Biggest disappointment: Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.
Biggest disappointment still worth seeing: Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master was a pretentious bore, but Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of a self-destructive loner was as ferocious a performance as Robert De Niro’s in Raging Bull.
Best movie that needed time to grow on you: Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress. For the first 10 minutes, you’re like “Whaaaat?” After that, you’re like “Ha ha ha!”
Best safety lesson tucked inside a summer blockbuster: Prometheus. When being chased by a giant rolling spaceship shaped like a doughnut, it’s better to run parallel to the vehicle instead of trying to cross directly in its path.
Most entertaining example of how Hollywood can help save lives: In Argo, a CIA agent hires some studio reps to pose as a film crew in order to rescue six people stranded during the Iran hostage crisis. The power of movies!
Most mind-bending moment: Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, two versions of the same man at different ages, sit down for a conversation at a diner in the time-travel thriller Looper.
Most whimsical image: An enormous treehouse sits high atop a tree as thick as a toothpick in Moonrise Kingdom.
Best sequel: None.
Most superfluous sequel: Men in Black 3.
Most disappointing sequel: American Reunion.
Worst sequel: Taken 2.
Worst remake: Total Recall.
Most satisfying end of a trilogy: The Dark Knight Rises.
Most surprising end of a franchise: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, in which things finally got crazy – in a good way.
Least promising start of a franchise: The Hunger Games.
Best entry in a continuing franchise: Skyfall. Bond has never been better.
Most distracting use of soft-focus to hide the actors’ out-of-control facelifts: The Expendables 2.
Saddest sight: A rusty, somewhat paunchy Arnold Schwarzenegger wincing as he fires a machine gun in The Expendables 2.
Scariest sight: Jean-Claude Van Damme’s plastic surgery in The Expendables 2.
Best closing shot: As the music swells, a man stands before an enormous rising platform in The Dark Knight Rises: A new hero is born.
Worst closing shot: Donald Sutherland looking annoyed in The Hunger Games, as if he was stuck in a long checkout line at the grocery store.
Best action movie: The Raid: Redemption. Relentless.
Worst action movie: Red Dawn. The movie was delayed for two years. Should have stayed on the shelf.
Least exciting action movie: Steven Soderbergh’s curiously uninvolving Haywire.
Biggest cop-out: The ending of Oliver Stone’s ludicrous Savages. Never mind about what you just saw! We were only kidding!
Most creative use of the found-footage format: The superhero movie Chronicle.
Best line that doesn’t make any sense taken out of context: “The harbinger is on line two,” from The Cabin in the Woods.
Best raise-the-roof moment: The Hulk uses Loki as a fly swatter in The Avengers.
Best close-but-no-cigar attempt at something totally different: Cloud Atlas.
Most successful attempt at something totally different: Leos Carax’s indescribable Holy Motors.
Most admirable attempt at something totally different: Will Ferrell’s Casa de Mi Padre, which was set in Mexico and spoken entirely in Spanish. The joke got old after awhile, though.
Best romantic comedy: The Silver Linings Playbook. Crazies in love.
Best romantic comedy based on a bestselling book: Think Like a Man.
Worst romantic comedy based on a bestselling book: What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
Worst romantic comedy: This Means War.
Creepiest romantic comedy: People Like Us, in which a man pretends to woo a woman he knows to be his half-sister.
Most convincing evidence Tim Burton has run out of gas: Dark Shadows and the warmed-over rehash Frankenweenie.
Coolest sound effect: The thwap-thwap of the propellers of the special low-noise, hard-to-detect helicopters used during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Zero Dark Thirty.
Most horrifying plot twist: In Kill List, two hit men carrying out orders try to execute the wrong guy. Suddenly, the movie turns into a gruesome remake of The Wicker Man.
Best car chase: Tom Cruise chases the bad guys while cops chase him in Jack Reacher.
Worst car chase: Car versus bike in the bicycle-messenger thriller Premium Rush.
Funniest out-of-nowhere comedic bit in an otherwise serious movie: KKK members (including Jonah Hill) complain about not being able to see through their hoods in Django Unchained.
Best documentary structured as a mystery that is solved: Searching for Sugar Man.
Best documentary structured as a mystery that goes unsolved: The Imposter.
Best homeboy (and homegirl) made good: The Borscht Corp.’s Lucas Leyva and Jillian Mayer, whose short film Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke played at several prestigious festivals, including Sundance and SXSW (their latest collaboration, #Postmodem, has already been accepted to next year’s Sundance).
Most bloated movie: Flight. After that horrifying plane crash, the rest of the movie went nowhere — for two and a half hours.
Most bloated movie that at least looked cool: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was at least 45 minutes too long, but the 3D and high frame rate kept your eyes entertained.
Best reboot: The Amazing Spider-Man.
Worst reboot: The Bourne Legacy.
Best horror movie disguised as a cop drama: Two LAPD patrol officers (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña) get into increasingly harrowing situations in End of Watch.
Most lurid, over-the-top, what-were-they-thinking? movie: The Paperboy. Lee Daniels later said the film is supposed to be taken as a comedy. Sure, dude. Whatever you say.
Best place for single guys who want to meet women: The theater lobby showing the male stripper comedy Magic Mike.
Further proof that whenever Hollywood races to make two competing movies about the same subject, they both turn out bad: Mirror,
Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman.
Best marketed movie: Prometheus. The ad campaign was better than the film.
Worst marketed movie: John Carter. It’s as if the studio did everything it could to make you not want to see it.
Best example of a good gag overstaying its welcome: The foul-mouthed teddy bear from Ted. Shut up, already.
Best use of 3D: Ang Lee’s eye-popping Life of Pi.
Worst use of 3D: Wrath of the Titans.
Most needless use of 3D: The Avengers.
Best photographed film: Skyfall, shot by the great Roger Deakins (No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski). Give this man an Oscar already.
Most convincing proof mankind’s future is bright: Adam Sandler’s That’s My Boy and the jukebox musical Rock of Ages both bombed.
Worst movie: The Devil Inside.
Most pretentious attempt to invest a simple genre movie with profundity: The Grey. Too much philosophizing, not enough wolf-punching.
Most badly squandered high-concept movie: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
Best Blu-ray released in 2012: Jaws. Worth the money for the extras alone.
Further proof Judd Apatow needs a new editor: The endless This is 40 and The Five-Year Engagement.
Best argument for sticking to what you know: Tyler Perry set aside the Madea drag and tried to go the tough guy route in Alex Cross.
Best use of a pop song: Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Come On Eileen in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. When you’re young, the right song at the right moment can cure any ills.
Most disappointing finish after a promising start: Martin McDonagh’s scabrously funny Seven Psychopaths deflated once the movie tried to turn into Adaptation for gangster pictures.
Biggest botch of excellent source material: Hitchcock, which was supposed to be about the making of Psycho but focused more on the director’s marital woes.
Biggest gross-out: A psychopath, a chicken drumstick and a bloodied Gina Gershon in William Friedkin’s NC-17 Killer Joe. No more KFC, ever.
Best “all bets are off” moment: The elevator doors open in The Cabin in the Woods.
Biggest miscalculation: Going the gooey and sentimental route instead of staying funny in the apocalyptic comedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.
Best 2012 movie that won’t open here until 2013: Michael Haneke’s Amour.
2013 movie I’m anticipating the most: Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim.