Seeing as today marks the midpoint of the year, it's time for everyone to look back over the first six months and determine what films are the best of 2012 so far. It's a great way to filter favorites into a pile that we can easily look back on in December, so we can avoid rummaging through the whole lot at the last minute when compiling our real Top Ten lists. For some it's been a difficult task already, because the earlier half of the year has been filled with stellar works; others are finding it hard to find ten favorites from a period they claim is as yet lacking in real quality films.
Personally, I've been very surprised with some of my early picks, such as The Cabin in the Woods, Take This Waltz and the documentaries Under African Skies and This is Not a Film. Another of my favorite docs of the year is Last Call at the Oasis, an enjoyable issue film that I'm very disappointed hasn't been garnering more recogntion and box office success. And since this is clearly a time to point out great movies that have been overlooked, I want to urge fans of Beasts of the Southern Wild to see the doc The Island President, which also deals with a place threatened by flooding as a result of climate change.
For today's roundup, I'm sampling as well as I can from critics highlighting their mid-year selections. Some writers merely list the films without comment, which isn't easily quoted, while many write a bit too much for each film. And some sites make it difficult to cite by not ranking their picks (so just go read The Playlist's exhaustive feature here). A lot of the posts cited below are more easily grabbed from by quoting just their #1 film of 2012, January through June.
What films are people calling the best of 2012 so far? Here's The Conversation heard around the Internet:
Choosing a "best of the best" among [nine "Top Ten of the Year Contenders"] is not easy as I'll probably do what I do every year before making my final top ten and watch each of them again. Moonrise Kingdom, Laurence Anyways and Killing them Softly certainly stand out however. Rust and Bone can likely only get better with time, I am excited to watch Bullhead again and I am still happy with how unexpectedly enjoyable Magic Mike was. - Brad Brevet, Rope of Silicon
It being the beginning of July and all, I figured that I would do a rundown of my favorite Austin-produced films that I have seen during the first half of 2012. I actually hate doing lists (because in what universe could I actually compare any of these films?), but these halfway lists seem to be the new trend nowadays…and you know me, I am such a trendy guy. Rather than totally playing favorites, I am just going to list the seven films alphabetically. So, here we go: America’s Parking Lot, Cinema Six, Hellion, Kid-Thing, Satellite of Love, Saturday Morning Massacre, and Wolf. - Don Simpson, Film School Rejects
“The Cabin in the Woods” managed to lampoon the [horror] genre and still make for a scary and compelling horror movie. “The Woman in Black” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” are also of note, adding fun and frights to the genre. “The Avengers” had characters we cared about filling the big action set pieces. In fact, the characters were so good their dialogue scenes were even better. [...] Rachel Weisz had her best role in years in “The Deep Blue Sea”, a searing examination of love and lust in time of war and crisis. [...] Why did “The Dictator” bomb? It was hilarious, but perhaps a bit too political as it savaged USA’s own dictatorial ways. [...] “Brave” proved that Disney & Pixar together could do no wrong. Again. - Jeff York, Examiner.com
We all had a different number-one film. Mine was Moonrise Kingdom. Bibbs was fond of The Avengers. Alonso hyped an unreleased documentary called How to Survive a Plague. And Dave White was perhaps a little too enthusiastic about the bleak apocalypse presented in Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse. - Witney Seibold, William Bibbiani, Alonso Duralde and Dave White, The B-Movies Podcast
The following titles have been ranked as the #1 film of 2012 so far on numerated lists:
The Avengers - If it failed, it might have been one of film history's biggest blunders ever. To take one of the densest, longest-running superhero adventures ever, and translate the comic-book wackiness to the big-screen was a huge gamble. Somehow, they pulled it off. "The Avengers" isn't just the culmination of a lofty Hollywood gameplan, but every kid's playground fantasy. Buoyed by fantastic performances -- particularly Tom Hiddleston as Loki -- "The Avengers" is big, loud, awesome-looking theatrical fun. Director Joss Whedon (there he is again) deserves all the credit in the world for orchestrating a movie experience that seemed impossible a mere five years ago. - Moviefone
