With the fall film festivals kicking off as we speak, it’s only a matter of time before the awards season gets into full swing. As we do every year before we collectively enter the trenches, it is time to catch up on the best films that have arrived thus far, many of which you may have missed.

Below one will find a rundown of our favorite films of the last 8 months (U.S. releases only) in alphabetical order and including just about every genre. Many are already available on streaming platforms or on home release, so check out the list below and dedicate some time to watching these gems. Then come back at the end of the year and see how many of these contenders make it to the finish line.

21 Jump Street

When it comes to dumb movies, 21 Jump Street is among the best. With a mix of reflexive and, often, self-deprecating humor, this reboot of the late-80s cop show managed to rise above the recent rash of recycled material by presenting itself as a smart-aleck comment on Hollywood’s nostalgia addiction. Led by the unexpected pairing of Channing Tatum and weird-skinny Jonah Hill, the refreshing raunch fest featured stand-out performances from supporting cast members like Rob Riggle, Nick Offerman and Ellie Kemper, not to mention the always memorable Ice Cube. But the biggest surprise was Tatum, who proved he’s more than just a stripper with smooth moves (although that works too, as you’ll later see) by delivering some impressive all-or-nothing physical comedy. – Amanda W.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Set in a small Bayou community not too far from New Orleans, Benh Zeitlin’s feature debut is 93 minutes of pure cinematic joy. Although a fantasy in many ways, there is a stark authenticity to the relationship between a father and his 6-year-old daughter with a wild imagination. Delivered by miraculous first-time performances by Dwight Henry and Quvenzhané Wallis, both struggle to survive but maintain a strong, positive outlook on life. There are no huge stars or fantastical action sequences here, yet it all feels very grand, made all the more poignant by its post-Katrina surroundings. – Jack C.


Richard Linklater’s latest effort is an acerbic mockumentary which tells the story of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black, who previously collaborated with the director on School of Rock), a mortician who moves to the small town of Carthage, Texas and immediately makes his mark on the people. Quickly beloved by all, he decides to strike up a friendship with the wealthy, mean old widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley Maclaine), and a very strange incident follows. The meticulousness of Black’s performance as the eccentric and effeminate Bernie combined with the hilarious fake interviews of the town’s people and an intriguing true life story make this one of the sleeper hits of the year. Watch out for man-of-the-moment Matthew McConaughey, too. – Jack C.

Beyond the Black Rainbow

It’s just a bit funny: I saw this film some 16 months ago, even liking it so much as to give it an honorable mention on my top ten list last year. Most, however, didn’t see Beyond the Black Rainbow until this year — I suspect those numbers aren’t high in and of themselves, either — and only recently plunged into the dark and imposing world of Panos Cosmatos’ debut. Not that the length of time necessarily matters; a bizarre sense of humor mixed with striking imagery and superb sound design all make Rainbow awfully hard to shake. When the whole package is so deftly handled, whether or not it makes total sense almost doesn’t matter. – Nick N.

The Cabin in the Woods

Film theorists and critics alike credit Scream as the original post-modern take on horror movies, but the popular 1996 slasher flick does not hold a candle to The Cabin in the Woods. Joss Whedon combined his creative superpowers with that of another small screen giant, Lost writer/producer Drew Goddard, to create the ultimate commentary on an extremely varied, trope-filled genre. Filled with sharp, funny writing and riotous action – not to mention a very game cast – it sets a new standard for meta-movies of any kind. – Amanda W.

Chicken with Plums

The duo of Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi brought wonders to the animation genre with Persepolis and now they return with an astounding story of lost love. Perfecting their magical realism technique, it’s difficult not to be enraptured by their sophomore feature. With a mix of various kinds of animation woven into this live-action film, Chicken with Plums is one of the most stimulating, visionary films of the year. – Jordan R.


