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Staff List: The 40 Best Films of 2012

Staff List: The 40 Best Films of 2012


#10: The Cabin in the Woods (107 points)
Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard
Directed by Drew Goddard
USA, 2012

Like Scream, it’s a self-aware slasher film, but where Scream was happy simply to turn the genre’s bloody glove inside out and examine the stitching, The Cabin in the Woods has more complicated ambitions. If Scream is a bloody glove turned inside out, then The Cabin in the Woods is a Russian nesting doll described by H. P. Lovecraft and carved by M. C. Escher. Like Hitchcock’s Psycho and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, The Cabin of the Woods isn’t just about killing, it is about watching (and filming) killing. Our sympathies are torn between the victims being watched and the watchers, including an action sequence modelled loosely on the Psycho car burial. What is perhaps most horrifying is that the watchers are almost bored, like a tired teen yawning while slipping the last film from a horror marathon into the VHS deck… (read the full review)

Michael Ryan


#9: The Dark Knight Rises (114 points)
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan
USA, 2012

Christopher Nolan doesn’t half-ass things. Unlike a lot of summer-movie directors, he knows how to deliver a true spectacle. His dedication to telling a complete story about one of pop culture’s most beloved superheroes is remarkable. This determination pays off in The Dark Knight Rises, the conclusion to his Batman trilogy and one of the most massive, large-scale films of the last few years. Thankfully, avoiding the trend of many third films, The Dark Knight Rises is a satisfying, fitting finale to the best version of the Caped Crusader’s legend… (read the full review)

Josh Spiegel


#8: Django Unchained (119 points)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Written by Quentin Tarantino
USA, 2012

Quentin Tarantino wears his style on his sleeve. Homages, tributes, and callbacks to older films, forgotten performers, and oft-ignored genres are part and parcel of his filmography. But one element of his aesthetic has become more pronounced over the years: his fierce, almost laughable, dedication to being deliberate. If his films, or setpieces within them, are like a domino display, we’re invited to sit down, watch him set each and every one in the proper place, and then gather in awe as he topples the whole thing with a slight push. In that respect, Django Unchained, his florid and entertaining spaghetti Western, is very much of a piece with seemingly dissimilar works like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill… (read the full review)

Josh Spiegel


#7: Tabu (145 points)
Directed by Miguel Gomes
Written by Miguel Gomes
Portugal, 2012

With his third feature, Portuguese critic-turned-auteur Miguel Gomes has proven himself to be a director in complete control of his craft. Tabu is a film of artistic cool – breaking classic genre conventions in the most crafty and affectionate way by consistently subverting the narrative in a beautiful dreamlike style. Much like his previous feature (Our Beloved Month of August), the Portuguese director presents an allegory fastened by an animal: In this case the crocodile, a reptile that symbolizes forbidden passions, deceit, treachery and hypocrisy. As the reoccurring image of the reptile conveys, passion will end in the jowl of pain as love culminates on the mountain of Tabu. Gomez has directeda film that channels the look and feel of classic Hollywood, and one that will transport you back to the golden age of cinema. Tabu is an exquisitely-cut gem, a rarity for our time, and perhaps the best film of the year… (read the full review)

Ricky da Conceição


#6: Looper (157 points)
Written and directed by Rian Johnson
USA/China, 2012

Of its numerous strengths, one of Looper’s greatest is that, despite featuring narration by its lead character, it heavily relies on visual storytelling to successfully convey both information and emotion. The narration delivers as little exposition as necessary to begin understanding both of its dystopian worlds, and its characters, respecting the viewer’s intelligence and leaving further comprehension down to them. In no way does this make Looper’s fictional world, one of time-travel that blends sci-fi and crime film conventions, feel at all under-realised. The world is, in fact, fully rendered and often beautifully so: see a montage depiction of one key player’s past, or rather future, that spans years but is completely without dialogue, motivations becoming clear for the viewer long before this character needs to spell it out for his younger self much later in the film. Additionally of note is a horrific but gloriously executed sequence of torture, also dialogue-free, that conveys the narrative’s logic regarding time travel and the effects actions in the film’s present can still have on one’s future self… (read the full review)

Josh Slater Williams


#5: Skyfall (171 points)
Directed by Sam Mendes
Written by John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade
U.K./U.S.A., 2012

Time and time again the legendary James Bond film franchise has learned to adapt and survive. Survival of the fittest, if you will. Whether the reasons for concern were changes in  the actor playing the part, the loss of a producer, turbulent waters for the studio’s finances, changes in screenwriters or the lack of anymore Ian Fleming material upon which new adventures can be penned, the series has always quickly learned to get back on its feet to thrill and amuse audiences the world over. Even within the films themselves, the plots have almost always reflected new geo-political paradigms, as well as cultural morays and trends in pop culture. James Bond is always recognizable, and yet he can adapt if need be. Now, 50 years after the release of the first official film, Dr. No, Skyfall is unleashed unto the world, a film that simultaneously pays tribut to the franchise, the character of Bond, creates a bold, original story and helps remind audiences that there is always a place for 007 at the theater… (read the full review)

Edgar Chaput


#4: Amour (173 points)
Directed by Michael Haneke
Written by Michael Haneke
France/Austria, 2012

The solitary setting makes this as an almost claustrophbic, suffocating experience, but also finally a transcedent one, as Haneke moves away from his usual lectures on the moral failings of society to a more intimate plateau, with his usual chilly and ascetic hand on the tiller to steer the film through to deep emotional waters, without a single, solitary trace of sentimentality. Amour is deeply moving and elegiac, a quiet masterpiece that will haunt you for weeks, with a final coda which is utterly obliterating… (read the full review)

– John McEntee


#3: Holy Motors (187 points)
Directed by Leos Carax
Written by Leos Carax
France/Germany, 2012

If you’ve never heard of Leos Carax, Holy Motors might not be the best way to make the French director’s acquaintance – or maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t matter much at all. Having not produced a feature-length film since 1999′s Pola X, Carax’s latest is an oddly euphoric plunge into madness and the bizarre. It stirs the imagination unlike any other film this year, and is likely to take the cake in regards to producing the zaniest, most absurdly loopy film-going experience in recent memory. Too cool for the likes of Nanni Moretti (President of this year’s Cannes jury), the film was met with both high praise and waives of bewilderment at Cannes, signifying that Carax is indeed back… (read the full review)

Ty Landis


#2: Moonrise Kingdom (208 points)
Written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Directed by Wes Anderson
USA, 2012

From the perspective of a Wes Anderson fan, Moonrise Kingdom makes his triptych of classics (Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic) into a foursome. With its beautiful visuals, warm and honest script and a genuine sense of what family entertainment can be, Anderson has struck gold once again. His latest film demands to be seen by anyone with even a passing interest… (read the full review)

Robert Simpson


#1: The Master (360 points)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by Paul Thomas Anderson
USA, 2012

“Man is not an animal,” Lancaster Dodd calmly and firmly intones into the ear of the perpetually addled, horny, and wayward Freddie Quell early in The Master. This is, in some ways, the key phrase at the center of Paul Thomas Anderson’s excellent new drama, a 1950s-set character study about the vast ocean of difference between Dodd, who purports to be a centered, rational leader of religious thought, and Quell, who stumbles into Dodd’s path and exists almost entirely to disprove the possibility that Dodd’s stated beliefs can change anyone. Anderson’s working at the peak of his talents, as expected. It’s Joaquin Phoenix, though, who is most revelatory in the film. After an extended absence from non-prank-related movies, he roars back onto the screen in a career-best performance, aided by excellent supporting work from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams… (read the full review)

Josh Spiegel