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By Film Threat Staff | December 31, 2012

When it comes to picking the top films of the year, the challenge is daunting. Since our writers see so many films over the course of the year, not just the theatrical-friendly, critically revered and/or festival-darling fare, our choices can be all over the place. Still, each year we submit our lists and see what shakes out. Some writers have simply listed their picks, some didn’t respond and others have written more… much more. Is there an overall Top Ten consensus to be had from all of this? Sort of; some films came up enough times to be included in an overall Top 9 Films of 2012 list, with another 13 films getting honorable mentions for being on more than one list.

We all see, and enjoy, lots of different films. Please don’t stop at only the top two lists, but explore the individual writers’ picks, as there are far more films worth checking out. Here’s the overall Top Films of 2012 and Honorable Mentions followed by, in alphabetical order by writer, the individual picks for their Top Films of 2012…

(number of writers’ lists film appears on in parentheses)

  1. Beasts of the Southern Wild (6)
  2. Lincoln (5)
  3. Moonrise Kingdom (5)
  4. Django Unchained (4)
  5. Looper (4)
  6. Amour (3)
  7. The Cabin in the Woods (3)
  8. The Sessions (3)
  9. Zero Dark Thirty (3)

(number of writers’ lists film appears on in parentheses)

  1. Bully (2)
  2. Compliance (2)
  3. Fat Kid Rules the World (2)
  4. Goon (2)
  5. The Invisible War (2)
  6. Kill List (2)
  7. The Master (2)
  8. Promised Land (2)
  9. Safety Not Guaranteed (2)
  10. Searching for Sugar Man (2)
  11. This Is Not a Film (2)
  12. The Turin Horse (2)
  13. West of Memphis (2)

Jessica Baxter
I had a hard time getting to the movies this year. I feel like I saw more bad films than good, though that is probably par for the course. There are several films that might have made the list, only I haven’t seen them. Among them are Moonrise Kingdom, Argo, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, This Is 40, and Seven Psychopaths. Of the films I did manage to catch, these are the ones I liked best:

  1. The Cabin in the Woods
    Number one with a “hacked off and ett” zombie arm. It’s not often that such a perfect send-up of a genre also serves as a masterful example of that genre.
  2. I’m Now – The Story of Mudhoney
    If you aren’t a Mudhoney fan when you start watching, you certainly will be by the closing credits. The band has a lot to be bitter about. But they aren’t bitter. In fact, they couldn’t be more gracious. These are guys who love to play music and consistently found a way to keep doing it. Ryan Short and Adam Pease have made an explosive piece of art, fueled by the raw power of Mudhoney’s music that delivers sweet comeuppance to all the folks who did the band wrong over the years.
  3. Take This Waltz
    Sarah Polley is a brilliantly nuanced filmmaker, mastering the art of “show, don’t tell”. She has the directorial eye of a painter, letting each shot speak volumes about her characters. Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen play no small part in weaving such a complex and morally ambiguous story about the beginning and end of love.
  4. Safety Not Guaranteed
    This adorable sci-fi offering to the Mumblecore genre re-defines time travel and showcases the dramatic chops of Aubrey Plaza (“Parks and Recreation”) and Mark Duplass (every Mumblecore movie) whilst preserving their comedic charms. It’s rare that a film about time travel will be so enchanting that you don’t even begin to analyze the time-space continuity until long after it’s over.
  5. Lincoln
    Daniel Day Lewis plays the s**t out of one of the most important U.S. presidents in the history of U.S. Presidents. Emanca-m***********g-pator of the slaves.
  6. Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie
    It’s not for everyone. In fact, it’s not for most everyone. But if you’re a fan of Tim Heidecker & Eric Wareheim’s surrealistic shock humor, you’ll probably laugh a lot while watching this film.
  7. Grassroots
    It’s amusing that one of the greatest political films I’ve ever seen is about something as seemingly insignificant as the 2001 Seattle City Council race. Stephen Gyllenhaal’s clever script is about more than just local government. In a presidential election year, it was inspiring to watch the “mostly true” dramatization of an unemployed alt weekly journalist who decides to take local politics into his own hands despite tremendous odds and a pessimistic political climate. Between “Grassroots” and “Lincoln”, I’m just swelling with democratic pride this year.
  8. Looper
    Another time travel goodie starring a digitally de-handsomed Joseph Gordon-Levitt, playing a young Bruce Willis who is hired to kill his future self. Even though they eventually do get into it, writer/director Rian Johnson gets major points for making Bruce Willis utter the line, “I don’t want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws”.
  9. Old Goats
    A well-told micro-budget story of a group of old men who are having trouble getting into the swing of retired life. It serves as a good reminder that even though it’s not over till it’s over, it’s never too early to start mulling over what you want to have done with your life.
  10. Phantom of the Paradise
    It’s probably not fair to include a film that came out in 1974 when there were other great films that came out in 2012. But it’s because of a mediocre 2012 film that I discovered this old gem, which immediately shot straight to my top 20 films of all time. “Paul Williams, Still Alive” profiles the titular prolific genius songwriter responsible for the songs of “Phantom” as well as a significant amount of musical masterpieces, including “The Rainbow Connection” and “Rainy Days and Mondays”. Williams also played a lead part in this stylized horror re-telling of “The Phantom of the Opera.” Nicolas Cage cites it as the film that made him want to be an actor. 30 seconds into the opening credits, you understand why that is. Brian de Palma was never as irreverent and groundbreaking and Paul Williams was instrumental in that mindblowing result.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Comedy
    There are very few people I would actually recommend this film too, but it gave me plenty to mull over and Tim Heidecker gives a beautifully understated dramatic performance about a trust fund a*****e who is trying to deal with his father’s impending death.
  • Killer Joe
    Juno Temple may be British, but I still consider her an American national treasure. I’ve never seen her do anything less than nail every single role. Here, she plays an underestimated trailer-dwelling teenage girl.
  • Liberal Arts
    Josh Radnor (“How I Met Your Mother”) wrote, directed and stars in this excellent film, which could be considered a companion piece to “Old Goats.” Turns out there are a lot of parallels between the crises of 30-somethings and 60-somethings. Furthermore, Elizabeth Olson somehow manages to play a manic pixie dream girl without being annoying about it.
  • Wonder Women! The Untold History of American Superheroines
    Great documentary about the woeful lack of female superheroes in popular media and the impact that has female genre fans.

