The Best Films of 2012

The highlights of the silver screen

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Scene from Golden Globe winning Les Misérables, released Christmas Day 2012.
courtesy of universal pictures
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Courtesy of Warner Brothers
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Amour: A poignant portrayal of Georges and Anne, an old couple living quietly in Paris. After Anne has a stroke, Georges cares for her until the bittersweet end. The film is rich in detail, and the acting is compelling. Emmanuelle Riva is unforgettable as Anne, and we empathize completely with Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges. Anne’s relentless deterioration in health and Georges’ decisions to cope with it are sensitively and heartachingly depicted. The film says “there may be no dignity in death, but there can be love”. —Angie

Argo: This R-rated dramatization of the 1980 Iranian hostage crisis won best drama and best director at the Golden Globes, so it has to be good. Produced by Ben Affleck, George Clooney, and Grant Heslov, stars in the film include Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranson (Breaking Bad), and Victor Garver (Downton Abbey). The story centers around the secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomats out of revolutionary Iran. The ploy, devised by CIA special agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), involves the fugitives disguising themselves as a Canadian film crew. The film keeps audience members at the edges of their seats and showcases the brilliance behind the CIA-Canadian operation. —Grace

Silver Linings Playbook: Silver Linings Playbook gives refreshingly honest insight into the lives of people struggling with depression and loss. David O. Russell’s sharp screenplay unfolds a believable story about a man recovering from a manic episode who meets a woman dealing with the death of her husband. Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro round out an impressive cast, and each brings great depth to their characters. The film succeeds in capturing the realism in the relationship between Lawrence’s and Cooper’s characters—moments range from comedic to devastating. There’s a reason why this film is dominating this awards season. —Jaimie

Looper: If you’re in search of great entertainment, Looper will fill that prescription. The film avoids being muddled by the confusing nature of time travel while still requiring some thought. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a “looper,” an assassin who ties up loose ends by killing and disposing of bodies, an occupational hazard being that when your future self is sent to you, you must kill and dispose of him as well. Director Rian Johnson successfully creates an alternate reality, and the special effects are utilized in innovative and unexpected ways. The twist ending elegantly ties into the philosophical questions the plot raises. —Jaimie

The Dark Knight Rises: The last installment of the Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, is an epic in terms of both its length and its production quality. Although not as mind-blowing as many had hoped, the film still provides viewers with just the right amounts of fight scenes, witty superhero lines, and tear jerking moments. The film also succeeds in depicting how far Gotham has fallen since the first film. Once you get over how ridiculous (the villain) Bane’s voice is, the film is a perfectly adequate end to a great series. Anne Hathaway did all right too. —Jaimie

Cloud Atlas: Although it was deemed a box-office bomb, Cloud Atlas is what film should aspire to be. It is unconventional, confusing, and controversial, which will translate into an eventual cult following — but give it a chance now. The film follows six different stories in different genres, time periods, and locations, and it uses interconnectivity between the stories to represent the human quality of being connected. Breathtaking cinematography, philosophical questions, and emotionally wrenching scenes help the film transcend the silver screen and make you question your own life’s meaning. You may be confused the first time around, but it’s worth a few watches. —Jaimie

Les Miserables: Director Tom Hooper does justice to Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel and the longest-running musical in history. Set in 19th century France, the story follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), an ex-convict who breaks his parole to make a new life for himself. He takes custody of Cosette, the illegitimate daughter of the dying Fantine (Anne Hathaway), but his identity is revealed and he flees to evade the zealous pursuit of Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). Interestingly, in a non-traditional method, the film’s vocals were recorded live, with the actors guided through earpieces by live piano accompaniments, and the orchestral accompaniments were recorded in post-production. Riveting solos, majestic (or perhaps “revolutionary” is more apt) sets, light relief provided by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter — the result is an enjoyable two-and-a-half hour musical romp. —Angie

