Written by Kirk BairdThe year is over. But before we march completely into 2013, let’s glance back at some of my favorite films of 2012.
Argo: Ben Affleck stars as Tony Mendez, the CIA operative who pulled off the daring rescue of six Americans in hiding at the home of the Canadian Embassy ambassador in Iran during the hostage crisis in Tehran. Affleck’s most impressive work is behind the camera, directing a gripping drama that almost never lets up its relenting pace. Even though we know how the true story ends, it’s a testament to Affleck that we sweat it out anyway.
The Avengers: Leave it to a comic-book geek to reinvent the superhero film…again. Writer-director Joss Whedon’s The Avengers is far removed from Christopher Nolan’s deadly serious reflections on what motivates masked avengers and villains, and amps up the fun, action, and a surprising amount of laughs as six superheroes band together and fight an evil god, an alien army, and each other.
Lincoln: Steven Spielberg delivers his most ambitious work yet in this stirring epic of behind-the-scenes politics in the waning days of the Civil War, as Lincoln marshals support for an anti-slavery amendment among a bitterly divided Congress. Tony Kushner’s weighty screenplay resonates with modern-day relevancy, and the superb ensemble is led by Daniel Day-Lewis as a president driven by conscience, not popularity.
Ruby Sparks: Zoe Kazan wrote and stars in this edgy, funny, and occasionally painful to watch romantic comedy about a celebrated literary genius (played by Kazan’s real-life boyfriend Paul Dano) who writes his ideal woman into existence, falls in love with her, discovers he can control her by whatever he types, and must deal with the consequences of that ability as their relationship changes.
Silver Linings Playbook: Bradley Cooper is terrific as a husband shattered by his wife’s affair as is Jennifer Lawrence as a neighborhood woman who offers to help. Writer-director David O. Russell’s brilliant comedy drama, based on Matthew Quick’s novel, of two emotionally crippled people who find love and coping mechanisms in a Philadelphia suburb redefines the possibilities of what a romantic comedy can be — and should be.
Zero Dark Thirty: The Oscar-winning team of director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker) deliver a riveting and mostly true account of the U.S. government’s hunt for Osama bin Laden. Jessica Chastain stars as CIA operative Maya, who sacrifices her personal life, breaks government rules, and violates her own code of ethics in her decade-long obsession to find the terrorist leader.
Life of Pi: Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s bestselling novel offers serious subtext involving questions of God, faith, and humanity as part of this wondrous tale of a boy stranded on a lifeboat with a tiger. Lee nimbly straddles the worlds of indie drama and big-budget release with aplomb, and produces a gorgeous spectacle that entrances and amazes at almost every turn.
The House I Live In: Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki examines America’s never-ending crusade against drugs with an articulate and persuasive group of journalists, law enforcement officials, victims, as well as the creator of The Wire David Simon and a Lincoln historian -- all of whom make a sobering case that the biggest casualty in the war on drugs are young, impoverished black men.
The Imposter: In 1997, Nicholas Barclay, a Texas teenager missing for three years, suddenly and mysteriously appeared in Spain. His story of being kidnapped and held as a sex slave for years was stunning. And none of it was true. That’s just the beginning of this fascinating account of a young French con man named Frédéric Bourdin who fooled the missing teen’s family for three years. Or did he?
Searching for Sugar Man: Detroit folk singer Rodriguez was considered Motown’s answer to Bob Dylan in the early 1970s. Then he disappeared. Yet in South Africa he emerged as an anti-establishment icon to the young. So what ever happened to Rodriguez? That’s what a pair of his fans in South Africa wanted to know. Searching for Sugar Man is their dogged quest to find the answers.
MOVIES THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE LIST, BUT ARE WORTH SEEING:
Here are some other 2012 films that didn’t quite make my best-of list, but are certainly worth your time.
The Sessions: John Hawkes and Helen Hunt are dazzling as a man immobilized by polio as a child and an understanding sex surrogate who agrees to help him lose his virginity.
Beasts of the Southern Wild: Director Benh Zeitlin’s stunning debut about a post-apocalyptic future is full of relevant commentary about our post-Katrina world.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi: This quiet and beautiful documentary about an 85-year-old Japanese sushi master has as much to say about culture and tradition as it does food.
The Queen of Versailles: Director Lauren Greenfield’s documentary is proof that our economic collapse affected almost everyone, including a billionaire Florida businessman and his eccentric, shop-a-holic wife.
Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson’s quirky comedy of young love and those adults trying to prevent it is his warmest and most human film in years.
The Dark Knight Rises: Christopher Nolan’s finale to his Batman trilogy wasn’t the epic we hoped for, but it was at worst a spectacular misfire.
Hyde Park on Hudson: Quibble with the film’s historical accuracy, but its star Bill Murray and his charismatic FDR is an old-school triumph.
The Cabin in the Woods: Just when you thought the zombie-horror genre was dead, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard give it a jolt of new life with their wild script.
Take This Waltz: Others were more enamored with writer-director Sarah Polley’s love story gone wrong, but the ho-hum drama cracks this list for Michelle Williams’s heartbreaking performance as a wife who sacrifices what she has for what she wants.
Skyfall: Daniel Craig as 007 and Oscar winner Judi Dench as M, plus Oscar-winner Javier Bardem as the revenge-minded villain and Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes at the helm equals arguably the best James Bond movie ever.