“Enter the Void” (Director: Gaspar NoAc)
No film this year came close to the imaginative power and awe-inspiring vision of Noe's “Enter the Void,” in which Eastern concepts of death and rebirth envelop a story of Westerners (Nathanial Brown and Paz De La Huerta) cut off from their own history and absorbed into a shockingly neon Tokyo. Everything about this movie is challenging and fresh; its cinematography, structure, use of color, score and daring subject matter only scratch the surface of this impressive work.
“Another Year” (Mike Leigh)
Leigh delivers the year's most finely crafted drama, one of the most realistic portraits of people, their motivations and emotional responses ever captured in a narrative film. The movie is also a demonstration of the difference between plot and story, turning very little of the former into a glorious abundance of the latter.
“Shutter Island” (Martin Scorsese)
The basic premise — a detective (Leonardo DiCaprio) hallucinates while investigating an asylum and mourning the death of his wife — is pedestrian on the surface, but Scorsese turns it into an engrossing thriller often deeply disturbing in its imagery and implications.
“Black Swan” (Darren Aronofsky)
Something has to be a little crazy for people to spend their childhoods perfecting pirouettes, leaps and other strenuous ballet moves. Aronofsky's film finds all those somethings and illustrates them with a brilliant performance by Natalie Portman.
“Greenberg” (Noah Baumbach)
The rare movie with an unlikeable character at its center, “Greenberg” is also an unusual portrait of L.A., filled with the anonymous strivers who live on the fringes.
“True Grit” (Joel and Ethan Coen)
A tough Western with a sly grin, the new “True Grit” continues the Coen brothers' excellent record of reinvigorating classic genres.
“Let Me In” (Matt Reeves)
Except for a couple of cringe-worthy computer generated scenes, this remake equaled the original “Let the Right One In” with its own stark and beautiful look, and more of an emphasis on the horror implications of its story.
“Down Terrace” (Ben Wheatley)
Dry even by British comedy standards, this gritty yet comical tale of a murderous clan finds a wonderful niche somewhere between “The Sopranos” and “The Office” (the British version, of course).
“You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” (Woody Allen)
Allen's most thought-provoking film in years, “Stranger” contains the sharp observations of human weakness and conniving that made his '70s and '80s hits so brilliant.
“Cyrus” (Jay and Mark Duplass)
This battle of wills between a disturbed young man (Jonah Hill) and the loveable loser (John C. Reilly) who wants to woo his mother (Marisa Tomei) refuses to give in to the usual comedy routines.
The Not Bad, But Not Quite Great
“The Social Network” (David Fincher)
A mostly sturdy biopic whose second half gets lost in petty bickering and party lifestyles — time better spent on what's made Facebook a phenomenon itself, or why the inventor of nothing more than the News Feed is one of wealthiest men ever.
“Solitary Man” (Brian Koppelman and David Levien)
Michael Douglas is one of the last of his generation of leading men who can still play a convincing womanizer, so his downward spiral in an adulterous daze feels real, as does the pain that results.
“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (Edgar Wright)
The future of attention-deficit filmmaking is here, and it's edited faster than an MTV commercial break. The movie gets bogged down in repetitive fight scenes, but the real treat is its endless and rapid-fire use of editing to create hilarious comedy.
“Please Give” (Nicole Holofcener)
This engaging story of a slightly dysfunctional family offers excellent characterizations but is resolved by a credit-card transaction.
“The Green Zone” (Paul Greengrass)
You cannot sum up everything wrong with a war while providing cool war scenes. That said, “The Green Zone” was typical Greengrass: starts great; provides excellent realism; is overly serious; falls apart at the end.
“Inception” (Christopher Nolan)
The movie equivalent of the Rubik's Cube managed to become a cultural touchstone — it's a handsome puzzle that everyone wants to fuss with but nobody can quite figure out. There isn't anything to figure out.
“The Lovely Bones” (Peter Jackson)
A vision of heaven as an ice cream sundae floating in a computer-generated sunset. Terrible acting and a laughable reduction of the book's story to mustache-twisting evil revealed the limitations of director Jackson, who should stick to hobbits and giant apes.
“Iron Man 2” (Jon Favreau)
The same mentality here as the car dealership end of the year holiday-savings extravaganza, with most of the effort going into separating the public from their cash.
“Fair Game” (Doug Liman)
The revolution will not include product placements. You can't criticize the media while giving cameos to MSNBC talking heads.
The International Secret Agent-Criminal-Assassin Movie (various)
Always neck-and-neck with serial killer as most overused movie premise. Professional assassins, master criminals, or whatever the latest plot calls for lurk everywhere. Just a brief rundown of this year's crop: “Killers”; “Knight and Day”; “The American”; “Salt”; “The Tourist”; “From Paris with Love”; “The Girl Who Played with Fire/Kicked a Hornet's Nest.” They've come in every genre, every flavor, and they are not being used to say anything. Time to give the concept a break, no? S
*Romantic comedies, Titans, “Sex and the City 2” and children's films not included.