Way Too Indie’s Best Films of 2012

Way Too Indie’s Best Films of 2012

As the Way Too Indie Staff compiled their favorite films that had a U.S. theatrical release in 2012, there was some debate as to whether or not 2012 was an overall good year for films. I landed in the “it was a pretty good year” camp personally, but let’s take a moment to recap some of the big releases that came out. In particular, 2012 was quite a year for blockbuster films as The Avengers broke 28 box office records during the summer. Christopher Nolan finished up his Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises. Steven Spielberg shot an epic biopic about the history behind one of America’s most famous presidents with his film Lincoln. No one from the staff had a chance to see Zero Dark Thirty before making their list, which is bound to have a nice box office run. Next, consider how many modern legendary filmmakers released a film this year; Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom), Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), Leos Carax (Holy Motors) and the final film by Bela Tarr (The Turin Horse). While there may not have been a plethora of masterpieces in 2012, overall it was a solid year for fans of cinema.

Way Too Indie’s Best Films of 2012

#1 This Must Be the Place
This Must Be The Place Movie

Paolo Sorrentino’s new film about a retired gothic rock star living in Dublin, Ireland who sets out across America to find the ex-Nazi who tortured his father is one hell of a road trip film. Sean Penn plays the rocker and it’s one of his best performances in years. Some parts are very funny and others will touch your heart. Supporting turns from Judd Hirsch, Frances McDormand, Harry Dean Stanton and real life rock star David Byrne are just a few of the quirky people that populate Sorrentino’s whimsical journey into the heart of not only America, but darkness itself. (Blake)
This Must Be the Place Review | Watch Trailer

#2 Looper
Looper Movie

Having worked in a cinema over the summer I can say that in the UK, Looper wasn’t a film that generated that much hype, I think we were all sure that it was just another Bruce Willis action stereotype. After seeing the trailer, my opinion changed dramatically and I was forced to admit I was eagerly awaiting the release. This sci-fi designed to avoid the deep nature of time travel and accept that there are many ‘loop holes’ to the whole experience focuses on a single man’s fight for survival. The people and/or person that he is fighting against are where this story pulls at the complex strings of our mind. We’re constantly fighting our own battle to understand what’s happening and our constant personal debate as to who to root for is why this film is so high in this list. (Amy)
Looper Review | Watch Trailer

#3 Beasts of the Southern Wild
Beasts of the Southern Wild Movie

Benh Zeitlin blindsided everyone this year with his fantastic filmmaking debut in Beasts of the Southern Wild. One of the year’s best films was comprised of people who have never acted before, making the film that much more impressive. The film is told through the eyes of a self-aware child who has extraordinary determination to find her place in the world. Many allegories can be found within this poetic fairy tale of a film, making it not only an imaginative coming-of-age story but also a though-provoking one as well. (Dustin)
Beasts of the Southern Wild Review | Watch Trailer

#4 Oslo, August 31
Oslo, August 31 Movie

You will not find a more devastating film in this year (or possibly any year). Led by the best performance by an actor this year, this Norwegian drama will have you weeping in parts and your hands balled in fists rage in others. Anders, a recovering drug addict, wanders the streets of the Norwegian capital for 24 hours wondering his life’s worth and where he fits it in the grand scheme of things. The film is brutally honest for most of it’s 95 minutes, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more complete film than this Scandinavian masterpiece. (Blake)
Oslo, August 31 Review | Watch Trailer

#5 Moonrise Kingdom
Moonrise Kingdom Movie

Wes Anderson has created such a spectacular adventure fantasy I challenge anyone to dislike it. With two fantastic young actors portraying disturbed and lonely children searching for love, happiness and adventure you can’t help but adore their almost-adolescent behaviour. Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) the daughter of Laura (Frances McDormand) and Walt (Bill Murray) Bishop always carries a pair of binoculars due to her investigative and interesting nature. Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) is a devoted boy scout who doesn’t fit in with his group of peers. His destructive attitude towards bullies makes him an outsider to society and abandoned by his foster family. The pair’s loneliness and abstract personalities force them to run away with each other. The story is brilliant and a personal favourite of the year. (Amy)
Moonrise Kingdom Review | Watch Trailer

