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Best Movies of 2012

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The 43 Best Movies of 2012

10 Years Later: Revisiting the Best Movies of 2012

In this entry, we look back at an article we originally published in 2012 that listed the best movies of the year, as decided by my friends and me. Here is what we had to say…

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To say that none of the 40 + films voted for is universally beloved is putting it mildly; but then, that’s the nature of polls like these. Nobody will agree on each entry, but keep in mind, this has always been a place that bridges the gap between mainstream and independent cinema. We love foreign films but we also love genre pics and documentaries. In other words, we cover it all, or at least we try.

With more movies in limited and general release than years prior, 2012 was a ridiculously crowded year for both casual and discerning moviegoers alike. 2012 was also the year of disappointing blockbusters; the year’s top-grossing movie only reached the twelfth spot on this list. One director managed to get in two movies; ten foreign-language films made the cut, as well as five documentaries. Twenty-six contributors from around the world participated, and every film listed below received at least three votes.

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Best Films of 2012

The Raid: Redemption 

#43: The Raid: Redemption 

The Raid is an action thriller with unmistakable, specific influences, but one that combines them with its own unique qualities to provide a particularly potent collection of thrills. Made in Indonesia but directed by a Welshman, the simple but effective plot of Gareth Evans’ film is almost like a mix of two of its clear influences, Die Hard and Assault on Precinct 13. A derelict apartment building in the heart of Jakarta’s slums acts as a seemingly impenetrable safe house for a ruthless gangster and an array of killers and thugs. Tasked with raiding the fortress and capturing the vicious drug lord who runs it, an elite police team enters the building while under the cover of pre-dawn darkness and silence, only for an unexpected witness to reveal their presence to the criminals in charge. The members of the unit, protagonist Rama among them, suddenly find themselves stranded and easy targets on the sixth floor. With the lights cut off, all exits blocked and a hive of the city’s most deadly criminals looking to exterminate them, the team must fight their way out to survive. (Josh Slater-Williams)

How to Survive a Plague 

#42: How to Survive a Plague 

How to Survive a Plague is a compelling look at LGBT protesters during the AIDS crisis in the 80′s and 90′s. The story follows two coalitions, ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), whose activism and research turned AIDS from a death sentence into a liveable condition. Plague isn’t about the history of the disease, instead, about the history of a movement. Despite having no scientific training, these self-made activists provided a template of how grassroots activism can temper societal and governmental prejudice. In challenging the pharmaceutical industry, these men and women helped discover promising new drugs, while fighting to move them from experimental trials and directly to patients in record time. First-time filmmaker David France transports viewers right in the moment of the height of the crisis by using everything in his reach: interviews, broadcasts, news reports, home videos, and more. When it’s over, this documentary lingers as a testament to the extraordinary determination and the will to survive. How To Survive A Plague is impressionistic in its scope, extremely moving, astonishing, important, and downright inspiring. No other film in 2012 left me with tears flooding down my cheeks. (Ricky D)

The Comedy 2012

#41: The Comedy

Musician-turned-filmmaker Rick Alverson obliterates American indie-film propriety in The Comedy, an alternately brutal, repellent, and (yes) hilarious hyper-black satire(?) that also happens to function as the logical endpoint of the current cinematic obsession with man-children. Tim Heidecker (still, and likely forever, best known for Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job) pulls off the fairly incredible trick of bringing to life one of the most despicable antiheroes in film history, a man seemingly incapable of sincerity or affection, and imbuing him with some semblance of a poisoned inner life. Ambiguous and compelling, Alverson’s film is designed to polarize and offend, but also to embed itself in your consciousness. (Simon Howell)

Anna Karenina 

#40: Anna Karenina 

Wright’s film doesn’t just take notes from theatre, with influences from dance and painting also on display. A studio-bound period drama with so many artistic reference points and vibrant editing can’t help but initiate memories of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, especially so when Matthew Macfadyen almost seems to be channelling Jim Broadbent’s performance in that film, and when there are similarly so many lines heavy with the utterance of that abstract idea “love”. While both films have this very polarising, slightly similar style, Wright’s film is certainly far less abrasive and more easily accessible even when heightening its artifice. If one manages to be tuned in with its approach, the results of the aesthetic are often quite extraordinary. (Josh Slater-Williams)

