Updated Sunday, December 30, 2012 at 07:01 AM
It’s a year-end tradition, right there with twinkle lights and New Year’s champagne: the movie critic’s annual Top 10 list. And it’s always been a source of some anxiety for me. It feels strange to rank creative works numerically, as if they’re finishers in a race — really, when I look back at the dozens of movies that thrilled me this year, they all stand alone, and can’t be compared to each other. It seems odd, too, to designate the movies that I liked best to be the best ones for you as well; we all bring ourselves and our baggage to the cinema, and experience movies in our own way.
So this isn’t a “10 Best Movies of the Year,” but just 10 movies, listed alphabetically, that were my own favorites of those I saw this year, followed by another 10 just as good. (And 10 that maybe I’ll be able to forget one day.) I hope you saw 10 movies — at least! — that you loved this year; send me your list by email, or by commenting on this story at seattletimes.com/movies, if you get a chance. Here’s mine:
“Anna Karenina.” Joe Wright’s bold, lavishly theatrical version of Tolstoy’s novel whirled like a dancer, leaving me breathless. A treasure-box of a movie. (In theaters)
“Argo.” We all knew the ending, because it’s based on actual events during the 1980 Iran hostage crisis — and yet, Ben Affleck’s taut, careful thriller kept us tense until the final moments. It’s a pleasure to watch an actor becoming, in a relatively short time, a very fine filmmaker. (In theaters)
“The Avengers.” So much zippy fun — and so marvelously cast. Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo, in particular, take a bow. (And, please, teach an acting course for superheroes.) (On DVD)
“The Deep Blue Sea.” Gorgeous, moody and heartbreaking, Terence Davies’ love-triangle drama set in war-torn London featured an incandescent Rachel Weisz, as a woman desperately resisting the idea that passion isn’t quite love. (On DVD)
“Flight.” Denzel Washington takes a difficult character — an alcoholic pilot, trying to cover up his role in a plane crash — and creates one of the year’s most memorable, nuanced portraits. (In theaters)
“I Wish.” In and out of theaters in an instant this summer, this Japanese film from Hirokazu Kore-eda was a wistful and ultimately magical depiction of children and their dreams. (On DVD)
“Lincoln.” Speaking of magic — how about how Daniel Day-Lewis became Abraham Lincoln before our eyes, in Steven Spielberg’s majestic and beautifully filmed history lesson? (In theaters)
“Margaret.” Filmed in 2005, Kenneth Lonergan’s drama about a New York teenager (Anna Paquin) struggling to understand loss didn’t arrive in theaters until early this year thanks to legal wrangling. It was worth the wait. (On DVD)
“Pina.” Wim Wenders’ beautiful goodbye to a friend: modern-dance choreographer Pina Bausch, who died as they were planning to make a film together. “Pina” shows us her art (in stunning 3D) that lives on. (On DVD)
“Ruby Sparks.” A quirky, original and funny not-quite-rom-com, about a young author who creates his dream girl on the page — and then is shocked when she shows up at his house. Little movie; big charm. (On DVD)
Ten more terrific movies, any of which might have slipped into my first ten on a different day: “A Cat in Paris,” “Bernie,” “Liberal Arts,” “The Master,” “Middle of Nowhere,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” “A Royal Affair,” “The Sessions,” “The Silver Linings Playbook,” “Skyfall,” “Smashed.” OK, that’s 11. So be it.
Best 2012 movies that haven’t opened in Seattle yet (but I’ve seen them): “Amour” (coming Jan. 25); “Zero Dark Thirty” (Jan. 4).
Ten movies I devoutly hope to never have to think about again: “Breaking Dawn – Part 2,” “The Comedy,” “Darling Companion,” “Men in Black 3,” “Playing for Keeps,” “This Means War,” “The Vow,” “The Watch,” “W.E.,” “What To Expect When You’re Expecting.”
As always, I’ll close with a wish for laughter, joy, kindness and peace in 2013 — in the movie theaters, and elsewhere.
Moira Macdonald: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-2725.
Sally Field and Daniel Day-Lewis appear in a scene from “Lincoln,” Steven Spielberg’s beautifully filmed history lesson.
Ben Affleck stars as Tony Mendez in “Argo,” which made it on Moira Macdonald’s list of 10 favorite movies of 2012.
Paul Dano as Calvin and Zoe Kazan as Ruby in “Ruby Sparks.”