The Best Movies of 2012

6. The Gatekeepers
Rated PG-13
The most riveting nonfiction film of the year — and the one with the greatest possibility of actually affecting the state of the world — features a succession of talking heads speaking forthrightly, in subtitled Hebrew, about their stints over the years as heads of Israel's secretive internal security agency, Shin Bet. That filmmaker Dror Moreh was able to persuade the six chiefs to talk publicly is a wonder; during their tenures they were anonymous even to their fellow citizens. That they now speak as candidly as they do is a credit to Moreh's patience, his meticulous preparation, and above all to the influence of Errol Morris' exemplary documentary The Fog of War, which Moreh has said shaped his approach to examining shifting ''truth.'' Real love of country mixes with real despair as these gatekeepers review what happened under their watches, and assess the quandary of Israeli-Palestinian relations, as well as the toll taken on a tiny Jewish state by Jews divided against Jews.

7. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Rated PG-13
It's like nothing we've ever seen before — a post-Katrina fable tinged with myth and magic, beauty and musings on ecological destruction. And all of it is carried on the birdy shoulders of a little Louisiana girl named Hushpuppy, played with otherworldly charisma by novice acting phenom Quvenzhané Wallis. As conjured by first-time feature filmmaker Benh Zeitlin, Hushpuppy and her drinking, ailing daddy (played by another remarkable nonprofessional actor, Dwight Henry) live in a poor Delta community called the ''Bathtub.'' The place is perpetually in precarious shape, prone to flooding, dirt-poor, vibrant. Hushpuppy is prone to visions. And Beasts of the Southern Wild is prone to bursts of idiosyncratic dreaminess that follows a logic all the filmmaker's own.

8. Skyfall
Rated PG-13
The opening chase scene is a sleek romp across Istanbul roofs and the top of a moving train. The chief bad guy is a platinum-haired cybervillain gleefully fashioned by Javier Bardem. Daniel Craig is cool as a cuke. But what really lifts this 23rd Bond movie to a place on my list is the sophisticated way that director Sam Mendes (That guy? Who would have thought it?) says goodbye to the past and pivots toward the future. (Hello, Ralph Fiennes!) The movie doesn't shy away from the melancholy of mortality, nor from the anxieties of new-tech villainy that makes the spy biz, in Bond's words, ''a young man's game.''

9. The Loneliest Planet
Not rated
Indie writer-director Julia Loktev's emotionally profound drama masquerades as the tiny story of a young couple on a backpacking trip in the Caucasus Mountains the summer before their wedding. The two are deeply attuned to each other (as are the actors, Gael García Bernal and Hani Furstenberg) and pride themselves on being citizens of the world. Ever so delicately, Loktev locates exactly where they're not who they think they are. Often wordless, The Loneliest Planet is a collage of visual and aural sensations. What a pleasure to take this journey with so interesting an artist.

10. How to Survive a Plague
Not rated
David France's stirring documentary about AIDS activism during the worst of the plague years in the 1980s and '90s is a triumph of its kind: smart, focused, impassioned, disciplined, and beautifully shaped to suit its mission. It's also that rarest of nonfiction specimens, one that's abundant with information, and assertive without succumbing to the anger the activists featured — those still living representing those now dead — have every right to feel. Even better: It's inspiring.


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