Ottawa Citizen

2012’S BEST OF BOX OF­FICE

The films that stood out for crit­ics Jay Stone and Kather­ine Monk

- JAY STONE

1 Argo: Ben Af­fleck, who has be­come a solid, no-fuss film di­rec­tor in the man­ner of Clint East­wood — both of them were also un­der­es­ti­mated as ac­tors — man­ages to evoke high ten­sion out of a fa­mil­iar story: the es­cape of six Amer­i­can em­bassy work­ers dur­ing the 1980 Iran hostage cri­sis. But the film really soars in its de­pic­tion of how Hol­ly­wood helped set up a phoney movie com­pany as a dis­guise for the fugi­tives. John Good­man and Alan Arkin are won­der­ful as the wise guy movie ex­ec­u­tives whose ethos of tough-guy make be­lieve isn’t that far from that of the CIA.

2 The Master: Movie­go­ers had trou­ble fig­ur­ing out what Paul Thomas An­der­son’s exquisitel­y mounted pe­riod piece was about, but that seemed to be its point. This his­tory of a Scien­tol­ogy-like cult is im­mersed in the very con­fu­sions of power and charisma that al­low such cults to thrive. Philip Sey­mour Hoff­man, as the bluff leader, and Joaquin Phoenix as his dan­ger­ously al­co­holic acolyte, ex­press the at­trac­tion — al­most a gid­di­ness — that ex­ists in the brother­hood of the out­law.

3 Beasts of the South­ern Wild: An ex­tra­or­di­nary film from first-time di­rec­tor Behn Zeitlin, and star­ring a daz­zling dis­cov­ery named Qu­ven­zhane Wal­lis, is about life in the Louisiana bayou dur­ing hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina. An in­side-out ex­am­i­na­tion of an in­su­lar but thriv­ing cul­ture, it takes us into a warm and hap­pily ram­shackle world of spirit, fam­ily and magic. It’s the year’s most de­light­ful sur­prise.

4 Django Un­chained: Quentin Tarantino’s re­venge story about black slav­ery in Amer­ica is long and bloody, but be­yond the cin­e­matic tributes — mostly to the spaghetti West­ern — there’s real power in its out­rage. Christoph Waltz is eas­ily com­mand­ing as a bounty hunter who trains a part­ner, Jamie Foxx, and ac­com­pa­nies him on a trip through the bru­tal South to free his wife from smoothly evil slave-owner Leonardo DiCaprio. Un­der the stylis­tic tics of genre pas­tiche, Tarantino has un­cov­ered the deep shame of his coun­try’s past.

5 Flight A movie about al­co­holism that goes be­yond the 12-step clichés of films such as Smashed to find some­thing that’s not of­ten talked about: the heady feel­ing of in­vin­ci­bil­ity that comes with self-de­struc­tion. Den­zel Washington is com­mand­ing as a stoned air­line pi­lot who saves most of his pas­sen­gers with dar­ing ma­noeu­vres — brought on by a drunk’s easy con­fi­dence — then has to face the re­al­ity of his prob­lems. It features the most har­row­ing air crash since Cast Away.

6 Holy Mo­tors No, it’s not for ev­ery­one, but Leos Carax’s mad mashup of movie lore, per­sonal his­tory and un­hinged sym­bol­ism was an as­tound­ing trip. It stars De­nis Le­vant — the pug­na­ciously non-beau­ti­ful ex-ac­ro­bat who is Carax’s fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor — as a mys­te­ri­ous man trav­el­ling through Paris by limou­sine. He gets out oc­ca­sion­ally to take on a new per­sona: beg­gar, ac­tor, ter­ri­ble fa­ther, aban­doned lover, killer and more. A movie like no other.

7 Once Upon a Time in Ana­to­lia As we say in the film crit­i­cism game, be­ware the mas­ter­piece. Turk­ish au­teur Nuri Bilge Cey­lan is known for the re­laxed pace of his cin­ema, and this po­lice pro­ce­dural takes a long time to get started. It’s about a group of po­lice­men look­ing for a body buried in the coun­try­side, and it’s a long and dark search. But there’s a re­ward at the end, a sur­prise that up­ends your ex­pec­ta­tions and makes this a touch­ing ex­am­i­na­tion of men, women and love.

8 Mada­gas­car 3 Europe’s Most Wanted: The mad­cap an­i­mated se­ries flies along with an in­sane en­ergy, and never more so than in this se­quel in which our heroes — voiced by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Sch­wim­mer and Jada Pin­kett Smith — try to get home from Monte Carlo by join­ing a trav­el­ling cir­cus. Filled with awe­some spe­cial ef­fects, fran­tic stunts and a throw­away sense of the ridicu­lous, it had the in­spired chaos of early Marx Brothers.

9 Re­belle Canada’s en­try in the for­eign film Os­car race is a beau­ti­fully made drama from Que­bec di­rec­tor Kim Nguyen and star­ring a bril­liant new­comer, young Rachel Mwanza. She plays a teenager kid­napped by rebels in an un­named African coun­try and turned into a child sol­dier. Filmed with hand-held in­ti­macy, it is a study of re­silience that finds a mea­sure of hu­man­ity — as well as some hu­mour — in the tragedy of end­less war.

10 The Im­poster An ex­tra­or­di­nary doc­u­men­tary that plays like a mys­tery story. A teenager named Ni­cholas Bar­clay went miss­ing from his Texas home in 1994, and reap­peared three years later, look­ing older and speak­ing with a French ac­cent. The new “Ni­cholas” per­suaded his fam­ily he was their miss­ing son, and he per­suades us of a story that slowly be­comes a psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller and a mur­der mys­tery. It’s a bril­liant il­lus­tra­tion of the phe­nom­e­non of the un­re­li­able nar­ra­tor.

 ?? WARNER BROS. ?? STONE’S #1 PICK:
ARGO
Bryan Cranston, left, stars as Jack O’Don­nell and Ben Af­fleck as Tony Men­dez in Argo, a res­cue thriller about the 1979 Ira­nian hostage cri­sis.
WARNER BROS. STONE’S #1 PICK: ARGO Bryan Cranston, left, stars as Jack O’Don­nell and Ben Af­fleck as Tony Men­dez in Argo, a res­cue thriller about the 1979 Ira­nian hostage cri­sis.
 ??  ??
 ?? PARA­MOUNT PIC­TURES ?? STONE’S #5 PICK:
FLIGHT
Den­zel Washington por­trays Whip Whi­taker in the movie Flight.
PARA­MOUNT PIC­TURES STONE’S #5 PICK: FLIGHT Den­zel Washington por­trays Whip Whi­taker in the movie Flight.

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