TOP TEN LIST (alphabetically):

1.The Dark Knight Rises: “The Dark Knight Rises” is a very accomplished blockbuster. At two-hours-and-forty-four minutes it manages to provide the thrills associated with the genre, but also takes time to create memorable characters. It's a grand finale to Nolan's Batmans.

2. Django Unchained: “Django Unchained” is bloodier than you'll expect-with a shootout as violently gratuitous as any gun battle ever filmed-and funnier than you think it is going to be. It's a message movie and a pulpy crowd pleaser. In other words, it's a Tarantino film.

3. The Impossible: “The Impossible” is more than simply the story of the tsunami or the family, it is about humanity's ability to pull together in times of crisis; of those moments when a small gesture, like a hug or a fresh shirt can make a world of difference. It's about people at their best in the worst of situations, and even though the ending is a bit pat, it makes you believe that there can be happy coincidences even in chaos.    

4. Looper: Director and writer Rian Johnson uses the sci fi premise to allow the character of Joe in both forms (old joe played by Bruce Willis, young Joe by Joseph Gordon Levitt) to examine his life, past, present and future, and discover what's really important to him. It's humanist science fiction that values the person (or persons) over special effects.

5. The Master: “The Master” won't satisfy those who like their stories tied up in neat bows. It is an enigmatic story about impenetrable people; an opaque, singular experience that is best thought of as a tone poem about man's aspirations and failures.

6. Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson specializes in idiosyncratic films rich in detail and populated with dysfunctional people. “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” “The Darjeeling Limited” and even his stop motion animated “Fantastic Mr. Fox” are studies in human behavior with liberal doses of humor and melancholy. The level of eccentric filmmaking in “Moonrise Kingdom” won't be for everyone, but the film's warmth and gentle humor earn it a big recommendation.

7. The Sessions: “The Sessions” should be the downer movie of the year. But the story of a severely disabled man who wants to explore his sexuality, before, as he says, his “use by” date, is funny, passionate and bawdy.

8. Skyfall: Just when it seems like everything that could possibly be written about James Bond and the 23 official movies chronicling his super spy exploits, has already been committed to print, along comes “Skyfall,” a movie that pays homage to the past, while redefining the future of the franchise.

9. Stories We Tell: Sarah Polley's doc “Stories We Tell” shuns the exploitive approach of reality television-imagine what Mauray Povich might have done with this story-to explore the consequences of a long ago indiscretion. What could have been a self-indulgent home movie is, instead, a riveting look into the dynamics of a group of individuals bound together by birth and circumstance.  

10. Zero Dark Thirty: Alfred Hitchcock famously described how to create tension in a movie. "There's two people having breakfast and there's a bomb under the table,” he said. “If it explodes, that's a surprise. But if it doesn't..." I'll finish the sentence he so anticipatorily left undone: “…that's suspense.”  “Zero Dark Thirty” (refers to the military time for thirty minutes after midnight) operates on this premise, creating suspense even though many of the bombs do go off and we know how the story ends. The whole movie is the bomb under the table, leading up to an explosive, although protracted, climax.

Bubbling under the top ten: Life of Pi (The unusual story is complimented by many startlingly beautiful images, like a full moon illuminating a sea brimming with jellyfish, turning them into incandescent underwater lanterns or an island overflowing with meerkats.), The Grey (as intelligent as “The Grey” is, it's also borders on horror, playing on fear of barren spaces-bring an extra scarf, the howling wind effect alone will chill you to the bone-and well, corpse eating wolves. But even though it is sometimes graphic, it still resonates emotionally.). Argo (It's a Ben Affleck directed Hollywood construct, and despite its overreliance on well-worn theatrics, a pretty good one.) and a trio of kid's movies-Frankenweenie, ParaNorman and Brave-that were smart, funny and proved that not all children's entertainment has to be about the environment or talking animals. More thematically standard is Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted but it's worth the price of admission to hear Chris Rock's Polka Dot Afro Circus song. The Noah Baumbach scripted story is surreal and literally bursts off the screen in an explosion of neon colored 3-D.)

BOTTOM TEN LIST (alphabetically):

1. A Thousand Words: “A Thousand Words” is billed as a comedy but I see it as something else entirely. I see it as a tragedy-a tragic waste of Eddie Murphy's talent. He's in virtually every scene but his wide eyed mugging for the camera-there hasn't been this on-screen mugging since the first “Death Wish” movie (only movie geeks will get that joke)-isn't funny, it's annoying.

2. Battleship: I wasn't sure how they could possibly turn a board game into a movie, and now that I've seen “Battleship” I'm convinced that it can't be done-very well, at least. What's next, Jenga: This Time It's Personal? Two-plus hours of soulless claptrap and joyless cacophony of twisted metal, AC/DC songs and angry aliens does not a movie make. I'd like to suggest a new title, “Shock and Awful.”

3. The Devils Inside: A title card near the beginning of “The Devil Inside” reads “The Vatican does not endorse this film.” I know how they feel. I can't endorse it either.

4. Madea's Witness Protection: “Madea's Witness Protection” is a movie so awful the distributor sent around an embargo notice forbidding critics to speak about the movie until the day AFTER its release. The sternly worded letter included any comments we might make in print, on-line, via text, or even in public places (they cite elevators, restaurants, and restrooms, “as these conversations may be overheard.”). Also outlawed is any disclosure to family members or close friends. I think that pretty much says it all about this movie.

5. Mirror Mirror: Tarsem Singh Dhandwar may have a highly developed sense of humor. I say may because I don't know. Judging strictly by his work, it's hard to tell. His features, “The Cell,” “The Fall” and “Immortals” weren't exactly laugh riots. His new movie, “Mirror Mirror,” a comedic retelling of the Snow White story, doesn't shed any light on the matter either. It is as amusing as you might expect from the man who brought us REM's po-faced Losing My Religion music video.

