Crafting a Top 10 Movies of the Year list always presents a little bit of a conundrum: Do you include the greatest films created, technically and artistically speaking, or do you go with the ones you simply enjoyed the most? It's the "best" versus "favorite" argument.
I tend to lean toward the latter and highlight the movies that had the most emotional impact on me, be it through laughter, shock, thrills or tears.
Maybe it also helps to give less heralded movies some shine. "Argo" is probably a better film than "Ruby Sparks." But honestly, I enjoyed "Ruby Sparks" more. "Argo" will be on everyone else's list, and you may not have heard of "Ruby Sparks" or "Searching for Sugar Man," movies you'd probably really like.
So here are my 10 favorite movies of the year. And hey, at least I can always cheat with some Honorable Mentions. "Argo" made it there.
10. 'Ruby Sparks'
The second most criminally underseen movie of the year (see also #1). It was surprising to see this one slip under the radar considering it's the follow-up (and first film in six years) from "Little Miss Sunshine" co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Impossible not to compare to "Weird Science" – which of course is a good thing, a very, very good thing – the romantic dramedy follows a lonely bestselling author (Paul Dano) who literally writes his girlfriend (Zoe Kazan, who also wrote this beauty) into existence, and then goes about molding her, to tragicomic results. The fantasy element is executed flawlessly, making "Sparks" a slick metaphor for modern relationships. It's also got a cute dog, you know, if that'll help convince you to see this one.
You know how some horror movies are really scary for 20 or 30 minutes, then lose their voodoo? "V/H/S" is the perfect antidote: It's an anthology of six found footage-style shorts (mostly involving the supernatural), framed together by a heist involving a group of thugs in search of a rare and invaluable VHS snuff tape. It can be a little too gory-for-gore's-sake at times, but damn if it won't shake you to the core. The freakishly chilling haunted house segment "10/31/98" (made by a filmmaking quartet known as Radio Silence) bests any paranormal scare-fest we've seen since, well, the first "Paranormal Activity."
8. 'The Five-Year Engagement'
Clearly I'm in the minority on this one, so consider this my pick for "most underrated" this year. (Spoiler alert: It's about an amiable couple (Jason Segel and Emily Blunt) whose marriage is put off five years.) "Engagement" is gut-bustingly funny from start to finish, proudly vulgar while also sweet, touching and romantically satisfying. It's the rare rom-com that just so happens to be hysterical, and really deserved the same scale audience as "Bridesmaids," despite its lack of diarrhea. Bonus points: The stellar supporting cast includes representation from all four NBC Thursday night comedies, with Allison Brie ("Community"), Chris Pratt ("Parks and Rec"), Mindy Kaling ("The Office") and Chris Parnell ("30 Rock") all turning up.
7. 'The Invisible War'
Unfortunately, the best documentaries produced these days tend to also be some of the most depressing and/or infuriating, and "The Invisible War" definitely fits those bills. An unsettling and straight-up sickening expose of the rampant rate of rape in the U.S. military, the doc from Kirby Dick ("This Film Is Not Rated") is presented mainly through the eyes of brave victims who've come forward (both men and women), and many of whom were subsequently vilified or counter-investigated for reporting the crime in a military culture ridden with corruption and cover-ups. Though there's no happy ending to the film, the film reportedly inspired policy changes before it even opened, which is a win for everyone.
"Lincoln" is exactly what you'd expect from a Steven Spielberg-directed biopic starring Daniel Day-Lewis: epic, intelligent, perfectly portrayed and a tad sentimental. You could complain it's a little slow or laborious at times, but you try making a movie about the passage of a constitutional amendment that's more entertaining. Then there's DDL, who proves once-again he's bar-none the greatest actor alive, maybe even GOAT. Favorite part about the "Lincoln" experience: discovering what a kooky dude Abe could be; he's just like your crazy uncle. The only thing it's missing here, really, are vampires.
