If there were ever a year to be wimpy and declare a tie, this would have been it: choosing between my Number 1 and Number 2 films was just silly. One is big, the other smaller; both are ambitious and perfectly made, but in wildly different ways. I adore them both.
Here’s what else you will and won’t find on my Top Ten. Many of the films were released earlier in the year, which means plenty of the year-end awards-bait movies were less impressive than their hype and their pedigrees suggested. (Meryl Streep is better than Iron Lady.)
And it’s not an oversight that The Artist and War Horse are missing. As I said in my Indiewire conversation with Leonard Maltin and Eric Kohn, I think The Artist is charming but in the end a well-made stunt. And War Horse? I still can’t believe that a director as inventive as Spielberg has handed us such a huge cliche.
Most important, there’s no right or wrong about Top Tens, just opinions, so please share yours.
Top Ten Films of 2011
1 of 10
10. A DANGEROUS METHOD
For the first and probably only time, I liked Freud thanks to Viggo Mortensen’s substantial yet understated performance.This Freud-Jung tug-of-war is literate and sumptuous, with a dark, pure-Cronenberg undertow.
2 of 10
9. LE HAVRE
Aki Kairismaki’s modern fairy tale about a young African boy, an illegal immigrant, taken in by an aging Finn in Le Havre and protected by the entire town (that’s the fairy-tale brotherhood part). Mordant and lovely.
3 of 10
Casting is everything, and Mike Mills made stunning choices with Ewan McGregor as a man whose relationships fail, and Christopher Plummer as his father, who comes out as gay in his 70’s.
4 of 10
7. TAKE SHELTER
In his second feature, writer-director Jeff Nichols already seems like major filmmaker. Michael Shannon is great as a family man who may be seeing signs of the apocalypse or may be losing his grip, in a psychologically potent film that taps into our everyday anxieties.
5 of 10
6. A SEPARATION
Asghar Farhadi’s complex, engrossing drama begins with a wife’s request for divorce, but is more deeply about truth, lies and responsibility.
6 of 10
Kirsten Dunst in "Melancholia."
7 of 10
4. CRAZY STUPID LOVE
One of the best romantic comedies to come along in years, with a hilarious bromance between Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell, and real romances between Gosling and Emma Stone, and Carell and Julianne Moore. Like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually, it makes you laugh and smile every time you see it.
8 of 10
3. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
Pure bliss. Woody Allen sends Owen Wilson time-traveling back to Paris in the 20’s to meet Hemingway and Fitzgerald in this smart, sparkling fantasy-come-true.
9 of 10
Martin Scorsese’s big, dazzling 3-D story about a boy who loves movies, and who discovers the real Georges Melies, swoops us into an enchanted movie world. The words “magical” and “heart” are overused, but they are the mots justes here.
10 of 10
1. THE DESCENDANTS
This endlessly touching, often comic film only sounds small. George Clooney is brilliant as the emotionally jolted husband of a comatose wife, and a suddenly single father in Alexander Payne’s eloquent, graceful, perfectly-wrought masterpiece.