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Top 10 Movies of 2012  

January 2013

10.     The Avengers    

Fanboys have waited almost 10 years for the ultimate superhero mashup, The Avengers. And rightfully so. In much the same way as a comic book crossover, the film combines storylines from 6 different superheroes, many of whom have had their own films, and puts them all together in a glorious action adventure. When Loki attempts to enslave mankind, Nick Fury, the director of the international peace keeping agency S.H.I.E.L.D. assembles a team of the mightiest superheroes in defense. A team that includes Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, and Black Widow. The Avengers was assembled and directed by noted comic book writer, Joss Whedon, creator of shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly." Here, Whedon perfectly balances family dysfunction and humor with terrific action payoffs. The set up is brilliant. The execution is over-the-top. And for summer sizzle, it just doesn't get any better than this. The Avengers is simply marvelous!

9.     Beasts of the Southern Wild    

Beasts of the Southern Wild is the reason we go to movies. A fantastical tale that depicts the life of a six year old girl named Hushpuppy, growing up with her father in a region of the bayou known as the bathtub, just on the other side of the levees. It's a desolate, post-apocalyptic place with rising waters, widespread poverty, and dilapidated housing. But from a child's point of view, it is the prettiest place on Earth. Unfortunately, that all comes crashing down when a heavy storm floods the region and along with her father's fading health, forces Hushpuppy to become mature and resourceful in order to survive. Beasts of the Southern Wild is an amazing accomplishment. Directed by Behn Zeitlin on a low budget with lofty ambitions, it perfectly balances real world hardships with child-like imagination. Featuring a tour de force performance from Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild is pure movie magic. For once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub.

8.     Skyfall    

This week, it's all about Bond. James Bond, who turns 50 this year and celebrates with a loud bang. The release of Skyfall represents the third outing for Daniel Craig, who completely inhabits the role with confidence, down to earth realism, and surprising vulnerability. For this installment, after a mission goes south, Bond is shot and presumed dead. Meanwhile, MI6 comes under attack as a new villain emerges with a diabolical plan and 007 must operate off the grid to help save the agency and restore M's reputation. While the plot mechanics may sound familiar, the execution is refreshingly new. Directed by Sam Mendes, a British filmmaker who won an Academy Award for American Beauty, Skyfall embraces the old while flourishing with the new. The action, the design, and the psychological drama are all top notch, sophisticated within a real world context. One of the most engaging and complete Bond movies in the series, Skyfall is as satisfying as a great martini. Shaken, not stirred.

7.     Amour    

Michael Haneke is well known for violent, confrontational, and utterly disturbing movies like Funny Games, Time of the Wolf, and The Piano Teacher. But his latest film, Amour, is something different, tenderly and painfully depicting the final test of true love. Well into their eighties, Georges and Anne are retired music teachers, enjoying the fruits of their labors until one day over breakfast, Anne suffers a mild stroke. Over time, her condition deteriorates as her husband does everything to keep her alive, knowing full well the end is near. Unlike so many films that sensationalize love as a young person's game, Amour is tough love. The kind that comes unexpectedly, while watching a loved one confront the realities of old age. French stars, Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, turn away from the glamour to show something more honest and revealing. And Haneke's direction is spot on, demonstrating how a blank stare conveys more truth than words. Amour is as heartbreaking and real as it gets.

6.     Silver Linings Playbook    

Director David O. Russell always seems to find absurd humor in serious places. In Three Kings, it was a group of American soldiers searching for treasure in Iraq. In I Heart Huckabees, it was a pair of existentialist detectives investigating the meaning of life. And in his latest film, Silver Linings Playbook, Russell finds humor with mental illness, relationship woes, and professional football. The film stars Bradley Cooper as a former substitute teacher who attempts to reunite with his wife after spending eight months in a psychiatric facility for beating up his wife's lover. Upon his release, he receives support from his football obsessed parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) and a mysterious girl (played by Jennifer Lawrence) with many of her own flaws. Both Cooper and Lawrence exhibit great chemistry together and the onslaught of zingers is one of the many silver linings in the film. Hysterically awkward, Silver Linings Playbook is a razor sharp, unfiltered exploration of recovery and reconciliation.

