The 10 Best Movies of 2012
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The 10 Best Goddamn Movies of 2012

By Dustin Rowles | Guides | January 4, 2013 | Comments ()


There were 655 films released in 2012. The lowest-grossing one was The Ghastly Love of Johnny X, starring Creed from "The Office," and the highest-grossing one was The Avengers, starring a lot of really cool people. Neither one of those films made our top ten list, nor did 643 others, but when you whittle that number of films down to only the ten best, there's bound to be disagreement. It's unavoidable, and while we did compile a list of the Most Rewatchable Films of 2012 to better reflect favorites over the best, some movies still missed the cut. A lot, in fact. Movies like Bernie and Sound of My Voice, popular choices like The Master, personal choices like Your Sister's Sister, and huge grossing choices like The Dark Knight Rises.

If what you consider to be the best is not among our top ten, it's likely on one of the Individual Critics' Lists, where you can seek out that Pajiba staffer with whom you may most identify. If it's in neither list, maybe rethink your tastes in film (I KID).

But this is our top 10 list. There are many lists like it, but this one is ours.


10. Ruby Sparks -- Writer/actress Zoe Kazan and co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have created something quite remarkable with Ruby Sparks. They've developed a fully realized examination of the desperation and pathos and neuroses that come with relationships, yet also a sweet, charming tale of love and loss and growing up. While the film's characters are frequently the familiar wacky, irony-laden archetypes commonly found in independent romcoms, it's done with purpose here and the actors all inject a sense of urgent realism into their roles that separates them from their contemporaries. Ruby Sparks is so much smarter than it looks from the surface. It's not the conventional tale one suspects, and it's as much a critical shot at the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and inherent authorial laziness of the creation as it is a clever and charming love story -- that has some deep, treacherous pitfalls along the way. As adorable as it is scathing, the film creates an immersive, enjoyable experience that successfully blends reality and fantasy while laying bare the risks of confusing the two. -- TK


9. Silver Linings Playbook -- Our delusions run deep, often right down the core of our being, and love causes us to fall into lunacies we can't even imagine. We find ourselves doing deranged things out of a misplaced sense of love or devotion, and drifting into a fugue state of rationalizing poor decisions made for seemingly great reasons. Silver Linings Playbook carefully walks the line between reminding us of our own relentless obsessions and distancing us enough from the action to see the crazy that is ever so evident before us. A character drama for people who can handle being spoken to as adults, with a hefty dose of honesty. There's warmth, laughter, community and joy to be found here amidst the ruins. When we have nothing left to lose we find ourselves at our most authentic, and emerge from these moments of alchemy wiser, changed. -- Amanda Mae Meyncke


8. Safety Not Guaranteed -- Safety Not Guaranteed isn't what you'd expect it to be. It's a bittersweet comedy that flirts with time travel, but it's not straight science-fiction or rom-com. It resolutely refuses to tie up a couple of its plot lines, yet the story is still satisfying and full. Most rewardingly, it's a dramatic comedy built on relationships that feel earned, nuanced, occasionally uncomfortable, and completely relatable. Director Colin Trevorrow, in his first feature, mines a series of relationships for small-scale humor and poignancy, and the script from Derek Connolly (also his first feature) has some wonderful moments that reflect the awkwardness of young adulthood and the way we all eventually have to reckon with the choices that we make. The film is light and often breezy, but it's anything but insubstantial. -- Daniel Carlson


7. Looper -- It can be tempting to write off Rian Johnson as a writer-director who just likes mashing things up. His feature films -- Brick, The Brothers Bloom, and now Looper -- have shown remarkable skill at marrying two seemingly incongruous worlds and making them feel totally at home nested within each other. Brick wasn't just a high school drama masquerading as mystery, or vice versa; it was both at once. Yet he's able to pull this off because, as much as he loves mingling disparate genres, the mingling is never the point. He's more than just a gimmick. Johnson is profoundly interested in character and consequence, like good storytellers in every genre, and he's specifically drawn again and again to tales of people who buy and sell bullshit and whose biggest liability is believing their own hype. Joseph Gordon-Levitt anchored Brick as Brendan, a high schooler on the trail of a missing ex who twisted the truth as much as the people he was chasing, so it feels right for Gordon-Levitt to return for Looper, playing a man whose hunt for truth puts his own existence in jeopardy. Looper is many things -- a gripping action movie, an smart sci-fi story, a heartbreaking time-travel lullaby -- but most of all it's about a man watching himself go through a process most of us take for granted: he has to decide what he wants to believe, about the world and about himself, and then live with the consequences. -- Daniel Carlson


