The Best Films Of 2012...So Far

It feels like only yesterday that we were talking about the best films of 2011, and yet here we are, nearly at the end of June, and we’ve seen pretty much everything that the first half of the year has to offer. So with the mid-point of 2012 nearly upon us, we thought we’d look over the best films we’ve seen in theaters over the last six months.

And it’s not been a terrible year so far. There have been a few real stinkers and some disappointments, but there’s also been some decent blockbuster fare and a bevy of foreign language and independent films that have been serious treats for filmgoers. How many of these will still be on our year-end lists come December remains to be seen; there’s some tough competition on the way. But all in all, the first part of this year at the movies could have been a lot worse. For the sake of simplicity, we’ve kept it to films with a theatrical release in the U.S. between January 1st and June 30th, but you’ll find a round-up of some festival favorites and other such things towards the end. So, in no particular order, you can find our fifteen highlights of the year so far below. And let us know your own picks in the comments section.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Hailed as a triumph at two major film festivals so far this year (Sundance and Cannes), newcomer director Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” arrives in theaters this summer with a loaded firecracker of hype and expectations under its arm. But buzz and managed expectations aside, ‘Beasts’ is the real deal, a genuinely idiosyncratic, expressive and invigorating father/daughter tale that touches on survival, resilience, community and the capacity to endure on your own terms on the fringes of society. Featuring two breakthrough performances by newcomers Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” has been called a New Orleans/Katrina allegory, and while that disaster is certainly an influence — the themes of perseverance against a cantankerous, retributive forces of nature are certainly there — to claim that ‘Beasts’ is Zeitlin’s riff on that calamity only sells this exhilarating picture far too short. Tactile in its atmospheres and aesthetics (an unholy blend of rust, rot, decay and beauty), the picture’s take on dilapidation is both gorgeous and affectionate, avoiding an existence as one sorrowful pejorative. Anthemic, deeply moving and awe-inspiring (with a stirring musical score that embodies all those moods in what is easily one of the best soundtracks of the year), “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is part corroded neo-neo realism and magical fantasy, but moreover an exciting blend of ideas, characters and concepts thrown together in a stunningly unique and vibrant bouillabaisse. While it’s about a young child facing her father’s fading health and an impending environmental disaster (not to mention a herd of prehistoric monsters migrating ominously towards them) in a fictional part of the U.S. called “The Bathtub,” the emotionally rousing “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is simply an inspiring and celebratory look at love, loss and life that’s moving and passionate in the way few films are these days (read our review).

Take This Waltz
Exhilarating, depressing, melancholy and frustrating, Sarah Polley’s sophomore directorial effort, “Take This Waltz,” attempts to say much about the meaning of love, lust, relationships, marriage, and the complicated choices often made therein. Often times, the well-shot and well-constructed picture (which features some of the best cinematography of any film so far this year; the soundtrack and score is equally ace) just tries to say it all at once, posing questions about whether that grass is actually greener, or whether it grows verdant only after we’ve shat all over it. And as unwieldy and imperfect as Polley’s film can be, well, maybe that’s the point, as the ungainly narrative is a lot like love and life, with few easy answers. Mature, painful and wistful in a manner that reminds you of mistakes you’d rather not relive, and ultimately pretty tragic, “Take This Waltz” is a striking and emotionally bruising look at our desires and the selfish paths we often take to achieve them versus our needs, responsibilities and oaths we’ve pledged to one another. Anchored by truly great performances by Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby and Sarah Silverman, the deeply flawed characters in “Take This Waltz” can be ugly and irredeemable, but as blemished as the picture is at times — questionable cinematic choices are made on top of morally questionable ones — it’s boldly real, achingly raw and intimate in a way that’s rarely seen onscreen. There’s likely not going to be a picture as emotionally exasperating and yet indelible as this one in 2012 (read our review).

