Best of 2012

With the number of new lists stalling, it appears time to put 2012 in the books.  Leading the way in 2012 was Zero Dark Thirty, making it the second time a Katherine Bigelow film has topped the list count in the past four years.  Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom recently pulled ahead of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, making it Anderson’s highest ranked film to date.

791 lists are included for 2012.  In addition, this updated list includes 2011 votes for films that were not primarily released in the United States until 2012.  A special thanks needs to be made to Eric M. Van for his generous and strenuous work on determing the counts for lists prior to 2012.  Thanks Eric!

Without further ado, here are the final 2012 rankings:

50. Barbara (34 lists; 3 top spots)

A sturdy suspense story, set in Stasi-infected East Germany, rich in moral compromise, individual integrity and general desperation, it’s elevated by Hoss to something sublime and unforgettable … — John Anderson, Newsday

49. 21 Jump Street (36 lists)

It was inevitable that one of Hollywood’s many recent reboots would eventually attain sentience. Hence the arrival of 21 Jump Street, a film that not only knows it’s a remake, but knows how absurd it has to be to succeed as a remake. — Andrew Lapin, NPR

48. Wreck-It Ralph (36 lists; 1 top spot)

There are a staggering number of rules governing the gameplay in Wreck-It Ralph, and one of the toon’s greatest pleasures comes in how intuitively audiences discover those parameters as the story unfolds. — Peter DeBruge, Variety

47. ParaNorman (37 lists; 2 top spots)

This swell stop-motion animation operates on a wavelength similar to that of Laika’s debut feature, Coraline, with assured character comedy counterbalanced by a solemn sense of macabre wonder. — J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader

46. The Queen of Versailles (38 lists)

“The Queen of Versailles” ought to be required viewing for anyone who blames the rich for yanking the rug out from under America’s economy. — Rafer Guzman, Newsday

44. The Hunger Games (39 lists; 1 top spot)

Viewers who like a side order of political allegory with their science fiction will find much to savor here. So will romantics, fans of feminist heroines and action enthusiasts. “The Hunger Games” is that rare creation, an event movie of real significance. — Collin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune

44. The Imposter (39 lists; 1 top spot)

“The Imposter” is slippery, manipulative, unstable and smoothly confounding. It’s also one of the most entertaining documentaries to appear since “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” a film similarly obsessed with role playing and deception. — Jeannette Catsoulis, New York Times

43. The Impossible (40 lists; 3 top spots)

For all the visually impactful moments that all but put an audience directly into the horror of the Boxing Day tsunami in The Impossible, the true test of this drama comes in the emotion conveyed in its simplest moments. — Linda Barnard, Toronto Star

42. Safety Not Guaranteed (41 lists; 2 top spots)

A charming movie that blends comedy, romance and science fiction — not necessarily the most obvious combination of genres, but one that director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly manage with assured ease. — Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic

41. Compliance (42 lists; 5 top spots)

Likely to spur discussions about workplace safety, employee rights and broader awareness of sexual predation, Compliance is also a suspenseful psychological drama for viewers prepared to tolerate its extremes. — Justin Lowe, Hollywood Reporter

39. Flight (44 lists)

Flight reminds us of what Washington can do when a role hits him with a challenge that would floor a lesser actor. He’s a ball of fire, and his detailed, depth-charged, bruisingly true performance will be talked about for years. — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

39. How to Survive a Plague (44 lists)

We grow familiar with the names and faces of many of the leaders in the movement. Some look directly into the camera and say they expect to die of the disease. Some are correct. — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times


38. Take This Waltz (47 lists; 3 top spots)

This romantic drama, starring the always-extraordinary Michelle Williams as a restless married woman contemplating an affair with her neighbor, is chock-full of individual moments of great power and beauty, including visual beauty. — Dana Stevens, Slate

37. Killing Them Softly (48 lists)

Jolting, suspenseful, full of twisted sympathy for its goons’ row of characters, and wickedly amusing to boot, Killing Them Softly summons up the ghosts of Goodfellas and a whole nasty tradition of crime pics. — Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

36. Anna Karenina (49 lists; 3 top spots)

A furiously ambitious literary adaptation, the best of Wright and Knightley’s careers, that tries to make us feel the intense sexuality and terror and grief of a classic novel … — Andrew O’Hehir,

35. Searching for Sugar Man (50 lists; 2 top spots)

Fluid, open-ended documentaries that demand more of an audience than foregone assent or fleeting bouts of passive outrage are rare these days, which is what makes Malik Bendjelloul’s Searching for Sugar Man such a gift. — Mark Holcomb, Village Voice

34. Killer Joe (54 lists; 1 top spot)

Friedkin’s still got it – the “it” being his ability to infuse every frame of the film with powerful ambiguity and doubt, and also his ability to attract terrific actors and propel them in unexpected directions. — Andrew O’Hehir,

