A stellar year for filmmaking is behind us and the best movies are worth seeing whether you screen them in a theater, on DVD, or VOD. Grab some popcorn and enjoy the exceptional work of black actors, directors and other talented artists.
1. Beasts of the Southern Wild (****) On a tiny budget, using great imagination, director Benh Zeitlin creates a Slumdog Louisiana netherworld where a 6-year-old warrior princes (Quvenzhané Wallis) flourishes with help from a stern but crazed father (Dwight Henry).
2. The Central Park Five (****) Documentarians Sarah Burns, her father Ken and husband David McMahon investigate the rush-to-judgment “Central Park Jogger” case and give its wrongfully convicted suspects a pathway to total vindication.
3. Flight (***) A drug-abusing, veteran pilot (Denzel Washington) flies a 50-ton jet. Things don’t go well. Washington gives a four-star performance. Ably directed by Robert Zemeckis. Tamara Tunie, Nadine Velazquez, Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle leave indelible impressions.
4. The Impossible (***1/2) Mom, dad and three little boys encounter the Southeast Asia tsunami. It’s a traveler’s worst nightmare. Brave mom: Naomi Watts. Stalwart dad: Ewan McGregor. Courageous son: Tom Holland. Astute filmmaker: Juan Antonio Bayona.
5. Les Miserables (****) The actors sing live in this ingenious screen adaptation. Director Tom Hooper guides this epic musical to greatness. Anne Hathaway fulfills her destiny. Hugh Jackman gives an Oscar-worthy, show-stopping performance.
6. Marley (****) Director Kevin MacDonald (Last King of Scotland) pays supreme homage to the reggae legend in a thorough, ambitious documentary with the help of Marley’s family, friends and babies’ mommas. You’ll fondly remember the man and his music. One love.
7. Middle of Nowhere (****) A prisoner, his wife and her suitor form a love
triad. Sensitive writing/direction (Ava DuVernay) and genuine performances (Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, Lorraine Toussaint) touch the heart.
8. Silver Linings Playbook (***/12) Days out of a mental institution, a former teacher (Bradley Cooper) stalks his ex-wife and courts a nymphomaniac (Jennifer Lawrence). Perfect ensemble acting (Jacki Weaver, Robert DeNiro, Chris Tucker). Humorous filmmaking (David O. Russell).
9. Skyfall (***1/2) The best directed (Sam Mendes), acted (Daniel Craig, Judi Dench and Naomie Harris) and written (John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade) Bond movie. MI5 is under attack and 007 is up to the challenge. A perfect thrill ride.
10. Zero Dark Thirty (****) The ghost of Osama bin Laden must have been looking on in horror as director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal chronicled his assassination. Brilliant, edge-of-your-seat filmmaking. Superb acting: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Harold Perrineau, Reda Kateb.
Honorable Mention: Amour, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Project X, Searching for Sugarman, Red Tails, The Bourne Legacy, Lawless, Argo, Sessions, Warriors, The Raid, Think Like a Man, Marvel’s The Avengers, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Brave, Pitch Perfect, Anna Karenina, Hitchcock, Killing Them Softly, Hyde Park on Hudson, Polisse, The Other Son, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Magic Mike.
OVERRATED: Lincoln, The Hunger Games, Les Intouchables, Prometheus, The Amazing Spiderman, The Dark Knight Rises, The Master, End of Watch, Not Fade Away, Moonrise Kingdom.
WORST FILMS: The Paperboy, Red Hook Summer, The Dictator, Rock of Ages, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, To Rome With Love, The Campaign, Cosmopolis, The Oranges, Wuthering Heights, The Bay, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning.