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The 25 Best Movies of 2012

22. The Imposter

Director: Bart Layton

File this under both the "stranger than fiction" and "disturbing reality" categories. Directed by Bart Layton with the tightness, mystery, and subtle creepiness of a David Fincher narrative thriller, The Imposter is a documentary so profoundly unsettling that it's arguably the summer's scariest movie. Of course, it's devoid of any jump scares, instead focusing on the inherent paranoia at the center of master con artist Frédéric Bourdin's truly bizarre case.

Without giving away too much of The Imposter's deep impact, Layton's real-life white-knuckler focuses on Bourdin's elaborate, unbelievably successful stint posing as Texas kid Nicholas Barclay, who disappeared as a 13-year-old in 1994. Despite the fact that Bourdin, a Frenchman, looked nothing like Barclay, the missing boy's family allowed themselves to fall victim to the criminal's rouse, and that's just the beginning of The Imposter's fascinating and unpredictable tale.

Mixing in-depth interviews with all involved (chiefly a manipulatively charming Bourdin), taut reenactments, and a macabre score, The Imposter is a first-rate horror show disguised as a probing investigative piece, one that has the power to make viewers question their own perceptions. Layton knew that the immediate reaction from audiences would be, "How could these people fall for such a trick?" The ways in which The Imposter casually puts viewers in the same unknowingly vulnerable positions as Barclay's own family members is only one of its key strengths.

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