1. 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960)- Finally tracked down a copy of the final episode of Fritz Lang's Mabuse trilogy and it didn't disappoint. The idea of a hotel being the epicenter for a crazy criminal, completely under electronic surveillance control, looks ahead to terrific paranoid efforts like "The Anderson Tapes", "Red Road" or Wenders "End of Violence". As usual, Fritz Lang is about 40 years ahead of everyone else.
2. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)- A crackling procedural that tirelessly documents the manhunt for Osama bin Laden, expertly crafted by Bigelow and propulsive from start to finish. Jessica Chastain deserves the Oscar for her outstanding performance, exuding an array of emotions in her eyes behind a relatively steely posture. One of the very best films of the year.
3. Red Hook Summer (2012)- Self indulgent and almost unwatchable, framed by Spike Lee's tiring penchant for fish eye lenses and broad performances.
4. The Impossible (2012)- J.A. Bayona helms this survival story with panache and some striking cinematography (including depicting the tsunami itself and Naomi Watts' struggle for survival with harrowing precision) yet the film hits one too many emotionally manipulative moments. The most egregious moment comes when a pivotal reunion occurs right in front of a school bus full of native children.
5. The Invisible War (2012)- This documentary would make for a very confusing double bill with "Zero Dark Thirty". The documentary genre is becoming a journalistic search for buried truths hidden right in front of our eyes, and this is an especially compelling and infuriating one.
6. The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978)- On paper, Ermanno Olmi's three hour epic sounds like a snoozer- the lives of three families who live and work on a large tract of land and their daily activities. What we get is a nuanced, intricate and brave depiction that never falters and continually creates passion out of the mundane.
7. Your Sister's Sister (2012)- Oh Emily Blunt how I love you. And how I hate you for falling in love with a slacker jackass like Mark Duplass in this film. Other than that, Lynn Shelton's tale of a treacherous love triangle starts out promising (with a piercing memorial service over drinks), dovetails a bit when the emotional static kicks in, then ends on a relatively sweet (and ambiguous) note.
8. Turn Me On, Dammit (2011)- Bad, really bad. I honestly couldn't even finish it.
9. The Day He Arrives (2012)- Hong Sang Soo is especially prolific. This his first of two films that got released this year is a bit of a headscratcher as an ex-film director returns to an old friend, visits his ex-girlfriend, then spends the rest of his days meeting a girl who looks just like his girlfriend as the film charts the various ways this new found relationship might progress. On the surface level, it feels superficial. But on reflection, the film grew on me and it became a sort of Fellini-esque tale about stalled adulthood.