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updated: 12/28/2012 5:54 AM

'Zero Dark Thirty' tops Dann Gire's list of best movies of the year

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  • Jessica Chastain stars in "Zero Dark Thirty," which is film critic Dann Gire's choice for the best movie of 2012.

      Jessica Chastain stars in "Zero Dark Thirty," which is film critic Dann Gire's choice for the best movie of 2012.

  • "Les Miserables"

      "Les Miserables"

  • "The Impossible"

      "The Impossible"

  • "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

      "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

  • "The Avengers"

      "The Avengers"

  • "Argo"

      "Argo"

  • "ParaNorman"

      "ParaNorman"

  • "Lincoln"

      "Lincoln"

  • Video: Impossible trailer

  • Video: ZERO DARK 30 trailer

 
 

The "Twilight" series finally bit the dusk.

James Bond returned with a vengeance.

The Dark Knight rose one last time.

It was a very good year for the movies. Here are my top 12 for 2012:

1. "Zero Dark Thirty" -- Kathryn Bigelow's stunning behind-the-scenes drama about the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden, as seen through the jaundiced eyes of a CIA agent (magnificently played by Jessica Chastain) who, here at least, is credited for cracking the case. (Note: The film officially opened in 2012, but around here it won't hit theaters until Jan. 4.)

2. "Les Miserables" -- Director Tom Hooper goes crazy with the camerawork to give his translation of the theatrical pop opera a cinematic scope, and he succeeds wildly. He marvelously realizes Victor Hugo's story of love, obsession, forgiveness and redemption, capped by Anne Hathaway's haunting rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream."

3. "Beasts of the Southern Wild" -- Benh Zeitlin's astonishingly original drama stars nonactors Quvenzhane Wallis as little Hushpuppy and New Orleans bakery owner Dwight Henry as her daddy Wink, two souls trapped in a post-Katrina bayou community while a herd of prehistoric beasties comes their way.

4. "Life of Pi" -- The best 3-D movie of 2012. Ang Lee directs a mythical remembrance about a young man (Suraj Sharma), a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, an impossible tale of survival and a well-told story attesting to the power of well-told stories.

5. "Django Unchained" -- Quentin Tarantino merges racism, politics, sex, revenge, capitalism and a truckload of other stuff in a hilariously violent riff on 1970s black exploitation movies (filtered through Sergio Leone) with former slave Jamie Foxx on the hunt for his wife, sold to another plantation in the 19th-century South.

6. "The Impossible" -- It's the OMG! movie of the year, and the most intense dream-vacation-gone-bad film ever made. A family on holiday in Thailand gets swept away by the 2004 tsunami. Directed by J.A. "The Orphanage" Bayona and based on a true story. (Watch for the real family at the closing credits.)

7. "The Avengers" -- OK, it's no Krzysztof Kieslowski masterpiece. But in the world of superhero movies, Joss Whedon's masterful blend of action, character, special effects, humor and pathos rules the genre. Lesser filmmakers couldn't even create a great film with one superhero, let alone six.

8. "The Master" -- Not a popular mall movie, for sure, but a pure piece of poetry with Joaquin Phoenix conjuring up the most original, inspired performance of the year as a tormented soul who physicalizes his inner demons so well it's tough to watch him without your shoulders screaming for a massage. Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman aren't chopped liver, either.

9. "Argo" -- Ben Affleck's well-crafted, fact-based valentine to the character, courage and convictions of Canadians. Oh, and let's not forget the CIA for thinking outside of the box office in creating a daring plot to rescue six Americans trapped during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis.

10. "Moonrise Kingdom" -- Wes Anderson's whimsical look at what happens in 1965 when two 12-year-olds declare their love for each and run away together, catapulting a little island community into chaos. Don't see it for the plot. See it for the whimsy. Check out Bruce Willis' restrained small-town sheriff and Edward Norton's too-devoted scout troop leader.

11. "ParaNorman" -- A 3-D animated supernatural/zombie comedy that attests to the power of stories to heal, condemns revenge and mob actions, and promotes the concept of forgiveness. What's not to love?

12. "Lincoln" -- As Shakespeare wrote, the player's the thing. Daniel Day-Lewis' performance as our 16th commander-in-chief hits the sweet spot between our expectations of how he sounded and historical reality. If you look carefully, you'll see subtle references to famous Lincoln photographs stitched into the scenes, photographed by Columbia College grad Janusz Kaminski.

Special note to James Bond fans convinced that "Skyfall" should be on every critic's top 10 list: "Skyfall" almost made it. Daniel Craig's third outing as 007 ranks as No. 14, after "Cabin in the Woods," Joss Whedon's and Drew Goddard's monster mashup of a supernatural/horror comedy.

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