1. The Master
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
4. Moonrise Kingdom
7. The Dark Knight Rises
8. The Avengers
11. 21 Jump Street
12. Your Sister's Sister
This is my top 12 list so far this year. I decided 12 instead of 10 because we still have a month and a half to go and I want to give the films on the bottom recognition before they inevitably fall before my final top 10 list. Too many to-be-released movies can wind up on here by the year's end. We still got Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, Killing Them Softly, Zero Dark Thirty, This is 40, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, The Hobbit... some foreign ones like Amour and Rust and Bone.
I'd say this is shaping up to be the best year in film in the 2010s decade. 2010 was a great year, but when I think of the truly elite movies from that year, I just think Black Swan, The Social Network, 127 Hours, Another Year, and Inception. It's midway through November of this year and already The Master, Beasts, Argo, and Moonrise Kingdom are solid A movies or higher, in my opinion. And the films just below that: Looper, Lincoln, TDKR, and The Avengers will remain memorable as years go by. There's still so many left to see and they're all from top notch directors: Russell, Ang Lee, Dominik, Bigelow, Tarantino, Peter Jackson. And of course Tom Hooper and Judd Apatow. Apatow may not be top notch but he's, at the very least, growing as a director. You also can't leave out great foreign filmmakers like Jacques Audiard and Michael Haneke.
2012 may actually be one of the best years in cinema in a long time, when it's all said and done. 2007 was the last year that comes to mind when some truly great films were made, one by one. You had There Will Be Blood, No Country, Assassination of Jesse James, Zodiac, The Diving Bell and Butterfly... those five movies right there are A-grade movies in my opinion. 2012 is a year that features some of America's great Gen-X auteurs coming out with some great stuff. This includes PT Anderson, Wes Anderson, and Christopher Nolan. Those we know for sure. David O. Russell, Tarantino and Bigelow are also in that group, we'll see how their films stack up as well.
But we also got a great group of up-and-comers like Andrew Dominik, Rian Johnson, Benh Zeitlin, and Ben Affleck. I say up-and-coming since all four filmmakers have no more than three films under their belts. Zeitlin just had his debut film, Dominik's Killing Them Softly will be his third in 12 years, and Rian Johnson with his third as well. It won't be long until a lot more people are looking forward to a Rian Johnson or Dominik movie the way some cinephiles look forward to the next Nolan, PT Anderson, or Tarantino film. Seeing these guys make their way to the top of the heap is refreshing to see and it's a big reason why the year 2012 and the 2010s decade is looking a lot more promising than, say, 2002.
When I think 2002, I think of the 2nd Lord of the Rings film. I think of Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg (with two films that year). I mean, older more established filmmakers coming out with good-to-great films. But the younger, scrappier filmmakers were either still in their infancy or were making artistic departures. Tarantino was still working on Kill Bill and at the time people were wondering when he'd finally make his Jackie Brown follow-up, a film a lot of people thought of as a disappointment compared to the zeitgeist film Pulp Fiction.
Paul Thomas Anderson came out with Punch-Drunk Love which I think is a great film but it's easy to overlook compared to the four epics that surround them (and by that, I primarily mean epic by length). Alexander Payne was establishing himself well with About Schmidt, but David Fincher was also caught making a rather slight departure with Panic Room which is arguably his weakest film in his filmography, not including Alien 3. Christopher Nolan was coming out with his third film Insomnia, right before he would explode with the Batman trilogy. Aronofsky was in the middle of his six year dry spell.
So yeah, compared to a year like 2002 when it was more about the elder directors, 2012 feels much better and so there's a good reason to be excited nowadays about cinema. I wish more people were as excited as I am, but whatever. It's just a good feeling to see Wes Anderson at the top of his game, having finally made a film that's perhaps his biggest hit. It's a shame PT Anderson's "The Master" wasn't a hit at all with audiences and it may have confounded some critics, but it's the filmmaker at his most perplexing and it's great to see him really challenging himself.
David O. Russell had a dryspell between I Heart Huckabees and The Fighter, but now it looks like he's making films on the regular again. People are really starting to take him seriously again after growing reports and concerns about his behavior behind the scenes on his films.
Another great thing is seeing A-list actors like Ben Affleck and George Clooney trading films every year now. One year, Clooney comes out with an intriguing film, then Affleck follows up the year after. Affleck seems to have pulled ahead of Clooney. Ben Affleck really has taken his craft and has continued to surpass himself creatively and it's still paying off financially. Ten years ago, he was going through a tough stretch as an actor and he hadn't even made his two biggest flops yet.
We're at a point where we have a great mix of the old timer directors like Scorsese and Spielberg still churning out films, Spielberg making his best film in quite some time. Scorsese's been busy nonstop, working on his next film The Wolf of Wall Street which comes out next year. Some wondered back in 2002 whether his collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio would pan out and now look at them, working together once again and nobody would question the casting of Leo in any movie these days. He's a bona fide A-list actor with a lot of clout.
We've had more great, memorable filmmakers that have since emerged than we did in 2002. While Charlie Kaufman was penning his greatest work at the time and we had Spike Jonze and Sofia Coppola as our up-and-comers back then. Now we've got Steve McQueen, Lynn Shelton, Duplass Brothers, Jason Reitman, Rian Johnson, Drake Doremus, Benh Zeitlin, Derek Cianfrance... and even though Nicolas Winding Refn was coming out with some great Danish films back then, now he's really arrived and has successfully managed to cross over into making American films.
It's a great time for film and it should get better as the up-and-comers continue to get better, as the established veterans (the Gen-X era filmmakers, that is) continue to churn out intriguing work, and we've still got our American legends like the aforementioned Spielberg, Scorsese, as well as Woody Allen who, we hope, will continue to stay strong and make great films as they reach and surpass their 70s (or in Woody's case, approaching their 80s).
I'm getting too ahead of myself though. Overall point here is that 2012 marks the first real peak of American filmmaking in the 2010s. We'll see if the years 2013 and 2014 can raise the bar or if we'll have to wait a few more years for all these great filmmakers to come out with great films all in the same year. We can only hope.