1. Moonrise Kingdom
- Wes Anderson's wry, endlessly delightful story about deadpanly idealistic children and the jaded adults hunting them. The little girl in Beasts of the Southern Wild
has gotten more end-of-the-year press, but Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are superb here and deserve more laurels.
- the most surprising movie I saw this year, by far. Until probably the day before it came out, I had no plans to see it, which means I didn't track its development or publicity at all (also a rare movie where the trailers conceal some fairly significant parts of the movie). Rian Johnson delivers fully on the promise of his earlier work.
3. Les Miserables
- a flawed but ambitious adaptation of the stage musical, which gets most of it right. This is a concentrated blast of 19th century melodrama, elevated with operatic music, and it does a better job than anything else this year of eliciting emotional reaction. The live-singing and Hooper's gritty, claustrophobic direction both work very well for me. With a Javert with more than adequate vocals this might be my favourite movie of the year.
4. Django Unchained
- Tarantino delivers another brilliant historical epic, with all his usual bells and whistles. Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson are all in top form (the first and last of these do their best work for him, by far), and Jamie Foxx is quite good too.
5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
- a lovely teen drama, unjustly underseen thanks to poor marketing, but featuring three great performances from Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller.
6. Wreck-It Ralph
- Disney Studios' best in-house effort since The Lion King
(and this is from someone who's a big fan of several of the films produced in the intervening period), highly imaginative, funny, surprisingly affecting, and with a great voice cast.
- one of the best James Bond films. If this is a sign of what you can do by putting real auteurs on the property, I hope the producers repeat it in the future; also features some of Roger Deakins' most memorable images, which is saying something, and strikes a nice balance of grittier elements with the stuff that makes the James Bond films what they are.
8. The Avengers
- while it certainly doesn't have the thematic depth of the Nolan Batman movies, that's not really what the Avengers are about to begin with. The Avengers are meant to be the last word in superhero action, and that's what this movie delivers. Future superhero movies are going to have to work to measure up to this.
9. Life of Pi
- some parts are stronger than others, but Ang Lee's adaptation of the Booker Prize-winning novel features some of the most audacious segments of the year. The special effects and cinematography combine to give one of the most visually beautiful movies ever made, and newcomer Sharma gives a remarkable debut performance when you consider he spends most of it opposite a CGI tiger. If he was a woman he'd likely be an Oscar contender.
- this one's a bit of an oddity for me, because it's a superbly crafted period drama about an American president I've read quite a lot about, and yet it isn't higher on my list. All the same, it's on it. Maybe I overly scrutinize the history on display. Anyway, the scene-to-scene construction is amazing, and the film should be held up as a model of how to make use of a huge ensemble and give everybody something to do.
Have yet to see: Amour
, A Royal Affair
, The Silver Linings Playbook
, Zero Dark Thirty