The Reel Deal

100 FILMS OF 2012

Counting Down the Films of 2012 from Best to Worst

By Tyler Malone

Winter 2012-2013

Toward the end of 2011, I wrote a piece about the potential 2012 had to become one of the greatest years in cinema. Though the year didn’t quite live up to my high hopes, it did still turn out to be a pretty damn good year in movies.

I saw 100 films last year, which was down quite a bit from the 150 I saw in 2011. In fact, there are a number of films I missed out on, and still haven’t caught up on, that could potentially be relatively high up on my list (Consuming Spirits comes to mind in that regard, as do Rust and Bone and Not Fade Away).

But without further ado, here is the list of the 100 I did see, in order from best to worst, in the humble opinion of yours truly, just another cinephile:

1. The Master (5/5) – “The beauty of The Master, in my view, is that, like all great art, it is an inkblot. In that inkblot, I see a film about its own ambiguity and infinite interpretability.”

2. Killing Them Softly (5/5) – “This is Andrew Dominik’s ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,’ a pastoral elegy that instead of mourning the loss of Lincoln, as that Whitman poem does, mourns the loss of America itself, mourning the destruction of an ideal that perhaps never was, and showing us a cannibalistic monster eating itself.”

3. Holy Motors (5/5) – “It is alternately moving, funny, thrilling, sad, bizarre, enigmatic, with everything from monsters to musical numbers, and thus, basically represents the sum total of cinematic experience. Even though it is admittedly a challenging film, it is absolutely riveting from the first minute to the last.”

4. Amour (5/5) – “‘Love’ has always been a difficult concept to define, but I would like to nominate Amour as one of the best definitions we have in celluloid of that weighty word. I defy you not to cry.”

5. Skyfall (5/5) – “In spite of all the Batman comparisons, and possibly because of them, the Bond Daniel Craig plays here is finally the ‘Bond, James Bond’ I know and love. It is also Bond at its most meta, Bond deconstructing Bond: dismantling and simultaneously re-establishing various elements of the Bond mythos.”

6. Moonrise Kingdom (5/5) – “It’s [Wes Anderson's] best and most coherent film since at least The Royal Tenenbaums, and possibly even Rushmore.”

7. Argo (5/5) – “Ben Affleck’s second act, in his relatively new career as director, I can now confidently say, has been an astounding success. Three films and five years into this new career and he’s made two great films [this and Gone Baby Gone] and one decent one [The Town].”

8. Zero Dark Thirty (5/5) – “A truly engrossing film from torturous start to tearful finish, Kathryn Bigelow has finally made a great film. While The Hurt Locker left me wanting, Zero Dark Thirty left me thoroughly satisfied. This is the film that should have won her her Oscar.”

9. In Film Nist (This Is Not A Film) (5/5) – “If only more films were this inventive, this interesting and, ultimately, this successful in their goals, it’d be obvious that This Is Not A Film, after all, is a film, and, against all odds, a damned good one at that.”

10. The Dark Knight Rises (5/5) – “Had the expectations left over from the previous film not been there–if The Dark Knight never existed, and it went straight from Batman Begins to Rises–I’d certainly be hailing The Dark Knight Rises as the best superhero movie of all time.”

11. Lincoln (5/5) – “Lincoln teases out, in subtle ways heretofore rarely seen in films by the master of oversentimentality Steven Spielberg, how even the most righteous of causes and even the most noble of men can’t escape being a part of the dirty game that is politics.”

12. The Deep Blue Sea (5/5) – “A fearless, flawless picture with a fearless, flawless lead: I love Rachel Weisz. I always have. If this film weren’t so overlooked, this performance would have undoubtedly won her over some new fans.”

13. Bernie (5/5) – “How did this film fly so far under the radar? It’s amazing. It’s the best thing Linklater has done in years, in fact, it’s quite possibly the best thing he’s ever done. Same goes for lead actor Jack Black.”

14. Patience (After Sebald) (4.5/5) – “I only wish that every great writer and every one of their great novels received a cinematic homage this perfectly attuned to the material.”

15. Cosmopolis (4.5/5) – “On the one hand, it’s a film as misshapen as the lead character’s asymmetrical prostate, as lopsided as his unfinished haircut, and yet through this unevenness it achieves its own delicate balance. This cold and calculated film opens with Jackson Pollock and ends with Mark Rothko, and everything in between is likewise compelling abstract art.”

