It didn't always feel this way, though. The first third of the year had some standout material, but the summer was more or less a bust despite a couple great blockbusters. The final third of the year, though, provided some amazing content. There were more than a couple of overlooked gems and several films that will go down as all-time greats. Here's a look at my favorites of this banner year of cinema.
10. “The Raid: Redemption”
What I think now: The truest testament to how great a movie “The Raid” is lies in the fact that no matter how many times I revisit it (and I've seen it a good four or five times now), it loses none of its punch and energy. By far the best pure action film of the year.
What I think now: “Looper” earns a place on here, at the very least, because it's the newest film by one of cinema's most exciting and promising up-and-coming filmmakers. Rian Johnson displays a confidence and vision that shames directors who have been at it for decades longer than he and “Looper” is a film that deserves to be examined, dissected and discussed. It's not perfect, but it swings for the fences and has style and ambition to spare, plus we get a brilliant performance by one of our best young actors (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and an equally engaging performance by one of cinema's icons (Willis).
Affleck is now three for three as a director, delivering what is one of the best films of the year. I can't wait to see what he accomplishes next.
What I think now: With time for it to settle and take root, “Argo” has established itself as a true testament to the flourishing directorial skill of Ben Affleck. In my review I called Affleck the successor to directors such as Alan J. Pakula and Sidney Lumet. I feel even more confident in such a declaration now.
7. “The Cabin in the Woods”
I love this movie. I love it to pieces. I loved every second of it. I usually don't make this sort of proclamation this early, but this is easily going to make it into my top 10 for the year. This is a fantastic movie, the rare film that comes along and knocks you flat by just how much fun it is while also showing you things you've never seen in a movie.
What I think now: I had no clue that 2012 would be as packed as it is with great films, but that “Cabin” still made the cut (and it has been torturous trying to whittle this list down) should speak volumes as to how much I still love this movie. I spoke in my intro about movies destined to become classics. This is one of them.
6. “Cloud Atlas”
What I think now: “Cloud Atlas” is a work of art in the truest sense. It is amazing, wondrously expressing the vision and emotion of its filmmakers onto the screen in a breathtaking, heartbreaking, emotionally-charged way.
This film provides further proof that 2012 was the year that filmmakers reveled in the joy of cinema.
5. “The Grey”
What I think now: This is a film that has only gotten better with each subsequent viewing. Director Joe Carnahan has crafted an elemental, primal film that provides an engrossing and emotionally affecting experience, the anchor of which is a career-best performance by Liam Neeson. This has my favorite ending of the year and my favorite performance by anyone not named Daniel Day-Lewis or Denis Lavant.
4. “Django Unchained”
What I think now: There are so many laudable aspects to “Lincoln” (its script, its cinematography, its supporting cast), but the fact remains that Day-Lewis' performance is the very heart and soul of Steven Spielberg's masterwork biopic. This is a performance that will be studied and analyzed for decades and it elevates what would have already been a very good movie into a great one.
2. “Holy Motors”
“Holy Motors” is, at its core, both a celebration and deconstruction of cinema. Denis Lavant (in one of the most arresting, dedicated and flat-out incredible performances of the year, heck, of the decade) plays Oscar. His job, it seems, is to drive to various appointments in a stretch limousine. At each stop he (thanks to an assortment of costumes and an astounding application of (often wild) prosthetics and makeup) takes on a new persona, be it a widowed father, an actor in a motion-capture suit, a mob hitman, a dying father and even a deranged, sewer-dwelling monster.
It is a bizarre film, but one that revels in the language of film, one that comments on and examines the roles we all play in life and society and the way that film reflects who we are. It is both a lament on the (supposed) dying art of physical, personal filmmaking while also a celebration of everything the medium can be, should be and is in the right hands. This is a bizarre and (at times) outlandish film, one that will confuse, confound and alienate more than it will likely enrapture. But it also feels oddly personal for its writer/director, Leos Carax.
I have never seen a film like “Holy Motors,” and I likely never will again.
1. “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
A more unique sense of place you will not find. A little one, 6-year-old Quevenzahne Wallis, provides a performance of such strength and spirit that you'll hardly believe this is her first time on-screen. This is the year's most complete film, one that builds a wholly believable world that borders on the fantastic and yet feels grounded and real.
I cried, I cheered, I was enraptured by this incredible piece of art that is an absolute treasure to behold.
Honorable Mentions: Most of these films could have made it onto this list, and in even a slightly lesser year would have. “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Skyfall,” “The Avengers,” “21 Jump Street,” “Chronicle,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Dredd,” “The Expendables 2.”