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Here are my favorites from 2012. Some have 2011 release dates, but distribution can be fairly hazy. I rank these based on what I gave each at the time of viewing, first by overall score, then highest in my Art rating, then highest in my Entertainment rating, then alphabetically.

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topmas The Master
dir/wri: Paul Thomas Anderson
cm score: Art 6 Ent 2 Worth 7
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1560747/
summary: PT Anderson’s follow-up to There Will Be Blood that lightly traces the beginnings of a quasi-scientologist cult leaves ample room for its actors to lead in creating the film. The result is Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman dueling off against one another in a battle of physis against nomos, respectively. It’s only superficially a cautionary tale against cults, more widely a critique of the religious impulse, and even subversively posits a shadow matriarchy behind it. My personal choice for best film of 2012.

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topholy

Holy Motors
dir/wri: Leos Carax
cm score: Art 6 Ent 3 Worth 5
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2076220/
summary: If the interpretation of fantasy centered more on stuff like this, I’d say it isn’t a stupid genre. A character actor of sorts is driven around Paris in a limousine to various appointments, where he lives briefly in the skin of outlandishly different people, and creatures. Some of the vignettes are better than others. Highlights are his turn as a modern day miniature violently foul Satyr who grabs and runs off with a heroin chic Eva Mendes, and then later encountering another ‘actor’ in Kylie Minogue who breaks out into a random musical number before plummeting to (ostensibly) her character’s death.

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topshel Take Shelter
dir/wri: Jeff Nichols
cm score: Art 4 Ent 4 Worth 6
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1675192/
summary: In this subtly weird little movie, Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Shannon is a force of nature, figuratively and literally. Caught in the clouds of paranoia, Shannon is given visions of an apocalyptic storm coming to hit his home. While his drastic emotions and self-defeating preparations ruin his family, it poses a similar question for the viewer as the one implied in Frailty: is this guy a legit crazy son of a bitch or isn’t he? Unlike Fraility, the answer isn’t mumbo jumbo.

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topdjango Django Unchained
dir/wri: Quentin Tarantino
cm score: Art 3 Ent 6 Worth 5
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1853728/
summary: Sure to electrify racial sensibilities, if only through its monumental usage of the N word, Tarantino bests himself in a Southern epic that takes “blacksploitation” and “Spaghetti Western” literally, as a film about slavery with a smattering of pasta guts everywhere. While Tarantino isn’t interested in dealing with real human drama quite yet, and despite the characteristically tedious dialogue, and though Christoph Waltz is almost the same guy from Basterds, and why he’s fighting battles not his own is any Freudian’s guess, this turned out to be his most airtight and decorous film yet, maybe even his best.

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topprom Prometheus
dir: Ridley Scott
wri: Jon Spaihts/Damon Lindelof
cm score: Art 3 Ent 6 Worth 5
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1446714/
summary: Disappointing to many, overhyped to most, this otherwise straightforward Alien prequel features numerous intentionally unresolved plot holes left by the huckster writer of Lost, and a by-the-numbers rendition of the typical Alien story. But Ridley’s motif of creators in relation to their creations comes to full flower here as Michael Fassbender (the one uncontroversially great aspect of this film) plays it out as an android meant to communicate with aliens who ostensibly engineered humans. Won’t suit everyone, but is a visual treat, and a redemptive outing for the series.

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topamour Amour
dir/wri: Michael Haneke
cm score: Art 6 Ent 2 Worth 5
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1602620/
summary: Haneke’s penchant for the macabre and the provocative never fully vanishes for this drama about an aging couple, one of whom is forced to care for his wife as her faculties are overcome by Alzheimers and successive crippling strokes. As painful as love’s ever appeared in cinema, as far as I’ve seen so far. This portrait rips to shreds the thought of “growing old together” not because of narrative tricks, but its commonplace allusions to reality. This way of buying the farm resembles a horror story, but is scarily normal and preached to be dignified and good. Yeesh. French cinema legends Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva give stunning performances.

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tophouse House of Tolerance (L’Apollonide: Souvenirs de la maison close)
dir/wri: Bertrand Bonello
cm score: Art 5 Ent 3 Worth 5
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1660379/
summary: An exploration of a fin-de-siècle Paris brothel that combines painful realism with an elliptical grace. Throughout, you run into allusions to 19th century French art and poetry that meaningfully enhances a subdued social conscience to this film, which hits you lightly but right on the spot. Bonello builds every scene with incredibly pretty sets and design, and saturates the audience with melancholy eye candy of all sorts. The film hinges on a sort of pathetic beauty that is made all the more distressing because of its perpetual tragedy.