This story of a fast-food restaurant, gullible employees and one phone call that will change their lives will leave you angry and in need to converse about the subject matter it delves into. Craig Zobel made a big, controversial splash at Sundance earlier this year and the film’s been riding the wave ever since. See it on the big screen while it’s still in limited release — just be prepared for a worthy, lengthy discussion. – Dan M.


Love it or hate it, this is a film made without compromise. But I do love it, and even think David Cronenberg has done some of his finest work with a scary, funny, and prescient examination of a world which lies just outside the limo. What’s great on the page and translated through the camera is tied together by one great ensemble, all of whom are squaring off against Robert Pattinson, an actor who could only be said to have made his homecoming. What a beautiful breakout this is. – Nick N.

Damsels in Distress

If you’ve seen any Whit Stillman film before then you’re either on board with his style or far in the other direction. With his latest, teaming Greta Gerwig with Analeigh Tipton, Aubrey Plaza and more, the director returns after a 14-year break and continues the same sharp, witty dialogue with his refreshingly-relaxed tone. Hopefully he won’t be gone for too long again. – Jordan R.

The Deep Blue Sea

This one, like so many of British auteur Terence Davies’ films, was quickly and quietly forgotten upon its release. And it’s shame, because Rachel Weisz has never been better, playing a tortured wife in love with a tortured British soldier (the magnificent Tom Hiddleston) in post-war Europe. Davies’ steady, confident direction is aided by some beautiful lensing from Florian Hoffmeister. – Dan M.


Soderbergh dropped this little ass-kicker back in January to little notice, but those who “got” his approach to action cinema were able to relish the chaos. A few of 2012’s better fight sequences, which almost cinch the deal, really pepper a fun, small-scale spy tale whose complicated proceedings are just an excuse to get to more of the beatdowns. That’s typically a major problem with the genre, yet when all of it, punch or no punch, has a bang-up cast — comprised of Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, and a surprising debut from Gina Carano — tight editing, and some jazzy music, that’s not so bad. — Nick N.


The most twisty-and-turny, exciting film of the year thus far, Morten Tyldum’s thriller contains the best cat (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and mouse (Aksel Hennie) in recent memory. Good enough that Mark Wahlberg voiced his want to remake the film, only to get cast in Tyldum’s follow-up feature. – Dan M.

The Kid with a Bike

The Dardenne Brothers have a unique brand of filmmaking, usually focusing on the social issues of their home country Belgium, that have made them one of the most well respected and revered pair of auteurs working today. In their latest heart-wrenching tale, 12-year-old Cyril, played by newcomer Thomas Doret, has been abandoned by his father into a foster home without his precious red bike. After escaping to retrieve his bike, he finds refuge in a young woman Samantha, played by famous French actress Cécile de France, who is compelled to find and return his bike, which had been sold by his broke father for money. The emotional contrast between Cyril and Samantha defines the film and exemplifies the kind of cinematic power that the brothers Dardenne wield. – Raffi A.

Killer Joe

This William FriedkinTracy Letts collaboration — their second, following the distinguished, distrubing Bug — is, simply put, my idea of a good time, consisting of two intelligent, established storytellers doing all they can to spice up material that could have easily be dismissed in less capable hands. Through the toxically cryptic, almost spiritual backbone of the film’s central romance — between Matthew McConaughey’s darkly charismatic titular lawman and Juno Temple’s airily innocent Smith-family virgin — Killer Joe becomes something smarter, dirtier, and more abrasively absorbing than it probably has any right to be. It’s damn funny, too. – Danny K.

Kill List

A nightmare come to life in everything from plot to specific editing techniques, Ben Wheatleys Kill List frustrates as much as it intrigues, right down to the startling finale. While not necessarily as complex as it may seem while viewing, this is one film that’s difficult to shake off. It’s also exciting to see Wheatley take off, with his Edgar Wright-produced Sightseers landing in festivals this year as well. – Jordan R.


