For a critic, even the criteria on which to base a end of year best movie list is uncertain.
So I thought about it in this way: In five years, in 2017, if you asked me “Should I see __ movie?” Would I recommend it or not? Some very fine movies are obviously well-made, but I would never recommend them to someone. They just don’t move me the way others do.
So here are my list of movies recommended for viewing in 2017, or before, if you get around to it. Click through to links to original reviews.
Coriolanus – [R] This Shakespeare adaptation starring and directed by Ralph Finnes is excellent. A lesser known play about a general trying to grasp power, it eerily echoes some of Washington’s problems today. Battle scenes and setting are modern and gritty, making it an action movie as well as a Shakespeare play.
The Grey – [R] On the surface, Liam Nesson and stranded oil field workers battle a pack of wolves. In the subtext, they face mortality itself and, yes, God. Each level is well done and the acting is superb. Special effects sometimes jar the viewer out of the story. They’re often quite basic. But it’s a good movie.
Chronicle – [PG-13] Three high school boys develop super powers in this coming of age superhero movie. But as they become more powerful, they must choose how to use that power. An unexpectedly excellent movie that is a delight to watch. It makes superhero stories seem fresh and new. Check the review for warnings on content and decide if it’s appropriate to watch with your kids.
The Hunger Games – [PG-13] In a dystopian future, huntress Katniss Everdeen is forced to fight other children to the death in a televised reality show. This adaptation is excellent. The source material is also excellent. Dark, but somehow the story for our time.
The Avengers – [PG-13] Of all the superhero movies this year, this is the one that really got it right. Action, excitement, humor, adventure, heart, and a little something called self-sacrifice. Everything a superhero or superhero movie should be.
Moonrise Kingdom – [PG-13] Almost too quirky for its own good, this Wes Anderson color-fest pulls off its twee by basing it all on a warm and loving story. It would almost be corny if it weren’t so….Andersony.
Beasts of the Southern Wild – [PG-13] This lush and lavish movie is not for everyone. It’s got just enough magical realism to keep us confused. But the beautiful story of a little girl facing her fears against the backdrop of a Louisiana bayou is achingly mythical. If you’re wondering where the self-reliance is that made America great, well, it’s alive and well in the Bathtub.
Anna Karenina – [R] Director Joe Wright included the love story of Levin and Kitty as a counterbalance to the passionate but ultimately destructive extramarital love of Anna. With that balance in place, this becomes a story of great love in its many forms as opposed to a celebration of adultery. The visual risks Wright took pay off as well. A fine and bold adaptation.
Looper – [R] Time travel can be good or bad in movies, but this one does it very well, indeed. In this case, time traveling is used by criminals to send victims to a death that cannot be prosecuted. But what happens when an assassin is sent to be murdered by his younger self? This smart and gripping movie happens.
Argo – [R] Telling a true and wacky story about a CIA agent posing as a film director to smuggle Americans out of revolutionary Iran might seem crazy, but Ben Affleck pulls it off. The movie is tense, exciting, moving, and funny. It’s even quietly patriotic. Nicely done.
Lincoln – [PG-13] Steven Spielberg pulls off a fantastic and unbelievably watchable portrait of not only our great president, but of the political process. Everyone should see this movie. It will make you a better American. Not many movies can say that.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – [PG-13] This movie is so very Hobbitty that many people don’t like it. Despite its flaws, I enjoyed it. It savors Middle Earth like few movies savor their subjects.
Zero Dark Thirty – [R] Very watchable and yet so deftly ambiguous on moral implications that it becomes a Rorschach test of attitudes. Was that torture? Was it justified? You’ll be shocked that the person sitting next to you saw the same movie and yet took it completely differently.
Best Movie of 2012
Les Miserables – [PG-13] An epic tale of grace and law, of evil overcome by good, a tale of faith and beauty beyond imagination set against the darkness and despair of the world, love won and lost, justice sought and unachieved, all set to music. Some people can’t take the epic scope of this film’s ambitions. I, who have always loved the musical, thought it was nearly perfect. It takes courage to face the world. Courage and faith. Do you hear the people sing?