Three AP critics weigh in with their Top 10 Lists

Three AP film critics — Christy Lemire, David Germain and Jake Coyle — share their lists of Top 10 movies of 2012. (thanks Marshall)

The top 10 films of 2012, according to AP Movie Critic Christy Lemire:

1. “Argo” — Directing just his third feature, Ben Affleck has come up with a seamless blend of detailed international drama and breathtaking suspense, with just the right amount of dry humour to provide context and levity. He shows a deft handling of tone, especially in making difficult transitions between scenes in Tehran, Washington and Hollywood, but also gives one of his strongest performances yet in front of the camera. The story of a rescue during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis sounds like eat-your-vegetables cinema, and mixing it with an inside-Hollywood comedy sounds impossible, but Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio pull it all off.

2. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” — This is sheer poetry on screen: an explosion of joy in the midst of startling squalor and one of the most visceral, original films to come along in a while. The story of a little girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) living with her daddy on a remote, primal strip of eroding land in the southernmost reaches of the Louisiana bayou is so ambitious and so accomplished, it’s amazing that it’s only director Benh Zeitlin’s first feature. His film is at once dreamlike and brutal, ethereal yet powerfully emotional.

3. “Skyfall”

4. “Holy Motors” — This movie is just straight-up nuts, in all the best ways. Writer-director Leos Carax’s journey provides a joyous, surprising and darkly funny exploration of all the best cinema has to offer. Yes, this is a capital-A art film, one that challenges the viewer and leaves a lot of room for interpretation, but that’s part of the adventure. Denis Lavant gives a tour-de-force performance, assuming nine different roles as a mysterious man who travels around Paris in the back of a limousine all day, carrying out various assignments. Hop in and buckle up.

5. “Zero Dark Thirty” — A huge achievement from both technical and storytelling perspectives. Following the Oscar success of “The Hurt Locker,” director Kathryn Bigelow reteams with writer Mark Boal to tell an even larger and more complicated story: the decade-long hunt for Osama bun Laden. The attention to detail, to getting it right each step of the way, is evident in every element. And Jessica Chastain is relentless and self-possessed in a rare leading role as a young CIA officer on the case.

6. “The Master”

7. “The Imposter”

8. “Moonrise Kingdom”

9. “Oslo, August 31st” — A film of quietly intense precision and vividly honest humanity. Anders Danielsen Lie gives one of the great, underappreciated performances of the year as a heroin addict who’s allowed to leave rehab for the day to head into the Norwegian capital for a job interview. Instead, he wanders around visiting old haunts, reconnecting awkwardly with friends and facing his demons. It’s a performance of both subtlety and darkness, as director Joachim Trier leads him down an unpredictable and poignant path.

10. “This Is Not a Film”

The top 10 films of 2012, according to AP Movie Writer David Germain:

1. “Moonrise Kingdom” — First love is never this crazy and fanciful, but it sure felt like it way back when. Wes Anderson presents a wondrous romance about two 12-year-old runaways seeking refuge from life’s cruelties and disappointments. Newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward beguile us with performances precociously passionate yet disarmingly innocent, complemented by a group of sweet adult sad-sacks — among them Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis and Edward Norton — who find respite from disillusionment themselves with a glimpse through the kids’ pure eyes.

2. “Life of Pi” — A film about a youth alone on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger has no business working. But Ang Lee adapts Yann Martel’s introspective novel with inspired narrative wiles and glorious visuals presented in 3-D that lovingly enfolds and enlarges the action. Newcomer Suraj Sharma is a marvel as the teen cast adrift. And the film richly explores our cathartic need to tell tales, its dual ending asking a lady-or-the-tiger question: Which story do you prefer, the one of genuine horror or the one of hopeful, improbable possibility?

3. “Zero Dark Thirty” — Kathryn Bigelow follows her Academy Award triumph on “The Hurt Locker” with a docudrama of even greater ambition and scope. Collaborating again with screenwriter Mark Boal, Bigelow crafts a studiously detailed, relentlessly paced chronicle about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Jessica Chastain is ferocious as a CIA analyst tracking bin Laden with almost blind obsession. The film’s third act — the Navy SEALs assault that killed bin Laden — is as tense and absorbing as big-screen action gets.

4. “Argo”

5. “Searching for Sugar Man”

6. “Rust and Bone” — Jacques Audiard delivers one of the oddest of screen couples in this deeply involving and completely unpredictable romantic drama about a whale trainer (Marion Cotillard) who loses her legs in an orca accident and a negligent single dad (Matthias Schoenaerts) training as a mixed martial-arts fighter. Only in a movie would these two fall in love — more likely in a bad movie. But Audiard and his devoted stars find so many moments of grace and pathos that the relationship grows from tenuous to genuine with complete conviction.

