Top 10 Films of 2012

Piers McCarthy takes a look at the top 10 films of 2012. His faves include the latest James Bond, the darkly unnerving Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Ben Affleck’s Argo.

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Top 10 Films contributor Piers McCarthy takes a look at his top 10 films from 2012. His eclectic list largely shuns Hollywood’s over-sized budgets in favour of some inspired work from the world of independent cinema.

As interesting and diverse as his previous top 10 lists (for example, Top 10 films running over 2.5 hours & Top 10 Male Voices in Cinema), his favourite films from 2012 are far removed from the top UK box office achievers (aside from one notable exception).

Find out what the UK watched at the cinema in 2012 in our top 10 list of the highest grossing movies of the year

10. After Lucia (Franco, Mexico)

Top 10 Films of 2012
A frank, gut-wrenching look at bullying. Some may criticise After Lucia for it knowingly tugging at your heart strings and using a few cliches primed for plot development. Nevertheless, events that transpire in the story are unforgettably upsetting and hard to watch, resulting in a powerful film. Alejandra, played with tremendous poise by Tessa La, is a modern tragic figure to a very believable extent. How Alejandra’s story, the bullies’ and Alejandra’s father’s arcs meet is one of the best thread closures of recent cinema.

9. Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai (Miike, Japan)

Top 10 Films of 2012
Elegant, classic filmmaking perfectly on show in Takashi Miike’s latest. Partially showing two sides to a story (a-la Rashomon), Hara-kiri focuses on two samurai suicides and the reasons behind each. Shot with magnificent depth in sets wonderfully constructed, it is a beautiful film to behold. Performances, especially Ebizo Ichikawa, are phenomenal, bringing about a poignancy rarely witnessed in mainstream cinema.

8. End of Watch (Ayer, USA)

Top 10 Films of 2012
Cop dramas are a dime a dozen though when one comes along that is critically successful it is worth taking note. The likes of The Untouchables, L.A Confidential and Heat rank among the best of the genre though End of Watch could easily stand alongside them. Occasionally the camera work and representation of the villains invites scrutiny though it is the relationship between Jake Gyllenhaal’s Brian and Michael Peña’s Mike that awards the film its acclaim.

7. Argo (Affleck, USA)

Top 10 Films of 2012
Ben Affleck’s hat trick in directing has been completed with his latest, Argo. The unbelievable yet true story about the escape of American hostages in Iran after a coup d’état is thoroughly gripping. As well as being a taut thriller (the finale promoting Affleck’s undeniable skill calling the shots), Argo has wicked moments of humour amongst the drama that makes it a highly entertaining film. Another mention in this list – Scoot McNairy, whose part in this film often steals the limelight.

6. Killing Them Softly (Dominik, USA)

Top 10 Films of 2012
Andrew Dominik’s cold, satirical and biting image of Obama’s America didn’t fair well in the US for obvious reasons but it does not detract from its overall success. Artistically it’s sublime, with music and cinematography creating a compelling atmosphere. Pivotal scenes will not go unforgotten – brutal yet beautiful set pieces to punctuate scenes of heavy (though brilliant) dialogue.

Featuring two up and coming stars, Scoot McNairy and (slightly more known) Ben Mendelsohn, alongside heavyweights such as Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins and Ray Liotta. From Pitt producing to his re-teaming with Dominik, you can tell that this is a passionate project of theirs, and this shines through.

5. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Durkin, USA)

Top 10 Films of 2012
Elizabeth Olsen is definitely an emerging talent. An indie hit at festivals, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a memorable, chilling portrayal of a cult. Less stylistic than The Master that similarly dealt with such topics, but arguably a better film. The direction, writing and acting are are wondrous (notably Olsen and the fantastic John Hawkes), leaving you thinking about the film months after you’ve seen it.

4. Liberal Arts (Radnor, USA)

Top 10 Films of 2012
A mature, sweet rom-com from writer/director/actor Josh Radnor. With a terrific supporting cast including the lovely Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney and a surprisingly good performance from Zac Efron. Liberal Arts looks at the quandary of dating someone slightly younger than yourself and the moral implications of that. Played with expert wit and fused with charm and geniality, Liberal Arts was not only one of the best rom-coms of 2012 but of the last ten years.