6. Lincoln -- Lincoln is powerful yet intimate, the kind of brutal, yearning look at mankind's dueling desire to love and conquer our neighbors that's Spielberg's specialty. It's frank about the ugly ways of human nature, political and otherwise, but it's equally tender about the people that make up that world, and about the relationships that keep them in it. As with Spielberg's other films about our uncomfortable history, he's able to show how what once passed as victories can feel like something less when we look back. -- Daniel Carlson


5. Django Unchained -- Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained works on two levels. The surface level is that of a simple revenge flick, of the wronged taking up arms in a mission of retribution. From that point of view, it's a movie that has been made a hundred times, usually with Clint Eastwood squinting into the sun as he quick draws. The movie works well in that genre. Played straight, it stands with the best of Western vengeance tales, spiced with Tarantino trademarks of ultraviolence, perfect music, and darkly humorous asides. But the fact that this particular version of the Man with No Name is a former slave cannot be overlooked. The implications of that, and the focus of the story on slavery itself, construct the film's second level and elevate it from effective genre film into something more. -- Steven Lloyd Wilson


4. Moonrise Kingdom -- There's almost nothing in Wes Anderson's latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, that isn't in his earlier ones, and that's not a bad thing. The movie is packed with whimsical details of a world not quite like ours; it's immaculately framed and shot by Robert D. Yeoman, who's worked on every one of Anderson's films; it's laced with dry wit, oddly hilarious turns of phrase, and awkward boys and girls trying to figure out how to escape becoming their parents. Maps are drawn. Records are played. You get the idea. Anderson is a writer and director who knows what he wants to do, and how he wants to do it, and he's spent most of the past two decades working toward a state of creative focus and grace that make themselves known in every frame of his most recent film. He's moved through the cockiness of youth and into a calmer, more measured approach without sacrificing any of the stylistic flair that defines him. In other words, for all his love of dysfunctional children, he's grown up. -- Daniel Carlson


3. Beasts of the Southern Wild -- Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild is that rare thing -- a first film so immediately great and original that you are thrilled to have made its acquaintance. You feel like firm friends by the end of it, and wish there were something more you could do than clap. Bow? Perhaps I should have bowed in front of the film. I loved it. There is so much more to say about the film -- what a perfectly realised, wonderfully imagined entity it is, how it feels fresh and exciting in every shot, how its plot and its metaphorical, allusive style of storytelling are perfectly matched. But I think I'll stop gushing and end with a plea for everyone who loves films to go and see this delightful, vibrant movie. -- Caspar Salmon


2. Argo -- Argo is a movie that will happily please a wide swath of the population, captivating and realistic, moving and intricate, broad and simple enough, and tinged with the thrill of reality. Whenever you base something on a true story you run the risk of failing to include some important detail, some small matter, but Argo feels wonderfully full, complete with the details and tension that elevate a great script and premise into something more -- a fantastic film. So rarely do we see movies that remind us of how much we really enjoy movies. Movies so holistic and carefully rendered from beginning to end, with a story that intrigues, performances that are mesmerizing and details that have been considered and chosen with care, and in that respect, Argo is a particular sort of gift. -- Amanda Mae Meyncke