Mark Bell

Narrative Features

Documentary Features

Short Films

KJ Doughton
Why only nine films on this list? Because despite 2012 being the best year in recent memory for movies, I missed several key players – among them, P.T. Anderson’s “The Master,” David O. Russell’s “Silver Lining Playbook,” and Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty.” By neglecting these major entries, one of which would likely have filled the void, I hereby penalize myself a slot.

  • Starlet
    Sean Baker’s “Starlet” sublimely captures the strange, lonely extremes of LA’s San Fernando Valley, where elderly widows fester in cluttered homes and nubile young women take porn-film pop-shots to pay the rent. Its two complicated heroines, one an eager-to-please young adult, the other a bitter octogenarian widow demonstrate how an unlikely human connection can rejuvenate the soul. “Starlet” also reminds us that we are defined by neither by our age, nor what we do for a living.
  • Lincoln
    Daniel Day-Lewis? Knock, knock? Is he in there? Par for the course (“There Will Be Blood,” “My Left Foot,” “Gangs of New York”), Day-Lewis checks out of his chameleonic skin and allows Abraham Lincoln to take over. Not since “The Exorcist” has cinematic possession been so startlingly conveyed. Meanwhile, “Lincoln” is the first film in recent memory to meld the traditionally stillborn genres of courtroom drama, historical epic, and “lots of white men in wigs sitting around talking,” and maintain a compelling sense of suspense.
  • Skyfall
    Shedding past Bond skins and re-defining the legend, Daniel Craig’s Brit Secret Service agent is a crude Neanderthal struggling to keep up with a state-of-the-art world. A genius at conjuring forth tormented characters in crisis (“American Beauty,” “Revolutionary Road”), director Sam Mendes dumps the legacy’s emphasis on complex espionage to explore the personal dynamic between Bond and a vengeful Secret Service defector (Javier Bardem). As a result, “Skyfall” is the most focused and intimate of any Bond film to date.
  • Eden
    Human sex slavery is a volatile, hot-button theme seldom depicted onscreen without amped-up sensationalism (“Trade,” “The Whistleblower”). With sublime restraint, Megan Griffith’s deeply disturbing film is both sensitive and uncompromising. Griffith refuses to paint her characters with broad strokes. “Eden” exists in a world of messy human ambiguity, where decent people nurse mean streaks and degenerates demonstrate dignity.
  • The Sessions
    For a film dealing with sex surrogates and a disabled man’s quest for physical intimacy, “The Sessions” achieves a rare innocence seldom seen in contemporary film. It’s not lewd, titillating, or the least bit exploitative, diving right into the messy physical and emotional logistics of lovemaking. Helen Hunt’s matter-of-fact nudity only enhances the film’s raw honesty. Throwing in the added complications of Catholic guilt, “The Sessions” becomes a profound examination of whether “forbidden” yearnings are compatible with strict religious dogma. “The Sessions” is also funny, heartbreaking, and refreshingly optimistic about the human condition.
  • Life of Pi
    It’s tough to focus on this film without commenting on the versatility of director Ang Lee. Some auteurs insist on branding each of their films with personal signature… while perhaps limiting their aesthetic range. Others, like Lee, create filmographies in which each piece stands on its own as a complete departure from what has gone before. “Life of Pi” is a gorgeous fable, employing 3-D in a manner that compliments its tale of complex negotiation between an orphaned adolescent and a lip-smacking Burmese tiger. It’s about as far removed from “The Ice Storm” and “Brokeback Mountain” as you can get. Meanwhile, Lee serves up the most visually intoxicating onscreen eye-candy since “Avatar.”
  • Flight
    Meet Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), c**k of the cockpit while piloting planes at 30,000 feet. While grounded, he’s an amazingly functional alcoholic and drug addict. Either in the air or on land, he’s an astonishingly reckless prick. Denzel’s pickled pilot thinks nothing of helming an 88-passenger jet while he’s already high as a kite. And when Whitaker saves the passengers through a stroke of heroic genius, “Flight” becomes a complicated morality play. Most films save the action set-pieces for the finish. But “Flight” begins with the most horrifyingly white-knuckle plane crash in the history of cinema, before morphing into a stirring study of pride, addiction, and honesty. That “Flight” transcends this early visceral action, making us care about an unsympathetic narcissist, is a remarkable feat.
  • Arbitrage
    “Arbitrage” made me rage. Like “Flight,” the film makes us empathize with an arrogant sociopath… to a point. Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is a billionaire hedge-fund trader selling his firm to a major bank. Meanwhile, he’s manipulating his books, defrauding investors, cheating on his wife, and committing manslaughter. Miller never even contemplates doing the right thing, feverishly working to cover up his multitude of dirty works… and perhaps even getting off on the adrenaline-soaked high of potential discovery. “Arbitrage” is an amazing depiction of Antisocial Personality Disorder among the affluent. I’ve always held particular contempt for filthy-rich scumbags abusing power to get away with deplorable things, and “Arbitrage” had me frothing in furious indignation.
  • The Raid: Redemption
    Imagine Fred Astaire gone postal. Think “Dancing with the Stars” with Kevlar vests and bulletproof helmets. This, my friends, is the thoroughly insane essence of “The Raid,” a perfectly calibrated, precision-made machine – the Swiss Watch of shoot-out films. A sinister arch-criminal named Tama (Ray Sahetapy) lurks on the top floor of a scummy tenement inhabited by every druggie and psychopath in Indonesia. Iko Uwais plays Rama, a rookie cop whose wife is pregnant and whose future is doomed when he and his crime fighting cronies are assigned to take Tama out… with extreme prejudice and a cache of firepower. Director Gareth Evans skirts the frayed ends of sanity in ways not explored since John Woo sent Chow Yun Fat down exploding hospital hallways in “Hard-Boiled,” and “The Raid” will rattle bones you never knew existed.

