Whether any of it is true and/or based on top-secret government files leaked improperly to the filmmaker’s, “Zero Dark Thirty” is a terrific piece of cinema. Director Kathryn Bigelow reunites with her “The Hurt Locker” writer Mark Boal to chronicle the progress of a young single minded CIA agent’s quest to find Osama bin Laden. We know that the story ends up with the heroic S.E.A.L. Team 6 and the death of bin Laden but few of us know exactly how he was ultimately found. “Zero Dark Thirty” gives us a plausible history chronologically showing how the young agent, here named only Maya (Jessica Chastain), stuck with roughly acquired intelligence to piece together bin Laden’s location. Part detective story, part political thriller, “Zero Dark Thirty” was 2012’s best film and a must see for American adults.
Commercially successful and a much better and fully formed and realized film than his 2011 Oscar nominated “War Horse.” “Lincoln” is a thinking man’s epic focusing on talk over action and featuring the ultimate introspective and emotive actor, Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role. If only director Steven Spielberg had cast someone unknown in the role of Mary Todd Lincoln, I would have stayed within the narrative for the entire running time. Sally Field was very good but like always ceased being anything more (or less) than Sally Field, rather than Mary Todd Lincoln. This meant that I knew that Field was way too old for the role and couldn’t believe her on screen. Perhaps she should have taken a cue from Liam Neeson who reportedly turned down the title role because thought he was too old to play the 53 or 54 year old President.
The surprise is that Ben Affleck keeps getting better and better as a director. But in order to ensure financing and commercial viability, I suspect that Affleck must continue to headline his directing efforts, which in the case of “Argo” works extremely well. Affleck tones down his leading efforts to melt into the role and let the rest of his case shine. And the better than fiction true story made “Argo” an endearing crowd-pleasing winner.
4. Moonrise Kingdom
Quite simply sublime viewing. The best ensemble casting of 2012 with no single actor dominating the film over any other, director Wes Anderson fashions a beautiful collection of images that all appear painted with lovely colors chosen with extreme care and thought. This coming of age story is edgy and classic and 2012’s most satisfying film for independent film fans making it a great double feature with the next film on my list.
5. Beasts of the Southern Wild
This film caught everyone off guard with its unique visual scope and disarming natural performances especially by the little star Quvenzhane Wallis. Sure to be nominated for best feature, it just might win something significant, especially if “Zero Dark Thirty” wins best picture thus affecting Jessica Chastain’s chances at best actress.
6. The Hunger Games
2012 was the year of the good, if not great, blockbuster with films like “Skyfall” and “The Avengers” matching wits with thrills. And surprisingly, “The Hunger Games” made huge bucks by delivering a literate teen lit adaptation that had some of the teeny trappings but matched them with classic dystopian sci-fi. The story wasn’t for the little ones because of the level of blood-letting on display as child is pitted against child in a fight to the death. With the departure of director Gary Ross for the sequel, it will be hard for the “HG” magic to continue but here’s hoping.
7. Take this Waltz
Director Sarah Polley’s follow-up to her excellent 2006 film “Away from Her,” “Take this Waltz” combines a terrific restrained cast led by the always great Michelle Williams and a refreshingly unfunny turn by Seth Rogen. A small gem, Polley’s such a personal filmmaker and it’s great that she doesn’t dilute her talent with larger films.
8. Silver Linings Playbook
David O. Russell figures out a way to keep working despite his difficult reputation. While a lot of the focus was on Bradley Cooper’s work, I was surprised by how mature Jennifer Lawrence was in the role of an emotionally troubled young widow who takes on the equally disturbed Cooper as an emotional project. The supporting cast also has Robert De Niro in his best role in years.
An unqualified success that was delayed to the point of almost not happening, “Skyfall” played incredibly well at home, where it crossed the record-setting one hundred million pound mark in the UK, but it also thrilled auds fantastically throughout the world. Craig’s Bond is now widely considered second only to Connery, and director Sam Mendes managed to add great weight to the waning franchise. But are Komodo dragons really as vicious as the ones that feast on an unlucky henchman in one scene?
10. The Impossible
This film has been all but forgotten but deserves some ink here especially for the haunting visuals that seem to place the viewer inside a devastating natural disaster. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play a husband and wife vacationing in an Asian paradise when they are caught in a tragic tsunami casting them and their three children apart. Aside from the amazing initial flooding sequences, “The Impossible” solidly progresses in what feels very much like real-time as Watts and McGregor attempt to navigate the carnage and find one another. Very much a personal natural disaster film devoid of pretense and artificial thrills, “The Impossible” was also one of 2012’s best films.