1. Zero Dark Thirty -- What Zero Dark Thirty does so brilliantly -- and this is a brilliant film in so many ways, big and small -- is to show how empty such promises can be. No story ever ends, not really, and real life certainly doesn't offer the kind of closure we crave. Osama bin Laden in a body bag isn't the end, not for the men who killed him or the country that hunted him down. It's not even a big moment when it finally happens. It's codewords on the radio and a long trip home; it's research and hard drives and looking for whatever's next; it's sitting alone and crying because you spent 12 years doing something that defined you, and now it's over, and all you can think about are the awful things you did to get here and how you can't imagine what you've become. It's circles so big you can't see the other side. Catharsis isn't winning, it's just knowing you survived. -- Daniel Carlson

Individual Critics' Lists

In Praise of the Perfectly Imperfect Les Misérables, the Future of Movie Musicals | I Was Married By a Judge. I Should Have Asked For a Jury.

Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • AudioSuede

    I missed the individual lists on the first glance, but looking through them, JoRo is the goddamn master (minus Les Mis, but that's more me than it).

  • Jim Slemaker

    A big "YAY" for including "Safety Not Guaranteed". My favorite movie of 2012 has gotten little love on most "best of" lists this year.

  • QueeferSutherland


    1. Zero Dark Thirty
    2. Argo
    3. The Raid
    4. Arbitrage
    5. 21 Jump Street
    6. Queen of Versailles
    7. Headhunters
    8. Skyfall
    9. Looper
    10. Lincoln

    Did not see: Django, Silver Linings Playbook, Lez Miz, Seven Psychopaths

  • This is the REAL top 10 movies this year!!! Excision, Hotel Transylvania, the dark knight returns, Prometheus, The Loved Ones, Bedevilled , The Cabin in the Woods, John Dies at the End, Chronicle, How to Train Your Dragon...

  • popcultureboy

    I can't take any list seriously that includes LOOPER as one of the best of the year. Am I the only one who found it utterly terrible? Poorly conceived, hamstrung by a low budget, terribly acted, massively predictable and unintentionally hilarious. I don't get it.

  • ,

    Argo fuck yourself.

  • I hope you do a "Most Annoyingly Fucking Awful and Disappointing Movies" List. Then I can just be a troll under the bridge and shout "PROMETHEUS!" a lot.

  • apsutter

    What a waste of time that movie was.

  • Ha! I've seen one. Argo. The others I'm of different minds about. Intrested in Django, Lincoln and Moonrise Kingdom, kinda-sorta-to-not-at-all interested in most of the rest. Which probably makes me a heathen of some sort, but I don't mind all that much.

    I just know it's been a great year for movies for me. I can't remember the last time I actually bothered to go to the theater so much (I usually watch movies at least a year after they've played. I'm lazy and cheap), but it was worth it every time. My favorite two by far were Les Miserables and The Avengers, neither one of which is on this list. But that's good. You guys are wrong a lot.

  • Johnnyboy

    Can we just drop the schlock bullshit about Argo being a true story?! Sure it makes us feel good, it's Hollywood twee. But this movie is nothing more than what a bizarre lovechild of Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay would look like--cute at the right moments and pow at the right moments. Call it fun, call it exciting, but calling it "tinged with the thrill of reality" suggests you get a read on world events from watching Wheel of Fortune.

  • Ruby Sparks was one of those I liked so much better as an idea than a movie. Like a romcommy Casa De Mi Padre. Probably because I have a very low tolerance for MPDGs. And it spends too much time feeling like celebration rather than parody.

  • junierizzle

    I don't get all the love for Zero Dark Thirty. I thought it was just okay. Question: Would it be getting all this praise if it wasn't about Bin Laden? Same story same everything only instead of Bin Laden it was just another movie terrorist.

  • QueeferSutherland

    That's like saying "Lincoln wouldn't be any good if it were about Martin Van Buren." The films moral complexities wouldn't have the same impact with a fictional antagonist. We don't just know why Maya wants to succeed so badly. We feel it. We experience it. A less notorious villain strips much of that emotion from the viewer.

  • junierizzle

    That's precisely my point. The film automatically bypasses character development and lack of story because we all know Bin Laden. It's built in emotion.

