Top 20 films of 2012

Why make a list? For me it’s a way of remembering which are my favorites of the year, and using my blog to recommend smaller films to others, that maybe went unnoticed during awards season.
I stumbled across an interesting podcast, who ask that very question, and is well worth 20 min of your time: The Incompletists, Ep. 1: What’s in a List?

In case you’re wondering, I’m going by IMDb year, which is the world premiere of the films. Many ”2012” films didn’t get a general release until 2013. So I thought I would share both my updated 2012 and 2013 best lists. Top 20 of 2013 will follow soon.These are not necessarily the most popular or most critically acclaimed films, simply a collection of the ones that mean something to me.

So here’s the list, ladies and gents:

Honorable mentions:
Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino)
Amour (Michael Haneke)
Life of Pi (Ang Lee)
Mud (Jeff Nichols)
Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard)
Woody Allen: A Documentary (Robert B. Weide)
Tabu (Miguel Gomes)
What Richard Did (Lenny Abrahamson)
A Hijacking (Tobias Lindholm)
Paradise: Love (Ulrich Seidl)
Disconnect (Henry Alex Rubin)
Museum Hours (Jem Cohen)
Byzantium (Neil Jordan)
The Broken Circle Breakdown (Felix Van Groeningen)
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (documentary) (Alex Gibney)
Searching for Sugar Man (documentary) (Malik Bendjelloul)
After Lucia (Michel Franco)
The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard)
Compliance (Craig Zobel)
Sister (Ursula Meier)


20.)
Frances Ha (2012) (Noah Baumbach)
A contemporary indie with a fine performance by Greta Gerwig. There is a lot of fun dialogue. If you watched Noah Baumbach’s previous film Greenberg, Frances Ha is more of the same thing, only in black and white, with a female protagonist.
I loved the use of music in several scenes, a highlight was her running down the street with uplifting Modern Love by David Bowie(even though this was lifted from an 80s Carax movie), Another memorable music choice was Every 1’s a Winner by Hot Chocolate, at a time when Frances is struggling to define who she is.


19.)
The Almost Man (2012) (Martin Lund)
Underrated Norwegian drama/comedy. About how we find it easier to communicate in a relaxed manner with irony, yet how this alienates us from knowing how to be serious. Especially when someone is in the mood for silliness, and the other is in the mood for something else. The main character’s girlfriend is pregnant, and he must come to terms with the responsibility of growing up. Behaving more mature is difficult for him.
He is neither here nor there, trapped in a no man’s land. If you’ve ever felt like the odd one out at a party, this film would probably appeal to you. It’s kind of a companion piece to Frances Ha, from a male perspective. About having tact, knowing when and when not to use irony, when to speak your mind, and when to hold back and be quiet.


18.)
Palme (2012) (documentary) (Kristina Lindström, Maud Nycander)
Documentary about former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, which is not another conspiracy theory film about his assassination in 1986, but instead about the man’s career and how he was/is perceived.
Might not interest people outside of Scandinavia, though it is an insightful look at Palme’s life. He was a somewhat controversial politician, who still managed to achieve things along the way, and, if you believe what they say, with his heart in the right place. He neglected his children, because he had a busy working life, and this was perhaps his greatest failing. I saw the longer tv edit, there’s also a shorter version.


17.)
Blancanieves (2012) (Pablo Berger)
Silent film in black and white. The characters are stereotypes, but it has a lot of atmosphere, and worth watching just for the stunning visuals.
It’s kind of this year’s The Artist, only difference is it didn’t get a big marketing campaign.


