Back in 2010, I had a hard time coming up with ten movies I liked enough to put on my Top 10 Movies of the year list. Last, year, in 2011, I thought there were so many great movies that I had a Top 15 list (and I even squeezed in a few extra movies by including several ties). I thought 2012 was another fantastic year at the movies. I could have easily had a Top 20 list this year, but I thought that might have been excessive.
There were a lot of great films I saw in 2012 which didn’t make this list, including: Silver Linings Playbook, Wanderlust, Skyfall, This is 40, Ted, Chronicle, Paul Williams Still Alive, and many more.
As always, I also like to make mention of the many films that interested me that I just didn’t get a chance to see in 2012. These include: Killing them Softly, Flight, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Hyde Park Hudson, Butter, Hitchcock, Wreck-It Ralph, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Holy Motors, Smashed, Detention, and Savages. So if you loved one or more of those films are are wondering why they’re not on my list, well, now you know.
Here now is my list of the Top 15 Movies of 2012:
15. The Five-Year Engagement — This film has really grown on me since I first saw it, early this year. I love how unusual its structure is — whereas most romantic comedies keep the two main characters apart until the very end, this movie starts with Tom (Jason Segel) proposing to Violet (Emily Blunt). Things go downhill for there. For a romantic comedy, this film goes into some grim territory — since much of the movie is about the happy couple slowly growing apart, there are certainly some parts of the film without a lot of yuks. That threw me a bit the first time I saw the film, but I have come to really love and admire this film for its weird structure and premise. And while there certainly are a few serious moments in the film, everything else is is pretty much jam-packed with big laughs and wonderful, very memorable characters. Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation) and Alison Brie (Mad Men, Community) steal the film as Tom’s best-friend and Violet’s sister, who meet at Tom and Violet’s engagement party and quickly fall in love, get married, and have kids before Tom and Violet even make it to the altar. (Chris Pratt singing to Alison Brie at their characters’ wedding is one of my favorite moments I’ve seen onscreen all year.) But wait, this film also has substantial, very funny roles for Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill, The Amazing Spider-Man), Mindy Kaling (The Office), Kevin Hart (The Forty Year-Old Virgin), David Paymer (The Larry Sanders Show), Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom, Silver Linings Playbook), SNL’s Chris Parnell, comedian Brian Posehn, and more. This is a great, under-loved film that I am sure will get a lot of play-time in my home in future years. (Click here for my original review.)
14. Celeste and Jesse Forever — Here’s another very unusual romantic comedy, though I think calling the film a romantic comedy is doing it a disservice. This film isn’t really a romance at all, as we learn very early on in the film that the happy couple who seem perfect for one another have, in fact, just gotten a divorce. Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg) know each other better than anyone else in their lives, and after realizing that they don’t work as a couple, they each struggle to find a romantic partner who fits as well as they used to for one another. The film is very, very funny, but also very poignant. Ms. Jones (who also co-wrote the film) and Mr. Samberg do spectacular work, and while their co-stars such as Ari Graynor (Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist) and Elijah Wood are terrific, it is the palpable chemistry between Ms. Jones and Mr. Samberg that gives the film its spark. My only quibble is with the film’s sort-of downbeat ending, which I respect as an honest creative choice more than I really love, emotionally, as a viewer. (This film would be higher on my list if I thought the ending was as great as the film that led up to it.) Still, a unique, funny, affecting film, I really dug this movie. (Click here for my original review.)
13. Jeff, Who Lives at Home — Jason Segel (making his second appearance in my Best of 2012 list!) is Jeff, a young man searching for himself who still lives in his mother’s basement. Ed Helms (The Daily Show, The Office) plays Jeff’s brother, Pat. Pat is successful in all the ways Jeff is not (he has a job and a house and a wife and a car), though as it turns out, Pat’s life isn’t so swell after all (not the least of which because his wife, played by Arrested Development’s Judy Greer, might be cheating on him). Susan Sarandon plays their mother, Sharon. The film chronicles one eventful day in the life of this family. In the morning, Jeff gets a phone call at home that turns out to be a wrong number. But Jeff, a firm believer in destiny, becomes convinced that the call holds a clue to something he should be doing. He holds fast to this conviction over the course of the crazy day that follows, in which his and Pat’s lives come crashing together. I loved this film. It’s very funny, and everyone in the cast does superlative work, particularly Mr. Segel and Mr. Helms, who both mine their characters’ sorry lives for big laughs without ever turning themselves into simplistic cartoons. The film is honest and poignant and also hysterical, and the sharp script brings everything together in a terrific finale that left me with a big smile. Very few people saw this film, written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass, which is a big shame. It’s phenomenal. (My full review of this film will be coming soon.)
12. The Master — In this unique, compelling film, Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a young man having great difficulty finding his place in society after returning from WWII, and Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd, the charismatic, intelligent leader of a moment known as “The Cause.” These two very different men form an unlikely friendship, and their tumultuous relationship forms the spine of this film. Philip Seymour Hoffman is spectacular as always, gripping and confident as the persuasive, mysterious Dodd, and I have never seen Joaquin Phoenix be better than he is here as the rude, rambunctious, deeply broken Freddie Quell. Not a whole heck of a lot of plot happens over the course of the film — rather, the joy of the movie is in watching the way these two characters bounce off of one another, changing and affecting each other in some surprising ways, and in other ways failing to have an impact on the other at all. I would have gladly spent many hours more caught in this compelling character study, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, operating at the peak of his cinematic powers. (Click here for my original review.)
11. Safety Not Guaranteed — A group from a Seattle magazine decide to investigate a classified ad that caught their attention: “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.” The writer assigned to this little story (Jake Johnson) thinks it’s a joke, but when one of the two interns with him, Darius (Aubrey Plaza), actually meets the man who placed the ad (Mark Duplass, who like Jason Segel has been involved with two films on my Best of 2012 list), she begins to think there is more to him than just a nut. Is that just wishful thinking on the part of this isolated young woman, desperate for a friend? Mark Duplass is terrific, playing his role in a way that allows you to see him as totally sincere or as a total nut-ball as the film progresses. Mary Lynn Rajskub (The Larry Sanders Show, 24) and Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm) a fun to see in small cameo roles, but the film really belongs to Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza, who shines in this leading role. I love the chemistry between her and Mr. Duplass, and I love the way the film allows their characters’ offbeat friendship to grow in a natural, gentle way. I spent the whole film wondering to myself just how they were going to end this story, and I am pleased to say that the ending was absolute perfection. This is another film that left me with a big smile on my face when the closing credits rolled. (My full review of this film will be coming soon.)
What did you think of my choices so far? Unexpected? Click here for numbers 10 through 6!