The Best Movies of 2012: Our Staff Picks

Allison Loring

Arbitrage quickly draws you in to the sexy, sleek, and powerful world of the New York financial world, but before you can envy the select few who get to live this life of privilege, director Nicholas Jarecki turns the tables as we learn the higher the rise, the further the fall. Richard Gere plays the man at the center of it all and straddles that line between good and evil to make you question the real worth of money and power. Driven by a fresh new score from Cliff Martinez, his music electrifies this usually stuffy world and gives Arbitrage a necessary pulse as the film goes from picturesque to panicked.

Zero Dark Thirty
A sensitive and difficult subject, Zero Dark Thirty paints a raw picture of the events that led to the capture of Osama bin Laden through the eyes of the woman whose singular focus helped make it possible. Jessica Chastain turns in a powerful performance as Maya, a CIA operative who grows from a newbie in the field to an integral part to ending this decade-long manhunt. Chastain’s passion and determination radiate off the screen as much as her quieter moments do and director Kathryn Bigelow proves, yet again, her ability to take audiences into dire situations, but still leave them with a sense of hope.

At first glance, Lincoln may seem like the type of film one would watch during history class and while it does bring to life important historical moments, it does so in a surprisingly moving and captivating way. Daniel Day-Lewis completely transforms himself into our 16th President, not simply by looking the part, but by bringing palpable passion and heart to this otherwise political figure. Lincoln’s constituents, played by an equally impressive cast, also rise to the occasion and events that were once just read about in history books suddenly spring to life and become all the more meaningful.

Ben Affleck has become a director to watch with Gone Baby Gone and The Town, but Argo stands out from its predecessors because it proves Affleck can truly tell a story (even when it is not set in his home town of Boston) and do so with style and skill. A near master class in acting, Affleck is joined by an equally impressive cast and each performance is woven together by a beautiful score from Alexandre Desplat making Argo a moving and memorable film from beginning to end.

An original script, fantastic actors, and an inventive score took us into a new world and made Looper the definition of escapism. But Looper is not just escapist fun, it also presented questions with no easy answers and the timeline jumping script made this a film that should not only stand the test of time, but also multiple viewings. Looper successfully takes you out of your own world, but gives you real questions to take back with you when you return to it.


Brian Salisbury

Ben Affleck completes the crossover hat trick with his third outstanding directorial effort. Argo proves Affleck’s artful grasp of compelling storytelling and reserved, earned tension and suspense. He has also proven that his face can artfully grasp a luxuriant mane of chin fur. The supporting cast here is superb; featuring the likes of John Goodman, Alan Arkin, and Bryan Cranston who all offer a measure of comedic relief to this unnerving tale.

Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino is part director, part cinematic Cuisinart. His ability to hone his eclectic and reverent film passion into unique filmic experiences is what makes him both a highly respected auteur and a movie geek icon. With Django Unchained, he blends his love for spaghetti westerns with his affinity for blaxploitation; delivering a Franco Nero hero by way of Fred “The Hammer” Williamson. Referential genuflection aside, the movie is alive with imaginative editing, gorgeous cinematography, and yet another brilliant performance by Christoph Waltz.

The Cabin in the Woods
One of the worst parts of being a horrorphile is that often the most terrifying thing you encounter while sitting in the theater is redundancy and/or cliché. Enter the dynamic duo of Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon. The Cabin in the Woods isn’t content with merely shedding light on our favorite genre conventions, it actually offers inspired new context for each trope’s very existence. After watching Cabin, I defy you to not grimace every time you hear an elevator bell.

Time travel sci-fi is a difficult landscape to traverse. Multiple timelines present inescapable paradoxes, and your audience may spend more time ripping open the plot holes than sinking their teeth into the story or characters. Rian Johnson’s Looper manages to skirt this issue with a fascinating film noir twist. A hitman whose target is his older self is intriguing enough, but when the two ends of that character continuum are Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, and when they are working within an intelligently constructed plot, all concerns about narrative hiccups fade.

Zero Dark Thirty
One of the more landmark events of 2011 was the discovery and assassination of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. It was inevitable that a film would be made about the event. But with so many emotional and moral complexities to juggle, it was going to take a truly exceptional director to prevent that film from descending into cheap affective manipulation or, worse, exploitation. Kathryn Bigelow was the perfect choice. ZDT does not bask obscenely in the slaying of an enemy, but rather offers insight into the day-to-day grunt work of a CIA operative dedicating her life to one cause. Zero Dark Thirty’s direction, photography, and story construction are even more intriguing then its inevitable conclusion.

Neil Miller is the Founder and Publisher of Film School Rejects. For almost a decade, he has been talking movies on television, the radio, and the Internet.

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