Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Power Rankings: Best living actors, never nominated for an Oscar

With Gary Oldman finally getting his long-overdue Oscar nomination, we can all cross him off the top our list of the best actors who have never been nominated. This list is taking into account living actors, specifically ones that are still working, otherwise the list would just be filled with the likes of Maureen O’Hara, Shirley Temple, Jerry Lewis, and so on. So, this is a list of people who we may see get a nomination in the near future, since the Academy has been recognizing overdue actors in recent years (Christopher Plummer, Mickey Rourke, etc.). I also decided not to include actors who are primarily in television (Kelsey Grammer, Michael C. Hall, etc.), since they are not really trying to get nominated for Oscars. This power ranking is the most difficult one I have ever written, having to decipher between favorite actors, best actors, and those who most deserve a nomination. It was interesting, and a ton of amazing talent is left off. Check it out:

Others receiving votes: Ben Foster, Colin Farrell, John Cusack, Mia Farrow, Steve Martin

10. Tony Leung

I felt like I should include at least one international actor on this list, so I went with one that has been extremely popular in America. Tony Leung is one of the best actors in the world, and his filmography is esteemed and varied. He is an astonishing talent, and given the right role, I could definitely see him ending up a nominee someday. Several of his co-stars have gotten some serious looks from the Academy and HFPA, but in those films, it is always Leung that is most impressive.

Most deserved to be nominated for: In the Mood for Love

Other notable snubs: Lust, Caution, 2046, Infernal Affairs, Hero, Happy Together, Ashes of Time, Chungking Express

Promising upcoming title: The Grandmasters (2012). Directed by Wong Kar Wai (Chungking Express), about the martial arts master who trained Bruce Lee. Co-starring Zizi Zhang.

9. Robin Wright

Robin Wright is one of the most respected supporting character actresses in the business, and it is a shame that she has never gotten an Oscar invite. How did she not at least ride the unstoppable Forrest Gump wave back in 1994? Robin Wright is one of the most sincere and grounded actresses working today, and I really do feel that she is getting close to getting that elusive Oscar nom.

Most deserved to be nominated for: Forrest Gump

Other notable snubs: The Conspirator, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, Sorry, Haters, Nine Lives, A Home at the End of the World, She’s So Lovely

Promising upcoming title: The Congress (2013). Directed by Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir), a sci-fi drama about an aging, out-of-work actress. Co-starring Paul Giamatti.

8. Sam Rockwell

Sam Rockwell is one of those actors that it is hard to understand why he has not broken through yet. He is one of the most intriguing and talented actors of his generation, and he does amazing work almost every time out. He just lives in his characters, not really trying to win an Oscar or anything. He is subtle and brilliant in all of his roles. Academy, please give this guy an Oscar. He deserves it.

Most deserved to be nominated for: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Other notable snubs: Conviction, Moon, Choke, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Snow Angels, Matchstick Men, The Green Mile, Lawn Dogs

Promising upcoming title: Seven Psychopaths (2012). Directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), about a screenwriter who gets caught up in a kidnapping plot. Co-starring Colin Farrell.

7. Jim Carrey

Isn’t it hard to believe that Jim Carrey never got an Oscar nomination? He has gotten 6 Golden Globe nominations and two wins. He has gotten a BAFTA nom. He was one of the most popular actors in the world during his heyday. I will never forgive the Academy for snubbing him back in 1998 for The Truman Show. That is just inexcusable. He is not just a funny guy. When he wants to be serious, he can be as dark and emotional as any actor. He needs to finally get that Oscar nomination, even though now it seems like his interest in that has floundered. Hopefully one of his upcoming projects works out, or he may need to go the Alan Arkin route and have a scene-stealing supporting part in a movie and hope it hits. But honestly, when is he ever not the undisputed lead?

Most deserved to be nominated for: The Truman Show

Other notable snubs: I Love You Phillip Morris, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Majestic, Man on the Moon

Promising upcoming title: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013). Directed by Don Scardino (30 Rock), about a jaded magician trying to remain relevant when a new popular magician bursts onto the scene. Co-starring Steve Carell.

6. Brian Cox

Brian Cox is an actor who is just always around successful movies. He is a fantastic supporting character actor, and it is always his co-stars who are getting the recognition. Cox has done so much great work and put in so much goodwill, I cannot believe that he has never gotten any serious Oscar attention. He will be nominated at some point. I am almost certain of that.

Most deserved to be nominated for: 25th Hour

Other notable snubs: The Good Heart, The Escapist, Zodiac, Troy, L.I.E.,

Promising upcoming title: Blood (2013). Directed by Nick Murphy (The Awakening), about two cop brothers and their struggle to break out of the shadow of their former police chief father. Co-starring Paul Bettany.