While summer was a hotbed for major studio comedies, this foreign import hit our subversive funny bone better than any other option. This Danish drama, following a canoe trip and much, much more, certainly earns its R-rating, hitting about every dark area of comedy that others fear to head into. Uncomfortable, awkward and hilarious, this one will stick with you for awhile. – Jordan R.

The Imposter

One of the most harrowing tragedies that can happen to any family is dealing with a missing child. But what if suddenly a call arrives from a foreign country, claiming to have the missing person in their possession. How would that family react? Such is the focus of director Bart Layton’s The Imposter, a fascinating documentary that straddles the line between real life drama and a film noir narrative. There is a slight reality TV quality to the drama that may cheapen the experience for some, but the taught direction elevates the material into a realm of compelling cinema, making it one of the most intriguing documentaries of the year. – Raffi A.

Indie Game: The Movie

First-time filmmaking duo Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky do a remarkable job of capturing the tireless passion and endless hours of coding that goes into making an independent video game. This new breed of struggling artists who refuse to compromise on their personalized creative visions reflects the same ambition of independent filmmakers trying to make a mark with their film. Beautifully shot and superbly edited, Indie Game: The Movie is a fascinating window into the hard work and dedication needed to fulfill one’s dream, no matter what the medium. – Raffi A.

The Island President

While many of the summer blockbusters feature world-saving plots, the stakes cannot get any higher than those in this documentary, which features Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed fighting for his life, literally. As captured with fierce precision by Jon Shenk, Nasheed’s country is the lowest lying on the globe and in the fear of disappearing completely. We’re are right by his side, crying out to governments to make a vital change. Add in a handful of tunes from Radiohead and it’s near the top of the list when it comes to enthralling documentaries. – Jordan R.


It’s exactly what you want this sort of movie to be: thrilling, funny, atmospheric, well-shot, a little sexy and not without a brain in its moonshine-filled head. John Hillcoat really knows how to use his cast, playing on each actor’s respective strengths through every interaction; no one is wasted here, but an incredible Guy Pearce steals the show. A blast from top to bottom. – Nick N.

Magic Mike

Yeah, the male stripper movie. Well, actually, no: Not “the male stripper movie” — a preponderance of lightly-clothed men dancing on a stage obviously notwithstanding — but a probe into what being a “masculine” man counts for in a day and age where dreams are hard to attain. Of course, Steven Soderbergh could not only make that kind of film under a major studio, but also convince hordes that Channing Tatum is a real star. The stripping’s pretty good, too. – Nick N.

Miss Bala

In a visceral manner, the Mexican thriller Miss Bala brings into focus a serious problem the country faces with the ever-growing danger of drug cartel violence. It centers on an young girl Laura Guerrero, played intensely by newcomer Stephanie Sigman, aspiring to become a beauty queen to win some money for her brother and father. Director Gerardo Naranjo displays a strong and confident cinematic voice with excellent use of carefully-composed long shots that drive up the tension tenfold. By creating a character whose situations are impossible not to sympathize for, the film becomes a tour de force of action wrapped within the sub text of serious socio-economic issues. – Raffi A.

Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson’s newest pop fantasy would be “enough,” so to speak, if it only gave me that special tingly feeling with almost every shot, so, hats off for making something as rich in formal ingenuity as it is in emotional depth. (An overwhelming sense of humanity matches its overpowering aesthetic beauty, you see). Here we have a film that boasts a lot of 2012’s “best” ensemble, cinematography, soundtrack and screenplay. The more time passes, the more I think Moonrise Kingdom is Anderson’s finest hour. – Nick N.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Turkish writer-director Nuri Bilge Ceylan has always shown a preference for the methodical, but he reaches new slow-burn heights in this two-and-a-half-hour procedural mystery that doesn’t quite end up solving much of anything. What it does do, rather, is use its teasing premise — a dead body is missing somewhere in the symmetrically winding hills of rural Anatolia — as a way to slowly unravel the deep, dynamic humanity of its main characters. The sidebar philosophizing can, at first, seem irrelevant, but once you realize that Ceylan is more interested in the living than the dead, there is a lot of feeling to be discovered at the end of the tunnel. — Danny K.