  • I hate how Speilberg completely whitewashed history by not mentioning one vampire!

  • jcoa2

    Only when we begin to ask what his motives might be for covering up the presence of the vampires does the global enormity of Spielberg's evil begin to come into focus. I know I'll never watch The Color Purple the same.

  • BLZ Bubb

    Touche! I thought it was a very stereotypical pic with lame acting. Maybe it resonates with people who still feel the raw emotion of 9/11 so they overlook all the flaws?

  • the_wakeful

    Somebody remind me to go download all of these.

  • John G.

    They are all available, except for Django Unchained, which I can only find a bad copy of.

  • L.O.V.E.

    "The Ten Best 'Goddamn' Movies of 2012", huh?

    I haven't seen all these movies, but I have trouble believing they have been damned by God.

    Then again, Silver Linings Playbook does feature a lead character in an Eagles jersey, and those people should go straight to hell.

  • e jerry powell


    Emus on mood stabilizers are still emus.

  • Anniescam

    No Drive? Otherwise, very good list.

  • QueeferSutherland

    No Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? Otherwise, great list.

  • Ash

    Didn't Drive come out in 2011?

  • AudioSuede

    A really strong list. In fact, I can't think of one inclusion or exclusion I disagree with. I would have put Beasts of the Southern Wild at #1, but then I haven't seen Zero Dark Thirty. And thank you for recognizing the flaws in Lincoln enough to put it behind the impeccably fun Django Unchained.

    Affable affable affable. Casual agreement good job plus.

  • Eva

    Definitely add Cabin in the Woods. And Life of Pi.

  • pajiba

    King Kong ain't got shit on us. RUBY SPARKS, MOTHERFUCKERS.

  • BAM

    What this list (and the comments) show me is that 2012 was a ho-hum and/or disappointing year for movies, overall.

  • You've been watching the wrong movies.

  • BAM

    I haven't seen everything, but most of the movies I saw this year were either boring or disappointing, except for a few. I haven't seen Django or ZDT yet. I think Argo, MK, Lincoln and Looper were all great, but those movies are all relatively weak compared to some other recent years.

  • Anna von Beav




    WRONG WRONG WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • JoannaRobinson


  • Blake

    To the Pajiba Critics credit, only 1 of the 7 put "The Avengers" in their Top 10s.

    But to JR's discredit she did not include Looper. Why no Lopper love JR?

  • Mizghetti

    Ruby Sparks should not be in any top 10 lists and Zero Dark Thirty is not the best film of 2012.

  • Mrs. Julien

    It's almost as though different people like different things.

  • Mizghetti

    There is a difference between liking a film and saying it's the best film of 2012. I absolutely loved Dredd, but it clearly wasn't the best film of 2012.

  • God of Bal-Sogoth

    WHOA, easy with the crazy talk there lady.

  • FireLizardQueen

    I've actually seen a lot of these and the ones I haven't are currently on my Amazon to-watch list, so yeah, I wholeheartedly agree with this list.*, **

    *Except for Moonrise Kingdom because (very unpopular opinion) I dislike most Wes Anderson films.

    **Edited to add, you totally forgot Cabin in the Woods.

  • Brown

    The most rewatchable movie of 2012 made one of the individual critics' list. Do you people not enjoy being entertained?

  • Joel Murphy

    I thought Argo was a great movie, but I'm a bit surprised to hear everyone applauding it for its "realism." Sure the costumes looked authentic and the sets were great, but the end was a completely fabricated and ridiculous over-the-top action sequence. To me, it almost ruined the movie. And it was so unnecessary.

  • Agent Bedhead's individual list is wild. I love it. The composite list is eerily like all the critics groups with the exception of Ruby Sparks and Safety Not Guaranteed. That's how I know it's Pajiba's list.

  • googergieger


  • wojtek

    A friend of mine translated Safety Not Guaranteed for this festival we work for and said it's really quite meh, so I didn't go see it, and then it won the whole effin' festival, and some Independent Spirit thing, and keeps popping up on these lists and HULK SO VERY ANGRY

  • Mizghetti

    I went in expecting it to be obnoxious and sarcastic and it turned out to be a really enjoyable and warm film.

