Our 30 Favorite Films of 2012

It’s usually hard to categorically say what was or wasn’t a “good year for film.” Beyond every year’s popularly-advanced cinematic dichotomy (summer movies & awards bait), there’s dozens of quality films that find a varying amount of festival play and limited release over a several-year period. In other words, our list is imperfect — there’s several technically-2012 films yet to open commercially which will simply have to wait. Similarly, we had the opportunity to see a few limited-release titles in 2011 (The Loneliest Planet, The Kid With A Bike, Miss Bala) that might’ve made this list if we wanted to repeat ourselves (but we’d rather not). So without further ado, here’s the 30 best new releases we had the pleasure of viewing in 2012, a “probably pretty good, though who can say for sure” year for film. — Bryan

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Girl-Walk-All-Day30. Girl Walk / / All Day (Jacob Krupnick)

Like a straight adrenaline shot of unfiltered exhiliration, Jacob Krupnick’s feature-length music video provides visual expression (if not literal interpretation) of the most recent Girl Talk album, All Day. The premise is simple: a girl, a gentleman, and a “creep” dance their way across New York City, occasionally amassing followers but often content to just jam out as they pave their own path. There’s so much joy in their unending sense of movement, as they make their way from Staten Island Ferry to Wall Street to Central Park. Anne Marsen, as the girl, has a completely infectious enthusiasm that perfectly compliments the “huge-pop-hit-after-hit” nature of the mash-up soundtrack. Don’t think too much, just sit back and enjoy the spectacle. Better yet, get your ass up and dance along. — Bryan

this-is-40-pete29. This Is 40 (Judd Apatow)

This is 40 is a sequel of sorts to Judd Apatow’s 2007 comedy Knocked Up, but it has virtually nothing to do with that film, both narratively and stylistically. Instead, it continues the vaguely-European trajectory that Apatow began with the second half of 2009’s (underrated) Funny People, this time eschewing the notion of plot altogether for a series of vignettes that chronicles a marriage approaching the end of its second decade — the time where you realize that you’ve now spent roughly half your life with another person. Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd bicker throughout in typical Apatowian fashion — but the highlight is the five-minute or so segment in the middle of the film where the couple gets out of town, away from both their children and their deadbeat parents. In a hilarious and heartfelt montage, we see a glimpse into their past, and of their marriage before their kids inadvertently began driving them apart. It’s a much-needed reminder of how a loving couple behaves when they’re allowed a moment to themselves, as past versions of the young people they once were are brought back to the surface for one brief weekend, highlighting the haunting nostalgia and subsequent cynicism of middle-age that Apatow successfully captures. Once back to real life, it’s back to the small victories. — Andrew

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28. Michael (Markus Schleinzer)

There’s a certain subject matter that many filmmakers avoid like the plague. Pedophilia, for instance, is rarely tackled, and when it is, the criminal is often characterized as an evil creep. But even the most disgusting of people are more complicated than that, and Markus Schleinzer’s Michael boldly explores that idea. Focusing on a man who keeps a kidnapped 10-year-old boy locked in his basement, Michael takes a fascinating, uncomfortable approach to the subject matter, delving into the pedophile’s sad psyche. After terrible crimes, you often hear people shocked about how the “normal guy next door” could have done this. Schleinzer presents that man as is — not as a Jekyll and Hyde persona, but as one deeply troubled body. — Giovanni

ALPS

27. ALPS (Yiorgos Lanthimos)

On its surface, ALPS may not seem as bizarre as Giorgos Lanthimos’s Oscar nominated precursor, Dogtooth. There’s no butchery of language or social norms, and yet, in many ways it’s every bit as absurd. The premise almost seems normal, albeit dark, at first: a group offers a service to people who’ve lost loved ones, where they become surrogates for the dead to help the living grieve. But Lanthimos isn’t concerned with normalcy, and why should he be when discussing a people who have lost loved ones? A sudden death can turn one’s world upside down. Appropriately, ALPS presents characters alien from our world, just as he does in Dogtooth, as they participate in an absurd grieving process. — Giovanni

wreck-it-ralph

26. Wreck-It Ralph (Rich Moore)

Though little more than a run-of-the-mill animated film on paper, Wreck-It Ralph succeeds by constantly overachieving. It pays attention to detail first and foremost, both in regard to its remarkable visuals and its constant video game culture in-jokes (the Konami Code even gets a shout-out, for crying out loud). Throw in a high-concept plot that gracefully swaps between environments, a villain that ranks with the best in recent memory, and outstanding voicework from John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman, and you’ve got more proof that Pixar aren’t the only ones who can pull off clever jokes and genuine sentimentality in the same race anymore. I don’t get teary-eyed at the theater much, but when Ralph starts wrecking Venelope’s car… well, you know. — Andrew

