Aren's Top 10 Films of 2012

The past year was a great year for films. Not since 2007 have I given such high ratings or has it been so difficult to formulate a top films list. Like any Top 10 list, the rankings are kind of arbitrary, but the whole exercise is fun nevertheless if only to provoke discussion and give credit to some really great films. Without further ado, here are the best films of 2012:

1. Skyfall (dir. Sam Mendes) — A masterpiece of intelligent entertainment. Sam Mendes and company dig deep into the Bond mythos and craft a film that comments on a spy’s place in the modern world and Bond’s place in cinema. Complemented by Roger Deakins gorgeous cinematography and Thomas Newman’s propulsive score, Skyfall is one the series’ best outings. It’s fitting that in his 50th year on the big screen, Bond would give us one of the most accomplished and beautiful action films ever made.

2. The Dark Knight Rises (dir. Christopher Nolan) — The series had to end and for Christopher Nolan’s final installment in his Dark Knight trilogy, he went bigger than ever before. The Dark Knight Rises is a grand statement on the importance of heroes and a fitting finale for Christian Bale’s tortured crusader. This film is a modern epic of unprecedented scale and craftsmanship, and it will be a while before we get another superhero franchise made with this kind of intelligence and precision.

3. Django Unchained (dir. Quentin Tarantino) — It’s preposterous that an exploitation western about slavery and revenge could be so entertaining, but I’ve learned that it’s never wise to doubt Quentin Tarantino. For his follow-up to Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino has made another calculated revenge fantasy about historical barbarism and filled it with fascinating characters like Dr. King Schulz (Christoph Waltz) and Calvin Candie (Leonardio DiCaprio). But what this film has that even Inglourious Basterds doesn’t is a beating heart at its centre, personified by the stoic badass Django (Jamie Foxx) and his quest to rescue his one true love, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).

4. The Grey (dir. Joe Carnahan) — I wouldn't have predicated that the year’s most contemplative film would be directed by the guy who made Smokin Aces, nor to see a January release that belonged on a Top 10 list. But that just goes to show how surprising The Grey is. Advertised as a Liam Neeson brawler, The Grey is actually a depressing rumination on mortality and masculinity. Neeson gives one of his best performances and the film as a whole stands as one of the great man vs. wild films.

5. The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson) — The more I think about it, the more I love The Master. Paul Thomas Anderson’s enigmatic character study defies easy definition, but such complexity makes it all the more fascinating. Grounded by two amazing characters that explore the dichotomy of the American man, this is a film of raw performances and impeccable filmmaking.

6. Silver Linings Playbook (dir. David O. Russell) — I didn’t expect to love this film as much as I do, but there’s no denying that Silver Linings Playbook is a charming film. It’s a screwball romantic comedy and a mental illness drama spun together, with also a dash of a dysfunctional family farce added for good measure. David O. Russell has finally perfected his style and tone, creating a film that portrays excruciatingly real characters and circumstances, but that also earns the Hollywood ending too.

7. Lincoln (dir. Steven Spielberg) — If the final scene of the film had been left on the cutting room floor, this would be a flawless film that puts us into its time and place like few period pieces I can think of. Daniel Day-Lewis again demonstrates his mastery of the art of acting by surprising us with his affectionate and quiet performance as Honest Abe, and he’s surrounded by a fantastic supporting cast that bring this tale of political maneuvering and American mythmaking to life.

8. Prometheus (dir. Ridley Scott) — Easily the most divisive film on my list, this is the rare science fiction film of ambition and ideas. Its focus is cosmic and its craft impeccable. It is both thrilling and beautiful. Like any good Lovecraftian horror, it leaves you in awe of the enormity of the universe and the insignificance of humanity’s place in it.

9. Flight (dir. Robert Zemeckis) — Here is a complex character drama of self-deceit and addiction, packaged as a disaster film. Denzel Washington is at the top of his form, and the plane crash alone is worth the admission. Flight is probably the most unconventional and compelling big budget drama Hollywood has released in a while.

10. Zero Dark Thirty (dir. Kathryn Bigelow) — For her follow-up to The Hurt Locker, Bigelow has expanded her scale and narrowed her scope. Here is a film with the grand ambition that has a razor focus on one individual’s dogged pursuit of revenge. Mark Boal’s script is a grand achievement in research and patience. Damn the controversy! Zero Dark Thirty is so fascinating precisely because of its murky complexity and refusal to make any grand moralistic statements within its own narrative.

Honourable Mentions:

Argo (dir. Ben Affleck), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (dir. John Madden), Holy Motors (dir. Leos Carax), Indie Game: The Movie (dir. Lisanne Pijot and James Swirsky), The Kid with a Bike (dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne), Les Misérables (dir. Tom Hooper), Life of Pi (dir. Ang Lee), Looper (dir. Rian Johnson), Moonrise Kingdom (dir. Wes Anderson), Oslo August 31st (dir. Joachim Trier), ParaNorman (dir. Chris Butler and Sam Fell), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (dir. Stephen Chbosky), The Secret World of Arrietty (dir. Hiromasa Yonebayashi), This is Not a Film (dir. Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and Jafar Panahi), To the Wonder (dir. Terrence Malick)