Best Movies of 2012 – My Picks

10. Les Misérables

Tom Hooper | 158 mins | Drama/Musical/Romance
Hugh Jackman | Russell Crowe | Anne Hathaway | Amanda Seyfried

Much ink has already been spilled about Anne Hathaway’s marvelous performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” in Tom Hooper’s remake of Les Misérables, but each of the other numbers is never less than engaging.  Yes, even those by Russell Crowe.  Hooper, who won an Oscar two years ago for the highly overrated King’s Speech, ups his previous effort in both magnitude and quality. Les Misérables isn’t flawless, but it is the most entertaining musical since Moulin Rouge.

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Benh Zeitlin | 93 mins | Adventure/Drama/Fantasy
Quvenzhane Wallis | Dwight Henry | Levy Easterly | Lowell Landes

In a year where movies depicted several brave heroines, none were braver than Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) – the six-year-old star of Benh Zeitlin’s impressive debut film.  Hushpuppy lives with her alcoholic father in a Louisiana village appropriately nicknamed the Bathtub since it is nearly certain to flood with the changing weather conditions.  Zeitlin, assisted by one of the finest performances ever by a child actor, captures the imagination and spirit of a young child whose creativity shields her from the dangers that surround her.

8. Oslo, August 31st

Joachim Trier | 95 mins | Drama
Anders Danielsen Lie | Hans Olav Brenner | Ingrid Olava | Malin Crepin

After being released from a rehab clinic for the day to attend a job interview, Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) searches to discover what his life will be like post-dependency.  With many past relationships damaged by his former addictions, there are no easy answers for Anders – or the film’s viewers – but few movies in 2012 were as quietly humane and heartbreaking as Joachim Trier’s follow-up to Reprise.

7. Amour

Michael Haneke | 127 mins | Drama
Jean-Louis Trintignant | Emmanuelle Riva | Isabelle Huppert | Alexandre Tharaud

Several films, from the goofy (The Bucket List, Grumpy Old Men) to the serious (On Golden Pond, The Straight Story), have focused on the pains and heartbreak of growing old, but few feel as authentic as Michael Haenke’s tear-jerking Amour.  Jean-Louis Trintignant is great as a loving husband who would do anything to minimize the pain that his wife suffers from following a series of strokes, but Emmanuelle Riva steals the show as the woman who owns his heart.  Like many of Haenke’s previous films, Amour is not easy to watch, but absolutely impossible to forget.

6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Stephen Chbosky | 103 mins | Drama
Logan Lerman | Emma Watson | Ezra Miller | Paul Rudd

In his freshman year at a new high school, Charlie (Logan Lerman) quickly finds himself lost, depressed and alone until a couple of outcast seniors (played wonderfully by Emma Watson and Erza Miller) invite him into their friendship circle.  Despite the slew of teenage films that are released each year, very few are able to capture the emotions and insecurities of the age and the importance of friendship as well as Stephen Chbosky’s debut film.  Much like its main character, Charlie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower got lost in the shuffle when it was released in late September last year.  Do yourself a favor and catch it when it is released on DVD later this month.

5. Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow | 157 mins | Drama/Thriller/War
Jessica Chastain | Joel Edgerton | Chris Pratt | Mark Strong

Despite high expectations, Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to her Oscar-winning film, The Hurt Locker, didn’t disappoint.  Jessica Chastain – one of the hardest-working and finest actors working today – plays Maya, a CIA officer committed to finding Osama Bin Laden at any cost.  Bigelow doesn’t spare viewers for comfort or Hollywooodize her film for entertainment purposes, but rather allows the story to take center stage.  In the process, Zero Dark Thirty joins United 93 on the short list of films that accurately and powerfully depict the most important events of the 21st century.

4. Looper

Rian Johnson | 119 mins | Action/Drama/Sci-Fi/Thriller
Joseph Gordon-Levitt | Bruce Willis | Emily Blunt | Paul Dano

Action flicks – and the people who adore them – tend to prefer action-over-brains, which typically results in an abundance of explosions and car chases.  That’s not the case with Looper, Rian Johnson’s time-traveling thriller about a young hitman assigned to kill a future version of himself.  Powered by a smart script that ponders difficult moral questions and starring Bruce Willis (arguably the greatest action star of the 90s) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who has started an impressive action resume of his own), Looper is the smartest sci-fi thriller since Inception.

3. Argo

Ben Affleck | 120 mins | Drama/Thriller
Ben Affleck | Bryan Cranston | John Goodman | Alan Arkin

Unlike his acting, Ben Affleck’s directing gets better with each attempt.  That’s saying something, given that his debut film, Gone Baby Gone, placed high on my top 10 list in 2007.  In Argo, Affleck stars as a CIA specialist assigned to rescue six Americans from Iran who will be taken hostage if found.  His plan?  To convince the Iran government that the six Americans are part of a film crew searching for a perfect location to shoot a very bad movie.  Ironically, in doing so, Affleck has created one of the best films of the year.

2. Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson | 94 mins | Comedy/Drama/Romance
Jared Gilman | Kara Hayward | Bruce Willis | Bill Murray

In a year where every film felt ordinary, mastermind Wes Anderson created the single exception – a corky, loveable and hilarious story about two children who decide to run away together.  The boy – Sam Shakusky – is the most unpopular boy-scout at his summer camp.  The girl – Suzy Bishop – is a quick-tempered free spirit who feels neglected by her busy attorney parents.  Moonrise Kingdom has something for everyone.  In one corner, it’s a sweet tale of first love.  In another, it’s a Goonies-style childhood adventure flick.  In another, it’s sidesplitting rat race between the two children and those searching to find them.  But most of all, it’s just Wes Anderson doing what he does best.

1. Silver Linings Playbook

David O. Russell | 122 mins | Comedy/Drama/Romance
Bradley Cooper | Jennifer Lawrence | Robert De Niro | Jacki Weaver

2012 may have been a disappointing year at the cinema, but David O. Russell’s fantastic screwball romantic comedy provided a much-needed silver lining when it was released in mid-November.  Bradley Cooper gives the performance of his career as a bipolar Eagles fan that is obsessed with winning back his ex-wife, only to be outmatched Jennifer Lawrence as a depressed widow in search for a dance partner and friend.  Russell has made good films before, including The Fighter in 2010, but with Silver Linings Playbook he has created Annie Hall for a new generation.  This is his masterpiece; it’s also the single most entertaining film of 2012.