor’s note: This was the one film almost everyone agreed should be in our top ten, so if you’re looking for our number one, Moonrise Kingdom is probably it)

8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Writer and director Stephen Chbosky enclosed all the torment, confusion and discovery that every teenager has ever felt in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. He’s only directed one other movie, so his vision comes off as fresh, a perfect combination since he’s dealing with such a vibrant, crazy talented young cast. Logan Lerman and Emma Watson both spread their wings, showing the kind of acting range we hadn’t seen from them before in previous films. Ezra Miller also shines as the outspoken but still sexually budding teenager. Perks is a wonderful tale of friends, love and discovery through the most pivotal years of our lives. -MM

 

9. Skyfall

Was there a better big-budget, major studio film than Skyfall in 2012?  The answer is a resounding no—paradoxically featuring the most Bond-like affectations of a Daniel Craig 007 film (disfigured villain, creepy island lair, a sporting event between Bond and his nemesis, a classic Aston Martin) wedded to the most harrowing and un-Bond-like storyline in the franchise, Skyfall works on nearly every level.  As Javier Bardem’s simultaneously disturbing and campy ex-MI6 agent weaves a thread of chaos in his mission of vengeance against Bond’s mentor, M (an excellent Judi Dench), Skyfall is the singular entry in the Craig films that manages to bridge the gap between the prologue-ish Casino Royale/ Quantum of Solace and the classic yet uneven franchise that preceded them.   Anchored by solid work from Craig, breathtaking digital (!) cinematography from Roger Deakins, and some of the finest direction of Sam Mendes career (he goes full-Tarantino is his liberal borrowing of sequences from films such as The Dark Knight, The French Connection, Straw Dogs, and just about every other Bond film ever), Skyfall may ultimately stand as the perfect synthesis of Craig’s darker Bond and the general 007 franchise at large.  That it is also 2012’s most entertaining action film doesn’t hurt, either. – TW

Read our review of Skyfall

10. Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow’s masterclass procedural makes the viewer a fly on the wall in the process it took the CIA (or, perhaps more pointedly, one woman) to hunt down and kill Osama Bin Laden. Though the film spans nearly a decade, the two and a half hour movie is taut but grounded by Jessica Chastain’s amazing performance as Maya. Through the film she follows good lead and bad, leads obtained from any source in her pursuit of the world’s most famous terrorist. And when the pieces finally come together, it’s still tense and gripping even though the outcome is pretty obvious. Though the film is now being criticized for what it does and doesn’t show, that sideshow distracts from what may be the finest document of the winding path of justice since All the President’s Men. -DH

Read our review of Zero Dark Thirty

HONORABLE MENTIONS (in alphabetical order):

11. The Avengers

 Only a small group of hardcore fans bowed at the throne of filmmaker/geek god Joss Whedon, but when May 4th came around the entire world marveled at his magnificence. Come to think of it, “marveled” is the perfect word. We’re obviously referring to his mega hit, Marvel’s The Avengers, the first ultimate superhero crossover picture to pave the way for comic book movies to come. They did the impossible, putting each one of our favorite Marvel superheroes together under one roof, and strangely starting a rabid fan base for Tom Hiddleston/Loki. It’s a fun summer popcorn flick to the core, and we dig it. – MM

Read our review of The Avengers

12. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Benh Zeitlin’s film runs wild like a child’s imagination, and Quvenzhane Wallis‘ performance as the lionhearted Hushpuppy, is absolutely remarkable. – LA


13. The Cabin in the Woods

After years of collecting dust, The Cabin in the Woods was finally released. It’s Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard‘s homage to low budget horror movies. But unlike its predecessors, Cabin is much smarter than it appears. The film turns stereotypical horror conventions on their head, giving us plenty of laughs as well as scares. -KC

14. Chronicle

If there’s two genres that are getting played out it’s the superhero origin film, and the found footage movie. It’s then amazing that Chronicle, which combines both, manages to be so deft in creating characters that gain superpowers. And it does something that seems rare for any superhero movie, you get to know these characters as people first. – DH

15. Damsels in Distress:

Whit Stillman’s return to cinema is filled the loopy charms that we missed in Stillman’s fourteen year absence from cinema. With a winning performance by Greta Gerwig, tap dancing and some surprisingly frank about sex, it’s positively delightful. -DH

16. Lincoln

If you were one of the few silly people who believed that filmmaker Steven Spielberg didn’t have the right stuff to still be called a master director, then you probably haven’t seen Lincoln. The film showcases the struggles of the sixteenth president’s final months in command before his untimely death, along with the uphill battle pertaining to the 13th Amendment. With a vibrant cast, a surely Oscar-winning performance by Daniel Day-Lewis all pieced together by Spielberg’s vision, this movie is surely a bona fide classic. – MM