5.     Moonrise Kingdom    

First love is a magical thing, especially when envisioned by Wes Anderson, known for such works as Rushmore and Fantastic Mr. Fox. In his latest, Moonrise Kingdom, two twelve year olds, Sam and Suzy, fall in love and decide to escape their dysfunctions at home to spend a week alone in the wilderness. Of course, their disappearance creates quite a stir and turns their island community on its head as a search party consisting of social services, a scout troop, the local police, and their parents attempt to find them before a hurricane hits. Fans of Anderson will no doubt be pleased to see him back in his wheelhouse with Moonrise Kingdom - fixed camera angles, quirky characters, and meticulous production design. Even though complexity of character and plot are overshadowed by Anderson's artistic flair, Moonrise Kingdom is enchanting nonetheless. A whimsical tale about a different kind of storm - adolescence before adulthood.

4.     Django Unchained    

In 2009, Quentin Tarantino delivered his finest effort with Inglourious Basterds, a genre blending, fictionalized tale of Jewish Allied soldiers out to assassinate Nazi leaders. Now, 3 years later, he sets his aim on slave owners in Django Unchained, a spaghetti western set in America's Deep South. Starring Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, and Kerry Washington, the film depicts the story of a freed slave (Foxx) who travels across America with a German dentist turned bounty hunter (Waltz) to rescue his wife (Washington) from a sadistic plantation owner (DiCaprio). With influences ranging from grindhouse to kung fu, Django has tremendous style and stellar performances along with a pulp pounding soundtrack. All are hallmarks of Tarantino, whose bold ideas, cheeky humor, and graphic violence make Django Unchained a guilty pleasure. Wildly provocative, Django is a revenge film best served cold.

3.     Life of Pi    

Very few filmmakers have the grace, vision, and personal touch of Ang Lee. His latest film, Life Of Pi, is a perfect example of that extraordinary talent, making the unbelievable, believable. The magical tale centers on a young boy named Pi, who loses his family at sea and winds up alone on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Together, the two form a unique bond, spending 227 days lost at sea, fighting for survival. Adapted from the award winning novel by Yann Martel, Life Of Pi is an allegory - part philosophical, part spiritual, and part practical. With an agile script from David Magee and meticulous attention to detail, depth, and color, from a lifelike tiger to the grandeur of the ocean and a frightening thunderstorm, Ang Lee has crafted one of the finest, most mesmerizing films of the year. An absolute wonder to behold, Life Of Pi is an intimate story about the power of storytelling and the essence of life.

2.     Zero Dark Thirty    

So, how do you follow an Oscar winning Best Picture, like The Hurt Locker? If you're director Kathryn Bigelow, you amp it up to eleven with Zero Dark Thirty, one of the year's most powerful films about the hunt for Bin Laden. The film depicts the 10 year journey following the events of 9/11 all the way up to the raid on Bin Laden's compound. At the center of the story is a CIA agent named Maya whose unwavering determination and resourcefulness not only leads to retribution, but proves that women can get the job done in a male dominated environment. This is personal for Bigelow, the first woman to ever to receive an Oscar for Best Directing. It's not political. There aren't a lot of unnecessary back stories. It's just great storytelling. With an intricate script by Mark Boal and a gutsy performance by Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty is every bit as efficient and focused as Maya's investigation. Even though we know the final outcome, we are still locked in to the final frame. Powerfully provocative, Zero Dark Thirty is Kathryn Bigelow's finest hour.

1.     Argo    

As a director, Ben Affleck continues to get better and better. In 2007, his debut, Gone Baby Gone, was a powerful drama about two detectives searching for a missing girl. Then came The Town, a successful crime thriller about a bank robber who befriends a former hostage. But his best work to date is Argo - a film that blends both powerful dramatics with the trappings of a political thriller. In the film, a group of militants have stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution and taken hostages. Unbeknownst to them, six Americans were able to escape to the nearby Canadian embassy. And it's up to the CIA and specialist Tony Mendez to extricate them, hatching an outrageous plan that involves a Canadian film crew, shooting the next Star Wars. With gritty period details, wardrobe, and camera work, Argo is a Hollywood crowd pleaser, a suspenseful throwback with well balanced humor. But more importantly, it's a testament to Affleck's uncanny storytelling ability, making mission impossible possible.

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