If any film caught me by surprise this year, it was Bernie. Richard Linklater doesn't so much blur the line between fiction and reality as cross it deliberately in this darkly comic tale of true crime. Jack Black finally gives me a reason to take him seriously in the role of a gregarious and somewhat effete funeral home director who's pushed to his limits when his is-it-or-isn't-it-platonic relationship with a wealthy spinster ends in bloodshed. Despite Black starring alongside Matthew McConaughy as the tireless town sherriff, the real stars are the residents of the rural Texas community as they gossip their way through the interviews that make up the bulk of the film. Maybe the most lighthearted murder story and the most accurate portrayal of small-town life you'll see all year.
Beyond the Black Rainbow
This myopic investigation into the audiovisual texture of 70s and 80s sci-fi reminds me of what Amer did with the giallo: reduce the genre to its component parts and examine them under extreme magnification. Beyond the Black Rainbow mixes up telepathy, human experimentation, new age medicine, general mindfuckery, and even some slasher tidbits and submerges them in in a haze of analogue synths and primary colors. The feel of the film drowns out any deeper meaning, but with style this strongly distilled I'm willing to ignore a slight lack of substance. Aesthetically speaking, this is my favorite film of 2012 by far.
Now this is the kind of kid's movie that I'd love to see more of - one that's in no way saccharine, free of pop-culture gags, and doesn't pander to the younger crowd. What's more, it recognizes a large part of being a kid is feeling weird and out of place, and uses this idea to drive a surprisingly good ghost story. Combining great stop-motion animation with characters that are likable as they're imperfect, ParaNorman is a movie with enough to keep kids of all ages (even those approaching their third decade, ahem) entertained throughout.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Few films in the past few years have gotten under my skin like this one. It's centered around the idea that the only thing worse than encountering evil embodied in your own children would be wondering if you'd somehow caused it, and somehow remains artistically and thematically fresh in the wake of countless "evil kid" films. Tilda Swinton is as wonderful as ever, and Ezra Miller (who you might recognize from the similarly chilling Afterschool) puts himself on the map as a young actor who isn't afraid of challenging roles. These strong performances are layered within a dreamlike structure that feels as if we're examining a set of memories, and climax in a truly chilling ending.
Some honorable mentions, in no particular order: The Cabin in the Woods, Excision, The Grey, Juan of the Dead, The Loved Ones, The Raid
What were your favorites? What am I missing?