HolyMotors

25. Holy Motors (Leos Carax)

“Art or lunacy? You decide.” So spoke an actual Australian street poster for Leos Carax’s latest conceptual anomaly, to eye-rolling effect. Through certainly eccentric and strange, Holy Motors is far from impenetrable. Dennis Lavant gives one of the great performances of the year (or, really, several of them), as Oscar, a limousine-bound shape-shifter. Under the employ of some mysterious entity, he adopts a number of guises to prepare for an itinerary of role-play scenarios. Over the course of a single day, he’s a hunchbacked street beggar, a motion-capture body double, a sewer-dwelling monstrosity with a taste for flowers and human fingers, and a damn good accordion player. Carax’s premise gives him liberty to genre-hop, as each new persona’s vignette adopts a new filmic mode. In that sense it’s very much a film for those who love the cinema, but its aims are even deeper. There’s a certain tenderness to Lavant’s world-weary traveler, an emotional toll to the character’s life of performance. Though his motivations are wrapped up in weirdness, his humanity shines through. And did I mention the accordion jam? — Bryan

take_this_waltz

24. Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley)

They meet on an airplane. Handsome and beguiling, he prompts her to confess to a fear of air travel. She’s not scared of flying, but of the connections — being lost in an empty terminal, and just “being in-between things.” Sarah Polley’s second feature is all about that in-between. Starring a dazzling Michelle Williams as the aforementioned “her,” a twentysomething named Margot, the film uses an eclectic, day-glo palette to explore the malaise of young adulthood. Despite a largely pleasant marriage to (a surprisingly low-key) Seth Rogen, Margot finds herself succumbing to her irrational desire for her new admirer. The narrative of this untenable love triangle is spare, but its emotional baggage is heavy. The bold, childlike wonder of the colorful costumes and set design speaks volumes about the characters — in many ways, they’re just play-acting at adulthood. Though her actions may be selfish, Margot’s restless nature has a resonant quality. Scared of being in-between, you almost sympathize with her flee from one fantasy to another. — Bryan

the-comedy

23. The Comedy (Rick Alverson)

Americans love a good man-child. Think back to the 90’s when MTV saw huge success with shows like Jackass and The Tom Green Show, focusing on obnoxious boys in men’s bodies. They’re as easy to love as they are to hate, representing the fearless youthfulness that men lose with maturity. But people grow out of that for a reason, and Rick Alverson’s The Comedy makes that very clear. Tim Heidecker (yes, that Tim Heidecker) plays Swanson, an aging Williamsburg hipster who is utterly incapable of being serious. Even as he sits with his dying father, Swanson cracks lude jokes about his anus. Never breaking his insincere persona, he’s intensely frustrating from start to finish. But that’s what makes The Comedy so compelling. Alverson doesn’t try to make you sympathize with Swanson; he presents a real group as vividly as possible to let the audience study entitlement culture and draw their own conclusions. — Giovanni

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22. The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan)

So, we’re supposed to be disappointed by this one, right? I know batlash (…) was always inevitable in the months after the film’s release — I mean, it’s the sequel to the most successful superhero movie ever, and the dude that made that movie good is dead — but I’ve read such hyperbole as it’s the ‘worst superhero movie ever made.’ Do we not live in a world where Jessica Alba was supposed to pull off the smartest woman in New York in The Fantastic Four? How about when Brett Ratner swept in to turn Bryan Singer’s promising X-Men trilogy into a cheap-looking Michael Bay knockoff? Chistopher Nolan deserves credit for the ambition and scope of his Batman trilogy, and for everything that didn’t work in The Dark Knight Rises (Batman being sidelined a bit too long, a villain with a face we can’t see [pet-peeve of mine]), there was something worthy of your time (Anne Hathaway’s turn as Catwoman, great twists at the end). I’ll let the batlash (…) fade for now. When the next Batman movie comes out in three years and goes for a more universally-appealing, “light” atmosphere, we’ll all be eagerly recognizing Nolan’s trilogy as the most accomplished superhero movies made, and Rises is a fine cap to that. — Andrew

