By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist June 21, 2012 at 9:58AM
Minor update: As one of our astute readers pointed out, we forgot Ben Wheatley's truly terrifying "Kill List" which we all saw in 2011, but technically came out in the U.S. early in 2012. Please don't consider this omission any slight on the film which is deeply haunting and horrifying (ever horror filmmaker in the world, please take note). At this point, it's a little too late to add to our top 15, but consider it a very viable contender at the very least and don't be surprised if/when it ends up on several of our own personal top 10 lists in December.
We'd be remiss in not mentioning the biggest movie story of the year so far, Joss Whedon's "The Avengers," which isn't just the third biggest movie of all time at this point, but also a tremendously entertaining summer blockbuster, one of the better examples of the form in recent years. A wobbly first act kept it off the list proper, but it was still something of a triumph nevertheless. "Chronicle" also proved a breath of fresh air to the superhero genre, and announced the arrival of a trio of exciting new talents in Josh Trank, Max Landis and Dane DeHaan. Meanwhile, our two senior editors were both taken with "The Dictator," Sacha Baron Cohen's pointedly funny comedy that deserves to have done much better than it did. In the same category is David Wain's "Wanderlust" and Nicholas Stoller's "The Five-Year Engagement," which both inexplicably failed to connect with audiences, but nevertheless managed to contain more laughs than your average smash-hit comedy.
A touch off the beaten track, both Steven Soderbergh's "Haywire" and Gareth Evans' "The Raid" gave the action genre a fresh new kick in the larynx, although neither could quite live up to their impressive fight scenes when things were a little calmer. And in the indie comedy territory, Whit Stillman made a triumphant return with "Damsels In Distress," while the Duplass Brothers were behind the charming "Jeff Who Lives At Home," which only missed out on this list by the skin of its teeth. And for people after something a little weirder, festival sci-fi favorite "Beyond the Black Rainbow" was like nothing else seen before or since. Of the (relatively) few documentaries this year, perhaps the best was Marie Losier's "The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye," which followed performance artist (and Throbbing Gristle founder) Genesis P-Orridge and his late wife as they they prepare to undergo surgery to essentially become carbon copy xeroxes of each other or, "pandrogynes." It's a strange but beautiful love story and fascinating look at the nature of identity.
It must be frustrating for those outside of New York and L.A. to see certain films crop up endlessly on year-end lists, only to discover that they might be weeks, or even months away from seeing them. With that in mind, we wanted to highlight a few releases from late in 2011 that were actually more available to the rest of the continent (and in some cases world) in 2012. Oren Moverman's "Rampart" was a firecracker of a cop movie, one that was less about "cop" and more about character, with Woody Harrelson giving the performance of a lifetime, and Robin Wright and Brie Larson, among an outstanding supporting cast, matching him nicely. It was gripping and moving from the first, and another reminder that Moverman is one of our most intriguing talents. Lynne Ramsay's "We Need To Talk About Kevin" also got a bit of a boost at the start of this year, and again features an unforgettable central performance, this time from Tilda Swinton, and one of the most thought-provoking and gut-punching movies in a long while.
The Playlist team were slightly divided on it, but Mexican film "Miss Bala" had more than its share of serious admirers: a morally complex look inside the Mexican cartels through the eyes of a beauty queen. Director Gerardo Naranjo showed a Scorsese-ian flair with the camera, and he's certainly going to be someone we hear a lot more from. And while only a few saw it, those who did catch Andrei Zyvagintsev's "Elena" fell head over heels in love with it; a powerful and gripping Russian film about an elderly woman trying to secure an inheritance for her son.
Not everything from Sundance, Tribeca, SXSW and Cannes have made it to theaters yet, but we can certainly attest to their quality while we wait for them, and you'll be hearing more from these films through us and others throughout the year. Sundance brought the excellent "Simon Killer" from Antonio Campos, Julie Delpy's hilarious "2 Days In New York" with Chris Rock, the eye-popping, controversial "Compliance," outstanding concert doc "Shut Up And Play the Hits" (which plays one-night-only in theaters on July 18th), alcoholism dramedy "Smashed" with a stunning performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and the Lena Dunham-co-written "Nobody Walks" (which plays alongside "Compliance" at BAM this weekend).
Meanwhile, music documentary "Beware of Mr. Baker" and William Friedkin's "Killer Joe" (which opens in July) were both highlights of SXSW, while Cuban drama "Una Noche" and Keanu Reeves' filmmaking documentary "Side By Side" were leading lights at Tribeca and Berlin. Finally, our Gabe Toro adored Mads Brugger's daring documentary "The Ambassador" at New Directors New Films, and our Katie Walsh fell head over heels for "Ruby Sparks," from the directors of "Little Miss Sunshine," at the LAFF this week. Both should be in theaters before the end of the year, with "Ruby Sparks" arriving in July. And as for Cannes, "Killing Them Softly," "Amour," "Room 237," "Sightseers," "No" and "Rust & Bone" were particular favorites of our team out on the Croisette. It's likely you'll be seeing many of these festival films on our best-of year-end lists by the time 2012 is over.
-- Oliver Lyttelton, RP, Kevin Jagernauth, Christopher Bell, Drew Taylor, Gabe Toro