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Staff List: The 40 Best Films of 2012

Staff List: The 40 Best Films of 2012

To say that none of the 40 + films on our staff-voted list is universally beloved is putting it mildly; but then, that’s the nature of polls like these. Every year we’ve run this poll, there’s been a runaway winner; this year, the top film crossed the three-hundred-point threshold, a first here at Sound On Sight. Not since Inglourious Basterds has a film run away so clearly with the number one spot. Our top choice received unbelievable love and support from everyone, nearly doubling the amount of points of our second place pick.

Nobody will agree on each entry, but keep in mind, Sound On Sight has always been a place that bridges the gap between mainstream and independent cinema. We love foreign films but we also love genre pics and documentaries. In other words, we cover it all, or at least we try.

With more movies in limited and general release than ever before, 2012 was a ridiculously crowded year for both casual and discerning moviegoers alike. Usually we publish a list of 25 entries but this year we’ve extended it to 40. There is just far too much to choose from and we cover too much ground to limit it to any less.

2012 was the year of disappointing blockbusters yet somehow a few managed to sneak onto the list. The year’s top grossing movie only reached the twelfth spot, and one director managed to get in two movies. Ten foreign-language films made the cut, as well as five documentaries. Twenty six contributors from around the world participated, and every film listed below received at least three votes. (In the event of a tie, which only occurs when the films get the same number of votes AND points, they share the poll number. Got it?) Yes, we have a mad method on how to calculate the results, but every year our method proves to work – in the sense that it really reflects our entire staff and our year-long-coverage.

Worth noting: Since our staff is spread out across the globe, sometimes a film will appear on our list two years in a row due to having different release dates world wide. This year, that honour goes to Once Upon A Time In Anatolia.

Anyone looking for We Need To Talk About Kevin or Kill List can refer to last year’s list.


The Raid Movie

#39: The Raid: Redemption (32 points)
Written and directed by Gareth Evans
Indonesia/USA, 2011

The Raid is an action thriller with unmistakable, specific influences, but one that combines them with its own unique qualities to provide a particularly potent collection of thrills. Made in Indonesia but directed by a Welshman, the simple but effective plot of Gareth Evans’ film is almost like a mix of two of its clear influences, Die Hard and Assault on Precinct 13. A derelict apartment building in the heart of Jakarta’s slums acts as a seemingly impenetrable safe house for a ruthless gangster and an array of killers and thugs. Tasked with raiding the fortress and capturing the vicious drug lord who runs it, an elite police team enters the building while under the cover of pre-dawn darkness and silence, only for an unexpected witness to reveal their presence to the criminals in charge. The members of the unit, protagonist Rama among them, suddenly find themselves stranded and easy targets on the sixth floor. With the lights cut off, all exits blocked and a hive of the city’s most deadly criminals looking to exterminate them, the team must fight their way out to survive… (read the full review)

Josh Slater-Williams


#39 (tie): How to Survive a Plague (32 points)
Directed by David France
USA, 2012

How to Survive a Plague is a compelling look at LGBT protesters during the AIDS crisis in the 80′s and 90′s. The story follows two coalitions, ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), whose activism and research turned AIDS from a death sentence into a liveable condition. Plague isn’t about the history of the disease, instead about the history of a movement. Despite having no scientific training, these self-made activists provided a template of how grassroots activism can temper societal and governmental prejudice. In challenging the pharmaceutical industry, these men and women helped discover promising new drugs, while fighting to move them from experimental trials and directly to patients in record time. First time filmmaker David France transports viewers right in the moment of the height of the crisis by using everything in his reach: interviews, broadcasts, news reports, home videos and more. When it’s over, this documentary lingers as a testament of extraordinary determination and the will to survive. How To Survive A Plague is impressionistic in its scope, extremely moving, astonishing, important and downright inspiring. No other film in 2012 left me with tears flooding down my cheeks.