Psycopaths_rockwell

21. Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh)

Who says there aren’t any original ideas in film anymore? Clearly, these naysayers have never met Martin McDonagh, who appears to be some sort of mad comedic scientist. His second feature film, the completely absurd black-meta-action-comedy Seven Psychopaths, is a triumph of originality. It tells the story of a group of professional dog kidnappers who become tangled in a web of crime and violence after stealing the wrong man’s Shih Tzu. The genius script is perfectly brought to life thanks to one of the year’s strongest ensembles. Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, and Tom Waits give it their comedic all, embracing the madness. But the real star is Sam Rockwell, whose fantastic performance as the lovable, deranged Billy sits right up there with Daniel Day Lewis as one of the year’s best. — Giovanni

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20. The Day He Arrives (Hong Sang-Soo)

In Hong Sang-Soo’s latest quasi-autobiographical film, there are such thing as second chances.  You can have an opportunity to try again… and again, and again, and again. This is an alcohol-soaked odyssey charting the hazy strains of memory, where juvenility reigns supreme. Hong, like his forbearer, Woody Allen, continues to revisit familiar territory, ever-refining his tales of deluded male antiheros doomed to repeat their misfortune. Once again, his protagonist is a film director, who (in his words) is taking a break from movies to teach at a university, and visit a friend in Seoul. Once there, he eats at the same restaurant over and over, drinks at the same bar, and talks to the same group of people. Hong’s use of repetition and rhyme forms the film’s fatal sense of melancholy, as his leading man can never break free from his current affairs. Through that patterned behavior, he nails the stasis that befalls so many young and unmotivated individuals. The tragedy isn’t in their failure to succeed, it’s in their lack of earnestly trying. — Bryan 

silverlinings

19. Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell)

Silver Linings Playbook is so good it’s shocking. All of the ads and awards hype made the film look like this year’s unbearably quirky indie comedy Oscar pick. Who would have imagined that it’d actually be David O. Russell’s finest film? Perhaps that’s because the film’s subject matter fits so perfectly for the notoriously explosive director. The film tells the story of Pat, an emotionally explosive man, due to bipolar disorder, who meets the equally troubled Tiffany. Though it follows a basic rom-com structure, Russell handles the material with sensitivity and sincerity, never reducing the character’s conditions to cheap jokes. His direction specifically feels perfect in the tremendous performances he pulls from Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. In the wrong hands, Silver Linings Playbook could have been complete schlock. But Russell and Company are a perfect match for such a genuinely heartwarming comedy. — Giovanni

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18. Attenberg (Athina Rachel Tsangari)

Its title a mispronounciation of documentarian David Attenborough’s surname (who the lead character loves to watch on TV), Attenberg is a blissfully offbeat film about the foibles of education. Like a derivative of Dogtooth (with whom it shares several creative forces), Tsangari’s film is completely absorbing for how obscurely its narrative is drawn. Marina and her friend Bella live in a sparsely populated Greek seaside town, seemingly unmoored from a conventional sense of reality. Tsangari utilizes their isolation to adopt a slyly comic, anthropological perspective on their strange actions. Whether it’s choreographed high-stepping or battling with tongues in an effort to french kiss, characters act as if unburdened by basic human knowledge, and we’re able to observe their fits and starts in attaining any sense of understanding. In Greece, it’s timely to portray a culture’s attempt to recognize and define itself — for those who can glean the sense of empathy and despair beneath the exaggerated peculiarity, there’s a richly rewarding viewing experience waiting. — Bryan

