There are many ways to judge your favorites of the year, but mine has always been a simple standard. My thought process is this: I have each of these films on a table in front of me. Which one am I most excited about watching first? That's how I defined my "favorites" of 2012, a great year for cinema.
First off, the films that didn't quite make the list, unless we made the list into "Laremy's Top 16 Films of 2012."
"Safety Not Guaranteed": Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass bring an unexpected amount of acting chops to this speedy little comedy. This is "smaller yet dramatic" filmmaking done right, a blueprint for how to make a movie that cost less than a million dollars.
"Jeff, Who Lives at Home": Strangely enough, this one was written and directed by the aforementioned Mark Duplass along with his brother, Jay, which means Mark is the rare triple threat. The first 60 minutes of this film are pretty standard, but the final 23 minutes are transformative. Serious film fans will dig it, and Jason Segel shows great range here.
"The Intouchables": A joyous French effort that should have devolved into cliche. But it never does, making this "fish out of water" scenario exceptionally well done.
"Looper": If you count "Looper," and I do, director Rian Johnson has now made three solid films, along with "Brick" and "The Brothers Bloom." Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Emily Blunt and Bruce Willis turn this sci-fi actioner into something special, and it has a climax that's easily among the best of 2012.
"Moonrise Kingdom": Normally when kids play above their age on-screen, it turns out disastrous. Leave it to writer/director Wes Anderson to bring to life another clever and hilarious effort, also starring Bruce Willis, that ends up being one of the most quotable films of the year.
"Killing Them Softly": Audiences hated the message, totally fair, but I enjoyed the low budget practical effects and the concentrated grimy setting. Plus, Ray Liotta. How can you not love that guy, especially paired with Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini?
The Top Ten of 2012
Any film that can tackle history with so much verve deserves maximum praise. Daniel Day-Lewis continues his string of actor's workshops, and Steven Spielberg has totally redeemed himself for "War Horse." High fives all around!
We have this idealized notion in our culture that art is a meritocracy. But what about the greats who somehow slip through the cracks? That's "Searching for Sugar Man," an exquisitely executed documentary about one of the lost souls from the '70s' acoustic movement.
Another violent epic from Quentin Tarantino, this one has plenty of awesomeness from Christoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio. It's pretty random that two Civil War era films made my top ten, but there you have it.
6. "Magic Mike"
It was marketed as "ladies night" — but it turned out to be the ultimate bro-mance movie. This is arguably Steven Soderbergh's best film without an "Oceans" in the title, and it features a virtuoso singing performance from Matthew McConaughey. This was the year Channing Tatum morphed into a movement, and "Magic Mike" (along with "21 Jump Street") had a lot to do with it.
If you accept that it's all a metaphor for the creative process, you'll love it. This hilarious comedy is Martin McDonagh's follow-up to the well-regarded "In Bruges," and featured tremendous performances from Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell and Colin Farrell. Did I mention Bonnie the Dog? See it for Bonnie the Dog!
This taut thriller proves, once and for all, that Ben Affleck's directorial career will be more accomplished than his acting career. Sure, they stretched the real-life story to the point of absurdity, but it's hard to deny the effectiveness. A thriller in the best sense of the word.
With the best ensemble cast of the year, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" captures those tender and brutal moments where teens make the transition into adulthood. Watch it particularly for the performance of Ezra Miller, a young actor who looks poised to take home a Best Actor at some point in his career.
Give Kathryn Bigelow credit, she was unflinching in her portrayal of the hunt for Bin Laden. The other word that comes to mind when considering "Zero Dark Thirty" is precision. No moments are wasted, and there's never a chance to catch your breath. Though it's not quite my favorite film of 2012, I'm willing to admit it was the most well-conceived and executed film of the year.
The temptation when portraying mental illness on film is to sugarcoat it. Director David O. Russell doesn't do that, at least not in the first act, and he makes a game effort to show the erratic nature of life under the shadow of a diagnosis. Redemption is only found in relationships, and De Niro, Chris Tucker, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence deliver just the right amount of humanity and levity to the proceedings. This is the film I'd watch again, happily, right this moment.