Anna Karenina – Joe Wright’s sumptuous adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel is as much about artifice as it is art as the director underscores that the story’s characters, because they are constantly in the public eye, they come to be seen as symbols of excess rather than human beings. Keira Knightley is luminous and effective in the title role as the aristocrat who married too early only to be tempted by the dashing Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to wander from her faithful husband Karenin (Jude Law). Wright sets most of the story on the stage of an abandoned theater to underscore not only the scrutiny these characters are under but also to remind us of an era and way of life that has disappeared for good or ill.
Argo – Ben Affleck directs and stars in this fact-based account of a CIA agent who hatches a plan to get six Canadians in hiding in Iran as the US-Iranian hostage crisis was raging. The filmmaker does a masterful job of building the tension where the captives’ plight is concerned while infusing much needed humor in the form of a Hollywood make-up man (John Goodman) and producer (Alan Arkin) who help him create a fake film production outfit that will help him infiltrate the country. Though the climax is heavily falsified, there’s no doubt this is a rousing and engaging entertainment that will hold you in its grip until the end.
Sinister – Ethan Hawke delivers a strong performance in this disturbing horror film that finds the actor as a true crime author who moves his family into a house where a gruesome multiple murder occurred. A box of 8 mm films he finds in the attic contain disturbing images of horrific crimes and when he watches them, he unleashes a malevolent spirit that proves impossible to contain. Director Scott Derrickson does a masterful job of creating a sense of dread that permeates the film as it marches towards its gruesome and effective ending. Not for the faint of heart, this proved to be one of the better horror films of 2012.
Undefeated – The winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2012 chronicles the efforts of Manassas High School football team who attempt to lift themselves out of the cellar though their program is underfunded and many of the players must contend with debilitating personal issues. The key to the film is Coach Bill Courtney, a volunteer who puts the team before his family and reaps the reward of putting some of the school’s young men on the track to success. Be on the look out for a scene in which one of his players is informed he will have his college education paid for and see if you can hold back the tears. Truly moving and memorable.