(in no particular order)
"Silver Linings Playbook"
Unexpectedly, David O. Russell's quirky but affecting slice of Philadelphia life was the most enjoyable movie of the year in my book. Jennifer Lawrence is a knockout, Bradley Cooper does his best work, and the genre shifts from psychological drama to screwball family weirdness to straight-up romcom are handled with an admirable deftness.
With "Lincoln," Spielberg reminds us why he's a totem in American film: his direction has a light, subtle touch, Tony Kushner's script makes political wonk-talk into poetry, and the big-name cast turns in exquisite performances. This film will be a classic--and one we look back to in order to examine how we envisioned ourselves (and our shared history) during our own time of great political divide.
Yes, "Brave" is B-level material for Pixar--but if anyone other than the premiere American animation studio had made this movie, we would have said it was the best animated movie of the year. The scenery is breathtaking, Merida's hair is a technological triumph, and the characters mess up and sometimes treat each other badly, just like we do.
"The Dark Knight Rises"
To some extent, this is a nod to Nolan's entire Batman trilogy. Was "The Dark Knight Rises" the best of the new Batman movies? No. But it's a fitting conclusion to a series that asked us questions few recent movies--let alone superhero movies--have, and nobody makes big-screen blockbusters like Nolan right now.
Ben Affleck excels in this movie--behind the camera, that is. His Tony Mendez was perhaps my least favorite part of "Argo," but his direction is sharp and perceptive. The scene in the airport was perfect I-know-this-will-end-fine-but-I'm-so-stressed moviegoing. And for some reason, I love the period awful-but-great glasses, hair and clothing.
As a Bond movie, "Skyfall" wouldn't top my list of the Daniel Craig films (that would be "Casino Royale") but as a Bond movie, it's tops. The visuals are great, the action is crisp, and I'm not too proud to say I love the idea that Bond might have tussled in the sheets with another guy at some point in his storied career.
OK, I admit it: I'm a sucker for animated movies. But seriously--I loved every minute I spent watching this film, and as someone who almost never cries at movies, I teared up twice. After "Tangled" (and "Bolt," which I enjoyed), I'm excited to see more of this new direction Disney's heading in.
Whoa. "Flight" is a surprisingly and refreshingly dark film, which makes it exciting that it even made it to the big screen (apparently Robert Zemeckis and Denzel Washington waived their fees to make it happen). Filled with deft, nimble camerawork--especially during its thrilling, disturbing and remarkable plane crash sequence--this film turns addiction into a high-stakes battle where the protagonist and antagonist are one and the same. Washington is great; Don Cheadle does wonders with a supporting part.
"The Hunger Games"
I'll probably be the only TOHer to put this on my list, but "The Hunger Games" was one of the very few times I've ever liked a movie more than the book it was adapted from. Gary Ross, Billy Ray and Suzanne Collins (who wrote the original novel) open up the world of Panem, making it more grounded and nuanced in the process, and get us out of Katiss's head and into the games themselves. And, of course, Lawrence does great, great work, as does a supporting cast of (literally) colorful characters.
"Life of Pi"
It's one thing to read a book about a boy stuck in a boat with a tiger--it's another thing entirely to go through two-hour immersive 3D experience on that boat, with that tiger. "Life of Pi" dragged a bit for me, but Ang Lee's visuals are stunning (the scene of Pi's boat drifting through a sea of stars still lingers for me), his use of 3D is story-based and not gimmicky, and the animation/effects that went into this movie deserve ample recognition