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Staff List: The 40 Best Films of 2012

Staff List: The 40 Best Films of 2012


#20: Cosmopolis (50 points)
Directed by David Cronenberg
Written by David Cronenberg
Canada / France, 2012

Every time Cronenberg answers the prayers of his fans with a new movie, it seems that the first reflex is to attempt to categorize it. Is this new film more like the old Cronenberg, in which very strange, very graphic bodily harm was done to its characters, or is this more in tune with his recent outputs, which, while still quite good, played things a little more on the safe side, at least visually? In a nutshell, and with the help of a little bit of retrofitting, Cosmopolis is cut from the same cloth as the director’s efforts of the early and mid 1990s. The sexuality (but not always sensuality) quota is through the stratosphere and the characters are indeed very peculiar, although there are no hands morphing into organic pistols or telepathic attacks to be found. Consider it Crash, but with a slightly more comprehensible, linear narrative… (read the full review)

Edgar Chaput

Mojtaba Mirtahmasb & Jafar Panahi

#19: This Is Not A Film (51 points)
Directed by Mojtaba Mirtahmasb & Jafar Panahi
Written by Jafar Panahi
2010, Iran

When the Iranian government moved last year to formally ban Jafar Panahi from writing or directing any future films for the next two decades, Panahi decided to interpret the ban in the narrowest terms possible. He can not write a screenplay, true, and he can not direct a scene, but what do those two things mean when it comes to making a film?

Panahi, clearly finding the confines of his house arrest stifling, decided to explore that question, enlisting fellow filmmaker Mojbata Mirtahmasb to help him avoid the darker grey areas of the ban. The result is the appropriately titled This Is Not A Film, a sort of video experiment/exploration that of course begs the question of whether or not it is actually a film. By Panahi’s strict reasoning it is not, or at least not a film by him. The definition of what This Is Not A Film is, as opposed to what is not is kept intentionally vague, a problem in need of an explanation… (read the full review)

Louis Godfrey

Killer Joe Best Films 2012


#18: Killer Joe (52 points)
Directed by William Friedkin
Written by Tracy Letts
US, 2011

Director William Friedkin makes no bones about the inevitable (NC-17) rating of his film with Sharla Smith’s (Gina Gershon) first appearance on-screen: shirt and no pants, and nothing hidden. This tone-setter, in the first five minutes of Killer Joe, accurately predicts a grimy, graphic film, where the squeamish audience member might find himself rushing to take a shower after the end credits roll. Letts’ script moves quickly. The set-up – Chris’ debts, the plan, Joe’s introduction – moves at almost hyper speed. And it’s appropriate. Killer Joe isn’t a film about how best to plot the heinous crime. It’s a film about a backstabbing family – and Joe becomes very much a part of the Smith family by the third act, and selfishness. It plays close to a more gratuitous, sweatier version of Blood Simple. If you’ve got the stomach for it, Killer Joe is a whole lot of fun… (read the full review)

Neal Dhand


#17: Berberian Sound Studio (56 points)
Directed by Peter Strickland
Written by Peter Strickland
UK, 2012

British filmmaker Peter Strickland’s sophomore effort is many things: a sly deconstruction of 1970s hallucinatory Grand Guignol cinema, an audio geek’s wet dream celebrating the art of foley magic, a stylistic tour de force, and a blend of comedy and horror with a Lynchian twist. Strickland’s meta-horror film begins as dream, before spiraling into a nightmare of sorts. Set entirely in the offices of a sleazy Italian film company in the 1970s, a British sound technician, played to perfection by Toby Jones, travels to Italy to work on the sound effects for a gruesome blood-soaked giallo film called The Equestrian Vortex. His nightmarish task slowly takes over his psyche as Gilderoy is unable to distinguish between the perverse fantasies of the film he is working on and so-called reality… (read the full review)

Ricky D


#16: Zero Dark Thirty (61 points)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Written by Mark Boal
2012, USA

