56 Best Movies & Shows Released in 2012

Staff & contributors

Find the best movies and show to watch from the year 2012. These handpicked recommendations are highly-rated by viewers and critics.

It comes as no surprise that former Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen won Best Actor in Cannes for delivering on this challenging role. In this merciless thriller by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, the ice-eyed actor plays Lucas, an out-of-luck high school teacher struggling to start a new life. After a bitter divorce, he returns to the close-knit community he grew up in to work as a kindergarten teacher.

A few weeks before Christmas, a child from his class, who has an innocent crush on the popular teacher, hints to a colleague that he had exposed himself to her. The young girl’s intimation galvanizes the small hunter’s town into a witch-hunt that leaves Lucas’ life hanging from a string. Trapped in the lies, the more he fights back, the more irrational the mob becomes. In all its brutal honesty, The Hunt is one of those rare thrillers that will haunt you for days. Extraordinary and thought-provoking!

A wealthy paraplegic needs a new caretaker. His choice is surprising -- an ex-con down on his luck. Both of their lives are changed forever. Based on a true story, it is funny, touching, and very surprising.  It will have you rolling on the floor laughing one minute and reaching for your hankie the next. Intouchables is one of those perfect movies, that will easily and instantly make anyone's all-time top 10 list.

American folk singer Sixto Diaz Rodriguez recorded two albums in Detroit in the 1970s, which he played live across the city, but never to critical acclaim or commercial success. Disappointed, he soon quit his musical career, bought a run-down house in the Motor City, and lived a simple life working in construction. So far, this sounds like the biography of many musicians that never quite made it, talented or otherwise.

However, a strange thing happened. By the mid-1970s, his albums were getting significant airplay in countries like Australia, Zimbabwe, and Apartheid-era South Africa, where he was soon considered a musical voice on par with the Beatles. While living a reclusive life in Detroit, Michigan, he unwittingly became a star on the other side of the globe. This engaged and visually appealing documentary by the late Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul tells his story and spells out a fascinating footnote of global music history.

Simply titled The Imposter, this film by English documentary maker Bart Layton tells an unbelievable tale. Any plot summary doing this film justice has to err on the side of brevity, which is why it will be only one line long: this is the story of Frederic Bourdin, a serial imposter nicknamed “The Chameleon”, who at one time claimed to be the missing son of a family from Texas. The film is so well-shot that it is hard to tell fact from fiction at times and it will force you to remind yourself that this is in fact real life. Expect twists and turns at every corner and brilliant storytelling from real people. If Christopher Nolan created a 48-hour story, it would pale in comparison to this film.
Bittersweet like Belgian chocolate, this is a coming-home movie. It will leave you raw and empty as well as full of life, and it will most certainly have you appreciate the mournfulness of bluegrass music. Based on a play co-written by Johan Heldenbergh, who also stars as Didier, the male lead, this is intricately written, thoughtfully directed, viscerally acted cinema. Bluegrass enthusiast and band leader Didier falls passionately in love with Elise, a spirited tattoo artist. They sing together, start a life together. But when their little girl falls gravely ill, everything changes. Because this gem of a film by director Felix van Groeningen excels at creating intimacy and empathy between us viewers and this beautiful family's fate, you will feel everything you see. Incredibly well-made and gut-wrenching drama.
If you're living alone and just came back home from a bad day, Wolf Children can make you feel like everything's alright. It's the kind of movie that feels like a warm hug and one that you will likely bookmark to get back to for this exact reason. Co-written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda, who's most known for The Girl Who Leaps Through Time, the title is to be taken without any salt: it tells the, allegedly true, story of a woman raising children who are half-human and half-wolf. It all starts with Yuki studying at Tokyo University, where she meets a mysterious and handsome young man, who can turn into a wolf at will. They fall in love and have children inheriting this strange skill. This is where the colorful visuals and life-affirming vibe of this anime give way to a bleak narrative turn. Wolf Children is a strange story of love and parenting told in an imitable style.
Joshua Oppenheimer's daring feat is a documentary unlike anything ever done. Despite it being one of the most difficult things to watch for any human being (or because of it), The Act of Killing received praise across the board, including an Academy Award nomination. Without Oppenheimer's efforts, you might have never heard of the unspeakable events that happened when, in 1965-66, Suharto overthrew the then-president of Indonesia and a gangster-led death squad killed almost a million people. Did they pay for their crimes? Quite the contrary: said gangsters went on becoming political mainstays in modern-day Indonesia, are still now heralded as heroes, and admit to all these crimes with a smile and not a hint of regret. The gruesome twist of this documentary is that Oppenheimer asks them to re-enact the killings in surreal, sadistic snuff movies inspired by the murderer's favorite action movies. You are forced to stand idly by as they re-create brutal mass murder and joke about raping a 14-year-old. However, somewhere amidst this terrifying farce, the killers, too, have fleeting moments of realization that what they're doing is wrong. If you make it through this in one piece, try watching its more victim-focused follow-up The Look of Silence. Bone-chilling but very powerful stuff.
The Sanskrit word Samsara refers to the wheel of life and roughly translates to “continuous flow”. And, indeed, Samsara takes us on an entrancing journey, chronicling the never-ending cycle of birth, life, death, and re-birth that life, big and small, goes through—at least according to the religions that were born on the Indian continent. Shot on 70mm film and utilizing computerized camera movements as well as time-lapse photography, this film by American director Ron Fricke delivers absolutely breath-taking visuals. Whether it's awe-inspiring vastness or the close-up of a human face, its narration-less narrative integrates every aspect of human and natural life regardless of scale or location. The scope of this effort is truly awe-inspiring and the clarity of it has to be seen to be believed. An unusual and magical film!

