Top 10 Films of 2012 | Sarah Boslaugh

best2012 sqJudging feature films and documentaries head-to-head makes me uncomfortable, so I’m following the lead of the New York Times Book Review and dividing my top ten list of films into two best-of lists: one for features (i.e., fiction) and one for documentaries (i.e., nonfiction).

2012 lincoln

As usual, I haven’t yet seen all the contenders this year, (note to self: move to New York!) so I’m not snubbing the likes of Amour, 5 Broken Cameras, Searching for Sugar Man, or Footnote, I just haven’t had a chance to see them yet.

Top Five Feature Films

  1. Zero Dark Thirty | Kathryn Bigelow’s harrowing look at the hunt for Osama Bin Laden is even better than her Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, and Jessica Chastain gives a performance for the ages as the CIA analyst spearheading the investigation.
  2. Beasts of the Southern Wild | Benh Zeitlin’s astonishingly assured first feature convincingly takes you inside the mind of a six-year-old girl and the isolated community in which she lives.
  3. Lincoln | Steven Spielberg proves that he still has it (after War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin, I was having my doubts), creating a fascinating historical film organized around the process of getting the 13th Amendment passed (yes, really).
  4. Moonrise Kingdom | Wes Anderson tells a charming story of young love that capitalizes on his unique visual style and feel for the world of the outsider while avoiding the pitfall of excessive preciousness.
  5. The Kid with a Bike | Consistent excellence can be a curse, because when your body of work is as strong as that produced by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, it’s easy to overlook any one film because they’re always good. Nonetheless, The Kid with a Bike, which takes us inside the world of a troubled child and a chance encounter that offers him a lifeline, is one of the year’s best.

Top Five Documentaries

  1. Bully | For sheer emotional power, you can’t beat Lee Hirsch’s documentary, and the strongest part of the film comes when Hirsch lets the images captured on video speak for themselves.
  2. This Is Not a Film | Limited resources become a virtue in Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb’s This Is Not a Film, which presents a day in Panahi’s life under house arrest, courtesy of the Iranian government (the title refers to the fact that Panahi has also been banned for 20 years from making films).
  3. The Invisible War | How powerful is this film? Within a few days of viewing Kirby Dick’s documentary about rape in the U.S. military, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta changed the way the military handles allegations of rape.
  4. Detropia | Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s Detropia is the most artistically daring of these documentaries, creating a tone poem that finds a lyricism in present-day Detroit without denying the many problems faced by the city and its residents.
  5. Head Games/Brooklyn Castle (tie) | Steve James’ latest documentary is (unusually for the director of Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters) a straightforward but very effective issue film about the risks of head trauma in sports such as football and soccer, while Katie Dellamaggiore’s Brooklyn Castle gives you an insider’s view of competitive chess as it is played by the students at Brooklyn’s I.S. 318. | Sarah Boslaugh

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