One of the defining characteristics of art is that it is something upon which not everyone agrees.

That was certainly true for those on Crosswalk’s movie review panel in 2012.

Perhaps it was because there were no runaway choices for animated or family viewing (witness how Pixar ruled our Top 5 from 2006-2010 (see "Related Articles" in the right-side margin) but hasn’t appeared since). Or maybe it was because this was a year where several highly-rated movies (think Looper or Silver Linings Playbook) were seen as original or inspiring by some, overly violent or unnecessarily vulgar by others. We also noted that some films (see: Life of Pi, The Master) which attempted to explore the issue of religious faith – normally a winning theme around here – delved too far outside Christian orthodoxy or morality for the comfort of some.

Whatever the case, when we gathered our 8-person panel of reviewers and editors as we do every year, there were only four films that were named on over 50 percent of the ballots. Not only that, both our Movie of the Year and our third-place film were given less-than-stellar reviews from the respective critics assigned to them! Truly, you just never know how it’s gonna shake out when you combine art, subjective opinions, and the luck of the draw...

10 The Secret World of Arrietty, Walt Disney Pictures / Studio Ghibli

The Secret World Of Arrietty

"What makes Studio Ghibli films so special? They leave room for viewers to consider what they’re watching. They don’t hit you over the head with manic action scenes, bathroom humor or pop-culture references. They don’t insult you. They’re not beneath children or adults. They make you see things in new ways. And they’re beautifully animated... The Secret World of Arrietty is a solid Studio Ghibli effort, a story about small people with big hopes. Give it a chance and it will enhance your sense of wonder. It might even make you feel like a kid again" (from Secret World of Arrietty is a Small Wonder, by Christian Hamaker, 2/17/12).

Why It's Here: In a year where most family fare was standard and stale, this unique story stood out as imaginative and different. Where some viewers saw conflict in how the tiny people called Borrowers must "steal" to survive, others saw themes of sticking together as family, and learning to trust those who are different.

Zero Dark Thirty, Columbia Pictures

"[Jessica] Chastain portrays Maya as a petite but formidable powerhouse of brains and will, whose instincts are better than experience – not because of what she feels in her gut but because of how she thinks. This is the kind of role and performance that recalls Jodie Foster in her Oscar-winning prime. Through and by the end of it all we see the toll it takes on Maya, and personally it’s a high one. The film is smart enough to not ask if the toll is worth it or not; it simply allows Chastain to show us that toll. It’s inspiring and heart-breaking" (from Zero Dark Thirty Humbles as it Inspires, by Jeffrey Huston, 1/11/13).

Why It's Here: Kathryn Bigelow's tense treatise on the hunt for Osama bin Laden is not so much "entertaining" as it is educational and grateful. It offers a rare insight into the world of intelligence and counter terrorism, one based in unpleasant realities rather than immediate vengeance and super-spydom. The questions it prompts about justice, mercy, sacrifice, and torture are its legacy.

The Dark Knight Rises, Warner Bros. Pictures

Dark Knight Rises to the Occassion

"The Dark Knight Rises is a heavy but rewarding movie-going experience... Anchored by solid performances, even cooler Bat gadgets than usual and a strong sense of mission, it’s one of those rare films that ends even more spectacularly than it began… If [Christopher] Nolan and his cohorts don’t get some Oscar love for this, they’ve been robbed" (from The Dark Knight Rises to the Occasion, by Christa Banister, 7/19/12).

Why It's Here: The first two installments of Nolan's Bat-trilogy made our lists in 2005 and 2008. While not as good a film as 2008's The Dark Knight, DKR is a fitting, satisfying way to complete the tale of this very human hero who is willing to do whatever it takes to save the people and the city he loves. Called by some the "most conservative" film of the year, Dark Knight Rises wraps up Nolan's vision in the best way possible.

Wreck-It Ralph, Walt Disney Pictures

Wreck-It Ralph

"A ‘love letter to video games,’ …the beauty of this film is its broad-based appeal. Kids will love the fast action, underdog-makes-good storyline, and the peek inside the world of video games. Adults will enjoy revisiting the games of their youth and the cleverly realized universe the characters inhabit. The writing is extremely clever, especially the many pop culture references and groan-producing visual puns... The animation is as good as you’d expect from a Disney film" (from Wreck-It Ralph Simultaneously Fresh, Retro, by Susan Ellingburg, 11/2/12).

Why It's Here: As you'll see below, the majority of our panel felt this was the best of the 10 animated movies we reviewed on Crosswalk in 2012. Sarah Silverman's vocal work was phenomenal, as was the subtle pro-life message that her character, Vanellope von Schweetz, does indeed have a purpose despite being called a glitch who shouldn't have been allowed to exist. Lead character Ralph's own quest to prove that not all bad guys are "bad guys" is similarly admirable.

Beasts of the Southern Wild, Fox Searchlight

Beasts Of The Southern Wild

"Gritty Realism is nothing new in movies, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything that could be described as Gritty Surrealism—until now... Director Benh Zeitlin’s first feature is nothing short of stunning, and while his cinematic inspirations are easy to spot (from Terrence Malick’s elegiac tone to the dreamlike visions of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman) his eye is no less distinct. Beasts of the Southern Wild boasts a major new voice in American cinema, one that holds as much promise as any debut in memory" (from Beasts of the Southern Wild a Stunning Debut, by Jeffrey Huston, 6/29/12).

