From the gut-wrenching, step-by-step chronology of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad to seafaring cultists practicing Scientology-like rituals in the wake of World War II to the 16th president twisting arms over the passing of the 13th Amendment, the best films of 2012 brought history to life with an extraordinary scrupulousness that still left room for vivid artistic expression. But searching for patterns in a best-of list like the one below does little justice to the films’ diversity and unruliness, and the many wondrous places movies took viewers this year, including the haunted landscapes of Turkey (Once Upon A Time In Anatolia) and Georgia (The Loneliest Planet), revitalized twists on the slasher (The Cabin In The Woods) and noir (Killer Joe) genres, and two vastly different takes on what love really means (Amour, The Deep Blue Sea). Unlike in past years, nearly all films were available to see before press time, with one conspicuous exception: Most of The A.V. Club’s film reviewers weren’t able to see Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, which might have found a place on the list. (Nathan Rabin did include it on his Top 15.) The Billy Crystal/Bette Midler movie Parental Guidance also wasn’t screened in time, so consider that our invisible #21. For your consideration…
Two times a year—at the halfway point and during list-making season in November—I send out a list of “significant” movies to the film staff so they can try to see as many as possible before our Year In Film feature. It’s just a simple checklist, presented in the order each film was released theatrically in New York City. The idea is to give our writers time to catch up and give relative obscurities like The Arbor (last year’s No. 13 on our conjoined Best Of The Year list) the same collective consideration as more widely heralded efforts like The Tree Of Life. In the interest of transparency—and recommending a bunch of movies we love—I’m making the halftime list public this year so our readers can play along at home. A few caveats:
- My staff inevitably comes back to me with omissions, and I suspect there will be many in the comments below. We’ll add the big ones to our year-end checklist.
- Normally, the list goes out without categories. The ones below, particularly “The Essentials,” are a reflection of my taste and priorities. Mileage will definitely vary.
- Within the categories, titles are still listed in order of release in NYC through the weekend of July 13th, not in order of preference.
- Overall, the momentum from last year’s embarrassment of cinematic riches has continued into 2012, so now’s the time to get those queues in order.
The Essentials: From "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" to "Django Unchained"
Hollywood: The System Works!: From "The Grey" to "Lés misérables"
Auteur Obligations: From "Crazy Horse" to "Killing Them Softly"
Notable Documentaries: From "West of Memphis" to "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"
Indie Curiosities: From "Return" to "Promised Land"
Imported Goods: From "Declaration of War" to "Sister"