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There’s an impulse when contemplating a list of your favorite films of any year to generalize about the state of things — the state of the art, the mood, the zeitgeist and so on — and to draw some conclusions about the direction Hollywood and world cinema are heading. Well, about the only commonalities I can find among my 10 best films for 2012 is that they’re all superbly photographed. Other than that, they’re quite different from one another.
Except for one thing: They are, in one way or another, about the end of something. Some are literally about mortality, while others grapple with one reality or set of assumptions giving way to another, more often in a melancholy rather than an alarming way. Change is everywhere around us, and the films to which I most strongly responded tended to reflect that.
What I enjoyed about the year is that seriousness and substance and historical perspective came in every type of package imaginable, from foreign art films and documentaries to American indies and branded blockbusters. I spent just as much mental and emotional time savoring the virtues of the terrifically accomplished Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises as I did those of such self-evidently serious works as Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild. And if every nation with a film industry produced even one film per year that was as thoughtful and penetrating and self-critical as Israel served up in two films, The Gatekeepers and Footnote, the world, and the cinema, would greatly benefit.
All of these films have been highly praised in many quarters and thoroughly discussed by critics as well as the public; as there might not be a lot more to say about them, I’ll just try to zero in on the essence of what seems so exemplary about them.
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