Courtesy Warner Bros.
En español | Who knew the 1979 Iran hostage crisis would make for a crackerjack escape flick? Director Ben Affleck meticulously re-creates the late '70s in unspooling a little-known tale of international trickery that mixes diplomatic intrigue, spy agency bureaucracy and winking Hollywood satire.1 of 12
Courtesy The Weinstein Company
'Silver Linings Playbook'
It's being sold as a romantic comedy, but the real silver lining is that this movie is much more. Sterling performances from Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver as a dad and mom struggling with their adult son's bipolar disorder make it a touching, darkly funny family drama.2 of 12
Vision/Cordelli/Getty Images3 of 12
Steven Spielberg has directed hit movies about aliens, sharks and dinosaurs, but Lincoln might be his most impressive trick. He turns a legislative procedural into something downright thrilling, featuring astounding work from Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones.4 of 12
In this unflinching French film, a long-married couple deals with the wife's brutal spiral toward death by a debilitating disease. Yes, it's difficult to watch. It's also rewarding and impeccably acted by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, 85, delivering the year's bravest performance.5 of 12
Fox Searchlight/Everett Collection
'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel'
It's a trifle, really — but what a trifle! A Who's Who of seasoned British thespians form an impressive ensemble in this breezy story of retirees who, for disparate reasons, move to India to take residence at the neglected hotel of the title. Unexpected adventures and connections loom, plus a refreshing message: Growing older is far more rewarding than just getting older.6 of 12
Courtesy Fox Searchlight
Set around the making of Psycho, it's neither a biopic of Alfred Hitchcock nor a behind-the-scenes look at his famous horror film. It's a love story about the tempestuous relationship between the director and his wife and collaborator, Alma Reville. As Hitchcock, Anthony Hopkins waddles about with creepy aplomb, but it's Helen Mirren who lingers as Alma, a strong woman whose life with the difficult Hitch was enough to make most of us scream.7 of 12
Courtesy Fox Searchlight
The plot sounds like an after-hours movie-of-the-week: A 38-year-old polio-stricken man who lives in an iron lung and is still a virgin hires a sex surrogate to remove him of the latter distinction. But wait: Beautiful performances by John Hawkes and Helen Hunt and a poignant screenplay by writer/director Ben Lewin, 66, (himself a polio survivor) turn The Sessions into one of the year's sweetest little films.8 of 12
Laurie Sparham/Universal Pictures/AP
The well-loved stage musical of Victor Hugo's classic tale makes a rousing transition to the movie screen, with Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe in the iconic roles of Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert, respectively. The singing is uniformly impressive, the CGI-aided staging gigantic; watch for Colm Wilkinson, 66, the original Valjean from the 1986 stage production, in a small but key role as a kindly bishop.9 of 12
Courtesy BBC Films
Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut is a charming concoction set at a British retirement home for musicians and singers. It should be enough to simply list the fantastic actors who make up the singers in the quartet of the title — Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins and Billy Connolly — to convince you that you should see it, and soon.10 of 12
Courtesy Sony Picture
'Zero Dark Thirty'
Director Kathryn Bigelow, 61, follows up her taut, Oscar-winning military thriller The Hurt Locker with a mesmerizingly detailed, gripping tale of the post-9/11 hunt for Osama bin Laden. It's hard not to think that Bigelow — as an older, female director in Hollywood — sees some of herself in the film's heroine, Maya (Jessica Chastain), who challenges authority and conventional thinking on her way to acheiving what many thought an impossible feat.11 of 12
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