16. Attenberg (4.5/5) – “An offbeat look at sex and death in the modern world, Attenberg follows last year’s Dogtooth as this year’s great Greek import. Like nature doc master David Attenborough, whose name, mispronounced, makes up the film’s title, Athina Rachel Tsangaru films like a biologist or anthropologist, deftly portraying humans as animals with complex behaviors worthy of in depth observation and analysis.”

17. The Grey (4.5/5) – “The Grey takes the generic premise of the ‘I’m Liam Neeson, and I’m a badass’ action film (which is now almost a genre unto itself) and gives it an unimaginable amount of existential heft. I was surprised at how much I absolutely loved this film.”

18. Beasts of the Southern Wild (4.5/5) – “Social realism as fairytale? Or fairytale as social realism? Whatever it is, it’s beautiful, and bold, and pretty close to being brilliant. Benh Zeitlin will be a filmmaker to watch in the future.”

19. Looper (4/5) – “Rian Johnson is one of the under-the-radar auteurs to watch of this next generation. Though I think Looper is his worst film thus far, it is less a reflection on my viewing Looper negatively (which I don’t at all, hence the four out of five score) and more a reflection on how phenomenal I think Johnson is overall.”

20. The Avengers (4/5) – “It’s certainly not perfect–but what Joss Whedon has provided us with here is damn good enough.”

21. Silver Linings Playbook (4/5) – “Taking the rom-com formula, and without drastically altering any of the essential elements of the genre, David O. Russell makes a movie that feels magically fresh and new.”

22. Frankenweenie (4/5) – “It’s the best thing Tim Burton has done since Big Fish–an homage to classic horror cinema that’s as engaging for adults as it is enjoyable for their children.”

23. Haywire (4/5) – “A distilled b-movie action thriller, Haywire reminds us why we don’t want Steven Soderbergh to make good on his promise of retiring soon.”

24. Django Unchained (4/5) – “By the third act, it loses steam, and even before that, one could pick up on some odd pacing problems throughout (unusual for Tarantino). It’s still a good film, but I’d say it’s Tarantino’s second worst (only Death Proof is worse in his otherwise pretty stellar oeuvre).”

25. Barbara (4/5) – “It’s a small foreign film that delivers in pretty big ways at the intersection of the personal and the political.”

26. Wreck-It Ralph (4/5) – “This is Disney’s first non-Pixar computer animated film that gets close to Pixar levels of greatness.”

27. The Zen Of Bennett (4/5) – “Meditative, as any good enterprise with ‘zen’ in the title should be, this film proves that Tony Bennett is as fascinating as he is talented.”

28. The Invisible War (4/5) – “The filmmakers do the honorable job of swallowing down their own rage–a natural rage that is impossible not to feel while listening to these stories–to allow the stories to be told honestly, and without too much filter. This makes it even more moving and enraging to a viewer, because the viewer doesn’t feel like they’re being forced to feel sympathy and rage, those come naturally. I can’t imagine watching this documentary and coming out of it not thinking that things need changing.”

29. Killer Joe (4/5) – “William Friedkin still has it in him to make a great, off-kilter film. Killer Joe proves it. It’s dark, dirty, disgusting, and absolutely lovely.”

30. The Queen of Versailles (4/5) – “Though parts of it play like episodes of an unfilmed season of The Real Housewives of Orlando, there is something deeper going on here. Even if you feel miles apart from the Siegel’s, their story plays as a microcosm of and metaphor for our own stories. This isn’t just a portrait of a wealthy and then less-wealthy family, it’s a study of American excess.”

31. Prometheus (4/5) – “Michael Fassbender is revelatory as the android David, which should come as no surprise since Fassbender has never been anything less than revelatory even when he’s in mediocre movies. Prometheus, though, is far from mediocre, even if it isn’t as good as Fassbender is in it.”

32. Brave (4/5) – “Though it’s definitely missing some of the magic of Wall-E and Up, Brave still exhibits exquisite filmmaking. Pixar never misfires (except with the Cars franchise, which, though popular with kids, are the only two Pixar films I’d rather forget).”

33. Dinotasia (4/5) – “In stark contrast to the Disney-style anthropomorphized animal documentaries that are in vogue today, where the animals are personified (given names, personalities, and stories), Dinotasia eschews any real notion of depth of character or narrative and instead focuses on the carnival of carnage that was the prehistoric age of the dinosaurs. Through this focus, and ominous snippets of narration by the great Werner Herzog, you really get a sense of the terrifying chaos of nature (a running theme in nearly every Herzog-related project).”

34. Magic Mike (4/5) – “The second of Soderbergh’s two 2012 films keeps up the good quality. I think I prefer Haywire, but Magic Mike was much better than it looked, and better than a male stripper film loosely based on Channing Tatum’s life starring Tatum himself had any right to be.”

