DYLAN MARCHETTI, president, Variance Films
"Middle of Nowhere"
Ava DuVernay’s film features one of the best screenplays and two of the best performances (Emayatzy Corinealdi and Lorraine Toussaint, both delightfully nuanced) of the year. If you skipped it because it was an “African-American film," you’ll note I didn’t say “best African-American screenplay” or “best African-American performances."
Maybe the makeup is distracting (and yes, the yellowface is definitely a poor choice), but it’s the most ambitious studio film I’ve seen in ages and I was disappointed to see audiences ignore it.
The fact that this was not “There Will Be Blood 2: Fucking With Scientologists” seemed to throw a few people off, but I can’t understand why. Every frame is tension and sex and misdirected power, and Joaquin Phoenix is a revelation. Bonus points for reviving 70mm film presentation, which is easily the best way to experience a film outside of film (not digital) IMAX.
The “we don’t have money but we can do this anyway” attitude is in every frame, and the more of that we can have in indie film, the better.
"The Color Wheel"
People are consistently praising all sorts of talky, low-budget films for “crackling dialog” and “whip-smart writing." This film is one of the few of those that lives up to the hype, and then some.
Divisive in that very special “Enter The Void” category, where you walk out of the theater and half the people love every frame and half look at the other half like they’re insane. I’m in the former.
"Indie Game: The Movie"
Don’t be fooled by the title -- it’s not a film about video games, it’s a film about the drive, passion, hard work, joy and heartbreak that come along with a compulsion to create something in a field that you love -- which I’d think nearly anyone involved in indie film can relate to.
Ignore the dreadfully chopped 51-minute version that aired on ABC and seek out the full 127-minute cut (on Blu-ray this February), because, without question, it’s the best documentary of 2012. Digs deep, but still keeps the energy level at 11 from start to finish thanks to perfect structure and the genuine sense of love that pervades the project.
"BURN: One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit"
This would be interesting enough if it were just a film about firefighters, but it goes further to examine the consequences of the choices we allow our government to make. When you hear the word "cutbacks," it'll mean something entirely different after you see this fantastic doc.
"Community," “Digital Estate Planning” – "Community"’s ratings are always horrid, and maybe that’s because it doesn’t really work as a sitcom that airs once a week. "Community" is really an Internet series in disguise -- tailor-made for binging on, one episode after the next, as in-jokes designed for the hyper-aware Internet generation pile on and smash them week after week. A perfect example why everyone panicked about Internet streaming killing theatrical indie film has it totally wrong -- what it’ll end up killing is episodic network TV. Think it’s an accident "Arrested Development" is coming back on Netflix? It’s not -- that’s exactly where it belongs.
Addendum: I haven't yet seen ZERO DARK THIRTY, AMOUR or TABU, all likely additions.
To judge two films that are trying to do very different things and declare one better than the other is not a simple task. In the end, the ones that made this list are those that lingered on in my mind and my heart long after watching them. Whether it recreated and reconstructed history before my eyes; manifested an indescribable cinematic experience; or introduced me to a character who still chatters in my head, these are films - none perfect, all wonderful - that spoke to me in 2012.
"Zero Dark Thirty"
"How To Survive a Plague"
"Breaking Bad" (Season 5)
"Silver Linings Playbook"
"Once Upon a Time in Anatolia"
BRIAN NEWMAN, Founder/Consultant, Sub-genre Media
These aren't my "best" films of 2012, but the "truly indie" ones that made me think, challenged me or somehow managed to rise above the noise. In order, with notes just where I thought there needed to be more explanation.
1. "Sleepwalk With Me"
2. "Your Sister's Sister"
3. "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" - with full disclosure that as an advisor I was biased, but a great first doc on a great subject.
5. "Marvin, Seth and Stanley"
7. "Dark Horse" - Todd Solondz defied the fest world, which largely shunned this movie (except the ones that matter - Venice and Toronto), and went on to get the best reviews he's had in awhile. The film was a new take for Solondz and featured an excellent cast.
