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Annual Top Films Lists

Jordan M. Smith’s Top Ten Unreleased Films of 2012: Docs Leviathan and The Act Of Killing Among Picks 10 to 6

10. Leviathan
Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel’s follow-up to their fascinating depiction of traveling sheep herders in Sweetgrass, is this year’s quintessential art doc. With a myriad of weather-proof digital cameras strapped to a North America trolling ship, the film documents the grotesque nature of the commercial fishing profession on a very physical level. We slosh about the deck bathed in the blood of countless sea creatures while we watch weathered men be pelted by an ever present downpour as hungry gulls flutter against a black sky hoping to score some remains. This is Deadliest Catch without the embellishments of competition, personality or theme music and it is a purely guttural experience to be had.

9. Post Tenebras Lux
Carlos Reygadas’s latest is the only film on the list that debuted at Cannes this year that I’ve managed to see (I’m still patiently awaiting Holy Motors, Amour, Mud and several others). No less challenging than his past films, this one sports autobiographical beginnings of a well-off family uprooted and placed in the imposing Mexican countryside where their relationships are pulled against the strain of seclusion and class struggles. Its mysteries lie within its mesmerizingly distorted imagery – a toddler plodding in the mud among cattle before a storm, a radiant demon floats about a sleeping household in the night, the parents venture awkwardly into a swingers club for the first time. There is an unfamiliar beauty drifting through these frames, and though I can’t put my finger on just why that is, they beg for repeat viewings.

8. I Am Not A Hipster
Another film with a love of audio (via the indie music scene) as well as backing from crowd funding, director Destin Cretton’s feature debut is a powerful character piece about the contradictory nature of art and its capacity to bear both the propensity of impersonal amusement and the intimacies of raw emotion within its bounds. With a killer original soundtrack performed mostly on screen by newcomer Dominic Bogart and a keen understanding of hipster culture without feeling like a product born within it, this is a film sorely overlooked.

7. Berberian Sound Studio
After speaking with director Peter Strickland this year in Toronto, it was clear to me that he is much more obsessed with horror film history and the artful intentions that lay beneath the low budget gore than one might even guess after seeing his glorious nod to Italian giallo films and the analog lineage that really made those films shine. As someone who has worked and studied in audio, Strickland’s film is a treat purely for its depiction of foley work and the utter ridiculousness of it all (recalling De Palma’s Blow Out for its pure love of recording), but that isn’t its only trick. Toby Jones’s character finds himself lost in a psychological war with not only the film he’s working on, but the foreign world that surrounds it.

6. The Act Of Killing
The Act Of KillingGenerally, to me, non-fiction is a medium best suited for political journalism, but made for personal, humanist storytelling. With this absolutely shocking film, director Joshua Oppenheimer joined by Christine Cynn and countless Anonymous contributors have brought these forms together with appalling candor by asking its subjects, former leaders of Indonesian Death Squads, to act out the horrendous acts they once committed and still to this day speak of with pride. Oppenheimer spent years embedded with this people, befriending them, and he is rewarded with a medley of incredible footage, some play as hysterically funny (performing poorly choreographed dance sequences come to mind) while most remain harrowing reminders that the world is a much darker place than we’d like to believe.

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