- Looper. Rock-solid performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt, a fun turn from Jeff Daniels (including the year’s best movie one-liner), and a plot that, while not scientifically consistent, delivered on the emotional arcs of all concerned while providing a healthy supply of action. Easily my favorite movie of 2012.
- Chronicle. I was gonna write something about how Chronicle is the only “superheroish” movie to really confront superhero tropes and how bullshit they frequently are, but someone else already did so, well, go read that I guess.
- Safety Not Guaranteed. Which, I suppose, makes two movies on my end-of-year favorites list that are about time travel, although the time travel is more of a side thing to the human stories they use it for. Which I prefer, frankly, to a dedicated time travel movie like Primer which simply seemed designed to give you a migraine.
- The Five-Year Engagement. I liked this because it was drawn-out and, for a romantic comedy that you know by design will have to have a satisfying ending, it was messy and relatively realistic about how real life so frequently gets in the way of relationships. Also it has a killer cast: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt (again? Is she gonna be in everything I like now? I mean, she was in The Adjustment Bureau and I liked that awfully), Alison Brie, Chris Pratt, Rhys Ifans… David Paymer, Jackie Weaver, Mindy Kaling… one could go on.
- Lincoln. I get the criticism that it is another movie about slavery that principally features white people, but that is not really a very astute criticism because this is not about slavery per se; this is a movie about politics, and how people are driven to use it to their ends, for good or ill. Daniel Day-Lewis lines up yet another well-deserved Oscar (unless Hugh Jackman gets it for Les Miserables, but that would be a traditional Oscar robbery) and Tommy Lee Jones steals every scene as Thaddeus Stevens.
- Key and Peele. It has been so long that I have had a sketch comedy show that I considered a must-watch that I almost forgot what it felt like, and it feels so good. Whenever anybody tells you a show other than Key and Peele was the funniest show of the year, this means one of two things: either they have not seen Key and Peele or they are A SECRET RACIST. Thus, Key and Peele is also useful for rooting out secret racism. I bet the Smothers Brothers couldn’t do that.
- Happy Endings. Not to dismiss more story-driven shows like Parks and Recreation or Community (both of which were brilliant this year, of course), but Happy Endings made Elisha Cuthbert into the funniest part of a very funny show, which seemed impossible a season ago, and besides it just packs more gags into every episode than just about any other show on television. Well, except
- Archer. Which has the same gag-per-minute ratio as Happy Endings or even better, plus an engaging ongoing plot line and, because it is animated, can do much wackier and more hilarious things. Burt Reynolds in real life is boring; Animated Burt Reynolds does kung fu.
- Fringe. Still epic in its last season as it barrels home to the close we’re all waiting for.
- Survivor. Two good seasons this year; One World had a clever gimmick, the worst human being in Survivor history in Colton, and a very deserving winner in Kim, who played an absolutely perfect game. Granted, against a male tribe who were total idiots, but even so. And then came Philippines, which, other than having a dreadful jury episode (after hopes were raised that this group of excellent and level-headed game players wouldn’t resort to being The Usual Bitter Jury) was as good as Survivor gets.
- Bunheads. Because it’s basically Gilmore Girls Earth-2 and really, there are few things I want less than that in this world.
- Game of Thrones. Because duh.
- Dishonored. It is a first-person stealth game where you can teleport and the teleportation power is just about perfectly executed in the game’s control scheme. I was zapping all over the place in this game and loving the hell out of it, because the game astutely recognizes that, in real life, people rarely look up unless they are being alert and careful. The game’s level design gives you lots of freedom to pick your own path to your objectives, whether that is sneaking around like a clever bastard or murdering legions of schmucks with your awesome magic powers. Best stealth game since the original Thief.
- Mark of the Ninja. No, wait, this is the best stealth game since the original Thief – this 2D platform/sidescroller is a near-perfect stealth game, with lots of cool ways to play each level, gorgeous character animations (I was shocked to discover that Genndy Tartakovsky was not involved with the project as it felt very him), and a good storyline. Wonderful little game. I actually bothered to replay it, which I almost never do any more.
- XCOM: Enemy Unknown. So fucking good. Purists who whine about how it is not exactly like the original need to be hit with a baseball bat.
- The Walking Dead. Critics will complain that this was mostly an interactive movie rather than a game, but so what? It was a supremely involving interactive whatever-it-was – the relationship between Lee and Clementine felt so real as to be downright visceral as you watched it. So, so good.
- Civilization V: Gods and Kings. Although I hope they have at least one more major expansion for Civ V in the works before they move on to Civ VI, this expansion put a lot more of the complexity of Civ IV that was missing from the game and stuffed it back in. Civ V still isn’t as complex as IV was – but it’s getting there. (The AI could still be better, but Civ is always Civ no matter what.)