Posted January 15, 2013 / Updated January 30, 2013

Updated February 19, 2013 / Updated February 26, 2013

 

Simply put, 2012 was one of the truly finest years for films since the late 1990’s.  It was also one of the most back-heavy that I've experienced in terms of superlative releases.  

By around the mid-way point of the year I was struggling to come up with a few films to occupy my annual list of the Ten Best Films of the year, but by year’s end I had nearly enough to make two compilations.  Studios typically begin the obligatory process of vying for much needed Academy attention by releasing their high marquee Oscar darlings late in the season, and 2012 was absolutely no exception.  Of the ten films that appear below as of the initial posting of this list, seven were released during the final four months of the year.  In short, we have just experienced a mini-Golden Age of the movies since September of last year. 

And what great films they were!  As with all of my previous best-of lists, I have always opted for a judicious mixture of different genres when applicable and possible.  I have two sci-fi films (which may be a first for me), a documentary, a musical, a comic book flick, a coming-of-age drama/fantasy, two reality-based thrillers, and one based on a beloved work of literary fiction that was – yup – filmed in 3D (much akin to one of last year’s picks for the year’s best, HUGO).  Since 2012 was so universally strong for 4-star and near-4-star films, I have compiled not only a Top 10 list, but have extended it to a Top 25 in order to provide honorable mention to those films that I could just not – in my heart of hearts – place in the Top 10.  Perhaps more than any given year since I began this web site, I had the most difficulty paring down this year’s Top 10; it was almost painful to exclude some titles that I revered so dearly. 

Lastly, there are still a few 2012 films that I wish to screen that have not seen the light of day in Saskatoon yet, like THE IMPOSSIBLE, RUST AND BONE, AMOUR, and HYDE PARK ON THE HUDSON to name some.  Once screened – and if they deserve a worthy placement anywhere on this list – then I will adjust my compilation accordingly.  

So, let me offer up what I thought were the 25 best reasons for you to enter a cinema in 2012.  But first off...here's the:

 

 
 

1.   ZERO DARK THIRTY

 
 

Just as she confidently did in 2008 with the multiple Oscar winning THE HURT LOCKER, director Kathryn Bigelow has most certainly made the best film of the year in ZERO DARK THIRTY, which chronicles the real-life decade-long manhunt to find and kill Osama bin Laden.  

Much like my number five selection below, ZERO DARK THIRTY tells a long, but briskly told story that we all know the outcome to, but it’s the manner that Bigelow and her writer Mark Boal (who collaborated with her on THE HURT LOCKER) manage to generate tremendous interest and suspense with building to its outcome that is the film’s crowning achievement.  We all know that SEAL Team Six killed the infamous terrorist on May 2, 2011 in a drab, dingy, but well fortified compound in Pakistan.  Calling ZERO DARK THIRTY anti-climatic misses the point.  It’s mostly obsessed with the obsessed CIA woman (played with supreme vigilance, authority, and raw guts by Jessica Chastain, in one the year’s best performances) that did the impossible by finding the ultimate needle in a haystack. 

The film is, to Bigelow’s credit, a technological marvel (the final climatic raid on the compound – shot with virtuoso hand-held, green-night-vision hued intimacy and authenticity – is a masterstroke), but Bigelow deserves more credit for crafting a film of haunting and complex thematic ambiguities.   Accusations that the film is pro-torture have been levied, among other things.  ZERO DARK THIRTY is far and away more intricate and compelling that this criticism.  It neither condones torture nor apologies for it.  Secondly, this film is not a documentary, but a dramatic document of a fact-based mission.  Furthermore, it never explicitly says that torture was the only catalyst in finding bin Laden, but rather just one piece of a much larger puzzle.  Most crucially, though, the film is not a fist-pumping patriotic rallying cry for torture, nor does it conclude with a sense of overjoyed happiness on the success of the mission as a whole.  In the end, we gain a sense - by looking at the teary-eyed exhaustion of Chastain’s damaged character - that perhaps all of the mission's efforts did not amount to a hill of beans, because the war on terror will unalterable carry on.  ZERO DARK THIRTY is one of the great films of our nihilistic times; superbly crafted, impeccably acted, intellectual stimulating, and morally complicated.   It more than defies the petty political condemnation that it has been receiving.  

 

2.  CLOUD ATLAS

CLOUD ATLAS is a film that perhaps polarized viewers more than just about any in 2012.  Some critics and filmgoers loathed it.  Some tolerated it.  Others – a miniscule few – found it to be an incomparable work of fearless and intrepid ambition.  

I was among the latter. 

This film is so ambitious that it required not one, not two, but three directors to helm the ultra-tough and hopelessly difficult task of adapting David Mitchell’s labyrinthine novel.   Tom Tykwer (RUN LOLA RUN) and the Wachowskis (Lana and Larry of THE MATRIX fame) have seamlessly teamed together to capture the expansive essence of the 2004 award-winning novel.  The story requires them to traverse a dense and convoluted narrative structure that rickshaws back and forth – in and out of the past, present, and distant future (between 1849 and 2346) – that, in turn, tells a sextet of stories that involves all of the respective actors (from Tom Hanks, Halle Barry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, and Jim Sturgess to name a few) playing multiple roles (often breaking color and gender barriers) over the cosmos of time that share physical and spiritual commonalities.  The fact that the brave directors manage to create a level of coherent harmony (at least to those patient and observant of filmgoers) amidst all of these threads is astonishing.   

Even more exceptional and refreshing is that CLOUD ATLAS is all about grand ideas and themes, which is the cornerstone of the finest speculative science fiction of the last hundred-plus years.  Here’s a film that – in Lana Wachowski’s own words – has “an unabashed scale and scope, and a philosophical investigation of what it means to be human.”  Name another film – sci-fi or not – in recent memory that has dared to do just that?   Great genre art – like Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY – challenges status quos and dares to be original and wholly unique filmgoing experiences that unavoidably polarize.  CLOUD ATLAS fits that bill.

3.  LOOPER

Time travel has been done so literally to death in feature films that I've simply lost count over the years.  Yet, and rather astoundingly, Rian Johnson’s LOOPER is a real game changer for the genre, as the device of time travel has rarely been used – as a storytelling element – as uniquely and cunningly as it is in his follow-up to THE BROTHERS BLOOM and BRICK.  What Johnson does here is not altogether simple: He not only has to wake us all up from nagging complacency when it comes to this sci-fi genre, but he also crafts a futuristic mind-bending filmscape that’s irrevocably ripe with fresh ideas, thought-provoking themes, spotless performances, breakneck action sequences, and Hitchcockian intrigue all rolled into one harmonious package.       

Yes, the time travel in the film may not be 100 per cent air tight (what film that uses it is?), but Johnson’s fiendishly shrewd script (robbed of an Original Screenplay Oscar nomination) manages to find an always-hard-to-narrow-down middle ground between acknowledging the inherent paradoxes of time travel while not altogether ignoring them at the same time.   The film’s best scene is kind of staggering in its simplicity: An assassin (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has a face-to-face chat with a 30-year-older version…of himself (Bruce Willis, in one of his more emotionally challenging roles).  Just consider all the possibilities of talking with you future self over coffee at a diner.  Johnson taps into them during this moment and more all throughout LOOPER, which is arguably the most brazenly original sci-fi flick since INCEPTION and certainly a film that all but cements the young filmmaker among the directorial elite.  That, and Johnson more than proves that you can take an ageless sci-fi premise and inject much needed new life into it.

4.  LIFE OF PI

Many of the most ardent fans of Canadian author Yann Martel’s 2001 novel LIFE OF PI believed it to be unfilmable.  Why?  Mostly because its story involves a young Indian (nicknamed “Pi”) whose family uproots itself and its zoo on an Ocean vessel leaving for the Great White North, only to see the ship capsized by a vicious storm and leaving Pi as the only human survivor for months on a lifeboat…with a rather large, hungry, and anti-social Bengal tiger. 

