'Tis the season for pointless listmaking, so I'm sure you've been waiting breathlessly for my annual listing of my favorite movies.
Disclaimer 1: As always, I don't presume to claim what was the "best" movie of the year, I just tell you what I liked. And in 2012, I liked
kind of a lot. I wouldn't claim that this is another golden era of movies, but there were quite a few good ones in 2012.
Disclaimer 2: There were lots of movies in 2012 that you might have loved, that aren't on this list. They might not be on this list because I
didn't see them. Among the many movies I didn't see in 2012 are Amour, Zero Dark Thirty, The Hobbit and The Master.
Here are ten of the favorites I did see....
|As I said, 2012 was a great year for movies. There were several movies that might have made the Top Ten in another year,
so they deserve an Honorable Mention here. They are:
Life of Pi
Men in Black 3
Now on with the countdown...
Favorite Performance by an Actor: Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock The movie has been
dissed by some critics--not me--because they don't like that the movie dances between
being a serious examination of Hitchcock's life, work and marriage--and spoofing all
three. What they can't deny, however, that Mr. Hopkins has given a virtuoso performance
as Alfred. I was never a big Hitchcock fan, but Hopkins made me see him in a new light.
Favorite Performance by Something That Really Doesn't Exist: Richard Parker in
Life of Pi No movie star has ever made the kind of entrance into a movie than Richard
Morris, a computer-generated tiger makes when he bursts into Life of Pi. You might say
that he literally burst onto the screen. (If you saw the movie in 3D, you might still be
having nightmares. At no time did you look at the screen and think that you were looking
at a figment of someone's--and some computer's--imagination.
10 Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a pleasure. I found myself smiling at the screen throughout the movie, even the spotty
beginning when Ewan McGregor seemed to be trying a bit too had to be a cranky, bookish sort who was immune to the
charms of Emily Blunt. (Really, Who did he think he was kidding?) But, reliable actor that he is, he quickly found his groove,
and he and Blunt developed a smooth, warm chemistry that was charming. Occasionally, Kristen Scott Thomas would
charge full bore into the movie as the press secretary of the UK's Prime Minister. On those occasions, my smiles became
guffaws. Ms. Scott Thomas is--as always--a wonder, and she was clearly enjoying her role as the bull in the china shop.
The story itself is far-fetched but plausible, but the real story of this movie is that real movie stars know how to give us what
we want in a movie, and when that happens, it's magic. (4/2/2012)
9 Bernie As a general rule, being told that Jack Black and Matthew McConaghey have made a movie together is enough to make
me start looking to see what else is showing at the multiplex. However, throwing Shirley MacLaine and the director of
Dazed and Confused into the mix changes the equation. I was curious, so I checked it out. You should check it out as
well. In this summer of superheroes, it's refreshing to see an original, funny and human picture about a funeral director in
Panola County, Texas. Trust me. Director Linklater has convinced Black and McConaghey that they're playing real
people--not versions of themselves,and the results are refreshing. There is a plot--funeral director Black falls in like with
one of his clients--but it's really more a of a mise en scene than a plot. This movie reminded me a lot of True Stories from
thirty years ago--except that the characters really are based on real people who are still kicking around. Try it. You'll like
8 Beasts of the Southern Wild So when this movie won the Audience Favorite award at the Sundance Film Festival, folks in
Louisiana were thumping their chests over the fact that the film had been made here in the state on a budget of something
like $12.72. But now that we're finally getting a chance to see the thing, it's kind of a big ruh roh moment. Call it Swamp
People Meets Mad Max: Thunderdome or Sounder Goes to WaterWorld, it's clearly like nothing you've seen before. More than
anything, Beasts of the Southern Wild will be remembered as the movie in which Quvenzhane Wallis, a stunning six-year-old
actress in the lead role of Hushpuppy and first-time director Benh Zeitlin burst upon the movie-making world. When they start
giving out acting awards early next year, it will be interesting to see where Ms. Wallis fits into the calculations. As
Hushpuppy--the heart and soul of this movie--she is miraculous. Mr. Zeitlin will almost certainly be a creative force for a