#6 Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Jeff, Who Lives at Home Movie

In this fourth feature film from the indie darlings Jay and Mark Duplass, they have perfected the comradery of brotherhood using their signature approach of quick zoom cinematography and less scripted dialog. Jeff, Who Lives at Home delivers a powerful message about believing things happen for a reason by blurring the line between choice and destiny. Along the way are some hilarious scenes that make the film an easy and entertaining watch. The Duplass brothers may be edging into more mainstream movie making, but they are not sacrificing their style or creativity. (Dustin)
Jeff, Who Lives at Home Review | Watch Trailer

#7 The Deep Blue Sea
The Deep Blue Sea Movie

“You know what real love is? It’s wiping someone’s ass … and lettin’ ‘em keep their dignity so you can both go on.” That advice one character gives to Hester (Rachel Weisz) more or less sums up the message of Terence Davies’ film. Hester, who left her marriage to a wealthy judge for a young Air Force pilot (Tom Hiddleston), is so madly in love with her boyfriend that she resorts to suicide if he doesn’t return the same feelings entirely. Weisz is naturally terrific at earning sympathy despite her character’s irrational behaviour, but it’s Davies who stands out (returning to narrative filmmaking after a long hiatus). Shooting through the same perspective as Hester, Davies uses a soft, hazy look and plenty of jaw-dropping sequences/shots that make The Deep Blue Sea the most romantic film of 2012. (CJ)
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#8 Your Sister’s Sister
Your Sister's Sister Movie

Lynn Shelton shot Your Sister’s Sister in under two weeks, but there is no evidence that the film suffers from such a short production. While the premise is simple, a man falls for his friend’s sister, the film turns out to be more intelligent and less conventional that it may sound like. Shelton brilliantly takes simple situations and turns them into extraordinary ones without sacrificing believability. Because the film mostly consists of improvisational dialog, genuine emotions and conversations are fully captured. To top it off, it wisely steers clear of a safe ending and goes with one that perfectly fits with the rest of the film. (Dustin)
Your Sister’s Sister Review | Watch Trailer

#9 The Turin Horse
The Turin Horse Movie

Bela Tarr’s final film (and final masterpiece) is such a satisfying end to the Hungarian director’s career that it’s easy to understand why he retired. Unfolding over two and a half hours in 30 long takes, The Turin Horse observes six days in the life of a farmer and his daughter in a desolate landscape. They do the same tasks repeatedly with each passing day, but soon their world is slowly dismantled piece by piece until there’s nothing left. Tarr’s bleak vision, with the brutal soundscape of pummeling winds and intense focus on the farmer’s tedious tasks, are so gorgeously realized with DP Fred Kelemen that it’s impossible not to be affected by it. The Turin Horse may not be an easy watch, but it’s undeniably pure cinema. (CJ)
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#10 Cabin in the Woods
Cabin in the Woods Movie

Reading through Blake’s review of this movie, I can safely say that I agree with him quite strongly. The film was 100% refreshing to the horror genre and indeed “on the edge of being great”. The Cabin in the Woods offers us a chance to see horror for what it is and what it should be, awesome, ‘scary’ and sometimes absolutely spontaneous. In a genre that suffers from over use of the stereotype high-school death sequences this film gives it a breath of fresh air, something much needed due to the drivel that’s been pumped out over the years. (Amy)
Cabin in the Woods Review | Watch Trailer