5. Guy Pearce

Guy Pearce is one of the most talented actors around. He is in some of the most prolific and celebrated movies of the late 90s-early 00s. He is about as versatile of a performer as I have ever seen on screen, rivaled only by the chameleon himself Gary Oldman for being the most unrecognizable and underrated character actor in the business. He gets lost in every role that he takes, and it is just insane that he was not nominated for any of the astonishing work in his career.

Most deserved to be nominated for: The Proposition

Other notable snubs: The King’s Speech, Animal Kingdom, Factory Girl, The Count of Monte Cristo, Memento, L.A. Confidential

Promising upcoming title: Wettest County (2012). Directed by John Hillcoat (The Road), about a Depression-era bootlegging gang. Co-starring Tom Hardy.

4. Kevin Bacon

Kevin Bacon has perhaps one of the most decorated filmographies of his generation, and yet he is never singled out in his cast. Even in the greatest of ensembles, he is always among the best but forgotten. Even in the most Oscar-friendly material, his co-stars get all of the love. I am not sure why that is, but I cannot always agree with it. He brings a great deal of humanity to his characters, and it is inexcusable that he has never gotten an Oscar nom (only one Globe nom too). He needs to get nominated soon. After nearly sweeping the TV awards for his movie Taking Chance a couple years ago, it appears that the industry has finally warmed up to him. Now he just needs that Oscar.

Most deserved to be nominated for: The Woodsman

Other notable snubs: Mystic River, Digging to China, Sleepers, Apollo 13, Murder in the First, The River Wild, A Few Good Men, Diner

Promising upcoming title: Jayne Mansfield’s Car (2012). Directed by Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade), about culture clash between two families in the 1960s. Co-starring Robert Duvall.

3. Donald Sutherland

Donald Sutherland is going to be the only leg of the tripod (along with Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer) to not be an Oscar-winner. Somehow, through all of the Oscar-friendly movies that Sutherland has been involved in, he has never gotten nominated. Not even Ordinary People, which rode Judd Hirsch to the ceremony with his ultra-limited screen time. It is ridiculous to think that Sutherland’s career could end without him being a nominee.

Most deserved to be nominated for: Ordinary People

Other notable snubs: Aurora Borealis, Pride and Prejudice, Without Limits, JFK, Threshold, Don’t Look Now, Klute, MASH

Promising upcoming title: none

2. Jennifer Jason Leigh

I could never understand how such a critical darling like Jennifer Jason Leigh could never break through to getting any serious awards attention. She is amazing in almost every movie appears in. In the early to mid 90s, she had a run where each one of her performances was good enough to be nominated or win Oscars. She is one of the most authentic actors out there, and now she just does not work enough. In my books, she should have won two Oscars with at least 3 more nominations. I am astounded that she has never gotten at least invited to the ceremony.

Most deserved to be nominated for: Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle

Other notable snubs: Margot at the Wedding, The Machinist, The Anniversary Party, Georgia, Dolores Claiborne, The Hudsucker Proxy, Short Cuts, Single White Female, Miami Blues, Last Exit to Brooklyn, Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Promising upcoming title: none

1. Steve Buscemi

Steve Buscemi is one of the best actors in the world. He has played so many supporting characters, each of which were done with the amazing awkwardness and realism that only Buscemi can bring to them. He has stated that he played so many supporting weird characters that filmmakers doubted whether he could be a lead. I think Boardwalk Empire silenced those critics. Now, he just needs to get an Oscar. I cannot think of an actor who has had to climb up the ranks quite like Buscemi has, and now actors playing roles like he did at the start of his career (John Hawkes, for instance) are getting the recognition that Buscemi never got. He may not be the most deserving actor, but it is a shame that he has gone this far without a nomination. Hopefully in the coming years and coming off the success of his hugely-popular television series, he can finally get that elusive Oscar nom.

Most deserved to be nominated for: Ghost World

Other notable snubs: The Messenger, Interview, Delirious, Paris, je Taime, The Grey Zone, Trees Lounge, Fargo, Living in Oblivion, Reservoir Dogs, Mystery Train

Promising upcoming title: On the Road (2012). Directed by Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries), based on the Jack Kerouac book about Beat generation writers searching for “It”. Co-starring Sam Riley.

