1. A Separation and Amour. Every year, it seems, there is a critical favorite that avoids the smaller cities until the deadline for my list has passed. Last year it was A Separation, which opened in 2011 but was far and away the best film I saw in 2012. This year it is Amour, which topped numerous lists but which I have yet to see. I am, nevertheless, getting it out of the way so it won’t be out of place on next year’s Top Ten. As for the Iranian film, it had acting so good you didn’t think it was acting and posed moral dilemmas that echoed and echo still. There are no bad people in the story, but almost all do bad things, chiefly lying for what seem to be good reasons. How would each of us respond if put in their situations? I don’t know, but I see examples in the news literally every day.
2. Django Unchained. The year’s most enjoyable film, it captured the aura of an old-time Western, was simultaneously funny and violent as only a Tarantino work can be, yet presented the serious subtext of slavery’s evil inescapably and unrelentingly. The performances of Christoph Waltz and Samuel Jackson were supporting-Oscar-worthy, and it is only my antipathy toward the miscast Leonardo DiCaprio that tempers my praise.
3. Argo. A rare mainstream movie that hit on all cylinders. It was fair, I thought, to the Iranians without lessening our fear for the hostages. It balanced the humor and absurdity of Hollywood with the grime and terror of Tehran. Ben Affleck led the ensemble cast without needing to raise himself above it. The airport chase at the end cost the movie credibility points and was unnecessary; the historical postscript was heartwarming enough.
4. Well-Digger’s Daughter. Were we back in the ‘60s or the ‘40s for this sweet, innocent adaptation of a Marcel Pagnol story? Daniel Auteuil is the father (and movie director) who struggles to reconcile his love for his wonderful but knocked-up daughter with the need to protect the honor of his family. Scenes of the French countryside and a simpler time left all irony behind and let us know a happy ending would come along.
5. Ted. At the spectrum’s other end we find this gagfest starring an animated bear that has more personality, and better lines, than any of the live humans around him. I laughed till I cried, then I cried some more at the heartwarming story. In any anthology of Boston movies, this will have to be included.
6. Queen of Versailles. A documentarian’s dream: to have a story you’re already filming become bigger, more interesting and, ultimately, more important, as it reflects America’s financial meltdown. Another plus is a lead character who is easy on the eyes, remarkably open and equally worthy of sympathy and scorn.
7. Farewell, My Queen. A highly original costume drama, behind the scenes at Versailles as the Bastille falls, made us feel “you are there.” By telling the tale through the eyes of Marie Antoinette’s personal reader, we saw the court as a collection of people, not historical figures, although the quotient of pulchritude and fashion remained high.
8. Where Do We Go Now? This hit my sweet spot from Peace Corps days: a true-to-life but very comic depiction of village life in the Arab world. The movie smartly looks at eternal, universal themes like man v. woman, love v. hate, life v. death and offers an optimistic ending that is refreshing, if not so realistic.
9. Last Ride. A doomed father running from the law raising his son with tough love to prepare him for the world was the entire story in this projectile of a film. Hugo Weaving was the father and the Australian outback was the co-star.
10. Coriolanus. This was an eloquent answer to my general scorn for updated Shakespeare. Ralph Fiennes seamlessly mixed modern with historical to make the point that the play’s plot is timeless: the politics of Rome resemble nothing so much as the politics of Washington or Athens or Jerusalem.
Oscar Choices (from official nominees):
Best Picture: Django Unchained
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence
Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz
Supporting Actress: Amy Adams
That said, I won’t be upset if awards go, instead, to Argo, Joaquin Phoenix, Tommy Lee Jones or Anne Hathaway