#11 End of Watch
End of Watch Movie

Set on the mean streets of Los Angeles this tale of two beat cops is one hell of a thriller. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are magnificent as the two cops. The film lives or dies on their chemistry and honestly you won’t find a better on screen duo this year. Director David Ayers supports them with a great screenplay and even better directing. His film builds from minute one all the way to the frantically intense finale where the two cops find themselves marked men by the Mexican drug cartel. This is visceral filmmaking. (Blake)
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#12 The Raid: Redemption
The Raid: Redemption Movie

The premise is simple: A SWAT team takes on an apartment complex run by a drug lord but soon have to fight their way out in order to survive. Gareth Evans, evoking the no-bullshit attitude of 70s exploitation films from the likes of John Carpenter, takes his straightforward concept and fills it with some of the most brutal and exciting action sequences from the last decade. Starting with guns and slowly moving his way towards hand-to-hand combat, Evans maintains a breathless pace while upping the brutality with each passing minute. When it comes to action filmmaking this is as close to perfect as it can get. (CJ)
The Raid: Redemption Review | Watch Trailer

#13 The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight Rises Movie

To be clear, The Dark Knight Rises is not my favorite of Christopher Nolan’s three-film franchise. But is it one of the best of 2012? Absolutely! There is enough that works in this film to forgive its more obvious flaws, ahem pacing. Nolan maintains the dark tragic arc of the Batman introducing him to, if not his most tantalizing of villains, definitely his most dogged. Bain manages to invoke more damage than any other criminal introduced, on both Gotham and Batman. And there is the true connection Nolan presents: Batman is Gotham and his fate ties directly to the city. This emotional tie, and the barriers Bruce Wayne, who may now always be remembered with Christian Bale’s cool collected mannerisms, must overcome, grow our love for this favorite of the superhero universes. Nolan’s conclusion to what is clearly the best comic book film series ever made, gives us the best of the Batman and this leaves a satisfying sense of closure. (Ananda)
The Dark Knight Rises Review | Watch Trailer

#14 The Master
The Master Movie

An alcoholic war veteran (played by Joaquin Phoenix) stumbles into a cult circle run by Philip Seymour Hoffman. From there The Master keeps the audience on edge with massive amounts of psychological realism resulting with more questions than answers. The Master is a hypnotic film that is challenging but ultimately rewarding if you are willing to read between the lines. Containing acting performances that are not only among the best of the year, but the best in recent memory. Paul Thomas Anderson is considered to be one of the best filmmakers of the last 20 years and it is easy to see why after watching this film. (Dustin)
The Master Review | Watch Trailer

#15 The Avengers
The Avengers Movie

Though I may perhaps be one of few who would call this one, if not the, best film of the year, any film that perfectly executes its genre, should be given accolade. With comic book films starting to lose originality, Joss Whedon stays true to the character of each of The Avengers’ six superheroes by presenting them truer to their comic book form than trying to adapt them to film. Using his particular comedic wit (all that we loved about Dr. Horrible) and incredibly executed action (all the greatness of Firefly) and suddenly we’re watching a different sort of comic book movie. One which gratifies fanboys and moviegoers alike with its presentation. Combined with Whedon’s sly horror film Cabin in the Woods (also on our list of the Best of 2012), which manages to reinvent genres by cleverly laughing both with and at Horror, I’d say Whedon’s in the zone. (Ananda)
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#16 Headhunters
Headhunters Movie

The best description I’ve heard about this brilliant thriller from Norway was, “a mix of Coen brothers and Wiley Coyote.” A corporate headhunter is way in debt. So much so that he resorts to stealing valuable art pieces from clients. His new client, whom he also suspects of sleeping with his wife, turns out to be an ex-Mercenary who specialized in tracking down humans. Once the chase starts there is no letting up. The film is brilliant at mixing brutal and bloody violence with ironic comedy and great human moments. (Blake)
Headhunters Review | Watch Trailer