7. “The Master”

8. “Lincoln” — Few performances qualify as monumental. That’s the best word to characterize Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, though. He vanishes into the president’s awkward, folksy, melancholy spirit, creating an unforgettable portrait of greatness that pretty much puts to rest any thought of another actor trying his hand at a serious portrayal of Lincoln for a good long while. Steven Spielberg eschews the battlefield for a talky yet affecting look at Lincoln’s final months. America couldn’t have done without Lincoln, and Spielberg couldn’t have done without Day-Lewis.

9. “West of Memphis”

10. “Looper” — For someone who thinks Bruce Willis’ “Twelve Monkeys” is the defining time-travel flick, it’s irresistible to see him in another clever, careening tale of time-hopping. Joseph Gordon-Levitt wonderfully channels the younger Willis as a hit man whose latest assignment is to snuff his older self, in a perverse retirement system where the mob of the future eventually has its assassins kill off themselves. Writer-director Rian Johnson has concocted a rare thriller whose brains equal its action, telling the story with great style and provocative irony.

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The top 10 films of 2012, according to AP Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle:

1. “Amour” — It’s a rare thing to be in the hands of a master working at the top of his game. Michael Haneke’s film about an aging Parisian couple and the intersection of tenderness and cruelty is devastating in both its story and execution.

2. “The Master” — In a year where digital overtook film as the dominant stuff of moviemaking, Paul Thomas Anderson’s 70-mm post-WWII drama made a hypnotic case for celluloid. Anderson’s film may have dawdled to its end, failing to figure out what drew together a drifter (Joaquin Phoenix) and a cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman). But the postwar atmosphere is vivid: a searching landscape of broken and delusional men. Like the ship that brings the two together, rocking slowly past the Golden Gate, the movie drifts away.

3. “Margaret”

4. “Moonrise Kingdom”

5. “Not Fade Away” — I never knew the ’60s but I suspect David Chase’s first film has finally — after countless more extreme stories — nailed something authentic about the decade and about rock ‘n’ roll’s atom-bomb-sized impact in suburban homes.

6. “Lincoln” — Steven Spielberg’s historical drama, too, is an exhumation of the past, even if it ultimately fails to make flesh its title character (even Daniel Day-Lewis can’t enliven such a calcified figure, especially with the incessant horn-tooting of John Williams’ grandiose score). But it does succeed — unlike any movie before — in summoning a political world, peopled by colorful characters (James Spader, Tommy Lee Jones) in and around Congress.

7. “Jeff, Who Lives at Home”

8. “The Dust Bowl” — One of the most pleasing things of the year was to see a Ken Burns with some fire. In “Central Park Five,” which he co-directed with his daughter Sarah Burns and David McMahon, he shed light on a miscarriage of justice. When lawyers for New York (who had refused to comment on the case) subpoenaed his notes, he flatly refused. In “The Dust Bowl,” he made clear its contemporary and potentially polarizing lessons: that the federal government can do good and that we are capable of marring the environment horrendously.

9. “Holy Motors” — French, fantastical and nuthouse crazy, Leos Carax’s film might seem the stuff of pretentious art house. But it’s a simple day-in-the-life, only one in which limos talk and fingers get bitten off for the sake of Eva Mendes. Any references or meanings are irrelevant: It’s a mad movie dream.

10. “Premium Rush”

Betsy Sharkey’s Top 12 Films of 2012

Next Story »

The Globe and Mail’s Top 10 of 2012

15 Comments

  1. December 16, 2012

    I don’t understand all the #1s for ARGO. I understand people liking it just fine, but first seems a bit much. Especially in a year like this. Is it just that they love Ben Affleck or do they really really think it’s the best film they’ve seen this year? Anyone here have it at #1?

    Anyhoo, this is OT but what they hell happened to THE HOBBIT at the box office. I saw it Friday at 10am in Boston and I was surprised how few people were there at the time. This was when the situation in Connecticut was happening so no one knew about it. So that couldn’t have been keeping people home. I saw TDKR at a similar time on the first day when everyone knew about Aurora and it was packed solid. I have no answer. Saturday when I went in my city, at the cheapie matinee time, it was again really empty. What gives?

    p.s. MARGARET is this year?

  2. mileshigh
    December 16, 2012

    Any critic who puts “Premium Rush” on their Top Ten list should maybe find another career. ;)

  3. d2
    December 16, 2012

    “even if it ultimately fails to make flesh its title character (even Daniel Day-Lewis can’t enliven such a calcified figure, especially with the incessant horn-tooting of John Williams’ grandiose score).”

