The Best 2012 Movies of 2013, So Far

Due to the vagaries and inanities of motion picture distribution, most of the best movies of the year just now half completed had their premieres last year, either on the festival circuit, in limited engagements in The Only Cities That Matter (that’s NY & LA), or both. This kind of thing always results in chronological chaos: when a film’s eligibility is determined by local theatrical release date a movie can be a 2012 film in one city and a 2013 one in another and no one knows what to do with festival movies.  Take the case of Hong Sangsoo: In Another Country played festivals and in New York City in 2012, but opened in Seattle in 2013. But I, a Seattle-based critic (more or less), saw it at the Vancouver Film Festival in 2012. I also saw Hong’s Oki’s Movie at VIFF, but in 2010. However, it didn’t premiere theatrically in the US (New York or anywhere else) until 2012 (as did his The Day He Arrives, which played festivals in 2011 but I didn’t see until I rented it on DVD in 2012, a few weeks before it played (briefly) in a New York theatre – it has yet to play in a Seattle theatre to my knowledge). His latest film (Nobody’s Daughter Haewon) has played festivals in some cities, but has yet to become available at a theatre or video store near me, as far as I can tell. What year are the Hongs?

My solution for all my lists here at The End is to go by imdb date, which is based on the first time a film plays for an audience, festival or commercial, anywhere in the world. It makes more sense to say Hong made a film in each of 2010, ’11, ’12 and ’13, and that those films should be ranked (if we’re going to rank films) against the other films made that year (and set aside the fact that movies aren’t always initially released the year they were made, for it’s possible to go too far down the rabbit hole). Going by non-festival US theatrical release gives us no eligible Hongs for 2010 or 2011, and either two or three Hongs eligible for 2012 and zero or one or two for 2013, depending on where the list-maker just happens to live. Listological chaos.

(I won’t even mention the havoc going by local release dates plays with historical titles. Suffice it to say that Tokyo Story would become a 1953 film for a Japanese critic, a 1964 film for a Swedish one and a 1972 film for a New Yorker. This kind of absurdity played out in reality in 2006 when several critics (not just New Yorkers) put Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1969 classic Army of Shadows on their end of the year Best Of lists, more than 20 years after Melville’s death.)

By this standard, my 2013 Best of the Year so far list would contain only two titles, one of which is a TV series that as far as I know only played as a film at the Sundance Film Festival (Top of the Lake). But many of my favorite films of 2012 are showing up on a number of critics’ lists, as they follow a less logical system. So here I present my list of the Top Ten 2012 Movies that Show Up On Other People’s Best of 2013 So Far Lists Even Though They Really Shouldn’t Be Considered As Such:

1. Like Someone in Love (Abbas Kiarostami)

2. Night Across the Street (Raúl Ruiz)

3. Drug War (Johnnie To)

4. To the Wonder (Terrence Malick)

5. In Another Country (Hong Sangsoo)

6. Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)

7. Mekong Hotel (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

8. Tabu (Miguel Gomes)

9. Much Ado About Nothing (Joss Whedon)

10. When Night Falls (Ying Liang)

Note that of these, I’m pretty sure that numbers 2 and 10 have yet to play theatrically in Seattle, though they have played New York, while number 3 played the Seattle Film Festival but has yet to have a commercial release here or elsewhere around the US (though it played theatres in China last year, where Johnnie To already has had another film released this year).

Links are to my reviews, either here, on letterboxd or in podcast form.

Update October 2013: Current lists for 2012, 2013 and lots of other years can be found here.

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5 thoughts on “The Best 2012 Movies of 2013, So Far

  1. I'm with you on your #1, no surprise there. Also loved IN ANOTHER COUNTRY. Hope to catch up with the rest when they hit home video. Particularly looking forward to NIGHT ACROSS THE STREET and TO THE WONDER.

    I'm starting to roll over to the IMDb system, just because of how frustrating it is to try to figure out a film's year on your own when you get into weird cases like the ones you mention. When asked for a list for other sites, I'll put some of these 2012 films on the list simply because I haven't seen enough 2013 films yet and probably won't until about this time next year.

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  2. Love your #1 and so happy to see TABU on the list! I'm still mulling over TO THE WONDER – I felt slightly annoyed and a little disappointed with it at first, but the more I've thought about it, the more I've liked it, and I believe it's much more interesting than my initial gut reaction led me to believe. Needs a re-watch soon, I think. How would you rank it among Malick's other films?

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