6. One for the Money: “One for the Money,” the first adaptation of a book in author Janet Evanovich's popular Stephanie Plum series, wants desperately to be as slick an entertainment as “Get Shorty” but ends up a little lower on the scale,  closer to “Jersey Shore.”

7. Red Lights: “Red Lights,” a new paranormal thriller starring Signorney Weaver, Robert DeNiro and Cillian Murphy, is review proof. I saw this because I can't tell you the plot twist that pushes this movie from the realm of the ridiculous into the land of the ludicrous without spoiling the whole premise.

8. That's My Boy: At the screening of the new R-rated-for raunchy and redundant, no doubt--movie “That's My Boy” I felt like I witnessed something special. But not special in a good way. I can't help but think that what we saw wasn't so much a movie, but more some kind of performance art where people who should know better do awful things and charge you ten buck to watch. I hope this is some kind of postmodern art project, 'cuz a comedy it ain't.

9. W.E.: In recent years filmmakers haven't been content to simply tell one story. Recently Steven Soderbergh semi-successfully wove together a multitude of storylines to create the germ-o-phobic tapestry of “Contagion,” and “360” sees Antony Hopkins leading a mind bogglingly large cast of characters vying for screen time. Director Madonna is a little less ambitious in “W.E.,” melding only two stories together. But you know what? It's still one too many.

10. The Words: The structure of “The Words” is mind-bending. It's the story of a reading of “The Words,” a novel about a young writer who commits a great literary sin, which makes up the narrative thrust of the movie, until a second narrator shows up and takes over the story from the first one. Like that M.C. Escher painting of one hand drawing another it's hard to tell where this story wrapped-in-a-story wrapped-in-a-moral dilemma begins or ends.


1. Best Book Adaptation: “Anna Karenina” proved that everything old can be new again in an adaptation that breathed vivid life into the novel's 135 year old lungs. Director Joe Wright honored Leo Tolstoy's book while staging the story of deception, honor and love at the intersection where reality and fantasy cross. The film opens on what appears to be a stage production of "Anna Karenina." We see musicians, dancing and backstage activity. To further blur the line between reality and illusory we see Anna, Oblonsky and others going about their day. Imagine watching the “Anna Karenina” opera and you get the idea.

2. Best Reanimated Corpse Movie for Kids: “When you lose someone you love they never really leave you.” These are the comforting words parents say to their kids when a beloved pet or grandparent dies. Leave it to the twisted mind of Tim Burton to take it one step further in “Frankenweenie,” his latest stop-motion animated film, about a boy and his dead dog. Reanimating corpses is not exactly the subject of kid's films… unless you're Burton, who takes a horror premise and turns it into a touching and funny family story about a lonely boy and his best friend. The climax may be too intense for small kids, so judge your child's tolerance for giant Sea Monkeys and some mild action before shelling out for tickets for the whole family.

Runner Up: ParaNorman

3. Best Villain: A Tie between Bane and Raoul Silva.

As Bane, the brooding hulk that speaks like a slightly loony Shakespearian villain in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Tom Hardy is an imposing presence-one part modern day terrorist, two parts Attila the Hun. 'There can be no true despair without hope!''

Javier Bardem doesn't show up for over an hour in Skyfall, but then makes a quiet but spectacular entrance, with a speech worthy of the best Bond villain. With wild blonde hair, and an uncharacteristically (for a baddie at least) understated demeanor Raoul Silva oozes Oedipal menace. He is a Bond bad guy for a new generation, and his presence is one of the great pleasures of the movie.

4. Best Action Hero: You puny humans! Hulk! Smash! We liked him  when he got angry! Mark Ruffalo really impresses in “The Avengers.” The Hulk has had a tough time on the big screen. Ang Lee's version flopped. The Ed Norton adaptation didn't really work, but Ruffalo and Joss Whedon finally figured out how to balance the Hulk's humanity with his fury.

5. Most Remarkably Consistent Movie Star: In “Safe,” the gravelly-voiced Jason Statham digs deep into his bag of tricks to play Luke Wright, Statham Character #2. That's the “loner with a past who must protect a youthful innocent.”  (As opposed to Statham Character #1 in which he plays “loner with a past who must protect a loved one.”) He's a one-liner-spouting action hero and “Safe” is the standard dumb good fun we expect-No! Demand!-from Statham's movies.

6. Biggest Disappointment of the Year: Thematically “Prometheus” is about creation and destruction. As a piece of entertainment goes, however, I'm not sure Ridley Scott's new space opera will create lasting memories. It won't destroy the goodwill of the first couple of “Alien” films, but I don't think it will add much to the legacy either. For me there is very little big bang in a movie that is reportedly about the most significant discovery in the history of mankind. I know it's wrong to compare movies in the same way it's a bad idea to compare your kids to one another, but Scott has made a movie that feels like something he's done before, just not as well. I expected more. Perhaps “Alien” set the bar too high for the director to leap over.

7. Most Polarizing Movies of the Year: Easily ”The Master” and “Wanderlust.” I get and expected the response my positive review of “The Master” earned. As I said in the review it's not a movie for everyone, and “won't satisfy those who like their stories tied up in neat bows.” But it is an epic, brave and unusual film, which, for my money, was a welcome counterpoint to the sequels and prequels that tend to take up most of the space at theatres these days. Less expected was the blowback that accompanied my positive review of the Jennifer Aniston comedy “Wanderlust.” It's a funny, if not terribly substantial adult comedy, but I got more mail from upset-no, make that irate-moviegoers about this film than any other single film this year. I stand by both reviews-“The Master” even appears on my best-of-the-year list-but learned a lesson about recommending movies that contain both Jennifer Aniston and full frontal male nudity.