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The Best Films Of 2012...So Far

Features
by The Playlist Staff
June 21, 2012 9:58 AM
26 Comments
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It feels like only yesterday that we were talking about the best films of 2011, and yet here we are, nearly at the end of June, and we've seen pretty much everything that the first half of the year has to offer. So with the mid-point of 2012 nearly upon us, we thought we'd look over the best films we've seen in theaters over the last six months.

And it's not been a terrible year so far. There have been a few real stinkers and some disappointments, but there's also been some decent blockbuster fare and a bevy of foreign language and independent films that have been serious treats for filmgoers. How many of these will still be on our year-end lists come December remains to be seen; there's some tough competition on the way. But all in all, the first part of this year at the movies could have been a lot worse. For the sake of simplicity, we've kept it to films with a theatrical release in the U.S. between January 1st and June 30th, but you'll find a round-up of some festival favorites and other such things towards the end. So, in no particular order, you can find our fifteen highlights of the year so far below. And let us know your own picks in the comments section.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Hailed as a triumph at two major film festivals so far this year (Sundance and Cannes), newcomer director Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” arrives in theaters this summer with a loaded firecracker of hype and expectations under its arm. But buzz and managed expectations aside, ‘Beasts’ is the real deal, a genuinely idiosyncratic, expressive and invigorating father/daughter tale that touches on survival, resilience, community and the capacity to endure on your own terms on the fringes of society. Featuring two breakthrough performances by newcomers Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” has been called a New Orleans/Katrina allegory, and while that disaster is certainly an influence -- the themes of perseverance against a cantankerous, retributive forces of nature are certainly there -- to claim that ‘Beasts’ is Zeitlin’s riff on that calamity only sells this exhilarating picture far too short. Tactile in its atmospheres and aesthetics (an unholy blend of rust, rot, decay and beauty), the picture’s take on dilapidation is both gorgeous and affectionate, avoiding an existence as one sorrowful pejorative. Anthemic, deeply moving and awe-inspiring (with a stirring musical score that embodies all those moods in what is easily one of the best soundtracks of the year), “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is part corroded neo-neo realism and magical fantasy, but moreover an exciting blend of ideas, characters and concepts thrown together in a stunningly unique and vibrant bouillabaisse. While it's about a young child facing her father's fading health and an impending environmental disaster (not to mention a herd of prehistoric monsters migrating ominously towards them) in a fictional part of the U.S. called “The Bathtub,” the emotionally rousing “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is simply an inspiring and celebratory look at love, loss and life that’s moving and passionate in the way few films are these days (read our review).

"Take This Waltz"
Exhilarating, depressing, melancholy and frustrating, Sarah Polley’s sophomore directorial effort, “Take This Waltz,” attempts to say much about the meaning of love, lust, relationships, marriage, and the complicated choices often made therein. Often times, the well-shot and well-constructed picture (which features some of the best cinematography of any film so far this year; the soundtrack and score is equally ace) just tries to say it all at once, posing questions about whether that grass is actually greener, or whether it grows verdant only after we’ve shat all over it. And as unwieldy and imperfect as Polley’s film can be, well, maybe that’s the point, as the ungainly narrative is a lot like love and life, with few easy answers. Mature, painful and wistful in a manner that reminds you of mistakes you’d rather not relive, and ultimately pretty tragic, “Take This Waltz” is a striking and emotionally bruising look at our desires and the selfish paths we often take to achieve them versus our needs, responsibilities and oaths we’ve pledged to one another. Anchored by truly great performances by Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby and Sarah Silverman, the deeply flawed characters in “Take This Waltz” can be ugly and irredeemable, but as blemished as the picture is at times -- questionable cinematic choices are made on top of morally questionable ones -- it’s boldly real, achingly raw and intimate in a way that’s rarely seen onscreen. There’s likely not going to be a picture as emotionally exasperating and yet indelible as this one in 2012 (read our review).

