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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Sept. 1, 2014

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Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are mesmerizing in "Silver Linings Playbook."
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are mesmerizing in "Silver Linings Playbook."
The ensemble performances in "Argo" made it a pulse-pounding winner.
The ensemble performances in "Argo" made it a pulse-pounding winner.
The kids (Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman in particular) stole the show in "Moonrise Kingdom."
The kids (Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman in particular) stole the show in "Moonrise Kingdom."

10 movie winners (and five big losers) of 2012

Well, another year of movies is (almost) in the books. Full of many memorable ups and seared-in-my-brain-forever downs, 2012 didn't leave much room for purely "meh" film. While I generally hate picking favorites, it was surprisingly easy to narrow the list down to my ultimate Top 10 (ask for ranks or a top five, however, and things might get ugly).

Of course, I can't bid the year goodbye without calling out its epic movie fails one last time. This list is only a five-r, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in insultingly bad content (or lack thereof). It's also un-ranked, more for the reason that doing so would be a lot like playing Would You Rather? with dueling options of a hot garbage shower or a steamy bath of dogsh*t.

Both lists are below. Feel like something missed the lists? That's what the Talkbacks are for.

Top 10 Films of 2012

"Argo"
Historical dramas have it tough. They can't just be good – they have to be excellent enough to keep their audience in suspense despite the fact that they already got handed a big looming spoiler by high school history class. "Argo" didn't just keep viewers on the edge of their seats, it actually made them believe the 1979 Iranian rescue mission it brought to the big screen had a serious chance of not succeeding. Perilously tense and brilliantly executed, actor/director Ben Affleck's latest thriller is a perfect example of this technique done right.

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower"
As a writer, it's embarrassing to admit that I had no words coming out of "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," but if anything deserves to leave me speechless, this is it. Having never read the book "Perks" is based on I didn't know what I was getting into, but I knew whatever it was had to be something worthwhile – it's not often a book's author steps up to not only write its film adaptation's screenplay, but also direct it. Stephen Chbosky clearly had a strong attachment, and after watching this beautifully emotional coming-of-age story it's easy to see why. Unlike most high school-set movies, "Perks" has a universal relatability. Its characters and story have a real honesty that forgoes the cheap, pandering devices typical young adult films rely upon. Even the best films usually only succeed in getting me a little misty-eyed; "Perks" left me with tears streaming down my face – and that is something I'm far from embarrassed about.

"ParaNorman"
It was a strong year for kids' movies, but with so much else to make room for, I had to settle for just one. "ParaNorman," however, is far from a "settling" kind of movie. From its liberally utilized wit and big-name voice cast to finely crafted claymation wizardry and legitimately scary action, Laika Entertainment's first solo effort has a lot of good going for it. It's not quite the all-ages family adventure (some of the scarier sequences can be downright, well, unsettling) but as a "big kid" movie, it's aces.

"The Avengers"
Unlike the children's genre, action didn't fare too well in 2012. There were a few exceptions, though, and number one with a bullet has to be "The Avengers." This superhero summer blockbuster pretty much stole all the thunder away from every other masked hero this year (sorry, Spidey and Batman). It's worth the hype, though: chock full of Type A world-savers, "The Avengers" capitalizes on comedic personality clashes and legitimate conflict to craft a smart, fast-paced and appropriately action-packed extravaganza.

"Life of Pi"
I didn't have the pleasure of reviewing "Life of Pi" for the site, but I still caught it in theaters – and I'm glad I did. Ang Lee's anticipated film adaptation of the story of a boy trapped on a boat with a Bengal tiger is a stunningly vivid visual masterpiece. The story is a little thin up until the very end, but the exquisite scenery and gorgeous colors make the journey well worth its lapses.

"Silver Linings Playbook"
A mix of drama, comedy, football and ballroom dancing, "Silver Linings Playbook" isn't quite sure what it wants to be when it grows up, but that doesn't stop this irreverent anti-movie from forging a path to success. A misfit story about a pair of misfits, "Silver Linings" is another book-turned-movie, injected with brilliant subversive life by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. The pair brawls, dances and matches crazy verbal wits with furious energy and undeniable compatibility. Alternately adorable and car-crash fascinating, they're impossible not to like – even when they're trying so hard to be unlikeable.

"Seven Psychopaths"
A bit under the radar, even more unhinged and a lot more violent, "Seven Psychopaths" pulls out all the stops in its rambling meta murder adventure. This thoroughly dark comedy reunites "In Bruges" director Martin McDonagh with his leading man, Colin Farrell, and adds Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson in a mad dash to a stranger-than-fiction climax. It's an acquired taste, but that's what makes this nefarious bunch of screwballs so much fun.