#17 Ruby Sparks
Ruby Sparks Movie

I had very high hopes for Ruby Sparks, and I’m absolutely positive it was rooted from my love of Little Miss Sunshine. The makers did not disappoint. Ruby Sparks is funny, crazy and a little bit lovely. Calvin (Paul Dano – “Dwayne” from Little Miss Sunshine) has writers block when we are first introduced to him. He’s seeing a therapist (Elliot Gould) in order to help him overcome some personal issues; however his need to write overshadows dealing with those problems. A writing assignment given by his therapist turns into the narrative for this story. Calvin creates a woman “Ruby Sparks” (Zoe Kazan) from the words he writes on his typewriter and she comes to life; cue love story. Ruby isn’t an ordinary girl however, she’s everything Calvin wants and has ever dreamed of quite literally; until the day she isn’t. A self-destructive Calvin realises he is living out a dream and not a reality. A typical boy meets girl love story but with some serious edge. (Amy)
Ruby Sparks Review | Watch Trailer

#18 Arbitrage
Ruby Sparks Movie

After seeing Dustin’s review for a new Richard Gere film I had to check it out for myself. Arbitrage was an almost perfect film that grips you from the very beginning and doesn’t lose you at any point at all. Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is the CEO of Miller Capital with an intention to sell his business, the reasons why cause trauma and deceit throughout the entirety of the film. His family and friends can’t seem to understand why he wants to sell the firm but the need to preserve his dignity a financial standing pushes him to do so. Keeping concentration during Arbitrage is effortless. In Dustin’s review he said the film, “uses its runtime effectively, making it seemingly fly by” – and because the ending came as such a shock to me I’d have to agree. I hadn’t realised I’d been watching the film for 107 minutes and it seemed to jump out of the blue. Arbitrage leaves you with some unanswered questions and the film ends quite abruptly, however the journey is so exciting you don’t seem to mind all that much. (Amy)
Arbitrage Review | Watch Trailer

#19 Lincoln
Lincoln Movie

I was skeptical before seeing this film; unsure Spielberg wasn’t out to extort one of America’s most beloved political heroes. As a timely film, during the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, I worried the film would focus on the war, the most gruesome event of Lincoln’s presidency, but instead Lincoln is a well-crafted political drama. The film portrays Lincoln as a politician who could play the game as well as any of them and still bring a sense of dignity to it all. Daniel Day Lewis, a Brit who has my permission to play any American figure he pleases, portrays Lincoln’s affability but also shows the toll such empathy for people took on him. With an inspired ensemble (I literally spent the first 30 minutes gawking at how many great actors kept popping up), Lincoln’s greatest Presidential act, the abolishment of slavery, is acted to perfection. And at a time when our own politicians seem unable to reach compromises, this film offers greater encouragement and a timely reminder of what one man was able to accomplish. (Ananda)
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#20 Holy Motors
Holy Motors Movie

This French gem of a film is one that I can honestly say I haven’t quite figured out fully yet. But, I guarantee you won’t find a better film this year about the love (and loss) of cinema. A man rides in the back of a limo from one “appointment” to another. To describe what he does over the course of the film in one paragraph is simply impossible, but I would bet my life that as a cinema lover you’ll lose count of how many times you’ll be picking your jaw up from the floor. This is a film that drips with the blood, sweat and tears of all eras of cinema. Denis Levant’s lead performance is one for the ages. You owe yourself to see this film. (Blake)
Holy Motors Review | Watch Trailer

#21 This is Not a Film
This is Not a Film Documentary

Jafar Panahi’s film, while sitting closer to the bottom of this list, would certainly be at the top if we were going by the most impressive films of the year. Panahi, who is currently on house arrest with a 6 year prison sentence and 20 year ban on filmmaking, tries to work around his limitations by filming himself acting out a script he was working on before his arrest. It’s through this seed of an idea that This is Not a Film transforms into so much more: a portrait of a man who’s lost his livelihood, a defiant act of protest, a meditation on cinema itself and so much more. It’s one of the most daring and original works from this year with a final sequence that has to be seen to be believed. (CJ)
This is Not a Film Review | Watch Trailer

