One of the many nice surprises about retiring this year was getting a clearer picture of what's important and what's not.
Like Best Movies of the Year lists. Like, who cares?
When I was on the clock, paying closer attention to my responsibilities as a professional film reviewer, there was always pressure around this list. Peer pressure, for openers; film reviewers are a snooty lot with a strong herd instinct; you don't want to do anything that might leave you out there on a limb by yourself.
Then there was the matter of timing. Studios traditionally save some of their biggest award hopefuls for year's end - like "Les Miserables" or "Django Unchained" this year - meaning reviewers have to show their hands before all the cards have been dealt. Maui Film Festival's stellar FirstLight has gotten us almost up to speed with the L.A. and New York insiders, and has a perfect track record of showing the eventual Best Picture winner . . . but we still have two weeks of FirstLight to go.
Rarely - unless they're "Titanic" - are the year's "best" movies synonymous with the ones most people love. Equally fascinating is the way so many great film artists can easily move back and forth from prestige projects to pure popcorn. Try as I might to sneak in an "Across the Universe" or "Cloud Atlas," my list still winds up looking more like those of other critics, as opposed to more normal people.
Nevertheless, for film lovers, whether professional or amateur, the holidays are a season of treats - excellent acting, original storytelling, dazzling visuals as they tweak our imaginations, inspire us or just remind us what being human means.
Here are my favorite movies of 2012, somewhat in the order I saw them.
1. "Moonrise Kingdom." Writer-director Wes Anderson's cockeyed fairytale chronicles the innocent errors of first love, set on an enchanted New England island, starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Frances McDormand.
2. "The Intouchables." Francis Cluzet is the wheelchair-bound invalid and Omar Sy is his unlikely caregiver in France's irresistible Golden Globe nominee the proves the male gender has some great qualities, after all.
3. "Beasts of the Southern Wild." "Whale Rider" meets "The Tree of Life" in this apocalyptic visit to flooded Louisiana bayous narrated by Quvenzhane Wallis as one very wise 6-year-old named Hushpuppy.
4. "The Master." Any resemblance to Scientology is purely intentional in Paul Thomas Anderson's mesmerizing period look at cults, charisma and craziness starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams.
5. "Argo." Ben Affleck joins the A-list of directors in this riveting, smart, funny ripped-from-the headlines return to the '70s Iranian hostage crisis. He also stars, with Alan Arkin and John Goodman.
6. "Cloud Atlas." Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon and Jim Broadbent head a cast playing a bunch of roles each in this wiggy, mind-bending trip through history directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski.
7. "Flight." Miraculously landing a stricken airliner can't match the dangers waiting on the ground for pilot Denzel Washington in this harrowing look at addiction; directed by Robert Zemeckis.
8. "Lincoln." Relations between Daniel Day-Lewis' saintly Abe and Sally Fields' unpredictable Mary Todd are as fascinating as the politicking to pass the 13th Amendment in this reverential history lesson from director Steven Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner.
9. "Silver Linings Playbook." Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are two damaged souls, assisted by Robert DeNiro, who rewrite the romantic-comedy playbook guided by the inspired compassion of writer-director David O. Russell.
10. Can't decide between "The Hunger Games," "Life of Pi," "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "Perks of Being a Wallflower," "Pitch Perfect" and "The Sessions."
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org