I’d say 2012 was a pretty strong movie year, all things considered- any of the top four would’ve been #1 in 2011.
Stay tuned next week, for my annual ranking of every movie I saw this year. But in the meantime, here’s the top ten. Links are to original reviews.
1. “Zero Dark Thirty.” Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal won the Best Picture Oscar in three years ago for “The Hurt Locker,” and have surpassed that film with this astonishing, exciting and often disturbing look at the ten-year hunt for Osama Bin Laden. The rise of this type of journalistic filmmaking may be the movie year’s most welcome development.
2. “Moonrise Kingdom.” Wes Anderson’s beautiful, candy-colored return to form, featuring a surprising romance between child actors Kara Heyward and Jared Gilman. A near-perfect combination of sweetness and sadness.
3. “Lincoln.” The best film ever made about the American legislative process, as director Steven Spielberg, screenwriter Tony Kushner and an amazingly deep cast take what could’ve been a boring subject and make it supremely fascinating.
4. “Les Miserables.” Ignore the mixed reviews- “Les Miz” is the best movie musical in years, and was worth the long wait. You’ll have the score in your head for days afterward.
5. “Argo.” Ben Affleck arrives as a major director in this fact-based thriller, which combines action, humor and political resonance. A half-dozen super supporting turns, from the likes of Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman.
6. “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Magical realism is pretty difficult to pull off, but Benh Zeitlan’s debut feature- set in the Louisiana bayou and featuring a cast of non-actors- somehow gets the job done. An amazing film that looks like nothing you’ve ever seen.
7. “The Queen of Versailles.” The year’s best documentary and the definitive film about the Great Recession, Lauren Greenfield’s documentary follows timeshare entrepreneur David Siegel and his Real Housewives-esque trophy wife, as their empire slowly collapses. It’s not only the Schadenfreude that makes it great, although that does help.
8. “Oslo, August 31st.” This Norwegian film, directed by Joachim Trier, may be the most devastating about drug addiction that I’ve ever seen.
9. “Holy Motors.” Leos Carax’s strange fantasia, in which the same man takes a limousine around to several different movies, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. An army of accordions! A motion-capture sex scene! Kylie Minogue!
10. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” A young adult novel adaptation, directed by the author? This was way, way better than it should have been, thanks largely to one of the year’s best performances, from Ezra Miller.
I haven’t seen (reputedly good): “Amour,” “On the Road,” “Arbitrage,” “Cosmopolis,” “This is Not a Film,” “The Sessions”
I haven’t seen (reputedly bad): “John Carter,” “Battleship,” “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” “Alex Cross,” “Playing For Keeps,” “2016: Obama’s America,” “The Innocence of Muslims”