Beasts of the Southern Wild — The film plays out in a style that draws on southern gothic, fairytale, and social realism, peopling its world with great faces and great piles of beautiful old crap littering shots that’s art-directed to perfection. The film moves along at a breathtaking pace, with breath-taking action scenes (for instance when Hushpuppy dynamites a dam with sticks of explosive taped to a dead crocodile) alternating with quieter, well-painted scenes of family and community life. The father-daughter relationship is unorthodox but rings true throughout, as the daughter constantly has to second-guess her fickle father and his rough ways, and endeavours to earn his respect by showing strength and resolve at all times. In the main role, Quvenzhané Wallis gives a completely wondrous performance, and is filmed adoringly in rough, grainy shots and luminous close-ups. There is so much more to say about the film — what a perfectly realised, wonderfully imagined entity it is, how it feels fresh and exciting in every shot, how its plot and its metaphorical, allusive style of storytelling are perfectly matched. But I think I’ll stop gushing and end with a plea for everyone who loves films to go and see this delightful, vibrant movie. - Pajiba
Beasts of the Southern Wild - Briefly describing Beasts of the Southern Wild is like trying to explain the inner-workings of an airplane to someone who’s never seen a wheel. In his feature debut, director Benh Zeitlin has stirred up a magic pot of poetry, neo-realism, surrealism, pre-historic creatures, the ice age, childhood and lost cultures. The film is a symphony of curiosity that builds toward a glorious crescendo. It’s set on an island known as “The Bathtub,” located outside the Louisiana levees. It’s a forbidden land — off-limits according to the government — but misfits still inhabit it, living in makeshift shelters and using vehicles that would be at home in a post-apocalyptic world. If Zeitlin’s sheer ambition weren’t enough, the film’s young star and narrator, Quvenzhané Wallis, was born with a magnetic screen presence. Six-year-old Wallis injects Beasts with youthful verve. The story is told through her character’s curious eyes, and she emits so much lovable hope that it’s impossible not to follow her. —Jeremy Matthews, Paste Magazine
Beasts of the Southern Wild - We’re more than happy to report that all of the positive word is absolutely justified. Anchored by an astounding performance from 6-year-old rookie Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts is an emotional powerhouse. The film follows a tough little girl, Hushpuppy, who, living in a fictional New Orleans marshland community called “The Bathtub,” must contend with both a dying father (the equally dynamite Dwight Henry), mythical monsters known as “aurochs,” and rising waters that are washing her homeland away. Shot in the heart of New Orleans with newbie actors and a tight-knit production crew, Zeitlin’s picture is as authentic as it is captivating. When Hushpuppy’s defiant narration isn’t either making you laugh or stand at attention, the film’s rich characters and brave narrative turns will leave you clutching for fresh Kleenex. It’s a towering achievement from a director and young rugrat/actress whose names we’ll be hearing a lot of come awards season. - Matt Barone, Complex
Beasts of the Southern Wild - All too rarely a movie comes along that knocks you square on your ass. Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of those movies. A first time director with a cast of non-actors shooting a low budget movie with ambition far beyond its means - everything about Beasts of the Southern Wild screams bullshit to me. Everything except the movie itself, which is a startling and explosive piece of filmmaking. Anchored by a remarkable, all-time performance by six year old Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts is fairy tale meets social realism with the collision causing sparks of absolute cinematic purity. It's an overwhelming movie, one that grabs you by the guts and holds on tight. Young director Benh Zeitlin has made a fierce statement with his feature debut and set the bar incredibly high for himself. And, really, for everybody else making movies today. - Devin Faraci, Badass Digest
