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Laramie Movie Scope:
Top, bottom films, etc. of 2012

Best, worst and ruminations on 2012 films

[Strip of film rule]
by Robert Roten, Film Critic
[Strip of film rule]

February 1, 2013 -- Here is my list of the best and worst films, best actors, etc. from the year of 2012, with the usual caveats. There are a few top films I have not seen for various reasons, and I have definitely missed (on purpose) most of the year's worst films. My picks for the best and worst films and many other categories, such as best actor, director, etc. are listed below.

There were a lot of good films this year, particularly in the field of documentary films. This list of top films is much longer than usual this year. You may notice the absence of some films usually included in most top 10 lists, such as “Argo,” “The Master” and a few others. You will find most of these in the Overrated movies section below. It did not make my top 10 list, but the 2012 film I enjoyed the most was one that most other people enjoyed the most, the mega blockbuster Marvel's The Avengers. I've already seen it about a dozen times.

Below the list of top films are a list of honorable mentions, followed by lists of my picks for top director, top actor, top foreign film, etc. Those lists are followed by lists of the worst films, overrated films, funniest, saddest, etc. I've added a couple of Dubious Distinction awards as a satirical comment on certain awards that seem to be based on factors that are literally skin deep. My top 10 lists include more comedy and films starring black actors, two varieties of movies absent from most top 10 lists. Drama is easy, but comedy is tough to get right.

Page navigation: Honorable mention Best of by category Funniest movie,   Saddest movie Scariest villain Overrated movies,   Best movies you haven't heard of,   Worst movies,   Dubious Distinctions.

Best 10 films of 2012

1. Moonrise Kingdom[4 stars]

I'm not really a big fan of Wes Anderson's films. In my opinion, this is his best film by far. It is a heartfelt ode to young love and a tribute to positive human values. There are some great performances in this film, led by Bruce Willis and Edward Norton.

2. Compliance[4 stars]

This is film about a hoax that leads to terrible consequences is the most powerful drama I saw all year. It had me literally yelling (no, there was nobody else in the audience but me) at the screen in frustration and anger over the actions of the characters, yet it is based on a true story. This is a very scary exercise in compliance to authority.

3. The Invisible War[4 stars]

This documentary film about the prevalence of rape in the U.S. armed forces is so persuasive it led to an immediate change in how rape is reported and prosecuted in the military justice system. It is so disturbing it had me yelling at the screen in anger over the Sharia-like military practices regarding women who have been raped (again, nobody else in the audience to hear me yelling). This is a must see for any woman planning to join the military.

4. Lincoln[4 stars]

Director Steven Spielberg and lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis are in tip-top form in this splendid historical drama about the abolition of slavery in America near the end of the Civil War. It is not easy to make politics interesting, or to humanize Abraham Lincoln, but this film accomplishes both feats with style and grace. This is a film for the ages.

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower[4 stars]

This powerful drama set in high school combines comedy and drama in very effective ways. If you ever felt like an outcast in high school, you can identify with this film about a small group of such outcasts who form strong friendships with each other which help them survive the cruelty and intolerance of others.

6. God Bless America[4 stars]

This little gem of a film by Bobcat Goldthwait speaks to the cruelty of reality TV and the hideous evil of those who would use intolerance to trick people into voting against their own best interests. These evil people get just what they deserve in this bloody, but funny fantasy, which has nothing to do with God.

7. The Sessions[4 stars]

This is a mixture of drama and romantic comedy featuring extraordinary performances by John Hawkes and Helen Hunt. There is also a very good supporting performance by William H. Macy.

8. First Position[4 stars]

This remarkable documentary takes you inside a major ballet competition for young people. The formula is familiar, but very well done. We follow the contestants as they train and prepare for the big competition and then we see how they do. It goes beyond that, however to give us real insight into the lives of these extraordinary performers.

9. How to Survive a Plague[4 stars]

This exceptional documentary takes us inside the struggle for survival at the heart of the AIDS epidemic in the first few years after the disease was first diagnosed. Unlike last year's fine documentary “We Were There,” is film centers on New York and the activist organization ACT UP.

10. The Flat[4 stars]

A fascinating documentary about the strange relationship between two families, one in Israel, the other in Germany, in the years before and after World War II. These are strange bedfellows indeed, with the head of the German family being a member of the SS, and the other family being Jews from Germany who emigrated to Israel before the war.