The Hunt 2012

#39: The Hunt

Although director Thomas Vinterbeg’s The Hunt redoubles on well-trodden material explicating the dangerousness of convicting without evidence or investigation, Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (Flame and Citron, Casino Royale, Valhalla Rising) profoundly visualizes just how excruciating the character assassination of a good man displaced by society’s rush to judgment can be. The role of Lucas, a personable and caring kindergarten teacher gives Mikkelsen the opportunity to spin movingly from a relatively content, ordinary man minding his own business to a man who has had almost every conceivable thing worth living for stripped away. Existing in the absence of any kind of existential meaning behind this punishment, Mikkelsen’s Lucas fights nobly and with what little self-worth he can still muster to push back against the overwhelming tide of indiscriminate hate. It’s a harrowing emotional battle that leaves one with a strange sense of reverence for the beleaguered teacher, his integrity intact in spite of the world literally turning it’s back on him. (Lane Scarberry)

Sightseers 2012

#38: Sightseers 

Ben Wheatley just keeps making great movies. Furthermore, they keep getting better. Continuing in the naturalistic direction of his first two films while softening the sharper edges, Sightseers is Wheatley’s prettiest, funniest, and most mature film yet. If it lacks the propulsive insanity of Kill List, it more than makes up for it with its own unique blend of barely subdued chaos and twisted romance. (Emmet Duff)

War Witch 2012

#37: Rebelle (War Witch)

Rebelle is an unexpectedly provocative Canadian film that feels just about as un-Canadian as possible. In an age when cinephiles north of the 49th parallel bemoan the current state of their homegrown cinema talent, it is refreshing to see one writer-director think outside the box and realize that jingoistic, wink-wink depictions of the great white north are not essential for the purpose of, first, getting a film made and, second, getting a good film made. A crowd Rebelle most certainly is not, but it is a brave project. Sometimes caution needs to be thrown to the wind in order to simply tell a good, thought-provoking story. (Edgar Chaput)

West of Memphis 2012

#36: West Of Memphis

This exhaustive, horrific and deeply moving documentary is as equally uncomfortable as Amy Berg’s previous Academy Award-nominated Deliver Us From Evil, which also centres on the horrific influence of adults upon minors, whilst that piece concerned itself with the Catholic Church abuse scandal it is many ways a companion piece to West Of Memphis, as institutional systems and hierarchies collude with each other in an incandescent fury generating fashion, where the victims both living and dead suffer the cruelties of an ideological purpose – these kids were weird and therefore must be guilty – obscures the facts and the notion of any moral or ethical centre. After presenting the public facets of the case – the murders, their discovery, and the subsequent trial and conviction of the three innocent outsiders – the piece begins to unwind the shaky pillars of the conviction, including the mentally challenged Misskelley’s confession after hours and hours of intense and leading interrogation, of testimony from associates of the three who had their own reasons to fabricate their affidavits and have all since recanted their depositions. Once incarcerated a groundswell of protest begins to slowly coalesce, with celebrity figures such as Peter Jackson (who also produced the film with partner Fran Walsh), Henry Rollins, and Eddie Vedder providing emotional, financial, and strategic support to the growing movement to exonerate the trio, but the imperious attitude of the legal system doesn’t want to hear of any new evidence or illuminating discoveries, and the potential road to justice is left with obstacles of time and temperament. (John McEntee)

Haywire 2012

#35: Haywire

The most admirable trait that Haywire possesses is its willingness to stay true to form throughout. It’s as tight as a drum, carrying hardly any fat, with very few wasted shots. This is nothing new for Mr.Soderbergh, who is exceedingly good at balancing his filmography between mainstream successes and true art-house fare. Haywirecoincides heavily with the former, but I’ve got the sense that some will dismiss it as a mindless one-note snoozer. The film is anything but, as Soderbergh pairs his routinely gorgeous panache with the eye-popping physical presence of Gina Carano, a retired mixed martial arts fighter who plays the part of black ops super soldier Mallory Kane to a tee. In a way, the film is a throwback to pulpy action flicks that offered not the best dialogue and story but followed its protagonist and their wholehearted quest for revenge. (Ty Landis)