“The Kid with a Bike”
While some critics complained that the latest from the famed Dardennes was more of the same, all we can say is…so? While “The Kid with a Bike” didn’t rock the boat of their established narrative and visual aesthetic, it’s hard to quibble with the results when they are this consistently strong. Perhaps some of the grumbling came from the fact that this effort is somewhat “lighter” (relatively speaking) than some of their previous efforts, but it’s no less affecting. The story essentially deals with two lonely people: Cyril, an orphaned boy, seething and wounded by anger and pain, and Samantha, a single hairdresser who takes him under her wing. While it’s a sunnier movie than you’d expect from the Dardennes (indeed, it’s the first time they shot in the summer), the organic performances from Thomas Doret and Cecile De France — who share a tremendous chemistry — maneuver the complex terrain their relationship takes them through. Having been let down for so much of his life, Cyril essentially tests Samantha to see if she too will give up on him, but as she continues to stick by his side, we get a better understanding how this wayward child enriches her life. Using a recurring musical cue to effectively mark the passage of time, “The Kid with a Bike” plumbs some rich, complicated emotional territory in its less than 90-minute runtime. But by the film’s end, the Dardennes deliver a multi-toned, minor symphony on how devotion and love — hard-earned and unquestioning — can be life-changing salvation to those who need it (read our review).
Moonrise Kingdom
The mostly delightful “Fantastic Mr. Fox” aside, it’s been hard not to feel that Wes Anderson‘s live-action output has been on something of a slide since “Rushmore.” There have been moments to love from “The Royal Tenenbaums” to “The Darjeeling Limited,” but it felt like the emotion became more and more dishonest, and the worlds more and more airless over time, to the extent that ‘Darjeeling’ and its eye-rolling baggage metaphor felt like a parody of an Anderson film. But we’d had good vibes about his seventh feature, “Moonrise Kingdom,” in the run up to its release, and Wes delivered with a film that was simultaneously like the most Wes Anderson-y Wes Anderson film he’s made, and yet also the biggest departure. Telling the story through the eyes of a child is something of a genius stroke, absolutely making sense of the heightened reality in a way that some of the more recent films didn’t, and the tender (but never quite precious) burgeoning romance and coming-of-age aspects are beautifully drawn. And along with those ace performances from Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward were the adults, with turns from Anderson veterans (Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzmann) that more than lived up to their previous collaborations, and contributions from Anderson newbies (Edward Norton, Bruce Willis) that showed entirely new colors in the paintbox from some established stars. From its idyllic, adventurous setting to the selection of music and Alexandre Desplat‘s tremendous score, it somehow felt like a classic kids’ film (arguably more so than ‘Fox’) airing on TV on a Sunday afternoon, while also featuring some of the most exciting filmmaking of 2012 so far. Good to have you back, Wes (read our review).

Sound of My Voice” 
On the razor’s edge of suspense lies Zal Batmanglij’s directorial debut, a film that tests the nerves of any thrill-loving moviegoer who thinks they’ve seen it all. We’re immediately thrown into the world of Peter and Lorna, two documentary filmmakers who refuse to shrink from their thesis, dead-set on exposing a phony cult leader who becomes more convincing every single day. As the ethereal Maggie, Brit Marling’s bewitching, alluring presence is both achingly sensual and diabolically Machiavellian, as she turns the most innocuous words into threats, her soft voice and sand-pebble eyes demanding that those who attempt to go down the rabbit hole with her abandon everything they know and love about their past voices. “Sound of My Voice” is almost sickeningly sterile, a counterpoint to the messy, rural landscape of another recent “cult” film, “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” But while you’re never in doubt as to the intentions of the group in that film, “Sound of My Voice” is creepily compelling, an immersive cinematic experience that quietly lulls you before smashing into what would be the year’s most talked-about ending had distributor Fox Searchlight properly marketed the film. For those of you who intend to catch up on DVD, go in blindly, as each twist in the film’s narrative, each tweak of the believability of Maggie’s otherworldly story, opens up infinite possibilities. As “Sound of My Voice” unspools, it becomes clear it’s not happening in the screen so much as it’s slowly unfolding a universe of paradoxes inside your head (read our review).

