7. Not since “Training Day” has Denzel Washington been as powerful a presence as he is in “Flight,” playing Whip Whitaker, an ace airline pilot whose life is spinning out of control on booze and other drugs, especially after a real runaway nose-dive and crash landing (one of the most realistic and stomach-churning sequences in air-disaster movie history) kills four of his passengers and two crew members, possibly resulting not only in the permanent grounding of his career but a lengthy prison term as well. Most of the powers that be know the crash was caused by a faulty aircraft and that few pilots could have made that emergency landing with so few fatalities, but there are airline officials who want to blame the tragedy on Whit. From an original script by John Gatins, Robert Zemeckis directs a taut, involving drama featuring a priceless John Goodman as Whip's wisecracking dealer, Kelly Reilly as the emotionally scarred recovering addict with whom Whit becomes involved, and Washington, profoundly convincing as an angry, deeply flawed man who may ultimately be a true hero, depending on a decision that could save or ruin his life. He's already earned a Golden Globe nod for this one.
8. Between his “Good Will Hunting” screenwriting Oscar in 1998 and his well-received directorial debut with “Gone Baby Gone” in 2007, Ben Affleck as an actor has been associated with a lot of movies, good (“Hollywoodland”), bad (“Surviving Christmas”) and awful (“Gigli”), none bringing him great respect. Then he helmed and this time starred in another well-reviewed effort, “The Town,” in 2010, which upped his stock even more. Now with “Argo,” Affleck has arrived as a “good looking kid” turned “world class director.” Co-producer George Clooney and Entertainment Weekly have said so, so it must be true. It is. Based on actual events occurring during the 1979-80 Iran hostage crisis, Affleck plays CIA agent Tony Mendez, who concocts a scam to enter Tehran as a Hollywood producer, carrying false I.D. for six Americans who escaped the American Embassy and are hiding in the Canadian ambassador's residence. Now under the guise of location scouts for a phony sci-fi movie, the six, led by Mendez, attempt to slip out of the country before they are caught and possibly executed. Loaded with suspense and solidly constructed, with hilarious support from Alan Arkin and John Goodman as jaded Hollywood vets willingly helping the cause, this was easily the best thriller of the year.
9. As bipolar teacher Pat Solitano in writer-director David O. Russell's marvelously manic romantic comedy “Silver Linings Playbook,” Bradley Cooper whips out razor-sharp comedic (and dramatic!) acting chops only hinted at in the “Hangover” movies. Already admired for her “serious” roles in “Winter's Bone” and “The Hunger Games,” Jennifer Lawrence knows how to play for laughs, as well, as recently-widowed neighbor Tiffany. Just out of the loony bin, Pat's obsessed with winning back an ex-wife who has a permanent restraining order against him; Tiffany is dealing with her grief by “having sex with everyone in my office.” She's smart, demanding, needy, foul-mouthed and abrupt, yet they hit it off — in a combative sort of way — but he remains stubbornly faithful to the ex who cheated on him. Can love eventually bring two damaged people together? Russell's nutty take on emotional pain and healing makes for one of the most original and ultimately poignant rom-coms in years, and Robert De Niro steals many a scene as Pat's superstitious sports-fanatic father, who offers no sane anchor whatsoever — until he grows up.
10. When the proud producers of a 50-year-old franchise hired Oscar-winning Sam Mendes, director of a contemporary tragedy like “American Beauty” to helm the 23rd installment of their series, what they got was the darkest, grittiest and downright gloomiest chapter in the long, charmed life of Bond, James Bond. And that's a good thing, because “Skyfall” is the best of this spy-thriller line since 1964's “Goldfinger,” and Daniel Craig is once again the darker, tougher, more ruthless version of 007 that creator Ian Fleming originally intended. A platinum-haired Javier Bardem fashions the darkest, scariest villain our super agent has ever faced; we learn something of Bond's dark origins in Scotland; there's a lot of heart-stopping action, very few Bondian gadgets and a lot less of the usual cynical playfulness; and, yes, there is tragedy at the end. Did we mention it's dark? It's also dynamite.