The 25 Best Films of 2012

12/17/2012 5:00 AM |

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20. Cabin in the Woods
Drew Goddard
This comedy about the codes of the horror genre draws on everything from Michael Haneke to H.P. Lovecraft to critique the slasher film’s puritanism about sex and pot while still offering up its pleasures. It’s every bit as smart and clever as cowriters Goddard and Joss Whedon believe it is, and quite unpredictable to boot. Steve Erickson

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19. Miss Bala
Gerardo Naranjo
Power is omniscience in this thrilling action film about an innocent beauty pageant contestant who becomes suddenly embroiled with a warring Mexican drug cartel. The brilliant formal aesthetics (long takes, elaborate blocking, off-screen sound) help to realize a volatile cinematic landscape where cops and killers, politicians and thugs, are interchangeable ghosts who circumvent law and order with seamless ease. Glenn Heath, Jr.

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18. Damsels in Distress
Whit Stillman
The director’s fourth feature in 22 years takes a stab at a generation of college students fighting to find irreverence in a world they fear is drained of it. Guided by their fearless leader Violet (Greta Gerwig), these damsels won’t go away quietly—and when they finally unveil their crowning sophomore year achievement, “The Sambola! International Dance Craze,” you’ll be glad they didn’t. John Sylva

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17. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Benh Zeitlin
Quvenzhane Wallis’s voice-over as the film’s mercurial young heroine raptures the audience in this debut feature, a young girl’s coming of age story. The intrepid Hushpuppy lives with her ailing father in a decrepit Louisiana bayou community too accustomed to bad weather to take it seriously; she confronts hurricanes and monsters in her journey out of childhood, bracing for the inevitable moment when she’ll find herself orphaned. A breathtaking score and fantastic visuals help this seemingly small indie film reach epic dimensions. Daniel Loria

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16. Looper
Rian Johnson
Even when he expands his vision to futuristic science fiction (complete with time-travel paradoxes galore), Johnson maintains a sense of scrappy intimacy. So yes, the back half of the year’s best sci-fi movie takes place largely on a farm, his compositions as elemental and striking as his writing—which has its own showcase in one of the year’s best scenes: Joseph Gordon-Levitt confronting his Bruce Willisized older self at a diner. Jesse Hassenger

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