Sure, this site focuses on weird films, but that’s not all we watch. We love movies. How will we understand what lies at the extremes if we don’t keep a finger on the pulse of “normal” cinema? Great craftsmanship is great craftsmanship, and if every movie was made to push boundaries, things would get boring pretty fast. With that in mind, we hereby release our list of the best movies of 2012, regardless of genre and irrespective of conventionality. You may notice that three of these films also made our Weirdest Movies of 2012 list, but in a different order than they appear here; that’s because this list is based strictly on the quality of filmmaking without regard to any consideration of weirdness. With that prologue out of the way, let’s dive right into it, starting with #10:
10. Seven Psychopaths – Playwright-turned-director Martin McDonagh‘s second feature film (after In Bruges) sports a hip, manly cast (Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits) and brisk violence, mixed with an intricate script that sometimes threatens to go into meta-movie territory (Farrel’s character is working on a screenplay entitled Seven Psychopaths). This quirky caper comedy involving dognapping and serial killers is reminiescent of classic Quentin Tarantino and will be remembered for a couple of exchanges that became immediate classics, including a bit where an unimpressed Walken is held up at gunpoint that caps off an impressive highlight reel for the beloved character actor.
9. The Dark Knight Rises – It’s not the revelation that The Dark Knight was, but it’s a fitting end to a trilogy that brought arthouse sensibilities to comic book characters without sacrificing action. Christopher Nolan may be the only director capable of making superhero movies for adults, complete with complicated plots and character development. His Dark Knight will be missed.
8. Lincoln – The title implies that this will be a biopic covering the life of the 16th president, but the movie actually focuses very narrowly on a single political subject: Lincoln’s efforts to get the 13th Amendment banning slavery passed. The “Honest Abe” depicted here walks an ethical tightrope as he tries to swing reluctant Democrats to support the controversial legislation, resorting to bribery, misdirection and political threats. Stephen Spielberg manages to keep the dry subject matter engaging, helped along greatly by an able (hee hee) performance from Daniel Day-Lewis as the Great Emancipator, supported by Sally Fields as Mary Todd and Tommy Lee Jones as obnoxiously idealistic Radial Republican Thaddeus Stevens. It’s pure Oscar bait, but it’s good Oscar bait. It’s got gravitas out the butt.
7. Argo – Solid thriller from director Ben Affleck detailing the real-life tale of six U.S. diplomats who, aided by a CIA operative, escaped Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis by pretending to be a movie crew scouting locations for a fake sci-fi extravaganza. John Goodman and Alan Arkin supply welcome comic relief as a pair of Hollywood insiders who help agent Affleck implement the crazy scheme. After sitting through the tense final half hour, you’ll never complain you had a tough time going through airport security again.
6. Doggiewoggiez! Poochiewoochiez! – We weren’t kidding about naming this loose remake of the surrealist epic The Holy Mountain composed entirely out of dog footage clipped from Hollywood movies, instructional DVDs and public access programs our Weirdest Movie of 2012, and we’re not kidding when we say it should be counted among the best movies of any sort released this year. It’s cutting edge, utterly original and, if nothing else, it’s the year’s funniest comedy, with triple the laughs per minute of a big budget misfire like 21 Jump Street (a movie made for people whose sense of humor peaked in high school). It’s not “mainstream,” but it stands up on its own four paws against the best fluff the mainstream film industry threw at us this year.
5. Bernie – Jack Black is impressive as a sunshiney, effeminate, and beloved Texas funeral director accused of murdering a vindictive old shrew (Shirley MacLaine) in this friendly black comedy based on a true story. While Black’s underplayed, against-type performance deserves its Oscar buzz, the real stars of the film are the citizens of Carthage, Texas (some played by real townspeople), who act as the comic chorus and paint an endearing, funny and believable portrait of small town life.
4. The Cabin in the Woods– As much as I love horror movies, in these days of torture porn and gorier rehashes of old stalwarts that scared ’em in the 70s and 80s it’s a rare treat when a member of this disreputable genre is smart and original enough to deserve to be ranked among the best film of the year. This hip, blackly comic postmodern campfire tale is almost like a slasher movie script dashed off by Charlie Kaufman. I can guarantee you have not seen the ending before.
3. The Master – Despite The Master‘s titular cult leader being notoriously modeled on L. Ron Hubbard, Paul Thomas Anderson’s existential movie is hardly about Scientology at all, which perplexed and disappointed many mainstream viewers who came in hoping to see an exposé. Powerhouse performances by a seedy Joaquin Phoenix and a seductive Phillip Seymour Hoffman anchor this thought-provoking, sometimes confounding study of the human search for meaning that ultimately concludes that a depraved freedom is preferable to a sick salvation.
2. Chicken with Plums [Poulet aux Prunes] – In 1940s Tehran, a master musician decides to go to bed to die after his beloved violin breaks and he can’t find a replacement; his life story is told in flashbacks and dream sequences featuring appearances by Socrates, the Angel of Death, and a giant Sophia Loren. Visually sumptuous, with plumes of opium smoke frequently filling the screen, it’s an exotic and elegant fantasy drama that strikes an unique tone of despondent whimsy. Beautiful, romantic stuff.
1. Beasts of the Southern Wild– Sure, it’s flawed—it’s too New Agey, too Noble Savagey—but just a glance from enchanting newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis and all objections melt away. Beasts was simply the most original and magical American movie of the year.