Top 10 Films of 2012

With the Oscar nominations finally out and the current deep breath before the REAL awards season begins, we at Den of Geek decided to take one last look at the movies of 2012.

 The following list is comprised of what we deem to be the best American movies of the previous year, Geek-centric or otherwise.  Some of the Oscar nominees are there, but this is about the best that 2012 offered in American cinema before we finally close the book on quality and turn to the rabid horse racing of the next month.  So please sit back and enjoy the Top 10 Films of 2012…and then comment about how wrong we were at the bottom of the page.

To Rome with Love
Written and Directed by Woody Allen
Den of Geek Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

This little romantic gem fell through the cracks last summer when audiences realized it wasn’t another Midnight in Paris. Yes, it’s true that despite the European title, To Rome with Love is not a real follow-up to Allen’s Parisian love letter. However, after 42 previous theatrical films released annually, that should have been obvious. Filmmaking for Allen is less a passionate burden than an amusing pastime. Every year he pulls an idea out of a drawer and makes a movie like a chef experimenting with new ingredients on the fly. Sometimes they turn out and sometimes they don’t. While To Rome with Love is no culinary triumph, it is still a very tasty entree. Crafted as a tangled web of intersecting love stories and vignettes, Allen’s latest is an effortlessly charming daydream about what the neurotic and anxious can get up to for a few days in the Eternal City. The star-studded cast plays Allen’s trademark narcissism superbly and lets the film go down like a smooth cabernet on a warm summer evening.

10.  The Master
Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Den of Geek Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Every man wants to be the master of his own destiny. This is especially true in an American culture that celebrates rugged individualism. But if that’s the case, then why do so many of us follow leaders? This paradox of the human condition is what Anderson pensively explores in his sixth feature, The Master. Billed as the much awaited, fanged satire of Scientology, the unconventional and free-flowing picture turned out to be so much more than that. While Scientology is skewered to a point, it is ultimately just the basis of Lancaster Dodd’s (Philip Seymour Hoffman) sci-fi cult. Hoffman’s pseudo-intellectual showman plays spiritual savior for a group of alien fearing, kool-aid drinkers happy in their fanatical beliefs. The one guy who shows any doubt is interloper Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a frustrated war veteran with a distrust of authority. Yet, he ends up resting at Dodd’s feet like a faithful mutt. The entire relationship between the two men could be one of pet-and-master, but Freddie has to be independent. He has to prove to himself and the audience that his destiny, like every other man’s, is his own…right?

9.  Argo
Directed by Ben Affleck
Written by Chris Terrio
Den of Geek Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Read Our Review HERE

Affleck is on the last lap of his comeback narrative this year. Despite proving he is a great crime director with efforts like Gone Baby Gone and The Town, it hasn’t been until now that he’s received public redemption for what can best be described as “The JLo Years.” Argo is that best kind of True Hollywood Story, the one that is about Hollywood and only kind of true. Based on declassified CIA documentation that proved Tony Mendes (Affleck) engineered the daring rescue of six U.S. diplomats during the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis, Argo is the tale of how one CIA operative, along with Hollywood’s help, risked all to save the day. It practices the sort of navel-gazing and historical embellishment that Tinseltown applauds the loudest for. It’s also a crackerjack of a story that puts you in the midst of a diplomatic nightmare, brings you to tears of laughter at the City of Dreams and gives you the best white knuckle espionage thrills in a year that featured James Bond and Jason Bourne flicks.

Ad – content continues below

8.  Les Misérables
Directed by Tom Hooper
Written by William Nicholson
Den of Geek Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

If there was any doubt before, the movie musical is here to stay. I think you can credit (or blame) Disney for bringing up the children of the ‘90s on a genre that Boomers tried so fervently to kill for decades. Now, eleven years after Moulin Rouge! became a surprise hit, the most emotionally earnest and narratively convoluted of Broadway shows has made the jump to the silver screen. Les Misérables may not be for everyone with its nearly three hours of wall-to-wall pop operetta, but it is still a powerful tale of love, poverty, doomed idealism and unsurprising misery. Hooper’s distracting direction leaves something to be desired, but he assembles a magnificent cast who brings the pain and meager optimism of Victor Hugo’s novel to life. While Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried’s vocals are on the weak side, everyone else is impressive in their live-singing and Hathaway is immediately unforgettable. Also, Geek cred has to go to Hugh Jackman. Despite being Broadway royalty, the song-and-dance man has only now broken out of the Hollywood action star mold with this movie. And win or lose, he will still be playing Wolverine again this summer. The guy really CAN do everything.

