There’s no science to favoritism. At least not one I’m familiar with. So I can’t justify my list of favorite films of 2011 with any sort of methodology. These are simply the movies whose images or stories stayed with me long after I left the theater.
1. The Artist
This silent film is a revelation: a slightly silly, wonderfully earnest love letter to classic Hollywood cinema, and the rare film that is entirely without cynicism. I left the theater with a grin on my face that is still hanging around. This is also the only film on the list that ends with a tap dance.
What makes the year’s best comedy more than hilarious are the believable relationships between women who, besides being riotously funny, are all whip-smart. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a trend for women in film. And let’s hope that trend features a lot of Melissa McCarthy.
You don’t have to be a film nerd to love “Hugo,” but it helps, since it’s full of trivia about and allusions to the beginnings of cinema. Even if you’re not, this is the rare film that is about children (and childlike wonder) without being childish, and the 3-D is so spectacular it’ll convert the most hardcore two-dimensional devotee. This is Martin Scorsese’s best film in years, and — seriously — one of his loveliest ever.
4. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Gary Oldman can sit in a chair and ponder and somehow make it some of the most exciting acting ever put on film. A thinking person’s thriller — with a cast that includes talent new (Benedict Cumberbatch), old (John Hurt) and in-between (Colin Firth) — this film goes beyond spy versus spy into questions of loyalty, patriotism and the personal blind spots we all have.
Hey girl. Ryan Gosling should get his lifetime achievement Oscar in 2031 or thereabouts, and this will be the film that ends the montage. As a getaway driver known simply as “Driver,” Gosling needs few words to speak volumes. “Drive” combines stylish and sexy in a way that would make Hitchcock proud, and firmly starts Gosling on his journey from Planet Movie Star and to the Galaxy of Legendary Actors.
8. Higher Ground
9. Martha Marcy May Marlene