The Forgiveness of Blood
The sins of the father as they pass from generation to generation and the limits of family loyalty are the two taut central themes of Joshua Marston’s powerful sophomore feature film. Moving from the Colombian drug tale of “Maria Full of Grace,” his latest effort finds him deep in Albania where traditional methods for dealing with disputes between neighbors clash with an evolving, slowly progressing society. And that’s where the teenage Nik (Tristan Halilaj) finds himself caught. When his father is accused of murder, his family is essentially exiled, with the men ordered to stay housebound as the elders confer to decide on a suitable punishment (this can sometimes take years). With his father on the run, and Nik unable to work, it falls to his younger sister Rudina (Sindi Lacej) to pick up the slack. What emerges in this multi-layered film is a portrait of how an antiquated system is unable to contain the tides of change. Nik cleverly works around the system to stay in touch with his best friend, and even begin a fledgling relationship, while his sister is given a crash course in the difficulties of making ends meet. As things come to a head, Nik is faced with an impossible choice between saving himself or honoring a blood bound tradition. Immaculately shot, and presenting a fascinating world we simply haven’t seen on the big screen before, “The Forgiveness of Blood” is a remarkable slow burning drama that presents the complex and sometimes puzzle-shaped nature of family relationships, and the tangle of their history that we can sometimes get caught up in (read our review).

The Deep Blue Sea
Though both the filmmakers and the setting for their films are separated by decades, Terence Davies’ latest shares much in common with Sarah Polley’s “Take This Waltz.” In both films, women chase the excitement of new love and sex, only to realize that passion can be fleeting or, more in the case of “The Deep Blue Sea,” not quite what you thought it would be. Based on the play by Terence Rattigan, the film is led by a towering, heartbroken performance by Rachel Weisz, who plays Hester Collyer, married to a much older, respected judge (Simon Russell Beale), who chases an affair with a dashing, handsome fighter pilot played by Tom Hiddleston. What emerges is a deeply affecting portrait of the complexity that relationships carry with them, the blurred line between love and lust, and the emotional peaks and deep, dark valleys the blue flame of intense passion can carry us into. Pitched against the social mores of 1950s England and the class divisions that were more pronounced at the time, only heightens the power of Davies’ already soft-focused, amber-toned and stylized film, which itself feels as if it were (beautifully) unearthed from another era. Masterfully constructed, with a torrent of emotion that ripples beneath nearly every scene without a wasted word, moment or frame, “The Deep Blue Sea” presents the idea that love lost and love gained can often share the same beautiful pain (read our review).“Bernie
Richard Linklater has been through an uneven rough patch for his last few films, some good, and a few more not so memorable, but it’s probably not a surprise that a story set in his home state of Texas would also mark a brilliant return to form for the director. Teaming up with old pals Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey — who both give great, atypical performances — “Bernie” is a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale about a small town mortician who enters an earnest relationship with the wealthiest (and meanest) widow in town, but winds up murdering her. Taking a conventional docu-drama approach actually does wonders for the film. Mixing interviews with real life locals with a sardonic narrative that would do the Coens proud (comparisons to “Fargo” are apt), the movie is a concise, quick-moving breeze, anchored by the impressive, dialed down, yet distinctly fey, mannered and oddball pitch Black brings to the title character. The murder actually doesn’t take place until halfway through the picture, allowing the audience to see why the townspeople were ready to forgive the otherwise generous, kind-hearted and sympathetic Bernie (and Black does a helluva job selling him). But it’s the cocky swagger of McConaughey — playing a small town lawyer with the ego of a big city prosecutor — that provides the counterweight to the idea that the confessed murderer should be let go. Linklater manages a tricky balance as well, never mocking the real life characters, but letting the outrageousness and absurdity speak all on its own. The result is his best work in years, a singular and unique comedy, where the laughs are often big and pleasurable (read our review).

