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Newest Hollywood star: Abe Lincoln
"Lincoln" has become a huge hit, and deservedly so. Steven Spielberg's direction is restrained yet effective, and Daniel Day-Lewis sinks into the character as if he were ... well, the best actor alive.
Keeping you on the edge of your seat
"Argo" is a film that puts the "thrill" in thriller. Tension percolates all through this movie set during the 1970s Iran hostage crisis. It's all inspired by true events; six U.S. embassy workers found secret refuge at the Canadian ambassador's residence - but then someone had to get them out of Iran. As director, Ben Affleck creates a visceral world and maintains a pulse-racing pace, yet he doesn't let the suspense overwhelm the human side of this potential tragedy. Everyone's talking Oscar nominations for good reason.
Most enjoyable game of "Where's Waldo?"
So "Hope Springs" wasn't a mega-hit. Still, the movie that was partially shot in Stonington drew a healthy audience and lots of critical plaudits. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones gave typically fabulous performances as a long-wed couple trying to warm up their tepid marriage. And the borough played a sizeable role, standing in for the title burg.
Sleeper of the year
No special effects. No epic drama. No packed-with-Oscar-winners cast. "Your Sister's Sister" is a small piece about three people - a guy; his female best friend, on whom he has a secret crush; and her sister, who ... well, we'll let you find out. Very little (including the ending) goes the way you'd predict. The dialogue feels rich but totally real. Kudos to director/writer Lynn Shelton and actors Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt.
Comeback of the year
It's Bond. James Bond. After an underwhelming "Quantum of Solace" and a long wait for a follow-up thanks to MGM's financial troubles, the amazingly entertaining "Skyfall" turns out to be both more emotionally complex and more dryly comic than recent Bond films. Credit goes to screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, director Sam Mendes and manly-man star Daniel Craig.
Sassiest dark-comic performances
So many are so good! But attention must be paid to: Jack Black, as a kindly killer in "Bernie"; Javier Bardem, looking as though he is having the time of his life playing a Bond villain in "Skyfall"; and Josh Brolin, morphing into a young Tommy Lee Jones in "Men in Black 3."
Wicked-bad accent alert
In the overrated drama "The Sessions," Helen Hunt gives a nicely modulated performance as the sex surrogate working with a man named Mark O'Brien who was paralyzed by polio. But, as a New Englander, I was deeply offended by Hunt's attempts at a Boston accent. Each time she cawed "Maaaahk," I shuddered.
Best YA book-to-film transfer (sorry, Twihards)
"Hunger Games" is a great film adaptation, confirming Jennifer Lawrence as true star material. I love-love-loved the first half, with its sardonic critiques of fame and commercialism. I wasn't as enthralled with the second half, which transitioned into a more predictable chase thriller. But "Games" is still a winner. And the way Stanley Tucci preens and slithers as a TV host? Genius.
"Prometheus"? "Rock of Ages"? Nah, the most disappointing thing I saw this year was "Young Adult." ("Young Adult" was released in December 2011 but never made it to southeastern Connecticut movie theaters; I watched it on DVD in 2012 and discovered why.) A film by the writer and director of "Juno"? Starring Charlize Theron? How could this NOT be great? Well, we can start by pointing out that the lead character - a YA author suffering from a severe case of arrested development and stunning self-asborption - has no redeeming qualities. Those qualities don't necessarily prevent her from being interesting, but the writing and directing sure do. Diablo Cody's script limps and Jason Reitman's direction sags.
The movie that put the "super" in "superhero"
"The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises" seem to get more of the comic-book-hero glory, but "The Amazing Spider-Man" is the richer film. This one isn't about bam-pow pyrotechnics as much as it is about the characters, thanks, in part, to former indie director Marc Webb. Andrew Garfield infuses Peter Parker with a restless, coiled energy - all of which melts in his chemistry-rich scenes with Emma Stone as love interest Gwen Stacy. And Martin Sheen and Sally Field are salt of the earth personified as Peter's uncle and aunt. (Between this and "Lincoln," 2012 was The Year of Sally Field. Go, Gidget!)
Jennifer Westfeldt - who grew up in Guilford - went totally triple-threat with the romantic comedy "Friends with Kids." She added director to her credits as actress and writer. The story: Westfeldt's character and pal Adam Scott decide to have a baby together - but not a romantic relationship. What's particularly great are the couples surrounding the central one: the hot-for-each-other-turned-bitter pair of Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig and the shlumped-out-by-parenthood duo of Maya Rudolph and Chris O'Dowd. Some people - myself included - found the language a little blunt (and blue). But Westfeldt wrote a smart script and directs it as if she has been directing for ages. Can't wait for her next project.