The best and worst films of 2012

This may finally be the year that well-made big-budget studio fare finally gets some respect.



This may finally be the year that well-made big-budget studio fare finally gets some respect, a cause championed by the likes of Christopher Nolan. Which is awkward, because we were expecting more from his "Dark Knight Rises," but he didn't quite stick the landing. If nothing else, 2012 proved to be a delightfully diverse year at the movies. Some runners up for this list include Best Picture front-runner "Argo," Michael Haneke's Cannes favorite "Amour" and Quentin Tarantino's bloody, hilarious "Django Unchained." But there can be only 10, and here they are:


1. CLOUD ATLAS — A big, bold, far-reaching tale encompassing six different stories — and six very different visual and genre style — to explore the enduring power of love and mankind's struggle for freedom. The Wachowskis and co-director Tom Tykwer packed a lot into their 172 minutes, adapting David Mitchell's gorgeous novel into something vital and engrossing. Plus, it's a film that only improves with repeat viewing.


2. ZERO DARK THIRTY — Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal follow up their wins for "the Hurt Locker" with an even better film tracking the decade-long manhunt for Osama Bin Laden, buoyed by a performance by Jessica Chastain that should earn her a Best Actress Oscar. The film's greatest feat is presenting all of the facts without an ounce of politicization. It's remarkably neutral.


3. THE IMPOSSIBLE — This true-life tale of a European family separated during the 2004 tsunami is incredibly manipulative, but it is some of the most artful, effective manipulation ever committed to film, and for that it deserves respect. A harrowing, unflinching look at the struggle for survival that puts viewers through the emotional wringer.

4. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD — A startling debut with a 6-year-old unknown star (Quvenzhané Wallis) and a look and feel unlike anything seen before, this charming and moving fable is a rare treasure, a visual poem with an equally enduring score co-written by director and co-writer Benh Zeitlin.

5. CABIN IN THE WOODS — Joss Whedon had one of the year's biggest hits with "the Avengers" — which nearly made this list as well — but his real triumph this year comes in co-writing this sharp and hilarious deconstruction of the horror movie genre. Once the movie's real game is revealed and the action begins hurtling toward an unforgettable climax, the film's giddy energy become infectious.

6. RUST AND BONE — Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard turns in another striking and poignant performance as a whale trainer who loses her legs during an accident at work and rediscovers the beauty of life with the help of a down-on-his-luck bruiser of a single father (Matthais Schoenaerts).

7. LINCOLN — Daniel Day-Lewis is of course the main attraction here, seamlessly transforming himself into the 16th president, but he shares the screen with a dizzying array of fantastic supporting performances, the best of which by Tommy Lee Jones, Lee Pace and James Spader. It's just a shame director Steven Spielberg didn't have the self-control to end the film where screenwriter Tony Kushner clearly wanted to.

8. KEEP THE LIGHTS ON — Writer-director Ira Sachs mines his own romantic past with achingly honesty to tell the story of two men trying to love each other and ignore each other's addictions for nearly a decade. It's an unflinching portrayal of intimacy and the usually unexamined negotiations and compromises in any relationship.

9. ANNA KARENINA — Director Joe Wright and actress Keira Knightley team up for their third literary adaptation — after "Pride and Prejudice" and "Atonement" — with this gorgeous and risky translation of the Russian classic. The staging and style are mesmerizing, and Knightley shines, but the real standout here is Jude Law in a career-redefining turn as the cuckolded Alexei Karenin.

10. SKYFALL — Sam Mendes leads the James Bond franchise to a new benchmark in quality just in time for its 50th anniversary, imbuing Daniel Craig's 007 with just the right amount of fun and '60s swagger. A delicious turn by Javiar Bardem as the villain and Roger Deakins' gorgeous cinematography help elevate it to something even more.


There are a lot of ways to qualify a bad film, which led to some entries not making this list. Some films disappoint by wasting talent and prestige, like "the Hobbit," while others come from such uninspired origins that it seems pointless to complain about them, like Adam Sandler's "Thats' My Boy." Then there are these 10, which are just plain bad.

1. PROMETHEUS — This one might not be as objectively bad as others on the list, but it failed on a much grander scale, taking a beloved science fiction franchise, a talented cast and gorgeous cinematography and creating maddeningly thoughtless dreck. Worst of all, a film that was meant to be a prequel ends instead with a presumptuous setup for a sequel. A note to director Ridley Scott: That's not up to you.