7.  The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Den of Geek Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

A lot has been said about Nolan’s third Batman movie and the overall Dark Knight Trilogy. I myself have written thousands of words on the subject for this site. Looking back on it one last time, the highest compliment I can give the film is that in an era when blockbusters and franchises are designed solely to be commercials for their next installments, Nolan kept his artistic integrity. The Dark Knight Rises plays in superhero convention, but delivers something far bigger than anything else in the genre. The Dark Knight Rises wrote into the story ideas of class warfare and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities before Occupy Wall Street was a “thing.” It based its villain as much on Robespierre as it does any comic book archetype. The Dark Knight Rises features the most interesting female lead in this genre, ever. And it gives its hero a definitive ending that places him on a level of maturity and awareness far beyond his literary counterpart. Also, The Dark Knight Rises somehow does this all with explosions, IMAX-shot action sequences and effortlessly entertaining popcorn. Where lesser movies would collapse under the sheer weight and ambition at work here, The Dark Knight Rises soars. It may not be the movie some fans had wanted, but The Dark Knight Rises is  the movie the trilogy deserves. Doing that in this day and age is a wonder unto itself.

6.  Django Unchained
Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Den of Geek Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Read Our Review HERE

Tarantino is on a revenge kick.  After 2009’s masterful Inglourious Basterds, QT decided it was time for another fantasy of historical eye-for-an-eye bloodlust. In Django Unchained, it’s now a freed slave, Django (Jamie Foxx) seeking revenge on the most evil of plantation owners (Leonardo DiCaprio), slavers (Don Johnson) and self-hating Uncle Toms (Samuel L. Jackson). Finally embracing the full grandiosity of those Spaghetti Westerns that the filmmaker has long flirted with, he creates a massive entertainment of schlocky joy. Returning veteran Christoph Waltz threatens to steal the show as Dr. King Schultz, a German dentist who has become an eccentrically charming bounty hunter with no taste for bondage. But Django Unchained truly belongs to the villains, with Jackson’s creepy turn as Stephen making the excesses of the last half hour a treasure of politically incorrect cinema.

5.  Moonrise Kingdom
Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Den of Geek Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

2012’s little indie that could proves to be the most satisfying straight comedy of the year. Designed with all the eccentric flourishes one expects from an Anderson movie, Moonrise Kingdom is a beauty to behold. It’s told largely in elegant dolly shots that showcase the symmetry of Adam Stockhausen and Gerald Sullivan’s colorful sets and revels in the 1965 period setting. But underneath the spectacle of Moonrise Kingdom is an unsuspectingly sweet love story. Newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward play 12-year-olds Sam and Suzy. Always the oddballs out in their troubled family lives, the two pen pals agree to run away into the wilderness of New England together. The kids lead a cast in Moonrise Kingdom that includes Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton.  The players add the usual skewed flavor to an Anderson movie, but it is really Gilman and Hayward’s awkward chemistry as pre-adolescent lovers with a taste for Fess Parker caps and 1960s French yé-yé pop that makes Moonrise Kingdom stand out from the director’s regular catalogue. In spite of their young years, Moonrise Kingdom treats this puppy love with the epic self-importance that any 12-year-old would. The adventures of this star-crossed couple are envisioned as a sincere French New Wave melodrama, making the humor and overall movie all the richer.

4.  Silver Linings Playbook
Written and Directed by David O. Russell
Den of Geek Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Read Our Review HERE

Some people dislike love stories, even earnest and sad ones. Luckily, I’m not one of them. Silver Linings Playbook is a cathartic ode about second chances and emotional redemption that hits all too close to home in our post-recession world. Pat (Bradley Cooper) is a bipolar man who’s mental breakdown cost him his wife, home and job. He lives with his parents and must be coddled by everyone around him. Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) is a young widow who is also living at home after she got fired for sleeping with every single co-worker at the office. This unlikely couple’s romance is both endearing and melancholy. Yet, they can still work through their problems by developing the most wonderfully mediocre dance routine in movie history. They may even help unemployed patriarch Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) open a restaurant if he doesn’t gamble away all their money on equally nutty sports bets. Sometimes, all you need to hit is the right note and Silver Linings Playbook smashes nearly every single one. Plus, Silver Linings Playbook is even cuter on the ones it misses.


