8. ‘‘Lincoln’’ — Few performances qualify as monumental. That’s the best word to characterize Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, though. He vanishes into the president’s awkward, folksy, melancholy spirit, creating an unforgettable portrait of greatness that pretty much puts to rest any thought of another actor trying his hand at a serious portrayal of Lincoln for a good long while. Steven Spielberg eschews the battlefield for a talky yet affecting look at Lincoln’s final months. America couldn’t have done without Lincoln, and Spielberg couldn’t have done without Day-Lewis.
9. ‘‘West of Memphis’’ — This is a vote not only for a film, but for artists who joined in protest to save three men from prison — one from Death Row — after they were convicted in the 1993 slayings of three Cub Scouts. Inspired by ‘‘Paradise Lost,’’ an earlier documentary about the case, Peter Jackson and wife Fran Walsh bankrolled their own investigation and produced this new film by Amy Berg that calls into question the case built by prosecutors. The story’s enthralling, the climax triumphant.
10. ‘‘Looper’’ — For someone who thinks Bruce Willis’ ‘‘Twelve Monkeys’’ is the defining time-travel flick, it’s irresistible to see him in another clever, careening tale of time-hopping. Joseph Gordon-Levitt wonderfully channels the younger Willis as a hit man whose latest assignment is to snuff his older self, in a perverse retirement system where the mob of the future eventually has its assassins kill off themselves. Writer-director Rian Johnson has concocted a rare thriller whose brains equal its action, telling the story with great style and provocative irony.
The top 10 films of 2012, according to AP Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle:
1. ‘‘Amour’’ — It’s a rare thing to be in the hands of a master working at the top of his game. Michael Haneke’s film about an aging Parisian couple and the intersection of tenderness and cruelty is devastating in both its story and execution.
2. ‘‘The Master’’ — In a year where digital overtook film as the dominant stuff of moviemaking, Paul Thomas Anderson’s 70-mm post-WWII drama made a hypnotic case for celluloid. Anderson’s film may have dawdled to its end, failing to figure out what drew together a drifter (Joaquin Phoenix) and a cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman). But the postwar atmosphere is vivid: a searching landscape of broken and delusional men. Like the ship that brings the two together, rocking slowly past the Golden Gate, the movie drifts away.
3. ‘‘Margaret’’ — After a lengthy legal battle, a truncated version of playwright Kenneth Lonergan’s follow-up to the brilliant ‘‘You Can Count on Me’’ was released quietly in late 2011. But it was this year when the real version saw the light of day on DVD. (It’s three hours, but I promise it’s not slow, thanks particularly to the daughter-mother duo of Anna Paquin and J. Smith-Cameron.) Seek it out. It’s a fascinating if flawed New York masterwork, made with a humanistic touch unrivaled in movies.
4. ‘‘Moonrise Kingdom’’ — Wes Anderson dreams up a melancholy island of young love and Norman Rockwell. Sold.
5. ‘‘Not Fade Away’’ — I never knew the ‘60s but I suspect David Chase’s first film has finally — after countless more extreme stories — nailed something authentic about the decade and about rock ‘n’ roll’s atom-bomb-sized impact in suburban homes.
6. ‘‘Lincoln’’ — Steven Spielberg’s historical drama, too, is an exhumation of the past, even if it ultimately fails to make flesh its title character (even Daniel Day-Lewis can’t enliven such a calcified figure, especially with the incessant horn-tooting of John Williams’ grandiose score). But it does succeed — unlike any movie before — in summoning a political world, peopled by colorful characters (James Spader, Tommy Lee Jones) in and around Congress.
7. ‘‘Jeff, Who Lives at Home’’ — The Duplass brothers’ man-child comedy is a rumpled sweatshirt of a movie. When Jason Segel, as a completely charming pothead, finally rises to the occasion, it’s strangely moving.
8. ‘‘The Dust Bowl’’ — One of the most pleasing things of the year was to see a Ken Burns with some fire. In ‘‘Central Park Five,’’ which he co-directed with his daughter Sarah Burns and David McMahon, he shed light on a miscarriage of justice. When lawyers for New York (who had refused to comment on the case) subpoenaed his notes, he flatly refused. In ‘‘The Dust Bowl,’’ he made clear its contemporary and potentially polarizing lessons: that the federal government can do good and that we are capable of marring the environment horrendously.Continued...