The Imposter

#34: The Imposter

Your mind plays tricks on you all the time. You’re presented with a clear-cut fact, something that is immutably true, and you doubt it. You wake up in the middle of the night, but your mind convinces you that you’ve had a full night’s sleep or it’s actually mid-morning and you’re running late. Someone you care about hasn’t answered your call, so your mind tells you something terrible—a car accident, maybe—has happened to them, even if the real answer is they just didn’t pick up their phone. Why does anyone—and we all do it–play these games on their psyches? What compels us to believe a convenient lie as opposed to accepting the cold, harsh truth? Such heady questions are at the center of The Imposter, a high-intensity and thrilling new documentary.(Josh Spiegel)

Frances Ha

#33: Frances Ha 

If it can be agreed that there is indeed a Gerwig Persona, Frances Ha is an unabashed celebration of it. Look no further than the giddy sequence in which an elated Frances leaps and pirouettes through NYC, set to David Bowie’s “Modern Love” for evidence that Baumbach is just as taken with the character as viewers are. What’s most refreshing about Frances Ha is its total absence of malice or pretension. Baumbach has no interest here in punishing Frances for her neuroses or launching a devastating critique of NYC’s spoiled young bourgeoisie. Instead, he and Gerwig place the emphasis on the possibility that Frances can and will overcome her own shortcomings and especially those of her friends in order to eke out a basic modicum of contentment. Perhaps the surest sign of the film’s winning qualities is that once the credits roll over the film’s final image, revealing the significance of its title, we’re far from ready to leave Frances and her adventures behind. Gerwig and Baumbach’s creation could easily withstand an entire series of time-lapsed explorations, not unlike Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel saga. (Simon Howell)

Cloud Atlas 2012

#32: Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas is essentially a patchwork of narratives thematically linked with minor coincidences and recurring symbolism. With six stories spanning several centuries, Cloud Atlas explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future. As a parable of how we are all connected, each protagonist in Cloud Atlas wrestles with some form of oppression, based on either gender, age, race, sexual orientation, genetics and so on. In 1850, a young American lawyer sailing on a ship through the South Pacific is slowly being poisoned by a doctor who wants the treasure of gold he is hiding. In the 1930s, an inspiring composer follows his dreams while recounting his journey via love letters to his gay lover. A journalistic potboiler set in 1970s San Francisco sees an investigative reporter exposing the secrets of a faulty nuclear facility. Later, a London publisher Timothy Cavendish is imprisoned in a nursing home and must find a way to escape back into society. In 2144 Korea, a cyborg-clone-slave named Sonmi-451 escapes to help lead a rebellion – and further still into a post-apocalyptic future, a Hawaiian tribesman is contacted by a representative of the remnants of an advanced civilization, to save what’s left of the human race. The sprawling, serpentine plot is enough to stretch into a mini series, yet somehow these three filmmakers find ways to intertwine these individual stories into one coherent movie. Atlas is at times frustrating and familiar but credit must be given to the filmmakers for taking on such an ambitious project. If anything, Atlas is highly entertaining even if silly at times. (Ricky D)

Damsels in Ditress 2012

#31: Damsels in Distress

Oh, the hoards and hoards of films which try valiantly to dissect and study teenage and young adulthood, those formative years when boys and girls learn so much of themselves while at school. There are dramas, horror films, the not so cleverly coined ‘dramedies’, and so on and so on. Most of us have lived through those unforgettable experiences, whether we reminisce them fondly or otherwise being an entirely different matter. Because many understand what they mean, there is an endless supply of material, be it adapted or original, to create more of such movies to the delight or annoyance of many. College, or university as it is recognized in Canada, is unfortunately not solely the domain of the bright and brilliant. Writer-director Whit Stillman, making his feature-length comeback after 1998′s Last Days of the Disco, takes that notion and creates a strange little comedy which does not, in fact, shine positive light on the youth… (Edgar Chaput)

