In most years, I find it tough to come up with enough great films for a top 10 list.
Not so in 2012.
I could easily have picked a baker's dozen from this splendid year; but here are a few of my faves:
Above, Kara Hayward as Suzy and Jared Gilman as Sam are shown in a scene from Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom,” which is No. 4 on Sun-Gazette Movie Critic Joseph W. Smith III’s top 10 list.
1. "Life of Pi" - One of the most visually stunning films ever made, ranking with such gorgeous pics as "Blade Runner," "Koyaanisqatsi" and "Night of the Hunter;" yet it's also a thrilling adventure that examines both story-telling and religious truth. Though I don't agree with its ultimate message, Ang Lee's latest is simply a masterpiece.
2. "The Dark Knight Rises" - Christopher Nolan concludes his beloved Batman trilogy in magnificent fashion, with a rich, complex and thrilling plot, marvelous performances from Michael Caine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway - and a series of spectacularly crowd-pleasing resolutions.
3. "Looper" - This was truly Gordon-Levitt's year (he also made "Lincoln" and "Premium Rush"); here, through a dazzling time-travel storyline, he gets to play Bruce Willis, who also stars in this tale that starts out as blazingly intricate sci-fi and slowly becomes an ode to love and sacrifice. Co-starring Emily Blunt.
4. "Moonrise Kingdom" - I'm inclined to agree with critics who named this the best film yet from writer-director Wes Anderson ("Royal Tenenbaums," "Fantastic Mr. Fox"); photographed with painterly color and composition, it stars Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Bill Murray in a seaside tale of two young misfits finding unlikely love as a terrifying storm threatens their island. Absolutely enchanting.
5. "Flight" - At first, this live-action drama from animation master Robert Zemeckis ("Polar Express," "Christmas Carol," "Forrest Gump") appears to be yet another air-disaster tale; but it's actually about alcoholism - and one of the best films ever made on that subject. Spectacular performances from Denzel Washington as a pilot who flies under the influence and Kelly Reilly as the young woman urging him to face his addiction.
6. "Silent House" - Few others liked this haunted-house tale starring the preternaturally gifted Elizabeth Olsen - but it scared the living crap out of me; and on top of that, it's shot in one take - 88 minutes with no apparent cuts.
7. "Skyfall" - Now the top-grosser in the 50-year-old James Bond franchise, Sam Mendes' thriller is both action-packed and meditative, with strong work from Judi Dench and spectacular photography by Roger Deakins.
8. "Lincoln" - Daniel-Day Lewis is poised to become the first man ever to snag a third Best Actor Oscar for his uncanny performance as the 16th president in this beautifully filmed saga from director Steven Spielberg. With a host of fine supporting actors, particularly Tommy Lee Jones as abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens and Sally Field as Lincoln's wife.
9. "The Words" - While it's not as good as "Argo" or "The Hunger Games" (both of which really belong on this list), I'm putting "The Words" at No. 9 because it undeservedly sank without a trace after most critics trashed it. The tale of a struggling author achieving success with someone else's manuscript, it features no less than four different framework stories - all playing off one another in various ways. With Bradley Cooper and Dennis Quaid.
As always, I'm leaving the last spot open for big films I still haven't seen (mostly because they didn't open here): "Zero Dark Thirty," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Django Unchained" (now playing) and "The Impossible" - the latter of which looks like a dark-horse contender for the Best Picture Oscar.