Best films of ’12: One man’s picks

The Academy Awards will be handed out Sunday, which makes this my last chance to throw in my two cents worth on the best movies of 2012.

Most of these lists come out before the year actually ends, but those are compiled by people for whom reviewing movies is their primary job, and who live near and get invited to advance or limited screenings. I only hit five of the nine Best Picture nominees, even though all but one (“Amour”) played in Marietta, Parkersburg or both. Regrettably, I missed “Les Miserables” and “Life of Pi” and couldn’t bring myself to spend two-plus hours watching another Tarantino bloodfest (so in all fairness, I don’t actually know I didn’t like “Django Un-

chained;” just an educated guess).

So I guess you can consider this more of a regular person’s view of the films of 2012, as in someone who saw movies you also would have had the chance to see.

10. “The Dark Knight Rises” – Director Christopher Nolan’s Batman swan song was so highly anticipated after 2008’s “The Dark Knight” that it would have been impossible to meet those expectations. In some ways, he didn’t, and this film isn’t the transcendent experience its predecessor was. But Nolan told an excellent story that fit well with his previous work and completed an epic that stands alone in the Batman mythos while embracing it fully.

9. “The Cabin in the Woods” – It’s entertaining solely as a parody of horror movie conventions, but what elevates the film is the critical way it looks at the genre. How can people enjoy watching other human beings slaughtered? Why do we keep making them? Is there any redeeming value? “Cabin in the Woods” doesn’t necessarily condemn horror moviemakers and fans, nor does it answer the questions, but in asking them, it acknowledges that even in entertainment, human life has value.

8. “Looper” – The engaging base concept – young hitman (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is tasked with killing his future self (Bruce Willis) – is just the tip of the iceberg in this sci-fi mindbender from Rian Johnson, the writer/director of 2005’s “Brick.” The potential headaches of various time-travel paradoxes, and the violence, are balanced by the strong, emotional story and relatable characters in an otherwise unrelatable situation.

7. “Argo” – Ben Affleck (Yes! Him!) directed this film, based on a real-life reverse-Trojan-horse plan to rescue six Americans who escaped from the U.S. embassy in 1979 as it was stormed by Iranian militants. He also starred as the CIA agent who got into the country by pretending to scout locations for a science fiction movie. The drama mixes nicely with comedic skewering of Hollywood, even if some of the suspense is a little too good to be true.

6. “Chronicle” – I’m a sucker for superhero stories and found-footage movies, but I didn’t consider a combination of the two a sure thing. Director Josh Trank nails it though, presenting a tale of three teenagers whose reaction to being granted extraordinary abilities is more realistic – and eventually tragic – than putting on tights and a mask and fighting crime.

5. “Silver Linings Playbook” – Sure, it looks like a romantic comedy, but this film from writer/director David O. Russell is more about living with mental illness and loving imperfect friends and family than an unlikely love story. Bradley Cooper surprises and Jennifer Lawrence adds to her already excellent resume, while the movie avoids easy jokes or answers.

4. “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” – Writer/director Lorene Scafaria eschews the big-budget disaster sequences and all-or-nothing save-the-world missions you’d expect in an apocalyptic movie, instead looking at it through the eyes of real people, primarily a man (Steve Carrell) whose wife gives up pretending to love him and the offbeat neighbor (Keira Knightley) he finally gets to know as the planetary clock winds down. The result is a comedy that morphs into a beautiful, bittersweet tale about making every moment count, no matter how many, or few, you have left.

3. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” – Post-Katrina fable? Environmental statement? Too-early coming-of-age drama? All those could describe – but not fully encompass – this movie. It all works because you can’t take your eyes or heart off Quvenzhane Wallis, just 6 years old when the movie was filmed. She manages to be both an authentic innocent wild child and a wise-beyond-her-years heroine in this beautiful tale of a young girl living in a flood-prone, poverty-stricken community and facing both her father’s illness and ancient beasts awakened by melting polar ice caps.

2. “The Avengers” – Just getting this film on the screen seemed like an impossible dream to comic geeks like me not that long ago. Having it turn out this awesome was just too much to hope for. And yet writer/director Joss Whedon delivered, balancing seven characters who could headline their own movies (and in several cases have done so) and making the quieter moments just as gripping as the big special-effects extravaganzas. Best of all, it works even if you’re not someone who’s been following these characters for decades.

1. “Lincoln” – Steven Spielberg’s examination of the 16th president’s efforts to get the 13th Amendment passed and end slavery is gripping and – somewhat surprisingly for a based-in-fact historical account – fun. Daniel Day-Lewis appears to have the Best Actor Oscar in the bag, and deservedly so, as he presents not an impression of Abraham Lincoln but a fully realized, three-dimensional character who both awes and connects with the audience. Throw in Sally Field as his wife, Tommy Lee Jones as an ardent abolitionist, James Spader as a scene-stealing (if historically questionable) shady political operative and a great script by Tony Kushner and you’ve got a film that not only deserves the Best Picture trophy but also appeals to a wide audience.