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The 10 Best Movies of 2012, and Why

It’s always a challenge compiling a list of the year’s 10 best movies, especially when, thanks to the phenomenal rise of the independent film scene over the past decade, there seems to be an increasing number of impressive films to choose from.

This year’s crop included such diverse shortlist contenders as In The Family, Patrick Wang’s beautifully understated three-hour Southern drama about the conflict between an amiable gay contractor and the family of his late lover, who dies suddenly, over their young son; Intouchables, the French crowd-pleaser about the unlikely friendship between a wealthy quadriplegic Parisian widower (Francois Cluzet) and a streetwise, cocky Senegalese ex-convict (Omar Sy) who reluctantly becomes his caregiver; and Malik Bendjelloul’s shrewdly structured documentary Searching for Sugar Man.

Heck, I even agonized over whether Seth MacFarlane’s raunchy yet undeniably hilarious comedy Ted merited a spot.

None of the above made this year’s Top 10. It’s not that they weren’t deserving, just out-ranked by characters including an ostentatious tycoon, alcoholic airline pilot, ruthless Norwegian headhunter, cool British spy and endearing stoner.

1. Argo

Confidently cementing his reputation as one of Hollywood’s hottest directors after his stellar work on Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Ben Affleck crafted one of the year’s most entertaining, Oscar-calibre movies. Deftly blending humour, white-knuckle suspense and a brilliantly evocative flashback to 1979, when the Iran hostage crisis began, Affleck created a beat-the-clock political thriller that dramatizes the crazy covert operation concocted by CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck), who poses as a Hollywood producer scouting locations for a fake sci-fi film to extract six American diplomats in hiding at the Canadian Embassy. Chris Terrio’s droll screenplay and a superb cast — notably Alan Arkin as a cranky has-been producer and John Goodman as a makeup artist who help the escaped American captives pose as the fake film crew — were among key elements that made this popcorn movie a compelling tale of fact being stranger than fiction.

2. Headhunters

The Scandinavians have done it again! So don’t be surprised when, as with Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, the inevitable Hollywood remake surfaces of this dark, grisly Norwegian thriller about the meticulous machinations of Roger Brown, a ruthless corporate headhunter who moonlights as an art thief. It’s hard to imagine the Americanized version could be as diabolically entertaining as director Morten Tyldum’s twisty, nerve-jangling suspenser in which the corporate anti-hero with a Napoleon complex, desperate for more cash to please his wife, a beautiful Nordic art gallery owner he fears will leave him, becomes ensnared in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with a vindictive client. While the mind-boggling action arising from a botched art heist grows increasingly implausible, it’s the film’s emphasis on the psychological underpinnings that motivate Roger’s lifestyle that spirals horrifically out of control, and the devilish way Tyldum defies our expectations, that sets this sleek heart-pounder apart.

3. Flight

Here’s a movie you’ll never see on an airplane. As terrifying as the film’s edge-of-your-seat, breathtakingly realistic flight-from-hell sequences are, Denzel Washington’s complex and persuasive depiction of the personal journey of Whip Whitaker, the resourceful, heroic yet tormented pilot with underlying addiction issues is as harrowing. Robert Zemeckis expertly builds tension and intrigue, offset with humorous asides on action flick terms, but it’s when the arrogant pilot’s pre-flight sex, boozing and coke-snorting and the midair chaos subsides, and the slow-burn human drama kicks in, that Flight soars. It’s an absorbing and unforgettable drama about morality, redemption and personal responsibility not to be missed…

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