long time as well. If the movie has a flaw (and it's certainly a minor one), Mr. Zeitlin seems is much too heavy-handed
with the allegory. Yes, we get that Hushpuppy, her father Wink and the people of "the Bathtub" are the real beasts of the
southern wild--not the big tusked pig-like things that we're led to believe represent Hushpuppy's adolescent fears. But it is a
minor complaint indeed. This is a terrific movie. (7/8/2012)
7 The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a movie John Hughes might have made, if he were still with us. A fine young cast, headed
by Logan Lerman and Emma Watson tell the story of a teenager "with no friends" who re-enters high school life after sitting out
for a year following a family tragedy. If you didn't know better, you'd swear you were watching a hybrid of Less Than Zero
and The Breakfast Club. I loved The Breakfast Club, so I liked this one--a lot. (12/5/2012)
6 Argo is something special. (After spending so much time holding Ben Affleck in contempt, it almost hurts to say that.) But
he has made a movie that will stick with you (and maybe all of us) for a long, long time. I'll take a leap of faith and suggest that
it's all true. Six American embassy workers escape the mobs in Tehran in late 1978 and find refuge in the home of the
Canadian ambassador while the other hostages are being held. Affleck, a CIA operative, hatches a plan to get them out of the
country, posing them as a Canadian film crew. The plot has as much to do with Wag the Dog as anything else, but it's
deadly earnest. It's a great movie, and I'm sure we'll be seeing Mr. Affleck a lot during awards season. I just hope he brings
Jennifer Garner to the parties. (10/22/2012)
5 Hitchcock is a hoot. It's not the story of the great Alfred Hitchcock--it's a story. Mostly, it's about the making of Psycho.
Hitch's eccentric personality is fully formed at the beginning of the movie. And while Anthony Hopkins is swell as Hitch, most
of the joys of watching the movie come from watching the stellar supporting cast that includes Helen Mirren as his long-
suffering wife, Scarlett Johanssen as Janet Leigh and Jessica Biel as Vera Miles--against whom Hitchcock holds a grudge
because he thought he was making her a star when he offered to cast her in the lead role in Vertigo. Instead, she chooses to
start a family. She's still under contract to him for Psycho, so he puts her in a small role and gives her an itchy costume to
wear. As might expect, Helen Mirren commands every scene she's in. This is a good thing--not only because it's always a
pleasure to watch her, a little of Alfred Hitchcock goes a long, long way. He's fun to watch in short bursts, but when he's on
screen for a longer time, you start to notice things like make-up. Much less fun to watch is the character Ed Gein, the actual
serial killer on whom the character of Norman Bates is based. He pops up from time to time in Hitch's dreams. It's confusing
the first few times it happens; then it gets to be irritating. Otherwise, Hitchcock is a lot of fun. Thank you. Good
4 Lincoln The character in this movie with whom I identify is Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. The man is killing himself
trying to prosecute a rather large war. But in every meeting, his boss, the President interrupts him to tell a seemingly pointless
story that has nothing to do with the war at hand. Had I been Mr. Stanton, I might have shot Lincoln myself and relieved
John Wilkes Booth of the job. Lincoln is full of such moments, and while they might help to reveal the character of our
16th president, they don't necessarily increase our respect for him. Daniel Day-Lewis is as good as advertised; and I think that
Sally Field is equally fine as Mary Todd Lincoln--a more difficult role because her character has been depicted as crazy
and/or depressed over the decades. As the movie unwound, I began to get rankled by some of the political correctness
that was running rampant, but it was a minor rankling. Lincoln may or not be great movie (and personally, I think it's
good not great), but it is a great accomplishment. (12/7/2012)
Just as some rain must fall into every life, there are going to be movies that leave you scratching your head and wondering, "What were
they thinking?" While I generally try to opt of movies that I think are going to be wretched. Therefore, I'm really not qualified to give you
a "Ten Worst" list. However, there was one head-scratcher during the year that would definitely be considered for such a list. The irony
here is that if there were such a list, Hugh Jackman would be the star of the Number 1 movie on both lists!