Honorable Mention

Cloud Atlas[4 stars]

This is the most ambitious film of the year. This is a movie about big ideas layered in a complex multi-level story. While it doesn't always succeed, it comes close enough for a film attempting to handle a story and subjects this difficult.

Silver Linings Playbook[3.5 stars]

This is one of the finest romantic comedies in recent years. It is well-written and it features outstanding performances by a very talented cast. Romantic comedy is a very tough genre to get right, and this is a fine example of that genre.

The Impossible[3.5 stars]

This is a very spare, lean, no-nonsense drama about very improbable survival stories (based on a true story) set against the background of the 2004 Tsunami in Thailand. The tsunami scenes are amazing.

Anna Karenina[3.5 stars]

A gorgeously-staged adaptation of one of the greatest novels ever written. The year's best sets and costumes highlight this unique combination of stage play and film, backed by strong performances and a great script.

Beasts of the Southern Wild[3.5 stars]

This low-budget film starring first-time actors, a small, but feisty child, and a guy who runs a cafe in New Orleans, achieves big time success using a lot of spirit, imagination and courage.

Premium Rush[3.5 stars]

Of all the movies in this list of the year's best films, this one is the most fun to watch. It features a great story, strong acting, amazing camera work and imaginative visual aids. A must-see for dedicated urban bicyclists.

The Sound of Noise[3.5 stars]

One of the most original films of the year has a tone deaf policeman on the trail of a group of guerilla performance artists playing illegal musical numbers. It has to be seen and heard to be believed, and even then ...

Zero Dark Thirty[3.5 stars]

This film about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden is told in a matter-of-fact way. It seems like a documentary at times, but the drama is powerful and the violence is sudden and unexpected. This is a very factual and controversial film.

The Impostor[3.5 stars]

This documentary about a strange case of identity theft and impersonation proves the old saying that truth is stranger than fiction. But in this case, the truth is also very elusive. It is a mystery that has yet to be solved.

Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry[3.5 stars]

Because of unique personality of its main character, Ai Weiwei, a Chinese contemporary artist and social activist, this documentary is more interesting than it would be if it was just about the lack of freedom in China.

Django Unchained[3.5 stars]

This is Quentin Tarantino's version of “The Wild Wild West.” It is dramatic, violent and funny, all at the same time. It is cartoonish, offensive, and a powerful indictment of slavery. It is also a very good film.

Arbitrage[3.5 stars]

This drama about a do-whatever-it-takes business tycoon features a great performance by Richard Gere in the lead role, but there are strong performances throughout this powerful, smartly-written film about hard moral choices. It is a tale for our times.

Flight[3.5 stars]

Denzel Washington turns in wonderful performance as a flawed hero in this film with a plane crash at its core. Washington has played this kind of character before, but this might be his best performance ever in his history-making career.

Life of Pi[3.5 stars]

This film is a visual treat. There are amazing scenes all through it and some great special effects. The story is interesting and thought-provoking, if a bit gimmicky, rescued by an amazing performance by Suraj Sharma. He is almost a one-man show in this film about a man alone at sea with a tiger.

The House I Live In[3.5 stars]

This documentary about the disastrous “war on drugs” details a long story of failure and tragedy. It also shows how drug laws have been used to subjugate and control minorities in America.

The Queen of Versailles[3.5 stars]

A look inside a dysfunctional family, that also just happens to be one of the richest families in America, or at least it was until the economic collapse of 2008. This is an antidote to conservative writers who claim rich people have a higher level of morality than people in the lower classes.

Safety Not Guaranteed[3.5 stars]

This little low-budget film belies it's budgetary restraints at every turn. The story is one of the year's most original, ending with a dazzling leap of faith.

