Dec. 21, 2012 at 8:58 AM ET
Familiar faces, many celebrating major milestones, dominated the year in movies. James Bond turned 50 with a huge hit in "Skyfall," Marvel's "Avengers" finally assembled on the big screen, and the "Twilight" franchise finally bowed out -- just in time for "The Hunger Games" to move in and set up camp.
Here are some of the highlights -- and lowlights -- of the year in film. (Warning: Spoilers ahoy!)
Liam Neeson punches a wolf in the face! Or not, but the trailer made it seem like he did, resulting in a great Internet meme. Also, who wouldn't buy this film's upbeat soundtrack, which includes such peppy numbers as "You Are Gonna Die," "Wife Memory" and "Running From Wolves"?
'The Devil Inside'
Plus side: This exorcism movie was a huge box-office success! Down side: It was horrible! Plus side: Slate suggested the film has the "worst ending of all time"! (Viewers are told to go to a website.) Down side: You've now got that INXS song stuck in your head, don't you? Every single one of us, the devil inside.
'Woman in Black'
Spooky setting, but the Daniel Radcliffe-starring horror film critics dubbed "Scary Potter" was all trick and no treat.
'Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" in 3-D
We didn't even enjoy this one in regular D.
'Secret World of Arrietty'
Finally, a sweet Valentine's Day treat. Kids and parents alike were enchanted by this little-seen Japanese animated film (dubbed in English, by Carol Burnett among others) based on the beloved "Borrowers" books.
'Dr. Seuss' The Lorax'
He is the Lorax, he speaks for the trees. This adaptation of the good doctor's book earned mixed reviews, but Ed Helms stood out as the tree-chopping, finally redeemed Once-ler.
Let's suppose it's a good idea to spend a quarter of a billion dollars on a movie. Don't make it this movie. "Will you stay and fight for Helium?" is one line. Uh, no, we're gonna go see if Hydrogen has anything better to offer.
'21 Jump Street'
No one had high hopes for "21 Jump Street," a big-screen version of the 1980s TV show about baby-face cops. But then stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, and a witty and raunchy script shook things up, resulting in a hilarious, fast-moving comedy that paid all the proper homage to its retro forebears without groveling.
'The Hunger Games'
Yes, another huge-selling book series becomes a movie series. But somehow -- maybe due to the lack of vampires -- "The Hunger Games" was taken a lot more seriously than "Twilight." Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) made archery look cool, and fans from all Districts can't wait for the next three movies.
Spoiler: The boat sinks. Again.
'Cabin in the Woods'
This is not your grandfather's horror movie. Witty and sharp, "Cabin" picks up the entire slasher-film genre upside-down, screams in its face and drives it round the bend.
The movie many dubbed "Escape From Space Prison" would have been much better if it had Snake Plissken. Guy Pearce is no Kurt Russell.
Marvel's superhero group deserved a great big-screen debut, and they got it. Best line: When team leader Captain America finishes handing out complicated instructions to his team members, then simply turns to the big green guy and says, "Hulk. Smash."
Barnabas Collins was many a 1970s girl's first heartthrob, and "Dark Shadows" fans eagerly awaited this movie version of the vampire soap opera. But Johnny Depp, who'd long announced that he was a big fan of the show and character, let everyone down by turning the beloved title into a groaningly bad parody with maybe one funny line. ("Reveal yourself, tiny songstress," Depp's Barnabas demands of a TV displaying Karen Carpenter singing.)
There was sure a lot of fuss about "The Dictator" before it came out, with star Sacha Baron Cohen insisting on wearing his "Dictator" costume to the Oscars and dumping fake Kim Jong-Il ashes on Ryan Seacrest. Too bad that when the movie came out, it was so unfunny as to be quickly forgotten.
Yes, the idea of a movie based on the popular board game is goofy, but entertain yourself ticking off the specific game references. The aliens shoot pegs at each other! Strikes are plotted on a computer with the traditional "E-11!" wording familiar from the game! Bring on the sure-to-be-Oscar-candidate "Hungry, Hungry Hippos"!
