The year in review, part I: The best movies of 2012

Zero Dark Thirty
‘Zero Dark Thirty’ chronicles the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. Credit: Columbia Pictures

Zero Dark Thirty” In military lingo it means 30 minutes past midnight. This is the best movie of the year. Even though you know how it turns out, it’s a nail biter. Based on true accounts from insiders, this is a reenactment of the chilling manhunt that resulted in the capture and killing of al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Kathryn Bigelow (Oscar winner “The Hurt Locker”) does a jaw-dropping job as director of a brilliant screenplay written by Mark Boal. This sure-to-win multiple Oscars movie depicts a harrowing behind-the-scenes look at what transpired, including severe torture tactics like water boarding, that were allegedly used by the United States in order to gain information during interrogations. Many reports have praised Bigelow for taking great care in sticking to the facts. The death of bin Laden will be remembered as Barack Obama’s most important victory during his presidency yet there is surprisingly little of Obama in the film, but maybe that’s just as well considering the hot topic of torture. The CIA has issued repeated public denials that torture was used. Hmmm, no surprise there. Anyhoo, it was of high importance to Bigelow not to sugarcoat or Hollywood everything up. Jessica Chastain as the central character was a superb choice. Her acting chops will garner an Academy Award Best Actress nomination and she may win. The identity of the real woman at the heart of this thriller has been kept secret to insure her safety. My guess is she probably looks nothing like the riveting perfection that is Chastain and surely some other forgivable liberties were taken for the sake of the tight script. Jason Clarke (“Lawless,” “Public Enemies”) deserves a Best Supporting Actor nom for his powerhouse performance. This Best Movie Oscar contender’s cast includes James GandolfiniScott Adkins, and Chris Pratt. As disturbing as the torture scenes are, there is a warped satisfaction in the ole eye-for-an-eye torment of the terrorists.
Django Unchained,” written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, stars a curious man named Dr. King Schultz played gloriously by Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”) and a slave-turned-bounty-hunter named Django (Jamie Foxx). The “D” is silent. As partners these two men set out to rescue Django’s wife (Kerry Washington) from a Mississippi plantation owner played to perfection by Leonardo DiCaprio. Fans of Tarantino will enjoy his sendup of spaghetti westerns and homage to Italian movie director Sergio Corbucci (“Django”1966). The top-shelf stars include Don Johnson,Jonah HillSamuel L. Jackson, and James Remar (Dexter’s dead Dad). Typical Tarantino scenes abound. Expect shot off gushing heads, squirting blood, and lots of deliciously twisted humor.
“The Dark Knight Rises” will unfortunately be forever tied to memories of the ghastly James Holmes gun massacre in Aurora, Colorado, but in terms of critiquing the movie itself, filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s final installment of his “Dark Knight” Batman trilogy does not disappoint. The movie begins at a point where the Caped Crusader (Christian Bale) is compelled to come out from his eight-year hiatus; there is overwhelming violence erupting in Gotham and Batman has to save the day. Masterfully created with large format IMAX cameras, the movie’s clarity and depth delivers realistic special effects like football players desperately trying to outrun a rapidly disintegrating field. As the Batmobile takes off high into the sky, your eyes will widen like a kid’s and the surprises will jerk you upright in your seat. The villain, Bane (Tom Hardy), looks like a cross between Vin Diesel and Hannibal Lecter on crack. Wearing a menacing metallic mask with Hulk-like neck muscles rippling, Bane refers to himself as “Gotham’s reckoning.” The epic stakes are as high as the production values. Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) is electric in her catsuit beauty with her own brand of edgy humor. Many supporting cast members are back. Bruce Wayne’s Butler Alfred (Michael Caine) says earnestly to Bruce, “I won’t bury you. I’ve buried enough members of the Wayne family.” Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) returns as the genius behind the Batmobile and Bruce’s techno accessories. Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is as distraught, and relentless as ever and super villain Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) remains one of Batman’s archenemies. It’s a thrilling ride.
Argo” will secure Ben Affleck an Academy Award nod or two. Affleck stars in and directs this non-fiction heart pumper. The true tale began in 1979 when Islamist militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, the capital and largest city of Iran. Fifty-four Americans were held hostage for a terrifying 444 days. “Argo” revolves around six American diplomats who hid in the home of a Canadian ambassador. Through an ingenious and highly risky ruse, the six Americans go to great lengths to pose as Canadian movie producers visiting Iran merely as location scouts for their next big blockbuster, titled “Argo.” Pros in the movie biz, John Chambers (John Goodman) and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), guide them in pulling it off. The nearly forgotten hostage crisis will be all new to most moviegoers under 30 and the story of these six hostages earns an A+ for originality.
Flight” Director Robert Zemeckis (“Cast Away,” “What Lies Beneath”) created another winner. This one stars Denzel Washington at the top of his game. If he isn’t nominated for Best Actor at 2013’s Academy Awards, then the world has lost its mind. Washington plays a seasoned pilot named Whip Whitaker who uses his superior skill to avert a crash and save the day. During the investigation, the truth about his alcohol consumption spills out and puts his job in jeopardy. John Goodman rocks it as the scene-stealing drug dealer, Harling Mays, who strides in with “emergency” doses of cocaine to shock Whitaker out of his drunken stupors. The plane crash is a nail-chomping blast and Washington’s performance as a man forced to face his demons is a tour de force.
Les Misérables” is a musical drama set in 19th Century France and stars Anne Hathaway as Fantine, a former factory worker turned suffering prostitute. Bring tissues. You’ll need them for Hathaway’s flawless rendition of the anguished song, “I Dreamed a Dream.” Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, a prisoner released after a 19-year sentence for stealing bread. Russell Crowe is the antagonist, Inspector Javert. Amanda Seyfried is Fantine’s illegitimate daughter, Cosette, who is being raised and abused by the cruel Thénardiers (Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter). Valgean rescues Cosette but there’s much more tragedy and tears before the climactic and satisfying ending.
Click here to read The year in review, part II: The best movies of 2012
Click here to read The year in review, part III: The best movies of 2012