Ad – content continues below

3.  Zero Dark Thirty
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Written by Mark Boal
Den of Geek Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Read Our Review HERE

Few things can bring all Americans together these days. In fact, the last time I remember when we were wholly on the same page was when we learned Osama bin Laden was gone. You’d think a movie on that very subject would be as equally palatable? Think again. Bigelow and Boal’s follow-up to the Oscar winning The Hurt Locker has been divisive since the word “go.” First, The Right accused it of being a piece of Hollywood propaganda meant to help prop up the Obama Administration during an election year. Then, after its release, many on The Left, as well as anti-torture advocates in general, are certain it’s a pro-torture and pro-Bush pack of lies. While it is good to know that the U.S. Senate is more interested in investigating how torture appeared in this movie as opposed to in our Justice Department, none of this should impact your decision about seeing the film. Zero Dark Thirty is a stunning movie that encapsulates the last ten years of American paranoia into two and a half gripping hours. Whether historically accurate or not, Zero Dark Thirty does not praise or condemn torture but rather gives a visualization of where our culture was in the precarious days after 9/11. Maya (Jessica Chastain) obsessively pursues Bin Laden like a Hell Hound for ten years and draws us into the all-consuming hunt. When SEAL Team Six finally nabs the prize, it feels more like an exhausting relief than a victory. Perhaps, so too is Bigelow’s movie.

2.  Life of Pi
Directed by Ang Lee
Written by David Magee
Den of Geek Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Read Our Review HERE

Belief is making a choice to see something that others will not. So is the miraculous story of Piscine Molitor Patel’s life. Piscine, or just Pi (Suraj Sharma), is a devout young man who openly worships God as a Hindu, Catholic and Muslim. When his family attempts to move their Indian zoo from Pondicherry to Canada, Pi’s faith is radically tested as he is left to fend for himself in a lifeboat for over 200 days. The only one who will keep Pi company (and his wits about him) is a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker. Based on the Yann Martel novel of the same name (read our review HERE), Life of Pi is a mesmerizing tale of survival and spirituality that grounds its fantastical elements in a visual poetry unlike any movie you’ve ever seen. Many special effects are used in Life of Pi, including a huge helping of CGI and 3D, but it is all in service to a gripping narrative about what we choose to take from this life. I cannot promise you that Life of Pi will make you believe in God, but it may move you unlike any other film this year.

1.  Lincoln
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Tony Kushner
Den of Geek Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Read Our Review HERE

Nearly 150 years after the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln’s life ended, the 16th president has been having a grand old time in pop culture. Appearing to fight vampires, zombies, Bill O’Reilly and other supernatural creatures in the media right now, it’s great to have this movie stand above the rest. It may not be the sexiest pick, but Lincoln is truly the best movie of the year. Instead of making a sweeping biopic that glosses fleetingly over every major event in Abe’s life, Spielberg and Kushner choose to zero in on his final days. Based in part on Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, the film depicts how Lincoln carefully and meticulously ended slavery by getting the 13th Amendment through the U.S. Congress. Political leaders of the past are not giants carved in marble, but messy flawed men who can be bought and bartered with. This is especially true for the movie’s Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis). Day-Lewis is a powerhouse of acting as he fully embodies yet another historical figure. The way he captures Lincoln’s little-remembered high-pitched Midwestern shrill and his backwoods folksiness remind viewers that he was not the God-ordained hero of hagiography.  In the movie, Lincoln knows that the Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in the rebelling states and likely would not survive a court challenge. With the war winding down, the President has to thread the needle of humoring conservative Republicans in order to ensure their votes for the amendment by promising to negotiate a peace with Southern leaders while bringing over as many lame-duck Democrats to his side as he can. The Great Uniter of history does this through the utilization of bribery, sycophancy and every other means at a great politician’s disposal. Liberal Republicans like Thaddeus Stevens, a hilariously restrained Tommy Lee Jones, think Lincoln weak when he is really playing the political game better than any man alive. After such a cynical year steeped in politics, Lincoln’s ability to remind us of the virtues in that ugly art is its most impressive of achievements.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for news, reviews and trailers revolving around the world of geek.