Here is a list of my favorite movies from 2012. I was considering writing a longer introduction -- perhaps framing 2012 as a banner year for cinema, which it was -- but I will just leave it at "here is a list of my favorite movies from 2012" because, no matter how good or bad a given year is, I always end up with 10 favorite movies. So here they are.
Yes, I wrote a love letter to this movie the day after I saw it. And yes, you can save your comments pointing out the idiocy of this selection because, yes, I know Battleship isn't a good movie. Would you like to know who else knows that Battleship isn't a good movie? I will tell you! Battleship knows that Battleship isn't a good movie. Perhaps no movie in the history of large-scale cinema has embraced the notion of its excess awfulness than Battleship, which just may be the most self-aware movie ever made. And that's just one reason why I love Battleship. Want another reason? A real-life Wounded Warrior punches an alien in the face. (Also: this is my list and I can put anything I want on my list.)
My favorite scene in Lincoln is the one where, after a bribe goes wrong, a congressman fires a shot at the shady wheeler-dealer portrayed by James Spader. Before another shot is fired, Spader's character has the time to pick up the papers that he had dropped and kick dirt on his assailant. That may be the most subtle (and funny) statement this year on an issue that will be front and center as we head into 2013.
8. The Avengers
It's strange how this movie has been forgotten (yes, I'm exaggerating ... slightly). Also, I know that is a borderline insane statement, given that this movie made a billion and a half dollars. But it's interesting just how quickly we all move on to the next big thing. Perhaps more than any movie this year, The Avengers underscores the waning attention span of 2012 America. I mean, we saw an Avengers movie this year! And it was really good!
7. The Cabin in the Woods
I'll admit that, after seeing so many movies for this job, it's hard to ignore the signal from my brain that says, Well, that's different. And I never, ever would have guessed that this movie ends with a ... Wait, is it still not safe to discuss plot details from Cabin in the Woods? Oh, yeah, I suppose it's still not safe to discuss plot details from Cabin in the Woods.
I will never forget this movie as long as I live because it somehow resulted in Bruce Willis, out of the blue, calling me on the phone. Aside from that, boy, was this a gritty movie. Much as I trust director Rian Johnson, I was still worried that the film would end up feeling like In Time or The Adjustment Bureau. Instead, Looper's low (in comparison) budget gave what was kind of a preposterous storyline an air of gritty realism. It's the one movie from 2012 that I actually rooted for at the box office because I wanted to see more movies like Looper in the near future (not 30 years in the future).
This was my Rango of 2012 -- a movie seemingly made for kids that I don't think was made for kids at all. Especially that haunting third act that goes a lot darker and a lot more spiritual than we had any business expecting from a "family" movie. Unfortunately, its August release date - to avoid going head-to-head with the sorta-similar-but-not-really Frankenweenie -- missed the could-have-been-built-in Halloween audience.
4. Holy Motors
My biggest laugh of the year involved this movie and a monkey. Granted, it does take about 15 minutes to realize, Oh, I'm not supposed to understand everything that's going on in this film. Only when you stop trying to make sense of this movie about a seemingly superhuman man who, at one point, bites off a woman's finger can you begin basking in its rabid absurdity. (Also: I really wanted to see a top 10 list that included both Holy Motors and Battleship.)
3. Sleepwalk With Me
Here's the thing about even major film festivals: a lot of the movies are bad. After a couple of days, I find myself saying more often than I'd like to admit, Oh, won't this movie just end already? It doesn't help that, at these festivals, there's an expectation that a single human being can be in three places at one time. I assume this is where "festival fever" comes from -- any movie decent enough to ward off time-management panic in a viewer for two solid hours winds up getting a rave review. This is my long-winded way of saying that, when I saw Sleepwalk With Me at Sundance, not only did I not think, Please, for the love of God, just end, but I actually felt very sorry indeed when it did end. I wanted more. At a film festival, where all I'm doing is watching movies from morning until night -- in possibly the most repetitive way possible -- I wanted more of Sleepwalk With Me. I did not feel that way about any other festival movie this year.
Judging from this entry and the next one, I am apparently a sucker for Kyle Chandler CIA thrillers. (I think that's the fourth time I've used that joke. That was the last time. I promise.) I kind of feel bad for Argo because, with its earlier release date, it has kind of been framed as "Zero Dark Thirty Light." Well, of course it's light -- if the hunt for Osama bin Laden had involved a fake sci-fi movie production, well, Zero Dark Thirty would be quite a bit lighter, too. Even though they traffic in similar tropes, Argo and ZDT are very different movies and, yes, it is possible to enjoy the two of them without any direct comparisons. Having said that, however, my favorite move of the year is ...
1. Zero Dark Thirty
I wasn't as big a fan of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal's last effort, The Hurt Locker, as I felt I should have been. All of the elements were there, but, for whatever reason, I just didn't connect with that film the way I was "supposed to." And I suppose I felt some sort of weird guilt about that. It was certainly tense at times, but I just didn't feel any connection with the characters -- even after the brief digression into the private life of William James (Jeremy Renner).
So it's remarkable that, even though there is no digression into the private lives of the characters in Bigelow and Boal's latest effort, Zero Dark Thirty, I felt an attachment to the characters. Then again, a case could be made that the people put in charge of locating Osama bin Laden -- notably the CIA officer Maya (Jessica Chastain) -- don't have much of a private life to begin with. What we are seeing, under the shadow of a CIA operation, is their lives.
Zero Dark Thirty has been accused of being a rah-rah love letter to America. And it's been accused of being pro-torture, somehow. It's neither of these things. If anything, Zero Dark Thirty made me sad. From its opening audio of doomed 9/11 victims to the closing look of despair on Jessica Chastain's face. It just made me sad that any of this had to happen. If nothing else, that's what Zero Dark Thirty captures best.
(Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention my favorite character of the year, Detective Robert Monday from Premium Rush. Sadly, some characters are just too special to be included in a simple list. Rest in peace, Detective Monday.)
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.