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War Horse

I don’t know about you, but I’m awful at keeping secrets. The most mundane of facts—for example, whether my daughter’s Carvel ice cream birthday cake will be in the shape of Fudgie the Whale or Cookie Puss—will gnaw at my insides like the embryonic creature in Alien if presented to me with the preamble: “Don’t tell anybody.”

So it does my stomach no good when movie studios let me see long-in-advance screenings of upcoming films. This year, for example, I got to preview two of the year’s very best films, War Horse and The Artist, way back in October. I walked out of the screening rooms overwhelmed by both experiences, but with the studio rep’s dire words ringing in my head: “Any reviews of this film are embargoed until the opening date.”

I couldn’t write a single word about how Steven Spielberg so masterfully channeled his inner John Ford in War Horse, or how The Artist, a silent film black-and-white film in a 3-D Imax era, made even the most modern filmgoer yearn for a time when great storytelling required nothing more than a dark room and a flickering screen.

At last, Christmas has come, and all the best movies from a particularly rich year have finally been unwrapped. The editors of AARP The Magazine have chosen their 10 Best Movies of the Year, and I’m delighted to report it was an especially difficult assignment this time around. As diverse in subject matter, seriousness, and genres as this year’s list is, that confounded “Top Ten” label forced us to leave off some truly fine movies, any one of which in some other year might easily have made it to the top. Among them:

Melancholia: Director Lars von Trier envisions the end of the world, beautifully.

DiCaprio as J. Edgar

  J. Edgar: Leonardo DiCaprio’s terrific makeup job is almost unnecessary in Clint Eastwood’s epic biopic. He’s uncanny as he embodies the life of the FBI’s notorious, heroic director from callow youth to (somewhat) enlightened old age.

Tree of Life: Terrence Malick’s big-budget art film explores nothing less than the meaning of life and the origin of the universe.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: Sometimes-screen wildman Gary Oldman gives a breathtakingly controlled performance as John le Carré’s spymaster George Smiley doling  out emotion and revelations in eyedropper-size doses.

Robert Pattinson All Tuskered Out in “Water For Elephants”

Water For Elephants: As beautifully crafted as any film of the year. Director Francis Lawrence’s 1930s circus world—dusty, tattered, and lit by sunlight through canvas—provides a sumptuous backdrop for a heart-on-its-sleeve love triangle. And the great Hal Holbrook ties it all together with a tear-inducing bookend performance.

The Ides of March: George Clooney upstaged himself this year—if he weren’t so mesmerizing in The Descendants, we’d all be talking about the remarkable job he did writing, directing, and starring in this cooly observed portrait of the seamy underbelly of a Presidential primary race.

Mel Gibson and Friend

I’m not even getting around to the other masterful achievements of the year, including Woody Harrelson as a renegade cop in Rampart, Martin Sheen as a grieving dad in The Way, Mel Gibson in a career-redefining performance in The Beaver, Tilda Swinton, nearly impossible to watch in the intense We Need to Talk About Kevin, Eric Roth, accomplishing a seemingly impossible script with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

We could easily have included on our list films like The First Grader, The Music Never Stopped, Another Happy Day, Rango, My Week With Marilyn, Warrior, and Beginners. If you see them available in the next few months, don’t miss any of them.

Yep, it was quite a year for movies, one of the best we’ve seen since we began Movies for Grownups 11 years ago. After a decade of encouraging, cajoling, and begging Hollywood to make more movies that speak to a grownup audience and provide great roles to actors and actresses 50 and over, I do believe they’re getting the message, don’t you?

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