Oslo, August 31st

I’m not sure this meditative, thoughtful character study has quite the same lyrical bang as Joachim Trier’s first feature, the altogether phenomenal Reprise, but considering the intense love I have for that film, my uncertainty in picking one over the other should be read entirely as a full-fledged endorsement of Oslo. Starring a fiercely committed Anders Danielsen Lie, who was one of the two spearheads of Reprise, Trier’s sophomore effort distances itself from his debut in its intense focus on one character’s psychology, but it confirms the writer-director’s remarkably nimble sense of temporality, shifting from past to present with such streamlined grace that everything becomes one with Lie’s existence-questioning psyche. – Danny K.


Stop-motion done well is an accomplishment in itself, considering the painstaking detail that must go into each tiny movement for the process to feel genuine. Even more impressive is crafting a film with as much heart, humor and nuance as studio Laika has done with Paranorman, a charming children’s film that resonates equally with adults. Dealing with mature themes and confronting the notion of death head on, the plot is never afraid to stray away from genuinely frightening concepts while still feeling fun. Yet it is the unbelievable level of expert animation that  elevates the film’s charm to a whole other level of wonder. – Raffi A.

Safety Not Guaranteed

This quirky dramatic comedy is what you would hope to expect from the producing pair behind Little Miss Sunshine. When three Seattle magazine employees go in search of a man who placed a classified ad in search of a time travel partner, what we end up with is a story full of compassion and the ability to believe in others. The tale is fueled by odd but likable characters portrayed by Mark Duplass, Aubrey Plaza and Jake M. Johnson, all who work together with great synergy. This may be remembered as one of the most endearing films of the year. – Kristen C.


The Sanskrit definition of Samsara means “the ever turning wheel of life” and serves as a sort of mantra for watching this gorgeously shot 70mm spectacle by filmmaker duo Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson. Shot over 5 years in 25 countries, the film has no dialogue, plot or voice over per se and instead favors an operatic sense of visual wonder to sweep you away. It is a unique kind of cinematic experience that requires a bit of patience from the audience to appreciate, but if you give yourself into it, its a marvel to witness. – Raffi A.

The Secret World of Arrietty

Though it doesn’t quite match fan favorite Spirited Away, this film is a triumph in its own way. Gorgeously drawn and soulfully written, The Secret World of Arrietty is a wonderful return to the old school world of children’s storytelling. The visuals are stunning, the detail and imagination are surreal, and the world Studio Ghibli has brought to life is a wonder to behold. The heroine Arrietty is a gem, the kind of adventurous, courageous character all girls young and old can look to and see a bit of themselves in. With a beautiful score and a heartfelt script, Studio Ghibli have truly brought forth a masterpiece bound to become a favorite amongst fans for years to come. – Winn P.

Shut up and Play the Hits

It’s been well over a year now since LCD Soundsystem’s final show, but now we’re able to relive the experience thanks to an expertly shot and insanely loud documentary. Interwoven between the concert snippets from Madison Square Garden is a candid interview with frontman James Murphy as he deals with letting go of his baby — it’s a must-see for any artist. – Jordan R.>

Side By Side

The mere fact that producer Keanu Reeves and director Christopher Kenneally sought names ranging from James Cameron to Lars von Trier should say enough. Side By Side tries to traverse all avenues of a topic which any film lover ought to have some major investment in: the fight between making film with traditional, much-beloved celluloid or the cheaper, faster digital format. Kenneally and Reeves explore these territories with people on the very forefront of the revolution. Along with the fun of David Lynch constantly referring to his interviewee by their first name — or Christopher Nolan sucking the loving air out of the room — this documentary also takes an informative, well-researched, but never pedantic look at both the history of digital film and the complicated process involved in developing celluloid. You get a little bit of everything here; better yet that it’s all worthwhile. – Nick N.

