Best action/suspense feature of 2012

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Counting down to our Year in Review issue, we present our picks in a variety of genres, wrapping up on December 27 with the year's worst movies.

This time tomorrow: the year's best horror movie.

Liam Neeson in The Grey
  • Liam Neeson in The Grey
The Grey The advertisements suggested a heroic tale of survival in the Alaskan wilderness, but writer-director Joe Carnahan’s dark, grown-up action movie instead depicts an unveering march towards death, with blunt discussions about dying with dignity that suggest a macho Ingmar Bergman. Even when things seem hopeless for the film’s band of roughnecks (led by Liam Neeson, in one of his best performances), the film remains agonizingly tense. Like his characters, director Joe Carnahan proves his mettle through old-fashioned hard work, building suspense with dynamic compositions, brilliant stunt choreography, and finely calibrated pacing. There are few computer-generated shortcuts here. —Ben Sachs

Udo Kier in Keyhole
  • Udo Kier in Keyhole
Keyhole Guy Maddin uses genre as a springboard to better highlight his idiosyncratic style. Keyhole is nominally a gangster thriller, but Maddin, as always, bends, twists, and deconstructs genre elements until the film resembles something entirely different. Seasoned Maddinites I know scoffed at this effort; it was shot on digital, for starters, and it seemed in a way less personal than his other films. But for a professed exercise in "pure narrative filmmaking," the film features many of his trademark experimental touches, evident in the liberties he takes with genre. —Drew Hunt

Daniel Craig in Skyfall
  • Daniel Craig in Skyfall
Skyfall I was impressed by how much this 007 adventure, marking the franchise's 50th year, was able to do at once: It looked back to Bond’s past (with the old Aston Martin hauled out of the garage) and forward to a new century of cyber-terror (with Ben Whishaw as the new Q). It pondered the personal cost of loyalty and patriotism, serious themes for 007, but also delivered some great action sequences: the opening chase that ends atop a moving train; the nocturnal sniper attack, lit by electronic street signs, from one Shanghai office tower to another across the street; and the bombastic spectacle of an attack helicopter plunging into Bond’s ancestral home. —J.R. Jones

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