Phil Hall

  • The AmerIndians
    Tracy Assing’s celebration of the indigenous people of Trinidad and Tobago is among the year’s most interesting and original documentaries.
  • Anecdote
    Ahmed Ziari’s short about a young gay hustler and his unlikely client offers an original visual style and a devastatingly haunting story.
  • Genevieve Goes Boating
    Lucy Gray’s imaginative and idiosyncratic experimental short weaves different artistic protocols together into a charming tale of a young girl’s discovery of self-reliance.
  • Flamingos
    Antero Alli’s challenging avant-garde feature rattles with emotional, financial, sexual and intellectual power struggles.
  • Hit and Run
    Australian filmmaker Luke McKay offers a compact short thriller that is rich with startling imagery, inventive editing and a jolting screenplay.
  • Off Season
    Eugene Ioannou’s short drama on the fraying relationship provides a mature and honest view of self-destructive behavior between a pair of mismatched souls.
  • The Selling
    One of the funniest indie comedy features to come around in ages, this original endeavor finds a pair of real estate agents trying in vain to unload a house that is haunted by the ghosts of a serial killer and his victims. Kudos to director Emily Lou and writer/star Gabriel Diani for this invigorating entertainment.
  • The Sound of Crickets at Night
    Marshall Islands-based filmmakers Jack Niedenthal and Suzanne Chutaro recall the subtle cinematic style of Satyajit Ray with a provocative and moving drama that weaves three stories of loss and rue into a memorable work of art.
  • Spirit First
    Ryan Ondriezek’s documentary short on folk rock singer/songwriter Levi Weaver is an intelligent celebration of an artistic iconoclast surviving on the scrappy fringes of a excessively commercialized music world.
  • Yellow Submarine
    There were no shortage of classic films returning for re-release, but the most satisfying was this brilliantly restored DVD presentation of the animated classic – its psychedelic hues haven’t looked this fresh since 1968.