Beyond the Hills 2012

#30: Beyond the Hills

At 150 minutes, Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills is not a second overlong. Extended as its takes may be and as patiently as the narrative progresses to its drained conclusion, there is a heaving sense of urgency to this story of a young woman who was failed by pretty much everyone – including herself – and died because of it. It is a true story in fact, fashioned by Mungiu, with the assistance of Niculescu Bran whose non-fiction novels he drew much inspiration from, into a fine screenplay that contains more religious and anti-religious rhetoric than a movie that ultimately feels this morally cagey has any right to. This might partly be due to the way the director shoots his actors and the way the actors speak his lines, without any undue emphasis or thematic/emotional spotlighting. The naturalism at work here is a masterclass, particularly impressive considering the two co-leads are straight-up non-professionals, who we all know can be at risk of either overacting or underacting, at least more so than those more seasoned…. (Tope Ugundare)

The Color Wheel 2012

#29: The Color Wheel

Alex Ross Perry’s The Color Wheel looks, feels and sounds like an independent American hit of the 90′s film fest circuit. This black and white post-mumblecore road trip through dark comic territory begins as a funny road comedy and ends with an unexpected twist of events. Recommended for fans of Richard Linklater, Lynn Shelton and the Duplass brothers. (Ricky D)

Silver Linings Playbook

#28: Silver Linings Playbook

Sometimes, it’s OK if you know the destination as long as the journey is plenty of fun. That’s the basic underlying principle of Silver Linings Playbook, a massively enjoyable crowd-pleaser that presents an off-kilter brand of romantic comedy, where most of the zigs and zags can be predicted during the first act. What the plot may lack in genuine shock, the film makes up for with a feisty, sharp ensemble cast and clever, rat-a-tat dialogue from writer-director David O. Russell. (Josh Spiegel)

Compliance

#27: Compliance

Compliance is essentially a slow-motion train wreck of rape, an extended sexual assault where the physical acts are being committed by characters who are themselves experiencing a gradual violation. This is a horror film, make no mistake, and the lack of blood spilled does not reduce its intensity in any way. The actors do fine work in letting the decisions show on their faces, of conveying the strange space where they are making a choice and yet believing they have no choice, but the process of the violations themselves may be too intense for some. (Mark Young)

wreck it ralph 2012

26: Wreck-It Ralph

At the heart of Wreck-It Ralph is a Taoist parable about the usefulness of uselessness that adds unexpected depth to what at first blush could appear to be a simple, funny animated film trading on nostalgia for old video games. On a deeper level, Wreck-It Ralph is an environmental story. The opening screens to the “Fix-It Felix Jr.” game reveal that Ralph originally lived in a forest inside a hollowed-out tree stump, until Ralph’s forest was bulldozed and his stump uprooted to make way for the apartment building that Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer) repairs. Seen in this light, Ralph is not so much a destructive bad guy as an elemental force of nature reacting to the opposing force of civilization, the green root that bursts through the asphalt that “paved over paradise“. The Cy-Bugs from “Hero’s Duty” are the dark mirror of Ralph’s nature, unrestrained destruction that burst up from underneath, consuming everything in their path… (Michael Ryan)

The Deep Blue Sea 2012

#25: The Deep Blue Sea

The Deep Blue Sea, Terrence Davies’ new film, adapted from the Terence Rattigan play, could easily have been classified as a faux-hysterical, overwrought melodrama in which a beautiful married woman finds solace and then pain in the arms of a younger, more attractive and more temperamental man than her own decent yet distant husband. However, thanks to Davies’ thoughtful and detailed direction, as well as sterling work from Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, and Simon Russell Beale, The Deep Blue Sea is more perceptive and anguished than most modern relationship-driven drama. It’s hard to choose a standout performer; though each character in this drawing-room story has deep moments of introspection and frustration, it’s Weisz, as the multidimensional and truly flawed lead character, who’s most impressive. From the little moments–her flat reply of “I know what you look like, Freddy” to her paramour’s friendly gestures–to more bombastic interactions, Weisz delivers an excellent, intelligent, and immensely sad performance in a thoroughly excellent slice-of-life story that rings true 60 years after it was brought into being. (Josh Spiegel)