See what I mean? 

Yet, Ang Lee - who never, ever shies away from subject matter of enormous variety (see HULK, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, THE ICE STORM, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, and LUST, CAUTION to name a few) - has achieved the seemingly Herculean by adapting Martel’s next-to-impossible literary work into a tour de force film of astonishing technological artifice and soulful and spiritual meditation.  Not only does Lee and the truly pioneering work of his special effects artisans thanklessly recreate many of the most cherished moments from the novel (the often shaky chasm between CGI fakery and reality has been incredibly blurred out here), but he also manages to dive into the novel’s invigorating themes of the power of faith and the struggle of human survival amidst incalculable and hellish odds.  Lee evokes scene after scene of stunning visual innovation and majesty with the painterly eye of cinematographer Claudio Miranda, all done, no less, with some of the most exquisitely beautiful usage of 3D I’ve seen in a feature film.  LIFE OF PI is one of the most thoughtfully realized and immaculately rendered visual spectacles that has every graced the silver screen.  The fact that it’s also a touching human story as well is just icing on the cake.

5.  ARGO

To take a page out of the most famous slang phrase from the film, "ARGO f- -k yourselves, Academy voters!"  How on earth they decided to not grant director Ben Affleck a more-than-richly-deserved Oscar nomination for Direction for ARGO – his third remarkable film behind the camera after two unreservedly strong efforts like THE TOWN and GONE BABY GONE – is incredulous to say the least.  Damn the Oscar voters, because the 40-year-old actor-turned-director has made yet another unqualified triumph in ARGO for how he fuses together – with the exemplary hand of a wise old veteran filmmaker – vivid historical recreation, finely attuned performances, political espionage, movie industry satire, and theater-chair-gabbing suspense into one audience-placating package. 

Best yet is that Affleck spins authenticity into a tale that’s seemingly larger-than-life and hard to swallow, but it's one that did indeed actually occur.  Based on Joshuah Bearman’s 2007 article “Escape from Tehran: How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran", ARGO is cemented in a recently declassified story of how the CIA – working in conjunction with the Canadian government – hatched out an audacious plan to rescue six Americans – who escaped the American Embassy in Iran in 1979 and later managed to seek out a safe haven at the Canadian Ambassador's home - and get them back home all while being undetected.   Right from its very first images, ARGO utterly transports us to the beginnings of the hostage crisis that would last 444 days and then secures itself within the larger story of the intrepid rescue plan.  It finally comes to a feverous crescendo during its last anxiety-plagued 20 minutes.  During this time, Affleck milks the tension as to whether or not the Americans will be able to bluff their way through the hefty barrier of security at the Tehran airport.  Of course, we all know how it ended, but the manner that Affleck and company makes this climax borderline squirm inducing for audience members is to his esteemed credit. 

 

 6.  FLIGHT

Can a chronic alcoholic and habitual drug abuser also be a hero?

That’s the ethically complex and endlessly fascinating quandary of Robert Zemeckis’s FLIGHT, which marks his first foray back into live action filmmaking after nearly a decade of flirting with motion captured animation – hated by some, but loved by me – that included THE POLAR EXPRESS, BEOWULF, and A CHRISTMAS CAROL.  Zemeckis, if anything, has built a reputation for being a technological maverick and pioneer in the film industry, which I guess is what makes his modestly budgeted FLIGHT (a scant $31 million) such a splendidly and unexpectedly internalized drama that hones in on story and characters more than vast CGI effects hubris.  To be fair, the film contains, for my money, one of the most sensationally realized and frightening plane crash sequences in movie history, but beyond that – and for 138 equally nerve-wracking minutes – we witness the best and worst traits of its main character.  Whip (Denzel Washington, as good as he’s ever been) has just saved hundreds of people on the passenger airliner that he piloted down into a field with his incomparable aviation skills.  There’s one problem: during the crash he had cocaine in his system and his blood alcohol level was .24, three times the legal limit to drive a car.

