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The Year in Film 2012


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5 Top 10s


I present an alphabetical listing of my Top 10 of 2012, although my absolute favorites of the year were Argo and Moonrise Kingdom, both of which had delightfully meticulous mid-century production design. Argo even began with the 1970s WB logo! Two Bollywood films, both Western style thrillers without song-and-dance numbers, and one UCLA Festival of Preservation rediscovery (which I showed in my Women of Film Noir series at the NCMA) help complete the list.

  • Argo
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Bernie
  • Frankenweenie
  • Kahaani (Story)
  • Lincoln
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
  • Sleep, My Love
  • Talaash (Search)
Ai Weiwei in his home - PHOTO BY TED ALCORN
  • Photo by Ted Alcorn
  • Ai Weiwei in his home


My favorite movies of 2012 all had the effect of opening my eyes to something I hadn't seen before. The best approached, from different directions, that most enduring and baffling of topics: Love. Silver Linings Playbook, Damsels in Distress, Take This Waltz and Your Sister's Sister all found new territories to map in both romantic comedy and drama. I was thrilled by all the wit, insight and honesty on display. Cheap irony seems to be in decline this new millennium, and thank the gods for that.

Other films on the list delivered new sights and stories (Frankenweenie, Beasts, Cloud Atlas) or were simply superior genre specimens (The Avengers, Argo). Ai Weiwei—the documentary on the dissident Chinese artist—opened my eyes to something else entirely: Weiwei has found a way to weaponize art and wield it against his oppressors, with good humor and a generous spirit. The film tells his story beautifully.

  • Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
  • Argo
  • The Avengers
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Cloud Atlas
  • Damsels in Distress
  • Frankenweenie
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Take This Waltz
  • Your Sister's Sister
Jason Schwartzman in "Moonrise Kingdom," which appears on three of our top 10 lists - PHOTO BY NIKO TAVERNISE/ FOCUS FEATURES


In a cinemascape increasingly populated by 3D/IMAX/fX phantasmagoria, the scarcest qualities are the most basic: purpose, earnestness and genuine emotion. Virtually all the films in my Top 10 of 2012 share one or more of these attributes. But above the worthy—coming-of-age dramedies, an epic biopic, thought-provoking science fiction, and lessons about the high cost of terrorism—stands a little-seen film from director Craig Zobel that won't dissipate from my conscious even days after absorbing it. The fact that it's drawn from a tragically true story is essential to its power as a graphic illustration of both the psychology of victimhood and the Milgram-tested capacity of humans to commit horrible of acts in obedience of even perceived authority. Dig deeper and you'll also find a deconstruction of femininity and a searing critique of isolation in our fast food culture. Evocative of the gritty best of Roman Polanski and Michael Haneke, the best film of 2012 is Compliance.

  1. Compliance
  2. Silver Linings Playbook
  3. Lincoln
  4. Looper
  5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  6. Zero Dark Thirty
  7. Argo
  8. Moonrise Kingdom
  9. The Master
  10. Raid: The Redemption


As always, my top-10 list is a work in progress. There are still several noteworthy films I haven't seen. (Shout-out to Sony Classics for withholding screeners of Amour until early next year.) In particular, I salute The Imposter for making me go, "Holy shit!" several times, Oslo, August 31st for going places Silver Linings Playbook was afraid to go, Zero Dark Thirty for making me glad women like Kathryn Bigelow and Jessica Chastain exist, and Killing Them Softly for Brad Pitt's final line of dialogue. So, here they are, the movies I've managed to see this year that didn't fill me with rage afterward.

  • The Deep Blue Sea
  • The Imposter
  • Killing Them Softly
  • The Master
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • Oslo, August 31st
  • Paranorman
  • The Raid: Redemption
  • Zero Dark Thirty


While cinephiles continue to wring their hands about film culture (digital projection, online streaming, superior cable television), the movies keep coming, large and small. One local arthouse multiplex closed this year, but another opened. There are always good films playing in a theater somewhere in the Triangle. The list that follows is far from comprehensive, because I couldn't begin to keep up with it all.

  • Argo
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Bullhead
  • Damsels in Distress
  • The Kid With a Bike
  • Lincoln
  • The Other Son
  • The Queen of Versailles
  • Searching for Sugar Man
  • A Separation

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