By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Before 2012 can disappear from our memory banks, how about a look back at the year’s most gratifying moviegoing experiences?
This Top Ten list — completely subjective, admittedly arbitrary, and voted upon by a committee of one — is offered with no claim of significance or importance and is meant to satisfy nothing other than curiosity.
But who can resist?
Here, in ascending order, are the cream of the year’s cinematic crop:
Bully for this movie that matters, a powerful emotional documentary that isn’t a horror film, but might as well be as it explores the form of child abuse by other children that is school-related bullying, a combination of humiliation and assault that affects 13 million US schoolkids a year.
Director Lee Hirsch, serving not as an objective observer but as a provocateur, spent a school year tracking the cases of five victims who were seen as different and their families. Three are interviewed, while the parents of the two who took their own lives appear in their stead.
This troubling, heartbreaking film takes a stand as a first step in solving a sad and insidious problem.
This intricate and ambitious time-travel-plotted science fiction thriller challenges you to keep everything straight while it bounces ideas off all four walls.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a futuristic hit man/executioner in the year 2042 who is ordered to kill one final target: himself, but in a 30-years-older version played by Bruce Willis. A single mom played by Emily Blunt also crosses their path, and somehow writer-director Rian Johnson makes it all connect in a strongly satisfying way.
Absorbing and unpredictable throughout, with extensive action and gracefully embedded twists and turns, this nifty, noirish nugget is capped off with an emotionally shattering climax.
It’s foolish to think that any movie can solve the thorny Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East, but this touching and sometimes gut-wrenching drama has the best theoretical shot at it.
Two babies, one Palestinian and the other Israeli, were switched at birth. When their identities are accidentally discovered eighteen years later, two families, ostensibly enemies of each other, are dramatically affected and are forced to question their domestic reality and lifelong values and reassess their identities.
French co-writer and director Lorraine Levy has constructed a perfectly acted parable that ought to be required viewing for… well, come to think of it, for anyone who lives anywhere.
7. The Sessions
With a combination of sexual forthrightness and tasteful sensitivity never quite captured so assuredly on a movie screen, this smart, delicate, inspirational drama tells the true story of 38-year-old Mark O’Brien (played by John Hawkes), a polio-weakened paraplegic in an iron lung who wants to experience carnal knowledge before leaving this mortal coil.
So he turns to a sexual surrogate, a married mom played by Helen Hunt.
Writer-director Ben Lewin gets brilliant work out of Hawkes and Hunt, as well as William H. Macy as a compassionate parish priest, in this deeply moving and disarmingly intimate acting clinic.
A terrific threequel that will be forever linked, through no fault of its own, with the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado (see news story), this worthy successor to director Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and the masterful The Dark Knight is a thoughtful and thought-provoking essay on modern-day morality, as well as a spectacular disaster epic and a propulsive thriller.
Themes such as truth, power, wealth, heroism, and (in)justice are the big game hunted in Nolan’s noirish vision, and the Occupy Wall Street movement is at least obliquely indicated, with fine turns in a comic book-inspired thriller from Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
The movie version of the beloved stage musical based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel about revolutionary France, this testament to the human spirit is intensely emotional and extravagantly romantic.
Director Tom Hooper, an Oscar winner for The King’s Speech, had his cast sing live — rather than the standard lip-synching to playback — and it seems to trump the dramatic urgency.
Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway are splendid in an opera-like drama with virtually no spoken dialogue.
After dozens of large- and small-screen versions, this is the first musical rendition, with a focus on inequality and a portrait of the downtrodden delivered through sad songs, it has a modern resonance that suggests the alternate title of “Occupy Wail Street.”
This relentless and absorbing chronicle of the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden comes from Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow. It will trigger arguments galore about what if anything justifies the use of torture during the war on terror and whether it is actually effective anyway.
But your position on that issue will neither inflate nor undermine your appreciation of the work of apolitical cinematic journalism on display, with the fine Jessica Chastain playing the obsessive CIA analyst in charge.
Bigelow generates a surprising amount of suspense, given that we know the outcome, in what is a riveting detective procedural.
Director Sam Mendes takes on and delivers a James Bond spy thriller that seems like it’s establishing the template for the series. This 23rd entry, starring Daniel Craig as Agent 007, kicks off like gangbusters, with the expected extravagant, rousing, high-energy action sequence, then proceeds to get better as it progresses.
With Javier Bardem as a formidable villain and Judi Dench as Bond’s boss -– and both of them able to contribute shaded performances, unheard of in the Bondian universe — Mendes’ exhilarating excursion into Bondage shakes and stirs the audience, not as a great Bond movie, but just as a great movie.
Romantic dramedies don’t come much quirkier or edgier than this wonderfully entertaining exploration of emotional trauma and the healing power of love.
Writer-director David O. Russell manages a trifecta of perfectly pitched performances. Bradley Cooper as an anger-management failure with bipolar disorder and Jennifer Lawrence as a depressed young widow and kindred spirit are superb, as is Robert De Niro in support as Cooper’s anger-management failure of a bookie/Philadelphia Eagles fan father.
Bursting with sparkling dialogue that has you hanging on every word and inspired acting that has you aggressively scanning every facial expression, it’s ferociously intimate and decidedly offbeat, with a crowd-pleaser of a dance-competition climax.
Coming closest to moviemaking perfection was Ben Affleck’s third adventure in the director’s chair. This triumphant true-life thriller based on a defying-belief covert CIA mission during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 is an extraordinarily smooth, perfectly scaled combination of rich rooting-interest suspense and enjoyable belly-laugh humor.
Moviemaking mavens Alan Arkin and John Goodman help CIA op Tony Mendez, played by Affleck, set up a fake sci-fi flick so they can rescue the American hostages as they pose as a Canadian film crew.
Life-or-death stakes, a docudramatic race against time, brilliantly effective editing, a strong sense of place, and a sassy sendup of Hollywood hucksterism add up to not only an accidental history lesson about an episode that remained classified for years, but a glorious “stranger than fiction” entertainment.
Now, on to 2013!