BEST 10. Bernie
In Richard Linklater’s deviously droll light-comic tabloid docudrama, Jack Black infectiously plays a sweet-natured small-town Texas undertaker who turns out to be the most cunning of sociopaths, in part because the people he’s conning include himself.
BEST 9. Flight
Denzel Washington as you’ve never seen him: stirringly troubled and neurotic as a veteran airline pilot whose hot-dog heroics rescue a crashing flight, even as the event slowly cracks open the door to his hidden alcoholism.
BEST 8. Argo
The rare thriller that has great fun while touching a raw political nerve, Ben Affleck’s movie is funny, fascinating, and heart-in-the-throat suspenseful as it unfurls the wilder-than-fiction tale of six American diplomats who escaped Iran in 1979 by pretending to be a film crew at work on a cheesy sci-fi movie.
BEST 7. Killing Them Softly
Andrew Dominik’s scuzzy gem of a hitman drama is full of outrageously loquacious low-life power duels, all anchored by Brad Pitt’s menacingly good performance as a Mob enforcer.
BEST 6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
One of the only high school movies that gets everything right, Stephen Chbosky’s rapturous adaptation of his own novel is the story of a shy, smart kid who discovers that friendship is the secret romance of adolescent life.
BEST 5. Zero Dark Thirty
Kathryn Bigelow’s electrifying docudrama about the hunt for Osama bin Laden is bold enough to acknowledge that ”enhanced interrogation techniques” really work, all while paying gripping tribute to an eagle-eyed CIA analyst (Jessica Chastain) who spent years going in for the kill.
BEST 4. Room 237
Rodney Ascher’s amazing documentary is about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (or, rather, the mind-boggling hidden meanings that film geeks now ascribe to it), and it’s a veritable Kubrickian Da Vinci Code that’s really about the power that conspiracy theory now holds over our thinking.
BEST 3. Silver Linings Playbook
In David O. Russell’s exhilarating high-wire act of a romantic comedy, Bradley Cooper plays a man with bipolar disorder who can’t see past his broken marriage (even with Jennifer Lawrence standing in front of him ready to dance — talk about disordered vision!), and Cooper’s performance has the beautifully unhinged quality of a man trying to outrun his own pain.
BEST 2. Amour
At once a love story, a horror movie, and the greatest drama of old age ever made, Michael Haneke’s tenderly devastating tale of a Parisian couple will wrench you with its pity and terror.
BEST 1. Lincoln
One of the only historical dramas that lets you feel as if you’re honestly stepping back in time, Steven Spielberg’s grand, immersive movie stays true to the Abraham Lincoln of our dreams and profoundly humanizes him, too.
NEXT: Owen’s picks for the worst movies of the year…
WORST 5. Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection
Even a bad Tyler Perry movie will tend to be saved from unwatchability by that trash-talking grouch mama Madea, only this time even she wears out her welcome, meaning that Perry’s rattletrap sitcom soap operas have now officially jumped the shark.
WORST 4. Rust and Bone
If this French tale of a sea-world performer (Marion Cotillard) whose legs get chomped off by a killer whale had been made in Hollywood, it would have been shamelessly sappy — and therefore infinitely preferable to director Jacques Audiard’s punishingly austere ramble.
WORST 3. House at the End of the Street
Bad horror films can’t just be dismissed as trivial when they litter our screens every other weekend, and this one is bottom of the blood barrel, perhaps because it’s trying to be Psycho and Twilight at the same time.
WORST 2. 2016: Obama's America
To call Dinesh D’Souza’s ugly and fraudulent election-season propaganda film rabidly right-wing would be to give it too much credit, since the film’s point of view (Barack Obama is a secret anti-colonial radical!) isn’t so much conservative as insane.
WORST 1. John Carter
A brain-numbing sci-fi origin story, this disaster of arid pulp storytelling, loincloth acting, and CGI overkill seems to fuse every bad trend in Hollywood fantasy films of the last 20 years.