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The Best Films of 2012

Written by on December 31, 2012 

After giving rundowns on various categories when it comes to 2012 in film, it is time to strictly take a look at the best. With well over a thousand films watched across all contributors on The Film Stage, eight of us have picked our personal ten favorites, along with a few honorable mentions. With most films already available to view in theaters or at home, the following should give one a mountain of viewing material well into the New Year. Check out our editor-in-chief’s look back below and continue on for more rundowns from fellow TFS’ers.

Jordan Raup’s Best Films of 2012

After starting off surprisingly strong with Haywire and The Grey, 2012 was yet another good year to be a film fan. Although it may not have included some instant favorites like last year’s The Tree of Life or A Separation, it’s difficult to complain about the selection. The year also saw a handful of talent defy expectations, including Channing Tatum showing off his funny side in the hilarious 21 Jump Street and Matthew McConaughey in a variety of roles, with both teaming up for the summer’s best wide release, Magic Mike. However, none of the aforementioned made the final cut, but one can see what did by checking out my rundown below.

Honorable Mentions

Top 10

10. Girl Walk // All Day (Jacob Krupnick)

It’s always a struggle to find a film for this spot, so I decided to go with a feature that brought a smile to my face from beginning to end. Running just 75 minutes, on the surface this dance film following one woman’s journey through the streets of New York City, motivated by the sounds of Girl Talk‘s All Day, is simply just fun. But look deeper and we have a fascinating experiment, giving us a glimpse at how much better the world would be if we expressed as much joy as break-out star Anne Marsen.

9. Sound of My Voice (Zal Batmanglij)

Discovering new talent is always a delight and the up-and-coming duo that surprised me most this year was director Zal Batmanglij and actress Brit Marling with their small-scale story of a cult infiltration, Sound of My Voice. With a enigmatic structure that keeps one on the edge of their seat, but never lost in the puzzle, this is a knock-out debut that has exceedingly intrigued me for what’s next.

8. Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino)

It’s no surprise that Quentin Tarantino gave us one of the most entertaining films of the year with Django Unchained. Handled under anyone else, we have a concept that would simply not work, but this auteur proves yet again his ability to effectively mash genres, delivering a rollicking good time as we journey through the South for one of his strongest emotional throughlines, following the story of Django and the search for his wife, Broomhilda. It’s simply too early to tell now, but if it’s anything like the vast majority of Tarantino films, it will only get better with age.

7. Samsara (Ron Fricke)

I usually look to the documentary form to deliver some of the most fascinating stories of the year, but rarely do I expect something as jaw-droppingly gorgeous as this. Ron Fricke’s long-in-the-making journey across the world will open your perspective on not only unforeseen locations, but the human experience itself, confronting us with both the unsettling facts and raw natural splendor, all in stunning 70mm.

6. This Is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi)

While most of our knowledge regarding an artist’s struggle comes from behind-the-scenes accounts, this personal documentary from Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi brilliantly captures such an internal battle. Forced to stay within the confines of his own home, we witness a transformative look at means of film itself and how the smallest of productions can deliver the most powerful of messages.

5. Goodbye First Love (Mia Hansen-Løve)

The best coming-of-age film of the year is sadly one of the most overlooked. What begins as a fairly standard, but intimately captured, story of young passion quickly blossoms to one of the most mature takes on such an event thanks to Mia Hansen-Løve‘s remarkably natural style (it’s no surprise to learn she’s wife to Olivier Assayas) and a script that’s conscious of time and its effects on love. Praise must also go to Lola Creton and Sebastian Urzendowsky for seemingly organic chemistry from such material.

4. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

While most crime films are all about the hunt for the culprit, few take a look at such a specific time in the process as Once Upon a Time In Anatolia, and even fewer will have you as captivated with every shot. Although this deliberately paced drama may seem to carry out in real-time, this notion comes as a compliment as one will feel the entire breadth of this rich journey. As we sit inside intimate reflections amongst the law and criminals in a small cop car, or hang out on the side of the road as an investigation proceeds offscreen, the images and themes director Nuri Bilge Ceylan conjure up leave an indelible impression.

3. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow)

Special mention this year goes to Megan Ellison‘s Annapurna Pictures, with one of her films already mentioned above and one more to go, but this sprawling, intense story of one woman’s hunt to capture the most wanted man on the planet is one of the most expertedly crafted and acted films of the year. Taking a considerable leap after The Hurt LockerKathryn Bigelow‘s drama is the ideal snapshot of this vital time in history and one that will be required viewing for years to come.

2. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)

An enigma of an experience, Paul Thomas Anderson‘s sixth film is his most rigid, while still commanding our attention at every turn. Featuring the best batch of performances of 2012 thanks to Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams, this story of a drifting soul and what happens when he sparks a connection is one of the most rich, detailed relationships the year has to offer.

1. Amour (Michael Haneke)

While the phrase “til death do us part” is often featured in many films, and something I proclaimed earlier this year, rarely is it seen carried out. In the hands of Michael Haneke, I would have never expected him to deliver the most emotionally resonant film of the year, but his timid tale of a couple holding on as one is forced to let go of life is the sole masterpiece of 2012. Filled to the brim with specific moments I’ve reflected on for hours, but also working as an overall, life-changing experience, one will never look at death — both their personal struggle and caring for those nearing the end — the same way.

The Film Stage’s Best Films of 2012

[Jordan Raup] [Dan Mecca] [Nick Newman] [Raffi Asdourian]

[Danny King] [Jared Mobarak] [Jack Giroux] [John Fink]

Follow our look back at 2012: The Year In Film

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