Every movie critic in the known world sees hundreds of movies every year, mostly for free, and then they sit down and distill everything they see into a Top 10 list. But what about all the other movies they’ve seen? How can we even know what their taste is like if we don’t know how they felt about the other 98.7 movies they saw that year (that .7 is for the one movie they walked out of at Cannes because they just couldn’t possibly get through it all). And they get to see all the movies before the rest of us, so everyone put Zero Dark 30 on their Top 10 lists and it’s not even out in most of the country right now. This whole gambit of list making is a scam!
Well, to combat all that critical scammery and art house movie snobbery, here is a list of every single movie that I saw in a movie theater during the calendar year 2012. There are 65 of them. I paid to see 54 of them, so unlike the professional cinema elite, I saw a majority of these with you, the fans, on rainy Saturday afternoons and boring Tuesday evenings. I also spent about $17 trillion for the honor. And here is my opinion on every single movie I saw in a theater. Are you ready?
1. Silver Linings Playbook: If I was giving out the Oscars today, I would hand it over to this David O. Russell movie, even though I’m still a little bit mad about how he treated Lily Tomlin. This is the type of movie I like best, one that hews closely to a set format but does it so well that it busts out of the genre entirely. This should be your basic rom-com, but made in the hands of someone with care and insight, it is also a look at mental illness, loss, redemption, family, dance competitions, and just how difficult it is to stand out in suburban America. Bolstered by great performances including by the usually milquetoast Bradley Cooper and the always astounding Jennifer Lawrence. There’s even a good turn by Robert De Niro, whose modern work is about as uniformly bland as a can full of Slim Jims at a gas station mini-mart. Smart, different, and extremely winning, this is a movie that is like a million you’ve seen before, but somehow manages to break the mold.
2. Argo: This deserves to be at the top of the list for Ben Affleck‘s hair alone, but this affecting thriller about American hostages in Iran fuses drama, comedy, and some (yes, made-up) tension to make real events spectacular.
3. The Sessions: What seems like a sweet movie about a mostly paralyzed man learning how to have sex turns out to be a very sweet movie about a mostly paralyzed man learning to have sex: an engaging story that goes for the heart without getting sentimental. John Hawkes better start winning some damn awards.
4. Headhunters: Not many people went to see this Norwegian film about a headhunter who uses people’s job interviews to break into their houses and steal all their art, but you’re really missing out. As the movie progresses, our anti-hero gets more and more desperate and things get grosser and grosser as he tries to find a way to get his life back to normal. Normal never comes, but the twists don’t stop until the very end.
5. Queen of Versailles: If you love the Real Housewives of Every American Town, then you need to see this documentary about a family trying to build the largest house in America and losing everything in the process.
6. Cabin in the Woods: I do not enjoy horror movies, but this movie, contrary to its marketing, is not really a horror movie. It’s a comedy, a comment on genre, and a meta look at how we consume and enjoy movies. Its cleverness never becomes twee and the ending is so good that if anyone spoils it for you, you should sic Freddy Krueger on their ass.
7. How to Survive a Plague: This documentary about the early days of AIDS activism is just as fascinating when examining lives of the heroes who risked everything to get patients experimental medication as when their organization ACT-UP falls apart because of its own success. There’s also a 10-hankie twist three-quarters of the way through which shows the path toward hope.
8. ParaNorman: The best kids movies are the ones that take adult themes (like bullying, not fitting in, and troubled family dynamics) and make them suitable for children. If you can do that in a great story about witches and zombies that is full of first-rate gags, then, well, you deserve to be in the Top 10.
9. Skyfall: Daniel Craig is great. James Bond is great. When you get them both doing the best work the franchise has done in decades, well, that’s just greatness squared.
10. Farewell My Queen: Oh great, another movie about Marie Antoinette. But if you see any movies about the privileged aristocrat, it should be this one. The film is told through the eyes of a servant girl trying to survive the final days of the French aristocracy while staying true to herself and her queen.
11. The Avengers: Sure, the story for this culmination of the last five years of Marvel superhero movies was a bit complicated and contrived, but Joss Whedon knows how to keep us laughing and engaged for two-plus hours of super powers, alien invasions, and Hulk transformations. This is what you want every blockbuster to be like.
12. Your Sister’s Sister: This “mumblecore” movie about a lesbian who sleeps with her sister’s best friend seems like it should be a cut-and-paste character study about Pacific Northwest hipster types, but the emotional turns keep coming and the complications seems revelatory rather than contrived. Bonus points to Emily Blunt for finally making a really stellar movie.
13. Cloud Atlas: Everyone hated this ambitious project that tried to roll six movies into one. I did not. It had its problems, but from what I saw, it was the most successful of this year’s overly ambitious movies. Sure, some of it was totally nuts, but it was always entertaining.
