1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Total surprise here, but this was a movie that was filled with memorable performances from a young cast including Emily Watson, Ezra Miller, and in particular, Logan Lerman. This movie was unsettling, incredibly moving, and will sadly be left in the dust during Oscar time.
2. Lincoln – I saw Lincoln twice in a weekend just to listen to the words from Tony Kushner’s literate screenplay and the extraordinary actors who gave them their due. Not too often do we get to revel in language on screen, and Spielberg managed to get himself out of the way and keep the camera still.
3. Beasts of the Southern Wild – An amazing blend of raw acting, locale, story and myth told with such sensitivity that, at the end, was a wonder to watch. I loved the father, the girl, and especially the scene when she reaches the bar and navigates through a maze of people the world has left behind and forgotten. An extraordinary achievement.
4. Zero Dark Thirty – A hard-core piece of film-making for sure and even though you know what happens at the end, you are still on the edge of your seat all the way through. The torture scenes are very difficult to sit through, but I found myself moved by how unjust torture, for any reason, is. Jessica Chastain should win the Oscar for this performance, and the many others she had last year.
5. Magic Mike – What could have been just another sex-ploitation romp through the world of strippers became fun and riveting due to the story, and Matthew McConaughey’s performance in which he just lets it all hang out. You have to hand it to Channing Tatum as well for anchoring the film with an understated performance.
6. Argo – Ben Affleck’s riveting film of the Iran Hostage crises, which manages to be funny, sad and surprising given the storyline. Performances are terrific throughout, but it’s the recreation of the seventies milieu that was a resounding success. This should win for Art Direction in my book.
7. The Master – While the film as a whole was ultimately unsatisfying, the performances, cinematography and compelling story made it highly watchable and engrossing. Unfortunately, I have to find someone to care for in a movie, and in this one, most everyone was a mess on some level and certainly unlikable. You have to hand it to PT Anderson, however, for his sheer nerve and willingness to go there.
8. Silver Linings Playbook – Jennifer Lawrence steals the picture just barely from Robert De Niro who gives his best performance in years. Speaking of messes, everyone is a mess in this movie, but they’re entertaining in their messiness, and the final scenes at the dance contest are terrific. Kudos to David O. Russell for crafting a fine film and turning romantic comedy on its head.
9. Cloud Atlas – A huge disappointment at the box office, but I predict that this film will become a cult classic as people engage with it on a personal level. Very theatrical in its devices, and very much a roller coaster ride through time. I loved the ride.
10. Life of Pi – For one, I want to congratulate the CGI Tiger creators who did amazing work on bringing to life this story for film – and kudos, once again, to Ang Lee for making the unbelievable believable again. I wish he’d left out the bookends because they were superfluous to the film, but everything in the middle was absolutely beautiful to watch.
Biggest disappointments for 2012 for me were Les Miserables, The Hobbit and Brave.