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topseven Seven Psychopaths
dir/wri: Martin McDonagh
cm score: Art 4 Ent 5 Worth 4
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1931533/
summary: The delightfully meta crime-comedy to kill all crime films. Its genius is in guiding us to not only laugh at dumb characters and even dumber cliches, but ourselves for being so predictable as consumers of such films. Colin Farrell and Sam Rockwell kill as a comedy duo with Christopher Walken intermingling in his least on-the-nose role in some years. McDonagh’s film is uproarious and devoid of boring patterns endemic to the genre he’s grabbing by the throat.

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topfare Farewell, My Queen (Les Adieux à la reine)
dir: Benoît Jacquot
wri: Benoît Jacquot, Gilles Taurand, Chantal Thomas
cm score: Art 4 Ent 4 Worth 5
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1753813/
summary: Depicting three days in the life of Marie Antoinette around the siege of the Bastille, Jacquot’s film consciously avoids the spectacle and sweeping melodrama of the typical corset history starring Keira Knightley or whomever, focusing more directly on a psychological examination from the perspective of royal servants at Versailles. The story is brief, but sharp, and more scientific than dramatic. Léa Seydoux is brilliant as the Queen’s reluctantly adoring reader, while Diane Kruger interprets history’s most chic queen with notable sympathy and a reductive realism.

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topkill Kill List
dir: Ben Wheatley
wri: Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump
cm score: Art 3 Ent 5 Worth 5
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1788391/
summary: This low key yet brutal melding of crime and horror genres is so out of step with the gloss and obviousness of today’s typical actioner that it feels like it was forgotten in a dustbin from the ’70s. With the paltry funds you’d expect from one of the last productions out of the UK Film Council, the filmmakers put together a gruesome little rumination on hit men that shocks with gore, before making an unthinkable Pagan-riffic change in scope at the end. Without ever really establishing a track to run along, the film suddenly bashes the audience over the head, and exits out the back door.

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toplesmis Les Misérables
dir: Tom Hooper
wri: William Nicholson, Alain Boubil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer
cm score: Art 3 Ent 5 Worth 5
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1707386/
summary: An adaptation of the renowned musical based on Victor Hugo’s sentimental epic about the dregs of French society in the decades after the Napoleonic Wars. Hugh Jackman delivers as expected, but Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway exceed expectations. I think the only thing that prepared me for such a lengthy musical was having read a bit about the history surrounding the events. Having neither read the novel nor seen the musical, I cannot attest to its faithfulness, but with this whopping exercise in showmanship as my introduction, I can only say, “Vive le France!”

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toppol Polisse
dir: Maïwenn
wri: Maïwenn, Emmanuelle Bercot
cm score: Art 3 Ent 5 Worth 5
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1661420/
summary: Not unlike The Wire, Polisse walks a fine line between hard-boiled police procedural dramas and social realism. While I believe it matches The Wire in quality, its shorter time span requires a more impressionistic capture of its subject: a child protection unit in Paris. By entering her own film, writer-director Maïwenn creates another layer that sharply comments on depictions of inner city crime.

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toptimeric Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie
dir/wri: Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim
cm score: Art 3 Ent 5 Worth 5
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1855401/
summary: If Salvador Dali were alive today, he’d give this movie five out of five dolphins. I won’t lie to you, Tim & Eric’s brand of comedy is fiercely divisive: there is no such thing as a neutral reaction. The absurdism and spoofing of the mundane is overwhelming, and at times deranged. This is comedy made for comedians. I very nearly lost my shit laughing at this instant classic, but anybody not in on the humor lacks the healing powers of shrim, and should move along.

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topsimple A Simple Life (桃姐 / Tao jie)
dir: Ann Hui
wri: Susan Chan, Yan-lam Lee
cm score: Art 4 Ent 2 Worth 6
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2008006/
summary: In many ways, A Simple Life is similar to Haneke’s Amour, but without any of the gloom. Ann Hui’s beautifully sweet film is about an elderly Hong Kong maid whose last years are spent with those whom she’d cared for returning the kindness out of a deeply respectful gratitude. I can’t help thinking of David Lynch’s The Straight Story, in its tactful sentiment that never truly bothers the audience with a pointless arc, but still remains eminently accessible.

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topbeasts Beasts of the Southern Wild
dir: Benh Zeitlin
wri: Lucy Alibar
cm score: Art 5 Ent 2 Worth 5
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2125435/
summary: In a unique vision of baroque poverty, filmmaking team Zeitlin and Alibar take us to The Bathtub, a place beyond the levies, where everybody is equal and nobody is a pussy. We see this world through the eyes of Hushpuppy, a little girl who worships her ruffian drunkard father. Imaginatively brilliant, this humidly poetic little gem is quick to grow on you.

