I saw over 130 films on the big screen and the vast majority of them sucked. Few films caught on at the art houses, and the multiplexes were dominated by super hero movies and sequels - 9 out of the top 10 grossing films were sequels, and the only one that wasn't was THE SMURFS which should really tell you something about how sucky the year was.
However, there were a handful of excellent films, so here's my top 10 favorites:
1. THE TREE OF LIFE (Dir. Terrence Malick)
The reaction to this film has been extremely divisive (my wife hated it for example), but no other film this last year made a bigger dent into my cinematic pysche. In my review last summer, I wrote that “the visual thrust is stupefying; it’s like Malick is actually trying to capture God on film.” Read my review here.
2. HUGO (Dir. Martin Scorsese)
Scorsese's first film in 3D is very personal tribute to the magic of filmmaking, focusing on a young French boy (Asa Butterfield) who discovers the toy shop owner at the train station is the legendary Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), who has been called the world's first Cinemagician. It's a stunning and touching piece of work that is an amazing addition to Scorsese's incredible canon. Read my review here.
3. DRIVE (Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
Ryan Gosling plays a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver in this moody, stylish thriller that has a '80s retro feel. Winding Refn brings out standout performances from Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, and especially Albert Brooks, who should really get an Academy Award nomination for his turn as a murderous mobster.
4. THE ARTIST (Dir. Michel Hazanavicius)
When "talkies" start taking over cinema in the late '20s, a silent film star (Jean Dujardin) finds his fame fading while an actress dancer (Bérénice Bejo) he helped get into show business becomes a big star. It's a beautifully shot black and white (and actually silent) homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood, and I savored every second of it. Read my review here.
5. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Dir. Woody Allen)
This charming comedy, which features Owen Wilson as a writer who is somehow transported to Paris in the '20s, is Woody Allen's highest grossing film ever, and it's his best film since VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA. Read my review here.
For my full reviews of the rest – please click on the highlighted titles:
6. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (Dir. Sean Durkin)
7. PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES (Dir. Andrew Rossi)
8. 50/50 (Dir. Jonathan Levine)
9. BRIDESMAIDS (Dir. Paul Feig)
10. RED STATE (Dir. Kevin Smith)
Man, I hope 2012 is a better year for movies.