35. Hitchcock (3.5/5) – “If you think of Hitchcock less as a biopic and more as an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents… loosely based on Hitchcock’s life, then you’ll likely find plenty to enjoy in this fun but inessential exercise.”

36. Detachment (3.5/5) – “Even through the film’s missteps, excesses and didacticism, filmmaker Tony Kaye’s exquisite craft shines.”

37. Lawless (3.5/5) – “I was disappointed because Lawless could have been so much better, and yet, it was still good enough. If this is the worst thing Annapurna Pictures released in 2012, then Megan Ellison is doing something right.”

38. Les Miserables (3.5/5) – “It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect. People who are excited for it, will likely be pleased, and those who don’t think it’s up their alley, will likely find that it won’t be.”

39. 4:44 Last Day On Earth (3.5/5) – “Coming on the heels of last year’s Lars Von Trier apocalyptic masterpiece Melancholia, Abel Ferrara’s 4:44 Last Day On Earth feels a little underwhelming, but there’s still much to appreciate in his unique take on our collective end.”

40. The Sessions (3.5/5) – “The Sessions is an enjoyable film about the most enjoyable of topics: sex. But even as it focuses on the most taboo of subjects, it manages to feel somewhat old-fashioned (which works both for and against it in the long run).”

41. Safety Not Guaranteed (3.5/5) - ”Though a small film, cheaply made, with a fair share of flaws, it’s funnier than most movies with double the budget and ten times the star power.”

42. ParaNorman (3.5/5) – “Though ParaNorman sometimes feels a little like Tim Burton Lite (especially when compared to Burton’s own Frankenweenie), it still holds its own, and is a pretty great family entertainment.”

43. The Bourne Legacy (3.5/5) – “When all’s said and done though, I’ll admit that The Bourne Legacy kept me entertained throughout. I never looked down at my watch, it never hit a lull. I think without Matt Damon’s involvement, it’s about as good a Bourne movie as one can expect.”

44. Jack Reacher (3.5/5) – “Jack Reacher is a pretty standard action thriller with some odd quirkiness thrown in, especially in the form of a villain played by the wonderfully weird filmmaker Werner Herzog. Without Herzog, I’d likely give it a 3, but any Herzog involvement automatically gives any film an extra .5 at least.”

45. 21 Jump Street (3/5) – “I’m surprised to report that the movie adaptation of 21 Jump Street pulls off the unimaginable: they take a dated, mediocre tv show from the 80s, mostly remembered for being where Johnny Depp got his start, and turn it into a raucous, no-holds-barred meta-comedy that is self-aware without being too annoying about it, and, through it all, funnier than it has any right to be.”

46. Anna Karenina (3/5) – “The new version of Anna Karenina is a decent but forgettable adaptation of the Tolstoy classic.”

47. The Dictator (3/5) – “[Sacha Baron Cohen is] trying to go in different directions, while still staying somewhat in his comedic comfort zone. I can appreciate and commend that without loving the end product.”

48. To Rome With Love (3/5) – “Woody Allen has often been labelled hit-or-miss, but the truth is that the majority of his films (To Rome With Love included) fall somewhere in between those extremes.”

49. 2 Days in New York (3/5) – “2 Days in New York is the satisfying, if somewhat inconsistent, sequel to Julie Deply’s great 2 Days in Paris.”

50. End of Watch (3/5) – “It’s a bit too videogamey. The handheld camera conceit is tired, and not really even put to that great of use here. But there’s a decent amount to like in the film, especially the performances of Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña as police partners.”

51. The Amazing Spider-Man (3/5) – “It had the potential to be better than all three Raimi Spider-Mans, but it proved to only out-do Raimi’s third Spider-Man (which was so horrible, it’d be hard not to beat).”

52. The Central Park Five (3/5) – “The story is thoroughly engaging, but the documentary less so.”

53. Total Recall (3/5) – “By altering the story, transplanting the action to a new setting, and allowing the sowing of new thematic threads, this updated version of Total Recall becomes different enough to escape being seen as completely superfluous. But while it is enjoyable for the most part, it still feels largely forgettable–definitely not the classic that the original is.”

54. Ted (3/5) – “It’s less funny than your average episode of Family Guy, but more funny than your average episode of American Dad.”

55. Wanderlust (3/5) – “Sometimes a decent comedy is just that: a decent comedy.”

56. This Is 40 (3/5) – “Though some parts are funnier than Knocked Up was, it never really comes together.”

57. Chronicle (3/5) – “It almost plays like an episode of the tv show Heroes, which is equal parts approbation and condemnation.”

