Here are my picks, and there are more than 10.
1. The Artist–No surprise here. From the moment we saw it in Cannes, it was clear that Michel Hazanavicius had made a unique, refreshing piece of art. A silent film? Black and white? Who wants to see that? And yet, some people who’ve seen it were convinced they heard talking. Ha ha. That’s because Hazanavicius’s characters and the story are so well drawn that the audience is never bored, only completely entertained. The fun, too, is in picking out all the other cinema references. And the more times you see it, you realize that Berenice Bejo, James Cromwell, and John Goodman are as important to the piece as Jean DuJardin and Uggie.
2. Moneyball–The best movie from the Toronto Film Festival, where there was a lot of competition from George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, et al. But Bennett Miller has given Brad Pitt the greatest gift–he’s let him be a character actor in a lead role. I do believe this is Pitt’s Sandra Bullock year. As Billy Beane, he’s able to be the hero and the underdog. He IS this movie and you can’t take your eyes off of him. He carries the whole film, and not because of his looks. Miller, meantime, has made a lasting baseball movie that captures the poetry and agony of the sport.
3. Midnight in Paris-Woody Allen, much written about. A luscious, pleasing dessert.
4. War Horse- Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the Michael Moopongo children’s book is every bit as good as the stunning theater presentation with puppets. Spielberg gets knocked a lot. He makes all this stuff look easy. After all, he also has “Tin Tin”– and in different medium. Drat. Well, Spielberg has succeeded. It’s very annoying. And “Lincoln” will be great next year. But for now “War Horse” remains a stunning achievement.
5. The Ides of March/The Descendants— two movies bound together by George Clooney. What a year for him! He directed and co-starred in the first, starred in the second. “Ides” disappointed some because it seemed tame. But Clooney got a lot of great performances from an all star cast. Not just Ryan Gosling, but Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman in the same film. It’s like watching Batman and Superman work together. As for The Descendants–it’s an exceptional drama, on a par with “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Shoot the Moon,” and “Ordinary People.” Judy Greer, Shailene Woodley and Beau Bridges make it even more impressive.
6. Beginners/Martha Marcy May Marlene–The two best entries from last year’s Sundance Film Festival gave hope to the independent film world. Mike Mills’ sweet story of his father has produced accolades for Christopher Plummer, now the lead candidate for Best Supporting Actor. And Sean Durkin’s rough tale of a girl trapped in a cult turned Elizabeth Olsen into a surprise budding star. Now, if only the upcoming Sundance can give us more or better, we’ll be lucky(and equally surprised).
7. Hugo – Martin Scorsese’s passion for film history and film preservation gave us this innovative–and popular–3D tale about a boy and a famous filmmaker. Those flying papers really make it. And so do (much too small) cameos from Emily Mortimer and Sacha Baron Cohen.
8. The Help— Not a great book, but a damn good movie. So many terrific performances–Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Emma Stone. There are criticisms that it’s the white girl’s take on the stories of the help, but you know what? At least it was told. Maybe there will be more elaborations from African American writers. But for the time being, “The Help” is well made and well told.
9. A Dangerous Method/Shame– This was the breakout year for Michael Fassbender, who also appeared in X Men: First Class. David Cronenberg’s “Method” is a small movie, but it’s also a gem. Fassbender, Viggo Mortenson, and Keira Knightley are excellent. “Shame” is a another story altogether. Steve McQueen II is an auteur who is an acquired taste. “Shame” is brutal, boring, fascinating, and frustrating. Sex has never seemed so dull. At least we know Fassbender gets to the gym. But I don’t think anyone ever wants to see it again.
10. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol— Okay, I really liked this big commercial studio film. Tom Cruise is fine, but the additions of Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, and Simon Pegg really made Cruise so much more tolerable. And Brad Bird’s direction is superb. “Ghost Protocol” is fun and even though it’s preposterous–it’s okay. It was nice to see commercial product placements too. Who thought that would ever happen?
11. Movies that didn’t quite work, but had some great performances too: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Rooney Mara), J. Edgar (Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer), Drive (Ryan Gosling and Albert Brooks), The Tree of Life (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain), Win Win (Paul Giamatti), My Week with Marilyn (Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh), The Iron Lady (Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent), Exremely Close and etc (Max von Sydow) and –yes!– The Devil’s Double, a cool film that was dropped by Lions Gate like a hot potato, with a terrific turn from Dominic Cooper.