In a year in which conventional movie narrative was challenged for the good (Anna Karenina), the bad (Cloud Atlas) and even the foreign (Holy Motors), few films towered above the rest.
While reflecting on what seems to be an overall equality of output, we offer 10 choices we appreciated more than others. Again, these may not be universally judged as The Best, or The Ten Top, but simply a limited, personal selection from the many films that arrived this year. And since few have elevated themselves above the rest, the list is alphabetical.
Anna Karenina — Director Joe Wright took a risky, unusual approach to filming Leo Tolstoy’s beloved novel. The results may not please everyone but it is an original, provocative work.
Argo — Ben Affleck’s adventure tale about the real-life rescue of Americans in Iran has it all: It’s funny, exciting, clever and exceptionally well directed.
The Deep Blue Sea — Rachel Weisz and Simon Russell Beale turn in powerful performances in this story set in early 1950s London about a woman who challenges convention.
Lincoln — Steven Spielberg brings his considerable storytelling skills to the surprisingly riveting saga of Abraham Lincoln’s fight to pass legislation. Put the name of Daniel Day-Lewis, as Lincoln, as front-runner for the Best Actor Oscar. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski works magic, grounding 1865 in an ethereal otherworld.
Prometheus — Ridley Scott returns to Alien, delivering a spooky, intricate prequel to his 1979 original. With Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender.
Robot & Frank — Frank Langella plays second fiddle to a robot with thought-provoking consequences. With James Marsden, Peter Sarsgaard and Susan Sarandon.
Ruby Sparks — Zoe Kazan wrote and then starred as the title character, a creation from the imagination of a novelist with severe writer’s block (Paul Dano). An imaginative creation with winning performances.
Safety Not Guaranteed — What seems routine becomes life-changing when three magazine employees (Aubrey Plaza, Karan Soni and Jake Johnson) go to interview a man (Mark Duplass) who claims to have invented a time machine. Filled with surprises.
The Sessions — John Hawkes plays a 38-year-old man in an iron lung who wants more out of life — namely, the intimacy most men his age have experienced. Helen Hunt turns in a brave performance as his “sexual therapist” in this touching, honest movie.
Skyfall — Daniel Craig returns as James Bond in a movie with remarkable psychological depth. Director Sam Mendes delivers on the action but also stops to peek under Bond’s glacial front.
And some other notable movies of the year that should not be overlooked (listed alphabetically): Any Day Now, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Being Flynn, The Cabin in the Woods, Ginger and Rosa, Killer Joe, My Sister’s Sister, Promised Land, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Zero Dark Thirty.
Joe Wright, Anna Karenina — because his job looked harder than everyone else’s.
Ben Affleck, Argo
Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, Ruby Sparks
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Frank Langella, Robot & Frank
Alan Cumming, Any Day Now
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks
Keira Knightley, Anna Karenina
Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Best Supporting Actresses
Maggie Smith, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Sally Field, Lincoln
Rosemarie DeWitt, My Sister’s Sister
Best Supporting Actors
Robert DeNiro, Being Flynn — and not his one-note screaming performance in Silver Linings Playbook.
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Jude Law, Anna Karenina
Simon Russell Beale, The Deep Blue Sea
John Goodman and Alan Arkin, Argo
Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks
Tony Kushner, Lincoln
Tom Stoppard, Anna Karenina
West of Memphis
The House I Live In
Best Foreign Language Films
A Royal Affair (Denmark)
Amour (French language, Austrian director)
Rust and Bone (France)
The Kid With a Bike (France/Belgium)
Janusz Kaminski, Lincoln
Best Animated Film
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Best Opening Title Sequence
BOO ALLEN is an award-winning film critic for the Denton Record-Chronicle.