The 10 Best Films of 2012

moonrise kingdom 1

According to Letterboxd (which I’m officially obsessed with), I saw 73 of the 2012 releases. That’s not as high as it should be, but it’s not terrible. I’m usually able to avoid the vast majority of the dreck, which keeps the total down but my sanity in check, and while I’m able to get screeners on occasion, I’m still largely dependent on location and such. Basically, I have trouble getting to the Oscar limited release stuff before the Muriels deadline (January 31st). Netflix Instant helps. A lot.

Some notable films I missed: Amour, Django Unchained, It’s Such a Beautiful Day, Searching For Sugar Man, Life of Pi, The Cabin In The Woods, and Promised Land.

Having said all that, here are the 10 best films I saw in 2012:

1. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)

At my core, I’m an Auteurist. I think the Auteur Theory is probably one of the smartest things ever written about film. And nowhere is the Auteur Theory more evident than in the work of Wes Anderson. You don’t even need the credit anymore. You know instantly you’re watching a Wes Anderson film. You also know what you’re getting: twee art direction, actors in the center of the frame, Bill Murray. And yet, Anderson’s seventh film is his deepest, richest exploration of childhood yet, like he’s finally gotten it right.

2. Sleepwalk With Me (Mike Birbiglia)

To me, this is the surprising gem of the year. How it isn’t getting more award consideration is beyond me. It’s a funny and inventive debut. Honestly, my expectations were low. I fully expected this to be one of those Sundance films that loses all appeal once it leaves Park City, but it’s possible it was undersold. Whatever Mike Birbiglia does next, I’m on board.

3. The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr)

According to IMDb, there are 30 takes in The Turin Horse. Three-zero. The film is 2 hours and 26 minutes long. There’s almost no dialogue. There’s four names in the credits and one of those is the horse. Wrap your head around that for a minute. It’s a bleak, relentlessly dismal view of humanity from one of the masters of cinema. And it’s riveting. A lot has been said about the opening shot, but the final one is just as powerful, only for completely different reasons. And the other 28 aren’t so bad either. Actually, there isn’t a frame of the film that couldn’t tell a story all by itself. When was the last time you could say that?

4. Alps (Giorgos Lanthimos)

Not nearly as strange and unnerving as Dogtooth (but what could be?), Alps plays out quite a bit more conventionally, but it ain’t exactly a romantic comedy either. It’s strangely compelling in a completely different way, as Giorgos Lanthimos gives us, ultimately, a film about acting, about the process of becoming someone else. It’s not a film that’s going to blow you away, instead Lanthimos gets under your skin somehow and before you know it, you’re hooked.

5. Indie Game: The Movie (Lisanne Pajot & James Swirsky)


This might only be interesting to me, but there’s more Kickstarter films on this list (2) than there are Best Picture Nominees (1). What does that say about the state of film these days? Well, I think it means that great filmmaking can quite literally come from anywhere, which has always been true in theory, but now it’s a lot easier to get those films over the hump and into existence. Which, in a way, is kind of what Indie Game is about. They’ve finished marching around Jericho. It’s time for the walls to come down. This is a fascinating look behind the scenes of indie video games, chronicling the obsession behind creating something. It’s a must-see for anyone who fancies themselves an artist.

6. Girl Walk // All Day (Jacob Krupnick)

Easily the most infectious film of the year, or maybe the last 10 years, Girl Walk // All Day is a paper thin narrative wrapped around dance sequences in New York City. I should hate this movie. I really should. Thing is, it’s so much fun. They pretty clearly stole every single shot in the movie, filming all over New York, surrounded by confused extras everywhere they went. The music is great. The dancing reminds you of the world’s greatest one person flash mob. It’s a joy to watch. It might just become my default movie to watch when I’m having a bad day.

7. Argo (Ben Affleck)

For the record, I like Lincoln. It’d probably end up in the 11-15 range. Silver Linings Playbook is wildly overrated and Zero Dark Thirty is far too flawed to really consider. Les Mis is, well, one of the worst films I saw this year. That leaves Argo as the last Best Picture nominee standing. It’s a riveting, compelling political drama that’s probably a little hemmed in by it’s “based on a True Story” credentials. There’s nothing wrong with it, exactly, and Affleck does a superb job on both sides of the camera. It’s just missing that spark a film needs for greatness. This…this is supremely well-crafted, but it’s not great. Should it win Best Picture, it’d be a second-tier winner. I’m rooting for it.

8. Ruby Sparks (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris)

My expectations were low. I was at a Redbox kiosk and the pickings were slim. Really, really slim. And so I grabbed Ruby Sparks, thinking maybe it would help me fill out the actress category in my Muriels ballot, or maybe it’d have a cinematic moment I could cite. Sometimes it becomes a question of volume. I wasn’t expecting something this clever, this inventive. Zoe Kazan did what every actor thinks they can do but almost none actually can: she wrote herself a showcase role and then she nailed that role. But beyond that, she wrote a very smart film about authorship. It’s a really fantastic little romantic comedy.

9. Goon (Michael Dowse)

The list of awesome hockey movies is short. There’s Slap Shot and, um, Mystery, Alaska and, um, that’s about it. Which is weird, because hockey is colorful and visceral and violent. It’s should translate better to film. Enter Goon, one of the better hockey films of all time, centered around the story of Doug, a bouncer who improbably becomes a hockey goon when he knocks out a player who climbs into the stands to fight him. Yeah, you read that right. It’s one of those things you give the filmmakers because the rest of the film is just so much damned fun. Sean William Scott gives perhaps the performance of his career (which isn’t saying much, I know), and Jay Baruchel steals every scene he’s in with a manic obsession. It’s bloody and it’s violent, but so is hockey.

10. Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier)

Less fun is Joachim Trier’s film about a day in the life of an addict as he visits his old stomping grounds. It’s a very lived-in film, meaning it feels authentic, like maybe Trier just found a real guy, the way the Italian Neo-Realists would have. That alone will tell you something about the film’s core performance by Anders Danielson Lie. It’s a small film, melancholy down to the bones, and not all that much happens, exactly, but it grows on you. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure why, but I was riveted, just watching this guy fight his demons. But what greater, more universal battle is there? On some level, we’ve all been there.