Yet, as doped up as he was, Whip’s ingenuity saved countless lives.  But would he have saved more if her were sober?  Whip is certainly a hero for his actions, but is a royal heel for how he selfishly allowed his inebriated self on-board a plane where everyone’s lives were held in the balance.  Zemeckis and Washington together never let the audience feel completely at ease here.  The film places great confidence in patient viewers while respecting them enough for having a dicey and convoluted character of countless contradictions hurled at them.  This is Zemeckis’ finest, most dramatically challenging, and most unassuming film of his career.

  7.  BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is the little engine that could of the 2012 movie year.  Made for a scant budget of $1.6 million using low-tech 16mm cameras, starring relatively unknown actors, directed by first-time filmmaker Behn Zeitlin (in as astonishing of a debut as I’ve ever seen) and based on a one-act play,  BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD thrusts you into its setting and time as forcefully and convincingly as just about any large scale and massive costing escapist entertainment.   

Zeitlin’s film is a titanic achievement for how it coalesces elements of the reality-based drama with a coming-of-age morality tale and further with a mythic fantasy.  It is the film’s complete unwillingness to categorize itself that is its main coup de grace.   Its story, though, is modest, but emotionally powerful: It concerns the relationship between a young girl and her father, completely divorced from the larger industrialized world, that desperately try to eke out an impoverished existence on a southern bayou community offshore from New Orleans in the days leading up to a natural catastrophe.  Every minute detail of this community – dubbed “The Bathtub” – is painstakingly created with such an exactitude and verisimilitude that I became less aware that I was passively watching the film and instead began to feel like an active fly-on-the-wall witness to it all.  At the heart of the story is the indomitable presence newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis – only six-years-old when filming began – who gives one of the most convincing, empowered, and natural child performances of all-time in her role as the daughter that - through sheer will, conviction, good-natured optimism, and inner fortitude - is able to deal with the most hellish and demoralizing of daily occurrences with relative ease.  

Despite all of its on-screen nihilism and despair, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD is ironically touching and uplifting for the manner Wallis’ character manages to see beauty and hope in everything around her during moments of oppression.  Like the natural disaster that all but destroys her world in the story, Wallis is a force of nature in the film. 

8.   BULLY

 

Lee Hirsch’s entirely transfixing documentary does what all great and masterful documentaries should do: It takes an issue or subject matter that we think that we are all abundantly familiar with and instead entrenches us within it to the point where we begin to have a radical new understanding of it.  BULLY is a film that inspires equal parts moral heartbreak and vexing anger, mostly because it tackles the social calamity of bullying – over 10 million American children and adolescents are physically and verbally abused each year by classmates, often leading to death by suicide – and shockingly reveals just how impotent school teachers, law enforcement officials, and administrators are in general in terms of seriously and adequately dealing with the issue.  Perhaps even more head-shakingly scandalous is the all-too-common assertion by school officials that “kids are just being kids” to somehow defend this rampant and troubling epidemic.  There are moments in the film – as Hirsch follows separate stories of several children in rural and suburban communities during the 2009-2010 school year – that are enough to make you sick. 

Far too often, teen suicide as a result of bullying often gets delegated to a fringe stat on the evening news.  We have all heard, in one form or another, about high school bullying, but many of us have never witnessed it first hand.  Hirsch's documentary shows it happening and the damming psychological burden in places on defenseless kids.  There are so very few films that are morally important works that deserve to be seen by as many people as possible.  BULLY is one of them.

