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Criticwire's Year-End Movie Cheat Sheet

by Matt Singer
November 8, 2012 1:59 PM
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"Moonrise Kingdom."

Today is November 8th. In just about a month, ballots in every major national film poll and critics groups awards will be due. 2012 is almost over, and so is your chance to see the year's best films before your top ten list must be set in stone for all eternity (seriously --we're going to get masons and everything). To assist you in your movie cramming, Criticwire has created what we're calling our Year-End Movie Cheat Sheet, a shortlist of every critically acclaimed movie to open in U.S. theaters in the last eleven months -- and where to find them.

In order to qualify, the movies below received B+ averages or better from critics in our Criticwire Network. Admittedly, that means some very important films from 2012 -- films that may very well wind up on a lot of year-end top ten lists like "Cloud Atlas," "Goon," and "Kill List," -- didn't make the cut. In the near future we're going to add a section just for them. In the meantime, if you want to lobby for a title's inclusion, you can leave suggestions in the comments section or get in touch on Twitter.

The movies that are listed below are divided by availability: in theaters, on DVD or VOD, and streaming instantly on Netflix. Each has a link to where you can find information on screening locations or where to buy, rent, or stream. The very bottom of the page includes a list of critically acclaimed movies that are currently unavailable in any format; mercifully, it is very short. A ton of great movies from 2012 are available right now at your fingertips. I envy those of you about to see them for the first time.

We'll keep updating this page through the end of the year as more movies are released and we receive more suggestions. In the meantime there are over 80 outstanding titles on here, so you've got more than enough to get started. Happy viewing.

Criticwire's 2012 Great Movie Cheat Sheet

Now Playing in Theaters
"Argo," directed by Ben Affleck (Theaters)
"Brooklyn Castle," directed by Katie Dellamaggiore (Theaters)
"Compliance," directed by Craig Zobel (Theaters)
"Detropia," directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Theaters)
"Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel," directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland (Theaters)
"Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare," directed by Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke (Theaters -- also on VOD)
"Frankenweenie," directed by TIm Burton (Theaters)
"Girl Model," directed by Ashley Sabin and David Redmon (Theaters)
"Holy Motors," directed by Leos Carax (Theaters)
"The House I Live In," directed by Eugene Jarecki (Theaters)
"How to Survive a Plague," directed by David France (Theaters -- also on VOD)
"The Imposter," directed by Bart Layton (Theaters)
"The Iran Job," directed by Till Schauder (Theaters)
"Keep the Lights On," directed by Ira Sachs (Theaters)
"The Loneliest Planet," directed by Julia Loktev (Theaters -- also on VOD)
"Looper," directed by Rian Johnson (Theaters)
"The Master," directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Theaters)
"Middle of Nowhere," directed by Ava DuVernay (Theaters)
"Neighboring Sounds," directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho (Theaters)
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower," directed by Stephen Chbosky (Theaters)
"Photographic Memory," directed by Ross McElwee (Theaters)
"Robot and Frank," directed by Jake Schreier (Theaters)
"Samsara," directed by Ron Fricke (Theaters)
"Searching For Sugar Man," directed by Malik Bendjelloul (Theaters)
"The Sessions," directed by Ben Lewin (Theaters)
"Sinister," directed by Scott Derrickson (Theaters)
"Sister," directed by Ursula Meier (Theaters)
"Skyfall," directed by Sam Mendes (Theaters)
"This is Not a Film," directed by Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (Theaters)
"The Waiting Room," directed by Peter Nicks (Theaters)
"Wuthering Heights," directed by Andrea Arnold (Theaters)

