1. The Queen of Versailles (dir. Lauren Greenfield)
An incredibly in-depth study of the extremes of wealth, a great highlight of contemporary non-fiction cinema, and the only film this year that blew my mind completely.
2. Moonrise Kingdom (dir. Wes Anderson)
A customary Andersonian vacuum, which is something I've usually been into, but, for the nonbelievers, "Moonrise Kingdom" is filled crucially with sweet tenderness and inspired insanity. The year's most enjoyable.
3. Leviathan (dir. Verena Paravel and Lucien Castiang-Taylor)
I saw this at the New York Film Festival, so it's technically not a 2012 release. But it left a sizable impact on me, showing how very (even sickeningly) effective pure cinema can be. Though it may be hard for some to take, here's a movie that can be viewed on the most basic level, sound and image.
4. Alps (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
As baffling and frustrating after seeing it as before, "Alps" is a film that contains worlds and that is utterly lost in itself. Brutal and harrowing, it's cut of the same cloth as "Dogtooth" but offers different (and equally satisfying) sorts of cerebral pleasures.
5. No (dir. Pablo Larrain)
A paean to the power of persuasion, and a point in history when advertising did more good than bad. This is one historical film where I was entirely invested in the conclusive victory, most likely due to the fact that it's incredibly fair in its view of all sides involved.
6. Damsels in Distress (dir. Whit Stillman)
Funny and silly in the way of Stillman, but with a totally unexpected and arresting undertone of true wonder and emotion that holds things together beautifully.
7. Reality (dir. Matteo Garrone)
I feel that with repeated viewings this audaciously conceptual movie (a deserved winner at Cannes) could reveal its shriller moments to be less of an issue. The ending, which many will despise, may be the finest this year had to offer. If the Oscars meant anything, Ariello Arena (in likely his only performance ever) would be decorated.
8. Neil Young Journeys (dir. Jonathan Demme)
I didn't see the first two films that Demme made with Young, but this one struck me, full of brilliant decisions in filming a Toronto concert and moments where Young to me sounds better than ever. I could take or leave the weird and inconsistent interjections, though.
9. The Color Wheel (dir. Alex Ross Perry)
This movie wore me down, sometimes badly and gratingly, but mostly in the way of working its way past my defenses and making me laugh. Then the unbearably tense climactic sequence came, and it became clear Ross had entire layers (cinematically and, of course, thematically) concealed.
10. The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
I found myself defending this movie much more than I originally thought I would have. But I feel like a second viewing could really boost my opinion of this deeply flawed but extraordinarily ambitious technical masterpiece. Joaquin Phoenix is my man for every award in his line, as is Hoffman. It is about something, I can say that.
Honorable mentions: This Must Be the Place (Paolo Sorrentino) was ultimately attempting too many different things to stick its landing, but it's still uproariously funny and random. It's easy to see why Dark Horse (Todd Solondz) threw people off, with its overtly abrasive lead performance by Abe Gelber and dejected mood, but there's a lot going on there (long held sadness and longing). Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow) was one of the year's most satisfying little movies (commanded by Mark Duplass' excellent work), despite its use of a basketload of Sundance tropes. Then there was Simon Killer (Antonio Campos), which I both loved and loathed, and which requires much more study, since Campos rightfully demands it. The scene with the miscommunication is one of the saddest I've ever seen. To round out 5, Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier) seemed for a while to be heading for film-of-the-year status (with its piercing and complex human observation, and literary qualities), but it unfortunately peaked somewhere. Still worth a look, though.
Deserving films I included last year: "Attenberg," "The Kid With a Bike," "The Turin Horse"
Best Albums of the Year (loosely ranked, I could go up and down with these albums all the time; I've only heard bits and pieces of some of these also, but I feel like their quality is deserving)
1. Centipede HZ (Animal Collective) < give this album more than one chance, people
2. The Money Store (Death Grips)
3. Lonerism (Tame Impala)
4. good kid m.A.A.d city (Kendrick Lamar)
5. Shrines (Purity Ring)
6. channel ORANGE (Frank Ocean)
7. Swing Lo Magellan (Dirty Projectors)
8. The Idler Wheel... (Fiona Apple)
9. Silent Hour/Golden Mile EP (Daniel Rossen)
All of these could be 10: Attack on Memory (Cloud Nothings), Bloom (Beach House), Luxury Problems (Andy Stott), Pink (Four Tet), Shields (Grizzly Bear), Duality (Captain Murphy), Until the Quiet Comes (Flying Lotus), Four (Bloc Party)
Comment with your faves if you want to discuss. Maybe I'll do performances if it seems like there's the need for that.