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Film Favorites: 12 for 2012

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A look back at some of this year's highlights

This is not intended to be a traditional 'Best Of' list. Nor is it intended to be comprehensive truthfully, one or more as-yet-unseen late-year releases might well bound their way up the ladder (I'm looking at you 'Django Unchained' and 'Zero Dark Thirty' and yes, you too 'Les Miserables.')

No, this list is instead a look back at some of my favorite films of the year. Are there 'better' films out there that didn't make the cut? Absolutely. These are just a handful of films some great, some less so that I really enjoyed in 2012.


Might as well lead off strong. In a surprisingly competitive race, 'Argo' winds up as my favorite film of the year thus far. The based-on-a-true-story exploits of six U.S. diplomatic personnel lost in 1979 revolutionary Iran and the wildly implausible CIA scheme to get them back make for gripping viewing. It's three films in one a political thriller, a Hollywood satire and a chase movie and all three are excellent.


This film's pedigree is undeniable; director Stephen Spielberg and actor Daniel Day-Lewis have taken Tony Kushner's screenplay based on a Doris Kearns Goodwin book, no less and created a powerful snapshot of a pivotal moment both in the life of one of our greatest presidents and in the to-that-point brief history of our country. It's all buoyed along by Day-Lewis's magnificent (and probably Oscar-winning) performance.

Moonrise Kingdom'

I'm in writer/director Wes Anderson's pocket. His unique style and deceptively sweet stories rarely fail to click for me. 'Moonrise Kingdom' might be his best offering yet, telling a tale of the honest and sometimes brutal realm of young love. That tiny, innocent love story is the heartbeat of the film. Meanwhile, Anderson has assembled one of his usual brilliant supporting casts and created yet another glimpse at a cinematic world that is his and his alone.


It's not easy reinventing a cinematic icon; certainly not when you're dealing with one as revered as James Bond. However, 'Skyfall' marks the moment when the current iteration of 007 found his stride. Daniel Craig offers a much darker take on Bond, and the world he now lives in is far less cartoonish and absurd it resembles our own more than it has in years. It's a significant change to see James Bond operating in a more realistic worldand a welcome one.

The Dark Knight Rises'

Christopher Nolan completes his trilogy and with it, completes his legitimization of the superhero movie genre. Nolan shows us that a movie doesn't have to be a mindless popcorn-muncher just because the hero wears a cape he also shows us that huge action set pieces can have a place in a meaningful, complex film. Characters like Batman are part of modern American mythology 'The Dark Knight Rises' treats that mythos with respect.

Safety Not Guaranteed'

I'll be honest; I almost missed this one. It's one of those wonderfully successful projects that far exceed their own ambition. The tale of three magazine employees who answer a bizarre classified ad looking for a time travel companion turns is sweetly absurd while remaining heartfelt. It also offers up one of the most satisfying endings of any film this year. At its core, 'Safety Not Guaranteed' is about the power of belief.


It's funny that two of the most inventive movies of the year movies with wildly disparate styles and tones both revolve around time travel. 'Looper' explores the consequences of time paradoxes in a new and interesting way. Anchored by quality performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, the film addresses the idea of confronting the sins of the past from an engaging and wonderfully complex perspective.

The Avengers'

I am an unabashed Marvel Comics fan from way back, so watching this film the culmination of years of multi-movie world building was a huge payoff for me. It certainly doesn't have the gravitas of the year's other massive superhero hit, but it was unquestionably fun. The fact that it was brought to life by Joss Whedon a filmmaker with a real affection for the source material infused the whole thing with a witty joie de vivre.

Wreck-It Ralph'

For a certain generation one in which I proudly claim membership this was perhaps the most delightful nostalgia trip of the summer. 'Wreck-It Ralph' brought together a wealth of video game tropes and told a sweet story of self-belief. Add to that a phenomenal voice cast and some richly realized settings and you've got my favorite animated film of the year.

The Cabin in the Woods'

The idea of meta-horror has been kicking around Hollywood for a while now, but no movie has managed to capture the concept as precisely as this one. 'The Cabin on the Woods' wields classic horror clichs as weapons, somehow creating a universe in which all horror springs from the same source. Add in the generous helpings of humor and self-awareness and you've got a genre classic.

The Hunger Games'

This first installment of the trilogy based on the best-selling novels by Suzanne Collins has its flaws. In some ways, it fails to capture the internal intimacy of the post-apocalyptic tale, but it makes up for it with lavish production values and a first-rate performance by Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role. It's a resonant story that has thus far translated well to the big screen.


The whole 'found footage' trend in Hollywood might be running its course (see the accompanying 'What went wrong' list for some unfortunate examples), but in a summer filled with superpowers, this one might just address the 'realities' of great power in the best way of them all. Three high school kids inadvertently gain incredible abilities, but 'Chronicle' is really about the corrupting potential inherent to power.


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