Why It's Here: In a word: strength. Director Zeitlin came strong in his debut feature film, with strong images that evoke a strong reaction. 6-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the value of strength to survive in a part of America that can hardly be believed to exist, and which could get washed away with the next big rain. This story is simultaneously (and paradoxically) unique and familiar, real and fantastical, local and universal.

CrosswalkMovies.com: Top 10 Movies of 2012 from crosswalkmovies on GodTube.

Moonrise Kingdom, Focus Features

Moonrise Kingdom

"Scouting exists to prepare kids for life. While it does that well, its preparation is limited to what’s practical, tangible, can be comprehended and mastered, defined controlled, and rewarded. Young love is the opposite of all those things. It's difficult to understand, to articulate, or know what to do with, and there is no institution… that can fully prepare kids for all that adolescence opens… An absolutely gorgeous film to look at, earthy yet fantastical, an exaggerated form of reality that feels like a life-sized play set. It has the feel of a fairy tale, but for a mature audience" (from Artful Moonrise Kingdom a Story of First Love, by Jeffrey Huston, 6/22/12).

Why It's Here: Moonrise Kingdom was the favorite film of the year for three members of our panel. It's also not the first time a Wes Anderson movie has done well on our list: The Fantastic Mr. Fox won top honors in 2009. The no-win situation that is adolescent first love is put into a setting that is its own metaphor of impossiblity: running away together on a small island. There is a beautiful suggestion that the Innocent know more of love than the mature, experienced, and jaded adults who must track the youth down for their own good. But this is no annoying, bitter, kids-know-everything stick in the eye; it's a reminder of what once was for each of us, and still could be. The ending, which takes place atop a church in a storm, provides an unforgettable visual of how the generations learn to trust each other (and not let go) just in the nick of time.

Argo, Warner Bros. Pictures

Argo

"Unabashedly patriotic portrayals of government servants are rare, and Argo is an intelligent film about intelligence agents, minus the sanctimony and political score-settling of other recent films dealing with a similar subject... That makes Argo, in the middle of an endless political season, refreshingly unpolitical" (from Inspiring Argo Could Have Used More Intrigue, by Christian Hamaker, 10/12/12).

 Why It's Here: In Argo, Director Ben Affleck crafts an engaging thriller based on the true story of a group of American diplomats forced into hiding when an Islamic revolution erupts in 1970s Iran. Affleck also stars in the film as Tony Mendez, one of the CIA’s unknown heroes, who hatches the unlikely scheme of convincing the Iranians that these Americans are actually a Canadian film crew in Iran scouting a location for a science fiction film. Alternately touching and intense, with plenty of humorous moments too, Argo thoughtfully tells the story of a forgotten bit of history with style and skill.

Les Misérables, Universal Pictures

Les Misérables

"Several recent films have tackled big questions of religion, God, and spirituality... But in Les Misérables, it is hardly a question of where to find God. It would rather be a challenge to miss seeing him! He drenches the characters and the landscapes. He weaves in and out of the story... everything would be drastically different without [his] presence. Christians today would do well to absorb the stories that Les Misérables tells about love, grace, and God’s heart for the downtrodden" (from Finding God and Grace in Les Misérables, by Debbie Wright, 12/19/12).

Why It's Here: If you have to ask, you probably aren't familiar with any iteration of Victor Hugo's classic. This is a story tailor-made for an audience familiar with the concepts of grace vs. law, of how deep love and forgiveness go, of how alone the pursuit of justice can leave us. It may not be a perfect version (depending on how you feel about every line being sung and the actors doing the singing), as was the opinion of our reviewer (see: Les Miz Tries Hard but Peaks Too Soon, by Christa Banister, 12/24/12), but Anne Hathaway is expected to take home Oscar gold, and Hugh Jackman's sold-out, grueling performance brought even harder-hearted men to tears.

Lincoln, Dreamworks Pictures

"Really about so much more than the man himself. Flashes of humor, whip-smart dialogue and arresting cinematography make it entertaining, but it’s the celebration of something even greater than Abraham Lincoln himself that makes the movie stick with you. Constantly pointing to the Source of the ideals Lincoln espoused - love, justice and equality for all - the audience learns even more about what made the President so committed to the cause, despite facing countless obstacles. No doubt, faith plays an essential role" (from Lincoln is One Stunning History Lesson, by Christa Banister, 11/15/12).

Why It's Here: Spielberg's portrait of America's beloved 16th president is the kind of history lesson you don't mind watching. Even though you know the whole time that Lincoln's bill will pass, and what the ultimate fate of the President is, you're captivated by the grit of the actors and the quiet strength of the script. This peek into Lincoln's personal life (especially his relationship with Mary, played commendably by Sally Field) makes you ponder the flawed hero in a new way. Daniel Day-Lewis brings the picture together with his committed, down-to-the-last-detail performance of the brooding but witty Lincoln. Without him, the movie might have been just another film to enjoy and move past. Day-Lewis's spark makes you remember Lincoln long after you leave the theater.

