Great end of the year for movies.

In mid December, you could stumble into a mall multiplex, pick any theater at random, and you would have a very good chance of seeing a great movie. It was that good for a couple of weeks in 2012.

2012 produced a half-dozen simply outstanding films and at least half a dozen very good ones. For the average moviegoer that’s one good film a month. Pretty good for Hollywood.

The best of the bunch was Argo. A “based on a true story” entertainment of the highest order. Argo was both a throwback in style to 70’s Warner Brothers as well as a coming of age for its director, Ben Affleck. Snooty critics may favor other films, but this really was what a Hollywood movie should be – a fun time at the movies. Argo provided suspense, laughs, terrific acting and “I didn’t know that happened”  discussions as patrons left the theater. A sure nomination for best picture – the real credit for the film’s success goes to screenwriter Chris Terrio’s nearly bullet proof screenplay. Briskly paced, with great supporting roles – Affleck too has acknowledged this great Oscar worthy screenplay.

Nearly its equal is the very different Silver Linings Playbook. David O. Russell, a director without a single directorial misstep in my opinion, masterfully adapts freshman novelists Matthew Quick’s quirky story about manic depression, gambling, and a love-breeding dance contest. Russell is nearly without peer in his sure handedness of each shot and transition. His direction elevates a good story to a great one, letting Bradley Cooper mesmerize us with his dazzling performance. Who knew?  And then there is Jennifer Lawrence, Katniss from the Hunger Games. Radiant and sly – she’s the one to watch.

Like many, I wanted more scope out of Lincoln. The story felt too narrow. Considering all the talent working together on that film, I wanted just a bit more. But really, I am being greedy. What was there was wonderful. Tony Kushner’s words, John William’s score, Janusz Kaminski’s photography, Spielberg’s direction, all anchored by what is sure to be another Best Actor win by Daniel Day-Lewis. Great movie – perfectly executed just not enough.

Flight reminded me what a great director and actor can do working with an emotionally charged naturalistic script. Oscar winner Robert Zemeckis after over 10 years chasing digital animation technologies returned to live action directing Denzel Washington in one of the Oscar winners finest and most understated performances. This movie took me places I just didn’t see coming, and did it in the most gentle way. This material has been covered so many times before, often heavy handedly with a moral billy club at each mile marker providing warnings then culminating with group hug ending drowned out with a Motown tune. None of that was in Flight, and it was a joy to see this story unfold the way it did. This was a patient movie, that took its time, and could have only been made by this coterie of veteran talents. Denzel deserves an Oscar nod, as done the screenwriter John Gatins who has crafted something truly wonderful here.

Finally there was Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. The only movie of 2012 whose use of  3D was deliberate and additive not just a money-making afterthought.  Please see this in 3D. It’s not Avatar, but really one of better live action uses of this technology. The film is simply gorgeous. Nearly every frame a wonder of composition. What could only be called “movie magic” – the long and mostly riveting stretches on the boat are an amazing collaboration between director, cinematographer Claudio Miranda, editor Tim Squyres, screenwriter David Magee and the rather large special effects crew that brings the Tiger to life.  The movie is 20 minutes too long – truly too much of a good thing.

The rest:

  • Django – Jarringly offensive.
  • The Hobbit – Does anyone, after 9 hours of the Lord of The Rings, need another 9 hours of Tolkien? Only when done by Peter Jackson.
  • Looper – Sci-fi is not for everyone – but this was very very good sci-fi.
  • 21 Jump Street – Stupid, stupid comedy – even without a talking bear a favorite comedy for the year.
  • End of Watch – This will bum you out – big time. But so well done. Tobey Maguire continues to dazzle in every role he takes.
  • Zero Dark 30 – Have a problem with torture-maybe not as much after this brisk you-are-there drama.

All worth a view.

Movie fans would also enjoy some of the many franchise/remakes this year. Batman, Spiderman, James Bond, Avengers, and Les Miserables – all very good films that did great at the box office ensuring more remakes for the foreseeable future.

Finally there is the talking bear movie, Ted. Not a great movie, to be sure, but for many, their first introduction to Seth MacFarlane’s wild brand of comedy.

Many of us have known of him for over a decade, but for mainstream America, Seth is about to get his close up as he hosts this years Oscars. That’s casting.

Happy New Year!