Any good year for film would make it tough to whittle down one's favorites to a mere list of 10 ideal picks with an additional 10 honorable mentions. I'd argue that this has been a great year for film, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that titles like these just barely missed the mark: "Michael," "This is Not a Film," "Skyfall," "Sound of Noise," "The Pirates! Band of Misfits," "The Sheik and I," "Kill List," "The Innkeepers," "Headhunters," "Compliance."
"The Invisible War": Kirby Dick's documentaries tend to be full of fiery indignation, and this look at the extensive cover-up of military rape against both genders is certainly no exception.
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower": Finally, a sincere high school movie worthy of John Hughes' legacy that doesn't even bother with trying to emulate his work, with standout turns by Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller.
"21 Jump Street" and "Pitch Perfect": Two of the funniest studio comedies to come along in ages -- one, a slyly subversive update of both an '80s TV show and Channing Tatum's charms; the other, an admittedly formulaic campus competition comedy packed to the gills with scene-stealers like Rebel Wilson, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins and Hana Mae Lee.
"Killer Joe": William Friedkin's free-wheeling adaptation of Tracy Letts' play is a pitch-black trailer-trash comic noir, the fearless cast of which -- Matthew McConaughey, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, Thomas Haden Church, Emile Hirsch -- hardly hits a false note.
"Girl Walk: All Day": A brisk blast of unchecked creative expression, this feature-length music video (set to Girl Talk's "All Day" album of mash-ups) sees dancers cutting a rug across every borough of NYC, to the apparent delight and puzzlement of passersby. It's available online for free and well worth a watch.
"Jeff, Who Lives at Home": The Duplass brothers' follow-up to "Cyrus" is an inspired riff on "Signs" and man-child comedies alike, as stoner Jason Segel struggles to find meaning in his everyday life, complete with a surprisingly emotional kicker.
"Zero Dark Thirty": Kathryn Bigelow's thrillingly journalistic, morally ambiguous chronicle of the hunt for Osama bin Laden manages to transform very recent historical events into a uniquely daunting war drama for the ages.
"Goon": Seann William Scott gave perhaps the year's most unsung performance in its most quotable film as a lovable lug who finally finds an outlet for his aggressive tendencies on the hockey rink. Crude and endearing in equal measure.
"The Waiting Room": A glance into 24 hours at a perpetually overwhelmed California hospital that doubles as a potent microcosm of America's flawed yet still vital healthcare system.
The Best Films of 2012
10. "The Queen of Versailles"
Lauren Greenfield's portrait of an oddball billionaire couple undone by the recession may be cause for no small amount of schadenfreude, but its greatness stems from the documentarian's ability to generate something resembling empathy for what is essentially another American family going through tough times.
Laika's latest stop-motion effort is every bit as gothically gorgeous as "Coraline" was, colored in with delightfully dark jokes and plenty of horror-fond touches, only for its third act to take the requisite anti-bullying message of modest family films and transform that into a rather mature and ultimately moving case against the perils of fear-fueled group-think, whether ancient or modern.
8. "The Raid: Redemption"
As streamlined and visceral a piece of action filmmaking as I've seen in years, Gareth Evans' showcase for Iko Uwais' formidable martial arts prowess is as fierce an ass-kicker as its leading man, and together, they're responsible for a half-dozen of 2012's legitimately jaw-dropping movie moments in one brutal package.
7. "Shut Up and Play the Hits"
A rollicking look at the last blowout by LCD Soundsystem before the group dissolved, Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern's documentary captures the fleeting beauty that is any great band, great concert, great song, and the inversely quiet emotional toll of being the one to call off the party before the thrill is gone.
6. "Cloud Atlas"
Three helmers, Lana & Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, adapted a single novel set in six different time periods, telling each tale across radically different genres with a rotating cast of insanely game actors. "Cloud Atlas" treats its narrative as a singular story, a maneuver as bold as the Wachowskis' relentless visual approach to "Speed Racer," and even if not every moment or make-up decision works, so much of its ambition pays off in such emotional dividends that I remain in awe of not just its existence, but its effectiveness.
5. "Oslo, August 31st"
Joachim Trier's follow-up to the twentysomething exhilaration of "Reprise" captures the crippling uncertainty that then follows in one's thirties, as a recovering drug addict (Anders Danielsen Lie) spends one day out of rehab to attend a job interview and proceeds to revisit loved ones and assess the value of his life. It's as singularly heartbreaking a character study as I've seen in quite some time, austere and beautiful and very finely tuned to a particular moment of melancholy.
4. "The Cabin in the Woods"
Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon's dizzying deconstruction of horror conventions is both an endlessly clever riff on a relatively stagnant genre and a legitimately thrilling two-prong suspense scenario whose brash and bloody climax carries implications as giddy as they are inevitable.
Rian Johnson's knotty, witty and morally complex sci-fi thriller uses a high-concept time-travel hook to explore equally compelling matters of responsibility to one's self and others. The cast is aces -- Joseph Gordon-Levitt matches Bruce Willis with critical precision; Willis explores darker material than he's known to tackle; Emily Blunt brings a brittle, vital sense of warmth; and newcomer Pierce Gagnon nails a potentially precocious role with surprising tact -- and the ending strikes a much-needed balance between head and heart in a genre that often insults the former and forgets the latter.
2. "Holy Motors"
Leos Carax's genre-defying whatsit is a heady look at the nature of acting, of storytelling, even of Life Itself, prone to utterly joyous moments of pure cinema and anchored by the tremendously transformative Denis Lavant in the role(s) of a lifetime.
1. "The Grey"
An intense depiction of man versus nature in the wolf-laden wilds of Alaska, Joe Carnahan's latest exploration of masculine bravado is a crackling adventure on the surface, but with Liam Neeson's incredibly vulnerable performance at the center, it's even more effective as a battle between man and self, a harsh look at what it means to fight off the bleak realities of the world on a daily basis.