2. ONE FOR THE MONEY — This turkey kicked off the year in January and nearly held the title for year's worst the whole way through. Katherine Heigl's attempt to launch herself a franchise based on Janet Evanovich's books is clumsy, painful and plodding, inspiring contempt from its viewers.

3. ROCK OF AGES — The poppy hair metal of the 1980s — already not the most soulful music in the world — has any life drained out of it completely in this painfully campy, overlong and uneven trudge down the Sunset Strip. Alec Baldwin and Catherine Zeta-Jones just look embarrassed to be there, and Tom Cruise should be, considering his performance. This movie — storyline and all — was better last year when it was called "Burlesque."

4. SAVAGES — Oliver Stone's over-saturated, bombastic drug war fantasy is filled with overwrought melodrama, empty tough-guy posturing and an ending that is beyond frustrating. But the worst aspect of the film can be summed up in three words: Blake Lively narration.

5. WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING — Basing an ensemble comedy on a pregnancy manual was probably the first mistake. The second was thinking any of the shrill and unsympathetic characters on display are at all entertaining. An all-star cast — Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth Banks — does its part to set women back a good 20 years.

6. AMERICAN REUNION — The sequel that no one asked for taught us two things: The most successful member of the original "American Pie" cast turns out to be Alyson Hannigan, surprisingly. And when you take away the original film's plot device of the main characters trying to lose their virginity, it turns out they're pretty boring people — and not terribly funny.

7. THE RAVEN — Edgar Allan Poe (John Cusack) teams up with a detective to solve horrific crimes inspired by Poe's stories. The main attraction here is Cusack trying his damnedest to out-crazy Nicolas Cage, devouring every inch of scenery in this uneven, poorly conceived thriller.

8. ALEX CROSS — Tyler Perry's first foray into acting for a director other than himself is poorly made by cable TV movie standards. But that — and the film's paltry opening weekend — apparently aren't stopping them from making a sequel.

9. RED DAWN — What should have been one of the worst films of 2009 instead limped onto screens this year. The young cast try their best in this unnecessary and clumsy remake, but there's no saving it. And the cynical decision to change the bad guys from Chinese to North Korean in post-production — not with recasting or reshooting, just by changing the flags on their uniforms — is downright offensive.

10. THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN, PART 2 — Talking about how bad this movie is — not to mention the entire sparkly vampire series — feels futile, especially now that it's all over. It at least serves as proof that all the directing and acting talent you can muster are no match against shoddy source material.


Films can be in and out of theaters in no time these days, especially smaller ones. Here are some blink-and-you-missed-them gems from 2012 that you can give another chance right now on DVD and streaming. Do yourself a favor.

1. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED — What could have been a snide indie comedy poking fun at an eccentric loser is elevated by Mark Duplass' performance as said loser, imbuing his time travel true-believer with gravity and a palpable sadness and giving the film a tinge of bittersweet complexity.

2. THE SOUND OF MY VOICE — Speaking of time travel, there's a reason indie darling Brit Marling has been getting so much attention. She's a fine filmmaker in her own right — and co-wrote this taut, quiet mind-bender — and her on-screen presence is mesmerizing. Just try to resist being taken in by her loopy cult leader who claims to be from the future.

3. CASA DE MI PADRE — Will Ferrell's gonzo Spanish-language romp is over-the-top, ridiculous and absurd in all the best ways. Plus, he lets "Y tu Mama Tambien" stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna and "Parks and Recreation" scene-stealer Nick Offerman in on the fun. The real star, though, is a far-from-believable stuffed jaguar.

4. CHRONICLE — The "found footage" genre may be outstaying its welcome, but Josh Trank's inventive debut is easily the best use of the gimmick. In fact, his story about what high school boys would likely do if they suddenly developed super powers — hint: nothing productive — would have been just as great as a more traditional film.

5. BUTTER — Jennifer Garner plays against type as a cold, calculating career wife, leading a phenomenal ensemble in the biting political satire reveling in its characters' quirkiness. Don't let the folksy Midwestern accents fool you. This isn't a Sarah Palin/Michele Bachmann takedown. The film is actually a retelling of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's 2008 primary battle set at the Iowa State Fair butter-carving competition. Yes, you read that correctly.

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