It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Top Ten list time! I saw 55 films this year. That’s definitely more than a lot of people, but not as many as some (I’m talking to you, Brian). Of those 55, some were clear standouts. I like to think I have pretty broad tastes in films that I like, so you’ll see a little bit of everything on this list.


Honorable Mentions: Argo and Silver Linings Playbook
Wait, wait, wait… just honorable mentions, you say? YES. I saw some truly outstanding films this year, including Argo and SLP. But they’re going to make ALL the top ten lists, and while I really enjoyed them, they didn’t quite make the cut. Nonetheless, if you’re at all into year-end lists or the Oscars, catch these two solid, well-made films with great stories and wonderful performances.


#10 – Pitch Perfect
On one hand, I have refined tastes in movies – but on the other hand, deep inside I’m still a squealing teenage girl who loves a light-hearted movie with a great soundtrack and cute lead characters. That, my friends, is Pitch Perfect, a sort-of feature length episode of Glee set in the world of competitive collegiate a cappella. Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin and the always hysterical Rebel Wilson look (and sound) like they’re having the time of their lives in this flick. Take it for what it is: FUN.


#9 – Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey
This rock-doc tells the “real life fairy-tale” of Filipino Arnel Pinada, the lead singer of iconic American rock band Journey. Nope, not Steve Perry – the NEW front man, who was discovered on YouTube. And seriously? He’s incredible. If you close your eyes, you’d swear you were listening to Perry; Pineda is a supreme talent, but maybe more importantly, he’s a nice guy who you root for throughout the entire story. So far, the film does not have a distributor (I caught it at the Traverse City Film Festival this summer), but keep it on your radar for 2013.


#8 – The Queen of Versailles
I don’t want to say too much about this film, because I don’t want to get sued for libel. But I will say that I have never seen a movie that’s so disgusting and yet SO FUN. This documentary about super-rich real estate magnate David Siegel and his wife Jackie and the decline of their empire during the 2008 economic crisis shows how the “other half” lived at a time when so many were struggling. David and Jackie struggled, too – but oh, how sweet it is to watch them fall from the top.


#7 – Elena
I booked this Russian family drama for the theater’s inaugural Cinetopia International Film Festival sight-unseen, based only on reputation, good reviews, and a solid relationship with the distributor. So I feel like this was “my” film. When I finally watched it, I was blown away. It’s so quiet, and so real, and there’s a shocking scene that had me saying “no, no, NO!” aloud but then laughing in uncomfortable horror. (FYI, I saw it at home alone – I try not to talk during movies at the theater.) I loved it so much; if you didn’t catch it during Cinetopia, see it as soon as you can.


#6 – Your Sister’s Sister
This movie has THE FUNNIEST sight gag I’ve ever seen. For that one scene alone, this film could have made my top ten list. But it’s also incredibly well written, and the performances by Emily Blunt, Rosemarie Dewitt and Mark Duplass shine.


#5 – The Hunger Games
Loved the book, loved the movie. It’s not just for teens, folks.


#4 – The Raid: Redemption
Badass Indonesian cop goes toe-to-toe (or fist-to-fist, as the case may be) with the most evil landlord ever on film. SUPER violent (I spent at least 30% of the movie cringing in my chair with my eyes closed) but absolutely brilliant. Truly not for the faint of heart or stomach.


#3 – The Sessions
This remarkable true story of paralyzed poet Mark O’Brien losing his virginity (at age 39) with a sex surrogate is absolutely charming. Helen Hunt is delightful as Cheryl, the sex surrogate that works with Mark to get in touch with his body and his emotions, and William H. Macy as Mark’s priest turns in a sharp, comedic performance. But it’s John Hawkes who carries the film. His portrayal of the paralyzed Mark, primarily restricted to an iron lung and capable of moving a tiny number of muscles, is brilliant. He barely moves, and he’s perfect.  I’ve been saying it since January: John Hawkes for the Oscar. (Darn that pesky Daniel Day-Lewis playing Abraham Lincoln.)


#2 – West of Memphis
This documentary tells the chilling story of three eight-year-old boys killed in West Memphis, AR, in 1993, and the three teenagers wrongly convicted of killing them. I saw the film this summer at the Traverse City Film Festival, and was supposed to lead a Q&A with the filmmaker after the screening – but I was sobbing when it finished and needed a few minutes to pull myself together. I found the story so horrifying on so many levels, and I caught myself shaking my head in disbelief numerous times during the screening. This film is just beginning its theatrical run, and I can’t say enough good things about it. See it as soon as you can.


#1 – Beasts of the Southern Wild
I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild at Sundance in January, and I got chills during the opening sequence. But I got a little nervous that the rest of the movie wouldn’t meet the high standards of art and beauty and sheer joy I felt from those first five minutes, and I was actually concerned. Turns out I didn’t need to be. The film has been lauded by critics more learned and noteworthy than I, and all the praise is well deserved; from start to finish, I was completely invested in the characters and their stories, and the performances by unknown, local actors were heart-breaking and breathtaking. I may never have  a cinematic experience like the one I had watching Beasts, and I think it’s a movie will talk about for years to come.


— Amanda Bynum, Director of Programming for the Michigan Theater