8. "Only The Young"
9. "VGHS" - Video Game High School by Freddie Wong. Great to see an indie building his fan base and expanding his repertoire by moving from short pieces to serial work. Every indie can learn something from Freddie.
10. "Etsy Handmade Portraits" - Etsy's short docs - Handmade Portraits - are brilliant short documentaries. While they are based in commerce at the end of the day, each one is artfully made and tells its story well.
DAVID NUGENT, artistic director, Hamptons International Film Festival
Many of my favorite films of the year thankfully ended up playing at our Festival’s 20th edition this year, or at our SummerDocs series that I program with our board member Alec Baldwin. These include, but are not limited to:
"Searching for Sugar Man"
"Silver Linings Playbook"
"Rust & Bone"
"Not Fade Away"
"Mea Maxima Culpa"
With regard to films that were not at our festival, in alphabetical order:
"Grand Illusion" re-release (for my money, one of the greatest films of all time)
"Life of Pi"
"Planet of Snail"
"Your Sister’s Sister"
"Zero Dark Thirty"
I very much enjoy "The Walking Dead," "Mad Men," "Portlandia" and "Louie."
JENNI OLSON, VP marketing and e-commerce, Wolfe Video
“The Wise Kids”
This perfect American drama simultaneously portrays the angst (and joy) of growing up gay. The wonderful Tyler Ross (who can be seen in "Milkshake" at Sundance this year) stars as a well-adjusted gay Baptist teen, while the film's writer-director Stephen Cone gives an unforgettable portrayal of a painfully closeted church drama teacher.
It's an absolute joy to follow this story of the Silver Platter Latino drag bar in Los Angeles. As the bar (d)evolves into a queer hipster destination director Wu Tsang explores race, class and gender politics with an innovative approach, which includes the voice of the bar itself.
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”
Ezra Miller is fabulous as the perfect gay pal for Logan Lerman, the period details are perfectly understated, and the showcasing of the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" clinches the deal. "Perks" has all the elements of an anthemic teen film including a great soundtrack, quotable dialogue, deep dark undercurrents and the angsty soaring melodrama of high school.
“Joe + Belle”
Nominated for an Israeli Academy Award for Best Picture, Veronica Kedar's wonderful lesbian road movie has a smart, dark-comic sensibility combined with a great sense of cinematic style and a deeply romantic core.
I love the way Aurora Guerrero's slowly unfolding lesbian love story conveys the ache of submerged and emerging longing between two Latina teens in Los Angeles.
“United In Anger: A History of ACT UP”
Jim Hubbard's powerful profile of ACT UP captures the spirit of the movement — combining a diverse array of activist interviews with the inspiring original activist videos that Hubbard himself has worked so tirelessly to preserve. A must-see film.
“Call Me Kuchu”
Bringing to life the horrifying story of Uganda's "Kill the Gays" bill (which has not yet been put to rest), this in-depth exploration showcases the work of Ugandan activist David Cato and his colleagues, who continue to fend off some of the most virulent homophobia on the planet.
This beautiful Swedish feature pretty much nails everything you want in a lesbian romance: two beautiful actresses with great sexual chemistry, an excellent script and a terrific director. Also numerous hot love scenes.
This hilarious, foul-mouthed, geriatric lesbian marriage-equality adventure from out gay director Thom Fitzgerald co-stars Brenda Fricker and Olympia Dukakis as Dot and Stella, a lesbian couple on the run from a nursing home and Dot's homophobic granddaughter. You will laugh so hard you’ll cry.
“Love Free or Die”
This riveting documentary follows Bishop Gene Robinson through the gauntlet of homophobic hatred that accompanied his appointment as the first openly gay Episcopal Bishop all the way up through his opening invocation at President Barack Obama’s inauguration at the Lincoln Memorial.
Full disclosure: LGBT distributor Wolfe Video distributed "The Wise Kids," "Joe + Belle," "Mosquita y Mari," "Kiss Me" and "Love Free or Die."