Without further ado, here are my top ten films of 2012. Again, feedback is encouraged.
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Stephen Chbosky adapted his own novel of shy, troubled freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman) and his friendship with two seniors, Sam (Emma Watson) and her stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller). To call the film John Hughes-like is an injustice; as much as I love The Breakfast Club, this is the first movie I've seen that gets what it means to be a teenager exactly right. It is beautifully written and beautifully acted, and it perfectly captures what it was like growing up in the early 90's, when kids made each other mix tapes and wrote letters rather than text messages. To say it made me nostalgic is an understatement.
9. Zero Dark Thirty
The ten year manhunt for Osama bin Laden is dramatized by director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, and the filmmakers don't shy away from the moral ambiguity of the questionable tactics that led to bin Laden's eventual death. The controversy surrounding the film takes away from the fact that it is above all a top notch thriller. CIA agent Maya, portrayed by Jessica Chastain, gives us someone to identify with and root for. The climactic assault on bin Laden's compound is one of the most intense, nail biting sequences in recent cinema.
8. Les Miserables
The animosity that dogs this version of the Broadway musical really surprises me. None of its detractors merely dislike it, they hate it. Roger Ebert, in his blog post about the Oscar nominees, called it nearly unbearable and "elephantine." (I should mention that I believe Ebert is not only the best film critic working today, but one of the best writers we have. That being said, I think he's out to lunch.) The film is epic in scope, filled with tragedy and hope, and a career performance by Anne Hathaway. It's one of the best musical adaptations I've seen.
Making a list like this is hard, because I leave off a movie like The Avengers which I could watch every week, and I include Amour which I would be content to never see again. The Avengers is great entertainment, but it is not a great film. Amour is a great film. An elderly man must care for his wife as her health slowly declines. As Georges and Anne, French luminaries Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva bring such humanity to their roles. Michael Haneke's film is never showy, and for that it is all the more devastating.
6. The Impossible
In late 2004 a tsunami struck southeast Asia killing a quarter of a million people. The Impossible dramatizes the true story of one family caught up in the disaster. Naomi Watts earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her role as Maria, but newcomer Tom Holland nearly steals the show as her eldest son Lucas. By focusing on one family, director Juan Antonio Bayona creates some catharsis for what was an absolutely unbearable tragedy.
5. Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook is a serious drama disguised as a romantic comedy. David O. Russell's movie is filled with damaged but inherently good people trying to do the right thing. The film is blessed with a bevy of actors working at the height of their powers, particularly Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence is a previous nominee as are Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver, but Cooper's performance is a real revelation. It's not often that a movie can make you laugh hysterically and cry uncontrollably, sometimes in the same scene.
This likely Best Picture winner is the best thriller of the year, and proof that Ben Affleck is no fluke as a director. During the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, six Americans escaped the embassy and hid out at the Canadian ambassador's house. To rescue them, the CIA concocted a plan to fly them out of Tehran by posing as the film crew for a fake science fiction film called "Argo." Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio deftly mix high tension with comedy as CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) goes to Hollywood to enlist the help of a producer (Alan Arkin) and a special effects man (John Goodman). A superbly crafted film all the more remarkable because it really happened.
Steven Spielberg's historical drama is not a sweeping widescreen epic but an intimate portrait of our greatest president that plays like a 19th century episode of The West Wing. Focusing on the last months of Lincoln's life as he tries to force the Thirteenth Amendment through Congress and thus end slavery before the Civil War ends, the film shows a president willing to cajole, bribe and even threaten lawmakers into doing what he knows to be morally right. It is an incredibly powerful and moving film, made more potent by the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln. He proves without a doubt that he is one of the greatest living actors.
2. Life of Pi
Life of Pi is not only the most visually stunning movie of 2012, it also one of the most emotionally resonant. Told mostly in flashback, it is the story of a young man named Pi (Suraj Sharma) who is shipwrecked while crossing the Pacific and finds himself in a lifeboat with a savage Bengal tiger. The film doesn't shy away from asking big questions about God and the meaning of existence, even when the answers are not clear. Ang Lee's affection for his characters shows in every frame of the movie. The director also demonstrates an absolute mastery of 3D, a medium I'm not fond of but one I can't imagine Life of Pi doing without.
1. Cloud Atlas
No movie affected me last year more than Cloud Atlas, a movie of such ambition and scope that it could have failed but instead triumphs magnificently. The film, directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, tells no less than six narratives spanning hundreds of years, with the same actors playing different roles throughout the timeline. The actions of each character cause ripple effects through the ages, as each future incarnation is affected by their past self. The cast includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant and Jim Broadbent who all do some of their best work in multiple roles. The movie mixes genres deftly, moving from historical drama to farce to conspiracy thriller to dystopian science fiction. It manages to keep a narrative thread while jumping from story to story but never becomes confusing. Cloud Atlas is exciting, beautiful, tragic, funny and uplifting. It does everything a movie should, and it's the best film of 2012.