The Top 10 Films of 2012

1. Zero Dark Thirty
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The 2012 reteaming of ‘The Hurt Locker’ director/writer duo of Katherine Bigelow and Mark Boal brings an unflinching, unapologetic look at the decade long international man hunt for 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.  Marked by the so-hot-you-can-feel-it cinematography of Greig Fraser (also appearing here by way of ‘Killing Them Softly’) and a highlight performance from Jessica Chastain (as the CIA operative ‘Homeland’s Carrie Mathison could only hope to aspire to), ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ introduced audiences to the investigative narrative; a compelling new cinematic sub genre, and yet another step towards unveiling the full scope of films’ demagogic possibilities.

2.  Django Unchained
What better way to ring in the holidays than a brutal revenge “southern” set against the chasten days of Antebellum slavery?  And who better (or other) to have thought out such a wondrous concept than Quentin Tarantino?  ‘Django Unchained’ marks the generation’s best writer/director’s newest accession to an already ingenious filmography.  Never one to shy away from the controversial, Tarantino infuses the usual quick (and quip) banter, exploding craniums and revenge porn with healthy doses of honky drawl and the most prolific use of racial epithets ever filmed.   Old QT favorites including Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson come with expected enthusiasm, as do Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington and Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie, the most vile plantation owner in Mississippi.

3.  Silver Linings Playbook
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Until Christmas day, ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ had easily held onto the position of 2012’s most entertaining film.  A contemporary screwball comedy featuring the ensemble cast of Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro and Jacki Weaver (alongside a slew of others), ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ represented both a spot on depiction of neuroses in a pharmaceutically dependent society, as well as a return to absurdist form for infamously temperamental writer/director David O. Russell.  With top-notch performances powering a tender story of rebirths and redemptions all wrapped in a certain nihilistic glee, ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ takes some of the most unlikely of narrative routes towards its own journey of self-discovery.

4. The House I Live In
Acclaimed Documentarian Eugene Jarecki (‘Why We Fight‘, ‘Freakonomics‘) tackles our times most underrepresented, yet over-influencing topics in the best documentary of the year.  The 2012 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner examines the war on drugs from all angles, corners and classes, with special emphasis on social and economic history, presenting the preeminent non-fiction film on the issue.  Big city (Miami, New York), medium (Providence, New Haven, Sioux City) and small town (Magdalena NM, St. Albans VT) are all represented over generations as law enforecement, corner drug dealers, innocent children and politicians attempt to grasp, explain and control the complex problem deep rooted in 19th century racism and perpetuated by 21st century capitalism.

5.  Holy Motors
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French Art House with a capital A, ‘Holy Motors’ made many impressions in 2012 (though one may be hard pressed in finding those able to fully explain the specifics of their own).  From Cannes to the 50th New York Film Festival, auteur Leos Carax triumphantly psychedelic return to filmmaking is an existential journey down the unfamiliar roads of aged fame.  ‘Holy Motors’ is not a film to shy from the uncomfortable, grotesque and unexplainable while somehow maintaining its footing in the unabashed reality of existential evolution.  Highlighted by the balletic motion capture dance of slimy, slithery seduction, ‘Holy Motors’ may just take home the honor of the years most bizarre.

6.  Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson’s
Super 16 ensemble masterpiece ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ ranks high atop the list of 2012’s most nostalgic.  Another fine example of impeccable casting, leftfield writing and aesthetic appreciation, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ will certainly be met with lasting adoration (as one may truly be a horrible person if claiming to find anything worthy of dislike here) and as a career high for one of Indie Quirk’s forefathers.  The familiar face of Bill Murray, along Anderson newcomer’s Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Frances McDormand hold virtually no rank over the film’s beating heart combination of Jared Gilman and Kara Haywood, perfectly embodying all of the imaginative adventure one magical day at summer camp can bring

7.  Killing Them Softly
After a 5 year hiatus, ‘The Assassination of Jesse James…” director Andrew Dominik returned with the distinctly anti-capitalist depiction of America’s obsession with bottom lines, legal or not.  Set against a true free market backdrop of underground gambling, hit men and heroin, ‘Killing Them Softly’ marks the 21st Centuries strongest cinematic addition towards the argument for future economic practicality. Brad Pitt’s understatedly philosophical, yet financially adamant gangster-for-hire may have been the film’s primary mis-marketing catalyst (resulting in its “F” Cinemascore), but instead of the cartoonish shoot ‘em ups and exaggerated Jersey accents so frequently associated with the mob genre, audiences got an in-your-face look at the grit, grime and greed so many have now come to accept as status quo (and maybe the best small-time robbery scene ever filmed).

8.  The Master
One of the clearest evolutions of any contemporary filmography may belong to that of Paul Thomas Anderson, with every addition building upon its predecessor in mood, theme or character, yet maintaining its own unique representation of each.  From the debaucherous world of 70s porn in ‘Boogie Nights‘ to the neuroses of socially awkward Adam Sandler in ‘Punch Drunk Love‘ Anderson’s combination of thorough character development and far reaching narrative make him one of film’s most anticipated auteurs.   With ‘There Will Be Blood‘ Anderson introduced himself into the conversation of America’s greatest contemporary director only cementing it with 2012’s ‘The Master‘.  The maybe-it-it-maybe-it-isn’t based on Scientology, post World War 2 meditation on faith, identity and profit proved to be one one of the year’s most polarizing films,  Unwatchable to some and a film geek dream for others, ‘The Master‘ brought out flawless method perfromances from Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, as well as the 70mm cinematography of Mihai Malaimare Jr, ‘The Master’ may be this list’s film with the most chance of cult status.

9.  Beasts of the Southern Wild
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The Sundance favorite has been nothing short of the bonafide Indie phenomenon of 2012.  In some ways the smallest of DIY films, yet enjoying the luxury of the richest, most colorful array of characters this year, ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ makes its presence felt from photography to philanthropy.   Marking the strong debut of director Benh Zeitlin and 6-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, who fights everything from boars to bureaucracy with the same ferocity found in the Katrina-esque Hurricane that provides the films backdrop, ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ finds its inspiration in simplicity, hoping that maybe audiences will walk away doing the same.

10.  Killer Joe
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2012 could arguably go down as the year of Matthew McConaughey.  With stark indie turns in ‘Bernie’, ‘The Paperboy’ and ‘Magic Mike’, it was his turn in ‘The Exorcist’ director William Friedkin’sKiller Joe’ which brought us the year’s most despicable character (rivaled only by DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie).  You will never look at a drumstick the same after the deep fried climax of this fine piece of shock cinema.  Strong performances from Gina Gershon, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church and Juno Temple, and a sharply adapted script from Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tracy Letts had this NC-17 Texas troublemaker tickling the tongues of the staunchest filth police all year.

Honorable Mentions: Sleepwalk With Me, Lawless, Lincoln, Bernie, Looper, Flight, Skyfall, Compliance, Les Miserables, The Central Park Five, Amour

– Steve Rickinson


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