On DVD, Blu-ray, or VOD
"Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry," directed by Alison Klayman (Buy It, starting 12/4)
"The Avengers," directed by Joss Whedon (Rent It)
"Beasts of the Southern Wild," directed by Benh Zeitlin (Buy It, starting 12/4)
"Beauty is Embarrassing," directed by Neil Berkeley (Rent It)
"Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story," directed by Raymond De Felitta (Rent It)
"Brave," directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell (Buy It, starting 11/13)
"The Cabin in the Woods," directed by Drew Goddard (Rent It)
"The Day He Arrives," directed by Hong Sang-soo (Buy It)
"Five Broken Cameras," directed by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi (Buy It)
"The Invisible War," directed by Kirby Dick (Rent It)
"The Island President," directed by Jon Shenk (Rent It)
"Jeff, Who Lives at Home," directed by Mark and Jay Duplass (Buy It)
"Last Call at the Oasis," directed by Jessica Yu (Rent It)
"The Loved Ones," directed by Sean Byrne (Rent It)
"Miss Bala," directed by Gerardo Naranjo (Buy It)
"Moonrise Kingdom," directed by Wes Anderson (Rent It)
"Neil Young Journeys," directed by Jonathan Demme (Rent It)
"ParaNorman," directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler (Buy It, starting 11/27)
"Paul Williams: Still Alive," directed by Stephen Kessler (Rent It)
"The Queen of Versailles," directed by Lauren Greenfield (Buy It, starting 11/13)
"The Raid: Redemption," directed by Gareth Evans (Rent It)
"Safety Not Guaranteed," directed by Colin Trevorrow (Rent It)
"The Secret World of Arrietty," directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Buy It)
"Side by Side," directed by Chris Kenneally (Rent It)
"Shut Up and Play the Hits," directed by Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace (Rent It)
"Sleepless Night," directed by Frederic Jardin (Rent It)
"Sound of My Voice," directed by Zal Batmanglij (Rent It)
"Turn Me On, Dammit!" directed by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen (Buy It)
"21 Jump Street," directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Buy It)
"Under African Skies," directed by Joe Berlinger (Buy It)
"Unforgivable," directed by Andre Techine (Buy It, starting 12/4)
"Your Sister's Sister," directed by Lynn Shelton (Rent It)

On Netflix Watch Instantly
"The American Scream," directed by Michael Stephenson (Watch It)
"Attenberg," directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari (Watch It)
"Bernie," directed by Richard Linklater (Watch It)
"Beyond the Black Rainbow," directed by Panos Cosmatos (Watch It)
"Bullhead," directed by Michael R. Roskam (Watch It)
"Declaration of War," directed by Valerie Donzelli (Watch It)
"The Deep Blue Sea," directed by Terence Davies (Watch It)
"Elena," directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev (Watch It)
"Gerhard Richter Painting," directed by Corinna Belz (Watch It)
"Goodbye, First Love," directed by Mia Hansen-Løve (Watch It)
"The Grey," directed by Joe Carnahan (Watch It)
"Haywire," directed by Steven Soderbergh (Watch It)
"Indie Game: The Movie," directed by Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky (Watch It)
"I Wish," directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda (Watch It)
"Jiro Dreams of Sushi," directed by David Gelb (Watch It)
"Monsieur Lazhar," directed by Philippe Falardeau (Watch It)
"Once Upon a Time in Anatolia," directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Watch It)
"Oslo, August 31st," directed by Joachim Trier (Watch It)
"The Pruit-Igoe Myth," directed by Chad Freidrichs (Watch it)
"Sound of Noise," directed by Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson (Watch It)
"The Turin Horse," directed by Bela Tarr (Watch It)

Currently Unavailable
"China Heavyweight," directed by Yung Chang
"Crazy Horse," directed by Frederick Wiseman
"Easy Money," directed by Daniel Espinosa
"The Kid With a Bike," directed by Jean Pierre and Luc Dardennes
"Teddy Bear," directed by Mads Matthiesen
"Undefeated," directed by Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin

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More: Awards, Poll Seasonpalooza


  • Francisco Lo | December 2, 2012 11:54 AMReply

    Leviathan, currently unavailable.

  • Joesph | November 14, 2012 2:11 PMReply

    No TDKR? But you have The Avengers? Weird man. Avengers is great fun, but I work in retail (In receiving) and our store played Avengers 24 hours a day for 2 months and I'll be honest, i can't enjoy the film critically anymore. I at first found it to be a lot of awe, now I just see how ineffectual of a director Joss Whedon really is. The shot composition is just sloppy and second rate. It looks and feels like a TV movie (All this said, I mean as a comic fan, I still love the avengers as entertainment but this list is supposed to be the best of the best correct?) so your decision to exclude TDKR is very bizarre, especially considering it sits in the upper registers of Rottentomatoes, Metacritic and most other review sites

  • Yorick | November 8, 2012 6:13 PMReply

    One word: Rust and Bone.
    Ok. Three then.

