If you're reading this, fire and brimstone did not disintegrate our printing press last Friday, which means the Apocalypse has been averted and you can get on with watching some of the most impressive films 2012 had to offer. Still, while you're at it, keep an eye out for fidgety Mayans, Cornerstone Church nutjobs, and John Cusack — just in case. Now, without further ado…
1. The Master
It's not a masterpiece like There Will Be Blood, but the works of auteur director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson over the last decade and a half are some of the most challenging films to dissect for anyone who dares to step into his bizarrely compelling world. None of his contributions, however, have been as demanding and dreamlike as this intelligent and alienating film loosely inspired by the early teachings of L. Ron Hubbard. The lofty concepts and ambiguous meaning of some scenes might incite indifference from some, but Anderson's unconventional craftsmanship is precise. Phillip Seymour Hoffman's performance is beyond words, and Joaquin Phoenix's take on the animalistic nature of man speaks volumes to the core elements of what makes the film such a devastating one to shake.
This harrowing love story between two octogenarians features French actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva in heart-wrenching roles directed by Michael Haneke. It's undeniably tragic without being sentimental and easily the best non-American film of the year.
3. Zero Dark Thirty
Filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow follows her Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker with another wartime thriller, this one centered on the intense decade-long manhunt for former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The final mission is mesmerizing.
4. Django Unchained
In one of two films on this list about slavery, director/writer Quentin Tarantino takes a no-holds-barred approach and delivers another well-written, ultra-violent spectacle masked as a spaghetti western. Sergio Leone would be both proud and traumatized.
5. Life of Pi
Although it came with the literary reputation of being unadaptable, director Ang Lee and screenwriter David Magee managed to take Yann Martel's novel about a young boy and a tiger lost at sea and make it sing visually and narratively.
6. Moonrise Kingdom
Using his distinctly unique storytelling style and direction, director/writer Wes Anderson explores young love through the sentiments of two 12-year-olds during the Summer of 1965. The film is eccentric and sweet and Anderson's best live-actioner since The Royal Tenenbaums.
More than a historical drama about the 13th Amendment, Steven Spielberg's biopic is an actor's showcase led by the always formidable Daniel Day-Lewis as Honest Abe. It's congressional theater at its most fascinating.
8. Beasts of the Southern Wild
"I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right." The same line 6-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) expresses can also be used to describe just how this indie fits into the grand scheme of cinema. Amongst the giants this year, this film by first-time director Benh Zeitlin can be overlooked. But without it, true fantasy is lost.
9. The Imposter and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (tie)
With much respect for musician Sixto Rodríguez in Searching for Sugar Man, the most intriguing documentary subjects of the year were French serial imposter Frédéric Bourdin, whose detached personality is spine-chilling, and fearless Chinese artist/activist Ai Weiwei, whose invigorating spirit gives him the strength to stand up against an oppressive government.
10. Killing Them Softly
Criminals feel the effects of the 2008 financial crisis in this cynical and dialogue-heavy film by the director Andrew Dominik. Sure, it's a bit heavy-handed, but also viciously funny.
Argo, Bernie, Chicken with Plums, End of Watch, The Grey, The House I Live In, The Impossible, The Intouchables, A Royal Affair, Rust and Bone, Searching for Sugar Man, Silver Linings Playbook, Wreck-It Ralph