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The 25 Best Movies of 2012 (So Far)

June 26, 2012  |  8:15am
The 25 Best Movies of 2012 (So Far)

Critically acclaimed movies tend to bunch up near the end of the year, as distributors jockey for Oscar momentum. And 2012 certainly has plenty of upcoming films we’re excited about—Jeff Nichols’ Mud, Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, PT Anderson’s The Master, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables, and Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, to name just a few. Oh, and Christopher Nolan has some kind of small superhero movie coming out in a couple of weeks. But 2012 has also blessed us with an unusually large number of notable films in its first six months. It’s a development we whole-heartedly support. Here are our favorites, from a lush documentary about sushi to a completely new kind of horror film, from a tiny Belgian character study to a superhero blockbuster. Here are the 25 Best Movies of 2012, released between January and June.

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25. Blue Like Jazz
Blue Like Jazz follows young Donald Miller (Marshall Allman) in a tale of coming of age and crisis of faith, as he breaks free from his fundamentalist Christian life in Texas to explore the larger world via Portland, Ore. Donald works hard to separate himself from his past. He turns down the Bible college he was planning to attend and rebels by enrolling at Reed University. At this notoriously God-less school, he seeks freedom in booze, drugs, activism and some PG-rated hedonism. He struggles to fit into a world that is suddenly much bigger and scarier than he’d managed- all the while he grappling with the guilt of his background and faith. Led by the superb Allman, the cast shines. Allman’s Donald somehow maintains a boyish charm even as he grows more cynical and lost. As social activist Penny, Claire Holt deftly juggles both genuine optimism and self-importance as the girl who is always out saving the world while everyone else nurses hangovers. Tania Raymonde’s performance as Lauryn, Donald’s lesbian best friend, manages to be both caustic yet somehow warm. This adaption of Miller’s essays is as entertaining and exuberant as one could possibly desire in a coming-of-age story. But director/writer Steve Taylor, co-writer Ben Pearson and Donald Miller are fully aware of the reputation Christianity has in contemporary America, and they neither deny or shy away from it. As a result, Blue Like Jazz deserves a serious look from audiences outside its target demographic. —Clay Steakley

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24. Sound of Noise
In the Swedish film Sound of Noise, directed by Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson, six rogue, experimental musicians coordinate four guerilla performances throughout their city in an attempt to free its inhabitants from the stodgy tyranny of classical music. These six drummers perform avant-garde movements from their revolutionary score, “Music for One City and Six Drummers”, in different locations utilizing everyday objects—a heart monitor, a shredding machine and even power lines, for example—in order to create a musical performance like no other. The film takes a whimsical and youthful approach to storytelling while also presenting a totally original idea. Though the stories focus on a single string of events and a small group of individuals, as a whole they are able to delve into and aptly dissect hugely abstract ideas such as art, personal expression, and family dynamics without reducing them into trite aphorisms or belittling their complexity. Sound of Noise is a delight from start to finish. —Emily Kirkpatrick

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23. A Bag of Hammers
A Bag of Hammers is like the funny guy at parties. He’s not perfect, maybe a bit of a lush and flabby around the middle, but you love having him around. The feature debut from Director Brian Crano follows two cheeky criminals as they steal cars from funeral goers. Ben (Jason Ritter) and Alan (Jake Sandvig) are best friends and felons, sharing the wit and maturity of teenagers as well as a mysteriously dark past. When an out-of-town woman and her son rent the house next door, the young men find themselves quickly drawn into a wholly different sense of morality as it becomes clear that the 12-year-old boy, Kelsey (Chandler Canterbury), is being badly neglected by his high-strung mother, Lynette (Carrie Preston). At first, the friends try not to be concerned and shrug it off as “none of our business.” It’s not long, however, before Kelsey becomes their business, and they have to become role models overnight. A Bag of Hammers is well shot and well acted. There are truly brilliant scenes that occur through out the film—watch for a particular hard-hitting monologue from Ritter to Chandler Canterbury’s Kelsey in the diner about two-thirds of the way in—and these are what give the film its shine. —Maryann Koopman Kelly

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22. The Intouchables
Based on a real-life relationship, the odd couple of this film is composed of Philippe (François Cluzet), a millionaire paralyzed in a paragliding accident, and Driss (César-winning Omar Sy), a street hood by way of Senegal. White, black; rich, poor; immobile and extremely animated—Philippe and Driss are opposite in nearly every way. Their paths would never even cross were it not for the paperwork Driss needs signed to show he’s looking for work in order to qualify for state assistance. Tired of waiting to interview for a job he surely won’t get, he storms into Philippe’s office and slaps the form on his desk. Unable to move from the neck down, Philippe of course can’t fill it out, so he asks Driss to return in the morning. Impressed with Driss’ forthrightness and the fact that he actually comes back the next day, Philippe offers him a job. It’s the best thing to happen to both of them. Energetically paced by editor Dorian Rigal-Ansous and scored by Ludovico Einaudi, the immensely enjoyable Intouchables hinges on this central relationship but also broaches social taboos with a politically incorrect wit that flays what’s considered off-limits: socioeconomic disparity, race relations and especially physical disability. The filmmakers aren’t afraid to “go there,” and that they do elevates the sincerely feel-good material to larger cultural relevance. —Annlee Ellingson

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21. Under African Skies
Director Joe Berlinger’s fascinating, immersive documentary Under African Skies celebrates the 25th anniversary of Paul Simon’s landmark Graceland album and also examines the firestorm of controversy that it ignited. In 1985, Paul Simon traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, to meet and record with the black South African musicians who had become a kind of inspirational obsession for him. Nine days in South Africa and subsequent sessions in New York and London culminated in the five times Platinum, Grammy-winning cultural touchstone Graceland. While the album’s musical excellence was nearly universally praised, there were accusations that Simon’s pastiche of South African music with his own melodies might be more a case of cultural imperialism than of collaboration. To his credit, Berlinger presents all arguments impartially and leaves the viewer to come to his or her own terms with Simon’s motives and actions. The emotional core of this film, however, is the jubilant, gorgeous music and the musicians who created it. We are presented with electrifying performance footage, both from 1985 and 2011, of Simon and the true center of the Graceland sound—guitarist Ray Phiri, incomparable bassist Baghiti Khumalo, and drummer Isaac Mtshali. What unfolds is remarkable. By film’s finish, when Tambo and Simon embrace, it is evident that, differences aside, at the end we are left with the music. And the music is damn good. —Clay Steakley

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