 
 

9.  THE DARK KNIGHT RISES - THE IMAX EXPERIENCE

 

I would aptly describe THE DARK KNIGHT RISES as the least of the Christopher Nolan-helmed Caped Crusader films, but that is not to say that it does not end the DARK KNIGHT Trilogy on an exultant high note.  What has emerged with 2005’s BATMAN BEGINS, 2008’s THE DARK KNIGHT, and now this is one of the greatest escapist film trilogies of all-time, right up there with STAR WARS.

Perhaps more so than with just about any other super hero film property, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES – and its prequel, which was the best film of 2008 and placed high on my list of the Best Films of the 2000’s – has fully liberated Bob Kane’s nearly 80-year-old comic book creation from its modest pages and has immersed him within a cinematic world that speaks to the post-9/11 paranoia and social/culturally anxieties that we are struggling with today.   Nolan’s Batman has transcended what the very definition of a super hero means to contemporary culture.  Yes, Bruce Wayne dresses up as a vigilante to fight crime, to be sure.  However, by the awe-inspiring climax of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES – filmed with eye-popping and grand IMAX cinematography by Wally Pfister, all kinds of wrongfully snubbed of an Oscar nomination – Batman has become less a cape and cowl clad crime fighter and more of a freedom fighting symbol of hope where none has existed.  He isn’t just a man with costume; Batman becomes an icon to inspire those beneath to peruse acts of heroism.  Isn’t that what being a true hero is all about?   

For these reasons, and many more, the $250 million budgeted THE DARK KNIGHT RISES grabs you from its first bravura action sequence and spellbinds us with a final scene that astoundingly not only brings Nolan’s three-film story to a close, but also hints at future episodes to come.  Sure, the film may not have the freshness of approach of BATMAN BEGINS or the precision and near perfection of THE DARK KNIGHT, but it nonetheless delivers in ways that many other super hero films – not THE AVENGERS or THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, also from 2012 – ever aspire to.

10.  LES MISERABLES

 

Tom Hooper’s lavish, sprawling, sumptuous, and epic big screen adaptation of the legendary stage musical – which, in turn, is based on the 19th Century Victor Hugo novel – reminds audience members of the type of handsomely envisioned and gargantuan productions that are just not in vogue anymore.  

LES MISERABLES is not only an unqualified feast for the senses in terms of production design and scale - at just $65 million, the film looks like it cost several times that budget -  but it also manages to create individual moments of raw emotional power in which we witness the agony and despair of its characters.  The film is, if anything, an incalculable gamble for Hooper (he previously directed THE KING’S SPEECH and THE DAMNED UNITED) in the essence that it’s long (nearly three hours) and has his characters literally singing every single line throughout its 158 minutes.  More impressively, Hooper shot his actors singing live on set, which gives scenes a raw sense of in-the-moment passion and vigor that most other musicals don’t have.  The vocal work here is not polished or refined, per se, but their lack of clean precision gives the actors more of an opportunity to immerse themselves in their respective characters.  Case in point: Anne Hathaway – sure to win Best Supporting Actress – delivers a show stopper for the ages in “I Dreamed a Dream” where Hooper lets his camera sit idly on the actress’ face – without obstructive cuts or panning – and allows her to convey the downtrodden sense of futility in her character’s existence.  It’s one of the most simply envisioned, but powerfully realized moments in any film from 2012, which all but helps LES MISERABLES be placed on my list of the best films of 2012 as well. 

 
  ...and now to round off my TEN BEST FILMS OF 2012 with my selections from 11-25:  
 

11.  HEADHUNTERS::This Scandinavian pot-boiler hodgepodge of the best of Hitchcock and the Coen Brothers is one of the most intense thrillers that I've seen in recent memory.

 

12. MOONRISE KINGDOM::Another sublime delight from the eclectic Wes Anderson, and also one of the most sincere human stories of young love to come around in a while..

 

13.  PROMETHEUS: Naysayers be damned, because Ridley Scott's kind-of ALIEN prequel fired rousingly on all intended cylinders, and his usage of 3D ranks up their with the best offerings.