Ricky D

The Comedy

#38: The Comedy (33 points)
Directed by Rick Alverson
Written by Robert Donne
USA, 2012

Musician-turned-filmmaker Rick Alverson obliterates American indie-film propriety in The Comedy, an alternately brutal, repellent, and (yes) hilarious hyper-black satire(?) that also happens to function as the logical endpoint of the current cinematic obsession with man-children. Tim Heidecker (still, and likely forever, best known for Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job) pulls off the fairly incredible trick of bringing to life one of the most despicable antiheroes in film history, a man semingly incapable of sincerity or affection, and imbuing him with some semblance of a poisoned inner life. Ambiguous and compelling, Alverson’s film is designed to polarize and offend, but also to embed itself in your consciousness.

Simon Howell


#37 (Tie): Anna Karenina (33 points)
Written for the screen by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Joe Wright
UK/France, 2012

Wright’s film doesn’t just take notes from theatre, with influences from dance and painting also on display. A studio-bound period drama with so many artistic reference points and vibrant editing can’t help but initiate memories of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, especially so when Matthew Macfadyen almost seems to be channelling Jim Broadbent’s performance in that film, and when there are similarly so many lines heavy with utterance of that abstract idea “love”. While both films have this very polarising, slightly similar style, Wright’s film is certainly far less abrasive and more easily accessible even when heightening its artifice. If one manages to be tuned in with its approach, the results of the aesthetic are often quite extraordinary… (read the full review)

Josh Slater-Williams


#37 (Tie): The Hunt (33 points)
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Screenplay by Thomas Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm
2012, Denmark

Although director Thomas Vinterbeg’s The Hunt redoubles on well trodden material explicating the dangerousness of convicting without evidence or investigation, Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (Flame and Citron, Casino Royale, Valhalla Rising) profoundly visualizes just how excruciating the character assassination of a good man displaced by society’s rush to judgment can be. The role of Lucas, a personable and caring kindergarten teacher gives Mikkelsen the opportunity to spin movingly from a relatively content, ordinary man minding his own business to a man who has had almost every conceivable thing worth living for stripped away. Existing in the absence of any kind of existential meaning behind this punishment, Mikkelsen’s Lucas fights nobly and with what little self worth he can still muster to push back against the overwhelming tide of indiscriminate hate. It’s a harrowing emotional battle that leaves one with a strange sense of reverence for the beleaguered teacher, his integrity intact in spite of the world literally turning it’s back on him… (read the full review)

– Lane Scarberry


#36: Sightseers (34 points)
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Screenplay by Steve Oram, Alice Lowe, and Amy Jump
2012, UK

Ben Wheatley just keeps making great movies. Furthermore, they keep getting better. Continuing in the naturalistic direction of his first two film’s while softening the sharper edges, Sightseers is Wheatley’s prettiest, funniest, and most mature film yet. If it lacks the propulsive insanity of Kill List, it more than makes up for it with its own unique blend of barely subdued chaos and twisted romance… (read the full review)

Emmet Duff


#35: Rebelle (English title: War Witch) (34 points)
Directed by Kim Nguyen
Written by Kim Nguyen
Canada, 2012

Rebelle is an unexpectedly provocative Canadian film that feels just about as un-Canadian as possible. In an age when cinefiles north of the 49th parallel bemoan the current state of their home grown cinema talent, it is refreshing to see one writer-director think outside the box and realize that jingoistic, wink-wink depictions of the great white north are not essential for the purpose of, first, getting a film made and, second, getting a good film made. A crowd Rebelle most certainly is not, but it is  brave project. Sometimes caution needs to be thrown to the wind in order to simply tell a good, thought provoking story… (read the full review)

Edgar Chaput


#34: West Of Memphis (34 points)
Directed by Amy Berg
With Peter Jackson, Henry Rollins, Eddie Vedder

