We change so much every year, and just as our opinions change on friends, teams and politicians, so do our opinions on pop culture. That’s why, since 2008, I’ve revised my previous year’s top 10 lists. Before we get to the best of what 2013 had to offer, let’s take a look at the best of 2012, with an extra year to mull it all over. In parentheses you’ll notice how much that album has moved from its place last year.
Falling off: Bernie, Blue Like Jazz, The Master
Bernie‘s delightful but just couldn’t cut it with the three new additions. Blue Like Jazz is a shining example of how Christian movies should be made and The Master would have made the cut were it not for its lackluster script.
2. Cloud Atlas (↔)
Nearly at the top is 2012’s most ambitious film. The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer couldn’t make everything work, but David Mitchell’s novel is an unwieldy beast. Their adaptation is a mystifying, brilliant work of art in its own right.
3. The Intouchables (NEW)
Hurry up and see this absolutely inspiring true story before Hollywood screws up the remake. Omar Sy and François Cluzet give two of the best performances of the year as a reluctant caretaker and his quadriplegic boss. I had the biggest smile on my face after it was over.
4. Searching for Sugar Man (NEW)
So maybe it omits some key facts. But there’s no denying the musical genius of Sixto Rodriguez and the inspiration of his perseverance. This is the documentary you show the person in your life who’s reluctant to watch documentaries.
5. Zero Dark Thirty (↓2)
There’s something still unsettling about Kathryn Bigelow’s take on the War on Terror and the hunt for Osama bin Laden. To me that’s the consideration that — and it must be considered — was everything we did to catch him worth it? That she ends with this quandary after giving us a thrilling procedural is a testament to her gifts as a filmmaker.
6. Life of Pi (NEW)
Though I wish it had gone all in with the spiritual aspects of its story, Life of Pi still stands as a remarkable achievement in special effects. But that wouldn’t matter if we weren’t being told a magnificent, engaging story by a master of the craft.
7. Looper (↓2)
Being a truly original sci-fi film counts for something. Making your story even more engaging than your gadgets or devices counts for a lot more. Looper boasts the best youth performance of the year (courtesy of the devastating Pierce Gagnon) and a tragic tale about the dire consequences of boys growing up without fathers.
8. Argo (↓4)
So it wasn’t the best picture, and maybe wasn’t even as good as I had ranked it last year. But Argo still feels like the best kind of Hollywood throwback. Even though it stretches the truth quite a bit, it’s still one of the most purely entertaining films of the year.
9. Moonrise Kingdom (↓1)
Even more than Fantastic Mr. Fox (a movie I love dearly), this is the most Wes Anderson-y Wes Anderson movie ever. That much whimsy could irk some people, but it was pure excitement for me. Yes, all the adorable details that are so easy to make fun of are there — the ancient lines of communication, the adults who act like children — but it all fits together in such a great, almost innocent story.
10. Wreck-it Ralph (↓4)
It’s almost inevitable: the animated films always take a hit in my revisions. It’s not their fault. Even though Wreck-it Ralph has the most inventive palate of any animated film in the past decade, it takes a hit for its story not being quite as resonant as the others on this list.
New honorable mentions: Holy Motors, Killing Them Softly, ParaNorman, Robot & Frank, The Sessions