#22 Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook Movie

Granted, I’m a sucker for an untraditional romance any day, but throw in amazing performances and I have no problem calling Silver Linings Playbook one of the best of the year. David O. Russel makes a romance between two emotionally disturbed people both heartwarming and realistic. Bradley Cooper gives a career-defining performance as Pat, just out of a state institution after going ballistic when he found his wife in the shower with a co-worker, and now living back at home with his parents. Robert De Niro (only improved with age) is Pat’s borderline OCD father who loves his son the only way he knows how. But Jennifer Lawrence picked the perfect way to cast off any young-adult-leading-lady stigma by playing Tiffany, a manic recently widowed young woman who befriends Pat and proves that two crazies cancel each other out. Through their self-devised form of therapy they bring out the best in each other while accepting each other in fully flawed form. Both hilarious and heart-wrenching, Silver Linings Playbook proves that today’s romance no longer fits the rom-com mold, and I say out with the old and in with new. (Ananda)
Silver Linings Playbook Review | Watch Trailer

#23 Beyond the Black Rainbow
Beyond the Black Rainbow Movie

Beyond The Black Rainbow is more of an experience than anything else. This sci-fi thriller is a highly stylized head trip; weather it is an enjoyable one will come down to your tolerance of slow-paced atmospheric films that replace a traditional narrative for abstract visuals. The film is set in a futuristic 1983 facility where an experimental doctor holds his patient captive to perform tests on her. The film appears heavily influenced from the masterminds of Stanley Kubrick and Dario Argento. If you can overlook the dreadful ending, you may just find the most bizarre film of 2012. (Dustin)
Beyond the Black Rainbow Review | Watch Trailer

#24 Life of Pi
Life of Pi Movie

Based on the acclaimed novel of the same name, Life of Pi, dubbed “unfilmable” by some, is at once both true to it’s source as well as a stand alone masterful film. The story of a young man who loses everything when shipwrecked and winds up lost at sea with a Bengal tiger, is fantastical and yet at all times believable, because Pi’s spiritual journey is so in tune with that of the struggle within many of us. Ang Lee has told every manor of story in his many films, covering both history and the globe with his settings. With Life of Pi, he proves there is no story he can’t get to the heart of, and no visual element he can’t master. Turns out a film can combine the visual elements of a major blockbuster with the artistic emotion of an independent film, where one element need not trump the other. (Ananda)
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#25 Killer Joe
Killer Joe Movie

William Friedkin and Tracy Letts’ pitch black comedy isn’t afraid to revel in the vile world it creates. The hick family, who hire an assassin to kill their mother and use their mentally impaired daughter as a retainer, are either dumb as a doornail or reprehensible on every level. People only communicate through shouting matches, and everyone is just trying to make money without any care for who might get hurt along the way. Friedkin and Letts slowly let the story develop along the way, letting things play out as a sort of warped take on a Coen Brothers film while slowly building up the tension until everything goes wrong. What elevates Killer Joe into something truly great is the final act, where all the tension explodes in a horrifying conclusion that’ll have viewers mortified or cackling with glee. William Friedkin might not be churning out classics like The Exorcist or The French Connection nowadays, but there’s no denying the man hasn’t lost his edge. (CJ)
Killer Joe Review | Watch Trailer

Honorable Mentions

Sleepwalk With Me
Alps
Prometheus
Barbara
The Color Wheel

Author: Dustin Jansick

Dustin Jansick is an independent film critic who also enjoys; indie music, cooking, technology, sports, puzzles, graphic design, and P.T. Anderson films. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of Way Too Indie, which means he reviews hundreds of movies each year. Also a proud member of the OFCS.

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  • Bobby Denbers

    Maybe this article would be best suited to “Way too Mainstream”. The Dark Knight Rises – Indie? Jog on