16.)
Stories we Tell (2012) (documentary) (Sarah Polley)
Canadian documentary, that should have been nominated for best documentary at the 2014 Oscars. While I felt director Sarah Polley had more of an emotional interest in the story than I did, it was still an interesting family chronicle.
At times I wondered if her late mother would have approved that all these private details are revealed to a worldwide audience. I know I wouldn’t do this to my parents, after they died, no matter how interesting their life was. But that’s just me, Sarah Polley is of course free to do as she wishes.
Difficult to really talk about the family secrets, without spoiling. We get to know especially her parent’s on a deeper psychological level, all about their strengths and weaknesses. It’s an excellent doc, but it does feel like eavesdropping on something private.
Interesting how it was told from a personal angle, truth and memory are subjective entities. It kept me on the edge of my seat to the end. You could even compare it to Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950), in terms of storytelling.
Director Sarah Polley in interview for indiewire: ” It’s not going to be completely objective — no matter what — and there’s a lot of ethical responsibility in terms of how you’re presenting people to the outside world. Because for a lot of people, that’s the only context in which they’ll know these people.” (…) I became really interested in these bizarre, human urges to make a narrative out of a very confusing mess of details, and how deep that goes — like our need to create a narrative in order to make some sort of sense of life.


15.)
Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 (2012) (documentary) (Stevan Riley)
Entertaining documentary about the James Bond franchise. Starts off by focusing on writer Ian Fleming, and later on what was going on behind the scenes of the films. George Lazenby is remarkably honest, a pity there’s no new interview with Sean Connery, only brief archival footage and audio of him.
A number of films are not mentioned (Moonraker, A View To A Kill, Tomorrow Never Dies) so don’t expect all the Bond productions to be discussed.
Loved the music choices in the doc, instrumental tunes from the Bond movies. Enjoyable to watch, if you are a fan of the series. Very little is said about Skyfall, except a clip from the trailer.


14.)
Beasts of The Southern Wind (2012) (Benh Zeitlin)
The desire to live outside of civilized society has always interested me, The Mosquito Coast (1986) is among my 100 favorite films.
I loved the visuals and poetic dialogue of BOTSW, and I ended up liking it more than Holy Motors, because I could connect with the emotions. I’d like to watch Beasts with subtitles next time, the words aren’t that clear. It has a sort of mythic quality.


13.)
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) (Colin Trevorrow)
Has a quirky, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind vibe.
The going-back-in-time angle was interesting, because meeting up with an old friend is a kind of time travel.
Favorite quote: “go out, get out of your funk” “I have no funk, I’m funkless”


12.)
The Imposter (2012) (documentary) (Bart Layton)
Centered on a young Frenchman who claims to a grieving Texas family that he is their 16-year-old son who has been missing for 3 years. Brilliant, edge of your seat documentary. Had me glued to the screen right to the last frame. The family were gullible, since his eye color was different, but maybe they wanted him back so bad that they didn’t mind?


11.)
Liberal Arts (2012) (Josh Radnor)
Many college movies are juvenile with airhead characters. Liberal Arts is probably the smartest movie I’ve seen, set on a campus, since Good Will Hunting.
The structure of the story is not groundbreaking. The main reason to watch are the conversations and dialogue. I just love the way they talk in this movie. The performances are excellent by most involved, with Elizabeth Olsen the stand-out.
Zach Efron is surprisingly funny. The Allison Janney teacher subplot I could have done without, though.


10.)
Arbitrage (2012) (Nicholas Jarecki)
The title Arbitrage can be understood, in that you buy at one price, and sell at a higher price.
Better than average financial thriller with Richard Gere, in his best performance in years. Exceeded my expectations, and maintains tension and suspense throughout. I liked it more than Margin Call (2011)
Gere said in an interview for BBC radio: “And that is what these guys do, it’s all motion. (…) They don’t stop long enough to evaluate their lives (…) They are gamblers, it’s very boyish, about playing games, it’s about winning the game.”


9.)
The Master (2012) (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Great performances by the main cast. The characters are sort of unlikeable, though they are so fascinating to observe, that it doesn’t really matter. Whether Lancaster Dodd’s (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is helping or harming Freddy Quill (Joaquin Phoenix) is open to debate.
I agree with Eric at The Warning Sign, that “it could represent any number of cults. The point here is not to bash a certain organization but to show the man in power and his influence over those near him.”
Not sure it’s PTA best film, but it has grown on me, the more I think about it. I think there is more to discuss afterwards than his earlier work.


