It’s the time of year when film writers everywhere offer up their “Ten Best” lists. Granted, you’ll not see movies of this quality in one sitting, or even over a couple of months. And, it’s entirely possible you may have missed some of these jewels simply because of time constraints, or maybe you never heard of them before.
Here is a subjective list of the ten best films of 2012 according to me, and in no particular order or ranking.
ARGO – Ben Affleck’s vision of leading hostages out of Iran after the 1979 takeover of that country by the Ayatollah is a gripping, incredibly well acted slice of history. It scored six Oscar nominations, but none for Affleck the director, which is too bad. I feel it’s his best outing as a director.
SKYFALL – James Bond films keep getting better with the promotion of Daniel Craig to 007 status. Great stunts, breathtaking action sequences, excellent support from Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, and Albert Finney, all help make Skyfall a thinking person’s thrill ride.
7 PSYCHOPATHS – With that title and a cast that includes, Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrellson and Tom Waits, what’s not to like about this goofy tale of a down-and-out screenwriter trying like crazy to overcome his writer’s block. It’s funny, sad, touching, action-filled, and provides a chance for everyone to act their hearts out. Written and directed by Martin McDonough, of In Bruges fame.
MOONRISE KINGDOM – Director Wes Anderson’s best film to date is a charming coming-of-age dramedy that will put a smile on your face while tugging at your heartstrings. Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, and Edward Norton are all at the top of their game, and the newcomers playing the teenagers are just as good. Only bummer: Moonrise Kingdom was virtually ignored by Oscar, winning only one nomination for Original Screenplay.
CHICO AND RITA – It’s not often there’s a chance to see something as novel and refreshing as a bittersweet love story, wrapped in the jazz milieu of two countries, in Spanish with subtitles… and it’s animated. But that’s what you get with Fernando Trueba’s Chico and Rita, which was nominated last year, although not winning, for Best Animated Feature. The music, art direction, and story are terrific.
BERNIE – Jack Black displayed wonderful acting prowess as a small town funeral director in Texas charged with the murder of an elderly widow, smashingly played by Shirley MacLaine. Matthew McConaughey is along for the ride as the prosecutor in the case. Based on a true story, Bernie is a low-budget, out-of-nowhere film that garnered audiences in many locations, and deservedly so.
HEADHUNTERS – If you relish a good thriller that’s chock full of Hitchcockian twists, turns, and paranoia, look no further than the Norwegian entry Headhunters. It stars the talented Aksel Hennie as Roger, a charming scoundrel and Norway's most accomplished corporate headhunter. Roger is living a life of luxury well beyond his means, and stealing art to subsidize his expensive lifestyle. It’s really good.
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED – A team of three reporters from a Seattle newspaper are sent to investigate a classified ad in their paper looking for a companion in time travel. Hijinks ensue in this charmer of a low-budget indie flick that was here and gone in next to no time. Aubrey Plaza shines as Darius, a depressed young woman who is at loose ends in both her personal and career choices. It makes for a great date night movie, even though you’ll have to watch it at home on DVD.
LOOPER – More sci-fi and time travel in which mobsters in the future send their victims back to the present for dispatching. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays the hitman, a “looper” in a star-making turn. Bruce Willis is his next victim, but once he turns up on the scene it gets even stranger. Another strong point is a riveting supporting role by Jeff Daniels, playing a villain for a change.
Most of these are gone from theatres by now, although you may have some chances in the coming weeks to catch Argo on another go-round since getting four Oscar nominations. And if you do search these out on DVD, they are all good enough to buy, keep on your shelf, and show to friends as examples of sensationally good filmmaking.
And, finally, THE ARTIST. Yeah, I know it won last year’s Oscars for Best Picture and Actor, but I never got around to seeing it until sometime in January, so technically it’s a 2012 film on my timeline. Which is why you may wonder about the absence of Les Miserable, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, or Silver Linings Playbook from this list. Same thing. All were released so late in the year I haven’t had a chance to catch up with any of them yet. And at this rate, it may take a while. Perhaps they’ll show up on my 2013 list.
And, as you think “movies” in the coming weeks, don’t forget that it’s the smaller, under-the-radar titles that are likely to produce your most cherished movie memories. Don’t just run out to see the over-hyped flick of the week. Do some homework; find something unusual to watch that you may have never considered. It will make for a rewarding cinematic experience.