This exhaustive, horrific and deeply moving documentary is as equally uncomfortable as Amy Berg’s previous Academy Award nominated Deliver Us From Evil, which also centres on the horrific influence of adults upon minors, whilst that piece concerned itself with the Catholic Church abuse scandal it is many ways a companion piece to West Of Memphis, as institutional systems and hierarchies collude with each other in a incandescently fury generating fashion, where the victims both living and dead suffer the cruelties of an ideological purpose – these kids were weird and therefore must be guilty – obscures the facts and he notion of any moral or ethical centre. After presenting the public facets of the case – the murders, their discovery and the subsequent trial and conviction of the three innocent outsiders – the piece begins to unwind the shaky pillars of the conviction, including the mentally challenged Misskelley’s confession after hours and hours of intense and leading interrogation, of testimony from associates of the three who had their own reasons to fabricate their affidavits and have all since recanted their depositions. Once incarcerated a ground swell of protest begins to slowly coalesce, with celebrity figures such as Peter Jackson (who also produced the film with partner Fran Walsh), Henry Rollins and Eddie Vedder providing emotional, financial and strategic support to the growing movement to exonerate the trio, but the imperious attitude of the legal system doesn’t want to hear of any new evidence or illuminating discoveries, and the potential road to justice is obstacled by time and temperament… (read the full review)

John McEntee


#33: Haywire (34 points)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Lem Dobbs
USA/Ireland, 2011

The most admirable trait that Haywire possesses is its willingness to stay true to form throughout. It’s as tight as a drum, carrying hardly any fat, with very few wasted shots. This is nothing new for Mr.Soderbergh, who is exceedingly good at balancing his filmography between mainstream successes and true art house fare. Haywire coincides heavily with the former, but I’ve got the sense that some will dismiss it as a mindless one-note snoozer. The film is anything but, as Soderbergh pairs his routinely gorgeous panache with the eye-popping physical presence of Gina Carano, a retired mixed martial arts fighter who plays the part of black ops super soldier Mallory Kane to a tee. In a way, the film is a throwback to pulpy action flicks that offered not the best dialogue and story, but followed its protagonist and their wholehearted quest for revenge… (read the full review)

Ty Landis


#32: The Imposter (35 points)

Directed by Bart Layton

United Kingdom, 2012

Your mind plays tricks on you all the time. You’re presented with a clear-cut fact, something that is immutably true, and you doubt it. You wake up in the middle of the night, but your mind convinces you that you’ve had a full night’s sleep or it’s actually mid-morning and you’re running late. Someone you care about hasn’t answered your call, so your mind tells you something terrible—a car accident, maybe—has happened to them, even if the real answer is they just didn’t pick up their phone. Why does anyone—and we all do it–play these games on their psyches? What compels us to believe a convenient lie as opposed to accepting the cold, harsh truth? Such heady questions are at the center of The Imposter, a high-intensity and thrilling new documentary… (read the full review)

Josh Spiegel

Frances Ha

#31: Frances Ha (36 points)
Written by Noah Bambach and Greta Gerwig
Directed by Noah Baumbach
USA, 2012

If it can be agreed that there is indeed a Gerwig Persona, Frances Ha is an unabashed celebration of it. Look no further than the giddy sequence in which an elated Frances leaps and pirouettes through NYC, set to David Bowie’s “Modern Love” for evidence that Baumbach is just as taken with the character as viewers are. What’s most refreshing about Frances Ha is its total absence of malice or pretension. Baumbach has no interest here in punishing Frances for her neuroses or launching a devastating critique of NYC’s spoiled young bourgeoisie. Instead, he and Gerwig place the emphasis on the possibility that Frances can and will overcome her own shortcomings and especially those of her friends in order to eke out a basic modicum of contentment. Perhaps the surest sign of the film’s winning qualities is that once the credits roll over the film’s final image, revealing the significance of its title, we’re far from ready to leave Frances and her adventures behind. Gerwig and Baumbach’s creation could easily withstand an entire series of time-lapsed explorations, not unlike Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel saga… (read the full review)

Simon Howell