2012 has been the best year in movies since I can remember. Seriously.
As many fellow movie journalists, critics and enthusiasts have already mused, narrowing down a list of favorites to 10 has been particularly difficult this year. In the end, though, my top five were a lock. When I saw my favorite movie of the year back in August, I said I had a hard time imagining that any movie would beat it. And much to my surprise (and chagrin), a good three or four gave it a real run for its money (even though it didn't make much money, but more on that later).
Some movies I might have imagined to make this list faltered (I'm looking at you, "Les Miserables") and some little movies you've probably never heard of (like "The First Time") I wanted to support by having them rank, but just couldn't keep them high enough on my list. In the end, there could only be 10, and here's how my list shook out.
I, for one, do like a good slasher movie. My favorite part is that moment when you know a big scare is imminent – my heart starts pounding, my hands start to shield my eyes and I start to question if I even want to watch at all. Well, that moment in "Cabin in the Woods" gets so brilliantly turned on its head that my hands fell back to my sides and my jaw landed on the floor. Of course, as a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fan, I should have known to expect just as much comedy as horror from the genius brain of Joss Whedon, but I'm so glad I didn't as I entered the theater that day.
Wait a minute – this wasn't a Pixar movie?! I'm so confused. Apparently, Disney picked up a little Pixar mojo when it acquired the animation studio because this had the something-special feel of Pixar favorites like "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille." Filled with nods to classic video games, this follows old video game baddie Ralph (voices by John C. Reilly) as he leaves his game to try to find glory and good-guy love in others. In the meantime, he befriends "glitch" Vanellope and vows to help her become a heroine of her own game. Lessons are learned, laughs are abundant and love (between Jane Lynch's militant leader and Jack McBrayer's wholesome Fix-It Felix, natch?) abounds.
It's difficult to bring an entire room of movie writers and editors – especially one where the majority would rather be called something a bit more pretentious – to tears, but mere minutes into this documentary, the sniffles were in stereo. I wasn't immune either. In fact, the next morning, as I recounted one mother (whose son was being treated so poorly by other kids and his school's administration that the filmmakers had to knock down the third wall and intervene) breaking down on Mother's Day because she felt she'd been a bad mother for not knowing what was happening, I wept all over again. As a film, "Bully" is terrific. As a call to action, it's even better.
This early February flick sat at the top of my personal best of 2012 list for the vast majority of the year – all the way until mid-September, when it was unseated (and then unseated several times again). A trio of mostly unknown actors – except for "Friday Night Lights" standout Michael B. Jordan – give us a moving, emotion-filled origin story for potential superheroes (and/or super-villains) that, unlike several other "super" movies this year, forces us to wonder what we would do with such powers and reminds us just how easy it might be for some to cross that line between good and evil.
You've probably already heard this a million times this season, but this film is incredible. Kathryn Bigelow's direction takes you right into the action of the raid on Osama bin Laden's hideaway. Still, that's only the last 20 minutes or so of the movie. For the rest of the time, we're in Jessica Chastain's capable hands (that girl picks projects better than anyone, right?). Her character, Maya, based on a real CIA agent, is flawed yet brilliant and totally ballsy. She's the mother f***er who found this place, after all.
"Glee" + "Bring It On" = something totally aca-mazing. In fact, just trying to write about this hilarious college acappella competition comedy, starring Anna Kendrick (who just might be the coolest chick since Emma Stone), the adorable Skylar Austin (from the original cast of "Spring Awakening," just like Lea Michele!) and scene-stealing Rebel Wilson, has me pining for the Blu-ray (which comes out tomorrow, BTW) and pressing play on its infectious soundtrack. In other words, this is the movie of 2012 most likely to be watched over and over (and hummed in between). It's just that much fun.
4. 'Life of Pi'
There's no question: Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" was easily the most beautiful movie to behold in 2012. The fact that I was never quite sure what I was looking at – whether Richard Parker was a real tiger or CGI, or whether or not I should trust the film's narrator, Pi (Suraj Sharma) – made the experience all the more magical. At the end of the day, I didn't care which elements were real or CGI, I was just along for the ride, and it was a stunning one at that.
When I left the theater for this film, my mind was blown. It was the third movie of the year I'd seen that I'd fallen deeply in love with, and could see sitting at the top of my list. Truly, this film and the next two all deserve 1s next to their names, but there can be only one. Jennifer Lawrence proved that "Winter's Bone" was no fluke (she was great in "Hunger Games" and "X-Men: First Class," but come on) – she has the chops to play with the big guns and we're going to be seeing her at awards show after awards show for decades to come. Bradley Cooper was no slouch in this movie either – apparently he's more than just a pretty face. Who knew? If you haven't yet enjoyed this gem, head to the theaters immediately. Or, at least, after you pass the Raisin Bran.
Ben Affleck FTW. I'll repeat my colleagues far and wide – the guy is a solid actor, but this film proved once and for all that he's an extraordinary director. The film, about the absolutely insane methods used to save six Americans from the 1979 Iran Hostage crisis could've just felt like a history lesson. We all knew how it was gonna end. But still, I sat on the edge of my seat, holding my breath and clenching my teeth waiting to see if the airport's militant security would by the preposterous sci-fi movie production team cover. Now that's an accomplishment.
First of all, what the eff is wrong with everyone who didn't see this movie?! Did you not believe that Hermione and Percy Jackson could put together a drama for all ages? Do you have something against movies that take place in high school? One of the biggest points of this movie is that "we accept the love we think we deserve" – apparently that's what happened. People didn't feel worthy of this greatness. Whatever the case may be, those people really missed out (although they can make up for it when the movie comes out on Blu-ray and DVD on Feb. 12). Emma Watson, Logan Lerman and especially Ezra Miller (give the guy an Oscar nomination, I'm serious!) turn in incredible performances and remind you exactly what high school was like even if your experience was absolutely nothing like theirs. The film, a faithful (in tone, if not in fact) adaptation by Stephen Chbosky of Stephen Chbosky's novel, is equal parts heart-wrenching and hilarious and altogether magical.
NextMovie Senior Editor Breanne L. Heldman has never included a "Step Up" movie in her end-of-year top 10 lists, despite what some may think. Follow her on Twitter.