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Check out the films that kept us coming back to the box office all year long

Shaun Harrison
best-of-movies-magic-mike1.jpg
1 of 15 Claudette Barius /Warner Bros. Pictures

Magic Mike

Make all the jokes you want, but Channing Tatum's semi-autobiographical stripping dramedy is more than just a guilty pleasure. Steven Soderbergh being the director ought to have been clue No. 1. Unlike many other films, Magic Mike knows exactly what it is — a fleshy, shameless romp — and doesn't try to be something it's not, all the while delivering a new take on the American Dream. If anything, it's taught us that we can have our (beef)cake and eat it too.
2 of 15 John Bramley/Summit Entertainment, LLC

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Charming, introspective and delicately observed, Stephen Chbosky's adaptation of his 1999 novel is the coming-of-age story done right. Logan Lerman's shy 15-year-old Charlie is endearingly relatable, while Emma Watson brings a refreshing honesty to what could've been a clichéd pixie dream girl. Hermione who?
3 of 15 Universal Pictures

Ted

Seth MacFarlane's feature film debut (directed, produced, written by and voice-starring him) is so ridiculous on paper — it's about the bromance between a manchild (Mark Wahlberg) and his talking teddy bear (MacFarlane) — that only the ingeniously perverse Family Guy creator could make it work. Making the film riotously funny, weird and crude would be entertaining enough, but MacFarlane manages to, uh, stuff the raunch-fest with enough heart to have us feeling a little warm and fuzzy.
4 of 15 Alan Markfield/TriStar Pictures/Film District/End Game Entertainment

Looper

Time-travel movies aren't original, but what is original is director-writer Rian Johnson's clever, dark script, the intricate scaffolding of which reveals itself to be much more than just Joseph Gordon-Levitt trying to kill his future self (played by Bruce Willis). Gordon-Levitt nails Willis' mannerisms, while Willis does what he does best: be a badass. The true breakout, though, is child actor Pierce Gagnon, whose hauntingly precocious performance forebodes a very bright future.
5 of 15 20th Century Fox

Life of Pi

Ang Lee did the impossible: He made the film that was believed to be unfilmable. But beyond its lusciously breathtaking 3D visuals, the drama — based on Yann Martel's 2001 bestseller about a boy, Pi, who's shipwrecked with a Bengal tiger — is so lyrically inventive that you find yourself living Pi's adventures with him.
6 of 15 Universal Pictures

Les Miserables

Even non-theater geeks can agree that Tom Hooper's sprawling adaptation of the popular musical is an aural stunner. In a genius move, Hooper had everyone in the cast, including Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks, sing live rather than to a pre-recorded track. The result? Pure, unvarnished emotion that cannot be duplicated.
7 of 15 Murray Close/Lionsgate

The Hunger Games

Just as Twilight exits the cinematic stage, The Hunger Games enters to take over as a pop culture phenomenon. An enthralling, rousing adaptation of Suzanne Collins' bestseller, the first of a four-pic franchise wouldn't be half as good without the captivating turn by Jennifer Lawrence, who in Katniss Everdeen gave us a resolute warrior everyone can get behind.
8 of 15 Phil Bray/The Weinstein Company

The Master

Talk about a master class in acting. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman give stirring and polar-opposite performances as an unsettled war vet (Phoenix) who comes under the wing of Hoffman's eerily calm and magnetic leader of a cult called The Cause. The ballsy similarities to Scientology alone make director Paul Thomas Anderson's bold effort powerful and frightening.
9 of 15 Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The Avengers

Leave it to geek icon Joss Whedon to assemble the Marvel superhero team for one helluva entertaining popcorn flick that perfectly blends action, humor, sympathy and drama to make arguably the year's definitive escapism piece. All we can say is: You've got your work cut out for you, Justice League.
10 of 15 Jonathan Olley/Zero Dark Thirty, LLC

Zero Dark Thirty

Making Homeland's exploits look like child's play, Kathryn Bigelow's pulsating, clinical thriller about the hunt for Osama bin Laden is a masterpiece of action filmmaking, highlighted by the edge-of-your-seat raid on the Al-Qaeda leader's lair. Equally gripping is Jessica Chastain's all-consuming turn as a no-B.S. CIA analyst who will stop at absolutely nothing until she gets bin Laden.
11 of 15 Francois Duhamel/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions

Skyfall

Hands-down the best Bond film in recent years, Sam Mendes' take on 007 single-handedly reinvigorated the franchise with sleek, polished action set pieces and an engrossing plot oozing with droll humor and gravitas. Javier Bardem's deliciously evil, bleached-blond Rauol Silva is just the icing on the cake.
12 of 15 Ron Phillips/Warner Bros. Pictures

The Dark Knight Rises

An ambitious, sobering superhero flick sans much of a superhero, Christopher Nolan's Batman conclusion is a fitting end to his gritty trilogy. New additions Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard hold their own opposite Christian Bale (Bane's semi-unintelligible preaching notwithstanding), while Nolan's cinematic sleight of hand unspools twists and ultimately a sense of renewed hope in Gotham.
13 of 15 The Weinstein Company

Silver Linings Playbook

Loosely based on Matthew Quick's 2008 novel, David O. Russell's follow-up to The Fighter is a daredevil of a romantic comedy, deftly managing to find dark and gut-busting humor in a dramatic scenario: two mentally unstable people (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence) learning to embrace themselves and each other. The pair's chemistry is palpable, and both turn in fiercely intense performances, with Cooper finally fulfilling the talent we first saw in him on Alias.
14 of 15 DreamWorks Studio

Lincoln

Part biopic and part political examination, Lincoln is grand and intimate all at once, brilliantly framed by Steven Spielberg in a non-Spielberg way. Tony Kushner's jam-packed script makes the history lesson a fascinating one to learn, exposing the dirty, but necessary work needed to exact democracy. But it's the performances that truly shine. The large ensemble, which includes Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook, James Spader, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Walton Goggins, Jared Harris, Lee Pace and David Costabile, is top-notch, and then, of course, there's Daniel Day-Lewis, whose masterful turn as the 16th president will be studied for ages.
15 of 15 Keith Bernstein/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Argo

Crackling with suspense and surprising humor, Ben Affleck's tautly crafted political thriller — about the real-life rescue of six U.S. diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis under the guise of a low-budget sci-fi movie — is the rare adult flick that's accessible, smart and just damn good. Armed with a superb cast (including Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Victor Garber, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Clea DuVall and Christopher Stanley), the film not only cements Affleck as one of the best directors today, but proves that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction and a Hollywood ending is not always improbable.