8.)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012) (Christopher Nolan)
Suspenseful, entertaining, good acting, and a surprising amount of emotion.
Everyone’s talking about Anne Hathaway, I actually thought Michael Caine’s performance was the best of the bunch!
I recommend Rises, but I had some issues. For me, there are far too many characters. Tom Hardy did well with such a limitation of Bane’s face, however Bane’s voice I found implausible and not correct for a villain, and in a weird way sounded like an old man, maybe sort of Scottish, which annoyed me. Yet it was a new approach to a villain, so maybe it’s alright, once you get over the initial surprise of it.
The action was praiseworthy, but I thought not really groundbreaking considering the reported 1/4 of a billion dollar budget…Several of the big scenes reminded me of Bruce Willis action movies and didn’t seem all that original.
However the cave prison was really great stuff, and got my mind racing about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
You have to judge a blockbuster on its merits, and indeed it succeeded in building tension, Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack worked really well again. On a personal level, I was more into the Tim Burton Batman universe. The story in Rises almost demands rewatching Nolan’s trilogy. Could be among the best Batman films, not sure if it’s among the most groundbreaking action films, though.
Rises probably has the most iconic ending of any film in 2012. I see this one improving on rewatch.


7.)
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)(Wes Anderson)
Doesn’t have much depth, if any. Not every film has to have that. A cute, sweet and beautifully framed story that I think achieves what it set out to do. Every screenshot is meticulously thought-out.
In the past, I think Wes Anderson’s quirkiness was too forced and didn’t quite fit the material, this time I think he got it right.
My expectations were probably considerably lower than others. As a cinephile who disliked most of Wes Anderson’s prior films, and who perceives him as an overrated filmmaker, I think Moonrise Kingdom is the director’s best film to date. Put a smile on my face, and for adults is a nostalgic trip back to that time in your life.
Favorite quote: “Dear Sam, I do think you should think of their faces every day, even if it makes you sad, it is too bad they did not leave you more pictures of themselves”


6.)
Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) (Stephen Chbosky)
Coming-of-age high school drama set in the early 90s before internet and mobile phones. Loved the atmosphere and soundtrack. The scene with Bowie’s song Hero’s while driving in the tunnel is an iconic scene. The rest of the soundtrack is good too.
I think it helped Emma Watson has gone to school in the US, her accent to me was impressive. Brit actors playing Americans often have dodgy distracting accents, not so in this film, at least nothing off that I noticed. I think she has the most promising future of the Harry Potter kids.


5.)
Skyfall (2012) (Sam Mendes)
Loved the opening credits scene on the train. The one-liners, love them or loathe them, reminded me of the 70s and 80s Bond movies, which is my favorite Bond era. I disliked Quantum of Solace, so it was a welcome return to form. Even though the motivations of the villain, especially in the underground, were not very clear to me. Bardem was a memorable villain, no doubt. I had a good time all the way through.


4.)
The Act of Killing (2012) (documentary) (Joshua Oppenheimer)
Overlong and slightly repetitive documentary, but the concept is original and thought-provoking. Extraordinary that these killers are free to walk the streets and wanted to take part in the film. They fluctuate between pride, pain, and guilt, and seem to have been inspired by gangster films and westerns, which is quite shocking.
I sensed the filming was therapeutic for the killers. Are they guilty, or merely following orders? The documentary humanizes them, so they are not simply ruthless killers, but real human beings.
A powerful documentary, and a history lesson that illuminates atrocities in Indonesia, and points a finger at the military dictatorship(and even western governments) as the cause. Disturbing that the current vice president says “beating people up is sometimes needed”, and “we need gangsters to get things done”, and how in their mind gangster=free man. For an election, voters are bribed to go to a rally, and to vote.
This type of killing of “communists” is still going on today, the intro claims.
Spoiler alert: There are some unforgettable scenes, particularly towards the end, involving a teddy bear, a killer sitting in a reenactment of the torture situation and breaking down, a musical number by a waterfall with the killer being given a gold medal, the same killer sitting with his grandchildren, and later in a yellow suit revisiting the torture area and throwing up.