killing them softly 2012

#24: Killing Them Softly

Set against the backdrop of the 2008 US election, chunks of both major parties’ campaign rhetoric, as well as that of former President Bush, permeate select scenes of Killing Them Softly via background radios and televisions, entering like tumbleweeds rolling across a set. The film’s jarringly edited opening credits even cut between the title cards and Scoot McNairy’s slow passing through windswept garbage in decayed, unnamed suburbia, looking cold and in pain as a cigarette hangs from his mouth, as his walk is scored by the mangled audio mix of an Obama speech about the “American promise of life”: “to make of our own lives what we will.” Later music use also veers far from subtlety, with songs like “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries” chosen for blatant irony, and a scene of substance abuse accompanied by the sounds of The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin”. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, Killing Them Softly’s furious avoidance of coyness might prove disastrous, though the bluntness, despite its aesthetically enthralling execution, is still likely to frustrate many. Look beyond the louder elements of the economic and political threading, though, and one has a crackling dialogue-heavy thriller that revels in palpable atmospherics and great performances… (\Josh Slater Williams)

The Grey 2012 film
K3F_8929.NEF

#23: The Grey

Where The Grey diverges from survival thrillers past is in its pronounced existentialist streak. Ottway and his fellow survivors (including Dermot Mulroney and Dallas Roberts) struggle with individual crises of faith (or lack thereof) while simultaneously battling the elements and their own failing bodies. Carnahan keeps a close watch of the film’s tone and intensity level throughout; long periods of pensive observation actually serve to ratchet up the tension, since the creatures have a tendency to emerge suddenly and viciously. What’s more, the more philosophically inclined portions of the film rarely feel heavy-handed or too highfalutin’ for the surrounding chaos; Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers’ carefully calibrated screenplay only throws out enough of these moments to lend a pleasing ambiguity to Ottway’s journey, making sure that the film works equally well as straight-up thrill ride as well as allegorically loaded fiction… (Simon Howell)

Magic Mike 2012

#22: Magic Mike

When does Steven Soderbergh sleep? Is it possible that he stays awake all day long? How else to explain the inexplicable speed with which he makes movies? Last September, Soderbergh had the big-budget film Contagion open to decent box office and acclaim. This January, he released the excellent, gritty actioner Haywire. Now, he’s behind the camera for Magic Mike, a drama focusing on male strippers in Tampa, Florida, because why the hell not? Based in part on the life experiences of Channing Tatum, who stars in and co-produced the film, Magic Mike is surprisingly assured and entertaining – only if Steven Soderbergh cranking out another expertly made film qualifies as surprising. (Josh Spiegel)

Oslo, August 31s

#21: Oslo, August 31st

Oslo, August 31st is the second feature-length effort from director Joachim Trier, after 2006’s Reprise, and the second cinematic adaptation of the novel Le feu follet by author Pierre Drieu La Rochelle. Known in most English language territories as The Fire Within, Louis Malle’s 1963 version is set in Paris and follows a recovering alcoholic journeying from a rehabilitation clinic to the city one last time in order to visit friends and hopefully find a reason to keep on living. Trier’s Norwegian film transplants the action to that country’s capital but also replaces the alcoholism angle with one concerned with drug addiction. Josh Slater-Williams)

Cosmopolis 2012 - best movies of 2012

#20: Cosmopolis 

Every time Cronenberg answers the prayers of his fans with a new movie, it seems that the first reflex is to attempt to categorize it. Is this new film more like the old Cronenberg, in which very strange, very graphic bodily harm was done to its characters, or is this more in tune with his recent outputs, which, while still quite good, played things a little more on the safe side, at least visually? In a nutshell, and with the help of a little bit of retrofitting, Cosmopolis is cut from the same cloth as the director’s efforts of the early and mid-1990s. The sexuality (but not always sensuality) quota is through the stratosphere and the characters are indeed very peculiar, although there are no hands morphing into organic pistols or telepathic attacks to be found. Consider it Crash, but with a slightly more comprehensible, linear narrative. (Edgar Chaput)

This Is Not A Film

#19: This Is Not A Film 

When the Iranian government moved last year to formally ban Jafar Panahi from writing or directing any future films for the next two decades, Panahi decided to interpret the ban in the narrowest terms possible. He can not write a screenplay, true, and he can not direct a scene, but what do those two things mean when it comes to making a film?