3. Polisse (Maïwenn, France)

Top 10 Films of 2012
A hidden gem of this year with only a limited release, Polisse is the film you have to seek out. Advertised as similar to The Wire, there’s not much that can detract from that comparison – Polisse is every bit as engaging, dramatic and educational as the seminal HBO series. Based around the lives of a child protection unit, Polisse is often disturbing but never fails to provoke emotion. It’s not often that a film could do with a TV spin-off but Polisse’s characters and narratives arcs are deserving of hours more exploration. A stunning portrait of the police and the difficulties of the job.

2. Skyfall (Mendes, UK)

Top 10 Films of 2012
Many comparisons have been made with Skyfall and Christopher Nolan and whilst this may irritate certain people, it is true that intelligent blockbusters have been helped by Nolan’s last 3 films. The latest Bond outing is a triumphant, mature cinematic treat. Helped by three great writers, the legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins and sophisticated director Sam Mendes, Skyfall not only entertains but has consistent artistic merit.

1. Untouchable (Nakache/Toledano, France)

Top 10 Films of 2012
One of the greatest buddy movies of all time and certainly one of the funniest and touching films of the last few decades. A simple (and true) story of a quadriplegic and his aid with more than one conflict of interest. Sounds relatively lacklustre but an opening set piece involving a car-chase, and later scenes such as a jovial dance, a majestic skydiving moment and numerous incidents of top-class, hilarious quips between Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy make it very special. An absolute must-see.

Written and compiled by Piers McCarthy.

Read more Top 10s from Piers McCarthy: Top 10 films running over 2.5 hours & Top 10 Interesting Male Voices in Cinema

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About the Author
Piers McCarthy runs the website Diegesis Digest which he calls “another Ku-brick in the wall of film blogging”. From the high-brow history to the contemporary cavalcade in movies, and the eclectic episodes of the best TV around, Diegesis Digest is a site dedicated to any thought on film and television.

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  1. Avatar
    Dan Heaton Reply

    Strong list. I’m really interested in seeing a lot of these, particularly Polisse and Liberal Arts. I’ve only caught three of the choices so far (Skyfall, Argo, and Martha Marcy May Marlene), so it’s great to have so many choices to add to the watch list.

  2. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    Very strong list – glad to see End Of Watch on there, a film which blew me away as something completely not what I was expecting.

    No Dark Knight Rises? Man, that’s gonna annoy Dan! LOL!!

    The fact Intouchables scored numebr 1 reminds me that I really need to see it. Even the wife wants to see it…. which isn’t a gift horse I should be looking in the mouth.

    Not that I’m calling the missus a horse, mind.

  3. Avatar
    ruth Reply

    Glad to see Argo and Skyfall on here. I still need to watch Untouchable. Martha Marcy May Marlene sounds intriguing as well, though I reckon it’s be a tough watch.

  4. Avatar
    Colin Biggs Reply

    Skyfall should be on a lot more top tens than it currently is. Great piece of pop cinema.

  5. Avatar
    Evan Crean Reply

    One of the few top 10 lists around where I can honestly say I haven’t seen the majority of the films. I don’t watch many foreign films, so that probably has something to do with the couple of French movies on here. Agreed on Skyfall, Argo, and End of Watch however. They’re all superb. There are several flicks here that I’ve been wanting to see like Killing Them Softly, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Liberal Arts, and Untouchable. I’ll have to seek them out.

  6. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Killing Them Softly was one of the worst films I’ve seen this year. I really have no idea what is good about it or how someone can see anything good about it. Gandolfini’s character is a mess and he could have been eliminated completely from the film and no one would have noticed. I know we all have different opinions on film but KMS was slow, silly, poorly written and told a lot of its story through the radio. I’m shocked its on this list.

  7. Avatar
    Castor Reply

    Great list Piers, I have yet to see Untouchables but I’m really looking forward to it. Really loved Hara Kiri although I consider it a 2011 release 😀

  8. Avatar
    Pete Reply

    We share 4 of the same in our top 10s. Like the sound of After Lucia a lot. That had slipped by me. will have to check it out!

  9. Avatar
    Colin Biggs Reply


    Isn’t Gandolfini being a mess the point? The Jay-Z music and stylistic trailers may have tricked some moviegoers into thinking KTS would be a glorification of a gangster film, but it was really a tale of blue-collar workers getting by in an unfair system.

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