Kate Erbland, Associate Editor

Zero Dark Thirty
In a year riddled with tremendous disappointments (still reeling from Prometheus), Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s latest project not only met expectations, it actually far exceeded them. Pumped full of equal parts adrenaline, intelligence, action, and finely drawn character work, Zero Dark Thirty is not only the best film of the year, it was the one most worth waiting for, and by a mile.

Argo
All of things that make up Zero Dark Thirty – the action, the adrenaline, the intelligence – are also what make up Argo. With bonus ’70s facial hair.

Moonrise Kingdom
Do you not like charming things? Do you not like Wes Anderson charting the first great romance of pint-sized protagonists? Do you not like Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, or Bruce Willis? Do you not like impeccable and whimsical production design, kittens in baskets, and a slew of pitch perfect one-liners? Congrats, you hate the best things in life. Stay away from my precious Moonrise Kingdom.

Lincoln
Truth time: I had zero interest in seeing Lincoln for at least six months leading up to its November release, to the point that I would blow raspberries at the television screen like a petulant teenager whenever a trailer for the Steven Spielberg project appeared. I was, so obviously and so clearly, wrong about Lincoln, a film that not only features some of the best performances of the year, but that is also infused with the type of humor, levity, and raw story-telling power that we so rarely see.

Compliance
Unofficial winner of this year’s Craziest and Most Misunderstood Sundance Film, Compliance broke out of the gate early, basically locking a spot on my personal top ten list within the first three weeks of January (no small feat). Craig Zobel’s feature was the jaw-dropper of the year, and not always in the best of ways. “How stupid can you possibly be?,” we all moaned at the screen, and yet, just try to look away.

dashes

Christopher Campbell, Weekend Editor

This is Not a Film
The title is correct. This is not just “a” film, it is “the” film. Part personal video diary, part political statement, part making-of documentary on a film that doesn’t exist and ultimately a movie that’s far more entertaining than you’d expect. With help from co-director Mojtaba Mirthahmasb, an iPhone and a pet iguana, Jafar Panahi, who is under house arrest and technically barred from making movies, defies a government and film conventions in this reflexive look at what artistic persecution means for the artist.

The Imposter
An enthralling and bewildering true crime film about a con man who posed as a missing boy and the family who was too blinded by hope to see the truth. Or, is it that simple? Director Bart Layton compiles a puzzling and twisting narrative out of a bunch of unreliable narrators for the greatest nonfiction Rashomon type film since The Thin Blue Line.

Only the Young
The greatest teen movie in years is a documentary about a trio of friends in Southern California. It’s both timeless and very much of its time, relevant and relatable. It’s sweet and smart and soulful and free of cliché, a movie I can watch over and over again.

The House I Live In
No one unravels a systemic problem like Eugene Jarecki. Here he does for the war on drugs and prison industrial complex what he did for the war in Iraq and military industrial complex in Why We Fight. But this time he takes a more subjective approach to what turns out to be a personal issue for the filmmaker. It’s an engaging and effective mix of both style and discourse.

Samsara
The most spectacular film of the year, the one most necessitating a theatrical viewing. Ron Fricke’s not-quite-sequel to Baraka brings another enchanting non-narrative look at the world, this time loosely focusing on the theme of the circle of life. It’s filled with visual splendor unlike any you’ve seen or will see elsewhere in cinema. To avoid it is to ignore the reason motion pictures exist.


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