detropia

17. Detropia (Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady)

Detroit’s been left for dead. America’s one-time fastest growing city is now its fastest shrinking — a tragic decay witnessed firsthand by a weary, run-down populace. Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady’s understated, ethereal documentary might seem like an autopsy, but as they probe the city’s carcass they find something astonishing — a gasp of life. Beyond the gutted buildings and faded signs, the scrap trucks and steaming sewers — somewhere within the wrinkled faces of those who remember better days. The demise of industry as their backdrop (complete with literal monuments), Ewing and Grady depict the city’s future as an empty canvas — a gaping void just waiting to be filled. If it’s a symphony, it begins as one of bulldozers and wind-caught debris. But on the horizon, a chorus of young voices in search of someplace open and free. It may not be the American dream all over again, but it’s something. Detropia captures that unique moment in our nation’s history, as we teeter on the edge of collapse, fighting to regain our balance by whatever means necessary. — Bryan

the-snowtown-murders

16. The Snowtown Murders (Justin Kurzel)

Movies can make you laugh. Movies can make you cry. Movies can make you physically ill to the point where you want to vomit. The Snowtown Murders is the latter, in the best way possible. Justin Kurzel’s film about an Australian murder spree in the 90’s is a visceral experience that shoves viewers’ faces deep into the bloodshed. What’s equally so successful and troubling about the small indie production is how Kurzel creates such a disturbing situation that’s inescapable. In that sense, The Snowtown Murders is an astounding horror film that stays in your mind long after the final scene. But even more so, it’s a fascinating anti-coming-of-age story where the film’s young protagonist grows under the wrong influence. And that destruction of life is just as tragic as the countless deaths. — Giovanni

Looper

15. Looper (Rian Johnson)

The most remarkable thing about Looper is that it immediately establishes a great, “how did no one ever think of that?” sci-fi concept, effortlessly explains its complex mythology to us within minutes, and then seems almost eager to abandon it entirely. Though a Bruce Willis/Joseph Gordon-Levitt game of cat-and-mouse would have been equally fun, writer/director Rian Johnson earns points for staying reserved, confident that he won’t lose his audience by turning his attention from his elaborate dystopia to a more emotionally straightforward farm setting (with plenty of Bruce Willis killing dozens of people, innocent kids included, on the side). Was I constantly enthralled by Gordon-Levitt’s relationship with Emily Blunt and her Hitler kid? Nah (if anything, I wanted more of his relationship with Paul Dano and Noah Segan’s wonderfully inept ‘Kid Blue’.) But once I convinced myself to buckle down and let the movie take me where it will, I WAS constantly enthralled to see how it ended more than any other film this year — though (BIG SPOILER), come on, I still would have killed the kid and high-tailed it to get with the hot Asian babe. To each his own, I guess. — Andrew

tabu14. Tabu (Miguel Gomes)

It’s safe to say that Tabu is unlike anything else you’ll see this year, because there’s never been another film quite like it. A bifurcated narrative, it begins with a brief prologue before planting us in modern-day Lisbon. There, our protagonist, the middle-aged ineffectual activist, Pilar, juggles a concern for the world with that for her dementia-ridden neighbor, Aurora. This stilted, at times opaque section soon agreeably swells into a full-scale fantasia of Aurora’s African youth. Poetically narrated by a stranger at her modern-day funeral, this portion (titled “Paradise,” following the preceding “Paradise Lost”) introduces backstory, motive, and a burgeoning beauty. It also features a Portuguese cover of The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.” Somehow, Gomes toes the line between a purely visceral romantic experience and an intriguing academic exercise. His silent film imitation avoids the overtly-comic mode of a Guy Maddin feature, instead opting to allow for an underlying tenderness to the genre invention. Even for all its intentional imitations, it’s undeniably one of a kind. — Bryan 

the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower

13. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky)

First things first — you need to distance yourself from the notion that a group of hipsters growing up in the 90’s wouldn’t know who David Bowie is. Good? Okay, then you’ve got the rare high school movie that earns every bit of the sentimentality it strives for, developing a friendship as natural as it is painful and, at times, awkward. Emma Watson and Logan Lerman both come into their own as lonely independents with a lust for life, but the breakout performer here is Ezra Miller, throwing himself around with equal parts confidence, despair, and hilarity. Even when Charlie’s story staggers a bit at the very end of the film with the revelation of the source of his introversion, Miller is there to remind us that life is always there for the taking — all you need to do is develop relationships with those who have it inside them in spades. — Andrew

imposter-trailer-05312012-00332012. The Imposter (Bart Layton)

