One small bit of a caveat up front: a list like this is hard to make because some of the best films of 2012 are not yet on our radar. There will be movies coming out of Sundance, SXSW and Cannes that will certainly be the best films of the year, but I just don't know a darn thing about them. Thus this list is largely made up of films that I have either seen or know something about.
Also, it's my list, and while I am anticipating The Dark Knight Rises, there's nothing particularly exciting about it to me. TO ME.
And now, in no order:
Moonrise Kingdom. It's the latest Wes Anderson movie, which more than guarantees it a spot on this list. But more than that, it's got a good script and a killer cast - Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban... how could you love movies and NOT be excited to see this group together onscreen? Opens 5/25.
Cabin in the Woods. I've seen this film twice. I'll be seeing it a third time in 2012, and maybe even a fourth. Since I am the kind of writer whose top ten list is made up of films RELEASED this year, Cabin will have to wait until 2012 to make my best of list, but I suspect that won't be a problem. It's one of the best genre efforts I have seen in a decade, and it completely revitalized my love for horror movies while also being fresh and funny and fun and bloody. If you don't like this film reconsider your feelings about the horror genre. You may not actually be a fan. Opens 4/13.
Sound of My Voice. This year Brit Marling was the wondergirl of the Sundance Film Festival, bringing two science fiction movies. One, Another Earth, got immediately snatched up by Fox Searchlight, who released it this summer. I did not like that movie. The other, Sound of My Voice, was eventually bought by Searchlight (probably to keep someone else from releasing it against Another Earth). To my mind SOMV is the great film out of the two, a really amazing and well-made low budget science fiction film. Where Another Earth is an irritating exercise in art school wankery, SOMV is a film that embraces its limitations and plays with our minds nicely. It has no release date right now.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. A year ago I didn't care about this movie. With Guillermo del Toro off of it and Peter Jackson returning in what seemed (from here) a begrudging manner, The Hobbit felt truly unneeded. And then I began seeing reports from the set, especially those of Quint from Ain't It Cool. And I saw video from the set. And then came the trailer, which fully sparked my excitement. This might actually be a really, really good movie. A wonderful movie, in fact. How excited did I get for this film? I'm now excited for Comic-Con, because I want to see more footage. That excited. Opens 12/14.
Gravity. Alfonse Cuaron is one of the best filmmakers alive, and the idea of him doing a big budget original science fiction movie excites me enormously. Also exciting is that he has George Clooney on board as well as Sandra Bullock. Don't laugh! I think Bullock is a great screen presence who just happens to ALWAYS MAKE THE WORST CHOICES. I have no doubt that Cuaron will get a great performance out of her, but what's more I think that this film, with its disaster in space storyline, will be thrilling and sad and amazing. Opens 11/21.
Prometheus. Of all the films on this list, this is the one that I feel like might come back to bite me on the ass. My level of excitement and anticipation is through the fucking roof on this one, and I don't know why exactly. After all, I am not a huge Ridley Scott fan (I know he's a great filmmaker, he's just not one of my personal favorites), I think his output this century has been almost-hit and lots of miss, and I do not want to see a prequel to Alien that explains the Space Jockey - which is exactly what we're getting. But still something about this film has gotten me amped in a fanboyish way; when the movie went into production I thought I would cover every aspect of it, but I eventually decided I just wanted to go in as blind as possible. I never do that! Opens 6/8.
Looper. I saw and reviewed this movie last month, but I'm excited to see it again, especially since director Rian Johnson is still tweaking the cut. Like Sound of My Voice and Gravity (and one might argue, Prometheus), this is an original science fiction story in an age when we're inundated with toy tie-ins and comic book films. But more than that it's a really fucking good original science fiction movie, with a great world, terrific characters and a fun story that plays tag with the idea of time travel paradoxes. Time travel movies are hard, but Johnson mans up and throws himself right into the fray, making a movie that invites us to pick it to pieces making sure it all fits. And you know what? It does. Opens 9/28.
The Avengers. I have some Marvel fatigue. I think it comes from the fact that they have made a string of movies that range from serviceable to pretty good, but have not yet made anything that feels great or truly special. As a studio they seem to be swinging for good enough. I'm not entirely sure that The Avengers will be great, but it's going to be special by its very nature. This is the culmination of the grand experiment Marvel has been running, and for the first time in our lives we're going to see a whole bunch of superhero franchises cross over for a big team movie. I should know better - Marvel is notoriously cheap, and much of The Avengers script features the characters standing around talking to each other (but doing so in Joss Whedon dialogue!) - but I'm pretty psyched for this. It's the only superhero movie of the year I'm actually anticipating as a fan. Opens 5/4.
Argo. Michael Parks plays Jack Kirby in this movie. Do I need to go on? I will anyway. I like Ben Affleck as a director, and this true story - about how the CIA attempts to get Americans out of revolutionary Iran by pretending to be making a science fiction film (read a lot more about the true story here) - seems too weird and cool to be ignored. On top of it all I like the cast - Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Adrienne Barbeau and Affleck himself. I don't know if this will be one of the great movies of 2012, but I'm hoping it'll be one of the ones that makes me happiest. Opens 9/14.
Les Miserables. Seriously. I love big screen musicals. I want to see more. And director Tom Hooper (who is, admittedly, quite middle of the road) is actually casting people who can sing in the adaptation of the hugely famous, enduringly popular show. Les Mis isn't my favorite show, but it's got a lot of great numbers and could make for a terrific time at the movies. What's more, this is a hardcore musical - people don't just break into song, they are ALWAYS SINGING. I'm excited to see that on the big screen. I'm excited to see a musical that doesn't apologize for being a musical. Opens 12/7.
Wreck-It Ralph. Yeah, I'm excited for Brave, but it was Wreck-It Ralph that really got me going at this year's D23 Disney Expo. A CGI cartoon, Wreck-It Ralph takes place inside an arcade; characters can jump from machine to machine through power strips and the bad guy in one old game - the titular Ralph - decides he doesn't want to be a baddie anymore. What I saw was filled with knowing homages and winks to classic gaming that didn't feel too over the top in a Family Guy reference way. And John C Reilly sounds great as the lead. I'm excited for this one because we've seen so little that the possibilities seem big. Opens 11/2.
Django Unchained. I saved the best for last. The latest Quentin Tarantino movie is a racially charged revenge oriented Western starring Jamie Foxx and Leonardo Di Caprio. Everybody online has read the script (I haven't finished it - I'm trying to save myself a little. I'll go to third base but not all the way home!) and knows this is another great Tarantino movie in the making. Inglorious Basterds proved that Tarantino is not just the hipster gimmick filmmaker too many small-minded cinema haters claim he is, and I think Django Unchained will further prove it. As a critic I'm also intrigued to see how Tarantino does in this new era of filmmaking - he lost his longtime collaborator and editor Sally Menke this year, and Django will be his first film without her.
A POST SCRIPT:
Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master should be on this list, but I do not know the film's situation for 2012. I assume it'll play Cannes and possibly get an Oscar run, but nothing is certain. Actually, since the Weinsteins have it, I guess you could guarantee a 2012 Oscar run. I don't want to amend this list, so let's put The Master as a tie with Django Unchained.