Amy R. Handler

  1. This Is Not a Film
  2. Bully
  3. 5 Broken Cameras
  4. Compliance
  5. The Dark Knight Rises
  6. Lincoln
  7. Amour
  8. Nuit # 1
  9. Leonie
  10. Hail
  11. The Turin Horse

Rick Kisonak

  1. Lincoln
  2. The Master
  3. Amour
  4. Zero Dark Thirty
  5. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  6. End of Watch
  7. Promised Land
  8. Searching for Sugar Man
  9. Moonrise Kingdom
  10. The Sessions

It’s that time again. Time to look back and ask those eternal year-end questions: What is the state of film as an art form? What technological changes did the past twelve months bring? And how can it possibly be that people still pay Eddie Murphy to make movies?

It’s also time to recognize the trends that defined 2012. At the top of my list: Old movies retrofitted with 3D, Scottish action figure Gerard Butler’s weird bid to dominate mainstream American cinema and the way so many motion pictures seemed to come in pairs-

There were two movies about Snow White; two movies about Abraham Lincoln; two movies about Alfred Hitchcock; two movies about comical retirement communities (both of which featured Maggie Smith-what are the odds?), two movies dealing with slavery and two, count ‘em two, movies depicting American secret missions, to name just a few examples of the phenomenon.

I admired a number of performances. Emmanuelle Reva was heartbreaking in Amour; John Hawkes was a revelation in The Sessions; Beasts of the Southern Wild’s Quvenzhane Wallis was precocious as hell and, in The Master, Joaquin Phoenix was so good you almost forgot he was pretending to have retired from film to pursue a career in hip hop just two years ago. But in my book only one piece of acting transcended and that was Daniel Day-Lewis’ Lincoln.

I guess Eddie Murphy’s goes without saying. Which seems appropriate since the character he played in A Thousand Words was mostly mute. Also awful were Sacha Baron Cohen in The Dictator, a mumbly Tom Hardy in Lawless and Russell Crowe’s singing in Les Miserables. But the winner had to be everybody in The Odd Life of Timothy Green.

Ruby Sparks, 21 Jump Street and Casa de Mi Padre have a special place in my heart but I absolutely loved This Is 40, Judd Apatow’s free form meditation on marriage and middle age.

Woody Allen has a long history of following his most masterful creations with misfires, so perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that his first film since Midnight in Paris — the biggest hit of his career — was the most feebleminded, forgettable movie he’s ever made. But it did. I didn’t watch To Rome With Love; I gaped. I couldn’t believe that what I was seeing was so stilted, haphazard, meaningless and borderline amateur hour. Not to mention almost never funny.

Taken 2 was a bitter disappointment but, let’s be honest: We weren’t expecting great art, were we? Lawless was a different story. The latest from Australian-born director John Hillcoat (The Road, The Proposition) didn’t so much fail to live up to the standard he’s set in previous work as just plain fail.

That Ridley Scott’s Prometheus came as close as it did to making it into that last category.

Hmm, does it get more unnecessary than Red Dawn? It may. Remakes are planned for The Birds, Mad Max, Poltergeist and Scarface.

The correct answer, no doubt, would be The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises but I’ll go with Ted. Seth MacFarlane’s tale of a foul-mouthed teddy with a weakness for weed has seriously grown on me since its release.

Critics continue to include Flight in best-of-2012 conversations and I continue to be baffled. If you’ve ever seen an after school special on the perils of alcohol abuse, the story offered few surprises. Denzel Washington was solid but the guy’s won two Oscars so you’ve got to figure playing a drunk probably didn’t rank among the greatest challenges of his career and, after that hair raising first act crash, the movie wasn’t just downhill — it was dull, preachy, sappy and predictable.

Check out Box Office Mojo’s ranking of the past year’s releases and you’ll come upon the very definition of inexplicable: #108, with $16 million in receipts-The Raven; #109, with $15 million, The Master. The former deserves to be there. The latter deserves a place among the year’s most challenging and provocative screen creations.

I’m thinking 2001: A Space Odyssey would be a trip.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Elizabeth Taylor is scary enough without the extra D.

The fact that a postapocalypticish premise like Beasts of the Southern Wild’s no longer seems all that far fetched. A decade ago that movie would have looked like something in the Mad Max series. Today not so much.

Beasts of the Southern Wild. Though that may not remain the case for long. There’s buzz that the film’s star, Quvenzhane Wallis, who snagged the role of Hushpuppy at the age of five, may become the youngest actress ever to take home an Academy Award. And, if that doesn’t happen, there’s this consolation prize: In her next movie, she’ll costar with Brad Pitt.

There was no shortage of star-studded duds this year. Battleship, Savages, Dark Shadows, Trouble With the Curve, Prometheus, Rock of Ages, The Dictator and Cloud Atlas, to name just a few, all blew bigtime despite having bigtime A-List casts. But, for me, nothing with big names blew half as much as Darling Companion, in which Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Richard Jenkins, Dianne Wiest and Sam Shepard helped Lawrence (Body Heat, The Big Chill) Kasdan re-imagine Lassie Come Home as a mindless, meandering boomer dramedy.

