After a somewhat slowish start, 2011 turned out to be a terrific year for movies, some of them coming from long-established artists (Woody Allen, Werner Herzog) and others from rising stars (Thomas McCarthy, Jeff Nichols).
10. “Drive” — Ryan Gosling had a sensational year, and this seductively stylish film-noir was the high point. Please don't confuse it with Nicolas Cage's atrocious “Drive Angry.” (Cage had an awful year.)
9. “Win Win” — Writer-director Thomas McCarthy is turning into one of the sharpest, smartest filmmakers around, as evidenced by this superb comedy –drama built around morally conflicted wrestling coach Paul Giamatti.
8. “Buck” — This has been a terrific year for documentaries, and director Cindy Meehl’s look at real-life “horse whisperer” Buck Brannaman is one of the very finest.
7. “Certified Copy” — Forget “The Tree of Life”: The year’s most devilishly entertaining puzzle was this offbeat examination of the tricky relationship between Juliette Binoche and William Shimell.
6. “Beginners” — Love has many faces (and multiple definitions) as father and son Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer sort out their histories in director Mike Mills’ heartbreaker of a comedy.
5. “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” — Director Werner Herzog leads an unforgettable, enthralling tour of France’s Chauvet Cave, which houses stunning paintings from the Paleolithic era.
4. “Shame” — Deeply disturbing, yet ulimately hypnotic, director Steve McQueen’s eerie portrait of a sex addict (Michael Fassbender) and his aimless, tormented sister (Carey Mulligan) chills the soul.
3. “Midnight in Paris” — After a decade or so of hits and misses, Woody Allen comes back strong with a lovably loony tale of a writer (Owen Wilson) who gets a chance to consult with his idols, thanks to a bit of Parisian magic.
2. “Take Shelter” — Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain and Kathy Baker are riveting in this spellbinding thriller-parable from writer-director Jeff Nichols about a man plagued by apocalyptic visions.
1. “The Artist” — A silent film in 2011? Yes, but what seems like a goofy gimmick quickly evolves into a hilarious, touching and enchanting tale of Hollywood life in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
“The Artist,” “Take Shelter” and “Shame” are slated to open locally in early 2012, which gives us something to look forward to. As for these terrific runner-ups, many are still in theaters, or on DVD:
“We Need to Talk About Kevin”
“Martha Marcy May Marlene”
“Into the Abyss”
Must we take the sour with the sweet? In no particular order, here is a bumper crop of bad news, a few musts-to-avoid at Netflix:
“What’s Your Number?”
“Jack and Jill”
“Take Me Home Tonight”
“Battle: Los Angeles”
“Conan the Barbarian”