More lists below

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Links to reviews of all the films below are indexed in the following web pages:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through L
M through Q   R through S   T through Z

Best director

1. Wes Anderson -- Moonrise Kingdom
2. Craig Zobel -- Compliance
3. Kirby Dick -- The Invisible War
4. Steven Spielberg -– Lincoln
5. Stephen Chbosky -- The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Best actor

1. Daniel Day-Lewis -- Lincoln
2. John Hawkes -- The Sessions
3. Bradley Cooper -- Silver Linings Playbook
4. Denzel Washington -- Flight
5. Richard Gere -- Arbitrage

Best actress

1. Jennifer Lawrence -- Silver Linings Playbook
2. Ann Dowd -- Compliance
3. Jessica Chastain -- Zero Dark Thirty
4. Quvenzhané Wallis -- Beasts of the Southern Wild
5. Sally Field -- Lincoln

Best supporting actor

1. Bruce Willis -– Moonrise Kingdom
2. Tommy Lee Jones -- Lincoln
3. Edward Norton -- Moonrise Kingdom
4. Ezra Miller -– The Perks of Being a Wallflower
5. William H. Macy -- The Sessions

Best supporting actress

1. Dreama Walker -– Compliance
2. Helen Hunt –- The Sessions
3. Kelly Reilly -– Flight
4. Anne Hathaway -– Les Misérables
5. Susan Sarandon -– Arbitrage

Best adapted screenplay

1. Lincoln -– Tony Kushner
2. Silver Linings Playbook -- David O. Russell
3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower -- Stephen Chbosky
4. The Sessions -- John Romano
5. Anna Karenina -- Tom Stoppard

Best original screenplay

1. Moonrise Kingdom -– Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
2. Compliance -- Craig Zobel
3. Safety Not Guaranteed -- Derek Connolly
4. Django Unchained -- Quentin Tarantino
5. Zero Dark Thirty -- Mark Boal

Best documentary feature

1. The Invisible War
2. First Position
3. How to Survive a Plague
4. The Flat
5. The Impostor

Best animated feature

1. Frankenweenie
2. ParaNorman
3. The Secret World of Arrietty
4. Brave
5. Rise of the Guardians

Best foreign language film

1. The Flat
2. Sound of Noise
3. I Wish (Kiseki)
4. Headhunters (Hodejegerne)
5. A Royal Affair (En kongelig affære)

Best cinematography

1. Premium Rush
2. Anna Karenina
3. Lincoln
4. Cloud Atlas
5. Flight

Best editing

1. Premium Rush
2. Cloud Atlas
3. Moonrise Kingdom
4. The Invisible War
5. How to Survive a Plague

Best music

1. Anna Karenina
2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
3. Lincoln
4. Cloud Atlas
5. The Life of Pi

Links to reviews of all films on this site are indexed below:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through L
M through Q   R through S   T through Z

Funniest film of the year

Silver Linings Playbook[3.5 stars]

Saddest film of the year

Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story[3 stars]

Scariest villain of the year

Addison (played by Eric Bana) in Deadfall[3 stars]

The year's most overrated films

All of these films have won awards or have been highly rated by some critics groups, or have won praise at some film festivals, or are just rated higher by critics than they have a right to be. These are listed alphabetically.
Argo[3 stars]
Cosmopolis[3 stars]
The Dark Knight Rises[3 stars]
The Deep Blue Sea[2.5 stars]
Holy Motors[2 stars]
Les Miserables (2012)[2.5 stars]
The Master[2 stars]
Neighbouring Sounds[3 stars]
Once Upon A Time in Anatolia[2.5 stars]
Seven Psychopaths[2 stars]
Skyfall[3 stars]
The Turin Horse[2 stars]
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning[no stars]

The year's best films you've never heard of

Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry[3.5 stars]
Compliance[4 stars]
Deadfall[3 stars]
First Position[4 stars]
The Flat[4 stars]
God Bless America[4 stars]
Headhunters (Hodejegerne)[3 stars]
The House I Live In[3.5 stars]
How to Survive a Plague[4 stars]
The Hunter[3 stars]
The Impossible[3.5 stars]
The Impostor[3.5 stars]
The Invisible War[4 stars]
I Wish (Kiseki)[3 stars]
Jiro Dreams of Sushi[3 stars]
The Magic of Belle Isle[3 stars]
Marley[3 stars]
Middle of Nowhere[3 stars]
Sleepwalk With Me[3 stars]
The Sound of Noise[3.5 stars]
2 Days in New York[3 stars]

The Worst Films of 2012

While I saw most of the best films of the year, I purposefully missed nearly all of the reportedly bad films, including Texas Chainsaw 3D, A Haunted House, Red Dawn, That's My Boy, Parental Guidance, One for the Money, Chernobyl Diaries, Fun Size, Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, Resident Evil: Retribution and Underworld: Awakening. Those are all wide release films which made it to most cities and towns in the U.S. I also missed most of the limited release bad films, among many others, so this is not in any way a list of the worst of the worst films, just the worst of the films I saw. After all, I don't get into the movies for free, and I don't like to waste my money. I did see Battleship, Total Recall (2012) and The Raven which are supposed to be bad, but I didn't think they were bad enough to make this list. Careful as I am, I did get fooled into watching the following bad films anyway:

Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie[no stars]

This is one of the worst movies I have ever seen.