Read our Review of Lincoln


17. Looper:

Nimbly fusing the future noir of Blade Runner, the time travel cat-and-mouse dread of the original Terminator, and all-out beserker mind-twistery of Akira, Rian Johnson’s Looper is a clever tale of a low-level mob hitman tasked with assassinating men sent back from the future, including his future self.  Featuring an excellent turn by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who draws both a nicely nuanced character as well as a younger version of Bruce Willis that doesn’t devolve into simple impersonation, Looper is the kind of exceedingly smart, well-crafted, and moving middle-range film (i.e., not an indie flick or a blockbuster) that is becoming increasingly rare these days.  Be sure to catch it before it becomes a thing entirely of the past. – TW

Read our review of Looper

18. Magic Mike

In 2012, Channing Tatum came into his own. It was the year of Magic Mike, a film he starred in and produced. Loosely based on Tatum’s stripper past, director Steven Soderberg helped turn this flesh-fest into a legit coming of age story. Sure, there’s lot of eye candy (Alex Pettyfer, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello etc.), but at the end of the day, the film’s about a man taking the next step in his life. – KC

Read our review of Magic Mike

19. Miami Connection

Sure, this 1987 slice of so-bad-it’s-good celluloid not only didn’t come out this year, it was so poorly conceived, written, performed, and directed that nearly 2000 distributors refused to release it 25 years ago.  But as a better-late-than-never release from the good people at Drafthouse Films, Miami Connection’s unintentionally hilarious and oddly touching tale of a group of University of Florida-based college students/ roommates/ karate enthusiasts/ synth-rock band named Dragon Sound who take on a group of cocaine-smuggling ninjas was simply the funniest and most enjoyable (unintentional) comedy of 2012. – TW

20. Pitch Perfect

On the surface, Pitch Perfect appears to be a Glee knockoff, but Kay Cannon’s hilarious script is unlike any musical TV show. The movie also has the advantage of having Rebel Wilson, who steals every scene she’s in with her goofy comedic style. – LA

Read our review of Pitch Perfect

OUR TOP FIVE MOST UNDERRATED FILMS OF THE YEAR:

For A Good Time, Call…

During the last couple weeks of August, too many movie-goers were so focused on the fall ahead that they missed seeing this sweet and raunchy comedy. We’ve been drowning underneath so many bromance comedies that it’s kind of surprising this girl-centric, or girl power, picture didn’t catch anyone’s attention since it deals with two girls who open up their own sex phone service in order to pay the rent. It’s a simplistic, predictable but still entertaining story. Ari Graynor is definitely the main highlight of the film, stealing the show each time she’s onscreen.  – MM

Killer Joe

The disturbing (and disturbingly comic) tale of a detective/hitman who falls for the emotionally stunted daughter of the small-time loser who hired him to kill their mother, Killer Joe plays as if William Friedkin ate the black, misanthropic scuzz that crusts around his earlier films Cruising, To Live and Die in L.A., and Bug, along with a giant tub of Kentucky Fried Chicken, and then vomited that unholy mash back up all over a copy of The Glass Menagerie.  If that doesn’t sell you on the film, then this megatonic blitzkrieg of darkly American humor and violence certainly won’t be for you.  But for those who want to witness Matthew McConaughey’s finest performance in years (or maybe ever), as well as Friedkin’s most impassioned direction since To Live and Die, this little grindhouse noir is not to be missed (or easily forgotten).  Though you may never look at K.F.C. the same way again. – TW

 

Killing Them Softly
Released on a bum weekend after getting mixed reactions at Cannes, it’s no surprise that Andrew Dominik’s neo-noir quickly faded from screens. But this Brad Pitt-starring crime thriller shows a director who knows how to play with form and use cinema to tell a story. From a tense sequence where two idiots hold up a card game, to a sequence where Brad Pitt shoots a guy in another car in the pouring rain, to the use of soundtrack, camera placement (James Gandolfini’s hands dwarfing the glass of beer he pounds down in three quick gulps), and the film’s compact running time make this the best attempt at catching the vibe of John Boorman’s Point Blank in years. – DH

Neighbouring Sounds

Through a series of vignettes, Neighbouring Sounds exposes the secret lives of several people living in a middle-class neighborhood in present day Brazil. There’s a lot of violence and mistrust hidden on this block, which filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho uncovers as he travels in and out of the characters’ lives and homes. The film doesn’t have a standard narrative, but the way Filho sets up each story and later abandons it is chilling and brilliant. – LA

Ted
Ted is Seth MacFarlane unleashed. With TV, he treads a thin line of decency. With Ted, that boundary is crossed and completely ignored. The man-child/buddy story’s been done a million times, but not quite like this. Somehow, we buy the relationship between Mark Wahlberg and a bear. Much like Brian from Family Guy, or Roger from American Dad, we believe a talking toy could exist in this world.-KC

Read our review of Ted

What did you think were the best movies of the year?