So, what do you think? I know that I must have missed someone. I went through about 50 possibilities to narrow it down to these 10. Who would be on your list? A Golden Globe darling like Cameron Diaz or Scarlett Johansson? An indie star like Parker Posey or James Spader? A longtime veteran like Christopher Lee or Christopher Lloyd? A relatively young actor like Evan Rachel Wood or Emile Hirsch? A largely comedic actor like Will Ferrell or Steve Carell? A standout Coen brothers collaborator like John Turturro or John Goodman? A blockbuster actor with occasional dramatic brilliance like Bruce Willis or Val Kilmer? A rising star like Tom Hardy or Michael Fassbender? A foreign star like Gong Li or Chow Yun-Fat? A wrongfully typecast character actor like Jeff Daniels or Daniel Stern? Each and every one of these actors was on my longlist of contenders. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reactions to the Nominations: 2012

As usual, the Oscar nomination announcement brought some pleasant surprises and some downright shockers. The Artist is still the one to beat, but much to my surprise, it did not lead in nominations. Hugo leads the way with 11, followed by The Artist’s 10. Interesting developments abound. Here is my breakdown of each category:

Best Picture
The Artist

The Descendants

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Help


Midnight in Paris


The Tree of Life

War Horse

Predicted: 8 for 9

Reactions: I suspected that only 7 would get nominated, but the only one I didn’t have in my top 9 was Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (I had Dragon Tattoo). I am slightly upset that Fincher’s film did not make the cut, especially with 9 getting nominated. However, I am much more excited that Bridesmaids did not make it (even though that would have made Apatow an Oscar nominee) and that The Tree of Life got in, basically telling the guilds that they are not the answer to predicting the Oscars. Not a bad group, though. Brad Pitt gets his double nod, but not necessarily the one we were hoping for. Seeing how the rest of the nominees stacked up implies that there could be a legitimate threat or two for The Artist. Last year, 9 of the 10 nominees had screenplay nominations, but this year only 5 of the 9 do. Not sure what that means, but it is an interesting development. Having 9 nominees all having at least 5% of the vote also implies that the votes are a lot more spread out than I would have originally thought. I always figured when a movie sweeps the ceremony that they get like 40% of the vote or something, but the math just simply does not support that, at least not this year. I find this new rule rather interesting, actually. Oh, and never underestimate Stephen Daldry. Two straight films of his that I have said that about, and I still do it. Genius.

Preliminary prediction: The Artist

Best Director

Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris

Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist

Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life

Alexander Payne – The Descendants

Martin Scorsese – Hugo

Predicted: 4 for 5

Reactions: I had Fincher in for Malick. I love this. I hate that Fincher is not going to win an Oscar for another worthy film, but Terrence Malick got nominated. I am stoked that they didn’t make it Spielberg or Daldry. I have a feeling that this may be one of those Director-Picture split years that has not happened since 2005.

Preliminary Prediction: Terrence Malick

Best Actor

Demian Bichir – A Better Life

George Clooney – The Descendants

Jean Dujardin – The Artist

Gary Oldman – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Brad Pitt – Moneyball

Predicted: 3 for 5

Reactions: I had DiCaprio and Fassbender in for Bichir and Oldman. Gary Oldman, Oscar nominee. We can finally say it! Pretty great group, other than that random guy in that horrible movie by the director of the second Twilight Movie. I don’t get that. Clooney may not be as much of a favorite as we suspected with Woodley missing out on Supporting Actress. Pitt and Oldman could pull a shocker. Let’s hope that happens.

Preliminary Prediction: George Clooney

Best Actress

Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs

Viola Davis – The Help

Rooney Mara – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady

Michelle Williams – My Week with Marilyn

Predicted: 5 for 5

Reactions: There was no real question here as to what the nominations would look like. The guys on E! are stupid for saying that no one thought Mara would get nominated. Tilda Swinton is once again on the outside. Not enough people saw her movie, I guess. Streep’s film got an unexpected second nomination, so at least she has some support from somewhere other than the actors branch. Her third win finally?

Preliminary Prediction: Meryl Streep

Best Supporting Actor

Kenneth Branagh – My Week with Marilyn

Jonah Hill – Moneyball

Nick Nolte – Warrior

Christopher Plummer – Beginners

Max von Sydow – Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Predicted: 4 for 5

Reactions: I had Albert Brooks in for Max von Sydow. How is that only von Sydow’s second nomination? Anyway, Jonah Hill getting nominated is amazing. The rest are fairly predictable overdue veteran actors, but I just can’t believe that one isn’t Brooks. When was the last time that the unanimous critic favorite in an acting category failed to get even a nomination? I guess Drive is just too cool for the Academy. Same old story…

Preliminary Prediction: Christopher Plummer

Best Supporting Actress

Berenice Bejo – The Artist

Jessica Chastain – The Help

Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids

Janet McTeer – Albert Nobbs

Octavia Spencer – The Help

Predicted: 4 for 5

Reactions: I had Shailene Woodley in for McCarthy. This was just wishful thinking that the Academy would ignore Bridesmaids. Nothing really to say here. I feel bad for Woodley. She deserved to get invited.