Bully, The Gatekeepers, The Invisible War and The House I Live In, among many others, took on serious social issues but Searching for Sugar Man told one of the most amazing and heartwarming true stories I’ve seen on screen in years.

Michael Haneke’s Amour, easily the most depressing great movie ever made. But hey, are we stunned they’re not rushing a French language rumination on old age and death into cineplexes for the holidays? More surprising is the time it looks like it’ll take for Vermonters to get a peek at Promised Land. It’s a wonderful film in the tradition of Silkwood and Erin Brockovich, directed by Gus Van Sant, co-written by and co-starring Matt Damon and John Krasinski. I would have thought the studio would want it out for the holiday season.

It’s not even close-The Odd Life of Timothy Green.
The latest from writer-director Peter (Dan in Real Life) Hedges was 104 minutes long and didn’t contain a single believable moment. I hated this movie. Lots of pictures are contrived, mindlessly sentimental and cynically manipulative but few are also as infuriatingly stupid as this shameless heap of hokum about a couple that triumphs over infertility by growing a child in their garden.

Lots of reviewers are calling Zero Dark Thirty the year’s best but it fell short in my book for a couple of reasons: It drags in places and, way more importantly, Bigelow and Boal distort the record for reasons which elude me. Their film clearly suggests that torture was justified because it led to the information which ultimately led to bin Laden. People who were there at the time, however, swear zero intel of that sort was acquired through the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. Not exactly a minor detail and this fast and loose handling of the facts undermines the project’s integrity for me.

Lincoln was always going to be a significant film. Its central character, after all, is among the most mythologized human beings who ever lived. Its director is responsible for some of the biggest, most popular movies ever made. And its star is arguably the finest actor on the face of the earth. By no means, though, was it guaranteed to be a great film. But it is.

Noah Lee
This year I just wanted to put together a list of the movies that really struck a chord with me and I thought exhibited heart, guts, emotion, and skill. These movies are all the ones I couldn’t stop recommending or thinking about even months after seeing them and I hope others feel the same.

  1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  2. The Cabin in the Woods
  3. Cloud Atlas
  4. Combat Girls
  5. Compliance
  6. Vanishing Waves
  7. Django Unchained
  8. Fat Kid Rules the World
  9. Girl Walk//All Day
  10. Holy Motors

Honorable Mentions: Absentia, The Impostor, Brooklyn Castle, Bones Brigade: An Autobigraphy

Don R. Lewis
I’m sure I make this disclaimer every year but, building my Favorite Films Of The Year list is a very, very difficult task for me. I know no one “really” cares, but I do. Movies are my passion and I want to do right by what I saw throughout the year. I don’t want to leave anything out or incorrectly rank something and it’s nearly impossible to do. For instance, several movies in my top 10 I saw early on in the year and have stuck with me. Others I just saw this week and are still freshly kicking a*s in my mind. Furthermore, there’s plenty of outstanding and “great” movies I saw but these are movies that didn’t blow me away or keep me guessing. The more I list, the more stressed out I become. Inevitably I kick around a list for a week and then just go with my gut and drop the list off like a needy child at daycare. I walk away.

So here is my Top Ten as of today. Ask me next week, I bet it’s different. Ask me to look at this in July, and I won’t believe it was mine. But here it is…

  1. Promised Land
    I wish this movie would quietly drop out of trying to be AWARDS SEASON!! bait and slowly sneak off to a springtime or summer release. It’s a terrific film that I feel toys with the viewer in a way that also ties into what the film is trying to say which is: follow your instinct, think for yourself, look at all sides of an issue or a person. This film is going to be lost among the bigger and better looking Oscar fodder and that’s a shame.

    If you’ve seen trailers for Promised Land, I bet you (like me) figured you knew what it was about; some nasty frackers come to rural America to ruin the land and screw over the farmers. Then, some of America’s more likable actors show up to save the day in a frenzy of diehard liberal white America media propaganda. And it is about that, kinda. And also, not at all. I don’t want to give anything away but look at it like this: With Matt Damon, Frances McDormand and John Krasinski as the main characters, which one’s are the bad guys and which ones are the good guys? Just based on that. Now go see the movie and tell me if you changed your mind.
  2. Kill List
    Holy s**t and hollleee shiiiiit! That’s what I found myself saying the first time I sat through Ben Wheatley’s violent, funny, creepy, terrifying and bizarre genre mash-up. I also said holy s**t a few more times upon subsequent viewings. This is the type of film I love: the type of film where I never, ever knew what might happen next. I’m still not entirely sure what’s happening in it and I discover something new each time I watch it and I can’t wait to discover more.

