If we learn anything from 2012, it is this: President Abraham Lincoln is alive and well, surviving in the faultless form of Daniel Day-Lewis. In Lincoln, Lewis’s transcendent performance and his relatable crowd of compatriots humanize this marble statue.
Lincoln illuminates an American God through grandiose speeches and epic Spielberg cinematography, but also takes the honorable Abe off his pedestal, showing us who Lincoln really was. Day-Lewis personifies not only Abe’s strength and towering wisdom, but his tenderness toward his youngest son, his fruitless frustration in his unstable wife (played with manic perfection by Sally Field), and his well-hidden fear that it might not all work out.
As we know, it does all work out — the war ends and Lincoln miraculously passes the amendment to abolish slavery. This win has been ingrained in us, but Lincoln now makes us personally proud of this fascinating man whose tragic fate is inevitable.
2. “Django Unchained”
Few movies were anticipated in 2012 the way “Django Unchained” was. Thankfully, even fewer movies were able to deliver on the hype the way “Django” did. Quentin Tarantino is at his best, as the film features violence galore coupled with sharp, intelligent dialogue. The story’s compelling, the shots are beautiful, the characters are engaging and the soundtrack fits the film perfectly, even if it is a little unorthodox (c’mon, the guy put Rick Ross in a western – RICK ROSS!).
As promised, the all-star cast of Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio is phenomenal. Foxx is transformed into one of the all-time greatest cinematic badasses by the end of the film. Waltz is as impressive as he was in “Inglourious Basterds,” and DiCaprio is able to step out of his normal role and stole most of his scenes as antagonist Calvin Candie. Simply put, this was a great movie.
“Argo” is a rollercoaster ride that you don’t want to end. Even though it’s a biopic and the “What happens?” is no mystery, the captivating question in this film is: “How the hell did they pull that off?” Ben Affleck knocks it out of the park as he directs and stars in this true story about CIA agent Tony Mendez, who concocts a fake movie project called “Argo,” to seek permission for a “location scout” in Iran, so he can smuggle U.S. embassy officials to safety.
John Goodman and Alan Arkin are hilarious as a Hollywood make-up artist and a producer past his prime who help Tony promote, advertise and market this faux film. I laughed, I cried, I gripped my chair and I thoroughly enjoyed the dialogue; out of it came one of the most memorable phrases of the year. What is it, you may ask? Go see “Argo” and you’ll know when you hear it.
4. “Cabin in the Woods”
“Cabin in the Woods” is probably the boldest movie to have graced the big screen in a really long time. It should be revered, acknowledged and seen. Why? Because “Cabin” brings back some much-needed relevance to the genre of horror, by mocking every stereotypical plotline that’s rendered it trite and irrelevant.
A group of friends embark on a holiday to a predictably creepy, secluded cabin in the woods. While everything about this film, including its name and initial plotline, seems to be an echo of a million movies past, things quickly take a turn for the unusual. The climax is a slap in the face for anyone who thinks they know horror.
The actors, led by Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”), are OK but inferior to the script itself. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s brilliant brainchild is undoubtedly a cult classic that has enough blind spots to thrill even the most seasoned film buffs.
It’d be simple to say “Skyfall” has great performances, a great script and great set pieces, but this James Bond ripples with urgency. Daniel Craig instills gaping soul into his character. Javier Bardem at once intrigues you, makes you squirm and pity him. The gun fights are bold and loud. Resurrection is its hobby, and it makes a damn good case for our favorite superspy’s triumphant return.
But where “Skyfall” plants thrills, laughs and C4 explosives, it also fills with shadows. It’s about unseen enemies moving in the dark, the deep places in which we hide, the secrets of the past. It necessitates those hard-nosed heroes we hold more dearly than we realize because in the times we live, fictional and real, we’re aware of just how large a shadow our beloved James Bond casts.
6. “The Master”
There wasn’t a more challenging, thought-provoking and altogether hypnotic cinematic experience in 2012 than Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master.” Never has there been a movie that I couldn’t comprehend and organize my feelings about after a first viewing, but “The Master” crumbled that streak. And I say good for Paul Thomas Anderson who, in my opinion, is THE auteur of the modern age for creating a piece that he knows wouldn’t jell with everyone (the way his earlier, more conventional films “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” did).
The performances are all jaw-dropping, and perhaps career bests from Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. The cinematography from Mihai Malamaire Jr. and score from Jonny Greenwood are aesthetically grandiose and guaranteed to stay with you. If you don’t feel like playing it safe when you’re scrolling through on-demand, “The Master” is a devilishly satisfying mind-fuck of a film.
“Silver Linings Playbook” is hard to explain. It’s a jumbled cord of a film; a knot of emotion and mental anguish, of humor and hope. It’s a romantic comedy where little pockets of the theater chuckle at certain moments (never everyone at once, the jokes are too personal). It’s a vulnerable farce, laughing while its hands shake.
“Playbook” is full of big names, and many turn in career-defining performances. Bradley Cooper, as the bipolar Pat, is brilliantly erratic — a painfully hyperbolic reaction to love’s end. Jennifer Lawrence, as the recently widowed and “slutty” Tiffany, is a revelation. Tiffany is shattered but seems both stronger and more tender in those places she has been broken; Lawrence, who’s always been a physical, powerful actress, works wonders. Cooper and Lawrence’s chemistry is palpable, almost … classical.
Ultimately, both these characters need love; “Playbook” succeeds because we end up giving it to them.
The philosophy of Occam’s Razor, a rule that dictates the simplest choice to be the optimal choice, is the sweeping undercurrent of “Looper”. As soon as time travel is established as one of the major themes, the movie not only waves a hand to its complexity, it goes so far as to say that time travel would be better left unexplored. As Abe (Jeff Daniels), the coordinator of the time travel program, says, there are things about time travel that are better left untouched.
Rigged with futuristic action sequences, littered with various one-liners in the style of any great Bruce Willis movie, and driven by an insightful and daring look into the direction of justice, Looper is a unique and entertaining journey. While it offers a new perspective on invention, it’s the ultimate statement about not making things too complicated.
Dear Friend, you don’t know me, but I’m writing to you to say that you must see “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Because what are the perks of watching “Perks”? When you’re not feeling “infinite,” you’ll revel in the warm-and-fuzzies evoked by the movie’s nostalgic intimacy, and hitch your heart to the quiet evolution of a kid called Charlie. You’ll quote Charlie’s misfit gang of friends, especially Ezra Miller as Patrick, feisty like a forest sprite in ’90s clothing. Every line is say-it-ain’t-so honest, and every scene framed by the feeling of a fleeting moment.
Dear Friend, watch “Perks” — accept the love and the films you deserve! — even if it is only to judge Emma Watson’s American accent.
10. “The Avengers”
Ensemble blockbusters are risky, and their downsides numerous. For the studio, they’re a giant up-front investment. For the actors, there’s a huge risk to their public image, as each, previously bankable name spends months working on a supporting role (taking a pay cut in the process). And for the director, it’s so, so easy to screw up. Give one character too much screentime, and the movie doesn’t seem balanced. Give Captain America and Thor and Iron Man and Black Widow and Hawkeye as much screentime as they’re all used to, and suddenly your film is five hours long and moves like syrup.
But in the hands of Joss Whedon (“The Cabin in the Woods”), “The Avengers” avoided its many possible pitfalls (mildly sexist marketing campaign aside), spinning together a compelling sci-fi adventure that incorporated even the weaker elements of Marvel mythology (looking at you, Thor) to incredible effect.