14. Chronicle: Finally, a way to do the “found footage” movie that doesn’t seem like a total scam. This story about three teenagers who get telekinetic powers was the first truly experimental entry into the superhero genre we’ve seen in a long time. Let’s hope the sequel doesn’t screw it up.
15. Miss Bala: If you want to see the destruction drug cartels have created in Mexico, then try this saga about a beauty queen whose life gets increasingly desperate as she tries to find a way out of an impossible situation.
16. 21 Jump Street: Channing Tatum is funny. Go figure!
17. The Dark Knight Rises: Too long, too complicated, and too politcally murky, this finale to a great triology still managed to be pretty awesome. Most of that is due to Miss Anne Hathaway (Selina Kyle).
18. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: A spy thriller so unemotional, it should have been called All These Men Came in from the Cold. Still a great mind-bender.
19. Magic Mike: Considering how much naked male flesh per capita this movie promised, I wanted to like it more. I think I would have if it hadn’t been marketed as a good time feast of flesh and then delivered a dour rumination on sex and longing. That rumination was worth having, but we were sold strippers and glitter and given heartbreak and desperation.
20. Looper: I hate time travel and even I loved this truly inventive dystopian action movie. It gets credit for having the most original vision of the future that we’ve seen in a long time.
21. Moonrise Kingdom: It’s too twee for its own good, but Wes Anderson‘s story about young love is winning and memorable. And you can’t hate anything with Tilda Swinton.
22. The Master: Oh, man. This one. Paul Thomas Anderson knows how to make a beautiful film and knows how to get a stellar performance, but this tale about a guru and the animalistic man who becomes his right-hand never really adds up to much. But what good are great characters if you don’t give them anything exciting to do?
23. Life of Pi: For a movie that creates such amazing visuals using boats sinking into the ocean and whales jumping out of it, it’s ironic that the story is as shallow as a half-evaporated puddle.
24. Pitch Perfect: Good songs, great jokes, Rebel Wilson, and a puke scene that will make you bust a gut – this Glee-on-film flick has everything you need.
25. Max et les Ferrailleurs: Someone dragged me to the delayed American release of this 1971 French movie about a cop who goes too far undercover investigating petty criminals. I’m glad he did, not only for the great retro outfits, but for the emotionally complicated look at a familiar story.
26. The Dictator: As long as you don’t have a problem with rape jokes, this is a silly good time.
27. The Amazing Spider-Man: Not every superhero needs to be remade as dark and brooding and not every superhero franchise needs to be remade.
28. The Hunger Games: I loved the book, but the movie just didn’t have the weight and dread that the books conjured. However, I’ll see Jennifer Lawrence in anything.
29. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Never read the book, but I liked the movie well enough. I mostly liked Daniel Craig’s winter wardrobe, which is funny because I usually like him wearing next to nothing.
30. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Old people in India are cute, aren’t they?
31. Lawless: Tom Hardy gives one of those great silent performances where you just read everything about his defiant bootlegger character on his face. Shia LaBeouf is…well, he’s in this movie.
32. Wanderlust: My New Year’s resolution for 2012 was to hate Jennifer Aniston less. This modern day hippie movie sure helped. But I think I liked it mostly for Paul Rudd.
33. Beauty and the Beast 3D: Tale as old as time. True as it can be. I saw it again. With a group of friends. We saw it in 3D.
34. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: This Tolkien prequel was more bloated the your fat grandmother after Thanksgiving dinner.
35. Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel: This is a lackluster documentary with a magnificent subject. If you don’t know everything about this former Vogue editor, then get the movie right away.
36. Wreck-It Ralph: I wanted this video game nostalgia trip to be like The Incredibles for a Nintendo generation. Instead, the only cute thing about it was the Q-Bert gags.
37. This is 40: Judd Apatow takes an interesting and unvarnished look at middle age but a good portion of the movie is as unnecessary as a third cupcake.
38. A Cat in Paris: Stellar animation and a rather grown-up story still couldn’t save this mediocre kid’s flick.
39. Snow White and the Huntsman: Even the absolute fierceness of Charlize Theron‘s evil queen couldn’t fix this eye-rolling wretch of a fairy tale.
40. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol: I remember enjoying this action movie, but don’t remember one single thing about it. Guess it couldn’t be that good.
41. Albert Nobbs: 2012 was a year of great performances in dull movies. There were two women playing men in this one, both worth checking out, but maybe in a better script.
42. John Carter: Oh, come on. It wasn’t that bad. It was pretty and moved along and Taylor Kitsch had his shirt off the entire time!
43. Seven Psychopaths: Too clever for its own good, this making-a-movie-about-making-a-movie had some keen insights that got lost in a lot of mush.
44. Premium Rush: This year, Joseph Gordon-Levitt could do no wrong. Well, maybe except for this slightly absurd but still good fun biking movie.