"The Kid with a Bike"
While some critics complained that the latest from the famed Dardennes was more of the same, all we can say is...so? While “The Kid with a Bike” didn’t rock the boat of their established narrative and visual aesthetic, it’s hard to quibble with the results when they are this consistently strong. Perhaps some of the grumbling came from the fact that this effort is somewhat “lighter” (relatively speaking) than some of their previous efforts, but it’s no less affecting. The story essentially deals with two lonely people: Cyril, an orphaned boy, seething and wounded by anger and pain, and Samantha, a single hairdresser who takes him under her wing. While it’s a sunnier movie than you'd expect from the Dardennes (indeed, it’s the first time they shot in the summer), the organic performances from Thomas Doret and Cecile De France -- who share a tremendous chemistry -- maneuver the complex terrain their relationship takes them through. Having been let down for so much of his life, Cyril essentially tests Samantha to see if she too will give up on him, but as she continues to stick by his side, we get a better understanding how this wayward child enriches her life. Using a recurring musical cue to effectively mark the passage of time, “The Kid with a Bike” plumbs some rich, complicated emotional territory in its less than 90-minute runtime. But by the film’s end, the Dardennes deliver a multi-toned, minor symphony on how devotion and love -- hard-earned and unquestioning -- can be life-changing salvation to those who need it (read our review).

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26 Comments

  • Jeff | August 1, 2012 2:24 PMReply

    I just saw "Take This Waltz" last night and oh my god was it atrocious. It was convoluted, disjointed, and meandering. My friends and I described it as "if David Lynch were to do a rom com/dramedy", using his usual Lynchian trademarks, but failed miserably on every level. I want my money back. That aside, most of this list is pretty solid. I like how the Playlist equally balances commercial, indie, and foreign films. Although "21 Jump Street" was one of if not THE worst film I've seen this year. I'm glad they brought up "Kill List", as that was one of the most diabolically clever movies I've seen of that genre in as far back as I can remember.

  • Richardo | June 26, 2012 1:15 AMReply

    Have never seen anything about Ava Duverney's Middle of Nowhere on here. Won Sundance Best Director and I finally saw at LAFF last week and it kinda knocked my socks off. That and All is Well and Sunkissed were really quite excellent. Saw all at LAFF.

  • bohmer | June 24, 2012 8:58 PMReply

    I'd put THE GREY and LAURENCE ANYWAYS in that list, both films are a bit flawed but so much refreshing and surprising.

  • Leonardo | June 23, 2012 4:57 PMReply

    Damn i have to wait till some of these get to my country, and other ones were arlready here but i dind't have money to go to the cinemas.

  • Alan | June 22, 2012 3:32 AMReply

    Thomas Doret should played Aaron Cross in 'The Bourne Legacy'. The CIA would never be able to catch this kid.

  • basilbeast | June 21, 2012 4:49 PMReply

    If you're going to stick Avengers in with this eclectic selection of visual fare, I'd add John Carter ( of Mars ).

  • basilbeast | June 21, 2012 8:43 PM

    Interesting, I had the same reaction to Avengers sharing space with your 20 best list. A glitzy cgi remake of "Master of the World" ( Vincent Price starring, in case you were unaware of it ) with a plot-line to answer my Top Question of the Cinematic Year, "Whatever are they gonna do with the Hulk?"

    But still, I'm happy that I made you happy, even for a brief fleeting moment.

  • Katie Walsh | June 21, 2012 7:26 PM

    AHHHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • Tim | June 21, 2012 1:23 PMReply

    The best films out so far this year was "The Deep Blue Sea" (Rachel Weisz's performance was amazing) and "Moolight Kingtom". The rest of the year so far has been mediocre at best.

  • Lady in Waiting | June 21, 2012 1:52 PM

    Loved Rachel Weisz in Deep Blue Sea, her performance was actually better than the film itself but she kept you interested in it till the end. A Oscar worthy turn by her.


    P.S. I think you mean Moonrise Kingdom;)

  • ben | June 21, 2012 12:50 PMReply

    Hey, I loved the list. You got some really great films there. But in terms of documentaries, I thought "Indie Game" definitely should be mentioned. I found it to be one of the most fascinating and entertaining documentaries I have seen in quite sometime. I know it played in limited release but I really think it should be searched out for those who love documentaries.

