Some people try to come up with the “best” films of the year. Me? I just pick my favorites—movies that move me artistically or emotionally or simply provide me with some bang-bang entertainment. Oh, and this top-10 list? It goes up to 11.
The Descendants: Alexander Payne’s new film is fully grown, avoiding the existential quirkiness of Election and Sideways, which makes for an even more intense emotional punch. George Clooney is terrific as a man trying to be the only responsible party in a family tragedy, even though it’s almost killing him to do so.
The Double Hour: This Italian thriller is smart and sophisticated, about a security guard who falls for an immigrant woman at a speed-dating event. But when they’re the victims of a robbery gone bad, it becomes almost impossible for the audience to know who or what to believe, a problem shared by the characters.
Drive: Ryan Gosling gets gonzo in Nicolas Winding Refn’s stylish thriller. This throwback to the 1970s is brutal and intense and features a turn from Albert Brooks that you don’t see coming.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: I may have to turn in my Cynical Hipster card over Stephen Daldry’s new film. An awkward little boy whose father (Tom Hanks) died on 9/11 scours New York searching for a lock that a key his dad left behind might fit. You’ll either find it phony or heartbreaking.
Of Gods and Men: Devastating look at a group of French monks who are told to leave Algeria during the rise of Muslim extremism during the 1990s. Based on a true story, this film is an amazing examination of faith shot through a secular lens.
Hugo: Martin Scorsese makes a PG-rated 3-D movie, and hell doesn’t freeze over. This celebration of the history of cinema, as explored by a French orphan running the clocks in Paris’ central station, uses new technology and has Ben Kingsley and Sacha Baron Cohen in wonderful supporting roles.
Into the Abyss: Werner Herzog spends no more than an hour with most of his subjects and delivers a Herzog-esque examination of the death penalty that manages to be both tragic and funny, uncovering eerie insight without telling you what to think.
Midnight in Paris: Remember when Woody Allen movies were fun? It’s been a while, but Midnight in Paris is a return to form, with unexpected leading man Owen Wilson as a writer who pines for Paris’ past, only to discover himself living it. It’s charming and whimsical, as Allen slyly comments on his own career.
Project Nim: Director James Marsh digs into the archives to tell the story of Nim, a chimp who was raised like a human child in the 1970s, until his keepers had no more use for him. It’s a tale that spans decades of tragedy and unfairness, and it’s a film that would make a great double-bill with Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
The Tree of Life: You don’t have to fully understand Terrence Malick’s masterpiece to appreciate it. It’s the story of life, the universe and everything, an exploration of how little context we have about ourselves, our families and our place in the world, all told through the story of a family in Texas in the 1950s. Far and away the most important and ambitious film of the year.
Warrior: Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are estranged brothers who must go head-to-head in a mixed-martial-arts, winner-take-all fight. It’s a sports movie that embraces every sports movie cliché, features tremendous battles in the ring and showcases an amazing performance by Hardy, as well as Nick Nolte, who redeems himself by playing their father.
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