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Pass the Popcorn, Year's Best Edition: Top 12 Movies of 2012

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry in Beasts of The Southern Wild

Yes its that time of the year when the popcorn popper kicks into high gear; the Golden Globes have bounced across the stage and Oscar nominations are in and its too damn cold outside to do anything but stay home and watch movies (and movie award shows) anyways (note: we're in the Northern Hemisphere over here. If you're not...good for you. Really, congratulations). Which means it's time for Pass The Popcorn to kick it up a notch as well ("swimming pool full of butter, then you diiiive in it.") Whether you're trying to catch up on your movie knowledge just enough to have a shot at the title in your office Oscar pool or simply looking for quality edutainment, don't look any further. Okayplayer's Top 12 Movies of 2012 is here (out of respect to the other players, please switch your 2Chainz ringtone to silent mode, our feature presentation is about to begin...)

1. Beasts of The Southern Wild

Guaranteed Oscar (calling this!) and deservedly so--star Quvenzhane Wallis turns in a performance of fierce brilliance that most of the other stars on the Oscar carpet would be hard-pressed to match and none of them are as cute (her co-star and real-life Katrina survivor Dwight Henry is not easy to upstage). But it's the film's startlingly original mix of magic realism, childhood daydream and post-apocalyptic adventure that make it so undeniable and saves the powerful emotional core of the movie from ever feeling too manipulative or condescending.

2. Man With The Iron Fists

We can review this one in about 7 words: The RZA made a kung fu flick. Nuff said. This one is Top 12 even with your eyes closed! In a related story, 2012 is the year we learned that CHESSBOXING IS A REAL SPORT. Welcome to the Wu normal.

3. The Central Park 5

Director Ken Burns' documentary examines one of the most explosive events in New York's history. In 1989, a 28-year old white woman was raped and beaten in New York's Central Park. Subsequently, five black and latino boys aged between 14 and 16 were rounded up, coerced into confessions and sentenced. Their voices silenced for so long, it's some relief that Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise and Yusef Salaam are at the center of The Central Park 5. But the film's ultimate aim is not catharsis. Situating the 5 as victims of endemic racism and corruption, The Central Park 5 is a damning portrait of the U.S. justice system, the media and contemporary American society. Not easy viewing--but essential.

4. Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino's latest was undoubtedly the most polarising film of the year. Some said it was sheer entertainment, a breakthrough in Hollywood's decades-long silence on slavery, a fairytale romance for black America. Others argued that its torture scenes fetishised black suffering, that the tone was playful where it should have been grave, that it let viewers off too lightly. Others still refused to see it at all. But it's worth watching, and not just so you know what everyone else is talking about. Django is long and sometimes difficult viewing but (action figures aside) it's also a meticulously researched and fully-realised portrait of the antebellum South with standout performances from Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson to boot.

5. Bad25

Michael Jackson's 7th solo album, 1987's BAD, celebrated it's 25th anniversary last year with a deluxe boxset containing the original album, numerous outtakes, a live DVD from MJ's Bad World Tour (and those unfortunate Afrojack remixes). Absent from the album's re-release was Spike Lee's 2+ hour documentary on the making of the album, Bad 25, which was shown in very limited release in theaters and in heavily-edited form on ABC. Featuring interviews with the Jackson's collaborators along with candid behind-the-scenes footage, Bad 25 details the vision the King of Pop had for the follow-up to his recordbreaking Thriller album and its presentation to the world. If This Is It didn't convince you of Jackson's genius and tireless work ethic, Bad 25 certainly will leave no doubt in your mind as to "who's bad."

6. Yelling To The Sky

Our very own Tariq 'Black Thought' Trotter played a supporting role in Victoria Mahoney's directorial debut, a semi-autobiographical coming of age film. Sweetness' life is far from easy, and her ways of coping sometimes veer off towards self-annihilation. But unlike other films about abuse, alcoholism, teen-pregnancy and poverty in black life, the film is never allows the issues to overwhelm the complexity of its characters. Foregoing caricature for nuance, this understated, loosely-structured, and experimental film heralds a singular vision from a director that's definitely one to watch.

7. Searching for Sugarman

Detroit mystery-man Rodriguez' albums gained widespread fame in apartheid-era South Africa, unbeknownst to the American folk singer who'd vanished into obscurity at home. Malik Bendjelloul's brillaint Searching For Sugarman follows two Cape Town fans as they search for an idol who many believed dead--a powerful illustration of the doors that can opened by music--and music discovery.

8. Marley

A definitive Bob Marley documentary is years (maybe decades) overdue but Kevin MacDonald (Last King Of Scotland) finally delivered it this year--a film to stand alongside Timothy White's encyclopedic biography Catch A Fire. In the process of making the meticulously-researched film, MacDonald revealed several untold chapters of Marley's life, from previously unheard details of his passing to interviews with family members breaking their silence for the first time--and most interesting of all, a much more in-depth exploration of Marley's time and relationships in Africa, particularly Gabon and Zimbabwe. MacDonald's cinematic choices--there's SO much interview material of others speaking about Marley that sometimes the singer's own voice seems drowned out--left some viewers flat. But on the balance this exceedingly watchable film immeasurably enriches our understanding of one of the 20th century's most important pop culture figures.

9. Middle Of Nowhere

Though a completely different kind of film, the review of this indie triumph could be almost as short as RZA's: First Black Woman To Win Best Director at Sundance. Okay that was 9 words but filmmaker (and former rapper?) Ava Duvernay deserves more than a few spare superlatives for this classy, complicated telling of the kind of story that's rarely seen onscreen.

10. The Master

There's really nothing Okayplayer about this one, it's just a damn good movie on an Orson Welles level; amazing cinematography, the incredible transformative performance by Joaquin Phoenix, the total, dreamlike immersion in the world of the story. Many were looking for an exposé-style thriller on Scientology, a cross between There Will Be Blood and Tom Cruise talkin crazy after a froo brews but Paul Thomas Anderson subverts and far exceeds expectations with this meditation on the American capacity for self-medication, self-deception and self-invention.

11. Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow's dramatic recreation of the capture of Osama Bin Laden was accused of being "Obama propaganda" before its release and "pro-torture" post-release for its correlation of CIA interrogation tactics with the capture of the al-Qaeda leader. The film's sparked a heated moral debate, a Senate inquiry and has recently been nominated for an Oscar. All of which helped place this controversial action-thriller on our list--but mostly it's for damn good movie-making.

11. Detropia

Detroit was the birthplace of the middle class and may ultimately be its grave--the city of the future in the 1950s had become the city of Robocop jokes by the 80s, better known for the invention of carjacking than cars. In the wake of the subprime mortgage collapse, 2008 financial crisis and subsequent auto bailouts, Detroit has entered a brave new phase of urban existence that looks closer to Beasts Of The Southern Wild than to Dreamgirls. Detropia is a powerful document of the scary yet in some ways hopeful (urban prairie, anyone?) face of post-urban America. This is not must-see material as in 'what a great movie.' It's must-see as in 'instructions for how to deal with the coming millenium.'