In the eight years I’ve taken on the regular duty of reviewing movies, 2012 just might have been the best.
10. “Wreck-It Ralph.” This was a commendable year for animated features and the best by far was Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph.” The movie is like the love child of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and “TRON,” assembling a roster of beloved video game characters.
9. “Lincoln.” There are few modern performers that could convincingly convey an icon as significant as Abraham Lincoln. In Steven Spielberg’s gripping biopic though, the great Daniel Day Lewis perfectly manifests all the attributes one would expect from our 16th president. He is Abraham Lincoln in a role that had better bring him another Oscar. Along with Lewis, “Lincoln” also features A-list work from Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens and a heartbreaking Sally Field as Marry Todd Lincoln.
8. “The Master.” In his latest cinematic triumph, Paul Thomas Anderson renders another extraordinarily strange, yet beautiful, tale that you’ll never be able to take your eyes off of. Joaquin Phoenix is appropriately cast as Freddie Quell, a lonely and disturbed man searching for a place in the world. Freddie believes he has found that place upon meeting Lancaster Dodd, an eccentric cult leader exceptionally played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.
7. “Seven Psychopaths.” After writing and directing the severely underrated “In Bruges,” Martin McDonagh dishes out another hilarious and violent dark comedy with “Seven Psychopaths.” Colin Farrell gives one of his best performances as Marty, a popular Hollywood screenwriter working on a script entitled, “Seven Psychopaths.” Marty soon finds himself mixed-up in the affairs of several actual psychopaths, including Christopher Walken as a ludicrously deadpan dog kidnapper and Woody Harrelson as an unstable mobster hell-bent on reclaiming his beloved Shih Tzu.
6. “Django Unchained.” Quentin Tarantino continues to prove that he hasn’t lost his magic touch with “Django Unchained,” a pop entertainment that mixes together elements of the spaghetti Western, blacksploitation, and even some of Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles.” Jamie Foxx is a certified badass as Django, a slave that teams up with a dentist turned bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz, played by Christoph Waltz in an engaging performance.
5. “Zero Dark Thirty.” Who better than director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal of “The Hurt Locker” to depict the 10-year-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden? In “Zero Dark Thirty,” the unparallel filmmaking team turns out another gritty, powerful, and challenging instant classic that every American should witness. Jessica Chastain continues her winning streak as Maya, a woman based on a real life CIA officer in pursuit of bin Laden. We follow Maya from the aftermath of 9/11 to that faithful day in May 2011 as she endures deaths of her colleagues, attempts on her own life, false leads and pressure from superior officers. Chastain flawlessly embodies a person that seems understated on the surface, but is really being eaten away inside by pain and frustration after years of failure.
4. “Moonrise Kingdom.” In a year of unconventional love stories, no film stood out quite like Wes Anderson’s wonderful “Moonrise Kingdom.” The film has the essence of a fantasy, yet still feels so true to the magic of a person’s first romance.
3. “The Dark Knight Rises.” Christopher Nolan brought his magnificent Batman trilogy to a grand conclusion in “The Dark Knight Rises,” a film well worthy of its two predecessors. The first-rate special effects aside, what makes “The Dark Knight Rises” stand out from other well-made action pictures is the sense of chaos and realism. The audience feels genuine dread throughout this meaningful film, notably during a remarkable climax.
2. “Argo.” Ben Affleck directs his tour de force in “Argo,” one of the most engrossing and remotely unknown true stories ever to meet the big screen. In addition to directing, Affleck also plays a C.I.A. agent named Tony Mendez, who is put in charge of providing cover stories for six Americans diplomats stranded in Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis. While watching a “Planet of the Apes” movie one night, Mendez gets the idea to disguise the diplomats as Canadian filmmakers. A plan this far-fetched would lead some people to believe “Argo” is a pure work of fiction. The notion that a caper such as this really took place only makes Chris Terrio’s screenplay more beguiling and exciting as we observe Mendez’s unbelievable plot unfold. Along with being one of the most powerful political thrillers of recent years, “Argo” is also an extremely passionate picture about the unlikely impact film can have on the world.
1. “Life of Pi.” Ang Lee not only granted us the year’s most visually arresting picture, but also the best picture overall in “Life of Pi.” Newcomer Suraj Sharma leads this extraordinary tale as Pi Patel, a young man that loses his family in a shipwreck and becomes lost at sea. Even worse, Pi is forced to share his boat with a man-eating tiger he names Richard Parker. The film wisely chooses to never turn Richard Parker into a cartoonish animal with humanoid characteristics, making the relationship it develops with Pi equally threatening and momentous.