Sleepless Night

While The Raid seemed to steal its foreign action thunder around the same time, this French thriller packs a much better story and more tension. This twist on Die Hard-in-a-night-club features Tomer Sisley (who should be moments away from breaking out into Hollywood action stardom) as he attempts to get his son back. With a stellar sense of space and an unexpected brutality to the choreography, this one outdid pretty much every summer blockbuster in thrills. In any case, catch up before Warner Bros. puts out its remake in the near future. – Jordan R.

Sleepwalk with Me

“I’m going to tell you a story, and it’s true….I always have to tell people that,” begins Mike Birbiglia in the opening of this autobiographically derived feature debut. A comedian in other aspects of his life, Birbiglia draws upon the power of wit and honest truths to remind us how captivating and important personal storytelling is in this impressive directorial debut. – Kristen C.


I saw Justin Kurzel’s blistering debut back in early February, and the frosty shock of the film’s depiction of violence — both gruesomely physical and soul-crushingly psychological — has yet to leave the forefront of my mind. One of these days, I’ll get around to watching it again, because the disciplined filmmaking is too good not to merit revisits. In fact, were it not for the explosively humane performances — ranging from Daniel Henshall’s terrorizing father figure to Louise Harris’ desperate single mother — it’s possible that Kurzel would’ve sucked the life right out of us. – Danny K.

Sound of My Voice

Certainly my favorite low-budget film of the year, Zal Batmanglij’s Sound of My Voice is the perfect example on how to deliver character-based high-concept by any (little) means necessary. Brit Marling is captivating as we question the validity of her futuristic claims. While many seemed perturbed at the ending, it provides much to discuss as we pick up this young directors’ clues along the way. – Jordan R.

This is Not a Film

Artistic cry, self-reflexive narrative, political statement — although This Is Not a Film manages to be all of those things, limiting it to some three options feels nearly criminal. Jafar Panahi — along with his co-director, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb — saw a government order as something of a dare, taking the former’s nightmarish scenario and turning it into one of the most important films (and acts of filmmaking ) to emerge in this young millennium. It doesn’t hurt that Film is also supremely entertaining, providing a master class in the emphasis of geographic space and temporal frameworks. – Nick N.

The Turin Horse

That Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr has announced The Turin Horse as his final film is a fact both gratifying and depressing. As far as swan songs are concerned, you could hardly ask for a send-out message as accomplished as this one. Running a punishing 146 minutes and structurally characterized by an ongoing repetition of grueling long-takes, the film is nothing if not evocative of Tarr’s idiosyncratic talent. But it’s such a deeply felt formal exercise — both Fred Kelemen’s black-and-white cinematography and Mihály Vig’s wrenching score underlie the day-to-day action with broodingly throbbing meaning — that, despite the grimness, you come out craving more. But it looks like we’ll have to settle for revisits, which isn’t nearly as disheartening as I’m making it out to be. – Danny K.


It’s usually rare for Oscars to actually get it right, but this Best Documentary winner is indeed one of the strongest of the year. Following Bill Courtney’s emotional, inspiring journey of wrangling together a struggling football team in inner-city Memphis, this story is bound to move anyone. As someone whose football viewing is reserved for occasional glances in between Super Bowl commercials, I can assure you this isn’t strictly for sports fans — and perhaps you’ll also shed a tear (or many). – Jordan R.

Your Sister’s Sister

As with her previous film Humpday, director Lynn Shelton is able to explore the complexities of love and emotion, using fun and witty dialogue to make the ride worthwile. However, this film also has heavier undertones, in which the characters are trying to find resolution from difficult life events such as the death of a brother/friend, and the end of a seven-year relationship. Shelton provides this careful balance that allows us to experience to lows with the highs, fostering an authentic emotional experience. – Kristen C.

Did you favorite films of the year so far make the cut? What did you enjoy most thus far?


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