3.)
The Hunt (2012) (Thomas Vinterberg)
Drama of a man (Mads Mikkelsen) falsely accused of child molestation. I guessed where it was heading, but still very powerful. The story can be broadened to other flock mentality witch hunts. About the importance of not judging too soon. Mads Mikkelsen won the Best Actor Award for his role at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. I was surprised that it was a Cannes entry, as it’s quite mainstream.
I think any male watching The Hunt would think twice about looking for work at a kintergarden. Teachers must tread carefully, from one second to the next their reputation could be tarnished forever, if they are wrongly accused, or a student has a grudge.
Spoilers may occur:
Director Thomas Vinterberg acknowledges his film is “an old tale in modern clothes” when interviewed in Sight & Sound mag: “I’ve always said Lucas wants to believe in the good of his community, but in that sense he’s also waiting for them to be good – and that’s a test (…) They are all very good-hearted, like hobbits, but very stern inside. When they feel this strength of togetherness, they can be tough”
In interviews, Vinterberg has claimed that the film reflects a crisis in Scandinavian masculinity. There is a certain gulf between the Lucas we see off duty, carousing with friends or hunting, and the kindergarden worker being scolded by the headteacher. (…) On one warped level, the accusations can be seen as benefiting him, since they give him an excuse to fight back. In his defiance, he reclaims his identity and becomes ever more macho, confronting his tormentors”


2.)
Laurence Anyways (2012) (Xavier Dolan)
I’m straight, not gay or transsexual. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a film about someone with those tendencies, if the story is told in a way that is appealing.
Forget about Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, Laurence Anyways is the best recent film about a transgender. It has it all, great performances, interesting conflict, the soundtrack of the year, and the photography is beautifully put together with the music.
Not everyone appreciates the music video style, but that stylized approach was actually what made me love the film. The director has spoken about his love for James Cameron’s Titanic, Dolan stated that he wanted this film to be his Titanic: “It’s just so epic and ambitious and I wanted Laurence to be as epic and as ambitious”.


1.)
The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (Derek Cianfrance)
Gripping drama, that stayed with me. I cared about what was going to happen, loved the haunting soundtrack, and as entertainment I think it worked fine. I was drawn to the characters, maybe they fascinated me, because they are so different to who I am. The structure of the film is quite unusual and unexpected.
While Pines was criticized for the two boys looking older than teenagers, that didn’t bother me.
Questions, can anyone be born clean? About becoming a father, and passing things on.
Ryan Gosling’s character has comparisons to Drive (2011), but for me, Pines is actually more mature than Refn’s film. Pines is a more complete film than the directors last effort Blue Valentine (2010)-which to me had terrific individual scenes, but had a bit uneven pacing.

Agree or disagree? Have I encouraged you to watch anything? Did I miss anything great from 2012? As always, thoughts are welcome in the comments

18 thoughts on “Top 20 films of 2012

  1. Fantabulous list here Chris!! Wow, lots of my 2013 faves like Act of Killing & The Hunt are on here, yes!! As a massive Bond fan, I LOVE that Everything or Nothing doc, very entertaining and insightful, I love the music in it too, I've been listening to Bond soundtrack since I was a wee girl!

    Oh and Skyfall was one of my fave in 2012, though I still love Casino Royale more. Nice list, once again!

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  2. Nice list here. I LOVED Everything or Nothing. Pierce Brosnan laughing hysterically at how idiotic the wave surfing thing from Die Another Day was… yeah, definitely one of my highlights from 2012.

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  3. Thanks a lot Ruth! I realize this list is a bit unorthodox with a mix of 2012 and 2013 releases, but I wanted to stick to imdb year, because I’ve done that on my site for yearly top 10s all the way back to 1920 🙂
    Happy you too liked Bond doc Everything or Nothing, the instrumental music in that is indeed excellent(I hope they release a soundtrack of it). Agree Casino Royale is great. Skyfall was a welcome return to form after the, in my opinion, mediocre Quantum of Solace.

