Compiling this list is always a challenge, but this one seemed especially tough. It just wasn't a stellar year for film. Thankfully, smaller movies provided huge pleasures, and releases got more interesting in the last quarter. Oh, and if I were including film events, Christian Marclay's The Clock and the restored Jaws would be on here.
1. MOONRISE KINGDOM
It's a Wes Anderson movie, so we know this tale of young love on an East Coast island in the 1960s will be gorgeously shot, a tad precious and drolly amusing. What's unexpected is the heart beating beneath that deadpan surface.
2. ZERO DARK THIRTY
It's a two-and-a-half-hour CIA procedural whose outcome - the finding and killing of Osama bin Laden - is already known. But Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal trace the manoeuvring behind the headlines, with obsessives trying to outwit other obsessives.
3. A SEPARATION
Asghar Farhadi's film begins like a domestic Iranian drama and then morphs into a complex, gripping mystery that opens up a Pandora's box of problems related to class, religion, innocence and guilt. Its enigmatic ending will provoke arguments.
4. HOLY MOTORS
A man is chauffeured around Paris to keep a dozen appointments, changing character for each one. Leos Carax's hypnotic film is both a philosophical look at the roles we all play in life and a lovely tribute to the magic of cinema. It's motored by the Denis Lavant's bravura turn as the enigmatic Monsieur Oscar, with the elegant Edith Scob (who even gets to don a replica of her Eyes Without A Face mask) as his driver.
Steven Spielberg's film about the 16th president's attempts to abolish slavery for good and end the Civil War is a passionate reminder that some things are worth fighting, and dying, for - especially at a time when politics are more divisive than ever. Tony Kushner's script, Gettysburg address and all, brings history and polemic (not to mention Linc's circuitous stories) to life, and reins in Spielberg's penchant for sentimentality.
6. STORIES WE TELL
If you think you know what Sarah Polley's documentary is about (all those news stories), you've got another thing coming. It's a bravely personal movie, dealing with themes she's covered in her two features. But at heart it's also about how narratives help us make sense of the world. And it employs some of the cleverest recreated scenes ever.
7. DJANGO UNCHAINED
There's plenty of stylish pulp fiction in Quentin Tarantino's ode to genre cinema, but he doesn't flinch from depicting the real horrors of slavery and hinting at its legacy in modern-day sports and black-on-black crime. Sure it's 30 minutes too long, but it's still one of the year's most visceral and entertaining flicks.
8. ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA
A group of men investigate a possible crime, and as night turns to day some light is shed on the truth (not to mention those gorgeous Turkish hills), but things turn out to be much more complex. Very little happens in the plot, but so much is suggested about guilt, innocence and the human condition.
9. THE DEEP BLUE SEA
Terence Davies's adaptation of Terence Rattigan's play about a judge's wife (Rachel Weisz) who finally finds love is as richly passionate as the adagio from Barber's violin concerto that soars throughout the movie. The fact that Davies gets the postwar England details just right isn't as surprising as Weisz's soulful, vulnerable performance as a woman who gives up everything for a man. It's Anna Karenina done right.
10. KILLER JOE
Septuagenarian director William Friedkin demonstrates the ballsiness of a director half his age with this stylized take on Texas-style greed and violence. Nominal lead Emile Hirsch is slightly overshadowed by his scenery-chewing co-stars Matthew McConaughey, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon. And speaking of chewing, KFC just won't be the same afterwards.
The Sessions; Monsieur Lazhar; A Family Portrait In Black And White; The Central Park Five; The Queen Of Versailles
The Hunger Games; A Cabin In The Woods
The Apparition; A Thousand Words; Mirror Mirror; The Vow
Prometheus; The Master; Les Misérables