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Add These to Your NetFlix Queue: Films You Should Have Seen This Year

The New Republic’s film critics on some of the best, under-appreciated films of 2012:

Amour: Amour is as hard and bright as bone. The love it observes is intense, selfish, and nearly insane (these are the film’s greatest truths). – David Thomson, watch trailer

The Deep Blue Sea: [Terence] Davies, who is now sixty-six and has made only seven films in his long career, has transformed the one-set [Terence] Rattigan play into a well-flexed film with imaginative lifts along the way. – Stanley Kauffmann, watch trailer

Dreams of a Life: Its holes or omissions cannot diminish the gaping eloquence of the situation and the questions that arise. … You can dispute the method of this film, and even its integrity, but there is no escaping the true, casual terror in the situation that prompted it. – DT, watch trailer

Elena: Naturalism lives. If Zola were a Russian in Russia today, he might have written Elena. – SK, watch trailer

Farewell, My Queen: In the quasi-leading role Léa Seydoux is as honest as possible. Diane Kruger, as this year’s Marie Antoinette, is so beautiful that we are glad that the film spares us her execution. Director [Benoît] Jacquot has juggled all his elements with ease. – SK, watch trailer

Five Broken Cameras: The result is a bit jagged, inevitably incomplete, and in no way news-breaking: it is simply moving. – SK, watch trailer

Footnote: For all its virtues, which are engaging, [Joseph] Cedar’s screenplay has fissures. … At the last, however, Footnote is so intelligently and deftly made that we are glad it exists. – SK, watch trailer

The Front Line : It is a waste of time to think about war—not any particular war but the phenomenon in itself. It was, is, will be, despite recurrent attempts to tell truths about it. Still, we can be grateful that a Jang Hun comes along now and then to inscribe a human record. – SK, watch trailer

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters: Cinematography generally is so enveloping that, although still photography has hardly been forgotten, warm regard for it is welcome. A timely greeting then to Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters, a vigorous and knowledgeable documentary about a still photographer. – SK, watch trailer

Goodbye First Love: Her subtlest triumph is in the performances of Lola Créton as Camille and Sebastian Urzendowsky as Sullivan. Both are so fully committed that we almost feel at times that we are watching a privileged documentary. Their verity is the film’s prime element. – SK, watch trailer

Gypsy: The general texture of the film is constantly engaging—the way that these people, long accustomed to abuse and disadvantage, have made for themselves an accommodating and comfortable culture. – SK, watch trailer (in Czech)

The Hunter: Throughout, the film assures us with its terse editing and fine camera work—the wintry woods look like groves of ghosts—that it is the product of a supervising intelligence doing what it means to do. … [I]t holds us with its acute, almost laboratory dissection of its people’s beings. – SK, watch trailer

I Wish: [F]undamentally what holds us is the beings of the children—not cuteness, though all of them are unaffectedly appealing, and the girls are lovely. … They are not showing off or exercising, that is the way they are, and their physicality underlies their imaginations. – SK, watch trailer

Jiro Dreams of Sushi: [David] Gelb apparently understood that his subject was itself so taking that he wouldn’t need filmic embellishments to keep his viewers alert. In any case, I couldn’t help envying his and his crew’s lunches during the days of shooting.—SK, watch trailer

Khodorkovsky: [Director] Cyril Tuschi has given us a close look at a country that is slipping back into the grip of a dictatorial ruler. – SK, watch trailer

La Rafle (The Round Up): The film stakes out its territories so dexterously, with a commitment to the truth of every moment, that—once again for many of us—we can hardly believe that these things really happened, and we are at the same time, once again, terribly convinced. – SK, watch trailer

Lawless: Granted the violence and the nudity are more than the true period could have tolerated, this is a film that might have been made in the ’30s, content to let us revel in scenery (shot in Georgia) and very accomplished performers who know the iconographic rails well enough to do it without direction. … It’s straight fun, done with knowledge and a laconic pleasure. – DT, watch trailer

The Loneliest Planet: The Loneliest Planet is a film you will never forget because it turns on the kind of small incident that could happen to any of us and alter our life in just a few seconds. … The Loneliest Planet is an experience you deserve. – DT, watch trailer

Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present: In one sequence of this film, a nude man and woman kneel opposite each other, slapping each other’s face. Whatever it means, or “means,” this startling behavior evokes a startled reaction. [Matthew] Akers says that he wanted to show how Abramović and friends make people look at everything differently, shorn of past expectations. Her work thus has a certain relationship—theoretically, at least—to surrealism. – SK, watch trailer

Michael: The telling of the story is so cool and reportorial, except for some of the scenes with the boy, that we almost feel paralyzed as by a cunning spider. Michael Fuith (the third Michael) plays the film’s Michael with an intense ordinariness that makes his psychosis freezing. David Rauchenberger plays the boy with one more of those perfect juvenile performances that are simply astounding. There is never one flawed moment. – SK, watch trailer

Norwegian Wood: What is especially unusual all through the above, and which continues throughout, is [director] Tran Anh Hung’s treatment of the material. Even in the most realistic scenes he manages to create a sense of abstraction, in passionate scenes especially. Many of the moments are shadowy, with a deep blue overcast. Tran has not literally made the story a memoir, but he has visually suggested that this is the way matters are now held in [the main character’s] mind. – SK, watch trailer

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia: The cast of [director] Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film amply provides authenticity, especially Muhammet Uzuner as the doctor and Taner Birsel as the prosecutor. Ceylan’s own growing reputation will, I hope, continue to grow. He uses the realistic film as an avenue to what lies around and beyond the realism. – SK, watch trailer

Oslo, August 31st: This is not a comfortable film to live with, but its doubts over life’s purpose are as current as ever, and [Joachim] Trier has rendered them with simple and unstressed beauty. – DT, watch trailer

Polisse: The film’s method is mosaic—that is, it keeps moving through a series of short scenes, so that the effect is addition rather than exhaustion. – SK, watch trailer

Return: [The film draws] our attention to the less immediately harsh yet abrasive readjustments that may bother a female veteran, after experience that makes her discontent with what once contented her, including herself. … [Liza] Johnson’s first film is a nicely crafted small stinger. – SK, watch trailer

This Is Not a Film: This film is unique in a dreadful way: what happens on screen would not be particularly interesting without the facts surrounding its making. As is, it is a forlorn heartbreaker. – SK, watch trailer

We Have a Pope: Most of the film is so good that it ultimately disappoints a bit. The idea is so original and every detail is so well turned that we expect a conclusion more stirring than this pleasant Chekhovian one. Moretti and co-writers came upon a good premise—the retreating pope—but have not used it to a really large enough conclusion. – SK, watch trailer

The Well Digger’s Daughter: Its pleasures today are nearly paradoxical—a new film that is like a revival of an old one. Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as Patricia and Jean-Pierre Darroussin are almost enchanting, but it is Daniel Auteuil, entering a new career as mature actor-director, whom we want to cheer. – SK, watch trailer