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  4. @Alex Withrow: Thank you! Great when they don't take themselves too seriously, I remember clip with Brosnan laughing. That surfing thing really was kind of stupid, and Die another Day certainly is among my least favorite Bond films, ice palace and all 🙂

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  5. That's a great list. I'm still trying to do mine as I have over 50 in my list as there's still a bunch of films to look at as I want to make a definitive list which is why I still haven't finished the list for 2010, 2011, and 2013. Plus, I had ambitions to do a list of the best films of 2000s a few years ago in watching a list of films but… other things happened that prevented me from doing that.

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  6. Glad to see some love for Safety Not Guaranteed. That was my number two film of 2012. There were others from my Top 10 you didn't name. A couple are very well known, so it's obvious you would have seen them and found them lacking. A couple others you may or may not have seen that I'd recommend are The Other Dream Team and Bernie.

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  7. Very interesting list Chris! A lot I still haven't seen. I agree about that soundtrack in Place Beyond the Pines. Great to see The Hunt, Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall in the top 10 as well! I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild after I made my top 10 but have to put it in there too. Such a powerful film! Looks like I must try and watch Laurence Anyways and Act of Killing!

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  8. @thevoid99: Thank you, I’m pleased with the top 20 right now, though it’s almost impossible to be definitive, because you keep finding new films, or change your mind about the ranking, on rewatch.
    Best of the 2000s is an ambitious project!
    I’d like to do it for every decade eventually, a life-long project, realistically.

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  9. @Chip Lary: Glad we agree on Safety. Indeed several mainstream films are missing. Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, Cloud Atlas, & The Avengers, they were just not for me, I was bored by those.
    Among the high-profile Cannes films, Holy Motors and Amour were considered, but I just remember not connecting at all with them emotionally. however I did include several others like The Hunt, Moonrose, and so on.

    Bernie I liked, it’s on my 2011 list. Thanks for the suggestion of The Other Dream Team, it has an 8.4 rating on IMDb, so I’ll have to give that a watch at some point.
    You can see my full 2012 ranking here: http://letterboxd.com/mas365/list/films-watched-from-2012-ranked/

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  10. @Pete Turner: Thanks! Love soundtrack for The Place Beyond Pines, just a pity the trailer music “Che”, and the Bruce Springsteen track Dancing in the Dark weren’t included on the disc.
    Happy we agree on a few of those. I hope you like L Anyways and Act of Killing, both are unforgettable.

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  11. Great that you're doing a best of list of 2012. When I first saw the post I thought you made your 2013 list and just misspelled the title.
    Love that you included films Frances Ha, Stories We Tell and Beasts of the Southern Wild.

    I agree with your words on Liberal Arts. it is probably the best film about life on campus. Another recent good film about college would be Damsels in Distress, which is a bit different, not very realistic, more fantasy, but still pretty interesting.

    I have mixed thoughts on Safety Not Guaranteed and The Imposter. Safety didn't charm me that much and besides the shocking story of The Imposter nothing impressed me as much about that doc. Still it's a good story.

    Perks, The Master, Skyfall, Dark Knight Rises and Moonrise are all very good films. The Hunt will be on my 2013 list as well as Laurence Anyways once I see it, the length of almost 3 hours scared me a bit.

    Surprised to see Pines as your number 1. I liked that film, appreciated its use of time, all the actors delivered but I wasn't as impressed as you were. Still, it's a film everyone should watch.

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  12. @Cristi B: As you figured out, I’m doing 2012 now, and 2013 list later this month.
    I’ve seen Damsels in Distress, I didn't get to grips with the musical approach, and I found the depiction of college men a bit condescending. Whit Stillman has an interesting style, I think my favorite of his films is The Last Days of Disco. Metropolitan is well-written, but a bit predictable.

    I don’t know if The Imposter will hold up to a rewatch, I liked how it mixed thriller/documentary.
    Laurence Anyways is 3 hours, yet didn’t seem to matter to me, because it’s a story spanning many years.
    Yeah, probably I'm overpraising Pines, but you've got to have something as no 1, right?