Panahi, clearly finding the confines of his house arrest stifling, decided to explore that question, enlisting fellow filmmaker Mojbata Mirtahmasb to help him avoid the darker grey areas of the ban. The result is the appropriately titled This Is Not A Film, a sort of video experiment/exploration that of course begs the question of whether or not it is actually a film. By Panahi’s strict reasoning it is not, or at least not a film by him. The definition of what This Is Not A Film is, as opposed to what is not is kept intentionally vague, a problem in need of an explanation. (Louis Godfrey)

Killer Joe

#18: Killer Joe

Director William Friedkin makes no bones about the inevitable (NC-17) rating of his film with Sharla Smith’s (Gina Gershon) first appearance on-screen: shirt and no pants, and nothing hidden. This tone-setter, in the first five minutes of Killer Joe, accurately predicts a grimy, graphic film, where the squeamish audience member might find himself rushing to take a shower after the end credits roll. Letts’ script moves quickly. The set-up – Chris’ debts, the plan, Joe’s introduction – moves at almost hyper speed. And it’s appropriate. Killer Joe isn’t a film about how best to plot a heinous crime. It’s a film about a backstabbing family – and Joe becomes very much a part of the Smith family by the third act and selfishness. It plays close to a more gratuitous, sweatier version of Blood Simple. If you’ve got the stomach for it, Killer Joe is a whole lot of fun… (Neal Dhand)

Berberian Sound Studio 

#17: Berberian Sound Studio 

British filmmaker Peter Strickland’s sophomore effort is many things: a sly deconstruction of 1970s hallucinatory Grand Guignol cinema, an audio geek’s wet dream celebrating the art of foley magic, a stylistic tour de force, and a blend of comedy and horror with a Lynchian twist. Strickland’s meta-horror film begins as a dream, before spiraling into a nightmare of sorts. Set entirely in the offices of a sleazy Italian film company in the 1970s, a British sound technician, played to perfection by Toby Jones, travels to Italy to work on the sound effects for a gruesome blood-soaked giallo film called The Equestrian Vortex. His nightmarish task slowly takes over his psyche as Gilderoy is unable to distinguish between the perverse fantasies of the film he is working on and the so-called reality. (Ricky D)

Zero Dark Thirt

#16: Zero Dark Thirty 

Before it became a controversy magnet for its possibly-questionable treatment of the efficacy of torture, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty was emerging as the insurgent critical darling of late 2012. Is it any wonder? Bigelow’s alternately pulse-pounding and methodical thriller proves once again that she’s a filmic technician equal to any other, and the film’s single-minded refusal to bow to sentimentality or cliché, or to imbue the proceedings with anything resembling victorious fervor, is admirable but also par for the course. And there may be no more dizzying and scary a sequence in any film this year as the closing raid on bin Laden’s compound – not because we don’t know the result, but because it’s a convincing dramatization of American military might at its most pointlessly decisive. (Simon Howell)

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia

#15: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia 

The title of the latest offering from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan might indicate companionship with famous films from Sergio Leone or Hark Tsui that share a similar namesake, but don’t enter Once Upon a Time in Anatolia expecting action sequences, drifting loners, or harmonicas.  Ostensibly a road movie and character study, Ceylan’s film asks questions more likely to be found in an Errol Morris entry than a titular counterpart… (Neal Dhand)

#14: The Avengers 

The danger of a film like Marvel’s The Avengers is that it will be treated too much as product. All of the Marvel Studios films are products, no question, but the difference between the two Iron Man films is that the first was a product born of love for a character, and the sequel’s character work nearly collapsed under the weight of the various plot threads that set up future installments. The Avengers is a product born of love, honed by professionals, and it surpasses any film ever made in its genre, period… (Mark Young)

Argo | Best Movies of 2012

#13: Argo 

Improbably, Ben Affleck has turned his career around in the last few years from the pit where such cinematic embarrassments as Gigli and Daredevil forever reside. He’s essentially transformed himself from a tabloid cover-star into a poised actor-director who subscribes to the “Hollywood doesn’t make movies like in the old days” mentality. Following his first two directorial efforts, Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Affleck is again behind the camera and starring as the lead in the taut new political thriller Argo, whose exceptional second half is almost good enough to make its slightly awkward, cluttered first hour forgivable. (Josh Spiegel)

