Top 10 films of 2012

Here are the films making it to the top of Third Way Cafe’s annual “Top 10 Films of the Year” list. We don’t give away Oscars or have red carpets, (and these are not films our reviewers are nominating for Oscars or Globes) but films worthy of mention which either uphold Mennonite/Anabaptist approaches to looking at the world, or, at least tell a whopping good story or make an inspiring and excellent film.

For our website fans, our reviewers also have created a great list (28 in all) with succinct descriptions around which you can make your Netflix or other queues, or plan a quarter of great films and discussions for youth group, small group, or film/book club. For films reviewed at Third Way Cafe see hotlinks.

Combined list of Top 10:

  1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  2. Moonrise Kingdom
  3. Lincoln
  4. Argo
  5. Life of Pi
  6. Cloud Atlas
  7. The Dark Knight Rising
  8. Looper
  9. Monsieur Lazhar
  10. Les Miserables

Top 10 Films of 2012 – Gordon Houser

There were many good films in 2012. I could easily make a top 20 list. Narrowing it to 10 was not easy. And to decide on a No. 1, I turned to a film that won last year’s Oscar for best foreign film but wasn’t released widely here until well into 2012.

  1. A Separation. This outstanding film from Iran tells of a married couple faced with a difficult decision—to improve the life of their daughter by moving to another country or to stay in Iran and look after a deteriorating parent who has Alzheimer’s disease. They decide to separate and put off divorce. Their separation leads to a succession of events that disrupt several lives and show the painful consequences of our decisions.
  2. Lincoln. This political drama about President Lincoln’s struggle to get the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, passed before the Confederacy surrendered is one of the best-written films of the year. And Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln heads a stellar cast as he reveals the human Lincoln behind the icon we tend to exalt.
  3. Zero Dark Thirty. This riveting film chronicles the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May 2011. It uses an intelligent script and an outstanding performance by Jessica Chastain to follow the trail of clues and tenacity required to find bin Laden. While its depiction of obtaining information from torture is misleading, it shows its horror.
  4. Argo. This film recounts the true story, with white-knuckle suspense added, about a CIA “exfiltration” specialist who concocts a risky plan to free six Americans who take shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador after Iranians take other U.S. embassy workers hostage in 1979. Director Ben Affleck captures the context of Iranian hatred of the United States for its support of a ruthless dictator.
  5. Beasts of the Southern Wild. This mythic tale is told through the viewpoint of Hushpuppy (6-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis in an amazing performance). She lives with her father, Wink, in the Bathtub, a southern Delta community at the edge of the world. He has a mysterious illness and tries to prepare Hushpuppy with tough love. A storm hits, and the ice caps melt, unleashing an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs. Hushpuppy goes in search of her lost mother. Likely you’ve not seen a film like this.
  6. Life of Pi. This fable based on the popular, Booker Prize-winning book is about storytelling and belief. It tells the amazing story of a teenage boy surviving a journey across the Pacific on a lifeboat in the company of a 450-pound Bengal tiger. This magical film is one of the most religious released this year.
  7. Moonrise Kingdom. This sweet, funny film follows two 12-year-olds who fall in love and run away on an island off New England in 1965. Various factions of the town mobilize to search for them, and the town is turned upside down. Director Wes Anderson has crafted another of his fables, but he includes telling, if eccentric, detail and shows respect for all his characters.
  8. Cloud Atlas. This amazing adaptation of David Mitchell’s intricate novel melds six stories from six different time periods, including two in the future, and shows how the actions of individuals, often against repressive systems, reverberate through time. Despite some miscues, the editing here is often ingenious. Those who haven’t read the book, however, may have trouble following the narrative.
  9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. This gem of a film captures the feelings of Charlie, a high school freshman who is not only an introvert and smart but has lost his best friend to suicide and suffers from a mental illness. Two seniors, step-siblings Sam and Patrick, adopt him into the “wallflowers,” their group of outsiders, and help him adjust to the real world.
  10. The Invisible War. This gut-wrenching documentary explores the preponderance of rape in the U.S. military. The film uses interviews of victims of sexual assault with cases going back to the 1960s and up to the present and reveals the unjust military system that provides no accountability to rapists.

Vic’s Top Ten Films of 2012

Counting down from 10:

