The Year in Film: The 25 Best Movies of 2012

Let’s begin by just saying it, in plain and simple terms: It was a remarkable year for movies. After a rather dry period where we had to chase down the corridors of our memories to summon up even a handful of picture worth remembering at year’s end, this year’s cinema offered an embarrassment of riches — so many that we had to forgo the normal Top 10 List for a top 15, and then another list of the year’s best documentaries. It was that kind of year.

What was so right this time? Was it mere luck, chance, coincidence that found so many filmmakers challenging us, thrilling us, and reminding us of what movies can be? Perhaps. Or perhaps it was digital cinema’s democratization of the form; in a world where “amateur” filmmakers are increasingly capable of making films that look and feel “professional,” those lines have blurred, and the marketplace reflects it. Sure, there is more product out there, and individual films can have a harder time breaking through. But the cream tends to rise to the top, and the freedom of form and expression of independent film, as well as its immediacy and energy, worked its way into mainstream filmmaking as well.

2012’s finest films reflected ambition, risk, and advocacy. They asked provocative questions, challenged traditional assumptions, tested the boundaries of autobiography, and introduced characters we’d never met. They boldly redrew the maps of genre, freshly examined the creative process, and dared us to contemplate our own mortality. And, in more traditional terms, they made us laugh, and cry, and feel alive. These are the best films of 2012.

THE TOP 10 DOCUMENTARIES

10. Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God

The great Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Casino Jack and the United States of Money) takes on the Catholic Church’s legacy of molestation and cover-up with his customary investigative zeal, exposing horrifying malfeasance up to and including the current Pope. His control of the material is remarkable, as is his tone — simultaneously clear-eyed and utterly infuriated. (In theaters)