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The Best Movies of 2012

The best films of 2012 – and a full, feisty and first-rate year it was – took a defiant stand against business as usual that is pure rock & roll. Here's the cream of the crop.

By Peter Travers

silver linings playbook

The Weinstein Company

6

‘Silver Linings Playbook’

Leave it to wild-man director David O. Russell to raise the bar on romantic comedy with this jagged love story between two emotional basket cases, played by a never-better Bradley Cooper and a hot-damn-she’s-fine Jennifer Lawrence. It’s crazy good.

argo

Claire Folger

5

‘Argo’

Ben Affleck excels as a director by pumping suspense and leavening humor into this look at the 1979 Iran hostage crisis and the subterfuge it took to aid the escape of six U.S. Embassy staffers. Argo plays with facts, but Affleck's maneuvers are artful, subversive and effective. He's the real deal.

lincoln

David James

4

‘Lincoln’

The risk here for director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner, both at the peak of their powers, is that audiences would endure the torrential battle of words that helped Abraham Lincoln (the reliably astounding Daniel Day-Lewis) jam a 13th Amendment through Congress to forever abolish slavery. Tough mission, brilliantly accomplished.

beasts of the southern wild

Jess Pinkham

3

‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’

The year's best film from a first-timer. Director Benh Zeitlin, a New York transplant to New Orleans, says his dare was to merge "the poetics of an art film with something that feels like Die Hard." Done. Living on the post-Katrina Louisiana bayou, six-year-old Hushpuppy (the amazing Quvenzhané Wallis, not too young for an Oscar) has no fear of poverty, hurricanes or rampaging creatures that emerge from melting polar ice caps. Zeitlin creates a world of beauty, terror and mythic wonder. And Quvenzhané? She's the man.

zero dark thirty

Jonathan Olley

2

‘Zero Dark Thirty’

In the hands of director Kathryn Bigelow, screenwriter Mark Boal and actress Jessica Chastain, the CIA hunt for Osama bin Laden becomes a fierce thriller and an even fiercer meditation on who’s winning and losing the War on Terror.

the master

Weinstein Company/courtesy Everett Collection

1

‘The Master’

No movie this year is more divisive. The haters want to crush me for cheering the groundbreaking, untamable spirit of The Master. Which only means that filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson has touched a raw nerve by detailing the damage done by unthinking allegiance to God, country, sex and money. Joaquin Phoenix gives his all and then some as a World War II vet who falls under the spell of a 1950s cult leader, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. No one doubts their acting genius. But the neg-heads say, "I don't get this movie." Talk about it, people. See it again. Pry into it. Discuss your issues with friends. Argue. Debate. That used to be what movies were about till the multiplex turned our brains to mush.

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