The Top Ten lists are out for 2011 so I would like to add my three cents to the conversation. Here in a pretty close order from bestest to best are my selections. (Please comment and add some of yours.)
1. Margin Call - The rhythm of the conversation and the incredible actors delivering it made this perhaps the most riveting film of the year for me. Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto and Demi Moore wait for The Boss to come and fix the problem, so he better be good. Jeremy Irons is. The scene of him eating quietly from a view perched in the clouds while Spacey approaches is memorable.
2. The Way - Under-seen and in my opinion under-appreciated, this beautifully photographed film made its protagonist feel alive again and me as well. It reminded us that the thrills of travelling lie just as much in the people we meet as the places we go. Emilio Estevez deserves much credit for this and father Martin Sheen deserves an Oscar nomination.
3. Win Win - We tend to forget films from earlier in the year but this feel-good one gave us a believable story with no easy answers. Paul Giamatti was terrific as the father and wrestling coach, and it showed that the young star was a wrestler turned actor rather than the other way around. Rent it if you haven't seen it.
4. Le Havre - What's wrong with a fable now and then? We're so attuned to something going wrong, people being bad that it's hard to expect a nice film sometimes. But this one will stay with you - especially the relationship between the old man and the young boy.
5. The Descendants - I liked that they made the young people the level-headed ones in this film. Clooney's character is all over the place and yes, what was his wife doing with that nincompoop, but director Alexander Payne gets the setting right and the mood. Good cameo from Beau Bridges and nominations to come for father and daughter?
6. The Artist - What an incredibly inventive film! A silent take on the silent-into-talkies era with modern themes. Wonderful chemistry between the two French leads make us root for them (okay the dog helps), and fun performances from John Goodman and James Cromwell. Penelope Ann Miller where have you been?
7. Midnight in Paris - Thoroughly entertaining, it's Woody's best film in years. The portrayals of Hemingway and Fitzgerald hit just the right marks, and the evocative mood of Paris made me want to jump on the next jumbo jet. Marion Cotillard is exquisite - just saw A Good Year again with Russell Crowe and didn't even realize it was her.
8. Nostalgia for the Light - Hard to mix dramatic films and documentaries but I will include two of the latter. This film from Chile began with gorgeous shots of the Atacama Desert and the amazing astronomy taking place there. Then it drifts to interviews with some of the astronomers, one of whom lost her parents to the Pinochet regime - she was raised by her grandparents. The juxtaposition works perfectly and it becomes an incredibly moving film.
9. Bill Cunningham New York - Watching this 80 year-old or so photographer bike recklessly around Manhattan is a site to behold. And then watching him through the years just adds to the delight. Look at his editing, when they make him switch apartments, when he covers a gala. It's all about the work. Is he gay? You'll have to watch for the best answer to that question that I've ever seen. It's a touching film.
10. (Tie) The Guard - Why not? Brendan Gleason has never been better and Don Cheadle plays it down enough to make it feel right. It's very very funny and works on many levels. Has a satisfying ending and makes me ready for a sequel where he gets to romance the beautiful foreign woman.
10. Hedgehog - It's such a beautiful and unseen film that I couldn't leave it off the list. Try to rent it if you can.
Other films I liked: Beginners, Kid With a Bike, My Week With Marilyn, Hugo, Moneyball, Of Gods and Men (why it couldn't it have been a half hour shorter?) and a French comedy I can't think the name of (older guy, younger woman). And I still need to see The Illusionist and A Separation.