  • gerty | June 21, 2012 12:36 PMReply

    for me the best was jeff who lives at home so far, i did enjoy some others as well but they didnt exactly stood out. cant wait to see monrise kingdom and pretty much anything else from my most anticipated list. personally i think 2012 has been pretty bad for movies so far but the second half will probably make it one of the best years in recent history.

  • AS | June 21, 2012 12:04 PMReply

    At this point in the year there isn't much to choose from but The Deep Blue Sea is by far the best so far.

  • Brian | June 21, 2012 11:45 AMReply

    Out of curiosity, what are we considering 'Kill List' at this juncture? 2011 or 2012?

  • Brian | June 21, 2012 12:04 PM

    Thanks. I'm working on my own list and it's one of those border oddities.

  • The Playlist | June 21, 2012 11:52 AM

    Yeah, Kill List is technically 2012 so technically should be on this list somewhere. We'll likely amend soon. thanks for this Brian. Most of us saw it in 2011 and I guess we unfortunately forgot about it.

  • Oogle monster | June 21, 2012 11:29 AMReply

    Moonrise Kingdom ftw! Also, Take this Waltz- while I can defend it to a certain degree (the cinematography and score are splendid and Rogen gives a commendable performance)- Michelle Williams is essentially playing Cindy from Blue Valentine with an awful wig, chubbier face, and hipster meets farmers market clothing. I say this as a big big big fan of Williams, Polley and especially Blue Valentine. It’s an extension of her character in BV… transplanted to Canada. I’d say go see it to watch Rogen play the straight-laced guy (and he has a few funny zingers as well) but there isn’t much to it other than the fact that you want to slap Williams’ character in the face for being sullen ALL THE TIME.

  • Cribbster | June 21, 2012 11:25 AMReply

    I would have included "Goon" and HBO's "Game Change" over "The Deep Blue Sea" and "Safety Not Guaranteed."

    I might need to see "Deep Blue Sea" again (I was really disappointed), but I'm positive "Safety Not Guaranteed" is only slightly better than mediocre. It's not terribly funny, and the film really only becomes about whether the guy can travel through time. The filmmakers try to distract you from that with a bunch of shallow character stuff, but it's an aggressively mediocre movie, I think.

  • bonzob | June 21, 2012 11:50 AM

    On the one hand, I really liked Goon, and agree it could have received a mention here. Sweet, funny, strong performances, hugely entertaining.

    On the other hand, I completely disagree on Safety Not Guaranteed. I found it very funny, I don't think it's ever really about "whether the guy can travel through time," and the character work was solid for a movie of this sort -- far from shallow.

  • matt | June 21, 2012 10:26 AMReply

    no love for Oslo, August 31?

  • Mike | June 21, 2012 8:53 PM

    Totally agree on this one.

  • Rodrigo | June 21, 2012 10:54 AM

    Yeah, personally I have yet to see it, but I'm a huge fan of "Reprise" so it's possible it could end up on my year-end list.

  • Oliver Lyttelton | June 21, 2012 10:30 AM

    Oh, shit, good point. It was in my Top 10 last year, I'd forgotten it finally got a U.S. release. Not sure how many others on staff saw it: I know Kevin did, but was a bit cooler on it than me.

  • Monica | June 21, 2012 10:09 AMReply

    Great list, except forThe Avengers was a stupid blockbuster. Script full of holes and horrible performances.

  • Andy | June 21, 2012 12:05 PM

    And the critics that gave it 93 percent positive in Rotten Tomatoes are stupid, too. In that case, you should replace them, man. Or you could make a movie with the performances less "horrible" than the performances of The Avengers. If you can, I'll watch your movie and enjoy it!
    Hope you're not a Batman's fan that hates everything about Marvel.

  • bonzob2000 | June 21, 2012 10:44 AM

    Wrong. Horrible performances, seriously?

    Also, did I miss it, or is there no mention of Headhunters? And I think I liked it more than most of the Playlist, but I thought Bullhead deserved a mention.

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