I’m posting this incredibly late this year. The reason? I was mostly uninspired. The 2012 film class was extremely weak. In fact, it was one of the worst classes in recent memory. (Which is too bad, because 2011 and 2010 were both strong years.) A number of films which received acclaim this year fell flat (e.g., Silver Linings Playbook was not just bad, it was abhorrent). Even the 7 films that made the cut this year had their faults, but I felt these 7 had enough redeeming qualities to be worthy of mention.

Here it is, the definitive list of the top 7 films of 2012:

(7) Argo

Overall Argo was a well-constructed film; it was an entertaining political thriller. I felt this made it list-worthy. But there was nothing particularly standout about it either. The film also took a fair amount of liberty with the historical events it was portraying. That’s nothing new for film, of course– thus the “based on a true story” label– but it’s a pet peeve of mine when a film like this blatantly embellishes events purely for the sake of its primary target audience. In this case, the story was rewritten to give the American CIA most of the credit, when the real historical heroes were the Canadians. Nevertheless, the film does a good job at building suspense and serves its purpose as an entertaining dramatization.

(6) Your Sister’s Sister

It’s got an implausible, bizarre premise, but somehow Your Sister’s Sister succeeds at tapping into something truly genuine. This could also be the year Mark Duplass officially became an indie film darling. The performances are particularly noteworthy in this film because most of the script was improvised by the actors, and save for a few minor exceptions, you probably won’t notice. Candid and witty, Your Sister’s Sister was a rare pleasant surprise this year.

(5) Amour

A beautiful, haunting film. In some ways, it’s as much a horror story as it is a story of love and dependence. Its only limitation– and sometimes it really is just this simple– was that I found the story rather tedious. Even so, I always do my best to keep my own lack of connection with a film from tainting my overall sense of its aesthetic value. So here it is on the list, despite being wearisome: Amour.

(4) Killing Them Softly

Featuring an excellent cast, and based on the novel Cogan’s Trade, Killing Them Softly has a lot going for it. My one complaint– and its a minor, though omnipresent one– is with the lack of subtlety in the script. Overdubbed political speeches and the film’s final scene, when Brad Pitt’s character most blatantly delivers its keynote address, are a tad too explicit. The symbolism here is barely symbolic at all– it’s obvious. As a result, the motif doesn’t come across as very profound. Even so, there are worse complaints to have. In a disappointing year for film, Killing Them Softly easily distinguishes itself.

(3) The Master

P.T. Anderson rarely disappoints, especially in regards to his ability to pull out amazing performances from his actors. The Master is no exception. It easily contains the best performances of the year. Joaquin Pheonix and Amy Adams are both noteworthy, but Philip Seymour Hoffman really steals the show with his portrayal of a charismatic cult leader eerily reminiscent of Scientology’s L. Ron Hubbard. Strangely, Hoffman is so good here that it might be to the film’s detriment. Pheonix’s character is instead the focus– a primal man brilliantly portrayed by Pheonix– but a difficult point of view from which to connect with the audience. The character had few redeeming qualities from which to relate. The film would have made a stronger emotional connection, I think, if its primary focus was Hoffman’s enrapturing persona rather than Pheonix’s. The result was an emptiness– a vacuousness– that failed to adhere. Even so, the film is worth it for the performances alone.

(2) Safety Not Guaranteed

First off, I want to say that I’m somewhat embarrassed that I am ranking this film at #2. Let me preface this ranking by acknowledging that this movie, and its script, is filled with flaws. The reason the film is getting such a high ranking in spite of its flaws is that I think it works within its genre. It had genuine heart, despite its quirky plot. (Of course, it also helps that this was a particularly poor year in film; an opportunity to take a little liberty with my top rankings.) These sorts of movies also tend to have the unique quality of being able to wow you in the end, and Safety Not Guaranteed is no exception. As zany romantic comedies go, I’ll take this film over a movie like Silver Linings Playbook any day. The key difference in the case of Safety is that the plot gimmicks aren’t forced, and the ending isn’t a cliche sell out. Quite simply, it was a joy to watch and it struck me as authentic– and Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza make for a charming tandem. This is how the genre should look.

This ranking is also a reflection of just how shitty movies were this year. If I’m being honest, the only reason I’m ranking it at #2 is because it’s one of only two films from this year that I wouldn’t mind watching a second time. That should count for something, right?

(1) Beasts of the Southern Wild

In considering the best film of the year, there was never really any competition. Beasts of the Southern Wild stands alone as this year’s only true heavyweight. Beautiful, poetic, captivating, inspiring– a true modern day fairytale. Though it dances in mythology, Beasts is a visceral, authentic narrative that connects. Simply breathtaking.