Who’d ever think that the story of a missing child could be so daringly playful? Bart Layton’s first feature film isn’t afraid to blend humor and disquiet, in part because its true-life source material is so downright bizarre. The child in question is Nicholas Barclay, a 13-year-old Texan who disappeared from his hometown three years prior to the time he’s supposedly found. As to how and why the titular imposter enters the fray, well, that would be telling. But this is a story about more than what happened — it’s a startling portrait of what any of us can be led to believe. Alternating between stylishly filmed reenactments of the past events alongside talking heads of both the family and the imposter himself, the film builds an uneasy tension as competing sides of the story muddy our sense of truth. In that deliberate construction, Layton sets us all up for the ultimate dare, which arrives with the film’s final shot. Are we foolish enough to take the bait? Is there anything wrong with just wanting to believe? — Bryan

turin horse

11. The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr)

The abyss is a terrifying concept. There’s this fear that when you die, perhaps there’s nothing but darkness. No angels. No harps. No golden gates. With his final film, Bela Tarr brings that horrific idea one step further; what if we’re already in the abyss? Combining the monotony of Jeanne Dielmann with the unsettling emptiness of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, The Turin Horse sits with a father and daughter as they spend their days practicing basic survival as the world outside seems to blow away. Tarr hints at a global apocalypse, but also suggests that perhaps such a thing hit long ago. Maybe the only difference between life and death is light. With only 30 slow shots, Tarr presents a bleak, but astonishing, vision of life that stares right back at the audience. — Giovanni

damsels

10. Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman)

A decade-and-a-half in lapse clearly hasn’t lessened Whit Stillman’s skill at crafting distinctively deadpan literary comedies. In his first film since Last Days of Disco, Greta Gerwig plays Violet, a mannered, formal-talking undergrad devoted to imposing her worldview on the unruly campus of a fictional east coast university. Violet’s efforts at civilization include enforcing strict criteria for who receives the free donuts at the suicide prevention center, exclusively dating losers in an effort to boost the males’ self esteem, and striving to kickstart a new dance craze (the Sambola!). As her zeal proves compulsory, Violet enters what she terms a “tailspin,” and the ugliness underneath her composed self-absorption peaks through. Gerwig proves a perfect fit for Stillman’s sensibility, bringing pathos to a character that begins as an antagonistic oddity. Though untethered from any recognizable reality (Stillman describes it as “full on” utopian), the film coasts by on its charm and keen sense of observance. It’s totally absurd, and yet filled with sharp bits of cultural insight. For all the laughs, the theme of identity, and the desire to create a perfect one instead of perhaps the one we’re assigned, is what resonates most of all. — Bryan 

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9. The Color Wheel (Alex Ross Perry)

A study in the varied forms of discomfort and humiliation, Alex Ross Perry’s micro-budget road film makes for a journey both hilarious and sublime. Shot on 16-mm black-and-white film, the story centers on a brother and sister, Colin and J.R., going through the menial motions of driving through Pennsylvania to Boston so she can retrieve her things in the wake of a recent break-up. Slinging snide and snarky remarks across the car divider, the pair’s dynamic is exhilarating thanks to the excellent chemistry of the two leads and the simplicity of the premise. The film’s tone is disjointed in a near-amateurish way — line deliveries shift mid-scene from improvised to seemingly read directly off the page — but somehow it all works. For all its artifice, the film conjures a warped sense of authenticity. J.R.’s aspiration to be a television news anchor is both banal and endearing — the joke’s not on her because it’s cosmic. She and Colin are an entire generation — feckless, wielding sarcasm like a weapon, and somehow barely getting by — just self-conscious enough to be self-loathing. That the humor is undercut by a gashing poignancy in the film’s final act only adds a welcome complexity. True to its name, The Color Wheel boasts a full spectrum of human folly. — Bryan

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8. Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin)

