Posted on 13 February 2013.
With awards season in full swing, it’s time for the Media Review Office of Catholic News Service to select its top 10 movies for 2012.
Some of these choices have been or will be saluted by secular critics and prize-givers, principally for their aesthetic qualities. Others are celebrated here primarily for their spiritual and moral strengths.
Following, in alphabetical order, are our picks, accompanied by the film’s CNS classification and Motion Picture Association of America rating.
The top 10 overall:
Brian Cranston and Ben Affleck star in Argo. (Photos © Catholic News Service)
Based on real events, the engrossing thriller Argo is set against the backdrop of the Iran hostage crisis. Tasked with rescuing the handful of U.S. embassy employees who managed to escape capture when that facility was overrun, a CIA agent (Ben Affleck) plots to smuggle them out of Tehran disguised as a Canadian film crew scouting locations. Affleck, who also directed, masterfully alternates between life-or-death drama and high-stakes humor (A-III, R).
Chasing Mavericks is the compelling fact-based portrait of gifted California surfer Jay Moriarity (Jonny Weston). Co-directed by Curtis Hansen and Michael Apted, it offers viewers – particularly teens – a refreshingly positive role model in the person of a young man who inspires others with his inherent sense of goodness, perseverance and self-discipline (A-II, PG).
The lavish conclusion to director Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises initially finds billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) injured, exiled and grief-stricken. Yet, inevitably, he finds himself pulled out of retirement. Nolan’s script, co-written with his brother Jonathan, evinces a surprising amount of humanity and emotion (A-III, PG-13).
The Iron Lady is a touching dramatization of the life of Britain’s first woman prime minister Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep). Shuttling between the present day, with Thatcher suffering from dementia, and flashbacks recounting significant passages in the ex-leader’s life, director Phylidda Lloyd’s film is sympathetic yet fair (A-III, PG-13).
A vibrant, faith-driven blend of comedy, drama and music, Joyful Noise focuses on the sometimes raucous, but ultimately friendly, rivalry between two leading members (Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton) of a small-town church choir. Writer-director Todd Graff’s generally uplifting celebration of traditional values emphasizes trust in God and illustrates the positive effects of compassionate and forgiving behavior (A-III, PG-13).
Les Miserables is a lavish screen adaptation of the worldwide musical stage sensation, based on the Victor Hugo novel and directed by Tom Hooper. Inspired by the kindness of a bishop (Colm Wilkinson), an ex-convict (Hugh Jackman) assumes a new identity and amends his life, all the while evading the obsessive pursuit of his former jailer (Russell Crowe).
A positive portrayal of Catholicism makes this rousing film especially appealing to viewers of faith (A-III, PG-13). (See Page 23 for Father Lauder’s take on this film.)
In the exotic fable Life of Pi, an Indian teen (Suraj Sharma) whose family is emigrating to Canada and transporting some of the animals from the zoo they owned in their home country, becomes the lone human survivor when the freighter they are traveling on sinks. Religious themes are central to director Ang Lee’s screen version of Yann Martel’s best-selling novel (A-III, PG).
Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln
Daniel Day-Lewis’ bravura performance in the title role of Lincoln is the highlight – but by no means the only asset – of director Steven Spielberg’s splendid historical drama. The plot focuses on the president’s passionate yet wily struggle to steer a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery through Congress. The trajectory of the tale is, by its nature, uplifting, while Lincoln’s multifaceted personality is vividly illuminated in Tony Kushner’s screenplay (A-III, PG-13).
In People Like Us, a basically good-hearted but less-than-scrupulous businessman (Chris Pine) faces a moral dilemma when he discovers, in the wake of his long-estranged father’s death, that he has a half-sister (Elizabeth Banks) and that Dad left secret instructions for him to convey a large cash bequest to her.
Director and co-writer Alex Kurtzman’s low-key blend of comedy and drama, based on real events, delivers a thoughtful examination of its main characters’ struggle to overcome a legacy of dysfunction (A-III, PG-13).
Scene from Salmon Fishing in the Yemen with Amr Waked, left, and Ewan McGregor
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is the story of a billionaire Arab sheik (Amr Waked) with a seemingly impossible dream: to transport the titular activity to the Arabian Desert and thereby build a peacemaking bridge between East and West. Lives are transformed along with nature in director Lasse Hallstrom’s screen version of Paul Torday’s novel, a charming blend of comedy and drama that also promotes the value of religious faith (A-III, PG-13).
John Mulderig is the assistant director for media reviews at Catholic News Service.