 

14.  THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER:A wonderfully scripted and finely acted high school drama that joyously touches on all the insecurities and anxieties of being an adolescent.

 

15.  TAKE THIS WALTZThere is not one moment of false dramatic interest all through Sally Polley's exquisitely rendered infidelity drama, and Michelle Williams proves here why she's one of the finest actresses of her generation. 

 

16.  SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS:Martin McDonagh's follow-up to IN BRUGES - which made my Ten Best Films of 2008 list - mixes deliriously daffy characters and a witty Tarantino-ian plot that weaves in and out of fiction and meta-fiction with an assured hand.   

 

17.  RUBY SPARKS:A terrifically inventive romcom - from first time screenwriter Zoe Kazan, whom also stars here - that's refreshingly free of Hollywood conventions and pratfalls.   

 

18.  LINCOLN: Even though the film's opening scene and ending are a bit clumsy, there's no denying the limitless power of the chameleon-like Daniel Day-Lewis in his tour de force performance as the Great Emancipator.  

 

19.  THE GREY: A criminally underrated outdoor survival thriller from director Joe Carnahan with a script that manages to sidestep expectations at just about every turn; plus, it has the empowering visage of Liam Neeson punching out a wolf and cursing out God.

 

20COMPLIANCE: One of the most shocking and scandalous films of the year - all the more so seeing as it's based on fact - that contains brave and thankless performances and makes you think and think hard about its polarizing themes.

 

21.  BERNIEIf there was any justice in the world then Jack Black's finely understated and nuanced performance as a funeral director driven to murder in this juicily entertaining Richard Linklater film should have received Oscar consideration.

 

22.  SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOKDirector David O'Russell proves yet again why he's one of the most acute directors of actors around with this meticulously performed drama that milks out laughs out of human misery.     

23.  THE SESSIONSJohn Hawkes gives arguably the second best performance of 2012 behind Daniel Day-Lewis as a Polio-stricken man - whom has feeling in his body, but his muscles will not operate anything from the neck down - that strives to find a sex-surrogate to fulfill his quest to cease his existence as a virgin.

24.  JOHN CARTERIt became disgustingly popular to lambaste this notorious box-office flop from earlier this year, but Andrew Stanton's loving recreation of Edgar Rice Burroughs's landmark sci-fi literary series hit all the right notes as an old fashioned pulp inspired bit of escapism.

25.  THE INVISIBLE WAR:: Kirby Dick's utterly transfixing and sad documentary about the abuses of military women at the hands of their colleagues and superiors is an absolute eye-opener.  

 
  Beyond my TOP 25, here's a further selection of films that are definitely worth seeing, but just not quite great enough to make the final cut:  
 

THE IMPOSSIBLE Astonishing recreation of the dreadful 2004 Tsunami in Thailand and some truly fine performances highlight this reality-based disaster drama. - added January 31, 2013

AMOUR I found Michael Haneke's direction a bit cold, impassive, and clinically handled, but the lead performances truly shine through in this heart-rending tale of elderly love. - added February 19, 2013

SIDE BY SIDE This Keanu Reeves hosted and produced documentary about the pros and cons of digital versus celluloid shot movies is thoroughly engaging and fair-minded with its subject matter. - added February 26, 2013

HAYWIRE A lean, mean, and efficiently directed espionage thriller from director Steven Soderbergh and featuring MMA champion-turned-action-goddess Gina Carano. 

CHRONICLE:   One of the more fiendishly inventive found-footage films in a long time, this time chronicling high schoolers that are mysterious granted super powers.

RAMPART:  Woody Harrelson gives a performance of animalistic ferocity and reptilian charm as an uber-corrupt L.A. police officer.

21 JUMP STREET:  A surprisingly funny-as-hell big screen adaptation of the cult TV series that features the unlikely comic dynamic duo of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.

