David Edelstein’s Top 10

Davis Edelstein at New York Magazine is early out of the gate with his Top 10 films of 2012.

1. Zero Dark Thirty
It opens in darkness with sounds, sirens, and sobbing phone calls from the burning Twin Towers. Revenge—such as it is—will take time. Kathryn Bigelow’s thriller is mercilessly gripping. It’s all hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait. Captured suspects don’t want to talk, and wearing them down—with waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and other methods of extreme interrogation—takes weeks, months, each day uglier than the last.

…Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal (who wrote The Hurt Locker) give you one lonely protagonist, but she’s not in every scene and she doesn’t fight—except to make herself heard: a CIA analyst, played by the arresting Jessica Chastain, who shows her character’s rage via tension in her face and body. This is a phenomenal piece of action filmmaking—and an even better piece of nonaction filmmaking. It also borders on the politically and morally reprehensible. By showing these excellent results—and by silencing the cries of the innocents held at Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other “black sites”—it makes a case for the efficacy of torture. How to reconcile these two feelings? The debate begins December 19.

2. Lincoln
Steven Spielberg comes at our sixteenth president from an unexpected angle: He’s an executive pushing a vital piece of legislation through a Congress full of boobs, cowards, and racists. How modern. The peerless Daniel Day-Lewis lets you see the wheels turning in that overfamiliar head. James Spader, John Hawkes, and Tim Blake Nelson can lobby for me anytime.

3. Amour
4. The Gatekeepers
5. The Deep Blue Sea
6. Life of Pi
There’s nothing safe or cute about Ang Lee’s 3-D, CGI-infused fairy tale in which a boy drifts through the South Pacific with a man-eating tiger. For once Lee’s over-meticulousness connects with his hero: The film is a testament to the transformative power of storytelling in the face of unimaginable horror.

7. How to Survive a Plague and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
8. Pitch Perfect
9. Oslo, August 31st
10. Friends With Kids

The Master tops Sight & Sound’s Best of 2012

Next Story »

Annie Nominations!


  1. PaulH
    December 3, 2012

    This dude thinks Pitch Perfect is top ten material but Avengers, Hunger Games nor The Dark Knight Rises anywhere to be found?

    FAIL. Did The Gatekeepers, Oslo, August 31, How to Survive a Plague, Al Weiwei even play nationally?

  2. FilmFan
    December 3, 2012

    No “Les Miserables” mention here. Interesting, no?
    I think Edelstein’s top two are the films to beat this year.

  3. Bryce Forestieri
    December 3, 2012


    How come Chris Nolan and Joss Whedon need their movies on some pissant critic’s Top 10 when they have such a pleasing cocksucker in you boy??

  4. Alfredo
    December 3, 2012

    Pitch Perfect? Really? Ok…

  5. Daveylow
    December 3, 2012

    Except for Friends with Kids, this is a pretty good list. Oslo, August 31st is one of the those great movies most of the country doesn’t get to see.

  6. Huh?
    December 3, 2012

    PaulH – why does it matter if those films played nationally?

  7. RichardA
    December 3, 2012

    I’m proud to say that I saw Pitch Perfect on the Big Screen. Yay!
    Anna Kendrick for Best Actress in a musical or comedy in the Golden Globes.

  8. Lincoln movie sucks. Lincoln president rules
    December 3, 2012

    Yay! This devaluates Lincoln, yay!

  9. Nic V
    December 3, 2012

    Well I’m a bit surprised that Zero tops his list considering he raved about Pi. He actually Pi a score of 100 yet it ends up at his sixth slot. He gave Lincoln a 90 and that’s in his second slot. I couldn’t find any reviews attributed to him at Metacritic for The Gatekeepers, Amour or The Deep Blue Sea. Friends with Kids made his top ten? He gave Friends with Kids an 80 and the average score for the film was a 55. He scored that the same as Argo and Silver Linings. Anyone else see anything wrong with this picture? I’ve never been a real big fan of his as a critic but he seems to be all over the place and doesn’t even seem to know what he really likes or Pi would have topped his list based on his own score.

  10. December 3, 2012

    He actually gave Pi a score of 100 yet it ends up at his sixth slot. He gave Lincoln a 90 and that’s in his second slot.

    Let’s remember, it’s just some staffer at Metacritic who assigns those numerical scores. And at times like these, another flaw in their system is exposed.