And our movie of the year for 2012 is...

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Warner Bros.

An Unexpected Journey

"Many things can be drawn from J.R.R. Tolkien's tiny story. There are multiple examples of kindness, bravery, and wisdom, but… perhaps the most significant lesson to learn before going is the difference between a mission and an adventure. Where The Lord of the Rings was a quest to save the world, The Hobbit is an adventure to explore it. And while it may not be quite as epic as Jackson's original trilogy, this prequel contains a bit more charm, an appropriate touch of innocence... and perhaps even a dash of whimsy... This is one hopeful journey that should not be missed" (from The Start of an Adventure Begins with Meeting the Cast & Crew of The Hobbit, by Ryan Duncan, 12/7/12).

Why It's HereAs mentioned at the beginning of the article, we did indeed run a negative review of this film when it opened in December (see: Peter Jackson's The Hobbit Rings False, by Christian Hamaker, 12/13/12). But as it turned out, nearly every other person on our panel fell in love with it. Can any journey through Middle-Earth be all bad? Aside from romance, this movie had it all: beautiful settings, danger, intrigue, humor, innocence, a chance to see old beloved characters in action again, simple themes of the value of home, getting outside our comfort zones, saying no to greed, and more. An Unexpected Journey is a film that can be enjoyed by the entire family, and one which leaves you both exhausted and wanting more, which thankfully is to come this December.

***

We also asked each of our panelists to list out their picks for the winners of various categories below. Each person's "Honorable Mention" is the film that was highest-rated on his or her personal list which didn't end up making it into the overall Crosswalk Top 10.

Christa Banister, Film Critic
Honorable Mention: Silver Linings Playbook
Best Animated Film: Wreck-It Ralph
Best Family Film: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Best Date Movie: Ruby Sparks
Best Action/Super Hero Movie: Action - Looper; Hero - Dark Knight Rises
Best Film About Faith: The Master
Favorite Female Performance: Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Favorite Male Performance: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Ryan Duncan, Crosswalk.com Entertainment Editor
Honorable Mention: Chronicle
Best Animated Film: Rise of the Guardians
Best Family Film: Wreck-It Ralph
Best Date Movie: Moonrise Kingdom
Best Action/Super Hero Movie: (tie) Chronicle & Dark Knight Rises
Best Film About Faith: Les Misérables
Favorite Female Performance: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Favorite Male Performance: Martin Freeman, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Susan Ellingburg, Film Critic
Honorable Mention: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Best Animated Film: Wreck-It Ralph
Best Family Film: Brave
Best Date Movie: The Vow
Best Action/Super Hero Movie: The Avengers
Best Film About Faith: Les Misérables
Favorite Female Performance: Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Favorite Male Performance: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Christian Hamaker, Film Critic
Honorable Mention: Looper
Best Animated Film: The Secret World of Arrietty
Best Family Film: The Secret World of Arrietty
Best Date Movie: Silver Linings Playbook
Best Action/Super Hero Movie: Action - Looper; Hero - The Avengers
Best Film About Faith: Life of Pi
Favorite Female Performance: Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Favorite Male Performance: Bruce Willis, Looper

Jeffrey Huston, Film Critic
Honorable Mention: Looper
Best Animated Film: Wreck-It Ralph
Best Family Film: Brave
Best Date Movie: Hope Springs
Best Action/Super Hero Movie: Skyfall
Best Film About Faith: Les Misérables
Favorite Female Performance: Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Favorite Male Performance: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Shawn McEvoy, Managing Editor, Crosswalk.com
Honorable Mention: Life of Pi
Best Animated Film: Wreck-It Ralph
Best Family Film: The Odd Life of Timothy Green
Best Date Movie: Under 35 - The Vow; Over 35 - Hope Springs
Best Action/Super Hero Movie: The Avengers
Best Film About Faith: Life of Pi
Favorite Female Performance: Kara Hayward, Moonrise Kingdom
Favorite Male Performance: Suraj Sharma, Life of Pi

Stephen McGarvey, Senior Director of Editorial
Honorable Mention: Ruby Sparks
Best Animated Film: Wreck-It Ralph
Best Family Film: Brave
Best Date Movie: Moonrise Kingdom
Best Action/Super Hero Movie: Dark Knight Rises
Best Film About Faith: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Favorite Female Performance: Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Favorite Male Performance: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Debbie Wright, Crosswalk.com Family Editor
Honorable Mention: The Master
Best Animated Film: The Secret World of Arrietty
Best Family Film: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Best Date Movie: Moonrise Kingdom
Best Action/Super Hero Movie: Dark Knight Rises
Best Film About Faith: Les Misérables
Favorite Female Performance: Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Favorite Male Performance: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

***

The following were the reviews most-read by you, our audience, in 2012:

1 The Hunger Games
2 Marvel's The Avengers
3 The Dark Knight Rises
4 The Vow
5 Brave
6 Snow White and the Huntsman
7 Lincoln
8 Joyful Noise
9 Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
10 Unconditional

Publication date: February 8, 2013