CASA DI ME PADREAnd speaking of unlikely...a comedic love ballad to the best and worst of Mexican telenovelas and westerns that stars Will Ferrell and is done completely in Spanish; yeah, it's as absurdly hilarious as it sounds.

SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN:: It's got salmon fishing...and it's in the Yemen...but this Lasse Hollstrom film also contains spot-on performances by Ewan McGregor and the always fetching Emily Blunt in this nicely rendered romantic drama.   

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN:  Forget about the altogether gag-inducing MIRROR, MIRROR, because this stylish, dark, and evocatively produced SNOW WHITE film was the one to seek out in 2012.

ROCK OF AGES:   Critically maligned, but I nonetheless found this adaptation of the legendary stage musical to be a toe-tapping hoot to the best excesses of classic 80's metal and pop.   

HEMINGWAY AND GELLHORN: This Phillip Kauffman directed HBO film about the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and his wife Martha Gellhorn was driven by the the fiery chemistry of Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman.  

SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD:  Not everyone's idea of a happy-go-lucky date flick, but this odd conglomeration of the romcom and the end-of-days thriller is infectiously entertaining.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN:  The second best SPIDER-MAN film - a series reboot - behind the Sam Raimi helmed SPIDER-MAN 2 features a new cast and a new grittier look that feels wholeheartedly different while honoring the essence of the films that came before it.  

PREMIUM RUSH:  Dreadfully underrated thriller featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a New York bicycle messenger that showcases some of the most ingeniously staged chase sequences - mostly free of obnoxious and obtrusive CGI tinkering - that I've seen. 

TITANIC 3D:  James Cameron's multi-dimensional upgrade of his beloved 1997 love story epic is among one of the best 3D efforts I've seen.

STAR WARS: EPISODE I - THE PHANTOM MENACE 3D:  The much loathed 1999 STAR WARS prequel still remains a not-bad, but not-great entry in the most iconic film fantasy series of all-time; the 3D upgrade here, though, was a mostly meh affair.  

HOPE SPRINGS:  Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep are gangbusters together here as an aging couple trying to rekindle the long lost passion in their emotionally cold marriage. 

LAWLESS:  This John Hillcoat (THE ROAD and THE PROPOSITION) bootlegging/Prohibition-era drama does a brilliant job of immersing us in the film's time period and settings.

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS:  An equally howl-inducing comedy and fright-filled gore fest, this Drew Goddard directed and Joss Whedon co-written effort is an effective homage and condemnation of the slasher genre.

WANDERLUSTAnother Paul Rudd-lead comedy that gets by on the performer's low-key charisma and razor sharp comedic wits.   

GAME CHANGE:  This HBO produced film about former Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin features an uncanny performance by Julianne Moore as the much chastised politician.

WRATH OF THE TITANS:  This CLASH OF THE TITANS sequel comes out at viewers with the forceful intensity of a Zeus-thrown lighting bolt and never looks back.

AMERICAN REUNION:   The fourth film in the AMERICAN PIE series brings most of the original cast back for one last hooray with mostly amusing results.  

THE THREE STOOGES:   The Farrelly Brothers -  long-time Stooge nuts - scrupulously and successfully recreate the look and feel of the classic 80-year-old short films featuring Larry, Curly, and Moe. 

THE AVENGERS:  The biggest box office smash of 2012 was a lively, robust, and exhilarating super hero team-up picture that left fanboys frothing at the mouths. 

THE RAVEN:  History meets fiction - and how! - in this evocative and polished what-happened-during-Edgar-Allen-Poe's-final-days thriller.   

KEYHOLE:  Iconoclast director Guy Maddin's film is just so screwy and maddeningly all over the map that I found myself just taken in with the whole peculiarity of the enterprise. 

THE DICTATOR:  Sacha Baron Coen's newest comedy is a hit-or-miss affair, but a climatic speech in a concluding scene deserves worthy comparisons to Chaplin's THE GREAT DICTATOR for its subversive satirical edge.  

