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The one unique movie award voted on annually by the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) is called the Gene Wyatt Award, which is awarded to the film "that best evokes the spirit of the South." That guideline leaves much open for interpretation, but the winner tends to be the consensus choice for the best film set below the Mason-Dixon Line. The first Wyatt Award was given in 2005 to Junebug, and other past winners include Waitress, Shotgun Stories and Winter's Bone. Last year's winner was the ubiquitous The Help, although my vote went to the Memphis-set high school football documentary Undefeated.
As it turned out, the 2012 Wyatt Award went to the Bayou-based Beasts of the Southern Wild. the stylized feature debut from director Benh Zeitlin—a native of New York City, of all places.
But 2012 has provided other notable films set in the South, including Richard Linklater's Bernie, Lee Daniels' The Paperboy and William Friedkin's Killer Joe. The indie darling Pilgrim Song has already won The Oxford American Best Southern Film and Indie Memphis Soul of Southern Film Award. And, of course, there's always Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino's latest, which, while visually proficient and daringly raw at times, is probably as informative about the scourge of slavery in the American South as Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor was about the Pacific theater of World War II.
Indeed, going back to that loose criteria I mentioned above, there's a case to be made for Craig Zobel's Compliance, my choice as this year's best overall film. While the movie itself never specifies its setting, the screenplay is based on a true story that took place at a McDonald's restaurant in Mount Washington, Ky. And Zobel, a graduate of UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, has collaborated extensively over the years with director David Gordon Green (George Washington, All the Real Girls), who executive-produced Compliance. —Neil Morris