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  13. So much to talk about here.
    – I liked the inclusion of Safety Not Guaranteed, The Imposter and The Hunt, which are some of the lesser known films released that year that deserved a lot more recognition.
    – I was bummed that The Hunt didn't win Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, but it was nominated at the very least. Madds is a very powerful actor. If you haven't seen his take on Hannibal Lecter in NBC's new fantastic show, you're missing a treat. The analysis of the director on his own work is fascinating. Never really thought about how Madds regains or, rather, finds his masculinity when he fights back against the community that wrongly accused him.
    – I didn't quite like The Master due to the strange, if not uneven pacing of the film, though it is to be expected with Paul Thomas Anderson. My biggest problem is that I couldn't connect to any of the characters, or even understand their motivations despite the wonderful performances the cast delivered. There Will be Blood remains my favorite PTA by far.
    – The Imposter was indeed a great documentary. I, however, have a different take on the attitude of the family. I believe they knew all along that it wasn't him, maybe with the exception of the mother, who was perhaps blinded by the wish to have him back. Aside from her, I think the real motive was to cover up his disappearance, since it implicated the family in some way, which in itself is a very disturbing thought, and exactly why I think the ending of the film is so great.
    – I absolutely loved Perks of Being a Wallflower as well as The Place Beyond the Pines, which I was glad to see high up on your list. It's truly a wonderful tale that almost feels as if you're watching a visual novel unwind in front of you. I could relate to all of the characters on screen and I do agree with you in terms of Ryan Gosling's performance in Drive. I don't think the films are comparable though beyond his acting, since Refn is a director that is far more interested in style and composition than in story. I would ask you exactly what you mean by “more mature” and does it exclusively refer to the depth of the story? Would like to hear your thoughts.

    Great list Chris, even though I would probably include some different films, especially ones that you only mentioned above but didn't quite cut it. Still have to see The Act of Killing and Frances Ha!

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  14. @niels85: I like to highlight the lesser known films, and I also tend to like films that have something to say-which I think The Hunt did.
    I haven’t seen Hannibal-not really into tv besides comedy, but glad you are a fan of the show.
    A great quote about The Hunt, a positive is he finds his masculinity, however I’m sure Mikkelsen’s character would have preferred to avoid that terrible ordeal of being accused!
    The Master is a marvel for the look of the film, and the people in it fascinated me. A divisive film, though, everyone is kind of unlikeable and difficult to love. Perhaps the characters are confused, unpredictable and not meant to be understood.
    The Imposter SPOILER: that’s a fair interpretation, that family actually killed their own son(by accident maybe?), and used the stranger as cover.
    “more mature” in The Place Beyond the Pines, well it was in relation to Drive, that I feel Pines was about something existential(what we pass on to next generation), while Drive was just, well, as you said, style.
    Thanks for reading.

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  15. Damn, I forgot how many great films came out in 2012. The Imposter, The Master, The Hunt, TDKR, Moonrise Kingdom… so many of these were among my favorites as well. I still can't believe The Imposter. What a trip. Great list!

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  16. Eric @ The Warning Sign: It’s like taking a trip down cinematic memory lane, doing these yearly posts. Good way to remember the films we loved from that year 🙂

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  17. Great list, Chris! The Master and Moonrise Kingdom might make my top 10 now. If not, they're in the top 20. I love that you have Skyfall and TDKR so high, and your top 3 picks are awesome!

    I've actually been thinking about changing my ballots and lists to go by original release. The only problem is that I'd have to do updates for new releases that came out a year before, like you've done here. 🙂

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  18. @Josh: Thank you! Glad we agree on several of the choices. I haven’t rewatched The Master or Moonrise Kingdom, maybe I should.

    Changing all those ballots, that’s a lot of work, would take some time, happy it’s not me who has to do all that 🙂 I haven't seen anyonne else go by world premiere(IMDb year) as I do, except for lists on letterboxd, so I don't know if it's worth all the bother for you 🙂

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