45. The Secret World of Arriety: This is animation master Hayao Miyazaki at his worst, trying to turn the children’s fare The Borrowers into something of his own. The animation was stellar as always, but the narrative could have used some of his signature mythological flourishes.
46. Les Miserables: I always hated the show and the movie suffers from the same problems: too long, too boring, and doesn’t make any sense. Added to that the direction swoops in on the actors as they sing and over emote during their solos. This goes a little higher up on the list thanks to Anne Hathaway (enjoy that Oscar, sister) and because “Castle on a Cloud” got stuck in my head for a week.
47. Django Unchained: Quentin Tarantino thinks that he is so funny, and his smugness in his own hilarity is all over this movie, where each scene goes on too long and half of the story is unnecessary. What Tarantino needs more than anything is a good editor.
48. Prometheus: I really wanted this to be better and I thought I liked this Alien prequel until, well, I thought about it some more and it really didn’t make any sense. But I will never forget her nasty alien abortion. Gross.
49. Friends With Kids: This Jennifer Westfelt rom-com was an interesting experiment in trying to make a rom-com that wasn’t a rom-com at all, but, in the end, it became just like every other sappy Hollywood movie it pretended to hate in the first place.
50. Bachelorette: This Bridesmaids rip off wasted Rebel Wilson, Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson, and the rest of the talented cast. Even worse, writer director Leslye Headland wasted her brilliantly caustic play by turning it into a toothless, conventional movie.
51. Hitchcock: Great makeup does not a great movie make. Like My Week with Marilyn before it, this thing was like an overly long Vanity Fair article come to life.
52. The Iron Lady: Meryl deserved that Oscar. The rest of us deserve to forget this sloppy movie forever.
53. Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston: A great subject wasted on a filmmaker who has no idea what he is doing and thinks we care as much about him as the fashion icon. The best scene in the movie is when Vogue legend Andre Leon Talley yells at director Whitney Smith for not having done his research.
54. Five-Year Engagement: This felt like it went on for not five years but 20. Oh, Emily Blunt, please stop making bad movies.
55. Savages: The best I can say for this overly-violent, utterly rote Oliver Stone drug drama is that everyone looks really good with their clothes off.
56. Hysteria: I went to see this on a Friday afternoon in the summer in an empty theater in Manhattan. It was literally empty except for me and a friend and two people sat in the seats directly behind us and then talked through the movie! I had to yell at them and tell them to shut up and move because there are hundreds of seats, you don’t pick the ones that are directly behind the only two other people in the theater. Then I felt bad because this dildo drama was so boring I wanted to make fun of it with my friend, but since I made a stance about being quiet in the movies I had to keep it all in. Well, until now.
57. Pina: This documentary about choreographer Pina Bausch had some of the best 3D I’d ever seen. Too bad there was too much repetitive dancing and not enough about her life.
58. Flight: This is not a movie, it’s an illustrated story from an AA meeting. The plane crash at the beginning is pretty amazing though.
59. Wrath of the Titans: This Greek Mythology something-or-other makes about as much sense as a unicorn having a baby with a Sphinx.
60. The Ocean Waves: OK, I was wrong, this is Miyazaki at his worst. I saw this at a retrospective of his work at IFC Center and it had never been shown in the U.S. before. Let’s hope this overblown teen melodrama is never shown here again either.
61. Dark Shadows: Why did we have to waste Michelle Pfieffer‘s comeback on this?
62. W.E.: As an American Homosexual, I can not say anything mean about Madonna. I will say that Madonna’s nonsensical movie about Wallis Simpson looked like the most gorgeous magazine pictorial I ever saw. Oh, and I saw this at the premiere and Madonna was there. She wore a nice dress.
63. Damsels in Distress: I don’t know what Whit Stillman was trying to say in this outdated take on girls in college, and I don’t think I want to know either.
64. Chasing Mavericks: How did someone convince me to pay money to see a movie with Gerard Butler? The only reason this wasn’t in last place is because the surfing footage was absolutely stunning.
65. Killing Them Softly: What makes this movie the worst is that it (and plenty of other people) think it is one of the best. It is not. It is about Brad Pitt going to clean up some mob mess and there are a bunch of characters all of whose arcs are going nowhere. There is no character exploration, there is no thematic development, there is nothing. That includes women (there is literally one woman in this movie and she is a whore) or sense behind the glorified violence. Yeah, it looks pretty cool, but most of it doesn’t leave any commentary on violence it all. It’s just gore for the sake of it. Oh, and in case you missed it, the point is that the mob is just like America or politics or something, which is why we keep hearing Barack Obama give speeches about our economic future during the action of the movie. Yes, we get it. We get it. How about some subtlety next time?
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company (2); Warner Bros (2); Lionsgate; Fox Searchlight; Focus Features; Columba Pictures (2); Walt Disney; Universal Pictures]