  • Aaron | November 8, 2012 5:56 PMReply

    Both CHINA HEAVYWEIGHT and DARK HORSE are scheduled to be on Netflix Instant by January 1.

  • Archer Slyce | November 8, 2012 4:20 PMReply

    Interesting list. As said before moving the limit from B+ to B might just give you an excessively long list. It does seem weird not to see Kill List here but mostly because I thought it would end up with a higher note (in the divisive batch somehow ?). It still is the best genre movie I've seen in theater this year along with Balaguero's Sleep Tight (has this one even been distributed yet oversea?).

  • TC Kirkham | November 8, 2012 3:51 PMReply

    Teddy Bear has been available for two months from Film Movement, although it's just for members only at the mo on DVD; however, it did premiere on the Film Movement VOD channel on Tuesday, at least on Commiecast/XFinicy systems...:-)

    I have to agree about Chronicle too - hope it gets on there soon! And thanks for this list - a perfect checklist for the movies we've missed for our year end podcast awards perusal...

  • Patrick Fisackerly | November 8, 2012 3:28 PMReply

    UNDEFEATED is one of the most moving movies I've seen in years, but it won the 2011 Oscar for Best Documentary. Wouldn't that make it ineligible for 2012 year-end lists? Note that I'm aware of how arbitrary this all is, but if we're being nitpicky...

  • Matt Singer | November 8, 2012 3:31 PM

    Patrick -- As in all things with these lists, it's confusing. Though it was a nominee for Best Doc last year, it's theatrical release came this spring. It can't win a Best Documentary Oscar this year -- but if I've got my math right it COULD win a Best Documentary award from a critics group.

  • David Walters | November 8, 2012 3:18 PMReply

    No Chronicle?

  • Matt Singer | November 8, 2012 3:32 PM

    Oddly, CHRONICLE has no reviews on Criticwire right now -- I'll keep an eye on it; if it gets some grades (I'm going to grade it myself right now), I will add it.

  • Thomas Prieto | November 8, 2012 2:31 PMReply

    Thanks for this list! It should prove very useful. However, I did find some notable omissions: The Color Wheel (Alex Ross Perry) [will be available on VOD in a week or so], Goodbye First Love (Mia Hansen-Love) [available on Netflix Instant], Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg), A Burning Hot Summer (Philippe Garrel), Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (John Hyams), Faust (Aleksandr Sokurov), and Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (Takashi Miike). I believe all of these got at least some sort of distribution this year.

  • Thomas Prieto | November 8, 2012 3:35 PM

    Thanks so much for the quick reply! You make a good point. I fear if you add all the B movies, the list will become way too long.

  • Matt Singer | November 8, 2012 3:08 PM

    Thomas- Thanks for the suggestions. All of the films you mentioned (except GOODBYE, FIRST LOVE, which is actually included above, along with its Netflix Instant link) currently have B averages (or lower) on Criticwire, hence they were excluded. Of course they are all worthwhile, and I loved several of them (including THE COLOR WHEEL and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER). People who are interested should absolutely seek them out.

  • Marc | November 8, 2012 2:15 PMReply

    Everybody In Our Family got an A+ but is absent?What's that all about?

  • Matt Singer | November 8, 2012 2:18 PM

    Marc- This is list is of titles that were theatrically released in 2012, because those are the titles that are generally eligible for year-end polls. EVERYBODY IN OUR FAMILY (which I saw at Fantastic Fest and loved, by the way) has only played festivals. Presuming it gets distributed in 2013, it will almost certainly be on this list next year.

  • J | November 8, 2012 2:11 PMReply

    TAKE THIS WALTZ, one of the year's very best films, is available on-demand and DVD.

  • Matt Singer | November 8, 2012 2:19 PM

    J - TAKE THIS WALTZ currently has a B on Criticwire; it's in that CLOUD ATLAS group of well-regarded but somewhat divisive movies (it was actually in that list, but I cut it out during editing just because it was too long). So it'll probably be in that group that we'll be adding in the near future. I liked the movie a lot, and agree it deserves a mention.

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