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August 2014

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Don't miss these great 2012 blockbusters

If the Golden Globe nominations provide any insight into the Oscar race, then there a number of movies from 2012 that you'll want to make sure you see.

We took a look back at our movie reviews from 2012. Here are some of our top picks (reviews edited for space).

Silver Linings Playbook

Reviewed by JR Radcliffe

With its late-November release, this film feels to me the way "Little Miss Sunshine" did in 2006 (though the latter movie was released in August before earning a Best Picture nomination). Both are stories about messed up people who care about each other, and portraits so genuine that they're capable of building Oscar attention as the little engines that could. The comparison between "Sunshine" and "Playbook" fits right down to the plot, with both movies culminating in a much-anticipated dance recital. Pat (Bradley Cooper) has agreed to assist Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) in said recital in exchange for a favor as he desperately tries to reconnect with his estranged wife, Nikki, after his release from an eight-month stay in a mental hospital.

Both characters are damaged. Pat's undiagnosed bipolar disorder caused an outburst of aggression that put him in court-ordered confinement, and Tiffany has developed an inappropriate coping mechanism after the death of her husband. They're surrounded by a colorful crew of friends and family with their own issues. Pat's father, Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro), is unreasonably obsessed with the Philadelphia Eagles; mother, Dolores (Jacki Weaver), is tender but enabling; Tiffany's sister Veronica (Julia Stiles) is cold and disapproving. The story zooms in on everyone coping with Pat Jr. coming home and trying to steer him from his fixation with Nikki.

Lawrence is especially charming in a bold yet vulnerable role that represents another step forward for her rapid ascent in the industry. Lincoln

Reviewed by Marilyn Jozwik

"Lincoln," the latest film about our 16th president, directed by Steven Spielberg, fleshes out all aspects of the man.

The film avoids the typical, elaborate Hollywood epic treatment - soaring music, overly dramatic speeches, overdrawn, bloody battle scenes. Like Lincoln himself, the film is measured and understated. It lets the audiences see how Lincoln suffered - and reveled - in all his roles: president, husband, father. It tells the big story through well-selected details. The horror of war, for instance, is shown when Lincoln's son, Robert, follows a man pushing a covered cart that is dripping blood outside an infirmary. When the man comes to a stop, he removes the cover to reveal that the cart is full of human limbs, which he deposits in a pit.

Daniel Day-Lewis has the unenviable task of portraying Lincoln, the subject of many previous movies. Yet no one, perhaps, has portrayed the man with more humanity than Day-Lewis. The crux of the film is Lincoln and his team, led by Secretary of State William Seward (David Straithairn), as they use every political trick in the book, and perhaps some that aren't, to gain a two-thirds majority of the House to pass the monumental 13th Amendment.

Lincoln's cohorts, and Lincoln himself, visit congressmen and cajole, promise and even threaten to get their votes. The movie exposes how ugly politics can be in order to achieve something good. It also shows just how savvy Lincoln was, even when he may have seemed obtuse.

Not to be forgotten is a wonderful supporting cast (led by Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones as Lincoln's political ally) who give Day-Lewis a solid canvas to paint the perfectly imperfect president.

Argo

Reviewed by Marilyn Jozwik

Thank goodness for the wide swath of humor that cuts through "Argo." Without it the tension in the film, which deals with the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, might be unbearable.

The film masterfully relives the improbable plan to rescue six Americans who slipped out of the U.S. Embassy during its takeover by Iranian protesters angry over America's support of the shah, who had sought asylum in America.

The six Americans are hiding at the home of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). Though the Iranians are holding 52 Americans at the embassy and aren't initially aware that six escaped, it's only a matter of time before they track them down. If caught, the six could face torture or death at the hands of the brutal regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

The perfectly pitched tension lays the groundwork for the appearance of top-notch CIA agent Antonio Mendez (Ben Affleck), whose unconventional style, unparalleled patriotism and record of success make him the perfect choice to devise a plan for this dangerous rescue. From the knit brows of the state department personnel handling the crisis, "Argo" then moves to Hollywood. Mendez's plan is to travel to Tehran posing as a Canadian film producer. He meticulously creates six new Canadian identities for the six Americans - screenwriter, cameraman, set designer, etc., working on a fake science fiction film, set in the Mideast, called "Argo."

The fake film also is carefully constructed, going through all the steps of a new production, starting with Mendez's old friend, makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman), and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin). Mendez, with the help of Chambers andSiegel, leaves no stone unturned in the fake film's construction. He and the six Americans will be questioned many times about their presence in Iran and any crack in their carefully crafted facades could mean death.

Affleck, who doubles as the real film's director, couldn't be better. His character is a focused and intense - just what the film needs.

Salmon Fishing in Yemen

Reviewed by Jim Stevens

"Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" is a romantic comedy with a twist of political satire.

There is a sheik from Yemen, who, let's say, has a boat load of money, owns an estate in Scotland and is a salmon-fishing enthusiast. So much so he wants to build a river for salmon in the mountainous region of his native land. The project not only indulges his passion, but he believes it will also create jobs and opportunities for his people by irrigating the desert.

The sheik, played by Amr Waked, (who has a bit of a young Ben Kingsley about him) has an irreverent, spiritual/religious philosophy about life.

The sheik's silly, absurd plans are brought forward to the British government by Harriet (Emily Blunt), whose firm represents his highness. Patricia Maxwell, press secretary to the British prime minister, is desperately seeking a positive story as chaos abounds in the Middle East, creating tensions with western nations.

Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas) spews venom at those around her and insists the government will lead the way with the project, which calls for 10, 000 salmon to be transported to the desert.

Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor) is handed the task of trying to recreate a Scottish environment in Yemen, which he initially describes as a folly. Alfred and Harriet then become partners in the project. Alfred has adysfunctional marriage, and Harriet's boyfriend was sent to Afghanistan. They develop what may be best described as a polite romance.

Zero Dark Thirty

Reviewed by Melissa Graham

Fact or fiction, the film "Zero Dark Thirty" is downright troubling.

It isn't about the attacks on Sept. 11. It really isn't about the moment that bin Laden was captured, either. After all, we were there and most of us can remember exactly what we were doing when we first heard about the Twin Towers or Navy SEAL Team 6. The title of the film actually comes from the military jargon used to describe 12:30 - the exact time when Navy SEALs raided bin Laden's compound and the film is about what led to it.

In almost three hours, director Kathryn Bigelow tells the world about the manhunt between those two points. It's about the intelligence agents and military officers who worked around the clock and around the globe to find and eliminate Osama bin Laden through any means necessary.

The movie begins with sounds from 9/11; the sounds of people trapped in the World Trade Center.

And just like that, it jumps to a gut wrenching torture scene.

"This is what defeat looks like," says actor Jason Clarke, who plays the CIA field agent leading the so-called interrogation.

Another observer comes forward, removing a black hood and revealing her wild red hair. Jessica Chastain, who plays Maya, is the key CIA investigator who is determined - scratch that - obsessed with finding bin Laden. The spectacular film begs some poignant questions and thoughtful conversation - albeit, purely fictional - but it was very dark and deeply troubling.

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