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2012 Top 10 Films

Also featuring: Jed Dietz and Eric Allen Hatch’s Top 10 Films

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1. Holy Motors

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Post Tenebras Lux

1. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, France) Leos Carax’s first feature in more than a decade is a deliciously unclassifiable dose of madcap surrealism. Carax regular Denis Levant plays Mr. Oscar, an idiosyncratic man who tools around Paris in a limousine acting out various roles—assassin, beggar, father, etc.—in this cinema-soaked immersion into creative storytelling obliterating the line separating art from life. (Bret McCabe)

2. The Snowtown Murders (Justin Kurzel, Australia) This Australian feature about the “bodies in barrels” murders in the bleak Snowtown hamlet outside Adelaide in the 1990s is the most uncomfortable movie experience in years. Director’s Justin Kurzel’s unflinching realism and Daniel Henshall’s all-in performance as the horrifyingly calm psychotic John Bunting makes for a riveting journey you’ll wish you looked away from. (BM)

3. The Imposter (Bart Layton, United States) In 1994, 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay went missing in San Antonio, Texas. He turned up in Spain in 1997 and was returned to his family, who happily welcomed him—even though he seemed much older. And had different color eyes. And spoke with an accent. This fascinating documentary takes an unsettling look at one man’s desperate need to be part of any family. (BM)

4. Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik, United States) Cynically pretentious and comically pitch-black, Andrew Dominik turns noir into an excoriating indictment of capitalism. Three no-future guys knock over a poker game hoping to cast blame elsewhere, though an enforcer (Brad Pitt) easily sniffs it out. Set against the 2008 financial meltdown and election, Killing becomes a thrilling procedural in how everybody is a disposable cog working for some never-seen man in the machine. (BM)

5. Argo (Ben Affleck, United States) The idea of movie-making as cover for a CIA rescue mission would be ludicrous if it wasn’t true, and director/co-star Ben Affleck’s chronicle of the 1979 operation to retrieve six Americans from the Canadian embassy in Tehran is a competent and entertaining dose of conventional nail-biter mechanics. Best thing: With Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Titus Welliver, Victor Garber, Bryan Cranston, and more, Argo is total character-actor porn. (BM)

6. Elena (Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia) Like Götz Spielmann’s Revanche, from a few years back, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Elena is a psychological economics essay masquerading as a crime thriller. The marriage between the middle-aged, working-class Elena (Nadezhda Markina) and the wealthy Vladimir is purely one of convenience, friendly but perfunctory. But when Vladimir’s health turns, it brings out the mercenary in everybody, from Elena’s unemployed son to Vladimir’s estranged daughter—and maybe even the Elena herself. (BM)

7. The Avengers (Joss Whedon, United States) Of all the car-tossing explosion porn that came out this summer, Joss Whedon’s Marvel team-’em-up was by far the most fun. Buoyed by a strong cast (Chris Evans’ terrifically earnest Captain America and Mark Ruffalo’s shoegaze enthusiast Bruce Banner, in particular) and an ability to revel in the melodramatic excitement of its source material—slobberknocker fight scenes, bad guys getting deprogrammed with blows to the head, THE HULK—The Avengers set a blockbuster standard. (Max Robinson)

8. Compliance (Craig Zobel, United States) A prank call pushes a fast-food restaurant manager to do unspeakable things to an employee in this based-on-a-true-story drama of workplace exploitation. The horror of Compliance isn’t that people blindly go along with perceived authority; it’s that the only thing worse than that low-paying service-industry job is the paycheck-to-paycheck existence that makes you fear losing it. (BM)

9. Looper (Rian Johnson, United States) Rian Johnson’s latest isn’t so much a time-travel movie as it is a noir thriller disguised as a time-travel movie. And that’s a good thing. Rather than get tangled up in paradoxical set dressing, Looper zeroes in on the very literal self-conflict between young and old versions of the same morally ambiguous hitman (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, respectively). It even ends with a tense, no-punches-pulled farmhouse standoff. (MR)

10. The Raid: Redemption (Gareth Evans, Indonesia/United States) Just when it seemed there was nothing left to the action genre but muscle-bound sequels and hack posturing, here comes Welsh-born director Gareth Evans to kick everyone’s ass a dozen different ways. Firefights and epic martial-arts battles spill up and down the halls and stairwells—and through the doors and floors—of a grotty apartment block caught between cops and thugs, and almost every single second is kinetically awesome. Bonus points for a story that draws nary an eye roll. (Lee Gardner)

Jed Dietz’s Top 10 Films

1. Bear (short, Nash Edgerton, Australia)

2. Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, United States)

3. Detropia (Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, United States)

4. Ethel (Rory Kennedy, United States)

5. Girl Walk//All Day (Jacob Krupnick, United States)

6. Lincoln (Steven Spielberg, United States)

7. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, United States)

8. Maryland Film Festival’s John Travolta tribute film (short, Scott Braid, United States)

9. The Patron Saints (Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky, United States)

10. The Source (Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulos, United States)


Eric Allen Hatch’s Top 10 Films

1. Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico)

2. Paradise: Love (Ulrich Seidl, Austria/Kenya)

3. Sun Don’t Shine (Amy Seimetz, United States)

4. In Another Country (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)

5. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, United States)

6. Amour (Michael Haneke, Austria/France)

7. The Source (Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulos, United States)

8. Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, France/United States)

9. Walker (Tsai Ming-liang, Hong Kong)

10. Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, United States)

Dietz and Hatch are respectively director and director of programming of the Maryland Film Festival.

Read More 2012 Top Ten

Top Ten Most Intriguing Local Stories | Top Ten Films | Jed Dietz and Eric Allen Hatch’s Top Ten Films | Top Ten Home Video | Top Ten Albums | Top Ten Local Albums | Top Ten Releases by Genre | Top Ten Shows | Top Ten Fiction | Atomic Books’ Top Ten Bestsellers | Top Ten Non-Fiction | Top Ten Art Shows | Gary Kachadourian’s Top Ten Art Shows | Top Ten Stage | Top Ten Restaurants | Top Ten Twelve Wines

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