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning[no stars]

You'd have to be a hard core action fan to like the bloody slaughterhouse-like scenes in this and some people did. I thought it was just awful.

V/H/S[1 star]

This is one of those dreadful “found footage” horror films inspired by “The Blair Witch Project.” What a sad legacy for that film.

Beyond the Black Rainbow[1 star]

This is an extremely slow-moving and somewhat pointless science fiction horror film.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2[2 stars]

Not much happens in this whole series of movies, but at least this one had the promise of a big showdown between the forces of good and evil, but it turns out they couldn't even get that right. The whole series just fizzles out at the end. God forbid, there may be more sequels.

The Turin Horse[2 stars]

Extremely boring film in which nothing much happens very slowly. This film actually won awards from people with much greater fondness for Nietzsche, Existentialism and boredom than I possess.

Holy Motors[2 stars]

I would not have been so disappointed in this multi-award-winning film, if I had not driven more than 100 miles to see it based on its reputation, only to discover it is a pretentious, but mediocre art film. Wait for the video release if you feel you have to see this.

Taken 2[2 stars]

I would not have bothered to pay to see this, but I got in for free. That helped.

The Grey[2 stars]

Depressing tale of men against wolves, complete with psychobabble and pop philosophy. I hate it when movies start out with the main character putting a gun in his mouth. It gets even more depressing after that.

Dubious Distinctions

The honorary Roman Polanski Juicy Jail Bait Award, also known as the “Breakthrough Actor” award or the “Best Young Actress” award, or the “Newcomer” award (insert Beavis and Butthead snickering here) is the first dubious distinction award. The second dubious distinction is the Marilyn Chambers Memorial Nudity Award.

The jail bait award is usually won by very attractive, very young women, or girls, some of whom are pre pubescent, or at who least look like they might be, and who get high praise from critics for reasons perhaps not entirely based on their performances. Why is this you ask? Because most film critics are men and most men (especially older men) have trouble remembering actors at the end of the year for awards purposes unless they are very young and pretty. O.K., so they are dirty old men.

Past winners are Saoirse Ronan for “Atonement,” Anna Paquin for “The Piano,” Ziyi Zhang for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” of course Polanski's old flame, Natasha Kinski for “Tess,” and most of the cast of “Thirteen.”

The award this year goes to Kara Hayward for her fine performance in “Moonlight Kingdom”. She has been widely praised for her performance in this film. It helps that she starred in what was arguably the year's best film. She gave a fine performance in this film, but just the same, she strips down to her skivvies and a co-star, Jared Gilman, puts his hand on her breast. Probably that has nothing whatsoever to do with all the awards she has been nominated for, but you never know. It may be worth pointing out that Gilman gave just as good a performance as she did, but wasn't singled out for as many award nominations as she was. It remains to be seen if she will continue to be successful when she gets older, unlike some past winners.

The second dubious distinction is the Marilyn Chambers Memorial Nothing Left to the Imagination Nudity Award:

The Master wins the 2012 nudity award for a memorable scene in which a number of female cast members appear fully nude (the men are fully clothed in the scene). Interestingly, some of these women were older and wrinkled. That is what I call equal-opportunity, non-agism nudity. Way to go, Paul Thomas Anderson! No wonder this film was so overrated! Past winners of the nudity award include, Anne Hathaway for “Love and Other Drugs,” Kate Winslet for “The Reader,” Rinko Kikuchi for “Babel,” and Maria Bello for “A History of Violence.”

Links to reviews of all the films are indexed below:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through I
J through L   M through N   O through Q   R through S   T through Z

Page navigation: Honorable mention Best of by category Funniest movie,   Saddest movie Scariest villain Overrated movies,   Best movies you haven't heard of,   Worst movies,   Dubious Distinctions.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2013 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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