Friday, December 28, 2012

Top 10 Films of 2012

I'd call 2012 a slightly better-than-average year for movies. There were no knockouts -- once again, I failed to give out my highest rating to any film -- but there were a great many terrific movies to choose from.

In making my Top 10, the challenge was not in finding quality films to praise, but the painful task of separating out the ones that would just miss making the list. So after the countdown, I'll list movies that didn't quite make my list, but I want to recognize as worthy additions to the cinematic year.

10. Zero Dark Thirty -- Though it's not as emotionally engaging in the first hour or so, this detailed drama about the hunt for Osama bin Laden raises the stakes considerably thereafter. The last 45 minutes or so is overpowering.

9. Hitchcock -- Could've been just a lark, but this peek at the great movie director during the making of "Psycho" boasts wonderful performances from Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins. Wickedly funny.

8. Lincoln -- The screenplay is occasionally a little self-indulgent, but Steven Spielberg's historical drama about the 16th President ending slavery is a marvel. Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones hit home runs.

7. Django Unchained -- I haven't been a fan lately of Quentin Tarantino's genre-splicing mashups. But this giddy Western revenge romp is his most purely entertaining film in years. Christoph Waltz as a mannered dentist/assassin is one of the most delightful characters of 2012.

6. Argo -- An early Oscar favorite, Ben Affleck's drama about the CIA attempt to rescue Americans held hostage in Iran is both historically accurate and tautly told.

5. The Avengers -- How can a comic book movie deserve a spot on a Top 10 List? When it's one of the best super-hero movies ever made. The Loki/Hulk faceoff may be the biggest laugh line of the year.

4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower -- I, and most others, missed this one during its brief theatrical run. But writer/director Stephen Chbosky, adapting his own book, has given us the best high school drama in two decades. Emma Watson proves there's life after "Harry Potter."

3. The Sessions -- A gentle drama about a paralyzed man looking to lose his virginity, this film has feel-good charm without ever wading into sappiness. Also the rare movie that approaches religious faith without condescension. John Hawkes, Helen Hunt deserve Oscar nods.

2. Safety Not Guaranteed -- Here's another one you may have missed: a quirky black comedy about three cynical journalists investigating a man who advertises in the classifieds for a time-traveling partner. Continually surprises and touches us.

1. Les Misérables -- This adaptation of the stage musical version of Victor Hugo's novel is a grand achievement, huge in scope and production values yet very personal and intimate in relating the stories of a handful of key characters. Two scenes in particular -- Fantine's lament of "I Dreamed a Dream" and Jean Valjean's death -- will knock you over. The music soars, the heart swells.

And here is the best of the rest. They didn't make the Top 10, but they were all movies I felt enriched to have seen this year (listed alphabetically):

The Amazing Spider-Man
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Impossible
Life of Pi
Rise of the Guardians
Silver Linings Playbook
Simon and the Oaks
Somebody Up There Likes Me
Trouble with the Curve

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