Before it became a controversy magnet for its possibly-questionable treatment of the fficacy of torture, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty was emerging as the insurgent critical darling of late 2012. Is it any wonder? Bigelow’s alternately pulse-pounding and methodical thriller proves once again that she’s a filmic technician equal to any other, and the film’s single-minded refusal to bow to sentimentality or cliché, or to imbue the proceedings with anything resembling victorious fervor, is admirable but also par for the course. And there may be no more dizzying and scary a sequence in any film this year as the closing raid on bin Laden’s compound – not because we don’t know the result, but because it’s a convincing dramatisation of American military might at its most pointlessly decisive…. (read the full review)

Simon Howell


#15: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (83 points)
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Written by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan and Ercan Keysal
Turkey, 2011

The title of the latest offering from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan might indicate companionship with famous films from Sergio Leone or Hark Tsui that share a similar namesake, but don’t enter Once Upon a Time in Anatolia expecting action sequences, drifting loners or harmonicas.  Ostensibly a road movie and character study, Ceylan’s film asks questions more likely to be found in an Errol Morris entry than a titular counterpart… (read the full review)

Neal Dhand


#14: The Avengers (95 points)
Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by Joss Whedon
USA, 2012

The danger of a film like Marvel’s The Avengers is that it will be treated too much as product. All of the Marvel Studios films are products, no question, but the difference between the two Iron Man films is that the first was product born of love for a character, and the sequel’s character work nearly collapsed under the weight of the various plot threads that set up future installments. The Avengers is product born of love, honed by professionals, and it surpasses any film ever made in its genre, period… (read the full review)

Mark Young


#13: Argo (99 points)
Directed by Ben Affleck
Written by Chris Terrio
USA, 2012

Improbably, Ben Affleck has turned his career around in the last few years from the pit where such cinematic embarrassments as Gigli and Daredevil forever reside. He’s essentially transformed himself from a tabloid cover-star into a poised actor-director who subscribes to the “Hollywood doesn’t make movies like in the old days” mentality. Following his first two directorial efforts, Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Affleck is again behind the camera and starring as the lead in the taut new political thriller Argo, whose exceptional second half is almost good enough to make its slightly awkward, cluttered first hour forgivable… (read the full review)

Josh Spiegel


#12: Beasts of the Southern Wild (103 points)
Directed by Benh Zeitlin
Screenplay by Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
2012, USA

Fully immersed in characters that refuse to be changed by nature’s fury or modern society’s encroachment, director Behn Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild sweeps the audience into a chaotic, isolated world of unchained imagination. Set deep within a closed off bayou of Louisiana where a small girl named Hushpuppy is largely free to do as she pleases, Beasts is a film that pulses with free will and resilience. Hushpuppy is a soul that can’t be broken by illness, disaster, beasts or whatever else the world may throw her way. This is a story of a child living in abject poverty but one that doesn’t ask anyone to take pity on her. Instead we see her wild innocence of looking at the world, her bravery and desperately want to feel that open to spaces within us that haven’t yet been silenced by age or pain… (read the full review)

Lane Scarberry


#11: Lincoln (106 points)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Tony Kushner
USA, 2012

When it was first announced, an Abraham Lincoln biography directed by America’s most recognizable director and starring one of the world’s preeminent thespians, Lincoln sounded like an automatic slam-dunk. Daniel Day-Lewislevel of quality here is almost dull, if only because how could he not be emotional and fierce? How could this not be another of his monumentally brilliant performances? The shock, then, isn’t that Lincoln is a good film, or even a great one. Nor is it that the film respects its subjects but acknowledges their flaws. The surprise is that Lincoln avoids the pitfalls of many historical films. The story of Abraham Lincoln, in any form, is inspiring. Lincoln, through its warmth, intelligence, comedy, and honesty, earns that inspiration… (read the full review)

Josh Spiegel