YET AGAIN, eating, sleeping, and girls managed to foil my ill-advised plans of seeing Every Movie Released in 2012—but I still saw way too many of them. (Congrats, me! I guess?) These were the best ones, and this is a list many of you will take umbrage with. Umbrage away, jerks, and hit the comments to remind me (and everybody else) about the great movies in 2012 that I forgot about. (Note: No, I did not forget about Les Misérables.)
15. Moonrise Kingdom (dir. Wes Anderson)—This thing started off like a parody of a Wes Anderson movie—as even-more-precious-than-usual production design collided with precocious Boy Scouts hiking around, I wondered if it should've been titled Twee Patrol—but then something great happened: It steadily, sneakily turned into a very, very good Wes Anderson movie and an earnest, sweet story about two kids in love. Say what you will about Anderson's affectations, but he makes them pay off in ways few others can.
14. Looper (dir. Rian Johnson)—The dude behind Brick and The Brothers Bloom made one of the sharpest, darkest, coolest movies of the year—a weird, bold, time-travel action flick starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon- Levitt as the same guy.
13. 21 Jump Street (dirs. Phil Lord, Chris Miller)—CHATUM ALERT: This is merely the first Channing Tatum film on this list. 2012's number-one candidate for "Movie Most Likely to Humiliate Everyone Both Onscreen and in the Theater" turned out to be the funniest movie of the year, thanks to whip-smart direction from the guys who made Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and the pairing of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, who, wow, what a weird sentence this is to write, should really make some more movies together.
12. Magic Mike (dir. Steven Soderbergh)—CHATUM ALERT: This is the second Channing Tatum film on this list. Steven Soderbergh's male-stripper movie—inspired by the erotic dalliances of young Mr. Tatum—actually turned out to be Matthew McConaughey's male-stripper movie. If McConaughey doesn't win an Oscar for his turn as Dallas—the stripper who's just like you'd think Matthew McConaughey would be like as a stripper, except so much better—then the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences should be burned to the ground.
11. Haywire (dir. Steven Soderbergh)— CHATUM ALERT: This is the third, and final, Channing Tatum film on this list. Soderbergh's excellent action flick didn't get nearly as much love as Magic Mike did. Just goes to show: Even when you have both the amazing Gina Carano and Channing Tatum in a movie, you should probably include a cameo from Matthew McConaughey as Dallas. Just to be safe.
10. Bernie (dir. Richard Linklater)—Here's an unexpected sentence: Jack Black is fantastic in Bernie, playing a loveable, super-nice guy who just happens to murder an old lady and cram her body in a freezer. Based on a true story, Richard Linklater's dark comedy was funny and creepy and great—and it featured Matthew McConaughey's second-best role of 2012! Do you notice a theme emerging? (If you said, "Matthew McConaughey had a great year!" you are close, but incorrect. The correct answer is, "One day Channing Tatum's face will be on all of our currency.")
9. The Cabin in the Woods (dir. Drew Goddard)—The rule of horror: 99.99 percent of horror movies are misogynistic bullshit. But that .01 percent? Those are fucking phenomenal. Not only was Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon's riff on horror movies the cleverest movie of the year, it was also legitimately scary—and it'll make you feel better about having watched all those horror movies that fit into the 99.99 percent, too.
8. Safety Not Guaranteed (dir. Colin Trevorrow)—Unexpected and goodhearted, this story of a young reporter (Aubrey Plaza) getting to know a dude who claims to have a working time machine (Mark Duplass) was the smartest romantic comedy of the year. Or the past five years. Or... I don't know. Romantic comedies are generally cynical, soul-sucking sitcoms. This one is great.
7. Beasts of the Southern Wild (dir. Benh Zeitlin)—On one hand, it might as well have been titled Squalor Porn About Magical Negroes. On the other hand, Benh Zeitlin still managed to create a phenomenally powerful—and visually staggering—film about both Katrina and childhood.
6. The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)—If I were going to pick one movie from 2012 to watch over and over... well, it'd probably be Django Unchained. But The Master would be a close second, because I'm pretty sure nobody—not Paul Thomas Anderson, not Philip Seymour Hoffman, not Amy Adams, not Joaquin Phoenix, not the Thetan Holo-Spirit of L. Ron Hubbard—has figured this one out yet.
5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (dir. Stephen Chbosky)—Not many movies are both heartwarming and heartbreaking; Stephen Chbosky's adaptation of his own book is. Remarkable and charming and sad and funny, Wallflower reminds you what it felt like to be a teenager, which is a horrific, amazing thing.
4. Killing Them Softly (dir. Andrew Dominik)—A viciously cynical crime thriller that—thanks in no small part to its setting in post-Katrina New Orleans, just as America's economy implodes—turns out to be greater than the sum of its parts.
3. Django Unchained (dir. Quentin Tarantino)—Quentin Tarantino's western blaxploitation revenge buddy comedy is an exhilarating, bloody, troubling, messy movie. See it big, see it loud, and cringe and laugh, and know that you won't be able to get it out of your head.
2. The Queen of Versailles (dir. Lauren Greenfield)—Lauren Greenfield's documentary started as a portrait of the obscenely wealthy Siegel family—overlords of a massive time-share business, flaunters of tacky décor, and owners of an under-construction, Versailles-inspired mansion that will be bigger than the White House. But then the economy crashed, so Greenfield's film became about how the Siegels' money disappeared. And about how they had to fire their servants. And send their kids to public school. And learn to feed themselves. What started as a movie about wealth became a movie about money—and the people who need it. Who are all of us.
1. Zero Dark Thirty (dir. Kathryn Bigelow)—This won't open in Portland until January 11. Start bracing yourself now. Kathryn Bigelow's follow-up to The Hurt Locker is a devastating, uncomfortably thrilling examination of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Starring Jessica Chastain as an American intelligence operative, Zero Dark Thirty's already stirred up no shortage of controversy and criticism—almost all of it wrong-headed and beside the point. Like the real world, Zero Dark Thirty is complex and horrific and painted in a dizzying array of grays; it is, at times, the hardest film of the year to watch, but it's also the one with the most to say, and it pulls off the trick of being relentlessly, aggressively entertaining as it says it. And it does all that, somehow, without either Matthew McConaughey or Channing Tatum.