When you’re a child, everything seems so much bigger. Youthful imagination pumps life up to fairy-tale proportions. Sometimes, it can be difficult for adults to put themselves back into that mindset of infinite wonder. But that’s not the case for Benh Zeitlin. His debut feature, Beasts of the Southern Wild, captures the essence of childhood in a way that most coming-of-age writers could never dream of. Set in the post-Katrina inspired “Bathtub,” a six-year-old girl, the spunky Hushpuppy, is faced with the harshness of reality as her father’s health deteriorates. Of course, a six-year-old doesn’t cope with tragedy the same way a 30-year-old does. In her mind, the situation becomes a magical realist adventure, filled with mythical beasts and a broken world that she must put back together. Quvenzhane Wallis puts forth an extraordinary performance as Hushpuppy, making the character equal parts adorable and introspective. Brilliantly shot from her height, Zeitlin masterfully places the viewer right down with Hushpuppy, truly allowing us to see the world through her extravagant eyes. — Giovanni

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7. Sister (Ursula Meier)

With this, her second film, Ursula Meier has quietly emerged as another in the recent influx of exciting young female directors. On the heels of her soulful, bedraggled debut, Home, Meier’s latest forms a delicate picture of quiet moral compromise. Despite the suggestion of its title, it’s 12-year-old Simon, a scrappy, loose-moraled youngster who lives with an older sister, Louise, who headlines the film. He supports himself by stealing and reselling wealthy tourists’ equipment at a Swiss Alps ski resort, high above the real world and his ruddy little apartment. As his relationship with Louise undergoes some unexpected flux, Meier calls into question the necessity of a conventional family model. Both have to sacrifice just in order to survive, and they share a sense of both premature intelligence and sadness. The style owes a debt to the Dardenne brothers in its devotion to naturalism, and the dichotomy between the pristine slopes and the siblings’ dingy flat makes for some arresting visual material Meier’s not afraid to show all the potential beauty in ugliness, nor the ugliness in beauty. This film’s got both in spades. — Bryan

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6. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)

The setting of Wes Anderson’s delightful Moonrise Kingdom is little more than a camping grounds and a small island off the coast of a lake, yet it is indeed representative of a kingdom for a young king and queen. They are Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), two young stand-ins for the concept of true love, a concept that has perhaps never been represented as pure a thing as it is here, in all its resplendent, adolescent awkwardness. Actually, awkwardness is the wrong word — perhaps not to the casual outsider, but to the two kids who cherish each other’s company, who don’t understand why the whole world is after them. By the whole world, I mean a group of unhappy adults, tracking down the children only because it’s what they must do. They’re unaware, or perhaps just no longer care, that the children are shadows of the unadulterated souls they used to be, before they grew up and the actual scope of the kingdom was inevitably brought into perspective. Anderson is our guide through the adventure, dazzling with memorable set-pieces (including a tree house that a hapless Edward Norton is almost sure has been built too high up) and patronizing not one of his wonderfully-drawn characters. If it’s not Anderson’s best film, it’s at least his Wowee Zowee (Pavement’s third album) — the project most indicative of his body of work as a whole. — Andrew

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5. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow)

Perhaps it’s better to think of Kathryn Bigelow’s Osama Bin Laden hunt film as more of an orchestral piece than a movie. That feels like the best way to enter a work as tremendous and complex as Zero Dark Thirty. The film opens with a montage of audio recordings from September 11th over a black screen, like a haunting overture setting the stage for a decade of history. While the focus is on Maya, a CIA officer obsessed with tracking Bin Laden (portrayed by Jessica Chastain with phenomenal restraint), the sweeping narrative goes beyond the scope of your average historical drama, delving into deeper questions about morality. Title cards are used throughout, as if cueing new movements in the piece that always feel natural and completely necessary. The end result is a stunning masterpiece that strips all politics out of a highly politicized issue and boils it down to essential observations of humanity. — Giovanni

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4. Amour (Michael Haneke)

