Polisse (Sundance Selects)
A gritty, emotion-laden and surprisingly uplifting look at the Child Protection Unit of the Paris police. Director Maiwenn Le Besco captures the ugly secrecy of ritual sexual abuse, the difficulty of interrogating children and the bonding of the men and women who work every day to attain justice, sometimes finding love in the process and sometimes succumbing to the darkness they face.
Generation P (Generation P/Room)
Director Victor Ginzburg's astonishing adaptation of Russian novelist Victor Pelevin's work is dense with amazing visuals and satiric philosophy. Vladimir Epifantsev is terrific as an ad copywriter during the downfall of the Soviet Union whose psychedelic drug fueled, anti-Western slogans gain him stratospheric success but also reveal a virtual reality superstructure governing his country. This is the 2001: A Space Odyssey for our time.
The Sessions (Rhino Films/Fox Searchlight)
John Hawkes turns in an Oscar caliber performance as real-life journalist Mark O'Brien, confined to an iron lung and, at 38, contemplating losing his virginity to a Berkeley sex therapist, played sensitively by Helen Hunt. Sometimes outrageously funny, at other times wrenching but never manipulative, Ben Lewin's film moves even the most hardened heart.
Flight (MacDonald/Parkes Productions/Paramount)
Flight involves one of Denzel Washington's finest performances and John Gatins's script show great nuance, as we come to both admire and condemn Whip, the pilot who saves most of the passengers during a crash due to mechanical failure but who cannot control his own alcoholism. Robert Zemeckis has made his best drama here, easily the finest film to come out of the studios in 2012.
Perfect Sense (IFC Films)
Harrowing, surreal and poetic, Perfect Sense, directed by David Mackenzie, details the end of the world via loss of the senses, one at a time. Ewan McGregor and Eva Green play lovers who see their world robbed of the ability to taste and hear and finally see. This film deserves the acclaim that Lars von Trier's Melancholia was curiously given. It is as brave as it is unique.
Arbitrage (Green Room Films/Treehouse Films/Roadside Attractions)
Richard Gere has mastered the role of likeable social predator before, but in writer-director Nicholas Jarecki's intriguing drama, he has risen to new heights (and lows) as a financial scion whose marriage of convenience and relationship with his employee-daughter are balanced against his need to hide fraudulent activity and his desperation to remain in control of his empire.
Monsieur Lazhar (Music Box Films)
Mohamed Felag, normally a comedian, shows great subtlety and power in the title role, an Algerian substitute teacher in Montreal who takes over an elementary school class after the last teacher has committed suicide. Writer-director Philippe Falardeau breaks our hearts beautifully, showing the bond between the character and his young students and the tragedy of his past life ruining his chances to continue healing his stricken psyches.
A Royal Affair (Magnolia Pictures)
A magnificent historical epic about a little known but engrossing bit of 18th century Danish history. Mads Mikkelsen plays a doctor and follower of the Enlightenment who placates a lunatic King, has a secret affair with the Queen and together with her, enacts social reforms against the wishes of the aristocracy. Nickolaj Arcel has a fascinating, true story here and makes the production as beautiful to watch as any recent epic.
The Story of Film: An Odyssey (Hopskotch Films)
Scottish author and film historian Mark Cousins narrates this impressive, 900-minute series, using clips, interviews and his commentary about world cinema and its greatest innovators and auteurs. It is a herculean effort and inasmuch as it is available now on Netflix, those who care to learn about filmmakers they might not know, and see connections between films from different decades and countries, are well advised to take the journey.
Turn Me On, Dammit! (New Yorker Films)
A film that is effortlessly funny and treats youthful sexuality in a way American films never seem to do, Turn Me On, Dammit! follows a 15-year-old girl in a Norwegian town so boring, she sexually fantasizes about scores of its inhabitants. Director Jannicke Systad Jacobsen miraculously never offends or gets smarmy but joyously captures the longings, rebelliousness and sweet naiveté of youth.
Noteworthy Releases: Any Day Now, Detachment, Hysteria, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, Moonrise Kingdom, Rock Of Ages, Samsara, The Woman In The Fifth, The Words, The Zen of Bennett