    The basic premise of the film revolves around two hit men who are given a final list of assignments. If they can wipe out the diverse swath of people on the list, they can retire. So that list is the path the film follows but what comes upon the path is never, ever what you expect. And Wheatley sets it all up so slick and subtly, it all makes sense in the end. Except for the fact nothing really makes sense. I hope I’m being coy enough so as to pique interest and not piss you off. So, go rent this right away. It’s out in the world and you won’t be sorry.
  3. The Grey
    Up to the point where I saw The Grey, I was pretty on the fence about writer/director Joe Carnahan. He seemed like a dude who makes films for dudes and, that’s cool. Narc showed a deeper side of what he was capable of but the Smokin’ Aces movies, while fun were also really silly. The A-Team was a movie based on the TV show THE A-TEAM so, yeah. But The Grey knocked me out! Here’s a dude movie that’s got gore, fighting and moral ambiguity but it’s also got a softer side. It’s a much less broad-stroke movie than Carnahan has done before but somehow fits into his machismo aesthetic. It’s a great film that was marketed horribly and suffered the consequences.

    The Grey is about a group of frozen tundra blue-collar oil worker dudes from various bleak and unclear backgrounds who survive a plane crash in Alaska. With very little food, water or idea where they are, they seek to hike out of the frozen wilderness as starving wolves stalk them and pick them off one by one. But each character has a depth to them and the deepest of all is Liam Neeson who deserves an Oscar nomination for his work here. The sole reason he keeps on truckin’ down the apparently doomed and frozen trail is he owes it to his lost love. Or is he inspired by his lost love? Is he torturing himself because he was unable to save his lost love? Or (in my not-very-widely-held-opinion) is his lost love really lost or is it HE and his companions who are stuck in some kind of purgatory or existential uncertainty? Anyway, great overlooked film from 2012 and widely available to watch now.
  4. Jeff, Who Lives At Home
    I’m a major sucker for and fan of The Duplass Brothers and couldn’t be happier with the way their career has leapt forward with this film. While I’m still not totally sure they’re using the super fast zoom in trick correctly (they’re sticking with it, good on ‘em) Jeff, Who Lives At Home lives large due to an incredibly smart and well-written script. While I don’t know Jay and Mark Duplass, I sometimes like to imagine the writing process of this film and in that daydream, there’s just countless, multicolored index cards tacked all over an office and different colored strings criss-crossing all around. Yeah, I got a lot of time on my hands.

    Jeff, Who Lives At Home is about a guy named Jeff who, you guessed it, lives at home. He’s a loser but dreams big, thinking that his days spent slacking are not that at all but rather, he’s waiting for a special sign that’s going to tell him what to do. The casting here is excellent (Jason Segal as Jeff, Ed Helms breaking doofus character and playing a genuine jerk, Judy Greer in her typically solid yet underrated role and Susan Sarandon as mom) and the acting superb but it’s the film’s script that really brings this great film together. To be cliché but honest, I laughed and I cried. The former was expected but the latter caught me cold. Another overlooked gem of 2012.
  5. Beasts of the Southern Wild
    Beasts of the Southern Wild is simply an epic, wonderful, creative experience that also happens to be a movie. While at once reminding me of early Werner Herzog by way of Jean Cocteau, the film is a huge cinematic fable with small, human emotions holding the whole thing together. While the backlash for the film was expected, the laziness and lack of insight given to the harsher criticisms of the film still baffle me but, whatever. This is a film that will last in my mind and the minds of many for a lifetime.

    Beasts of the Southern Wild is the tale of a young girl named Hushpuppy who lives with her alcoholic time bomb of a father in a New Orleans swampland shithole called “The Bathtub.” Everyone who lives here is a grimy river rat but there’s somehow a congenial community that has formed over the lack of money and shelter. There does however seem to be an abundance of booze and food and when you’re passing out whenever and wherever you can, shelter doesn’t seem to be much of a concern. Until a huge storm hits and The Bathtub becomes flooded.

    Sure, Beasts of the Southern Wild could be an allegory for Hurricane Katrina or global warming, and maybe it is. Or maybe these are just mental touchstones that are fresh in our minds and what Beasts of the Southern Wild is really about is freedom and perseverance which, in a world constantly clouded by materialism and status, are things the United States were built on.
  6. Goon
    If you’ve ever listened to the Film Threat podcast, you’ve undoubtedly heard me harass owner/editor Mark Bell about his love of hockey. As a sports fan, I simply cannot abide by this antiquated, boring game that needs its season cut in half. So when word began trickling out that immature looking hockey fight film Goon was actually kind of awesome, I took it with a grain of salt. These people rooting for it were hockey fans and damn it, they’ll take what they can get when it comes to the once-a-decade movie about their sport. But then non-hockey fans started talking it up and I gave it a shot. Turns out Goon is indeed an awesome movie. Having outed myself as a non-hockey fan, I’m sure you know I’ll say this films not really about hockey and that’s kind of true, unfortunately (I kid!). However the spirit of the film and the incredibly likable characters inhabiting it are just too good to overlook.