"Pitch Perfect"
Every great movie list needs a guilty pleasure, but that doesn't mean it has to suck. I went into "Pitch Perfect" expecting "Glee": The Movie, but instead what I got was an edgy, raucously funny music comedy that seamlessly blended new- and old-school humor. Part sharp wit and part bit gags with a little Rob Reiner flair mixed in for flavor, this bad-ass mashup is truly entertaining – something "Glee" hasn't been able to nail down since season one.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Lots of people came down on "Beasts of the Southern Wild" for its brazen fantasy cutaways, but for me they embodied exactly what made this otherwise ungilded movie so striking. It's centered around the story of 6-year-old Hushpuppy (brilliantly portrayed by newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis), a resident of an isolated backwater bayou community. It's an unflinching yet naive story of Hushpuppy's resilience, but her innocent perspective and rationalizations for her world's upheaval are what make it an exceptionally stirring odyssey.

"Moonrise Kingdom"
Like "Beasts of the Southern Wild," Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" found its success by hinging itself on the performances of precocious children. That's not to say, however, that veterans (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Ed Norton and Bruce Willis, for a few) didn't do some of the heavy lifting. But, without the invigorating presence of the Romeo and Juliet-esque Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward), all we'd be left with is another very Andersonian installment.

Bonus: "The Pirates! Band of Misfits"
So, my "Top 10" list was a lie (really, are you surprised?). I stand by my picks, but I can't leave the list be without throwing an honorable mention to "The Pirates." More risque than "ParaNorman," less in-your-face than "Pitch Perfect" and of a similar offbeat niche to "Moonrise Kingdom," "The Pirates" really is the odd movie out, but it just does such a good job of being it. Blending British sass and intelligent pseudo-history, it doesn't just sail viewers through the foggy area between sanity and absurdity, it uses it to full advantage to rob them, then run them through with razor-sharp satire and one-liner daggers. It's the kind of "older kid" animated comedy you don't want to show your older kids unless you want to do a lot of awkward explaining afterward, which is exactly what makes it a winning comedy in my book.

Bottom 5 Films of 2012

"Battleship"
I can count on one hand the number of times a movie has legitimately pissed me off for making me waste my time. "Battleship" is one of the fingers I'd use to count them off, and all things considered, it's probably the middle one. I was so mad that even though I was sitting in on a free screener, I was tempted to walk out and demand recompense. I knew in less than 20 minutes it would be a clunker (well, really I knew as soon as word got out that some idiots were turning a board game Battleship into a feature film, but I like making informed decisions), but I was not prepared for just how shallow the waters in this 131-minute shipwreck turned out to be.

"Alex Cross"
Speaking of shallow action movies, "Alex Cross" might very well be the "Battleship" of detective stories – that is, if it were piloted by Cadillac instead of Hasbro. This James Patterson novel-turned-car commercial scrapped all semblance of ingenuity in order to provide Tyler Perry with a cliched shell of a vehicle supposedly set in motion to show off his talent for acting like a normal human being. Instead, all audiences got was a confusing example of how even a seemingly straightforward mystery can get muddled, and a terrifying reassurance that Madea isn't the worst thing Perry can bring to the big screen.

"Won't Back Down"
Remember "Won't Back Down?" No? I didn't think so. This forgettable "inspired by actual events" feature released to approximately three theaters nationwide, did dismally and disappeared into the woodwork faster than you can say "marketing ploy." Its story, about a group of parents joining forces to take down their city's sub-standard education system, is fraught with shades of the teachers' union fervor that shook Wisconsin so hard earlier this year. And really, that's the only reason anyone paid any attention to this eyeroll of an underdog story in the first place. It's probably for the best – stars Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal don't need this black mark on their resumes.

"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"
I'm so disappointed in you, ALVH. You were such a good book, and you could have been such a good movie. But it's not all your fault. Why Seth Grahame-Smith decided to twist you into a monster of cheap thrills and water-thin storyline, I'll never know, and why Timur Bekmambetov chose to inundate you with special effects that make "Wanted" look like a study in realism is beyond me. The only thing sadder than what you've become is the people who took you seriously.

"That's My Boy"
You know that kid at school, or that obnoxious coworker, who feels the need to punctuate everything you say with a "That's what she said?" Or worse, begins every day with a "Wazzuuuuuuuuppp?" Yeah, that's what Adam Sandler has turned himself into. His man-boy antics were played out a decade ago, but for some reason he's still trying to ride that workhorse to the bank. Unfortunately, it's long since keeled over, as evidenced by the perfectly unnecessary "That's My Boy." Maybe it's time he took a lesson from his overbearingly adolescent characters and grows the hell up. He might actually turn in a decent box office gross for a change, since I know a few people who'd actually pay money to see that.

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