Sometimes it feels like the year's very best films all come out at once in November and December. Looking at these five gems, including a violent noir starring Brad Pitt and a crowd-pleasing comedy from Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, there might be some truth to that theory.
"THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE": is a tough and perfect feature documentary by Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah, and David McMahon about a tough and imperfect moment in Manhattan history: when a group of boys went "wilding" in Central Park in 1989, a jogger was raped and the police put two and two together and got five. Like a reverse view of "Law & Order," the movie captures how these dark-skinned boys were rammed through the system, made to fit the crime by a team of detectives, convicted without physical evidence based on confessions given under duress -- and an entire city fanned on by tabloid newspaper covers allowed a shameful miscarriage of justice to occur. Many know about the convictions — so many fewer know that the accused were set free when a single serial rapist already in the police system confessed to the crime years later.
"BLANCANIEVES": is that other retelling of the Grimm Brothers' "Snow White" (no Kristen Stewart, no Julia Roberts), and that other film in black and white, and that other film that's virtually silent — and one of the absolutely most original movies of 2012. The Spanish entry for Best Foreign Language Film, directed by NYU-educated Pablo Berger, is the stunningly visual story of a doomed toreador's beautiful daughter who encounters with bullfighting dwarves before facing down her frightful stepmother. Ole!
"KILLING THEM SOFTLY": finds Brad Pitt going dark, very dark in Andrew Dominik's Boston noir about a mob enforcer assigned to clean up after a pair of bumbling amateurs (Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn) rob a mafia-protected card game, and sign their own death warrant in poker chips. Pitt plays the killer low-key and jaded, as an outsider who looks at the presidential race — the movie takes place during the Obama vs. McCain election — and sees no hope, no change for guys doing dirty jobs like his.
"SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK": pairs Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper as star-crossed suburban lovers dealing with grief and loss and lunacy — while entering a competitive ballroom dance competition. Directed by "The Fighter's" David O' Russell, the movie scored the Toronto International Film Festival audience award, an honor previously bestowed on "Slumdog Millionaire," "American Beauty" and "The Kings Speech." The quirkily cheerful star-driven comedy — Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver play Cooper's parents -- is the rare movie that pleases audiences and critics.
"A ROYAL AFFAIR": represents the intense, sexy Danish version of a BBC costume drama about an enlightened British royal, Princess Caroline Matilda (Alicia Vikander), who travels to Copenhagen at 15 to become the queen to the crazy King Christian VII of Denmark. Once there, appalled by something that is rotten in the state of her husband's mind, she embarks on an intellectual and sexual affair with the king's doctor and chief adviser (Mads Mikkelsen). The movie echoes Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette" in its treatment of the ways in which aristocratic brides may have been daughters of privilege but were still used as chattel in the European game of thrones. Odds are that the gorgeous, heady Danish entry will land in the final five Best Foreign Language film nominees.
[New on Yahoo! Movies: 'Skyfall' Insider Access & 'Breaking Dawn Part 2' Insider Access]
Follow Thelma Adams on Twitter (@ThelmAdams)