The Best 11 (because I really couldn't throw another one out for Django)
- Cabin in the Woods - I can't say anything about this movie. If you've seen it, you know why it is awesome. If you haven't seen it, go see it.
- Wreck-It Ralph - This is a valentine to anyone who grew up on video games. I normally hate kids movies, but this is up there with Pixar movies.
- Looper - Sci Fi done right. Remembers the most important rule: don't get so excited by your own rules that you completely neglect your story and your characters.
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Tasty British cast, tight plot, show-don't-tell characterization, and the period is done so so right? Sign me up.
- Moonrise Kingdom - Best Wes Anderson in years. Best since Royal Tenenbaums. He gets over his own twee obsessions to leave room for real characters and emotion again. Anderson does ensemble movies like nobody else.
- Avengers - The only anticipated movie of 2012 that actually met and exceeded my expectations. With so many different threads and characters and plotlines running around, this easily could have collapsed under its own weight. Instead, it gave us character moments and humor and depth.
- Django Unchained - Perfect companion piece to Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino wins again. I could watch historical 'sploitation movies from this man all day long.
- Argo - Tense and excellent. I particularly loved how they wove real archival footage and images into the recreated pieces.
- Lincoln - Definitely had some issues, but if you're willing to look past the family drama portions there's a tight political story being told here. There are numerous wonderful turns by what might at first seem like minor characters -- excellent cast. And a very weird, almost mesmerizing Lincoln.
- Premium Rush - Unexpected little gem. Really marvelous little movie.
- Shame - On the surface it's about a sex addict, but underneath it's about two lost people. Beautiful looking, but the characters are even better. So much sadness.
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)
Movies definitely worth seeing, but not quite good enough to make it into my top list.
- Haywire - Great weird little action movie, with great work from a lead who is not an actress.
- Mirror Mirror - see below
- The Sessions - Excellent.
- Dark Knight Rises - see below
- Bourne Legacy - not the best of this series, but definitely good
- Skyfall - I liked Quantum better, but I'm weird. This was still good.
- Mission Impossible 4 - best one of this series
- John Carter - see below
- Casa de mi Padre - see below
Anticipated But Disappointing Genre Films
There were so many genre films this year -- tons and tons of them. Comic book movies, sci-fi, video game movies, fantasy re-tellings of fairy tales. Lots of movies that I was definitely looking forward to (since I love genre stuff in all forms). I guess with all that looking-forward-to it was inevitable that there would be disappointments; I just never thought these would be the problem.
- Dark Knight Rises - good but flawed, lingers too long, stretches believability too much for its gritty more realistic world. But I did love Bane and Talia. Catwoman was well done. Lots of little awesome touches.
- Prometheus - actual movie terrible, so many little good bits sprinkled throughout, could have been so much better, so much potential squandered
- Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter - just not campy or crazy enough
- The Hobbit - ugh. I have a long rant in me about this one, but I don't feel like getting into a fight. To sum up: I did not like this movie. I felt it was not a good adaptation of the book. It's a Phantom Menace level mistake, as far as I'm concerned.
Good Movie Hiding Inside Bad Movie
Multiple times this year I walked out of the theater re-editing whatever I just watched in my head. Each of them absolutely could have been a good movie (and one could have been a great one) had someone simply come in and cut away the extraneous, the ridiculous, and the boring.
- Prometheus - opening scenes with David = amazing; unwanted pregnancy scene = horrifying in the perfect way; lots of other stuff = trash
- The Hobbit - ugh, just ugh
- Lincoln (*Great Movie Hiding Inside a Good Movie) - 80% perfect, makes getting something through congress exciting; everything with Mary Todd Lincoln = terrible and overwrought, Lincoln speaking like he stepped out of Shakespeare? = puzzling at times
Surprisingly OK or Good
I went into these movies with pretty low expectations and I was pleasantly surprised in each case.
- Total Recall - ok. I had very low expectations for this, but it was pretty and had an interesting vision of tech in the future. Just ignore everything about the plot or issues with gravity, physics, or the center of the earth.
- Mirror, Mirror - great. Lots of weird interesting touches. Felt like lots of Russian/Slavic influence throughout, just in design aspects. I always expect to be visually wowed by this director (who also did The Cell), but I also genuinely enjoyed the story and comedy. And this was LOADS better than Snow White and the Huntsman (if that's how we're making comparisons).
- Casa de mi Padre - I had low expectations for this one: Will Ferrell starring in basically a telenovela-style entirely spanish language western type thing. But it was actually pretty good. And Gael Garcia Bernal is pretty good at comedy, too. It wasn't the best comedy of the year, but it was way better than Ferrell's other movie The Campaign.
- John Carter - I'm not sure what happened with this one. It delivered pretty much what it said it would. There were aliens, princesses, crazy action adventure. It was funny enough. Didn't overstay its welcome. Not sure why people didn't like it.
- Premium Rush - Surprisingly excellent. Delivered exactly what it promised. Played with time and created layers of narrative. Reminded me of Run Lola Run. Went to see this just for JGL and came away quite happy.
If You Like Terrible Movies
- Lockout (Space Jail) - SPACE JAIL! Crazy Scottish Guy from Misfits, Shannon from Lost, and lots of weird decisions. Well worth a rainy sunday afternoon.
- Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter - bad enough, but they could have gone farther. I wish they'd made it just a bit more over-the-top.
Just Bad, Not Even in a Good Way
- The Raven - boring, silly
- Dark Shadows - boring, silly