The PG's best movies of 2012

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Ben Affleck will not be running for public office -- specifically U.S. Sen. John Kerry's seat, if it opens up -- he confirmed on his Facebook page earlier this week. That is a good thing because he may be too busy doing the awards season dash, racing from one event to another for "Argo."

This year's best-of lists could make a history class curriculum, with films about the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, the final months of Abraham Lincoln's presidency and the hunt for Osama bin Laden. All will factor into an Oscar race that won't be as clear cut as last year's coronation of "The Artist."

Four movies filmed in part or full in Pittsburgh opened in 2012 -- "The Dark Knight Rises," "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," "Won't Back Down" and "Jack Reacher" -- with a fifth, "Promised Land," due in theaters Jan. 4.

"Out of the Furnace" lured Christian Bale back to town, and the movie known as "Foxcatcher" or "Untitled Fair Hill Project" brought good news: Channing Tatum, People magazine's new Sexiest Man Alive, was here and the movie needed extras; and bad: only men need apply.

As always, there were hundreds of movies with and without superheroes, vampires, Hunger Games, talking teddy bears and animated heroines, heroes and hounds to consider. But these rose to the top. :

1. "Argo"

Ben Affleck long ago proved he was no one-hit wonder, and this year he made a movie about what's been called the most audacious rescue in history -- by the real-life CIA exfiltration expert the actor plays on screen.

The thriller is part history lesson (with a little dramatic license taken, so hold the emails), part caper, part comedy and surprisingly suspenseful for a film based on actual events three decades ago. Supplying the lighter moments are Alan Arkin as a Hollywood producer and John Goodman as a makeup wizard, enlisted in a plot to free Americans hiding in the Tehran home of the Canadian ambassador in 1979 and early 1980.

Make sure you sit through the credits to see how the actors resemble the real-life people they're playing and to watch snippets of news footage. In theaters now, due on DVD Feb. 19.

2. "Silver Linings Playbook"

After going back and forth, I decided to let this movie leapfrog over "Lincoln," thanks to the elements of surprise and delight. This David O. Russell movie dances around the squiggly line between dramedy and comedy, tilting more toward the latter and radiating an authenticity about life in Philadelphia.

Bradley Cooper is a cuckolded teacher who ends up back home with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver). He and a young widow (Jennifer Lawrence) strike a deal that brings unexpected silver linings. In theaters, including five added today.

3. "Lincoln"

Will Daniel Day-Lewis score a three-peat and win the best actor Oscar for this historical drama? It's uncanny how much he looks like images of the president, portrayed in his final four months of life as he prods, pushes and politics for passage of the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery.

It's talky, takes about 20 minutes to get rolling, and presumes audiences will know the key players. But director Steven Spielberg took such care in re-creating the period that he enlisted an expert to track down one of Lincoln's actual watches and recorded the ticking employed in the film. In theaters.

4. "The Dark Knight Rises"

I was lucky enough to see this (twice, once in Los Angeles on an IMAX screen of director Christopher Nolan's choosing) before it was forever linked to tragedy in Colorado and the violence saturating society.

As Alfred (Michael Caine) says, "Maybe it's time we all quit trying to outsmart the truth and let it have its day," and the truth is, this is a rich, smart, satisfying picture.

It has nods to the first two Batman movies and uniformly excellent performances by returning and new cast members, and it deals in big themes, small details and the notion that when one door (or Batcave) closes, another opens. At Maxi-Saver, also on DVD.

5. "The Impossible"

Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star in the harrowing tale of a family of five vacationing at a resort in Thailand on Dec. 26, 2004, when the tsunami hits. The movie is based on a true story, and it almost seems like a documentary, with the family pummeled by water and debris and no initial guarantee that everyone survived and will be reunited. Opens in Pittsburgh theaters Jan. 4.

6. "Skyfall"

If he keeps this up, Daniel Craig could nudge Sean Connery aside as many fans' favorite James Bond. From its 12-minute opening chase and its Adele theme song to its recognition of a world where bytes can be more powerful than bullets, "Skyfall" does justice to its storied history, Judi Dench's M gets out from behind her desk, Bond returns to his boyhood home and newcomers join the franchise fun. In theaters.

7. "Flight"

About to face the toughest questions of his life, Whip Whitaker snaps, "Don't tell me how to lie about my drinking. I've been lying about my drinking my whole life." Denzel Washington delivers another superb performance as the airline pilot under the influence on a broken plane carrying 102 souls. "Flight" is more than a thrill ride as it delves into flawed heroes, denial, redemption, truth-telling and forgiveness. At Clearview Mall Cinemas.

8. "The Perks Of Being A Wallflower"

Stephen Chbosky told a sellout crowd at the Manor Theater that he was offered a lot of money for the rights to his 1999 novel when he was young and broke. "I just thought in my heart, if I sell it, it will never be right." It was right only when he wrote and directed the screenplay, assembled a cast led by Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller, and sent us flying through the Fort Pitt Tunnel to David Bowie's "Heroes." In theaters, on DVD Feb. 12.

9. "Zero Dark Thirty"

The torture in this movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden is hard to watch. So is the opening part of the movie that drops names and jumps around locations as though we were all sitting in a White House briefing room.

But its research, leading actress Jessica Chastain (whose performance grows stronger as her CIA operative becomes ever more impatient and obsessed) and dialogue are standouts. As one character warns: "Politics are changing. You don't want to be the last one holding a dog collar when the oversight committee comes." Opens in Pittsburgh theaters Jan. 11.

10. "The Sessions"

This is another moving, fact-based film girded by fearless performances. One is by John Hawkes as a man with polio who has a robust mind, spirit and sense of curiosity and the other by Helen Hunt as a sex surrogate who remains professional but nevertheless connects with Hawkes' Mark O'Brien, just as the audience does. On DVD Feb. 12.

Just missed:

11. "Rust and Bone"

Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts star in a gritty story about animal instincts, the working poor, second chances at love and bodies broken, battered and, just maybe, healing.

12. "Bully" -- Although missing the voices of the bullies, this documentary is shocking, informative and inspiring. "We're just a bunch of simple people. We're nobodies," insists the father of an 11-year-old Oklahoma boy named Ty Smalley who killed himself. But he and his wife started an anti-bullying organization called Stand for the Silent that eventually took them to the White House. On DVD Feb. 12.

13. "Seven Psychopaths"

In mid-October, PG critic Barry Paris called this black comedy "the most wickedly well-written and outrageously entertaining film I've seen this year." Irish playwright Martin McDonagh writes and directs this film about a struggling screenwriter (Colin Farrell) who inadvertently enters the LA criminal underworld when an oddball pal kidnaps a gangster's beloved Shih Tzu. On DVD Jan. 29.

14. "Brave"

This is the animated adventure that women and girls have been waiting for since Snow White fled into the forest or the Little Mermaid sacrificed her voice for life on land. This headstrong, red-haired princess has two living parents and isn't willing to sit idly by while young men of dubious appeal compete for her hand in marriage -- especially when her archery skills far outweigh theirs. On DVD.

15. "Head Games"

You will never watch a football, soccer or hockey game the same way after seeing this Steve James ("Hoop Dreams") documentary about the country's concussion crisis. It puts faces, including some who passed through Steelers Nation only to meet tragic and premature ends, to a subject that shows no signs of disappearing at any level of play. On DVD.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: First Published December 28, 2012 5:00 AM


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