  • John G.

    What's wrong with sarcasm?

  • wojtek

    My expectations were: Aubrey Plaza! I'm a simple man. Oh well, will try to catch it, and if I don't like it, I'll come back here to scorn you all.

  • BWeaves

    It was meh. Your friend was right.

  • zeke_the_pig

    Hulk should be angry. It's a beautiful film.

  • rg

    Your list should be called the best american movies of 2012...

  • zeke_the_pig


    Once Upon a Time in Anatolia would certainly figure for me in a worldwide list. And I imagine there'd be room for Holy Motors and Amour.

  • Ahem. Someone had Holy Motors on her list.

  • Mizghetti

    Anatolia is an absolutely stunning film, but it came out in 2011.

  • zeke_the_pig

    I stand corrected. Its greatness echoes loudly and blinds my senses

  • Guest

    You're both right. Many US critics go by stateside release for foreign films, not release in native country or film fests. "Anatolia" only got its limited US run in Jan 2012, which is why it's featured on many of this year's lists. It's a longstanding tradition, so technically it's in the running for US critics' best of '12.

  • Malware

    What would the list look like if it were the best movies worldwide of 2012? Just curious because I don't like it when movies slip under my radar.

  • Guest

    I might get in trouble for posting this, but here's an international list that includes US films, as well. A larger canvas, for the curious. I think Pajiba in the past has posted a Best Foreign Films of the Year list, so there's that to look forward to.

  • Malware


  • Blake

    +1. But 1 got mentioned.

  • Tinkerville

    A very strong list and I'd agree with most of it. Even though it was a blockbuster popcorn flick and lists like these veer towards the indie/Oscar darlings, I would've included The Avengers. Along with being ridiculously entertaining it was also just a good movie (IMHO).

  • I'm fighting like hell to keep The Avengers on my own Top 10 list. I just need to get through Zero Dark Thirty and I should be home free. I score films to guide this kind of list making and The Avengers is on the bubble.

    I never would have imagined liking that film as much as I did. Then Tom Hiddleston had to be the most charming superhero villain ever and Joss Whedon had to make me feel feelings about superheroes.

  • Well then Argo fuck me. Argo was good but not great. Zero Dark Thirty is trying to have it both ways, journalistic and made up movie BS. I haven't seen a lot of the others so I can't comment. But The Dark Knight Rises should appear somewhere on there.

    Come on people. They killed Batman and brought him back to life in the matter of an awesome 10 minute span. Sorry the Joker wasn't in it and they didn't make the exact movie that was in your head, but that's about as good as you'll get without that character.

  • John G.

    No, they killed Batman, and Batman remained dead. The final scene is Alfred's fantasy. Someone proposed this to me, and I immediately liked the film more, so that is what happened.

  • mats19

    "They killed Batman and brought him back to life in the matter of an awesome 10 minute span." Is the exact reason this movie was ridiculous and doesn't deserve to be on here... that and the bane voice

  • Mariazinha

    Safety not Guaranteed is cute and all, but you guys need to get over it!!
    (Don't you just love complaining about other people's lists?!)

  • This list is so wrong! Shameful. (I love Lincoln)

  • Blake

    4 out of 10 would make it on my list:

    My Top Five:

    4.Safety Not Guaranteed
    5. Zero Dark Thirty

  • BAM

    Huh? Your Top 5 has 4 movies in it that are on the Pajiba Top 10.

  • Blake

    Or too much time staring at my computer monitor.

  • Blake

    Damn BAM... Fixed (not enough coffee this morning), thanks.

  • BAM


  • Good list. Agree w/ most, maybe would add Cabin in the Woods and Life of Pi.

  • Tinkerville

    YES Cabin in the Woods! This times eleventy billion.

  • logan

    Argo is a fine little movie. I enjoyed it. It is not better than Lincoln which is a great movie. One I will watch again and again. I did not see the others.

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