Lincoln: Lincoln is a gripping historical drama about Abraham Lincoln’s struggle to pass the 13th Amendment and end the Civil War. Daniel Day-Lewis gives a superb performance as the beloved president, who always has a twinkle in his eye and a story to tell. His dilemma is choosing between two courses of action: making peace and dooming the Amendment, or delaying peace, risking lives, and politicking for all his worth to gain support in Congress, and change history. Well, you know what happens, but director Steven Spielberg skillfully maintains the suspense throughout, interspersing moving family scenes with tense political episodes and touching public moments. —Angie

Seven Psychopaths: This British comedy has a star-studded cast, which includes Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, and Woody Harrelson. The story follows a writer struggling to complete his screenplay “Seven Psychopaths” by seeking inspiration from real-life psychopaths. The film’s offbeat humor and meta-fictional flavor is a breath of fresh air from the run-of-the-mill comedies that Hollywood has been churning out. For once, the storyline is at the forefront, and the plot is unique and unpredictable. The casting is the best part, as many cast members have the same sense of humor, making the film all the more enjoyable. —Jaimie

Safety Not Guaranteed: This charming indie was inspired by a real classified ad that read:

Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.

In her first leading role, Aubrey Plaza, of Parks and Recreation fame, drives this film with her deadpan expression and hilarious intensity. The story follows Plaza’s character, an intern at a local newspaper, as she meets and befriends the author of the classified ad. With its quirky storyline and charming quality, Safety Not Guaranteed is the indie film at its best. —Jaimie

Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry: Chinese artist and activist Ai Wei Wei has gained international renown for challenging the Chinese government on human rights issues. Following Ai to his studio and on his journey to identify all student victims in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, the film reveals the raw consequences of holding “unpopular opinions” in China. The film’s loose narrative includes Ai’s important early years in the New York art world, the rise and fall of his influential blog, and his newfound Internet home on Twitter. Never Sorry is an important look into not only contemporary China, but also the meaning of art and social responsibility. —Jenny

...and on the silver screen

This was big TV year for me because I actually started watching it.

New Girl, starring Zooey Deschanel, was my favorite. It follows cute and quirky Jess (Deschanel), her three guy roommates and supermodel-best friend in a comedy of adventures. Downton Abbey was also a big hit, becoming the most watched British costume-drama series since my all-time favorite (and still incomparable), Brideshead Revisited (1980s). The Big Bang Theory was as geeky and funny as in previous seasons, I suppose, and will continue in 2013. Nashville premiered this fall as a sort of Hannah Montana for grown-ups, following a rivalry between two glamorous country music stars.

Breaking Bad finishes this spring to the dismay of many. I’m not a fan of the show, so will shed no tears. All the characters are either bitches or jerks. Its only funny parts deal with drug dealers, yet for whatever reasons, it’s the object of widespread acclaim from professional critics and my friends, so it’s worth watching a few episodes to see if you like it. It’s probably the kind of show you need to watch from the beginning, however; so if like me you haven’t watched it before this year, Netflix may be in order.

The mockumentary Modern Family is very funny and it will continue this season. Tina Fey’s 30 Rock concludes this spring after a long run, while several other shows continued the tradition of creator-as-star. Girls premiered with great success as a somewhat autobiographical young-woman-living-in-NYC drama created by and starring Lena Dunham. Also The Mindy Project premiered this fall to some acclaim staring its creator, comedian Mindy Kaling, the first South Asian-American to star in a US television series.

In the line of shows sexifying otherwise un-sexy careers, Bones, Grey’s Anatomy and General Hospital are still on air; whereas House finally ended, although the Mentalist starring Simn Baker fills the genre of eccentric, high IQ foreigner solving complex problems in the America. Speaking of which, Homeland, starring sexy if slightly unbalanced CIA agent (Claire Danes) and an almost-as-sexy US Marine (Damian Lewis), won the Golden Globe for best television drama and will definitely return. You must take Hollywood’s Foreign Press Association’s word for it, however, as it didn’t crack my still limited TV schedule. — Grace