    Exactly.

  4. Josh
    December 16, 2012

    Three more with no Les Miz in top ten. I’m seeing a trend here.

  5. Daveylow
    December 16, 2012

    Antoinette — The Hobbit made $87 million this weekend and broke the box office record. It got an A rating from audiences. So someone is enjoying the film out there.

  6. Daveylow
    December 16, 2012

    Sorry about a typo in my Hobbit comment. Box office was $85 million this weekend (or $84.8 million) to be more precise.

    At least one very smart theater critic likes Les Miz, Matt Wolf of the London Evening Standard:

    “Buzz surrounding the film has built following initial screenings in America late last month; social media worked itself up into a whirl of anticipation. “It hits all the right notes and is, in this writer’s estimation, the newly minted front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar,” wrote The Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern. Once London caught up with the movie this week, the encomia followed suit. “I hate musicals. I hate films that last longer than 90 mins,” announced Jemima Khan via Twitter. “But I LOVED Les Misérables. Epic. Well done.”

    “I join the salute. From the initial sequence of a gaunt, fierce-eyed Hugh Jackman, as Jean Valjean, ensnared in the hard labour that would break a less gallant spirit, Hooper and co avoid the pitfalls of preposterousness or camp that hover over such ventures. To its credit, Les Mis in an instant solves the all-important question of why all these people are singing all the time. The answer: because that is their preferred mode of speech, the music communicating truths that transcend ordinary discourse.”

    http://www.standard.co.uk/arts/film/mad-about-les-misrables-8392734.html

  7. December 16, 2012

    I know it broke the record but it was supposed to do better than that. Anyway, I hope word of mouth helps.

  8. Daveylow
    December 16, 2012

    I think the shooting tragedy in Connecticut might have made some families stay home. I live in Connecticut and I stayed close to home this weekend. But The Hobbit is doing well overseas, too. It won’t have much competition next weekend either. Not sure why Les Miz didn’t open on Dec. 21.

  9. Sato
    December 16, 2012

    Holy guacamole! Holy Motors is on a roll!!! Glad to see it making in most Top Ten list… Now, some acting love for Denis Lavant please…

    @Antoinette

    I for one thinks Argo is this year’s best so far and see it as the dark horse to win BP… Haven’t seen Django, Les Miz, 0D30 though… I also don’t get the hate for Arkin, I mean he said the movie line of the year!

  10. Josh
    December 16, 2012

    Yep, there will be more than just that glowing review too. Never said that some people wouldn’t love it, call it epic, have it be their number one movie, etc. But it IS noteworthy that a movie that was being heralded as THE movie to beat and some people on here saying 18 (yes this happened) nominations, that it isn’t showing up on a good amount of top ten lists. If it were this unabashedly awesome epic no holds barred oscar winner…there would be not only top ten list mentions but it would be number one on lists. NEITHER are happening very much.

  11. moviewatcher
    December 16, 2012

    Seriously, Lemire: ARGO? For NUMBER 1???

    I loved it, but #1 WAYYY too high.

    But then again, Lemire is such a bad (read: inconsistent) critic. She adored The Tree of Life, but then bashed TDKR and Cloud Atlas for being “self serious” and CA especially for being “Pretentious”. What gives? You either don’t mind pretentiousness or you do.

  12. K. Bowen
    December 16, 2012

    Moonrise Kingdom at No. 1! Rock on, David Germain!

  13. Kelly
    December 17, 2012

    I think musicals in particular are always a hard sell to critics, especially this day in age when the art-form seems so foreign to most people. It takes a lot to suspend disbelief when it comes to people randomly breaking into song.

    I’m optimistic about Les Mis and it’s awards hopes.

  14. Kelly
    December 17, 2012

    You’re also not seeing Silver Linings Playbook on these lists that often, either.

    These lists usually have a lot of heavy hitters or “random” films. If Les Mis kills at the box office, it won’t matter that they aren’t on the lists.

  15. Alex Brando
    December 17, 2012

    All interesting lists that make connections between themselves. Namely the repetition of Holy Motors, Amour, Moonrise Kingdom and Beast of SW between the firsts places. It’s a pattern that I like because it proves once again that festival films, and especially Cannes are the real quality movie experience today.

    I have no doubt that those are the best movies of the year, because they carry a legacy for them, do not depend on the politics of the day (like Argo, Lincoln, Zero Dark..) and have a consistent screenplay.

    Les Mis is not there because it’s not yet out, but I’m confident it has the quality to win Best Picture. (if the Academy follows its true legacy, and not patriotic pathos)

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