The Best Movies of 2012

The Atlantic's film critic picks the year's 10 best titles—and doles out some less-conventional awards.

year in movies 2012.png
Marvel, The Weinstein Co., DreamWorks, Fox Searchlight

A few boilerplate caveats: I saw a great many films this year, but by no means all of them. In particular, I missed a few documentaries that might well have made their way onto this list. It was also a very good year for film—the best, perhaps, since 2007—so a number of movies that could have made the list in weaker years (Argo, The Dark Knight Rises, Life of Pi, Les Miserables, Skyfall, etc.) have instead been consigned to honorary mentions. Finally, lists such as this one are inevitably silly, idiosyncratic things, and mine is no exception. So have at it. And after (or before!) you've gone through the slideshow of the best (ranked from one to 10), don't neglect the still-more-idiosyncratic-categories below.

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Honorary mention: Argo, Brave, Compliance, The Dark Knight Rises, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Looper, Les Miserables, Rust and Bone, Rise of the Guardians, The Sessions, Skyfall

The Big Things Come in Small Packages Award: Beasts of the Southern Wild

The Small Things Come in Big Packages Award: The Hobbit

Best Dog: Sparky, Frankenweenie
Runner-up: Woola, John Carter

Best Dog Thief: Sam Rockwell, Seven Psychopaths
Runner-up: Ben Mendelsohn, Killing Them Softly

Breakthrough Performer: Scott McNairy (Argo, Killing Them Softly, Promised Land)
Runner-up: Jason Clark (Zero Dark Thirty, Lawless)

Movie You're Least Likely to See on an Airplane This Holiday Season: Flight
Runner-up: The Dark Knight Rises

Best Earrings: Moonrise Kingdom

Worst Hair: Rock of Ages

The Maybe We Should Give American Moviegoers More Credit Award: Piranha 3DD (U.S. Gross: $376, 512; Global Gross $8,117,216)

Best Hat: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Best Cravat: Christopher Walken, Seven Psychopaths

Best Lapels: Everyone, Argo

The Hoo-ah Award for Most Blatant (But Almost Certainly Successful) Bid for an Oscar: Anne Hathaway's "I Dreamed a Dream" scene from Les Miserables

Best Homoerotic Frisson: Skyfall

Creepiest Portrayal of a Korean by a Non-Korean: Hugo Weaving, Cloud Atlas
Runners-up (tie): Jim Sturgess; James D'Arcy; Ben Whishaw; Hugh Grant; Jim Broadbent; Keith David, Cloud Atlas

Most Erotic Manipulation of a Man by a Woman: Kristin Scott Thomas, The Woman in the Fifth
Least Erotic: Amy Adams, The Master

The Miraculous Transformation Award: James D'Arcy as Tony Perkins in Hitchcock

Baddest Santa: Alec Baldwin, Rise of the Guardians

Lamest Vronsky: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Anna Karenina

Hottest Anything: Channing Tatum, Magic Mike

Best Tiger: Life of Pi

Best Bear: Brave

Worst Werewolf: Dark Shadows

The "Wait, A Heroine Died of Tuberculosis in a Musical—and I Didn't Direct It?"Award: Baz Luhrmann

The "Wait, Someone Got to Do Multiple Scottish Accents—and It Wasn't Me?" Award: Mike Myers

Best Young Actor Playing an Old Actor: Josh Brolin as Tommy Lee Jones, Men in Black III
Runner-up: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Bruce Willis, Looper

Best Sleigh: Rise of the Guardians

Worst Sleigh: The Hobbit

The Marijuana Could Save Your Life Award: The Cabin in the Woods

The Alcohol Could Ruin It Award (tie): Flight, The Master, Smashed

Best Soundtrack: Django Unchained

Worst Soundtrack: Battleship

Worst Textual Analysis: Bradley Cooper on Hemingway in Silver Linings Playbook
Runner-up: Dennis Quaid on Bradley Cooper in The Words

Best Joke About George Washington and a Water Closet: Lincoln

Worst Running in a Straight Line: Charlize Theron, Prometheus

Presented by

Christopher Orr is a senior editor and the principal film critic at The Atlantic. He has written on movies for The New Republic, LA Weekly, Salon, and The New York Sun, and has worked as an editor for numerous publications.

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