Critics tend to open these 10-best lists by complaining that the year in question was not up to snuff, that it was filled with mediocre movies and indicative of the death of cinema etc.
But if 2012 is any representation of anything, and who knows if it is, the movies are in fact alive and well. This was one of the most exciting moviegoing years in recent memory, offering an assortment of blazingly original works, impactful dramas and incisive documentaries that collectively offered a powerful picture of the state of things at home and abroad:
1. 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'
An unforgettable first feature from Queens-born Benh Zeitlin about a 6-year-old girl, her father and their mythical bayou community. It's a visual wonder and an extraordinarily moving story about proud people clinging to their homes as a storm sweeps in.
2. 'Zero Dark Thirty'
The CIA's decade-long pursuit of Osama bin Laden is summed up in concise fashion in this drama. By transposing a national pursuit into the story of a single obsessed agent, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal powerfully humanize the nuts-and-bolts investigative process.
3. 'Silver Linings Playbook'
Director David O'Russell turns a risky project - depicting two mentally ill people (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence) falling in love against a suburban Philadelphia backdrop - into a genuinely feel-good love story.
4. 'Life of Pi'
Ang Lee pulls off a remarkable feat in his adaptation of Yann Martel's complicated novel, transforming the story of a teen stranded on a lifeboat alongside a tiger into a visually splendid 3-D work with a philosophical bent.
Anthony Hopkins' performance as Alfred Hitchcock has been overshadowed by other great actors playing real people this year (i.e. Daniel Day-Lewis), but it's the humanizing engine that drives this fascinating insider look at the making of "Psycho."
6. 'West of Memphis'
A powerful indictment of real-life injustice, this documentary looks at the West Memphis Three case from multiple angles. It's a searing portrait of an American tragedy.
Speaking of American tragedies: The plight of the city of Detroit stands as an enduring symbol of the economic malaise eating away at this country. The decaying city is an urgent symbol of just how much nation building we have to do at home. Documentarians Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing take a snapshot of the city here.
8. 'Rust and Bone'
Director Jacques Audiard's tender romance about proud people who slowly discover just how much they need each other is a work of sheer, visceral cinematic force
9. 'Searching for Sugar Man'
First-time documentarian Malik Bendjelloul has an amazing story to tell - the plight of Rodriguez, a forgotten '70s musician from Detroit who was a superstar in South Africa without knowing it - and he tells it extraordinarily well.
10. 'Django Unchained'
Writer/director Quentin Tarantino is at his genre-busting finest, with Christoph Waltz - the best all-time QT actor. Pure fun.