One of the few indulgences film critics allow themselves (having long sworn off the popcorn) is the year end “ten best list.” I don’t know how my colleagues determine their favorites, but my list – which ranges from the popular to the obscure – has always consisted of movies that so excited or moved me that when people asked me over the course of the year what was worth seeing, these were the titles that came to mind. The honorable mentions are some of the other films I enjoyed, but these were the ten that I found myself recommending (in no particular order):
UP IN THE AIR – Jason Reitman has become a director to watch after this, “Thank You For Smoking” and “Juno.” He seems to have an affinity for charming people in untenable situations. (Anyone who thinks Wes Anderson’s films pass for profundity will likely have little use for Reitman.)
AVATAR – I’m a science fiction fan. I do know the difference between movies and reality. When I came out of “Platoon” I felt this was the closest I was ever going to get to war. With “Avatar” I feel this is the closest I’m going to get to visiting another planet.
GOOD HAIR – Shame on Roadside Attractions for not promoting this fascinating and eye-opening documentary on African-American women and their hair.
THE STONING OF SORAYA M. – Shohreh Agdashloo stars in this devastating drama about the treatment of women in today’s Iran. An important, painful film.
DISTRICT 9 – A science fiction movie about aliens as second-class citizens in South Africa. The irony is palpable, but that’s only the beginning. An impressive debut by director Neill Blomkemp.
INVICTUS – South Africa again, with Clint Eastwood directing Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela. I’ve gone from dreading Eastwood’s movies to considering him one of America’s greatest living filmmakers.
ADVENTURELAND – A coming-of-age story that proves that Kristin Stewart and Ryan Reynolds can act when they have the material (Jesse Eisenberg, in the lead, is good too). The film’s final scene was the most memorable romantic moment in the movies all year.
IN THE LOOP – If you crossed Monty Python with “The West Wing” you’d get “In the Loop,” a savage satire about British and American politics that deserved a wider audience.
UP – I was stunned when a local critic dismissed this as “sentimental.” The opening montage was one of the greatest tributes to love seen this year. Except for “Cars,” Pixar continues to set the standard in contemporary animation.
ME AND ORSON WELLES – He won’t get the Oscar, but the best performance by an actor this year is Christian McKay’s astonishing turn as the young Orson Welles.
Honorable Mentions: Watchmen, Star Trek, Julie & Julia, Inglourious Basterds, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Informant!, Zombieland, Pirate Radio, Defamation, Planet 51, The Young Victoria, The Princess and the Frog, Sherlock Holmes.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.