Also Check Out: NextMovie's 25 Best Movies of 2012
5. 'Searching for Sugar Man'
Chances are you've never heard of the musician Rodriguez … unless you're South African. Hopefully that changes with this inspiring documentary, which brings to light the crooner's truly astonishing story: The singer-songwriter was signed to a small Motown label in the early '70s, and the music pros who handled him were sure he'd be the next Bob Dylan. Then both of his records flopped, and he disappeared. But unbeknownst to Rodriguez, or anyone who knew him, he became one of South Africa's most beloved and influential figures, an Elvis-like icon presumed dead. Spoiler alert: Wait until you see what happens when Rodriguez and South Africa finally meet face-to-face. It makes for pure movie magic.
A reinvention of the Bond brand (it openly mocks itself!), an origin story and a standalone ass-kicking action film all in one, "Skyfall" is a movie that bristles with intensity; it's slick, stylish, loud and sexy. "Casino Royale" was a pleasantly surprising yay-fest, "Quantum of Solace" a relative disappointment, but "Skyfall" is not only the best Blond Bond movie yet, it's one of the best Bond. Movies. Ever. (Just ask Sir Roger). And while we're getting all hyperbolic, it also boasts perhaps the greatest Bond villain yet in Javier Bardem's genius, bi-curious, creeptastic (also blond) sleazeball. Anton Chigurh would be proud. And then try to kill him with a cattle gun.
3. 'Life of Pi'
I haven't read Yann Martel's bestselling novel that provided the source material, but if it's anything like the movie, then it is one of the most gorgeous-looking books ever. (Wait, what? I've just been informed there are no pictures in the book.) Anyhow, Ang Lee's film version of a book once thought "unfilmable" -- about an Indian teen who survives a shipwreck only to be stuck on a lifeboat with a tiger named Richard Parker – isn't just breathtakingly beautiful, it packs a walloping emotional punch and endless wow factors. Have I mentioned the tiger named Richard Parker? Like "Avatar," this is a movie you have to see in 3-D on the big screen if you're going to see it. Unlike "Avatar," it's really freaking good.
2.' Zero Dark Thirty'
Let's all take a moment to thank the movie gods that Kathryn Bigelow was able to tell this story and inject it with the type of gravitas it needs before other action directors in Hollywood could get ahold of it. Can you imagine Michael Bay's "Zero Dark Thirty"? It would not be awesome. Clinical, yes, but Bigelow's rehashing of the events leading up to and during the killing of Osama Bin Laden is the work of a master (sorry, Mark Boal, masters). This is a riveting thriller that puts you in the thick of the action – or lack thereof, it doesn't matter. Every scene, every moment is captivating; this is a movie every American man, woman and child should see. Okay, maybe not child.
1. 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower'
The most criminally underseen movie of the year, and also the best. No doubt devotees of Stephen Chbosky's melancholy bestseller turned out for the author's impressive screen adaptation of his own work, but too many others missed out on a bittersweet treat. Just when the coming-of-age/suburban family dysfunction genres seemed stale as could be, Chbosky arrives with a film that's heartfelt, relatable, deeply resonant and utterly transcendent, not to mention perfectly cast (where's the awards love for Ezra Miller, people?). We can only hope this movie follows in the paths of films like "Office Space" and "Donnie Darko" and finds the audience it deserves on DVD, Blu-ray, Netflix, cable… However you need to see it, just see it.
Best Film By an Actor-Turned-Director Who Also Still Acts: "Argo"
Craziest Romance: "Silver Linings Playbook"
Best Merman: "Cabin in the Woods"
Best Movie to Watch During the NHL Lockout: "Goon"
Best Reckoning: "The Dark Knight Rises"
Best Silent Letter: "Django Unchained"
Best Plot Twist: "Your Sister's Sister"
Best Non-Sci-Fi Sci-Fi Movie: "Looper"
Best Kerouac Adaptation: "On the Road"
Best Comedic Adaptation of an '80s TV Cop Drama: "21 Jump Street"
NextMovie executive editor Kevin Polowy is literally attempting to write an elephant into existence as we speak. Just to have around, and for parties. Follow him on Twitter.