    Seann William Scott plays Doug Glatt, a man who can take a punch as well as he can give it yet, he’s not a violent man. He just has a gift and tries to make the most of it by being a bouncer at a nightclub. Soon events transpire that get Glatt on the ice as an enforcer and his true nature comes out; that of a guy who will do anything for his friends. It’s never clear if this is a desire to be loved, a total lack of self-regard, mental illness or all three but if Doug likes you and trusts you, and you tell Doug to attack someone, that someone is going to get it. Soon a hall of famer goon played wonderfully by Liev Schreiber gets wind of an heir to his throne of violence and a clear path opens up that will obviously lead to a showdown between the two men.

    Goon suffers from too many undercooked plot points but where it succeeds is in it’s massive heart and excellent characters. Scott plays pretty much into his cute and goofy archetype but it’s just so damn likable, you get sucked in against your better judgment. You’re rooting for Doug, even if you don’t like hockey. Goon is readily available now and you should give it a shot. (See what I did there? At the end?)
  7. Django Unchained
    In my intro, I mentioned that films fresh in my mind often wind up in higher slots on my year-end lists than those which I end up loving more through the ages. Such may be the case with Django Unchained but, I’m o.k. with that. See, with Inglorious Basterds I was kind of nonplussed and saw it very adjacent to my year-end list but now, I cannot get enough of that film. I consider this possible over ranking of Django Unchained payback for my previous shortsightedness. And speaking of payback, that’s almost entirely what Django Unchained is about.

    Jamie Foxx plays the title character who is bought and freed by a dentist turned bounty hunter named Schultz (Waltz) because Django knows what the wanted gang “The Brittle Brothers” looks like and there’s a phat prize for them, dead or alive. Schultz prefers the latter and enlists Django but soon discovers a partner who is equally adept at killing. Together they form a bond and Schultz teaches him the ropes as the two will eventually work their way towards rescuing Django’s slave wife Broomhilde.

    While Django Unchained is way, way too long and frequently kind of silly and/or moronic, it’s also some of the most fun I’ve had in a movie this year or any other. It’s a bloody romp of a western and also a brutal look at something few films, let alone American films ever want to cast an eye on: slavery. And cast an eye this film does. It’s not as though I’m a scholar on slavery or “The African-American Experience” but I am a firm believer that pretending as though something horrible never happened and should not be discussed or looked at is no way to salve a wound. I’m also not certain Django Unchained is a national conversation starter on racism, nor that it should be, but I was impressed Tarantino “went there.” Plus the movie is a ton of fun with some great set-pieces and performances. So good in fact I’m more than willing to allow for it’s fairly loud onscreen issues.
  8. Looper
    Often when the movie geek bloggeratti engage in a groupthink freak-out, I get awfully wary. While sometimes my fears are founded (Kick-A*s, The Raid: Redemption) other times I find myself in lock-step with them (Moon, any Edgar Wright movie) and Looper is a film I love. As with previous entries in my top ten this year, I love being surprised and Looper knocked me for a loop (quote-w***e alert!) with a third act that caught me completely off-guard and nailed home a movie I was already loving.

    In the film Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a futuristic hitman whose job it is to perform hits on even MORE futuristic targets who are sent back in time so as to completely wipe them out of existence. One day he unwittingly gets his futuristic self as a target but is so shocked, he allows himself to get away. Thus a strange cat and mouse game that’s way better and deeper than my half-assed explanation gets underway and there’s so many smart twists and turns you quickly let go of the typical trap of a time-travel movie which is trying to make sense of the science.

    While the movie bloggeratti did their best to ruin this film by defending it across the board(s), I was able to ignore them. I eventually also stopped reading writer/director Rian Johnson’s constant defense of every issue someone had with the science, set-up or execution for the film because I realized that I don’t want or need that information from a filmmaker to enjoy a complex story well told. And Looper is just that.
  9. Moonrise Kingdom
    I love me some Wes Anderson and Moonrise Kingdom is the film that’s the love child of all other Wes Anderson films. Anderson’s quirky style is amped up to eleven and his cast of zany characters are once again amazing and brittle little cogs in the machinery of his film. But there’s more than just the same ole, same ole from Anderson. This film touches on a deeper part of human emotion, that of love and childhood.

    When Anderson tries to play grownup as he did in Darjeeling Limited, it feels like a boy trying to smoke for the first time. He knows how it’s supposed to look but doesn’t quite get it. I feel Anderson also slipped up with this in The Life Aquatic and Royal Tenenbaums. But with Moonrise Kingdom Anderson gets to deal with childhood and does so in a strangely mature yet cartoonish way. The results are a terrific film that, as I said, is like the best parts of all of Andersons films yet also wholly it’s own.
  10. Safety Not Guaranteed
    Having missed this film at Sundance, it almost instantly became the film I knew I’d miss all year long and regret later on. There’s one every year. So when I saw it hit screens about an hour out of town, I made the trip and obviously, I’m glad I did. The screening I attended had about 7 other people in it and the film is awesome. But there’s one point in the film that elevates this to my number one spot and when it happened, 3 of the 7 people in my audience stood up and applauded and I couldn’t really blame them.