33. Magic Mike (55 lists; 1 top spot)

A smoothly distilled collaboration that balances Mr. Tatum’s heat and charm – and ambitions that are as transparent as Mike’s – with Mr. Soderbergh’s cool, cinematic intelligence and ongoing preoccupations. — Manohla Dargis, New York Times 


32. The Grey (55 lists; 3 top spots)

Impressively lensed by Masanobu Takayanagi on aptly rugged terrain in British Columbia, The Grey is thoroughly persuasive in its depiction of desperate men battling unforgiving elements. — Joe Leydon, Variety

31. The Raid: Redemption (56 lists; 3 top spots)

Lean, fast-moving, and filled with game-changing fight sequences that have a brutally beautiful (or beautifully brutal) quality, Gareth Evans’s Indonesian martial-arts film The Raid: Redemption lives up to its viral hype. — Ernest Hardy, Village Voice

30. Cosmopolis (59 lists; 7 top spots)

What we can’t argue is that Cosmopolis is the work of a master filmmaker, one who is determined to have us think about the ideas packed into the trunk of this limo bound for the furthest corners of the psyche.  — Peter Howell, Toronto Star

29. Rust and Bone (60 lists; 3 top spots)

Audiard, who made the uncompromising prison saga A Prophet, is like a gritty, realist Douglas Sirk – throwing his characters into whirlwind scenarios that are filled with big emotions and fateful turns of events. — Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

28. The Sessions (61 lists; 1 top spot)

At once entirely frank and downright cuddly in the way it deals with the seldom-visited subject of the sex lives of people with disabilities… — Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
27. The Kid With a Bike (65 lists)

An edge-of-your-seat emotional roller-coaster ride about ordinary people in a nondescript neighborhood, it’s sometimes terrifying, often heart-rending and completely worth it. — Andrew O’Hehir,

26. Bernie (70 lists; 4 top spots)

Pitch-perfect performances by Shirley MacLaine and an unusually restrained Jack Black hold together this offbeat true-crime saga, but Linklater’s keen eye for human eccentricity flowers most memorably on the periphery. — Justin Chang, Variety

25. The Turin Horse (72 lists; 10 top spots)

The Turin Horse is an absolute vision, masterly and enveloping in a way that less personal, more conventional movies are not. The film doesn’t seduce; it commands. — Mark Jenkins, NPR

24. Oslo, August 31st (74 lists; 1 top spot)

A coolly observed yet boundlessly compassionate day in the life of a recovering drug addict, “Oslo, August 31st” breaks your heart many times over. — Ty Burr, Boston Globe

23. Cloud Atlas (77 lists; 10 top spots)

It is so full of passion and heart and empathy that it feels completely unlike any other modern film in its range either measured through scope of budget or sweep of action. — James Rocchi, MSN Movies

22. Tabu (84 lists; 12 top spots)

A brilliantly nuanced, deeply imagined psycho- excavation of modern Europe by the Portuguese director Miguel Gomes. — Richard Brody, New Yorker 

21. The Deep Blue Sea (90 lists; 5 top spots)

Rachel Weisz – in what has to be the performance of her career, and there have been lots of good ones – plays an intelligent woman in the grip of a lust that’s too big to handle or suppress. She can either ride the tiger or be devoured. — Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

20. Les Misérables (105 lists; 9 top spots)

The squalor and upheaval of early 19th-century France are conveyed with a vividness that would have made Victor Hugo proud, heightened by the raw, hungry intensity of the actors’ live oncamera vocals. — Justin Chang, Variety

19. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (107 lists; 14 top spots)

157-minute police procedural at once sensuous and cerebral, profane and metaphysical, “empty” and abundant, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is closer to the Antonioni of L’Avventura, and it elevates the 52-year-old director to a new level of achievement. — J. Hoberman, Village Voice

18. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (111 lists; 7 top spots)

Perks deserves points for going beyond the typical coming-of-age drivel aimed at teens. Logan Lerman excels as Charlie and Emma Watson makes a dream girl to die for, but the movie is stolen, head to tail, by Ezra Miller. — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

17. This Is Not a Film (111 lists; 21 top spots)

There are fireworks — and an ending that’s as dramatic as anything made by any director making a film, which is something Panahi accomplishes with a bit of a wink, and no small amount of courage. — John Anderson, Newsday

16. The Avengers (129 lists; 13 top spots)

You don’t need to be a “comic-book person” to find the set pieces exhilarating. But if you are such a person, or a fan of the movies that comic books turn into, “The Avengers” feels like the moment you’ve been waiting for.  — Wesley Morris, Boston Globe

