Best Movies of 2012

Great end of the year for movies.

In mid-December, you could stumble into a mall multiplex, pick any theater at random, and have a perfect chance of seeing a great movie. It was that good for a couple of weeks in 2012.

2012 produced a half-dozen simply outstanding films and at least half a dozen perfect ones. For the average moviegoer, that’s one good film a month. Pretty good for Hollywood.

The best of the bunch was Argo. A “based on a true story” entertainment of the highest order. Argo was both a throwback in style to 70’s Warner Brothers and a coming of age for its director, Ben Affleck. Snooty critics may favor other films, but this was what a Hollywood movie should be – a fun time at the movies. Argo provided suspense, laughs, terrific acting, and “I didn’t know that happened”  discussions as patrons left the theater. A sure nomination for best picture – the real credit for the film’s success goes to screenwriter Chris Terrio’s nearly bulletproof screenplay. Briskly paced, with significant supporting roles – Affleck too has acknowledged this great Oscar-worthy screenplay.

Nearly its equal is the very different Silver Linings Playbook. IN MY OPINION, David O. Russell, a director without a single directorial misstep, masterfully adapts freshman novelists Matthew Quick’s quirky story about manic depression, gambling, and a love-breeding dance contest. Russell is near without peer in his sure-handedness of each shot and transition. His direction elevates a good story to a great one, letting Bradley Cooper mesmerize us with his dazzling performance. Who knew? And then there is Jennifer Lawrence, Katniss from the Hunger Games. Radiant and sly – she’s the one to watch.

Like many, I wanted more scope out of Lincoln. The story felt too narrow. Considering all the talent working together on that film, I wanted a bit more. But really, I am being greedy. What was there was beautiful. Tony Kushner’s words, John William’s score, Janusz Kaminski’s photography, and Spielberg’s direction, all anchored by what is sure to be another Best Actor win by Daniel Day-Lewis. Great movie – perfectly executed, just not enough.

Flight reminded me of what a great director and actor could do working with an emotionally charged, naturalistic script. Oscar winner Robert Zemeckis after over ten years chasing digital animation technologies returned to live action directing Denzel Washington in one of the Oscar winner’s finest and most understated performances. This movie took me places I didn’t see coming and did it most gently. This material has been covered so many times before, often heavy-handedly with a moral billy club at each mile marker providing warnings, then culminating with a group hug ending drowned out with a Motown tune. None of that was in Flight, and it was a joy to see this story unfold as it did. This patient movie took its time and could have only been made by this coterie of veteran talents. Denzel deserves an Oscar nod, as does the screenwriter John Gatins who has crafted something remarkable here.

Finally, there was Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. The only movie of 2012 whose use of  3D was deliberate and additive, not just a money-making afterthought. Please see this in 3D. It’s not Avatar, but one of the better live-action uses of this technology. The film is simply gorgeous. Nearly every frame is a wonder of composition. What could only be called “movie magic” – the long and primarily riveting stretches on the boat are a fantastic collaboration between director, cinematographer Claudio Miranda, editor Tim Squyres, screenwriter David Magee, and the relatively large special effects crew that brings the Tiger to life. The movie is 20 minutes long – indeed, too much of a good thing.

The rest:

  • Django – Jarringly offensive.
  • The Hobbit – Does anyone, after 9 hours of the Lord of The Rings, need another 9 hours of Tolkien? Only when done by Peter Jackson.
  • Looper – Sci-fi is not for everyone – but this was very very good sci-fi.
  • 21 Jump Street – Stupid, stupid comedy – even without a talking bear a favorite comedy for the year.
  • End of Watch – This will bum you out – big time. But so well done. Tobey Maguire continues to dazzle in every role he takes.
  • Zero Dark 30 – Have a problem with torture-maybe not as much after this brisk you-are-there drama.

All worth a view.

Movie fans would also enjoy some of the many franchises/remakes this year. Batman, Spiderman, James Bond, Avengers, and Les Miserables – all excellent films that did great at the box office, ensuring more remakes for the foreseeable future.

Finally, there is the talking bear movie, Ted. Not a great film, to be sure, but for many, their first introduction to Seth MacFarlane’s wild brand of comedy.

Many of us have known of him for over a decade, but for mainstream America, Seth is about to get his close-up as he hosts this year’s Oscars. That’s casting.

Happy New Year!

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