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The Best Films Of 2012...So Far

by The Playlist Staff
June 21, 2012 9:58 AM
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Kill List

Honorable Mention
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.

Rampart, Woody Harrelson
Limited 2011 Releases That Went Wider In 2012
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.

Killer Joe Matthew McConaughey Emile Hirsch
2012 Festival Films
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

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  • 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


  • 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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