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
After doing tiny, highly personal art films for a little over a decade, Nuri Bilge Ceylan threw a curveball with “Three Monkeys,” an Andrei Tarkovsky-thriller goulash that retained his love for human behavior while combining a meatier plot and a lurking, uncertain anxiety. Though with “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” he established a desire to make something a bit different, few could’ve surmised that his next flick would be a nearly three-hour ensemble epic, a slow-burn murder investigation that takes the police and the guilty party through the vast steppes of Anatolia. The collective slowly make their way through nowheresville to find and identify the victim’s remains, eventually having to rest at a nearby village before returning home for the necessary paperwork. Within the long, arduous journey are rather brilliant character moments that are at times humorous and touching; always adding another intricate layer to a character’s being. Despite no longer holding the cinematographer’s position, Ceylan’s photographic eye is still there: the film showcases some gorgeous environments bathed in natural light or, more astonishingly, entire sequences that are lit by just the headlights of the investigators’ vehicles. This approach gives everything a very organic feel, one which only compliments a story that is basically about society’s relationship with life and death. ‘Anatolia’ is a long one, but it’s consistently rewarding throughout and eventually leads to one of the most poignant endings of this year (read our review).

The Turin Horse
Forlorn and harrowing, no, Bela Tarr’s final offering wasn’t very affable, and though his stuff never was, you’ll find little of the enchantment or humor he displayed in past flicks such as “Werckmeister Harmonies” or “Satantango,” respectively. Despite it all, no amount of misery keeps ‘Turin’ from being an astonishingly moving experience — every meticulously crafted unbroken sequence (whether it be capturing a wind-battered woman gathering water from a near-exhausted well or an elderly man devouring a scalding potato with his fingers) captivates; the indelible black and white images attack along with a dedicated sound design to make every moment as impressionable as the last. Working with a barebones story — a destitute family suffers greatly when their horse refuses meals and labor — the Hungarian filmmaker is able to center in on the essence of poverty, bypassing condescending melodrama for the cold truth of hardship. The amount of power Tarr is able to channel through mundane actions such as cooking dinner or changing out of work clothes is astonishing — who needs plot twists when the everyday routine is so affecting? But few, of course, are as skilled as this filmmaker, which makes “The Turin Horse” even sadder: that it is a curtain call for an extremely talented auteur. Thanks for the send off, Bela (read our review).