Rise of the Guardians Laying aside the way this movie lays waste to several world religions by giving "meaning" to holidays like
Christmas and Easter that would make an evangelical Christian scream like a little girl, this movie is still a train wreck. I know that kids are
infinitely more worldly today than I ever was. I get that. But there's stuff in this movie that will give kids nightmares. ("Just like Bambi,"
I hear you say. OK, OK.) So maybe it's not that bad. Like any train wreck, you can't take your eyes off of it. It's gorgeous, and the
vocal talents of folks like Alec Baldwin as Santa, Hugh Jackman as the Easter Bunny (the character's official name is E. Aster Bunny. I
have no idea what that's all about and don't much care) and Chris Pine as Jack Frost dress it up considerably. The best effect in the movie
are Santa's elves. They're abused, disgruntled, and give every appearance of being a class action lawsuit about to happen. In short,
they're hilarious. In fact, I would say that overall, this movie needed more elves. (11/24/2012)
3 Monrise Kingdom If you want to go back and check the record, you'll see that I was
not a big fan of Wes Anderson's earlier movies like Rushmore and The Royal
Tennenbaums. Generally speaking, I thought they were absurd without being
absurdist, and eccentric for the sake of being eccentric. Truth be told, I think my
greatest grudge against those two movies is that in them, Mr. Anderson pulled off the
seemingly impossible feat of making Bill Murray not funny. Not so with Moonrise
Kingdom. This is a delightful movie about young love (or something like it), old love
and being eccentric for the sake of being funny. I loved it. A couple of young actors
making their first movie are wonderful as the 12-year-old lovers who set out to put some
space between themselves and their oppressors. In typical 12-year-old fashion, they
really haven't thought through their escape plan. They're on a relatively small island
with nothing but a toy canoe and their own feet for transportation. Discover was
always inevitable. Happily, the adults are equally fine. I was especially impressed with
Bruce Willis (as the island police chief) and Edward Norton as Scout Master Randy,
who dial back their typical performances and discover that less is definitely more.
Murray, Frances Dormand and Tilda Swinton aren't called on to do much, but when
they shine when they get the chance. Moonrise Kingdom--like Beasts of the
Southern Wild--creates an island world unto itself that you would never want to
visit yourself--but you're happy that someone went and brought back video. (7/7/2012)
2 Silver Linings Playbook Bradley Cooper has been getting a lot of praise for his
performance as a bipolar ex-teacher and ex-husband who has been released into the
custody of his parents as he undertakes the impossible task of reclaiming his former life.
Both his former employer and ex-wife have restraining orders against him. His family
and friends aren't particularly helpful, but along the way, he finds Jennifer Lawrence.
Lucky him. Ms. Lawrence is a revelation, and she takes over the movie as soon as
she shows up. She's amazing. As a young widow with personality issues and disorders
of her own, she forces Cooper's character out of his one-track mindset and into a life
he could scarcely imagine before he met her. This is a terrific movie. (12/6/2012)
1 Les Miserables I loved it. I knew I would, and I did. Les Miserables was not only the
first show I ever saw on Broadway, I still think it's the best. I was kind of fascinated
by the process used to put this show on a screen. First, the brains of the outfit made
a very good decision not to try just to film the stage show. A movie of singers
singing for two-and-a-half hours would have been deadly. Instead, the rounded up a
gaggle of movie stars and asked them to "act" the lyrics. The result is a soundtrack
that serves the movie very well, although it won't be something you'll want to put
on the CD player in the car on a long trip. Also, the makers of the movie knew what
they had, so they were wise to focus on the stars. If the movie is two-and-a-half hours,
a full two hours of it is spent in very tight head shots of whoever is singing at the time.
So in addition to discovering that the kid who plays Marius has a lot of freckles, Russell
Crowe has more than a few warts, and Anne Hathaway is indeed a flawless beauty
(even with her hair cut off and some of her teeth yanked out); but you get to see move
stars doing what they do best--playing to the camera. I was not blind to the faults of the
movie--I know that Russell Crowe is not someone whose future in musical theater is
assured--you'd think that a guy who played Gladiator would be able to project more
gravitas in the role, but you'd be wrong--and I know that the computer generated 19th
century Paris was almost as bad as the one generated for The Phantom of the Opera.
Les Miserables isn't for everyone--but I thought it was the best movie of the year.
Favorite Performance by an Actress: Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook.
Some have said that Bradley Cooper was too much of a pretty boy to play the central
character in this movie. Having seen it, all I'll say is that he's too pretty to be a
Philadelphia Eagles fan. Nobody, however, can have a beef with Jennifer Lawrence as
the crazy widow down the street who eventually provides the hope for a silver lining at
the end of the movie. Anyone who saw her in The Hunger Games might marvel that two
such vivid characters could be portrayed by one actress back-to-back--but I disagree. I
think that the widow in Silver Linings Playbook is Katniss Everdeen after she's moved to
the city and married a cop. She was electric in this movie.