I was thinking of calling this “my favorite movies of the year,” which is altogether different than saying “the best movies of the year.”
For instance, I was absorbed by “Melancholia” despite a lifelong respulsion to Kirsten Dunst, and I thought it was original and profound — so profound that I didn’t completely understand what it was trying to do. I would call it one of the “best” movies, though, for advancing the medium and for entertaining us.
One of my favorites? No. I don’t ever, ever need to see it again, although some moments from the movie will no doubt stay with me. For this list I wanted to include movies that were innovative, whompingly entertaining, and connected with me personally. See them all!
10. “The Artist”
Let’s just get this one out of the way, because every single critic has it on their list, and it has been so overhyped at this point that if you haven’t seen it yet, it will almost certainly be a disappointment. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a once-in-a-lifetime movie. When I left the screening for this silent experiment, I didn’t want to talk; it was strange to hear any noises at all. It was, as they say, transporting. And stars Berenice Bejo and Jean Dugardin are smashing. (Fun French fact: “Jean Dugardin” translates to “John of the Garden.”)
9. “Arthur Christmas”
You have to be a confident filmmaker to add to the canon of Christmas classics, but “Arthur Christmas” is the kind of movie I’d watch every year. I love animated movies that create an entirely new world (see: “Monsters Inc.”), and here we met the Christmas family, which hands the Santa title from generation to generation. My favorite character was Grandsanta (voice of Bill Nighy), who is given to saying things like, “I remember when they tried to teach women to read!” A close second would be Bryony the elf-ette, who’s voiced by Ashley Jensen; she was incredibly endearing in HBO’s “Extras” with Ricky Gervais. You’ve gotta love a woman whose main weapon is scotch tape. Take that, girl with the dragon tattoo!
I heartily endorse any trend that results from this movie. I miss those celebrity-heavy disaster movies from decades past, and actors Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, and a frothing-at-the-mouth Gwyneth Paltrow legitimized this effort. (Another theory: They were just paid really well.) I thought “Contagion” was educational in showing how a pandemic starts, too. If nothing else, more people are washing their hands now.
I don’t think there’s a man alive who loves movies more than Martin Scorsese, and he pours a lot of passion into this sweet homage. The 3D effects are outstanding, Sacha Baron Cohen has perhaps the greatest limp in cinematic history, and it’s set in Paris. I can’t really ask for more.
6. “Crazy, Stupid, Love”
I don’t fully understand the comma placement of the title, and it’s not a perfect movie — but there are quite a few perfect moments in it. Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling have the kind of tender bromance I enjoy, and Emma Stone continues her campaign for world domination. Best of all, there’s an adorable role for Analeigh Tipton, who is now perhaps the most successful talent to come out of “America’s Next Top Model.” I know: bold words!
There’s a special place in heaven for movies that completely win you over, even if you are determined not to like it. I heard “martial arts championship” and immediately recoiled as visions of Jean Claude Van Damme danced in my head. I was wrong, and I apologize. It’s too bad this movie had to follow “The Fighter,” which probably stole its thunder. But Nick Nolte is very Nick Nolte in this, and I became a borderline scary fan of Tom Hardy. (Two words: young Brando.) I will honor this movie, although there were others I was dreading, only to walk out of the theater euphoric: “Real Steel” and “Conan the Barbarian” (seriously) deserve props, too.
4. “Young Adult”
My thoughts on this movie are still simmering. I’d like to see it again, maybe because I’m not sure why I liked it so much. Charlize Theron is incredibly unlikable as former prom queen Mavis — even more unlikable than her Oscar-winning serial killer role, come to think of it. I like that writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman had the clout to get this made. It’s a good sign for Hollywood, isn’t it? Mavis doesn’t redeem herself whatsoever, but the audience has an epiphany or two. Bonus points for Patton Oswalt’s role as “Hate Crime Guy.”
3. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”
So I’ve got a dark side. I devoured the three books about Lisbeth Salander, and I mourned the late author who wasn’t able to finish the series. The Swedish film didn’t really need to be remade, but matching director David Fincher to the project is too intriguing to resist. I’ve watched “Seven” more times than I ought to have, but even I felt like Fincher didn’t need to be quite so explicit with some of the abuse scenes. (Rooney Mara, I wish you a nice ensemble romantic comedy in the new year.) Really, though, Fincher captured the tone of the book perfectly.
2. “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”
I will admit upfront that I have recently had a Sherlock Holmes phase, kick-started by the fact that his writings are free on Kindle. Read The Sherlockian by Graham Moore, and then come back.
Right? Holmes is one of the most sacred characters in fiction, and I like that Guy Ritchie respects the original character, while updating him as a coke-addled rock star. The casting of Robert Downey Jr. is just brilliance. There were enough show-off director shots during the fight scenes to keep me from tuning out, and you can never go wrong putting your hero in drag. I loved the movie, and I completely understand now why Madonna bore Ritchie’s child (Rocco!).
I had a strange year with an extremely distinct low point, and I happened to see this movie right after that. “Bridesmaids” made me laugh until I cried, and the characters were so screwed up that I actually felt better about myself. Kristen Wiig was a revelation, proving that she can act in addition to mugging on “Saturday Night Live.” Her friendship with Maya Rudolph couldn’t have been more real. That part where they’re dancing and mouthing the words at the end? That’s exactly the kind of thing me and my best friend would do. Melissa McCarthy should be retired (like a basketball jersey) for creating the vulgar, wrist-braced Megan. How do you top that kind of genius?
This was a year of many mediocre movies with great acting (I’m looking at you, “J. Edgar”). I can’t name these movies “the best,” but the actors were amazing: George Clooney in “The Descendants” and Michelle Williams in “My Week With Marilyn.” They deserve a do-over.