Beasts of the Southern Wild movie 2012

#12: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Fully immersed in characters that refuse to be changed by nature’s fury or modern society’s encroachment, director Behn Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild sweeps the audience into a chaotic, isolated world of unchained imagination. Set deep within a closed-off bayou of Louisiana where a small girl named Hushpuppy is largely free to do as she pleases, Beasts is a film that pulses with free will and resilience. Hushpuppy is a soul that can’t be broken by illness, disaster, beasts, or whatever else the world may throw her way. This is a story of a child living in abject poverty but one that doesn’t ask anyone to take pity on her. Instead, we see her wild innocence of looking at the world, her bravery and desperately want to feel that open to spaces within us that haven’t yet been silenced by age or pain. (Lane Scarberry)

 Best Movies of 2012

#11: Lincoln

When it was first announced, an Abraham Lincoln biography directed by America’s most recognizable director and starring one of the world’s preeminent thespians, Lincoln sounded like an automatic slam-dunk. Daniel Day-Lewis’ level of quality here is almost dull, if only because how could he not be emotional and fierce? How could this not be another of his monumentally brilliant performances? The shock, then, isn’t that Lincoln is a good film or even a great one. Nor is it that the film respects its subjects but acknowledges their flaws. The surprise is that Lincoln avoids the pitfalls of many historical films. The story of Abraham Lincoln, in any form, is inspiring. Lincoln, through its warmth, intelligence, comedy, and honesty, earns that inspiration. (Josh Spiegel)

Cabin In the Woods 2012 |  Best Movies of 2012

#10: The Cabin in the Woods

Like Scream, it’s a self-aware slasher film, but where Scream was happy simply to turn the genre’s bloody glove inside out and examine the stitching, The Cabin in the Woods has more complicated ambitions. If Scream is a bloody glove turned inside out, then The Cabin in the Woods is a Russian nesting doll described by H. P. Lovecraft and carved by M. C. Escher. Like Hitchcock’s Psycho and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, The Cabin of the Woods isn’t just about killing, it is about watching (and filming) killing. Our sympathies are torn between the victims being watched and the watchers, including an action sequence modelled loosely on the Psycho car burial. What is perhaps most horrifying is that the watchers are almost bored, like a tired teen yawning while slipping the last film from a horror marathon into the VHS deck. (Michael Ryan)

The Dark Knight Rises  | Best Movies of 2012

#9: The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan doesn’t half-ass things. Unlike a lot of summer-movie directors, he knows how to deliver a true spectacle. His dedication to telling a complete story about one of pop culture’s most beloved superheroes is remarkable. This determination pays off in The Dark Knight Rises, the conclusion to his Batman trilogy and one of the most massive, large-scale films of the last few years. Thankfully, avoiding the trend of many third films, The Dark Knight Rises is a satisfying, fitting finale to the best version of the Caped Crusader’s legend. (Josh Spiegel)

 Django Unchained

#8: Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino wears his style on his sleeve. Homages, tributes, and callbacks to older films, forgotten performers, and oft-ignored genres are part and parcel of his filmography. But one element of his aesthetic has become more pronounced over the years: his fierce, almost laughable, dedication to being deliberate. If his films, or setpieces within them, are like a domino display, we’re invited to sit down, watch him set each and everyone in the proper place, and then gather in awe as he topples the whole thing with a slight push. In that respect, Django Unchained, his florid and entertaining spaghetti Western, is very much of a piece with seemingly dissimilar works like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill… (Josh Spiegel)

Tabu  - Best Movies of 2012

#7: Tabu

With his third feature, Portuguese critic-turned-auteur Miguel Gomes has proven himself to be a director in complete control of his craft. Tabu is a film of artistic cool – breaking classic genre conventions in the most crafty and affectionate way by consistently subverting the narrative in a beautiful dreamlike style. Much like his previous feature (Our Beloved Month of August), the Portuguese director presents an allegory fastened by an animal: In this case the crocodile, a reptile that symbolizes forbidden passions, deceit, treachery, and hypocrisy. As the reoccurring image of the reptile conveys, passion will end in the jowl of pain as love culminates on the mountain of Tabu. Gomez has directed a film that channels the look and feel of classic Hollywood, and one that will transport you back to the golden age of cinema. Tabu is an exquisitely-cut gem, a rarity for our time, and perhaps the best film of the year. (Ricky da Conceição)

