1. "Amour" - So moved by Michael Haneke's unexpected (com)passion display; Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva deserve every acting award out there
2. "The Imposter" - Incredible true story with jaw-dropping twists and turns
3. "Zero Dark Thirty" - Bigelow & Boal become a force to be reckoned with
4. "Lincoln" - More muted than expected but the Spielberg/Day-Lewis pairing still a potent one
5. "Life Of Pi" - 2012's most ravishing film; reinvigorates the case for 3D
6. "The Master"- Loses its way a bit but Phoenix phenomenal… and long live Paul Thomas Anderson
7. "Rust And Bone" - Audiard twists melodramatic convention to marvellous effect; Cotillard is out of this world
8. "Hunt" - modern-day Danish Crucible with best-ever performance from Mads Mikkelsen
9. "Django Unchained" - Tarantino+slavery+spaghetti western=superb entertainment
10. "Holy Motors" - Leos Carax exhilarates with an all-kinds-of-crazy chauffeur-driven fantasia
1. "Zero Dark Thirty" (Kathryn Bigelow)
20-plus years after "Blue Steel" Kathryn Bigelow returns to a similar young female character working in a man's world and struggling to establish herself. This personal involvement along with a staggering mastery of multiple craft elements elevate this to perhaps her best film yet.
2. "The Kid With a Bike" (Dardenne Brothers)
The Dardennes make their most thematically complex yet at the same time narratively dense film yet in this moving story of redemption.
3. "Amour" (Michael Haneke)
Though at times as shocking as his previous films, this time the focus is on human relationships less cynical than usual, with the two central performances by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva the best of this year.
4. "Flight" (Robert Zemeckis)
A big comeback for this great and underrated director, a film that Howard Hawks at his best would have been proud to make - dense, thematically rich, terrifically acted, entertaining with a precariously achieved balance of drama, humor and thrills. This has numerous great scenes and no bad ones - still the best definition of a good film.
5. "The Master" (Paul Thomas Anderson)
PTA's least accessible film, and one that failed to satisfy audiences, but as unsettling as any he has made. Once again, he focuses on a mentor/student pairing at the story's core, with a fascinating but unsettling dynamic at work that makes one question of who really is the master unanswered by the end.
6. "Holy Motors" (Leos Carax)
Only Carax' second feature in two decades, this exhilarating dream-like film is centered by Denis Lavant, a Carax regular, who plays multiple characters of stunning diversity. Though inspired by a lifetime of movie watching obsession, it is as original as any film around.
7. "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
Visually stunning, with (as too rarely happens) the wide screen images given time to be examined while a murder investigation in a remote part of Turkey transpires over the course of a day, this is a tough but incredibly rewarding film.
8. "Barbara" (Christian Petzold)
Two doctors exiled to a backwater East German town in the early 1980s warily deal with each other, with their instincts of trust struggling against the oppressiveness of their country. With a great lead performance by Nina Hoss, it has the force of a thriller combined with a core drama that is both moving and satisfying.
9. "The Deep Blue Sea" (Terence Davies)
Terence Ratigan's play of post-war English adultery is transferred into a film that makes 1950s London as oppressive and unappealing as one could imagine. But even though the story includes tragedy, it still ultimately maintains some optimism against all odds. Rachel Weisz' acclaimed performance in no small part helps achieve this.
10. "Killer Joe" (William Friedkin)
In a year with many previous Oscar winning directors having new films, the most veteran of them all returned with a violent, idiosyncratic and inventive adaptation of Tracy Lett's lurid play about a hit man hired by some family members who want a relative's life insurance. Though it uses strong New Orleans-area location,, Friedkin keeps the basic play structure intact, allowing a versatile cast - led by Matthew McConaughey in his best performance in a great year for him - to become a wonderful ensemble, making what might have in lesser hands an over-the-top potboiler far more compelling.
(in no particular order)
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Behn Zeitlin creatively pulled off a fantastical dreamscape with elegant metaphors and floating imagery grounded by big ideas. A strange and natural story-telling, sparkling and lush imagery, and an astonishing perspective from the imaginative eyes of an extraordinary child.
"Silver Lining's Playbook"
David O. Russell's "Silver Lining's Playbook" was the most disarming and winsome movie I saw this year. It had a delightfully unexpected arc, fascinating characters, a rocking soundtrack, and was filled with heart-capturing, cliche-inverting moments.
The imagery in P. T. Anderson's "The Master" is indelible; I think I could recount every scene moment for moment after only seeing it once. Anderson’s an expert at allowing his films to countervail, and he found a brilliantly detached and threatening eagerness in Joaquin Phoenix's character. While it didn't quite string together for me, on looks and power alone, it left for a heady and overwhelming impression.
In "Anna Karenina," director Joe Wright pulled off impressive, beautifully choreographed ensemble sequences, that never got campy (another favorite of the year, Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" played into this campyness with a softly ironic nostalgia that kept it from being too twee). Also worth noting is Terrence Davis' "Karenina"/"Scarlet Letter"-inspired "Deep Blue Sea," but Wright's take on Tolstoy's opus is a risky, evocative, and upends the expected period drama.
"Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry"
As the documentary rep on my list, Alison Klayman's “Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry” is a relevant, important and even portrait of the Chinese dissident and radical artist. The incorporation of technology was fluid, the stakes were established strongly and biography presented carefully. While it was clear that both Klayman and her subject had a strong point of view, there was no sacrifice of nuance.
"Take This Waltz"
Sarah Polley's second film, "Take This Waltz," is well-plotted, sensitive, and amazingly captures not only the glimmering beginnings of love, but hard and sad truths regarding a slow dissent of a relationship. While William's character was a little too 'quirky,' she played it gently and willfully. The carnival scene was spectacular.
"Cabin the Woods"
This was my favorite over-thinker of the year from reliable over-thinking producer Joss Whedon. As a movie that is an extensive practical joke, it nonetheless continued to find more to explode out of the genre that “Scream” started to rip apart. It’s not as pretentious or mind-bending as it could have been, and makes a good choice by lettings itself be bantamweight and adopting the tone of a super-smart thriller.
"Premium Rush" was the most fun I had as a moviegoer this year, but I do have a soft spot for both commuter cycling culture and compact thrillers. Zippingly cool imagery, and a great villain in Michael Shannon, the film buzzed with an undercurrent about modern urban rage.
The characterization of addiction in Robert Zemeckis' "Flight" is amazing; every beer bottle becomes a trap, a vodka handle becomes a villain, a mini-fridge becomes a hellscape. The film engages as we are caught in a slow-dive, tense every moment even though the airplane crash was over several minutes into the film. While occasionally heavy-handed regarding religion vs. personal agency, every actor was a powerhouse in their own way - standouts aside from Washington, in Cheadle and Goodman.
"The Kid with a Bike"
Belgian brother Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne paired gentle story-telling with Cecile de France's subtle acting in "The Kid with a Bike." Perfect, distanced filming. Though this was up for awards this past year, I saw it when it came out in the states in March. Just beak out Charles Petzold's "Barbara" - a similar story about a woman left on her own to care for other people's children - also brilliantly acted and gorgeously directed.