Looking back, there were more than a few good flicks released in 2012 – and in many genres. Among my favorites this year were historical dramas, comedies, science fiction, a political thriller, quirky romances and some riveting character stories. Here they are, with this caveat: Due to the vagaries of movie distribution, I still haven’t seen some of the most-praised films coming out at the end of the year, including “Zero Dark Thirty” and “The Impossible.”
“Argo” does many things and does all of them very well. It’s a period piece, set during the Iranian hostage crisis; it’s a comedy; it’s an action/thriller. Director Ben Affleck does an amazing job of fitting all those elements together seamlessly, while taking on the starring role himself. The cast is stellar, including the great Alan Arkin and John Goodman. But what elevates “Argo” is the way it presages current events in the Middle East without beating us over the head with it.
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
You can’t ask for much more in a film than to have it take a locale you think you know and transform it into something utterly exotic and foreign. Here, an American bayou village after a devastating flood becomes a new universe where a little girl (the incredible Quvenzhane Wallis) brazenly battles demons large and small. It’s one of those movies where you can’t take your eyes off the screen for a second.
Denzel Washington adds to his impressive roster of riveting lead performances. “Flight” is the story of a commercial pilot who makes a daring, emergency landing, then has to answer some tough questions about his personal life. The sequence inside the aircraft is truly harrowing, but it’s the downward emotional spiral later on that stays with you.
FRIENDS WITH KIDS
Great ensemble cast, led by Adam Scott and director Jennifer Westfeldt. I’m a sucker for witty banter, particularly when it’s coming out of the mouths of funny people who are oblivious to their own flaws. The premise has to do with two friends who decide to have a baby and not bother with any of the messy love/relationship stuff. My only quibble was with the inevitable ending. Supporting players Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd are terrific.
Towering achievement by a trio of great collaborators – director Steven Spielberg, writer Tony Kushner and actor Daniel Day-Lewis – examining the greatest American president in one of his most crucial periods. What’s remarkable is the fact that this movie is all about a political process, with no real physical action. Why does it work? Why is it mesmerizing? Because we are drawn to Lincoln’s every word and expression. He is a monument made real for us, thanks to careful staging, brilliant words and unforgettable acting.
For those of us who love a good time-travel movie, “Looper” is a revelation. It’s intelligent and uncompromising, with dashes of unexpected humor balancing out the flashes of violence. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in subtle makeup, plays a hit man who is given the task of killing his older self, played by Bruce Willis. Among the superior supporting cast are Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels.
Not everyone is a fan of Wes Anderson’s fragile, cinematic imaginings, but I am. It’s all about the details and quirks for Anderson, even in this tale of obsessive, young love at a summer camp in the 1960s. As with all Anderson films, the adults here, including Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton and Edward Norton, are more lost than the kids.
SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN
Quirkiness also abounds in this romance about an awkward scientist (Ewan McGregor) and a Yemeni sheik’s aide (Emily Blunt) who try to bring salmon fishing to the Middle East. It’s fascinating to watch McGregor and Blunt convince themselves and the audience that they’re a good match, despite all appearances.
I don’t think “The Sessions” is about sex, although sex is discussed throughout this film about a paralyzed man (John Hawkes) who goes to a sex therapist (Helen Hunt). It’s really about affection in all of its forms, from mere acquaintanceship and friendship to platonic love and physical intimacy. Hawkes and Hunt are excellent.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
I absolutely loved this movie. It has real heart and soul, with laughs that billow out from deep places in your gut and honest moments of concern for these wonderfully flawed characters. Without a doubt, “Silver Linings Playbook” is the best bipolar-sports superstition-sibling rivalry-dance movie ever made. Also, big kudos to Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro and Chris Tucker.
SLEEPWALK WITH ME
This movie didn’t make it to many theaters, but it’s hilarious. The brilliant stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia wrote, directed and starred in it, and it’s based on his own life. He’s telling us the story of his early days as a comic, along with the severe sleepwalking condition that plagues him. Even when he’s explaining something terrible he did, he’s completely sympathetic.
YOUR SISTER’S SISTER
Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemary DeWitt star in this indie feature about an incredibly complicated set of relationships between a woman, her male best friend and her sister. The acting here is top-notch, with speedy, perceptive dialogue and more than a few twists. At the heart of it is Duplass, who is an expert at conveying a very specific sort of smart, funny, pompous, wounded guy in his 30s.
I wholeheartedly recommend all of these!