The annual 10-best list is a critical ritual, one I've been practicing for far too many years.
Sure, I have opinions about what the best films of the past year are -- and so does every other critic. If I think Argo should be on the list but not The Avengers -- and you think The Avengers rocked but Moonrise Kingdom blew -- well, everybody is entitled to their opinion. I can say I'm right and you're wrong -- and vice versa.
For example, I think two of the most critically overrated films of the year were Holy Motors and The Master. Paul Thomas Anderson's maddeningly opaque film drew the same kind of rhapsodic reviews as Leos Carox's bizarre, unwatchable mish-mash. The two of them topped Indiewire's critics' poll this year.
Instead of a 10-best list, I've decided to assemble a favorites' list. They're not necessarily the ones I thought were best, but the ones I enjoyed the most.
When you create a 10-best list, it's an opinion that can be argued with. But a favorites' list? You can argue with my taste -- many do -- but the fact that these films are my favorites? Forget it. Are you going to tell me they're not?
These are the movies I'd recommend enthusiastically to people who are looking for something to see -- or something to track down for home viewing. Some of them would, in fact, be on a 10-best list, if I put one together. But not necessarily.
So here, in no particular order, are my favorite films of 2012. There are 14 of them; some are great, some are guilty pleasures -- but all of them are films that gave me a jolt in some way, or reminded me why I love watching movies for a living. Every once in a while, you see movies like these that wake you up, shake you up or just make you feel alive in an unexpected way. I'd happily watch them again and probably will.
Not Fade Away: OK, so I said in no particular order -- but this is definitely my favorite movie of the year. Writer-director David Chase and collaborator Steven Van Zandt perfectly captured what it was to be a teenager with an awakening rock'n'roll dream at a moment when music changed the world. That could be any time -- because every teen assumes the music of his adolescence is the most important in the world -- but this movie happens to be set in the 1960s, when music did change things, or was at least part of the change. His unadorned story of a teen trying to use music as an outlet for his feelings and for his creative urge captures a specific moment in a way that feels universal. Funny, touching and ready to rock.
God Bless America: Here's a movie that might not be on many Top-10 lists, except one for most lacerating and penetrating satire of American popular culture. Writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait unleashed this hilarious attack on the taste and intellect of the American public, focusing on the one reasonable man left in media-besotted America, who goes on a killing spree, eliminating every reality-show parasite thriving on the attention of the cable universe. Not a feel-good movie by any means, but Joel Murray and newcomer Tara Lynn Barr made a wonderfully mismatched pair of culture critics in this bloody, outrageous film.
Argo: Ben Affleck's third film as a director was one of the year's home runs, a studio-released movie that blended complicated politics, an array of characters and true story out of the recent past to create a thrilling piece of entertainment. Affleck casually mixed in bits of wild comedy (with a laid back Alan Arkin and John Goodman), but kept the second half focused on a nail-biting escape plot. Strong performances and lean filmmaking made this one of the year's most enjoyable and satisfying films.
This commentary continues on my website.