Post Mortem
Reviving the ’70s American filmmaker mindset that lay dormant for years, Pablo Larrain‘s sophomore outing, which finally made it to U.S. shores earlier this year, was a much more restrained and outright weird offering compared to his violent, unruly debut “Tony Manero.” Whereas the latter involved a protagonist murdering and discoing his life away while the Pinochet regime raged on, “Post Mortem” shoves its hero into the middle of the conflict, as he is forced to deal with the dead bodies by the very same military that is causing them. Because of this, the film is much more engaging on a traditional level than its predecessor, with the horrors of the dictatorship pushed to the forefront. Alfredo Castro stars as Mario, a morgue transcriber who discovers love just around the corner in Nancy, a burlesque dancer and neighbor who catches his eye, and soon the two begin seeing one another. Unfortunately their love is put on hold once the tanks start rolling in, as her ties to the Communist Youth of Chile cause her to go into hiding. Just like any chivalrous sweetheart would do, Mario harbors his main squeeze until it all blows over. Larrain often keeps the audience at bay, constructing characters that act mysteriously but never randomly — you won’t see certain things coming (how we wish more films were like this), and while they’re shocking, the train of thought is believable. And aside from the invigorating tone, lovable look, and restrained camera style, one of the greatest triumphs of the film is its offbeat humor — a dry, surprising playfulness that pops up every so often that prevents the film from being overtly somber. Word from the Cannes front was that Larrain’s “No,” while a crowd-pleaser, had very little in common with his previous output. We’d be lying if we said we weren’t looking forward to it, but on the other hand, it’d be a shame to see this fine aesthetic return to the grave (read our review).“This Is Not a Film
When Iranian new-wave top dog Jafar Panahi was silenced by his country’s government (essentially barring him from continuing his film career), it was assumed that, save some renegade attempt to escape the country, we probably wouldn’t hear from the auteur for some time. Color us surprised when “This Is Not a Film” surfaced at Cannes — smuggled out of Iran, hidden in a birthday cake — a documentary done in video-diary style that deals with the filmmaker’s house arrest and aborted movie project. But what we got wasn’t simply the confessions of a muted artist: in conversation with fellow filmmaker Mojtaba Mirtahmasb (who is also listed as a director), Panahi is encouraged to describe and act out scenes from his terminated script in great detail, an undertaking he commits to until becoming forlorn during the process, recognizing the futility of the endeavor and yearning for his rightful canvas. And yet, within the film, we can’t help but think that certain moments are too convenient to be unstaged. Take, for example, the young garbage collector he runs into in the hallway — as he joins him on the elevator, they engage in a great conversation about this teen’s life and future while stopping at every floor to collect residents’ trash. It’s all done in a single shot, focused on this kid, with the chat interrupted every so often by his duties on each floor. Panahi keeps the camera rolling, waiting patiently for his subject to return and the dialogue to resume. Sounds like something he might direct, no? There are numerous instances like this, such as the insistent neighbor in need of a dog-sitter that feels like a subplot or the fact that film conveniently takes place on Chahārshanbe-Sūri/Wednesday Feast, a holiday dating back a few centuries that both celebrates the oncoming of Spring and is a ritual that promises warmth and good health. Normally this kind of documentary manipulation would raise flags for some, but given Panahi’s current predicament and subsequent longing for the medium (and additionally the film’s unmanufactured feeling), it comes off as an intensely personal, resonant rebellion, an incredibly beautiful movie and one of his best films to date (read our review).

Safety Not Guaranteed
It’s hard not to be a little wary when a buzzy, quirky indie comedy becomes a crowd-pleasing hit at Sundance — we’ve suffered through too many films like “Happy Texas” and “Hamlet 2” in the past to walk in without being a little cautious. But we found ourselves utterly charmed by Colin Trevorrow‘s “Safety Not Guaranteed,” a very funny time-travel comedy (or is it?) with a great big beating heart. The story follows stuck-in-a-rut intern Darius (Aubrey Plaza), who accompanies cynical magazine reporter Jeff (Jake Johnson) and fellow work-experience-seeking kid Arnau (Karan Soni) to investigate a man who’s placed a classified ad looking for a companion to go time traveling with him. Using a real life incident as a loose jumping off point, Derek Connolly‘s script is consistently sharp and amusing, but there’s a rich vein of sadness running throughout, principally thanks to a committed performance from Mark Duplass that’s one of the year’s best — mistrustful, a little angry and seemingly a little away with the fairies, but gradually warming as he lets Darius into his scheme. And Plaza and Johnson — principally known for their TV work on “Parks and Recreation” and “New Girl” — suggest that they should be getting a lot more big-screen work down the line with firmly winning performances. Some of the star cameos (that we won’t spoil here) are a touch distracting, and the ending feels a little rushed (it’s telling that it was submitted to Sundance with a different conclusion), but for the most part, Trevorrow handles the tricky mix of tones beautifully, and displays an excellent sense for the visuals. An accomplished and surprising debut that takes the premise in unexpected places, Trevorrow and Connolly have marked themselves a filmmaking team to watch (read our review).

