It’s the time of year when everyone starts arguing with me about my Top 10 list. Hey, folks, they’re only movies. And the ones here aren’t necessarily what I consider the best of the year. Simply put, they’re the ones that entertained me (or challenged me) enough to make me want to see them a second time, and the sooner the better. They’re in alphabetical order because, well, they’re the top 10.
THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN ::: Steven Spielberg certainly knows his way around animation, having produced “Monster House” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” His first stab at directing an animated feature – an adaptation of the popular Belgian comic book about a boy reporter, his dog, a pirate ship, and lots of peril – is a wonderfully crafted 3D blend of comedy, adventure, and an abundance of violence. A sequel is bound to follow.
THE ARTIST ::: From the director and star of the woefully underappreciated OSS 117 films comes this love letter to the movies, and a sad/funny look at the end of the silent era and the beginning of talkies. The film is shot in stunning black & white, and is (should I give this away? Yes.) silent. No words, but plenty of storytelling, courtesy of spot-on subtitles, and remarkable performances by Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo. Oh, and Uggie the dog.
CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH ::: Another B&W film, this one telling the horrific story of events leading up to and beyond the Japanese destruction of the Chinese city Nanking. This is raw and brutal stuff, focusing on fierce gun battles as well as on what the Japanese soldiers do to the Chinese citizens who were unlucky enough to survive the attack. Most of the film is heartbreaking and haunting, though there’s also a hint of kindness. It’s a real rarity: an art film about war.
THE DESCENDANTS ::: George Clooney hits his stride as a leading man, exuding humor, pathos, and everything between as a husband and father who’s been too busy to be a good husband and father, in the first film from director Alexander Payne since “Sideways.” Tragedy brings Clooney’s Matt closer to his daughters – one is innocent, one has been around. But the story keeps a comic edge as it moves into areas of development of pristine Hawaiian land and marital infidelity. Great performances from Robert Forster, Matthew Lillard, and newcomer Nick Krause as Sid.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO ::: Yes, it was a good decision to “Americanize” the popular Swedish thriller about a wrongly disgraced journalist, a tough-as-nails bisexual investigator gal, a mystery concerning a woman who vanished 40 years ago, and, oh yeah, Nazis. David Fincher directed this taut piece with a kind of stark, detached coldness. There’s some real squirm-inducing stuff involving rape and bondage, as well as some good old-fashioned retribution.
HUGO ::: If you haven’t seen this sweet offering from Martin Scorsese yet, first head over to YouTube and check out Georges Melies’ “A Trip to the Moon.” It’ll make watching “Hugo” all the more delicious. Based on the illustrated novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” it’s about an orphan lad who lives in a train station, and is trying to make cosmic contact with his loving dad. It’s also about the birth of cinema, and people getting a second chance. You will laugh and cry.
INCENDIES ::: When their mother dies, adult twins Jeanne and Simon are given two envelopes, one to be delivered to their father, the other to their older brother. But, wait. Their father is dead, and they have no older brother. Still, a search leads them from Canada to Lebanon. Complicated storytelling ensues, leaving most audience members as befuddled as the two main characters. As secrets are revealed, the film becomes more unsettling, leading to a rather surprising and satisfying ending.
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS ::: It always seems to take the making of a couple of OK films for Woody Allen to rise to the occasion and make a great one. This is my favorite since “Sweet and Lowdown” in 1999. This delightful flight of fancy has Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams as an engaged couple in Paris who find themselves no so perfectly matched when he starts traveling back in time to hang out with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. Don’t ask how, just do your best to get all wrapped up in it.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL ::: The fourth installment in the “M:I” series is the best, partly because it’s so snappily directed by Brad Bird, partly because Tom Cruise is back at the top of his game, partly because it’s so much slam-bang fun. The Kremlin has been destroyed, Russia is blaming the Americans, the IMF has been “disavowed,” and some crazy bad guy is ready to fire a missile at San Francisco. So, hmmm, do you think top agent Ethan Hunt and his pals will save the day? I do.
THE TRIP ::: Brit actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon go on a road trip through the north of England to check in on and write about some fancy restaurants. The two actors play two actors named Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, and seem, through an endless series of improvisations, gags, and damn good imitations of other actors, to be playing versions of themselves. Directed very loosely, by letting them do whatever they want, by Michael Winterbottom. Charming and hilarious.