The 2012 film scene was much like many others in recent memory.
The summer was dominated by superhero extravaganzas ("The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises" were the year's top-grossing movies); independent films became even harder to find in theaters as distributors opted to forgo standard release and made these small films available via pay-per-view; and most of the year's best offerings were saved for release during the last six weeks.
Yep, business as usual.
This year, U.S. cinemas were forced to convert to digital projection, a strategy that will save Hollywood studios millions annually. Declaring that in 2013 no more movies would be released on celluloid, this system forced theaters to adapt or die. Make no mistake: The business of Hollywood has always been business.
As far as the quality of films, it's becoming more difficult to find a movie that has something genuine to say.
So, if there is a recurring element in the films I've chosen for this list, it's that they all achieve some measure of sincerity. Whether it be an example of how the democratic ideal of government should be conducted (or how corrupt it has become), a reminder of what true friendship is or a personal declaration of independence, the films on this list all conveyed their messages with a sense of genuine honesty.
Here are my Top 10:
1. "Silver Linings Playbook"
Director David O. Russell's adaptation of Matthew Quick's novel is a roller-coaster ride of emotions as it deals with two fragile people: Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper), who is recovering from a mental breakdown; and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a 24-year-old trying to cope with the sudden death of her husband — and their mutual road to recovery. Not only must they contend with re-entering society, but they must get used to others now seeing them as damaged and unstable. Cooper and Lawrence pull no punches in displaying Pat and Tiffany's foibles. But what makes the film unique is the redemption it offers doesn't come easy for its characters, so they cherish it all the more. Funny, poignant and ultimately life affirming, this was 2012's most satisfying film.
Ambitious in scope but intimate in its examination of the democratic process and the men behind it during our country's most vital hour, Steven Spielberg's look at the final four months of Abraham Lincoln's life is gripping and entertaining, driven by Tony Kurshner's screenplay and Daniel Day-Lewis' mesmerizing performance in the title role. The film looks at the backroom dealings in the political process, but it is the sense of righteousness and determination that drives Lincoln that makes the film sing. The pragmatism and common sense he exemplifies has become far too rare. This film couldn't be more timely in presenting an ideal that needs to be emulated now more than ever.
3. "The Campaign"
Yes, I thought this was the funniest movie of the year, which is really saying something with "21 Jump Street" and "Ted" in the running. But what makes it resonate is its unvarnished look at how big business calls the legislative shots, that corruption is as commonplace as a deadlocked subcommittee and that the electorate is filled with lemmings who will respond to any sound bite they're fed. Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis throw themselves into their roles as buffoonish candidates, but the sharp indictment of our political affairs makes it memorable.
4. "The Grey"
Joe Carnahan's bleak tale of survival revolves around a dozen men who, having weathered a horrific plane crash, must contend with the harsh elements of the Alaskan wilderness as well as a vicious pack of wolves if they're to save themselves. Liam Neeson anchors this film as a man who, having lost the will to live, musters up the courage to face the most dire circumstances. At times harrowing, this existential exercise powerfully reminds us that life and death must be faced in the same way: with courage and no regret.
5. "End of Watch"
Cop movies are a dime a dozen, but this feature from writer/director David Ayer sets out not only to show the dangers of working the streets of Los Angeles but also to capture the sort of fierce bond that's forged between partners. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena generate a unique and powerful chemistry. There wasn't a better team on screen this year in terms of being present with one another and creating honest moments and emotions. We, too, come to empathize with, like and admire these two men who risk their lives daily in a violent but necessary job.
6. "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"
Teen angst has rarely been captured as accurately or poignantly than in Stephen Chbosky's adaptation of his own novel. The focal point is Charlie (Logan Lerman), a freshman grappling with how he'll fit in at high school after a personal tragedy and a mental break. Step- siblings Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Samantha (Emma Watson) teach him that while life is uncertain, heartbreaks help you endure. Chbosky handles these familiar issues with tact and wisely grounds the film with quiet sincerity rather than overplaying big moments and laying on the saccharine.
7. "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"
It's an unwritten rule that not a year can go by without a film that deals with the end of the world. This one focuses on two lonely people who each set out to address some unfinished business as the clock ticks down. Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley are perfect as the mismatched travelers, and writer/director Lorene Scafaria guides them with a deft touch. She reminds us that grand plans often result in disappointment, but small, selfless gestures are what offer true salvation. This quietly moving film with dark humor will resonate with you long after you see it.
Denzel Washington gives the year's most courageous performance as a pilot who is touted as a hero after landing a disabled aircraft, only to have his alcohol and drug dependency revealed in the ensuing investigation. Director Robert Zemeckis delivers a taut film, but it's Washington who digs deep, giving us a portrait of a drowning man incapable of saving himself. Though this is a tragic tale, writer John Gatins offers a bit of redemption that doesn't feel forced or false.
Director Richard Linklater effectively reminds us that truth is stranger than fiction with this account of a mild-mannered mortician who inexplicably kills an elderly widow he's involved with. In the title role, Jack Black is a revelation as he creates a fully rounded character, at once charming and helpful but at other times deceitful and self-serving. Linklater adds authenticity by including citizens from Carthage, Texas, where the story took place. Inventive, funny and thought-provoking, the movie may have you questioning the validity of the law and the true meaning of justice.
10. "The Imposter"
This chilling documentary looks at the dark side of human behavior from different perspectives. A Texas family is devastated when a 13-year-old boy goes missing. Three years later, he is reported found in Europe, then transported to the U.S., where the family accepts him — though there's no possible way this could be their relative. Questions of identity, denial and murder all surface in an investigation that takes some unexpected turns. Intriguing and unforgettable, this documentary plays out like a compelling mystery that raises as many questions as it answers.
The next best 10
Judd Apatow's hilarious, spot-on examination of modern marriage, "This is 40."
"Argo," Ben Affleck's tense examination of an improbable rescue mission in 1980s Iran.
Wes Anderson's sweet love story, "Moonlight Kingdom."
Ang Lee's visually stunning and spiritual "Life of Pi."
Tom Hopper's epic adaptation of "Les Miserables."
Rian Johnson's mind-bending time travel tale "Looper."
The Batman trilogy conclusion "The Dark Knight Rises."
The James Bond reboot "Skyfall."
Marvel's superhero mash-up "The Avengers."
And David Frankel's daring look at sex in the senior years, "Hope Springs."