Ben Affleck (standing) stars in and directs "Argo," which tops Anita Modak-Truran's list of best 2012 films.
Photo by Courtesy Warner Bros.
A substantial chunk of the mainstream movies this past year followed the philosophies of "big equals better" and "anything with 3-D is better than big."
Advances in digital technology have led to more razzle-dazzle and dizzying heights of visual showmanship.
Movies have never looked better, but are they better? For all its fanfare and the hyped-up 48 frames per second, "The Hobbit" wasn't better than "The Lord of The Rings" trilogy. Instead, it came off redundant for those who had seen director Peter Jackson's earlier works.
If 2012 was judged before the winter rollout, it would have quietly been buried under an overload of recycled special effects. I can't count the number of prequels, sequels and reboots that blended into a generic 3-D landscape. Some weekends I thought I was seeing the same alien entry port that I seen the week before under a different title.
The shift to better films started late this year, but what I saw made me reassess what I look for in a "best" film. My favorite films of the past year are not the prettiest, but the ones where my perspective shifted in some way or where something new was added to the cinematic vault.
These are not perfect films, and some will never see the top of another critic's list, but I feel compelled to honor those films that left the traditional studio comfort zone--probably to the loss of box office revenue--and leapt into the audacious realm of creativity without borders.
My list doesn't include some movies that you may have seen bandied about other top 10 lists, such as "Zero Dark Thirty" directed by Kathryn Bigelow, or "Amour," which won the Palm D'Or at Cannes. The reason for these omissions is simple: These pictures have not reached our neck of the woods yet, and I've not seen what others have raved about. I look forward to the experience in 2013.
My favorite films for 2012 include:
- "Argo": A smart-mouthed CIA agent with the best of bad plans rescues six Americans from the Iranian Revolution with help from his Hollywood friends and the Canadians. I don't even like Ben Affleck, but this film, which he directs and stars in, wonderfully spins truth and dramatic license in an entertaining and compelling way.
- "Beasts of the Southern Wild": Hushpuppy survives the beasts of the bayou. Even the wild shaky camera didn't diminish the impact of a 6-year-old making the best of her sad lot in life.
- "Cloud Atlas": Past, present and future merge into a spiritual revolution. It shouldn't work with its shifting time periods and scores of characters, but the directing team of Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski broke conventional barriers with this film.
- "Flight": Flying upside down and churning inside out, Denzel Washington gives an incredible performance.
- "Les Miserables": This is a seriously flawed film, but I can't get the voices of the people out of my head. Anne Hathaway's performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" is iconic. It helped sooth my ruffled feathers over Russell Crowe's pinched-up rendition of "Stars."
- "Life of Pi": A Bengal tiger and a skinny Indian boy on a raft in the middle of the ocean sound depressing, but under Ang Lee's vision, this film soars.
- "Lincoln": The master politician, channeled from his grave to the screen by Daniel Day-Lewis, skillfully maneuvers the passage of the 13th Amendment in a war torn and divided country. Steven Spielberg shows us that words can be bloodier than battlefields.
- "Searching for Sugar Man": An uplifting documentary exploring the reported death of Rodriguez, a singer-songwriter from Detroit who never developed a fan base in the U.S. but was more popular than Elvis in South Africa.
- "Skyfall": In the most dynamic Bond movie made in the 50-year history of the franchise, Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem rock the screen.
- "The Dark Knight Rises": This is a crowning achievement of Christopher Nolan's landmark Batman trilogy.