It’s been a wonderful year at the movies. So on this last day of 2012, here’s a list of my top picks of the year.
10. “Lincoln” — Director Steven Spielberg once again takes us back and makes us feel as if we’re experiencing history in-person: this time enveloping us in the crucial month of January 1865, when President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) tries desperately to secure the support of Congress to pass the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery. Day-Lewis is mesmerizing as Lincoln, bringing the historical figure to life on the big screen like never before. He’s surrounded, too, by expert actors in Sally Field (who plays Mary Todd Lincoln), Tommy Lee Jones (Rep. Thaddeus Stevens) and an array of others in a fascinating behind-the-scenes tale of one of the most pivotal moments in U.S. history. Even if you’re not a history buff, it’s an important film that can’t be missed.
Slideshow: Actors vs. real-life icons they play
9. “Flight” — As if the jarring plane crash sequence to begin the film isn’t enough, director Robert Zemeckis’ addiction drama soars with unpredictable intensity throughout as Denzel Washington gives a riveting performance as a seasoned pilot who miraculously lands a broken plane despite being drunk and high on cocaine. While he’s backed up by the always-reliable John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle — and bolstered by breathtaking supporting turns by Kelly Reilly and James Badge Dale — Washington’s complex performance is most remarkable because he for the most part plays a jerk, yet somehow manages to make you root for him. It might be his best performance yet.
8. “Looper” — Writer-director Rian Johnson has it all going in this trippy sci-fi time travel thriller about an assassin (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who, thanks to time travel, is tasked with killing off a future version of himself (Bruce Willis) so he can live his last 30 years as he pleases — but of course, when Willis is involved, he doesn’t die easy. There’s a rare combination of filmmaking genius in Johnson — think parts of Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott, James Cameron and the Wachowski siblings — but ultimately, he makes the vision of “Looper” entirely his own. It will be exciting to see what the future holds for Johnson.
7. “Silver Linings Playbook”/”The Perks of Being a Wallflower” — A seasoned filmmaker and relative newcomer produced the best, deeply personal dramedies in 2012: David O. Russell’s “Playbook” finds Bradley Cooper in his best performance o date moving back home, after being institutionalized with depression, only to find his family — particularly his dad (Robert De Niro) is as out of control as his personal life. Plus, he finds stability in unstable widow expertly played by Jennifer Lawrence.
“Wallflower” greatly benefits from a rare triple threat in Stephen Chbosky — who wrote and directed the film, which was based on his own acclaimed novel. Featuring a trio of terrific performances by Logan Lermann, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller, this perfectly balanced dramedy about an emotionally fragile freshman taken under the wings of a couple of oddball seniors is a tale of happiness, heartbreak and hope, all wrapped in one.
6. “Hitchcock” — Continuing a trend that started last year with “My Week with Marilyn,” this slice of Hollywood’s classic past plunges into a fascinating look at the making of “Psycho,” starring none other than Anthony Hopkins as The Master of Suspense. True, the story is partially fictionalized, and the suspense is heightened as “Psycho” subject Ed Gein takes residence in Hitchcock’s psyche, but when all is said and done — complete with a masterful performance by Helen Mirren as Hitch’s wife and unsung production partner, Alma — “Hitchcock” makes for one fiendishly entertaining and “good evening” at the movies.
Slideshow: Every Best Picture Oscar Winner, 1927-1977
Slideshow: Every Best Picture Oscar Winner, 1978-2011
5. “Ruby Sparks” — First-time scribe Zoe Kazan pens and stars in one of the most under-appreciated films of the year, an ingenious story of an enigmatic writer (Kazan’s real-life beau Paul Dano) who literally pens the girl of his dreams into existence; only to discover how his words control her every move — but not her love for him. Directed by “Little Miss Sunshine” helmers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the film is a perfect example of how the power of imagination — and yes, the power of love — conquers all. The film deserves much more recognition than it got in its brief run in theaters.
4. “Argo” — Based on incredible true events from more than 30 years ago, director-actor Ben Affleck’s “Argo” tells a story that not even Hollywood could dream up: The CIA sets up a fake production company to scout locations in Iran for a fake “Star Wars” knockoff amid the hostage crisis during the Iranian Revolution in Tehran in 1980 as a means to rescue six Americans holed up in the residence of Canadian ambassador. There’s never been another film like it. In fact, it even manages to balance the movie out with some humor, most prominently Alan Arkin’s instant classic line, “Argo (expletive) yourself.”
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3. “Frankenweenie” — Director Tim Burton’s stop-motion update of his 1984 live-action tale about a young boy scientist who brings his dearly departed dog back to life not only perfectly captures the atmosphere and spirit of the black-and-white monster movies he grew up on, it also hits us on an emotional level — and that’s an amazing feat considering each character in this wildly entertaining film comes one slight move and film frame at a time. A monster mash a la “Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein,” this mix of humor and heart in its purest form is a brilliant ode to classic films of yesteryear not only for fans of the genre, but for today’s impressionable young moviegoers.
2. “The Dark Knight Rises” — Director-writer Christopher Nolan’s third and final installment in his “Dark Knight” movie trilogy is easily the best superhero movie of the year — and movies of the year. Nolan’s real-world take on Batman works brilliantly once again, this time weaving together storylines from the first and second films to tightly wrap things up to a very satisfying conclusion to the series. The ingenious part is the film’s final scene, which leaves us wondering how the story will unfold from here, is a nice reminder from Nolan how he respects the intelligence of his audiences and inspires us to wonder of the possibilities of a new adventure.
1.”Skyfall” — James Bond is back and better than ever after the brilliant “Casino Royale” and lackluster “Quantum of Solace” with this intriguing tale of Bond’s past and the notion of MI6 and its best agent being antiquated in an era of cyber terrorism in the digital age. Daniel Craig once again seethes with intensity and anchors the film with his third portrayal as 007, but it’s Javier Bardem as his nemesis, Silva, who steals the show. Everything about this Sam Mendes-directed film feels like classic Bond — in a franchise that is no question reborn as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.
More from Tim Lammers:
Interview: Helen Mirren, ‘Hitchcock’
Interview: Keira Knightley, ‘Anna Karenina’
Interview: James Spader, ‘Lincoln’
Interview: Ashley Greene, ‘The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2’
Interview: Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, ‘Wreck-It Ralph’
Interview: Bruce Greenwood: ‘Flight’
Interview: Ben Affleck, ‘Argo’
Interview: Tim Burton, ‘Frankenweenie’