21 Jump Street
It shouldn’t have worked – yet another tired reinvention of a preexisting property (in this case a beloved but marginal eighties television series), gussied up with of-the-moment stars and a more comedic bent (something found, time and time again, in the television-series-adaptation subgenre — see also: “The Addams Family,” “The Brady Bunch,” and “Charlie’s Angels“), shepherded by a pair of directors making the shaky transition from animation to the much woollier world of live action. And yet it exceeded all expectations. A tremendously funny, heartfelt, razor-sharp deconstruction of cop movie clichés (the best, probably, since “Hot Fuzz“), a wondrous celebration of the awkwardness of high school, and a fucking funny studio comedy, it was sprightly and warm and all the more powerful because it was so unexpected. You loved “21 Jump Street” in spite of the material, not because of it. It showed us that Jonah Hill could still be funny after his more dramatic turn in “Moneyball,” but more importantly that Channing Tatum, heretofore an unknown comedic quantity but always exceedingly handsome, could make you giggle with the best of them. And those animation dudes (“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller)? They totally nailed it too, adding an additional layer of zingy vibrancy to an already electric script, and proving that Brad Bird wasn’t the only animation-to-live action success story in the past few months. The movie comes out on home video this summer and, quite frankly, we can’t wait to see it again (read our review).

The Cabin in the Woods
Things weren’t looking good for Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon‘s genre deconstruction/celebration “The Cabin in the Woods.” It was shelved for an epic amount of time (only Kenneth Lonergan would probably find it “brief”) while the studio worked out financing issues and, for a spell at least, it was a candidate for muddy post-production 3D conversion or, at the very worst, a hasty direct-to-video release (a fate that will befall it in many countries overseas). But then people actually started seeing it and got really excited. This truly was some next-level shit – a canny exploration of what makes horror films so powerful (and why we keep showing up to them) and a bold rejection/condemnation of the torture porn tropes and found footage aesthetics that have come to dominate modern scary movies. Oh, and it was fucking funny. When the film got its public debut at Austin’s South by Southwest Film Festival, people went bananas (reports claiming that the Paramount Theater levitated off its foundation are probably exaggerated, but not by much). Although the film didn’t connect as strongly with mass audiences (although it’s considered a “sleeper hit,” you have to wonder what it could have done if it had been released after Whedon’s little art house film “The Avengers“) and more than a few critics found it befuddling and arch (it’s neither), “The Cabin in the Woods” is the kind of movie that will ultimately live on as a deserved cult classic, perfect for drunken film studies students and bored kids at slumber parties alike. Boo! (read our review)

Honorable Mention
Minor update:  As one of our astute readers pointed out, we forgot Ben Wheatley‘s truly terrifying “Kill List”  which we all saw in 2011, but technically came out in the U.S. early in 2012. Please don’t consider this omission any slight on the film which is deeply  haunting and horrifying (ever horror filmmaker in the world, please take note). At this point, it’s a little too late to add to our top 15, but consider it a very viable contender at the very least and don’t be surprised if/when it ends up on several of our own personal top 10 lists in December.

We’d be remiss in not mentioning the biggest movie story of the year so far, Joss Whedon‘s “The Avengers,” which isn’t just the third biggest movie of all time at this point, but also a tremendously entertaining summer blockbuster, one of the better examples of the form in recent years. A wobbly first act kept it off the list proper, but it was still something of a triumph nevertheless. “Chronicle” also proved a breath of fresh air to the superhero genre, and announced the arrival of a trio of exciting new talents in Josh Trank, Max Landis and Dane DeHaan. Meanwhile, our two senior editors were both taken with “The Dictator,” Sacha Baron Cohen‘s pointedly funny comedy that deserves to have done much better than it did. In the same category is David Wain‘s “Wanderlust” and Nicholas Stoller‘s “The Five-Year Engagement,” which both inexplicably failed to connect with audiences, but nevertheless managed to contain more laughs than your average smash-hit comedy.