15. The Cabin in the Woods (139 lists; 13 top spots)

For all of its many intellectual pleasures, and smart commentary, Cabin in the Woods is a visceral roller coaster of a movie at heart. And like the best thrill rides, when it’s over, you just want to get back on and go again. — Ian Buckwalter, NPR
14. The Dark Knight Rises (147 lists; 11 top spots)

A disturbing experience we live through as much as a film we watch, this dazzling conclusion to director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is more than an exceptional superhero movie, it is masterful filmmaking by any standard. — Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
13. Life of Pi (158 lists; 14 top spots)

Every once in a long while, the right director comes across the right project at just the right moment, and things so often discordant fall into perfect harmony. — Rick Groen, Globe & Mail
12. Looper (161 lists; 12 top spots)

A mind-bending ride that is not afraid to slow down now and again, to explore themes of regret and redemption, solitude and sacrifice, love and loss. It’s a movie worth seeing and, perhaps, going back to see again. — Christopher Orr, The Atlantic 

11. Skyfall (187 lists; 8 top spots)

Conveys the melancholy of loss, mortality, and future-shock anxiety, while at the same time leaving us plenty of space to enjoy one of the most complexly unhinged villains in Bond history. — Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

10. Amour (235 lists; 37 top spots)

The title is french for love. The movie itself, indisputably the year’s best foreign-language film and an Oscar front-runner, defines what love is. And it does it the hard way. — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
9. Silver Linings Playbook (240 lists; 19 top spots)

Cooper gives his most natural, affecting and compelling performance yet…Lawrence makes us forget her dewy youth just minutes into her brittle, biting turn as a woman whose unbalanced rage is even more cleverly concealed… — Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

8. Django Unchained (243 lists; 20 top spots)

The anecdotal, odyssey-like structure of this long, talky saga could be considered indulgent, but Tarantino injects the weighty material with so many jocular, startling and unexpected touches that it’s constantly stimulating. — Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
7. Holy Motors (249 lists; 53 top spots)

It could almost be a film made in a time before language, a rendering of modern life – or modern lives – as a kind of cinematic cave painting. With songs. And a white stretch limo. And Kylie Minogue. — Stephanie Zacharek, NPR

6. Beasts of the Southern Wild (264 lists; 26 top spots)

Don’t miss this one. A brave and inspired antidote to time-wasting mainstream movies, it is unlike anything you’ve seen before or will likely ever see again. In short, it is unforgettable. — Rex Reed, New York Observer

5. Lincoln (289 lists; 32 top spots)

It’s the most remarkable movie Steven Spielberg has made in quite a spell, and one of the things that makes it remarkable is how it fulfills those expectations by simultaneously ignoring and transcending them. — Glenn Kenny, MSN Movies
4. Argo (305 lists; 44 top spots)

Argo is a triumph. It has tension, sincerity, mystery, artistic responsibility, entertainment value, technical expertise, a narrative arc and a thrilling respect for the tradition of how to tell a story with minimum frills and maximum impact. — Rex Reed, New York Observer

3. The Master (334 lists; 56 top spots)

It’s a film of breathtaking cinematic romanticism and near-complete denial of conventional catharsis. You might wish it gave you more in terms of comfort food pleasure, but that’s not Anderson’s problem. — Karina Longworth, Village Voice

2. Moonrise Kingdom (344 lists; 43 top spots)

Anderson’s best feature since Rushmore, in part because, like that film, it takes as its primary subject matter odd, precocious children, rather than the damaged and dissatisfied adults they will one day become. — Christopher Orr, The Atlantic

1. Zero Dark Thirty (366 lists; 77 top spots)

[Its] moral ambiguity will drive some viewers nuts, but in my view it is also the quality that makes “Zero Dark Thirty” something close to a masterpiece. — Andrew O’Hehir,

3 thoughts on “Best of 2012

  1. I guess you excluded the 2011 votes for films like Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and This Is Not a Film. Because their mention numbers were higher before.

  2. “In addition, this updated list includes 2011 votes for films that were not primarily released in the United States until 2012”

    Actually it is not anymore. Because it seems you changed the previous rankings. This is a disgrace for foreign language films that were widely seen 2012 but also placed in some 2011 lists.
    These are the differences:

    This Is Not a Film: from 121/22 to 111/21
    Once Upon a Time in Anatolia: from 121/15 to 107/14
    The Turin Horse: from 96/14 to 72/10
    The Deep Blue Sea: from 95/5 to 90/5
    The Kid with a Bike: from 79/0 to 65/0
    The Grey: from 56/3 to 55/3
    Take This Waltz: from 48/3 to 47/3

  3. It might be my favorite movie year of the decade. A good part of that is me being able to see so many of these movies on Netflix (some of which are no longer streaming unfortunately). A great year for drama, comedy, action, independent and foreign films. Zero Dark Thirty, Amour, and Moonrise Kingdom I consider masterpieces.

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