  11. Nic V
    December 3, 2012

    Ahhhhh I wasn’t aware of that. So then scores offered are actually aribitrary and really have no meaning if the Critic himself isn’t scoring his review. Now I feel kinda stupid. But only kinda.

  12. Lars
    December 3, 2012

    The Deep Blue Sea! This is a great list:)
    If it’s up to me, the Oscar for best actress will be between Chastain, Riva, and Weisz.

  13. thespirithunter
    December 3, 2012

    I’m sorry, but I actually enjoyed Pitch Perfect way more than The Hunger Games (too many stupid lapses in logic), The Avengers (way too many stupid lapses in logic and plenty of audience cheats), or The Dark Knight Rises (This must be the year of dumb, non-interesting super villains between Loki, Bane and The Lizard) I wouldn’t call Pitch Perfect top 10 material, but it did entertain.

    I’m hoping more critics remember The Grey, Chronicle, The Cabin In the Woods, or Holy Motors.

  14. JJ
    December 3, 2012

    Friends with Kids? That must be a deeply personal thing.

  15. December 3, 2012

    Friends with Kids: Nothing encapsulated selfish New York states of mind better.

    What are the odds some of the films that didn’t appear are because Edelstein didn’t swee them?

  16. December 3, 2012

    By the way, seriously? No one has deleted comment #3?!

  17. JJ Jones
    December 3, 2012

    Pitch Perfect??

  18. Mike
    December 3, 2012

    Yay Friends With Kids. I loved it. I’m a huge Jennifer Westfeldt fan. Kissing Jessica Stein is one of my favorite movies and Friends With Kids is one of my favorites of the year. It’s a smart, funny romantic comedy. I saw it four times theatrically. Will probably be in my top 10 as well, towards the bottom I’m sure, but it should make the cut. I think it’s underrated. Deserved to catch on in a bigger way.

  19. December 3, 2012

    David edelstein remains one of the more thoughtful, intelligent critics out there. I usually agree with him, but this list is out of left field, for me.

    Paul h and Bryan forestieri are pretty passionate about this. Perhaps I need to drink more coffee.

  20. matt
    December 3, 2012

    You heard it here first- Pitch Perfect as the spoiler for Best Picture!

  21. Gregoire
    December 3, 2012

    Oslo, August 31 is my favorite movie of the year, but I imagine it resonates with certain individuals late 30s/early 40s who lived a pretty debauched life.

  22. Casey
    December 3, 2012

    Maybe I will have to check out friends with kids and pitch perfect now?
    But if they were going for the obscure comedy… Why couldn’t they have chosen bachelorette? Cruel and funny with some great performances

  23. Andrew Sidhom
    December 3, 2012

    Let’s remember, it’s just some staffer at Metacritic who assigns those numerical scores. And at times like these, another flaw in their system is exposed.
    … and another strength in Rotten Tomatoes revealed. They don’t include unrated reviews in their calculation of the Average Rating (the equivalent of Metacritic’s score)

  24. December 4, 2012

    Thank you for these responses, kind and otherwise. There is (linked on New York Magazine’s site) a supplementary list of favorites. As anyone who has ever read my work–for pleasure or to stoke his or her anger–knows, I don’t like ranking films and do so because one has to nowadays. I also don’t see the point in making ten-best lists that look like other peoples’. I knew there would be astonishment/incredulity over Pitch Perfect and Friends With Kids, but they were two movies that I feel got short shrift. No film brought my kids and I more pleasure this year than Pitch Perfect–and I beg you to read my review of it and of Friends With Kids before condemning me. If there’s one thing I regret from lists past it’s that I routinely ignored commercial movies (especially comedies) in favor of Cahiers-approved art films or Oscar favorites and ended up questioning my integrity. Why, for example, didn’t I put Christopher Guest’s Best in Show on my list? It was the summit of his improv faux-documentary work and yet as much as I loved it, I went for prestige pictures. (On the other hand, it’s a point of honor I named South Park BL&U the best picture of its year in Slate despite some ridicule.) In any case, I hope you will keep an open mind. There is no such thing as “objective” criticism. As for the Metacritic scores, as was pointed out above I don’t assign them–and I don’t do stars, grades, or numbers. You have to read the pieces. Thanks for reading.

  25. Ray Butlers
    December 4, 2012

    I’m sorry, but there is no such thing as extreme interrogation. It’s torture. I support calling things what they are and also resisting the political pressure to use euphemisms for things that we all understand very clearly.

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