A touch off the beaten track, both Steven Soderbergh‘s “Haywire” and Gareth Evans‘ “The Raid” gave the action genre a fresh new kick in the larynx, although neither could quite live up to their impressive fight scenes when things were a little calmer. And in the indie comedy territory, Whit Stillman made a triumphant return with “Damsels In Distress,” while the Duplass Brothers were behind the charming “Jeff Who Lives At Home,” which only missed out on this list by the skin of its teeth. And for people after something a little weirder, festival sci-fi favorite “Beyond the Black Rainbow” was like nothing else seen before or since. Of the (relatively) few documentaries this year, perhaps the best was Marie Losier‘s “The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye,” which followed performance artist (and Throbbing Gristle founder) Genesis P-Orridge and his late wife as they they prepare to undergo surgery to essentially become carbon copy xeroxes of each other or, “pandrogynes.”  It’s a strange but beautiful love story and fascinating look at the nature of identity.

Limited 2011 Releases That Went Wider In 2012
It must be frustrating for those outside of New York and L.A. to see certain films crop up endlessly on year-end lists, only to discover that they might be weeks, or even months away from seeing them. With that in mind, we wanted to highlight a few releases from late in 2011 that were actually more available to the rest of the continent (and in some cases world) in 2012. Oren Moverman‘s “Rampart” was a firecracker of a cop movie, one that was less about “cop” and more about character, with Woody Harrelson giving the performance of a lifetime, and Robin Wright and Brie Larson, among an outstanding supporting cast, matching him nicely. It was gripping and moving from the first, and another reminder that Moverman is one of our most intriguing talents. Lynne Ramsay‘s “We Need To Talk About Kevin” also got a bit of a boost at the start of this year, and again features an unforgettable central performance, this time from Tilda Swinton, and one of the most thought-provoking and gut-punching movies in a long while.

The Playlist team were slightly divided on it, but Mexican film “Miss Bala” had more than its share of serious admirers: a morally complex look inside the Mexican cartels through the eyes of a beauty queen. Director Gerardo Naranjo showed a Scorsese-ian flair with the camera, and he’s certainly going to be someone we hear a lot more from. And while only a few saw it, those who did catch Andrei Zyvagintsev‘s “Elena” fell head over heels in love with it; a powerful and gripping Russian film about an elderly woman trying to secure an inheritance for her son.

2012 Festival Films
Not everything from Sundance, Tribeca, SXSW and Cannes have made it to theaters yet, but we can certainly attest to their quality while we wait for them, and you’ll be hearing more from these films through us and others throughout the year. Sundance brought the excellent “Simon Killer” from Antonio Campos, Julie Delpy‘s hilarious “2 Days In New York” with Chris Rock, the eye-popping, controversial “Compliance,” outstanding concert doc “Shut Up And Play the Hits” (which plays one-night-only in theaters on July 18th), alcoholism dramedy “Smashed” with a stunning performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and the Lena Dunham-co-written “Nobody Walks” (which plays alongside “Compliance” at BAM this weekend).

Meanwhile, music documentary “Beware of Mr. Baker” and William Friedkin‘s “Killer Joe” (which opens in July) were both highlights of SXSW, while Cuban drama “Una Noche” and Keanu Reeves‘ filmmaking documentary “Side By Side” were leading lights at Tribeca and Berlin. Finally, our Gabe Toro adored Mads Brugger‘s daring documentary “The Ambassador” at New Directors New Films, and our Katie Walsh fell head over heels for “Ruby Sparks,” from the directors of “Little Miss Sunshine,” at the LAFF this week. Both should be in theaters before the end of the year, with “Ruby Sparks” arriving in July. And as for Cannes, “Killing Them Softly,” “Amour,” “Room 237,” “Sightseers,” “No” and “Rust & Bone” were particular favorites of our team out on the Croisette. It’s likely you’ll be seeing many of these festival films on our best-of year-end lists by the time 2012 is over.

— Oliver Lyttelton, RP, Kevin Jagernauth, Christopher Bell, Drew Taylor, Gabe Toro

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