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The Master, Argo and Lincoln are in my top 10 movies of the year

Philip Seymour Hoffman is The Master and Joaquin Phoenix his newest disciple in my choice for best film of the year

Happens to me every year. The comic books take over the summer, three other months are dumping grounds for weak films and a late-year rush of quality titles seems to be too little, too late. Then, looking over the whole year, I’ve got too many for a 10-best list. The final cull is stressful.

For instance, I wish I had room for more documentaries.

Note that I’ve only included films that have played here in a regular engagement. I’ve seen very good potential candidates like Zero Dark Thirty, The Impossible and Amour that won’t be here until January. They’ll just have to wait.        

These 10 deserve this spot.

THE MASTER: I didn’t, as I expected way back in late September, see a better film the rest of the year. Powerful acting by Philip Seymour Hoffman as the leader with the answers and Joaquin Phoenix as the feral war vet who joins his Cause, a precise conjuring up of a post-world war two United States and an intelligent script that is actually about something makes this one both spellbinding and unsettling. Audiences didn’t rush to it but I see the film critics in London and Chicago (a man named Ebert among them) gave it more nominations than any other.

ARGO: The real version (according to two memoirs) of what we used to call The Canadian Caper is a supremely entertaining mix of comedy and suspense. In 1979, our ambassador in Iran shelters six Americans as revolutionary guards try to find them and the CIA sets up an elaborate ruse to get them out of the country.

Ben Affleck leads the movie, both directing it and playing the agent in the story which involves a fake movie shoot and, for our amusement, some tasty digs at Hollywood posturing. The film opens with a surprisingly truthful backgrounder about America’s shady history with Iran. 

LINCOLN: There’s nothing solemn or dry about this history lesson. Daniel Day-Lewis brings humor and folksy charm (and occasional aggressive outbursts) to his masterful portrayal of the most beloved American president during a period of crisis.

The film concentrates on just the few months when he was pushing for and slyly dealing to get slavery banned forever with a constitutional amendment. He had to prolong the Civil War to get it. Tony Kushner’s script is astute on both that moral dilemma and the tricky business of working with a recalcitrant Congress. Yes, just like today although it puts Obama to shame on one issue: his slow-motion on gun control.

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD: A dream-like film about marginalized people is made magical through an astonishingly natural performance by new comer Quvenzhané Wallis as a six year old. At heart it’s a touching story of a young girl trying to figure out her place in the world.

She and her sickly father live outside the levee near New Orleans in a squatter community that’s forgotten but permanent. When the rains and the floods come, she has to draw on her father’s teachings and her own resilience. There are surreal touches, fantasy scenes and best of all a perceptive picture of poverty in an off-the-grid community. The film is low budget, satisfying and highly recommended.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK: A crowd pleaser and a quirky spin on romantic comedy. It feels like it shouldn’t work—after all it’s to a dance contest that the film leads us and where it resolves all the problems it raises. And yet it feels fresh and fittingly agile.

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star. He’s been in a mental institution with a bipolar disorder, is adamant he’s cured but is obsessed with hooking up again with his ex-wife. Lawrence plays a widow, a self-admitted former slut, who reaches out to him on several encounters jogging in the neighborhood. To help each other, as well as his sports-gambler father (Robert De Niro), they dance their way to that competition. Very funny entertainment.

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