I'll agree, Vic, that 2012 was a bit of a step down after a better year last year, but we've seen worse. It wasn't too hard to come up with ten (as you can see by my including a couple extra).
[Annual disclaimer: my choices are quite intentionally based on the subjective impact the films made on me and are not meant to aim at objective critique of film-making quality. And some of these were released last year - but I live in St. Stephen.]
Honourable mentions: Liverpool (Canadian rom-com I saw on a plane - I suspect few people will ever watch this film, but it was definitely cute and watchable - if you're flying Air Canada or see it somewhere else, check it out.), Habemus Papam (Italian story of a reluctant pope - an oddly inconsistent but enjoyable film that packs a punch on the nature of hierarchical faith leadership) and Your Sister's Sister (a unique romantic comedy with natural beauty, pleasant pacing, and a theme of grace and forgiveness).
10. Liberal Arts - This is an intelligent romantic dramedy that explores questions of maturing in the context of a liberal arts college (a context with which I am quite familiar). Well-acted and not entirely predictable.
9. Hope Springs - In my memory this is the first film ever to depict a marriage counsellor in a good light. It’s not by any means flawless in its depiction of a stuck marriage which two good people try to get unstuck, but it's a pretty solid attempt. Some may not find this interesting enough, but mature couples should find this worth their while.
8. Intouchables - This is a French film based on a true story of an unlikely friendship between a rich quadriplegic man and his unexpected caretaker. A good counterpoint to emphases on sensitivity, political correctness and adequate training/preparation.
7. Bernie - Also based on a true story (it would be worthless otherwise), this is the most unlikely account of small town murder you will ever see. Absolutely fascinating study of human nature - both of the main character and of the townspeople that try to respond and make sense of a consistently good person doing a horrifying thing. It's like the best of mockumentaries (think A Mighty Wind) that oddly turns out to be true (I gather that most of the interviewees were the real townspeople).
6. The Music Never Stopped - Probably shouldn't really be on a 2012 list, but I didn't see it last year - and admit it: neither did any of you. But it shouldn't be overlooked. It's another Oliver Sacks story and it explores the miraculous way that music affects the brain in ways we are barely beginning to understand. Besides the psychological/musical interest, the story of a challenging relationship between father and son is solidly depicted.
5. Hellbound? - The only doc in my list, this film explores a similar question to Rob Bell's Love Wins. A variety of voices offer thoughts on the nature of hell and most should find it quite thought-provoking and worth many follow-up conversations.
4. Silver Linings Playbook - I'm a little fascinated and surprised that this film received all the Oscar nominations it did, but it is a wonderful film. Mental illness is reasonably presented as something that is a part of life. The story is interesting, the humour and drama are rich, and even the minor characters are interesting and developed. Some aspects of the plot struck me as a little too "neat" for all the critical praise, but I can overlook that, and I guess most others can too.
3. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - I love stories about the unlikely formation of community and this is a great example. The film is about the "outsourcing of old age," and I'm sure that many mature viewers will find themselves wondering about what kind of context they want to retire in. I imagine one could do worse than joining with an interesting cast of slightly annoying characters in a warm and exotic location.
2. Monsieur Lazhar - When I saw this the second time I loved it again but found it harder than I expected to think what it was really about. Is that a good thing? It's a very warm, human and unique story that is very well told. You want to cheer the beautiful yet flawed main character on, perhaps above all for his ironic authenticity in a context that fights against such authenticity.
1. Les Miserables - What can I say? I loved the musical and I love the film. The story and the music are incredible in the way they allow emotion and archetypal meanings to come together. The close-ups worked for me, and I appreciated the experimentation with how to transform a musical into a film. None of the occasional singing weaknesses interfered with my enjoyment of the film. And, probably above all, the evening spent seeing this film together with Carol and all our kids while out in Vancouver, followed by lively non-stop chat on the Skytrain and in the pub, was definitely the best time of my entire year.
For the record, I haven't seen Cloud Atlas, The Impossible or Life of Pi which all could be contenders. And, finally, duds of the year (please avoid) go to Prometheus, John Carter, Premium Rush, The Campaign, This Means War and Wanderlust - all shallow and disappointing.