SAFEThe seemingly umpteenth Jason-Statham-kicks-everyone's-ass action film is nonetheless a well-made engine that fires on its intended cylinders to showcase what its star does best.

MEN IN BLACK III: After the egregiously terrible MEN IN BLACK II, this third entry marks a fitting return to form for the series.

THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL This film is an unmitigated audience pandering effort, but there's no denying that its winning cast of grade-A British thespians makes the artificiality of the scripting go down more smoothly.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER:  The second-best Abraham Lincoln film behind Spielberg's LINCOLN, this time showing the 16th President of the U.S. as an expert nosferatu hunter.  Wait, what!?  He wasn't?

HYSTERIAA period film about the invention of the vibrator that perhaps works better than it should have.

TED: The foulest, most-politically incorrect, and most oddly endearing comedic character of 2012 turned out to be a cute little talking teddy bear with Seth McFarlane's voice.  

BRAVE:  Not among one of the finest computer animated films on Pixar's legendary resume, but BRAVE certainly contains the visual wow factor that has made the company one of the forerunner's in the industry.

COMIC CON: EPISODE IV - A FAN'S HOPE:  Morgan Spurlock finally takes himself out of the equation by allowing this documentary's subject matter - those loveable geeks that worship all this Comic-con related - to take center stage.  

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED:   One of the more peculiar time-travel themed films contains shrewd writing and affectionate performances by a break-out Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass.   

THE HUNTER:  A sumptuously photographed film spearheaded by a grounded performance of soft-spoken charisma by Willem Dafoe.  

THE EXPENDABLES 2:    I found myself less resistant of the unhealthy, but tasty vibe of iconic 1980's action film cheese in this EXPENDABLES sequel than I was expecting.  

HIT AND RUN:   A Tarantino-wanna-be through and through, but this Dax Sheppard written and directed road comedy is a well oiled and self-effacing genre mash-up..

DREDD 3D:  Ludicrously violent, but innovatively shot and designed, this new redo of the Judge Dredd British comic book makes no apologies for what it is and never looks back.

CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER: Painful honesty permeates this romcom that separates itself far apart from other similar genre efforts; Rashida Jones proves here why she's poised for stardom.

TAKEN 2:  The only thing that makes this wholeheartedly unnecessary sequel intensely watchable is the forcefully implacable presence of Liam Neeson back at the helm, as only he can utter lines like, "Now, Kim, I want you to go to the balcony with the grenade...is there a safe place you can throw the grenade?" with a gravel voiced seriousness.

ROBOT AND FRANK:   An inexplicably enjoyable sci-fi drama that involves an ex-con performing one last heist...with his robot butler: Frank Langella's calm sincerity makes it all work.

CHASING MAVERICKS:  Some truly awe-inspiring surfing footage highlights this reality-based drama co-directed by Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted.

KILLER JOE:  Matthew McConaughey positively oozes Svengali-like magnetism here in director William Friedkin's hard-to-watch, but undeniably gripping NC-17 rated trailer trash noir.

SKYFALL:  The best 007 cinematic adventure since CASINO ROYALE is not - as you might have been led on - the best James Bond film ever made, but it certainly gets the series back on assured and strong footing. 

THE GUILT TRIP:  The positively inspired paring of Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand (!?) proved to be the best comedic gamble of the holiday movie season.   

DJANGO UNCHAINED:  This Quentin Tarantino-helmed exploitation Spaghetti Western (which he has dubbed a "Southern") has a been-there, done-that feel from the iconic director, but there's no denying his unique talents for crafting an unwholesomely and madly entertaining film.

 

JACK REACHER:  Yeah, yeah...the 5'7" Tom Cruise is certainly not the build to play the 6'5" literary title character, but he more than plausibly inhabits this cunning anti-hero in Christopher McQuarrie's stylish and exemplarily made adaptation of the much followed Lee Child boom series.

 

 

 

   

 

 
     
 

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