A very poetic film by Tony Kaye (American History X) about an English Literature teacher (Adrien Brody - "The Pianist") who only works as a substitute in schools which are located in very poor urban areas. The reason behind his choice is that he doesn't want to bond too much with his students and colleagues because he is trying to control his dark emotions about life and the triviality of our existences (although it sounds depressing it is absolutely not). He also takes care of his last family connection, his grandfather, to whom he is very close and who lives in an elderly home. Unsurprisingly, their relationship is very emotional and deep. Every time you think about your existence, your place in the world, your interactions with other people; watch Detachment.

If you thought Dallas Buyers Club, Interstellar, or True Detective was already the pinnacle of what Mathew McConaughey could do, wait until you see this film! Created by writer-director Jeff Nichols and set in the American South, Mud is a beautiful tale of love, loss, and personal growth. Two children, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), come across the elusive Mud (who is played by McConaughey), a man on the run wanted for murder. Initially scared of his mysterious character, the kids end up wanting to help and protect him from his those pursuing him. Ultimately a story of love, the film deals with a very human crisis seen through the eyes of children, drawing from American adventure tales and the humidity of the South. Mud is exciting, uneasy, sad, and quite beautiful. All at once.
Fasten your seatbelts because this nasty little chase film will jerk the wheel when you least expect it, featuring balls-to-the-wall action and lots of Norwegian humor – dark humor that is. Based on a novel from the country's most famous crime writer, Jo Nesbø, Headhunters is brutal, insane, and incredibly good. This twisting, turning thriller tells the story of a corporate recruiter (Aksel Hennie), who has a secret side hustle as a nightly art thief. He ends up being pursued by the charismatic Clas Greve, a Dutch businessman played by none other than GoT-star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. And this plot summary is as far as you will get without the whole thing swerving into another direction. Headhunters does not slow down unless it wants to destabilise you further with simmering suspense. Like a Lars von Trier on speed, expect all the raw colors, emotion, and slightly off-kilter characters you want from a Norwegian production – and brilliant entertainment!
Goon is funny, violent, and sweet as hell. You’ll be surprised by how nasty it is but at the same time you won’t care. What you will want to do, on the other hand, is rip through the screen, and hug the main character. It is also a great example of a feel-good movie that isn’t solely focused on being a feel-good movie. It’s also great love story, with all its absurdities and highly emotional load. The story shines a light on the players who join hockey teams not for the game but for the fights that may erupt. They are called goons. Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) is a new goon and this movie is his journey towards success both on the ice and off.

This masterpiece from Norwegian director Joachim Trier is a clear-eyed movie that takes place in one day in the life of a 34-year-old. Anders, a recovering drug addict, gets to leave his rehab facility for the first time to take a job interview. He visits friends, tries to meet his ex, and goes to the interview. With every interaction, you get to know him more and understand that what he's going through is shared with everyone he meets. At 34, Anders feels it is too late to turn his life around, and so do his friends. He just happens to be a drug addict.

Another fantastic documentary from 2012, this one tells the remarkable story of the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic Men’s Basketball team that received scant attention in the shadow of the renowned U.S. “Dream Team” of NBA superstars (Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, etc.). The Lithuanians’ story is all the more fascinating in that it comes immediately on the heels of their country’s freedom from Communist rule. With little hope of participating in the Barcelona games, they received the most unlikely last-minute assistance from the Grateful Dead, of all sources. A really great true-life story, told with an exuberance and a verve not often expected from non-fiction filmmaking. I challenge anyone watch this one and walk away uninspired.