58. The Five-Year Engagement (3/5) – “That’s not to say there isn’t plenty here to get you laughing, but any hint that this film might go a little out-of-the-box is misguiding. It’s as formulaic as any standard film of the genre (which makes it ultimately forgettable, even if it has more appeal than your average rom-com).”

59. Men In Black 3 (2.5/5) – “If it weren’t for Josh Brolin, this threequel wouldn’t have been nearly as good, but Brolin’s take on Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K alone makes MIB III worth the price of admission.”

60. Dredd (2.5/5) – “Judge Dredd is a great comic book character, but I still think neither movie has really translated his essence into celluloid.”

61. Casa De Mi Padre (House Of My Father) (2.5/5) – “With Casa De Mi Padre, as usual, the premise has worn pretty thin by the end, even though the movie is only 88 minutes in length, but I admittedly left the theater without complaint, laughing and shaking my head in odd disbelief as I exited.”

62. Cloud Atlas (2.5/5) – “I loved the parts with Ben Wishaw as Robert Frobisher composing ‘The Cloud Atlas Sextet,’ but all the other storylines I either liked parts of or didn’t even like parts of. Admittedly, it contains some moments of brilliant inspired filmmaking, but just as many moments are dreadfully bad. And the worst indictment perhaps is that instead of feeling like a three hour movie, it felt like a three hour trailer for a much, much longer movie that I’d never even want to think about seeing.”

63. Lockout (2.5/5) – “I can’t deny that it is derivative, but I also can’t deny that I enjoyed the hell out of this mediocrity.”

64. The Campaign (2.5/5) – “Even if it’s not a great film, Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrell can always make me laugh.”

65. John Carter (2.5/5) – “Even though it may be better than last year’s Cowboys and Aliens, is that really saying much?”

66. Jeff, Who Lives At Home (2.5/5) – “The fact that the titular stoner Jeff looks to M. Night Shyamalan’s film Signs for philosophical perspective says a lot about his character; it’s a nice, funny touch. The problem comes when you realize that the film itself also looks to M. Night Shyamalan’s film Signs for philosophical perspective.”

67. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (2.5/5) – “The Lorax isn’t a bad movie, just a misguided one. Luckily, whole sections of the film are, in fact, quite good.”

68. The Watch (2.5/5) – “If you find Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, and/or Jonah Hill funny, you’ll definitely get a few laughs here, but it’s a mediocre rehash of last year’s Attack The Block with big stars instead of British kids.”

69. Trouble With The Curve (2.5/5) – “It’s better than Clint Eastwood’s other foul ball this season, the infamous empty chair dialogue with Invisible Obama at the Republican Convention this fall, but where that convention speech seemed to come out of nowhere, entirely unpredictable and baffling, Trouble With The Curve is utterly predictable and unremarkable. It not only doesn’t swing for the fences, it barely takes a swing.”

70. Goats (2.5/5) – “It’s not all that bad, it’s just too…tame. It’s a domesticated animal, an unexceptional and unmemorable coming-of-age story without even an ounce of adventure. These sort of films have become a dime-a-dozen at indie festivals like Sundance. If only it had a more wild spirit (and a less wooden script) to go with some of the lovely cinematography. Instead, it just meanders like its mammalian namesake.”

71. Dark Shadows (2.5/5) – “Tim Burton’s early career was filled with great, iconic, artful films. His latter career has been filled with films like Dark Shadows: self-indulgent self-parodies, Burton by number.”

72. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2.5/5) – “Maybe Bilbo Baggins should have stuck with his gut instinct and just stayed home, avoiding this unexpected journey? I think most moviegoers are going to wish they had.”

73. The Beat Hotel (2.5/5) – “If you’re fascinated by the Beats, it will be of interest, but as a film, it offers little to excite or engage.”

74. Savages (2/5) – “Where Oliver Stone thinks he’s found real depth, he’s really just splashing in the kiddie pool.”

75. The Words (2/5) – “It’s a movie about books for people who don’t read them, but would like to pretend that they do. Literary in pose alone, this movie doesn’t love words, nor does it have any interest in ideas. The movie is as much a fraud as its central character.”

76. Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World (2/5) – “Even with the lovable Steve Carell giving it all he’s got, I would not seek this film as a friend when the end of the world comes.”

77. Life of Pi (2/5) – “Life of Pi was visually stunning garbage. Like you know when you vomit, and the vomit is really cool and colorful and maybe (arguably) beautiful? Well, it’s still vomit. And it smells like vomit, and tastes like vomit, and should be flushed down the toilet like vomit.”