'Snow White and the Huntsman'
Will forever be known as "that movie where Kristen Stewart cheated on Robert Pattinson with the director." Guess he thought she was the fairest of them all.
After all the fuss about whether this was or wasn't an "Alien" prequel ... they should've just gone ahead and made an "Alien" prequel.
'That's My Boy'
Pedophilia, incest and statutory rape! Adam Sandler has come a long way from the sweet innocence of "The Wedding Singer," and we wish he'd go back there, pronto. One of the worst-reviewed films of the year.
'Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter'
Eagerly awaiting the sequels. "Millard Fillmore: Mummy Wrangler" and "James K. Polk: Loch Ness Monster Spotter."
It's not Pixar's best, but this latest animated film does present a fiery-haired princess who's not your mother's Cinderella.
Now brides-to-be and bachelorettes who are too shy to go out to Chippendales have the perfect movie to rent for their parties. Matthew McConaughey's star-spangled stripper costume will ensure you never look at Uncle Sam the same way again.
A sparkling reboot for the webslinger, with "Social Network" star Andrew Garfield (and Emma Stone as girlfriend Gwen Stacy) giving the beloved character a fresh feel.
'Dark Knight Rises'
It'll now forever be associated with the horrific shooting in Aurora, Colo., but the film painted a dazzling end to Christopher Nolan's Caped Crusader trilogy. And holy sidekicks, Batman, was that really Robin?
Colin Farrell's great and all, but you can't replace Arnold Schwarzenegger in an action movie. No one do this going forward. But kudos for the return of the three-breasted hooker.
'The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure'
You never heard of this kids' movie. No one ever heard of this kids' movie. That's why it became the biggest box-office bomb of all time for films released in 2,000+ theaters. Cost: $60 million if you include marketing. Made: $1 million. That's not a typo.
Adam Sandler slightly redeems himself (slightly) for "That's My Boy" by providing the voice of a loyal dad vampire who runs a hotel for monsters and doesn't want his batty daughter dating a human.
It's no "Inception," but Joseph Gordon-Levitt's September sci-fi flick gave moviegoers that same shaky sense of weirdness, introducing them to a universe where time travel is real, yet used only by future mobsters, with creepy implications.
There are no wolves, but Liam Neeson is still Mister Not To Be Messed With.
Thought you knew all about the Iranian hostage crisis? You didn't know about this Iranian hostage crisis. Wonderfully worth seeing, 1970s hair and all.
What happens to your favorite video-game characters after the arcade shuts down for the night? Turns out they have a whole slammin' lifestyle, fighting Cybugs and having candy go-kart races, and in the end, a new hero is made.
'Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2'
Apparently the second half of Stephenie Meyer's book wasn't bloody enough, so the film introduces a whole new sequence that ... well, let's just say we hope you didn't get too attached to some of your favorite characters from Films 1-4. What's that in the field ahead? Er, we mean, "what's that in the field? A head?"
James Bond is back, celebrating 50 years of the spy franchise in what might be the most purely enjoyable blockbuster of the year. Q, M and other letters of the alphabet play major roles.
Turns out our beloved sixteenth president didn't actually fight vampires, instead he fought an intense backroom battle to pass the amendment banning slavery. And also told some great folksy stories. And made one fateful trip to the theater.
'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey'
The first of three Peter Jackson films breaking down J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved book takes a while to get started, but once the dwarves are done with their burping contests and have broken most of Bilbo's mother's china, the quest begins. Mountain trolls and goblins and orcs, oh my!
Quentin Tarantino's back, with all the witty dialogue, artfully flowing blood and controversy that ensues. Jamie Foxx plays a slave-turned-bounty-hunter who teams up with the wonderful Christoph Waltz to make the best unlikely duo of the year.
Do you hear the people sing? Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne bring the famed Broadway musical to your local mall. Even if you can't pronounce it, even if all you know of the music is that Susan Boyle sang one song and George Costanza another, "Les Mis" is a nearly three-hour trip worth taking.
What's the best movie you saw in 2012? The worst? Tell us on Facebook.