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toplazhar Monsieur Lazhar
dir: Philippe Falardeau
wri: Philippe Falardeau, Évelyne de la Chenelière
cm score: Art 3 Ent 4 Worth 5
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2011971/
summary: It’s a bittersweet balance of emotions as an Algerian refugee whose family died in the Civil War tries to step in for a class of Quebec schoolchildren whose teacher had recently hung herself. Overall, an incredibly heartwarming little movie that questions the distant lack of authority for teachers, with a strong performance from lead Mohamed Fellag.

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topmoon Moonrise Kingdom
dir: Wes Anderson
wri: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
cm score: Art 3 Ent 4 Worth 5
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1748122/
summary: The story of two precocious tweens who escape from their humdrum New England existences recalls Truffaut’s 400 Blows and the films of Yasujiro Ozu in Anderson’s funnest film of the year. A diverse group of A-list actors opt for colorful background roles as the kids take charge in very adult roles.

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toprust Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os)
dir: Jacques Audiard
wri: Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain
cm score: Art 3 Ent 4 Worth 5
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2053425/
summary: Similar to his previous film Read My Lips, Audiard again enjoys exploring the contrast of an impaired woman whose weakness influences, if not tames, an ungoverned and volatile man. Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts both give incredible performances in this film that’s sensually shot and written.

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topintch Intouchables
dir/wri: Olivier Nakache, Éric Toledano
cm score: Art 2 Ent 5 Worth 5
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1675434/
summary: Seeking an attendant who doesn’t wear down his dignity with pity, a wealthy quadriplegic hires a lovably selfish and ignorant rascal from the banlieue who only feigned interest in the job for more welfare. In a France where an uneasy relationship exists between natives and migrant workers, Intouchables threads the needle of being as fraternally offensive to both as possible without going overboard. Unquestionably the one movie that’ll leave you in a better mood than when you began.

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topperks The Perks of Being a Wallflower
dir/wri: Stephen Chbosky
cm score: Art 2 Ent 5 Worth 5
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1659337/
summary: Chbosky adapts and directs his own popular novel about a loner trying to make it in high school in 1980s Pennsylvania. While miming some of the coming-of-age teenage dramas, Perks displays more substance with realistic characters, surprisingly good acting, and a deceptive story arc that sweeps the rug from under you.

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toploop Looper
dir/wri: Rian Johnson
cm score: Art 2 Ent 5 Worth 5
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1276104/
summary: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis star in this inventive cross of Sci-Fi and Gangster genres. The Sci-Fi element helps discover narrative terra incognita whereupon a more complex judgment of gangster characters is performed than what’s typical in either genre. The Third Rock kid finally establishes himself as top rate Hollywood talent in this one.

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topalps Alps (Αλπεις / Alpeis)
dir: Yorgos Lanthimos
wri: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou
cm score: Art 5 Ent 2 Worth 4
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1859446/
summary: While it lacks the black comedy of Lanthimos’ previous film Dogtooth, Alps is equally bizarre, with unexpected blows that pop the tension created by a cast of dour individuals with mild to severe personality disorders, who amuse themselves by acting as the recently deceased to comfort their relatives through the grieving process. One very plain and emotionally undeveloped woman stirs up trouble by becoming addicted to the game.

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topanat Once Upon A Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da)
dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
wri: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ercan Kesal, Ebru Ceylan
cm score: Art 5 Ent 1 Worth 5
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1827487/
summary: Turkish auteur Ceylan’s latest film is an elegantly framed trek through the hill country in search of a dead body. Fundamentally a visual piece, the story is intentionally elusive and leaves dozens of more questions about the murder without concretely answering anything. Even if you can’t stand art films in general, this one is worth it just for the outrageously beautiful cinematography.

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topspark Ruby Sparks
dir: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
wri: Zoe Kazan
cm score: Art 4 Ent 3 Worth 4
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1839492/
summary: Zoe Kazan’s re-imaging of the Pygmalion myth, where a fading wunderkind writer without any inspiration is cursed while failing to manipulate into obedience his dream girl come to life. Real-life boyfriend Paul Dano and Kazan star in this goofiest of hipster films that adroitly tees off on the tired Manic Pixie Dream Girl cliche.

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topbull Bullhead (Rundskop)
dir/wri: Michaël R. Roskam
cm score: Art 4 Ent 2 Worth 5
imdb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1821593/
summary: A Euro-noir that thrives on a bleak and gritty atmosphere set by deft cinematography and acting. Matthias Schoenaerts gives a standout performance with the physicality of Tom Hardy.