Although I’ve been reviewing for nearly thirty years, the year-end “Ten Best List” always seems a bit odd. We don’t yet have the perspective to declare with any certainty what the best films of the year are, and a look at the Oscars, for example, has many choices that now seem embarrassing. (“The Greatest Show On Earth” as Best Picture? Really? In a year that gave us “High Noon” and “Singin’ In The Rain”?) So here are my ten favorites of the past year, movies that I loved and was happy to recommend to others:
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER – I was unaware of the young adult novel on which this was based, but I thought this was one of the most honest and touching looks at adolescence and high school ever put on film. Instead of the usual nonsense, it explored just how raw emotions are at this stage of our lives. It was beautifully told by writer/director Stephen Chbosky who wrote the original novel. Incredibly, this was only his second film as director. [REVIEW]
LINCOLN – Focusing on Lincoln’s battle to get the 13th Amendment passed so that slavery would no longer be an issue after the Civil War, this was a brilliant depiction of how politics and government works. It’s messy, it’s sometimes ugly, and yet it’s how things get done. Tony Kushner’s script is rightly being hailed as is Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance in the title role. Director Steven Spielberg does not have a fan in this corner, but this was one of the outstanding films of the year. [REVIEW]
ARGO – At the time of “Gigli,” when Ben Affleck was little more than a punchline to a bad joke, it would have been impossible to predict that he would emerge as one of the most interesting directors of the past decade. Yet with “Gone Baby Gone,” “The Town” and now this, he is absolutely a major player. In spite of the hyped-up fictionalized ending, this was a fascinating story, well-told. [REVIEW]
SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD – Remember the name Lorene Scafaria. She wrote “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist.” She wrote and made her directing debut with this film, which died during the summer and is now being discovered on DVD and cable. It’s a sometimes hilarious and ultimately poignant story with a terrific Steve Carell and Keira Knightley as two people who find each other just before Earth is destroyed. [REVIEW]
CLOUD ATLAS – Take six stories by three directors told in different styles in an intertwining fashion spanning several centuries. Add a cast including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, and Jim Broadbent playing multiple roles. It’s clear this was never going to win over the majority of film critics or filmgoers. However, it was an ambitious project that paid off handsomely for those willing to stick with it, and should gain in reputation in years to come. [REVIEW]
DJANGO UNCHAINED – Quentin Tarantino is back, this time tackling American slavery rather than the Holocaust, and coming up – once again – with an incredibly violent and surprisingly entertaining film. Key to his success is his uncanny casting, with Christoph Waltz, as the German bounty hunter who sets the story in motion, being an incredible asset. Not for every taste, but an interesting counterpoint to the solemnity of “Lincoln.” [REVIEW]
ZERO DARK THIRTY – Politicians should just shut up about movies, especially if they haven’t seen them. Kathryn Bigelow’s film about the search for Osama bin Laden may take liberties with the facts, but it is not a defense of torture nor does it claim that we never would have gotten him without waterboarding. This is a powerful dramatization about the decade-long search for the terrorist leader, and just how painstaking the process was with no guarantee of success.
HEADHUNTERS – As a member of both the Boston Society of Film Critics and the Boston Online Film Critics Association, I find myself catching up with a lot of films at the end of the year that I didn’t happen to review. This Norwegian film noir was a revelation, as it depicted someone working in executive placement with a sideline as an art thief. Things get increasingly complicated with plenty of twists and turns to the plot. If some Hollywood producer doesn’t snap up the remake rights, they’re missing a good bet.
BERNIE – A little Jack Black goes a long way, and he has many cinematic crimes for which to answer. Yet when he works with Richard Linklater – as in “School Of Rock” – magic seems to happen. This black comedy about an assistant undertaker who befriends the meanest widow (Shirley MacLaine) in town proved to be hilarious. And in a year in which Matthew McConaughey emerged as a great character actor, his performance here was the one that got overlooked.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES – Yeah, yeah, “The Avengers” was the comic book movie of the year and it was a lot of fun, but even with Joss Whedon’s wit, it was all pretty much on the surface. The climax of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was much more profound, giving us not only the required action and mystery, but exploring the psyche of someone who would willingly become a masked hero. It also featured one of the great unsung supporting performances of the past decade, Gary Oldman as the man who finally became Commissioner Gordon. [REVIEW]
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide will be released in January 2013. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.