For decades, Austrian director Michael Haneke has been creating extraordinary films that generally deal with random acts of violence and cruelty. In a strange way, Amour is no different. But the perpetrator here isn’t a human being, but life itself. After suffering a stroke, Anne, a charming woman in her eighties, becomes a victim to the slow march of death. While deaths in Haneke’s previous works have always been quick and shocking, the slow deterioration of life meticulously depicted in Anne is his most horrific achievement. Emmanuelle Riva’s portrayal of Anne is masterfully tragic — so filled with unending suffering. The same is true for Jean-Louis Trintignant, whose healthier performance is equally pained, leading to an excellent character arc that wraps up in Haneke’s traditionally effective way. Amour stands high among the director’s finest works, and that’s about as high an honor as a film can achieve. — Giovanni 

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3. Cabin In the Woods (Drew Goddard)

Cabin In The Woods is a thrilling experience, and all it had to do to reach that point was debunk an entire film genre. Try watching any of the horror films it riffs on without subconsciously pointing out the athlete, the virgin, the fool, etc… can’t be done. But many of Cabin‘s thrills come from following those familiar horror movie beats, then subverting them in the most playful way possible. A musty room full of old antiques? Creepy at first for the atmosphere alone. Creepier by ten times more once Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford confirm that whatever antique they opened would determine the monster that would kill them. Wouldn’t it be cool if we got to see all those monsters together? Let’s just say that the film recognizes all the base desires going through the horror junky’s mind and doesn’t hesitate to not only deliver what you want to see, but defy your expectations (and then it ends with the biggest fisting ever seen in a wide-release). It was the theater-going experience of the year in the right context, and one that word-of-mouth will inevitably turn into a cult classic. And to think, it only made $600 million less than that OTHER Joss Whedon movie this year. — Andrew

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2. Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino)

Though sharing its revisionist revenge fantasy motif, Django abandons all notions of arthouse cinema present in Quentin Tarantino’s last feature, Inglorious Bastards, opting instead for the more straightforward homage to the spaghetti western. It’s a good decision for a movie that blisters through its three-hour run-time, shooting its way from one (controversial? Fuck you, Spike Lee) n-word to the next without taking itself the least bit seriously. The script actually reads a lot like an epic episode of Breaking Bad extended into a Tarantino movie, each scene more or less painting Django (Jamie Foxx) and his partner Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) into a corner and trying to figure out a way to write them out of the next seemingly impossible situation. This simple but unrelenting defying-the-odds formula gives Django a magnificent tempo, though some of the iconic dialogue Tarantino is known for is noticeably lacking. That’s more forgivable, though, when the performances across the board are so outstanding. Seriously, have Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, and Leo DiCaprio ever been better? And they’re the guys who WEREN’T nominated for an Oscar. — Andrew

the-master-joaquin-phoenix1. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)

Two men sit in a room. One (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, reliably amazing) asks a series of questions, inane at first, then becoming more specific. The other (Joaquin Phoenix, astonishing) answers, his reactions becoming more unhinged, every off-kilter twitch of the face betraying him, revealing the uncertainty of his responses, until he lets out a tear, perhaps from the rule that he cannot blink during the exercise, perhaps not. He is being challenged for perhaps the first time in his life, forced to stare into his own psychosis, a past that he seldom contemplated, suddenly fearful of who he is. He’s an unstable extrovert who is slowly becoming introverted, and he will soon join the master on a mission that has no clear endpoint, no final statement, with goals that are ill-defined at best and, god forbid, non-existent at worst. The only knowledge he has is that the master has the answers, and even this will be challenged as their adventure continues.
Detractors of The Master say that it’s an unnecessary film because it’s about nothing. To that, I say, you could well be right about the latter. The Master is a film about the journey towards discovering identity and truth, two things that, so far as physical and scientific evidence will dictate, could be as real as the monsters from one of Lancaster Dodd’s tales. The question Anderson poses is whether that journey, then, is even worth taking. In this information age, with talking heads on every channel, fact and opinion muddled by the internet, pundits on the radio, extremists in the streets, Anderson would be a hypocrite — a master, if you will — if he gave us a film that pretended to have all the answers. Really, his film doesn’t slander the church of Scientology itself — it only sees it as another possible, albeit severely questionable, route towards self-realization. It merely urges you to go on your own journey, to be the one to separate bullshit from truth. That’s what makes The Master not only necessary, but the most necessary film of the year. — Andrew
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