Wes Anderson's best film since 1998's "Rushmore" proved the American original hasn't -- as some critics suspected -- slipped into a self-indulgence from which he might have never escaped. His charming but profound tale of misunderstood youth is a masterpiece of form and content. It also introduced us to two ferociously precocious young actors, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward.
If only Martin McDonagh hadn't fallen in love with the theater before the cinema. We might then have more than just two films from one of the most original talents working in the medium. The title hints that this movie is filled with lunacy. But this tale of a screenwriter (played by Colin Farrell) whose quest for the perfect story leads him to some real trouble offers so much more.
'Seeking a Friend for the End of the World'
This was the best apocalyptic movie in the year the Mayas predicted the world would end. It's also the most realistic: Debut director Lorene Scafaria suggests that such a crisis would bring out the very worst and the very best in people.
'Take This Waltz'
Young actress-turned-director Sarah Polley has made a wise-beyond-her-years look at adultery that offers a new take on the age-old subject: authenticity. This is a slow-moving film whose depth continues to build on you months after you've seen it.
'Silver Linings Playbook'
Who expected a comedy about mental illness that paired Bradley Cooper with Jennifer Lawrence, and was made by a guy whose last flick was a boxing drama, to be such a satisfying success? I certainly didn't. But "Silver Linings Playbook" surprises in so many delightful ways.
'Oslo, August 31st'
This film is, like the one above it, about a troubled young man just out of rehab. But Norwegian director Joachim Trier approaches the subject very differently, as his central character wanders the capital, wondering if his past has doomed his future.
The actor Ralph Fiennes makes his directorial debut playing the title character of this underrated Shakespeare play and accomplishes the rare feat of seamlessly moving the Bard to modern times.
'Trouble with the Curve'
This is another of the curveballs mainstream Hollywood threw at us this year: a funny, touching, unexpectedly sage film that looks to be about baseball but is really about the special -- but rarely portrayed on screen -- relationship between fathers and daughters.
If Quentin Tarantino could have chopped about 45 minutes off his baby, this movie would have ended up much higher on my list. Instead of a great movie, he's made a very good one, another revenge fantasy that appalls and delights in equal measure.
'The Dark Knight Rises' and 'Cosmopolis'
Yes, I'm cheating. But these two visions of Gotham undone complement each other with their vast differences. The first is an over-the-top special-effects blockbuster, while the second takes place in one day, mostly in a single car. They're both exciting cogitations on the successes and failures of modernity.
"Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry" is an intimate look at a larger-than-life figure, the dissident Chinese artist whose importance goes far beyond the world of visual art.
Note: I assembled this list for readers, not my fellow critics. So I only considered films that opened in Washington, D.C., in 2012. Hence the inclusion of "Coriolanus," which had a brief run for Oscar qualification in 2011, and the omission of Michael Haneke's "Amour," which comes to Washington cinemas Jan. 11.