Rod Lott's picks
With even fewer great movies in 2011 than 2010, I was unsure whether Id be able to find enough to fill the standard 10 slots. (Oddly, Tom Cruise to the rescue!) Im also unsure what it says about me that I know general audiences would not be able to handle four of these films, starting with the top three.
1. Drive Three months later, the adrenaline rush I received from this new crime classic has yet to subside. Its simply that electric. I highly recommend Ryan Goslings channeling of Steve McQueen cool ... provided you can stomach the elevator pancake scene.
2. I Saw the Devil Not since 1995s Seven has the serial-killer thriller been rendered so skillfully. Coming in at nearly two and a half hours, the South Korean epic is, like its subject, cold and calculated.
3. Shame While I cant say I relate to Michael Fassbenders fascinating portrayal of a sex addict, I can say I was floored by it. Not easy to forget, Shame gets under your skin and stays there. It hasnt played Oklahoma City, and with its NC-17 rating, I wouldnt hold your breath.
4. Bridesmaids Comedy is hard, but Kristen Wiig and company make it look effortless. After three viewings, its still hilarious and deserving of at least four Oscar nominations it wont get.
5. Hanna Block-rockin beats meet James Bond, but in the body of a 16-year-old girl. Its propulsive storytelling à la Run Lola Run deserves more eyeballs.
6. Dream Home Not to be confused with the Daniel Craig bomb Dream House, this Hong Kong export that never made it here addresses the countrys housing problem ($3,200 per square foot!) with a mean satirical streak and acts of startling violence. If youre a wuss for spillage, dont even try.
7. Insidious One of the few horror films that truly qualifies as horror, Insidious may be the most effective haunted-house effort since 1982s Poltergeist. Full of tangible menace, even its daytime scenes, it works like a fine-tuned, well-oiled machine all the more remarkable given its low budget.
8. Tabloid In a year of so many terrific documentaries (Page One and Beats Rhymes & Life, to name just two), this examination of a late-70s cause célèbre involving a beauty queen accused of kidnapping and raping a Mormon missionary proves the adage that truth is stranger than fiction.
9. In a Better World Not for nothing did this Danish drama take home the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar back in March. Its a shame so many people wont read subtitles, because this story hits home, despite taking place on the globes other half.
10. Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Forget Tom Cruises offscreen high jinks and give in to the pure pleasures of this Christmas present of an action blockbuster. A franchise best, it breaks into smithereens the law of sequels diminishing returns.
Phil Bacharachs Picks
Not one of the better years for movies, 2011 ultimately might wind up best remembered as the year everyone finally got a collective migraine from 3-D. Still, there were some outstanding films here and there:
1. The Tree of Life 2001: A Space Odyssey for a new generation, Terrence Malicks meditation on existence was either deeply spiritual or maddeningly pretentious possibly both depending on your receptiveness to this sort of thing. For me, this tale of parenting, death and, um, dinosaurs was one of those rare masterpieces that reveal the full power of cinema.
2. The Descendants Alexander Payne captures humanity at its most endearingly screwed-up. In his first film since 2004s Sideways, the writer/director gave audiences another bittersweet, smart and unflinchingly honest portrait of a man falling apart. In this case, George Clooney did the seemingly impossible and seemed believable as that guy on the edge.
3. Drive Stylized to the point of fetishized, Drive is a mesmerizing oddity brutal, violent and broodingly beautiful. Director Nicolas Winding Refn paid homage to 1980s neo-noir such as Michael Manns Thief and Manhunter in this thriller starring the ubiquitous Ryan Gosling as an enigmatic stunt driver mired in one of those ill-fated capers.
4. Source Code Unfairly maligned by some critics because of an obviously tacked-on ending, this sophomore effort from Moon director Duncan Jones was a simmering, surprisingly poignant brew of suspense and time-travel.
5. Hugo Martin Scorseses big, fat, sloppy, 3-D kiss to the early days of cinema. The legendary directors first foray into family-friendly territory had its flaws overlength, for one but its visual artistry packed an almost dizzying high.
6. The Artist They say silence is golden, and, not to get all Gene Shalit about it, silence just might prove to be Oscar-golden in this case. Writer/ director Michel Hazanavicius loving tribute to the movies (yes, Hollywood onanism was in vogue this year) celebrated visual storytelling while eliciting superb performances from Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo.
7. Hanna Pity the films that came out early in the year with criminally little fanfare. Hanna was a crackerjack thriller filled with memorable characters, wicked humor and tremendous set pieces, courtesy director Joe Wright.
8. Project Nim The years best documentary chronicled the curious case of Oklahoma-born chimpanzee Nim Chimpsky, the subject of a high-profile social experiment in the 1970s. Documentarian James Marsh pondered who was less evolved: Nim or the humans who did him wrong.
9. Shame Talk about your nakedly courageous performances, Michael Fassbender was all that in this quietly intense study of sex addiction at its least smirky.
10. Arthur Christmas In a generally dismal year for animation came this fresh, funny and touching gem that nicely explained all those probing questions your kids might have about Santa.