Editor Top Films of 2012 – The Year of the Film

A year for the history books presents some of the most eclectic films of the year…

Amour film still2012 went in the blink of an eye.  By July of last year, I was fearful of how the year would turn out for film.  At that point my top two films, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Moonrise Kingdom were very good but nothing that I wanted to be in the top-tier of my annual top ten list since neither received a top-notch review from myself.  September rolled around and film after film was blowing audiences, critics, and prognosticators away.  There’s always a narrative a critic and blogger tries to write for the year.  Is it the year of action films?  Is it the year of big studios?  While large studios definitely stepped up their games, it was documentaries that pushed the boundaries of storytelling and bringing enigmatic issues to the surface.  I can only hope a worthy documentary manages to get their due in the future and hit the cultural zeitgeist that will “allow” Oscar to recognize.

As I unveil my personal ballot over the next few days, looking over the citations as a whole make me very proud of what filmmakers, performers, and studios are choosing to do with their narrative techniques.  Of course, our beloved readership will have a different top ten, criticize choices, and scream anarchy for glowing omissions, but that’s what the Awards Circuit is about.  Make your choices known not only in the comment section but also in the Awards Circuit Community Awards which are currently underway.

Without further ado:

Honorable Mentions:

  • Beasts of the Southern Wild – Post-apocalyptic triumph with two outstanding new talents.  Welcome!
  • The Central Park Five – Another example of how our law enforcement continues to make up their own rules.
  • Chasing Ice – It’s the living proof but in many ways this is the documentary horror film of the year.  Dare to not believe now.
  • The Invisible War – Government can be ugly but I’ve never seen ugly like this issue that remains unspoken…yet!
  • Jeff, Who Lives at Home – Original, emotional, and quirky with an outstanding turn by Jason Segel.
  • Red Hook Summer – proving that Spike Lee can still push the boundaries even for himself.
  • Rise of the Guardians – All my favorite Christmas characters during Easter disguised as a Who’s Who of Fairy Tale Fables.  Terrific.
  • The Sessions – Heartfelt, pleasant, and giving Helen Hunt back to us.  We missed her.
  • Seven Psychopaths – Masculine, nearly problematic on purpose, and leaving Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, and Woody Harrelson to show comedic brilliance.
  • Silver Linings Playbook – A creative ensemble believing in the project and delivering things not seen of certain actors before.

#20 – #11

bernie_2020. Bernie

Richard Linklater brings the very best things about Jack Black and puts them front and center.  Black bounces off co-star Shirley MacLaine in a way that is magnetic and becomes one of the most surprising on-screen duos of the year that works.  Co-writer Skip Hollandsworth teamed with Linklater creates a quickly paced and incredibly funny script.

ted_1919. Ted

Seth MacFarlane has been a talented force to be reckoned with years with his hit television show.  What MacFarlane pens with the mega-hit Ted, is a film full of heart, raunchy laughs, and touching moments.  What the film also manages to do is solidify Mark Wahlberg as one of the finest comedic talents that no one is using him for.  Just think The Other Guys, I Heart Huckabees, and now Ted.

grey_1818. The Grey

Gritty, horrifying, and spectacularly shot and directed, Joe Carnahan’s dark look at the frigid cold and individuals fighting for survival is one of the most underrated films of 2012.  Liam Neeson evokes courage, fear, and heartbreak as a man spearheading a quest for survival with the survivors of a plane crash.  Not to mention, he has one of the “kick ass” moments of the year when he prepares for his final battle.

FLIGHT17. Flight

Robert Zemeckis returns to live action in a big way with this intense and powerful character study about addiction from not only the perspective of Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) but from our heroine Nicole (Kelly Reilly), our pro-party influence Harling (John Goodman), and even an addiction to competition and triumph from Charlie and Hugh (Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle).  Profoundly constructed from sound to writing.

master_1616. The Master

An evolution of the mind and a deconstruction of the psyche when placed under certain influences and obscure circumstances.  Paul Thomas Anderson’s difficult hybrid and distant cousin to There Will Be Blood showcases two of the most magnificent and constructed character creations in nearly twenty-five years.  Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman prove to be the best in the game.

houseilivein_1515. The House I Live In

Our legal system is so tainted and horribly disfigured and we continue to be given example after example about innocence lost from an early age in not only our urban districts but to the social statuses of our society.  The most informative film of the year.

endofwatch_1414. End of Watch

First props go to the talented Dody Dorn for taking so many hours of footage and ordering a masterpiece of epic proportions and delivering the finest cop film in years.  Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena have never been better and in any other year found themselves walking across a stage taking an Oscar.  Congratulations David Ayer for your towering achievement in filmmaking.

darkknightrises_1313. The Dark Knight Rises

The finale of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy may not have been the most pristine or expertly written but chalk this inclusion up to I simply do not care and found the film entirely awesome.  Nolan gave Michael Caine a voice and presence I appreciated and Tom Hardy had an impossible task of following Heath Ledger’s The Joker as a villain that showed brute strength and epic fighting scenes.