  1. The Dark Knight Rises – While ambiguous in its depiction of redemptive violence, the concluding chapter of Christopher Nolan’s excellent Batmantrilogy features outstanding acting, cinematography and music, an intelligent and thought-provoking screenplay, and no 3D. Head and shoulders above the recent Marvel superhero films.
  2. Beasts of the Southern Wild – The tale of a young girl trying to survive in the ‘Bathtub’ below the levee in Louisiana is a thoughtful, inspiring and life-affirming fable about community, resilience, childhood wonder, the plight of the marginalized, and the strangeness of our “civilized” society.
  3. The Impossible – A moving, intense, inspiring and expertly-crafted disaster film about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, this true story features great acting by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor and an art-house feel rarely seen in a disaster flick.
  4. Life of Pi – Ang Lee’s filming of the bestselling novel by Yann Martel, about a teenage boy stranded in a lifeboat on the ocean with a tiger for company, features stunning cinematography and special effects. It is also a thoughtful, wise, spiritual and uplifting adventure.
  5. Lincoln – Steven Spielberg’s dialogue-heavy (that’s a good thing) drama, about Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to abolish slavery in the latter days of the Civil War, may feature an idealized Lincoln, but the performances by Daniel Day-Lewis (as Lincoln) and an incredible ensemble cast make this an exceptional film.
  6. Moonrise Kingdom – One of Wes Anderson’s best films, this quirky comedy about teenage romance on an island off the coast of New England is beautifully filmed, brilliantly structured and very funny, if also sad.
  7. Looper – A thoughtful science fiction thriller about time travel and assassins, written and directed by Rian Johnson, Looper features not only great acting (Joseph Gordon Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt) and cinematography but one of the best endings ever. It’s a very violent film that profoundly challenges the myth of redemptive violence.
  8. Monsieur Lazhar – Written and directed by Philippe Falardeau, this wonderful Canadian drama, about a Montreal school teacher trying to teach a class after the former teacher’s suicide, was made in 2011 but not released until April of 2012. Brilliant performances (especially by Mohamed Fellag) and an inspiring thought-provoking story make this a must-see.
  9. Les Miserables – While not a perfect filming of the magnificent stage musical, Tom Hooper’s film is nevertheless more than good enough to make me want to see it again and again. The highlight is the terrific performances by Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne.
  10. Cloud Atlas – Made by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings (Lana and Andy), Cloud Atlas is a breathtaking and imaginative (if not perfect) work of cinematic art. With six stories of varying genres (featuring the same actors, including Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent and Halle Berry, in multiple roles), in which the protagonists challenge the domination system in the past, present and future, this film inspires wonder, hope and a desire to both be more fully human and to make the world a better place.

Top 10 Films – Matthew Kauffman Smith

I saw more movies this year than in recent year’s past but unfortunately I didn’t see that many great ones. Still, the following 10 films are worth seeing.

  1. Monsieur Lazhar. When an Algerian refugee steps in as a substitute teacher for a class whose teacher commits suicide, both parties lean on the other for healing. This beautiful film from Canada is up for the best foreign language Oscar and it has my vote.
  2. Jiro Dreams of Sushi. The documentary of the year. It follows the life and legacy of arguably the top sushi chef in the world.
  3. Salmon Fishing in Yemen. Not all crazy ideas are really crazy if approached carefully and for the right reasons. Equal parts humorous and touching, the film is also as entertaining as it is poignant.
  4. Beasts of the Southern Wild. This is not a movie you can have on in the background while cooking dinner. With its magic realism and stunning imagery, this movie is ripe with symbolism and one of those movies that would give new benefits with repeated viewing. The performance of 6-year-old Quevenzhané Wallis, however, reaps immediate dividends.
  5. Bully. This documentary is difficult to watch, which is one of the reasons why it is so important for everyone to see it.
  6. Sleepwalk With Me. This autobiographical film about comedian Mike Birbiglia and his long-time girlfriend is a rare romantic comedy in that it delivers a satisfying ending without a typical happy one. The film proves that sometimes relationships don’t work out and there isn’t always an apparent reason.
  7. Bernie. I was uncomfortable watching a dark comedy about a real-life murder but Steven Soderbergh’s film is intriguing because it mixes superb acting (especially from Jack Black) with interviews from real-life townspeople.
  8. 21 Jump Street. I was a fan of the cheesy TV show of the same name more than two decades ago, but I was convinced that this movie would be terrible, based in part by a less-than-inspiring trailer. The movie borrows very little from the Johnny Depp-fueled TV series but takes a very entertaining and interesting look at fitting in.
  9. Les Miserables. The last film I reviewed on this website, the movie suffers from Hollywood over-embellishment but Victor Hugo’s timeless story of redemption remains intact.
  10. 2 Days in New York. When the family of French artist comes to visit her boyfriend and their respective families, comedic dysfunctionality ensues. But thanks to Julie Delpy’s directorial touch, this film avoids an oversaturation of slapstick and instead employs the subtleties of French humor.

Top 10 Films of 2012 – Michelle Sinclair

I always hesitate to make these lists because I’ve only seen a slice of the movies making headlines during awards season. So with that caveat, here are my top 10 favorite films of 2012.

  1. The Hunger Games. An entertaining adaptation of the bestselling dystopian novel, the story has some interesting things to say about entertainment, murder, and celebrity, and just how far a society will go to maintain the status quo.
  2. Chronicle. A darkly realistic take on teens discovering they have supernatural powers, told in “found footage” style through a single camera lens.
  3. Looper. Confusing time travel elements aside, Looper is an unflinching look at questions of right and wrong, and whether the ends really do justify the means.
  4. Moonrise Kingdom. Wes Anderson’s latest “black comedy” unfolds like an awkward, poignant storybook, crafted by an adult whose memory of growing up remains as clear and keen as a shard of glass.
  5. Arbitrage. Richard Gere mesmerizes as a fat cat Wall Street antihero caught in a nightmare of his own making.
  6. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. A collection of silver-haired British retirees move to India in a desperate, often delightful attempt to prove that life–and acting careers–doesn’t stop at 60
  7. The Avengers. Someone forgot to tell Joss Whedon that superhero mashup movies aren’t supposed to be this uproarious, this well-balanced, this exciting, this good.
  8. Argo. With wry humor and pitch-perfect tension, Argo tells the story of Hollywood’s role in a rescue mission during the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis
  9. Silver Linings Playbook. An affecting portrait of how real people cope with mental illness, this is a funny, surprisingly romantic movie with frighteningly realistic performances by leads Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.
  10. The Dark Knight Rises. The experience of watching the final installment of the landmark Batman trilogy in IMAX gives this film the top spot in my list. My mouth fell open. I gasped, laughed and cried. TDKR might lack the singular achievement of The Dark Knight, but it’s a worthy capstone to a trilogy that tackled human frailty, betrayal, and the painful divide between survival and heroism.