    Safety Not Guaranteed is the story of a morally dubious magazine writer (Jake Johnson) who decides to exploit a seemingly crazy guy (Mark Duplass) who wants a partner to time travel with him. The writer grabs two interns to help and one of them is Aubrey Plaza. After striking out on getting the loon to consent to an interview, Plaza is sent in and the two form an unsteady relationship and soon, a bond. That’s all I’m going to say about this movie. Except that’s it’s insanely well written, excellently acted and it’s my favorite movie of the year.

The “I loved you but this is a top ten list” Awards go to:
The Sound of my Voice, The Comedy, Holy Motors, Compliance, Cloud Atlas, Magic Mike, The Cabin in the Woods, Perks of Being a Wallflower, Argo, This Is 40, The Dark Knight Rises, Bernie

The “You know, I thought I really liked you a lot but thinking back, it’s just not working out for me” Awards go to: The Master, Lincoln, Les Misérables

Did not see, but really, really want to: Zero Dark Thirty, Amour, Rust and Bone, Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi

I’m not doing a worst of because, that’s mean.

Michael Nordine

  1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  2. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
  3. Zero Dark Thirty
  4. Oslo, August 31st
  5. The Deep Blue Sea
  6. Moonrise Kingdom
  7. This Is Not a Film
  8. The Turin Horse
  9. 4:44 Last Day on Earth
  10. Kill List

Honorable mention: Almayer’s Folly; The Comedy; Django Unchained; Farewell, My Queen; Girl Walk//All Day; The Grey; It’s Such a Beautiful Day; Neighboring Sounds; Starlet; W****s’ Glory

Elias Savada
Well, the year’s end and the fiscal cliff approach (by the time this is printed, we’ll either be in deep doo-doo financially or some other budgetary limbo. But who the heck cares about that when there are films to gather together and give our seal of approval. My various top ten (or more) picks:

Best Non-Fiction Feature

  1. Zero Dark Thirty
  2. Argo
  3. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  4. Middle of Nowhere
  5. Lincoln
  6. Moonrise Kingdom
  7. Django Unchained
  8. Silver Linings Playbook
  9. Looper
  10. The Sessions
  11. The Intouchables
  12. The Cabin in the Woods
  13. Chronicle

Best Director

  1. Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)
  2. Ben Affleck (Argo)
  3. Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere)
  4. Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom)
  5. Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)
  6. Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
  7. Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
  8. Joe Wright (Anna Karenina)
  9. Rian Johnson (Looper)
  10. Ang Lee (Life of Pi)

Best Actor (Main & Supporting)

  1. Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln)
  2. John Hawkes (The Sessions)
  3. Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)
  4. Ben Affleck (Argo)
  5. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper)
  6. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
  7. Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
  8. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
  9. Sam Rockwell (Seven Psychopaths)
  10. Omar Sy (The Intouchables)
  11. Guy Pearce (Lawless)
  12. Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)

Best Actress (Main & Supporting)

  1. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
  2. Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
  3. Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
  4. Emayatzy Corinealdi (Middle of Nowhere)
  5. Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
  6. Nicole Kidman (The Paperboy)
  7. Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
  8. Ann Dowd (Compliance)
  9. Naomi Watts (The Impossible)
  10. Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone)
  11. Sally Field (Lincoln)

Best Acting Ensemble

  1. Lawless
  2. Seven Psychopaths
  3. Moonrise Kingdom
  4. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  5. The Avengers
  6. Argo
  7. Les Misérables
  8. Lincoln
  9. Zero Dark Thirty
  10. The Cabin in the Woods

Best Screenplay (Original & Adapted)

  1. Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)
  2. Chris Terrio (Argo)
  3. Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom)
  4. Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)
  5. Tony Kushner (Lincoln)
  6. Rian Johnson (Looper)
  7. Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths)
  8. Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods)
  9. Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
  10. Ben Lewin (The Sessions)

Best Animated Feature

  1. Frankenweenie
  2. ParaNorman
  3. The Secret World of Arriety
  4. Brave
  5. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
  6. Wreck-It Ralph

Best Documentary

  1. Chasing Ice
  2. West of Memphis
  3. Bully
  4. Searching for Sugar Man
  5. Queen of Versailles
  6. The Imposter
  7. The House I Live In
  8. The Invisible War

Best Foreign Language Feature

  1. The Intouchables
  2. A Royal Affair
  3. Monsieur Lazhar
  4. Barbara
  5. Masquerade
  6. The Kid With a Bike
  7. I Wish
  8. Rust and Bone
  9. Amour

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