- 1. The Sessions *
Don't be put off by a man with polio who escapes his iron lung for six "sessions" with a sex surrogate. This small, intimate and profound true story tackles big issues - life, love, sex, death, disability and religion - with a refreshing frankness, humour and heart. And while it's far from showy Oscar-bait, John Hawkes and Helen Hunt deserve Oscars for their brave, warm, myth-busting performances.
- 2. Hugo *
Fittingly, the oldest movie on my list (it was released early January) is about old movies, the art of cinema and storytelling itself. The romantic Parisian train station is gorgeously shot in 3-D and seen through the eyes of an orphan child. Martin Scorsese delivers an ode to his favourite topic - movies - and proves he's a master filmmaker at the top of his game and triumphing beautifully.
- 3. The Master *
It's not particularly fun to watch, but Paul Thomas Anderson's so-called "Scientology movie" is another art-house masterpiece. It tackles the cult of religion in the US and while maddeningly oblique it will reward patient viewers willing to delve deep into its many troubling layers. And it only gets better with repeat viewings. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman are more electric than Tom Cruise could ever hope to be.
- 4. Argo *
Hollywood's new "it" guy Ben Affleck is now three-for-three after Gone Baby Gone and The Town. Yet this is his most mature, sophisticated effort yet. As director and star here, he brings an incredible true rescue story to the screen with palpable rising tension and draws a thin line between politics and Hollywood with sardonic comic relief. Ben, you're officially forgiven for Gigli and Pearl Harbor.
- 5. Skyfall *
"Bond . . . James Bond." Yes, a 007 film in my top 10. Why? It's masterfully directed by Oscar-winner Sam Mendes (American Beauty) and gorgeously shot by Roger Deakins. It has the best Bond villain of all in Javier Bardem's homosexual creep and the meatiest story and script of any Bond film, where traditional techniques tangle with modern methods. It's the best Bond film ever.
- 6. The Grey *
Yes, Liam Neeson punches a wolf in this primal, macho survival story, but there's more to it than that. It's a deeply moving and almost existential meditation on life or death, as a group of all-male plane crash survivors struggle to escape a pack of territorial wolves (it's the wolf pack versus the man pack) and face their imminent, ugly deaths. Neeson lost his own wife in the snow, and channels that grief here.
- 7. 50/50 *
Shamefully, this indie gem went straight to DVD in WA. Based on Will Reiser's real-life battle with cancer, it's perhaps the first comedy about cancer, and nails the delicate balance between humour and pathos. It stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anna Kendrick and Reiser's best friend Seth Rogen, and gets the loneliness, fear and hysteria of the disease just right.
- 8. The Raid: Redemption *
This Indonesian martial arts smackdown is the best pure action film in years thanks to its refreshing preference for brutal hand-to-hand martial arts combat rather than the now de rigueur computer-aided effects. The premise is beautifully simple, the apartment block setting is a character of its own and the fight scenes are as natural, fluid and nasty as it gets. Can't wait for the prequel.
- 9. Undefeated *
This small US documentary only played at Perth's Revelation Film Festival, so seek it out on DVD. It follows a poor, win-less Afro-American high school football team - and three players in particular - as their dedicated volunteer coach takes them through a (possibly) undefeated season. An inspiring, profound document on dedication, human spirit and forging better lives. Several scenes will wreck you.
- 10. The Dark Knight Rises *
Slipping the Batman's end game into No. 10 was a margin call (and ironically bumped Margin Call out). But it gets the nod for being a fitting end to the best superhero saga ever and an epic, sprawling, gloriously shot and intensely personal blockbuster (and how many part threes can say that). It also has the bravest and best final scene of any film in 2012.
- HONOURABLE MENTIONS *: Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Artist
- WORST: * Act of Valor