The Cabin in the Woods - The only 4 star review I’ve published so far, this is a phenomenally entertaining horror film that’s so much more than just that. It toys with your expectations the whole way through, but for me it’s the third act that’s just so above and beyond anything else so far this year. When a certain set of elevator doors open and, well…I’ve said too much already for those who haven’t seen it. Regardless, it’s a masterpiece from the minds of Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, and I still haven’t stopped thinking about my favorite moments from the film. I can guarantee you that it’ll wind up on my Top Ten list at the end of the year, and probably somewhere high as well. - Joey Magidson, The Awards Circuit
The Cabin in the Woods - here’s a film that floored me in the end, but it took me on a ride that for the first part I wasn’t exactly sure what was so special. Once the third act kicks in everything just sort of fell into place and I started to fill in the gaps and loving the first half more than I did at first. It’s bound to be one of my favorite horror movies of the year, however should I decide to ditch a horror list and go with a best of the year overall, I’d be shocked if this didn’t show up somewhere. - Luke, MoviesOnline
Damsels in Distress - Whit Stillman's first movie since 1998's "The Last Days of Disco" was worth the wait, even for those (like me) who don't love his other work. "Damsels" is the filmmaker's best, funniest, most thought-provoking take on the developing perspectives and conversational absurdities of young people, featuring a great lead turn from Greta Gerwig. - Matt Pais, Baltimore Sun
Moonrise Kingdom - Everything Wes Anderson has ever done has been leading to this. It's the most precise, mannered and art-directed movie that's come along in quite some time, so if that in-camera preciousness irks you, this will make your head explode. If you are a fan (and I am, though I've parted with Anderson in the past) this is a gooey, syrupy delight from the first frame until the last. 'Moonrise Kingdom' proves that you can be playful and fantastic while expressing deep sentiment at the same time. It's worthy of getting the title of Best Movie of 2012 (so far). - Jordan Hoffman, Screen Crush
Moonrise Kingdom - Wes Anderson hones his craft and concocts his most mature film to date, arty and whimsical yes, but a gorgeous and tender ode to young love, featuring a cast of Anderson regulars and newbies all contributing their best to this magical work. - Andy's Film Blog
The Secret World of Arrietty - An unspeakably beautiful little film, one that connects with the heart and mind on every possible level. Having watched the films of Studio Ghibli since I was little, I should no longer be this astonished by the house Miyazaki-san built, but I cannot help myself; they are the best at what they do, and each film they release is a revelation. Arrietty is based on Mary Norton’s classic novel The Borrowers, but writer Hayao Miyazaki (who is, without a doubt, my personal favorite filmmaker) and director Hiromasa Yonebayashi make the material their own, infusing it with unparalleled visual creativity, wonderfully endearing characters, and a poignant, underlying sense of melancholy that speaks to a special, intangible place in the hearts of every viewer. - Jonathan R. Lack, We Got This Covered
Twitter Poll: What is the best film of 2012 so far?
On what merits? Most beloved has got to be "Avengers". Biggest mind &$?@ is "Sound of my Voice". Most surprising "Chronicle" - Andrew Plotkin
Safety Not Guaranteed - Filipe Quintans
I enjoyed MOONRISE KINGDOM the most so far. - Adrian Charlie
Havent seen nearly enough to be conclusive, but my vote goes to MOONRISE KINGDOM. - Ryan Sanderson (@steamboatbilljr)
MOONRISE KINGDOM - Even though it had Wes Anderson's directorial touches, it still felt like nothing else out there this year. - Mike McGranaghan (@aisleseat)
Moonrise Kingdom - Dominic (@Count3D)
MOONRISE KINGDOM - Chris M. (@PulpTruth94)
I haven't seen anything better than Consuming Spirits, the lone animated at Tribeca. This Is Not a Film comes very close. - Daniel Walber
Magic Mike - Vince Mancini (@Filmdrunk)
Magic Mike. Granted, I haven't seen it yet, but I'm going with my gut. - Jennifer Campbell
The Turn Horse - Bernardo Villela
Have to say Turin Horse. Just so strong in every way. - David Neary (@DeusExCinema)
The Turin Horse or Wiseman's Crazy Horse. - Josh Brunsting
THE KID WITH A BIKE - Eugene Novikov
I'd have to give it to CABIN IN THE WOODS. - Brendan Foley (@TheTrueBrendanF)
Beasts of the Southern Wild - Maxwell Haddad (@MaxLHad)
This Is Not a Film, Elena - Christopher Bell (@karioutcb)
Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter (@thefilmcynic) to join The Conversation.