As much as I love the chance to impose my taste upon the world — and I really, really do — the day I have to commit to a final top 10 list is never fun.
I see a lot of movies; some of them are pretty terrible, but the majority fall somewhere on the spectrum between good and amazing. My personal best-list starts with at least 25 candidates, and I slowly yank out movies I really enjoyed until I reach 10. It's painful. Like plucking eyebrows painful. (But not really — dudes, you have no idea how much that actually hurts.)
And then there are the screenings I've missed — I'm positive "Zero Dark Thirty" would be at the top of the list... I just haven't seen it yet.
So, I'm sorry, Kathryn Bigelow — you're not in here, though you should be. "Take This Waltz," "Safety Not Guaranteed," "Smashed," you're the finest of indies; you deserve a place, but there's no room at the inn. And "Wreck-It-Ralph," you sweet lug, I loved you almost enough. May we meet again, someday, on Blu-ray.
10. 'Pitch Perfect'
This is not a good film, exactly. It's silly, often nonsensical, has befuddling plot holes and relies a little too heavily on ethnic stereotypes for laughs. That said, it's the first movie in who-knows-how-long I've seen in the theater twice in one week. And then once the week after. (And maybe once after that, as well.) The soundtrack is phenomenal, though I'd have sworn I hate a capella, and Anna Kendrick is so ridiculously real-person charming, I could watch her sing the phonebook... as long as someone was beatboxing her accompaniment.
I'm no fan of slashers, but I'm a huge fan of writer/producer Joss Whedon, writer/director Drew Goddard, and clever twists (à la early Shyamalan, sans resemblance à latter day Shyamalan) so I approached "Cabin in the Woods" with an open mind. Still, I was unprepared for how much I could love a slasher – I don't care what you say, it's still a slasher: people get slashed – based on the genre-bending elements of humor, fantasy, whip-smart writing and those twisty, twisty twists.
I thought I was over the found-footage thing. Actually... I never really thought I was under the found-footage thing. But "Chronicle," hardly a pioneer of the medium, used the device so cleverly, so seamlessly, I felt I was actually seeing a new form of fiction. The few moments where the technique stretched the movie's credibility were balanced by engrossing performances, including Dane DeHaan's heartbreaking turn as a maladjusted teen learning to control his newfound superhero powers. What seems, on its surface, to be a gimmicky comic book action movie is actually a nuanced depiction of an innocent kid's descent into villainy — a character that's all too familiar in the real world.
A superhero supergroup and nerd-god auteur Joss Whedon: two great tastes that taste AWESOME together. "The Avengers" contains the best features of its single-hero predecessors and corrects some of their failures: it retains the wit of "Iron Man" (filtered and refined through Whedon's iconic voice) and the bravado of "Captain America," and despite Marvel's repeated "Hulk" failures, finally finds the perfect green goliath in Mark Ruffalo. Yup, somehow, amidst the charisma of Tony Stark, the black-clad posterior of Black Widow and the arrow-flinging gun show that is Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye, Ruffalo is the smash hit of "The Avengers." (Get it? Smash? Yeah... sorry.)
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Spoiler alert: time-travel isn't a real thing. But that hasn't stopped sub-par sci-fi movies from explaining their pseudo-science into the ground. One of the amazing things about "Looper" (aside from some exceptional performances, a riveting plot and a physical transformation so incredible I didn't recognize Joseph Gordon-Levitt though I had just met him for an interview) is the grace with which it backed off from its own time-travel logic. "If we start talking about it, then we're going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws." Indeed, Angry Bruce Willis From the Future. Indeed.
You either love or hate Wes Anderson movies; there's really no middle ground with his style of adorable absurdity. As you might have guessed from his presence on this list: I love him, and I really loved "Moonrise Kingdom," though (or... because?) Anderson out-twees his twee-est "Royal Tenenbaums" scenes by making his latest film entirely about children who listen to age-inappropriately cool music and attempt to elope. It's weird, it's stylish, it's nostalgic without any resemblance to my actual childhood or the childhood of any person I've ever met… and I could watch it every day for a week without getting bored. (Plus, it makes me wonder where Anderson goes from here. My suggestion: well-spoken toddlers in jaunty berets, working out their issues. French accents wouldn’t hurt, either.)
4. 'Life of Pi'
I put off seeing this as long as I could; I'm one of those people who can't handle animal deaths in movies (p.s. If you're like me, this is the greatest resource you'll ever find) and I was given to understand that "Pi" features CGI creature casualties by the boatload. Literally. I'm glad I disobeyed the instincts of my tender lady-heart for two hours; Ang Lee's visually stunning adaptation — genuinely a breathtaking big-screen spectacle — was worth any mourning I may or may not have done over a certain fictional zebra. Suraj Sharma (as the titular Pi during the most important parts of his narrative) is something special, too. So, yeah. I loved it. Just... don't talk to me about the goat.
Who knew Bradley Cooper had it in 'im? The pretty boy who once brought us gems like "All About Steve" and "He's Just Not That Into You" was shockingly brilliant in "Silver Linings Playbook" as Pat, a bipolar wreck of a man, fresh from a court-mandated stint in a mental health facility. Despite the grim circumstances — his female lead is Jennifer Lawrence as a brittle, short-fused young widow — the movie is hopeful, funny, uplifting. Watching Lawrence emote, after excellent but glacial performances in "Winter's Bone" and "The Hunger Games," was the icing on a Globe-nominated cake. A silver lining, if you will.
I read a lot. A lot. A looooot. So believe me when I say this is a big deal: "Perks," the book, was my favorite for about a decade, and it still has a permanent place in my top five. The novelist, Stephen Chbosky, adapted and directed the movie; it's faithful enough to satisfy die-hard fans like me, with enough adjustments to show that Chbosky has allowed his work to evolve. His story remains a moving elegy on adolescent isolation, a love letter to the precocious and the peculiar. It will touch the heart of anyone who was a little sad or a little strange in high school, whose friends were their lifeboats, who felt the wind in their hair and knew, for a moment, what it meant to be infinite.
1970s beards and tan suits have no right to be this riveting. "Argo" proves that Ben Affleck, while decent as an actor and fair-to-middling as a tabloid personality, is one hell of a director. The tension he infuses into a Wikipediable true story is remarkable. Affleck also plays the lead, Tony Mendez, a real person who led the far-fetched rescue of six U.S. diplomats during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, using a fake sci-fi movie production to cloak his attempt. Even though the mission's outcome is now a matter of public record, the implausibility of its success makes "Argo" more than a nail-biter – "Argo" is a whole-finger-biter. Thanks, Affleck. I needed those.