78. The Hunger Games (2/5) – “It’s another Hollywood tentpole that has made and will continue to make beaucoup bucks, but can’t do much else besides fill seats. Great, we have to endure how many more of these?”

79. Snow White and the Huntsman (2/5) – “Snow White and the Huntsman is the better of the two Snow White films out this year, but not by nearly as much as I’d have hoped considering how horrible Mirror Mirror was.”

80. Taken 2 (2/5) – “Most of the small pleasures offered by the first one are completely missing.”

81. American Reunion (2/5) – “It’s certainly funnier than the second and third sequels, and by that I simply mean that it is actually watchable.”

82. Step Up Revolution (1.5/5) – “Adding politics into the mix gave it a twist, and perhaps raised my interest level slightly from the previous outings, but it still felt like it was just talking loud and saying nothing. And it offered little in the way of cinematic wonders besides some elaborate dance sequences. For some that may be enough, but I expect more from twelve bucks and two hours.”

83. Ice Age: Continental Drift (1.5/5) – “It was an obvious grab for cash from Blue Sky Studios–and it worked, becoming the 6th highest grossing animated film of all time. How long do you think it’ll be before we get a fifth Ice Age?”

84. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (1.5/5) – “It takes itself somewhat seriously, which is its first mistake (of many), and thus the film comes off as mostly joyless. It’s a pretty bad movie that looks even worse coming out the same year as a real Lincoln film like Spielberg’s Lincoln (which was not only better, smarter, and more interesting, but somehow even more fun).”

85. This Means War (1.5/5) – “This Means War means failure.”

86. The Raven (1.5/5) – “Poe, a literary genius, and important artistic figure, deserves better.”

87. Premium Rush (1.5/5) – “There’s nothing premium about this rush. Poor Michael Shannon and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, two otherwise great actors who are forced to spout absurdly idiotic dialogue. It’s almost unwatchable by the end.”

88. Flight (1/5) – “Flight was a complete miscalculation on the part of just about everyone involved, including myself for having made the mistake of going to see it.”

89. Good Deeds (1/5) – “Good Deeds is another melodramedy from the brain of Tyler Perry. I say ‘brain,’ though I suspect these films are actually expelled from his backside rather than being born from any sort of mental activity. His films are as regular and as foul as bowel movements.”

90. The Expendables 2 (1/5) – “The names are correct. The first movie was certainly expendable. And this one’s expendable too. Even more so.”

91. Dark Tide (0.5/5) – “Not only is there literally jumping of sharks involved in this film, but there are also a number of figurative ‘jumping the shark’ moments. As the movie plods on, it just gets more absurd and inconsistent.”

92. Wrath of the Titans (0.5/5) – “Whether this is better or worse than its predecessor is beside the point, they’re both enormous wastes of time, talent, and money.”

93. Rock of Ages (0.5/5) – “Rock-n-roll has never seemed so lame. There’s absolutely nothing here that rocks, and barely anything that even rolls.”

94. Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance (0/5) – “Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the co-directors of this sequel to Ghost Rider, are clearly not great directors, and they have no sense of being able to reign [Nic] Cage in or steer him in any meaningful direction, so instead you get a pretty terrible performance in an even more abhorrent film”

95. Battleship (0/5) – “Based on a game with no story, no characters, and no thematic interests–namely Hasbro’s Battleship–the filmmakers behind this movie at least succeeded in staying true to the source material in that sense, for Battleship likewise has no story, no characters, and no thematic interests (aside from the jingoistic rah-rah that pervades just about every scene).”

96. The Three Stooges (0/5) – “Even if it remains true to the spirit of the Three Stooges, and replicates many of their gags almost verbatim, there’s something missing: the laughs.”

97. Act of Valor (0/5) – “The movie itself is pretty bad, but the wooden acting from real servicemen (and servicewomen) really kills any shot this has at even the low bar of watchability.”

98. Mirror Mirror (0/5) – “I don’t know who the fairest of them all is, but the unfairest thing of all is having to sit through this complete misfire. I couldn’t stop cringing.”

99. One For The Money (0/5) - “Remember 2010′s The Bounty Hunter with Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler which I gave a half reel to? Well, this movie has the exact same plot, and somehow manages to be about ten times worse. One For The Money is unfathomably bad.”

100. That’s My Boy (0/5) – “Why do we collectively continue to let Adam Sandler shit in our faces?”

Written by Tyler Malone

Photography Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures

Design by Marie Havens


Film Stills from The Master, Photography Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures


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