Looper 2012

#6: Looper

Of its numerous strengths, one of Looper’s greatest is that, despite featuring narration by its lead character, it heavily relies on visual storytelling to successfully convey both information and emotion. The narration delivers as little exposition as necessary to begin understanding both of its dystopian worlds, and its characters, respecting the viewer’s intelligence and leaving further comprehension down to them. In no way does this make Looper’s fictional world, one of time-travel that blends sci-fi and crime film conventions, feel at all under-realized. The world is, in fact, fully rendered and often beautifully so: see a montage depiction of one key player’s past, or rather future, that spans years but is completely without dialogue, motivations becoming clear for the viewer long before this character needs to spell it out for his younger self much later in the film. Additionally of note is a horrific but gloriously executed sequence of torture, also dialogue-free, that conveys the narrative’s logic regarding time travel and the effects actions in the film’s present can still have on one’s future self… (Josh Slater Williams)

Skyfall 2012

#5: Skyfall

Time and time again the legendary James Bond film franchise has learned to adapt and survive. Survival of the fittest, if you will. Whether the reasons for concern were changes in the actor playing the part, the loss of a producer, turbulent waters for the studio’s finances, changes in screenwriters, or the lack of anymore Ian Fleming material upon which new adventures can be penned, the series has always quickly learned to get back on its feet to thrill and amuse audiences the world over. Even within the films themselves, the plots have almost always reflected new geopolitical paradigms, as well as cultural morays and trends in pop culture. James Bond is always recognizable, and yet he can adapt if need be. Now, 50 years after the release of the first official film, Dr. No, Skyfall is unleashed unto the world, a film that simultaneously pays tribute to the franchise, the character of Bond, creates a bold, original story and helps remind audiences that there is always a place for 007 at the theater. (Edgar Chaput)

Amour 2012

#4: Amour

The solitary setting makes this as an almost claustrophobic, suffocating experience, but also finally a transcendent one, as Haneke moves away from his usual lectures on the moral failings of society to a more intimate plateau, with his usual chilly and ascetic hand on the tiller to steer the film through to deep emotional waters, without a single, solitary trace of sentimentality. Amour is deeply moving and elegiac, a quiet masterpiece that will haunt you for weeks, with a final coda that is utterly obliterating. (John McEntee)

Holy Motors 2012

#3: Holy Motors

If you’ve never heard of Leos Carax, Holy Motorsmight not be the best way to make the French director’s acquaintance – or maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t matter much at all. Having not produced a feature-length film since 1999′s Pola X, Carax’s latest is an oddly euphoric plunge into madness and the bizarre. It stirs the imagination unlike any other film this year, and is likely to take the cake in regards to producing the zaniest, most absurdly loopy film-going experience in recent memory. Too cool for the likes of Nanni Moretti (President of this year’s Cannes jury), the film was met with both high praise and waives of bewilderment at Cannes, signifying that Carax is indeed back… (Ty Landis)

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

#2: Moonrise Kingdom

From the perspective of a Wes Anderson fan, Moonrise Kingdom makes his triptych of classics (Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic) into a foursome. With its beautiful visuals, warm and honest script, and a genuine sense of what family entertainment can be, Anderson has struck gold once again. His latest film demands to be seen by anyone with even a passing interest. (Robert Simpson)

The Master 2012 film

#1: The Master

“Man is not an animal,” Lancaster Dodd calmly and firmly intones into the ear of the perpetually addled, horny, and wayward Freddie Quell early in The Master. This is, in some ways, the key phrase at the center of Paul Thomas Anderson’s excellent new drama, a 1950s-set character study about the vast ocean of difference between Dodd, who purports to be a centered, rational leader of religious thought, and Quell, who stumbles into Dodd’s path and exists almost entirely to disprove the possibility that Dodd’s stated beliefs can change anyone. Anderson’s working at the peak of his talents, as expected. It’s Joaquin Phoenix, though, who is most revelatory in the film. After an extended absence from non-prank-related movies, he roars back onto the screen in a career-best performance, aided by excellent supporting work from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. (Josh Spiegel)

THE BEST FILMS OF 2011

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