A harrowing and fully tear-jerking beginning that never lets up and presents director J.A. Bayona as one of the most innovative and promising filmmakers in the business.  Naomi Watts, Tom Holland, and Ewan McGregor create real, authentic characters with fear and the will to survive.  Outstanding cinematography from Oscar Faura along with beautiful music from Fernando Velaszquez.

moonrisekingdom_111. Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson knocks this young lover story out of the park and assembles one of the finest casts of the year including the great Jared Gilman and gorgeous Kara Hayward.  He also manages sensitivity as he allows Bruce Willis to turn in one of his most tender turns yet.


arbitrage_1010. Arbitrage

Review Quote:

“Richard Gere delivers his finest role of his career…Nate Parker has just become a bonafide movie star.” – CD

Nicholas Jarecki directorial debut is a very skillful one and looks as though he’s been doing it for years.  Smartly written and constructing three magnificent performances from Richard Gere, Nate Parker, and Susan Sarandon.  Pure dynamite.

lincoln_99. Lincoln

Review Quote:

The film is splendid, cinematic magic of the highest degree with screenwriter Tony Kushner as the star of the show.” – CD

Welcome back Mr. Spielberg.  Thank you for letting Tony Kushner run the show with outstanding certainty.  Thank you for giving underrated stars like James Spader, Lee Pace, and Jared Harris a chance.  Thank you for pulling John Williams’ score back and pushing Production Designers Rick Carter, Jim Erickson, and Peter T. Frank forward.  Thank you for choosing Daniel Day-Lewis.  Thank you.

argo_88. Argo

Review Quote:

Ben Affleck’s masterful direction places him in the top-tier of directors working today next to the likes of Martin Scorsese.  You have found your calling sir.” – CD

Subtle yet extraordinary as Affleck brings Argo to life in not only his filmmaking abilities but as his operation as an actor.  He delivers his finest performance that’s so striking, it nearly goes undetected until the film’s finale.   Alexandre Desplat’s score is luminous and co-stars Alan Arkin and John Goodman sprinkle lots of laughs and light on top of our darkly constructed story.  Major props to William Goldenberg who’s editing stands at the top of any job placed this year.

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Review Quote:

Stephen Chbosky adapts with passion, love, and accuracy.  It’s one of the finest films about adolescence seen in years.” – CD

Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, and Emma Watson show up and show up hard.  Chbosky directs them with care and attention and levels any stereotypes with real emotion.  Not to mention a fantastic soundtrack that accompanies it with a subtle but striking cinematography by Andrew Dunn.

westofmemphis_66. West of Memphis

Review Quote:

I shine the light on cinema that focuses on emotion, character, and the issues that lay dormant but threaten the inner freedoms of our country. West of Memphis is that film.” – CD

The Memphis Three has been told by many but never has a director like Amy Berg come along, dare to tell the truth, not take shortcuts, and let the film evolve in a way a documentary hasn’t before.  At over 2 and a half hours, West of Memphis locks you in from minute one and rises the art of film to the highest levels.

thepainting_letableau_55. The Painting (Le Tableau)

The Painting is transcendental and unlike anything I’ve seen this year.  It’s not only the Best Animated films of the year but it’s one of the best pictures of the year.  Period.” – CD

It’s incredible.  There are not enough words to describe it.  I haven’t been able to shake it from my mind since I’ve seen it and it’s the type of film that can grow in estimation for years to come.  Animation has been taken to a whole other level and The Painting is one of the masterpieces of 2012 that no one saw.  How unfortunate.

zerodarkthirty_44. Zero Dark Thirty

Review Quote:

Zero Dark Thirty is the best political thriller this decade.” – CD

Moral conflict, outstanding filmmaking, and powerful performances from Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Mark Strong, and Kyle Chandler.  What more can you ask for?  The dilemma created by writer Mark Boal is profound and immensely timely.  Beautiful.

amour_33. Amour

Review Quote:

A film encompasses the soul and meaning of love and executes the physical and emotional demand it requires to be told effectively and correctly.  That film is Michael Haneke’s Amour.” – CD

Michael Haneke has been a hard writer and director for me to warm up to in the past.  What he achieves in Amour is not only one of the most devastatingly profound love stories this decade but a respectful and dignified film in which Jean-Louis Tringnant and Emmanuelle Riva bare their souls for the audience.

searchingforsugarman_22. Searching for Sugar Man

Review Quote:

Director Malik Bendjelloul gives an insight into one of the most fascinating artists I’ve never known.” – CD

No other documentary stapled me to the chair and my eyes to the screen then Bendjelloul’s Searching for Sugar Man.  Assembled in an amazing storytelling style, Sugar Man has some of the finest music I’ve ever heard along.  We dive deep into the soul of a musician and explore the impact of his music on a civilization and country we didn’t know he had.  Simply magnificent.

lesmiserables_11. Les Miserables

Review Quote:

Tom Hooper’s direction is what shines as he delivers zeal and intensity in his approach to bring every single actor and craftsman to their fullest potential.  He’s the conductor, composing in ways, his most personal work.” – CD

While many complained about tilted camera angles and extreme close-ups, I found Tom Hooper’s take on the beloved Les Miserables the definite outing at the movies this year.  Hugh Jackman puts all his star power to use and delivers his finest performance of his career.  The film introduced me to the talent that is Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, and the lovely Isabelle Allen.  Numbers like “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” “On my Own,” and “One Day More” wrap the magic and the passion of this story into a beautifully presented gem.  It was Broadway magic on the silver screen.

Editor Clayton Davis’ Top Ten of 2012

  1. Les Miserables
  2. Searching for Sugar Man
  3. Amour
  4. Zero Dark Thirty
  5. The Painting (Le Tableau)
  6. West of Memphis
  7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  8. Argo
  9. Lincoln
  10. Arbitrage

The Staff Top Ten Films will be unveiled later this week.  

Comment and discuss!  What are your top ten films of 2012?!

What do you think?

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Written by Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times,, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.


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