Preliminary Prediction: Octavia Spencer

Original Screenplay

The Artist


Margin Call

Midnight in Paris

A Separation

Predicted: 3 for 5

Reactions: I had Win Win and Young Adult in for Bridesmaids and Margin Call. Stupid Bridesmaids, but Margin Call!!! This is amazing. This reminds me of when 2009’s best film The Messenger was nominated in this category after no precursors. This is awesome. However, with Woody Allen getting his director nod, his win here is almost assured. I have no problem with that.

Preliminary Prediction: Midnight in Paris

Adapted Screenplay

The Descendants


The Ides of March


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Predicted: 4 for 5

Reactions: I had The Help in for Tinker Tailor. This was a real surprise, showing that The Help does not have all of the support that we had originally thought. Clooney gets his double nod. Aaron Sorkin gets in two years in a row. Steven Zaillian goes 1 for 2. I like this group.

Preliminary Prediction: The Descendants


The Artist

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


The Tree of Life

War Horse

Predicted: 5 for 5

Reactions: I completely nailed this! Other than Drive not getting in, I cannot complain about any of these nominees.

Preliminary Prediction: War Horse

Art Direction

The Artist

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2


Midnight in Paris

War Horse

Predicted: 4 for 5

Reactions: I had Anonymous in for Midnight in Paris. This just shows that Paris has a fair amount of support. Can Woody make a serious run at Best Picture?

Preliminary Prediction: Hugo

Costume Design


The Artist


Jane Eyre


Predicted: 3 for 5

Reactions: I had The Help and My Week with Marilyn in for Anonymous and Jane Eyre. The latter certainly deserved its nomination (and the win), but I am so mad that I chose the wrong category for Anonymous! I knew it would show up somewhere…

Preliminary Prediction: W.E.

Sound Mixing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo



Transformers: Dark of the Moon

War Horse

Predicted: 3 for 5

Reactions: I had The Tree of Life and The Artist in for Transformers and Moneyball. This is normally a spot for the Best Picture winners. Each BP winner was nominated here since 2006. Could this be a telling factor in the race?

Preliminary Prediction: War Horse


The Artist

The Descendants

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo



Predicted: 4 for 5

Reactions: I had Tinker Tailor in for The Descendants. It seems that the Academy liked The Descendants more than Sideways even with it getting the crucial editing nod. I am shocked that Tinker Tailor didn’t get in here with the support it got elsewhere. Oh well. I hope Dragon Tattoo or Moneyball takes this.

Preliminary Prediction: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Sound Editing


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


Transformers: Dark of the Moon

War Horse

Predicted: 2 for 5

Reactions: Yeah, I had Tintin, Super 8, and Planet of the Apes instead of Drive, Dragon Tattoo, and Hugo. This is a big spot for Hugo. It basically got every possible Artistic/Technical nomination. Drive at least got one nomination in one of its least deserving spots. Whatever, Oscar…

Preliminary Prediction: War Horse

Visual Effects

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2


Real Steel

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Predicted: 3 for 5

Reactions: I had Tree of Life and X-Men in for Real Steel and Transformers. Yep, that is three noms for the Michael Bay disaster. Nice.

Preliminary Prediction: Harry Potter


Albert Nobbs

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

The Iron Lady

Predicted: 1 for 3

Reactions: I had The Artist and Anonymous in for Iron Lady and Harry Potter. Well, I went 0 for 3 last year, so this is something.

Preliminary Prediction: Albert Nobbs


“Man or Muppet” – The Muppets

“Real in Rio” – Rio

Predicted: 0 for 2

Reactions: I predicted 5 nominees, including songs from The Help, Albert Nobbs, We Bought a Zoo, Cars 2, and the wrong song from The Muppets. I love these two songs, though. They are both the best in their films, which are both stocked full with great original songs. Well done, but the Academy needs to fix the rules here. Only nominating two is pretty dumb.

Preliminary Prediction:The Muppets


The Adventures of Tintin

The Artist


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

War Horse

Predicted: 4 for 5

Reactions: I had Dragon Tattoo in for Tinker Tailor. Double nom for John Williams? What else is new. Shame that Dragon Tattoo and Drive got snubbed here.

Preliminary Prediction: The Artist


Hell and Back Again

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory



Predicted: 3 for 5

Reactions: I had Project Nim and We Were Here in for Hell and Back Again and Pina. Just took a stab, really. They always snub the best doc, and this year, the best ones were supposedly Project Nim and George Harrison: Living in a Material World. Well done, Academy. Your new rules still don’t work.

Preliminary Prediction: Undefeated

Foreign Language Film



In Darkness

Monsieur Lazhar

A Separation

Predicted: 3 for 5

Reactions: I had Black Bread and Where Do We Go Now? in for Bullhead and Footnote. Haven’t seen any of these, but I always have a random gut feeling that there will be an upset, and I am right almost every year. Do not be fooled just because A Separation got a screenplay nod that it is a lock in this category. Ask Guillermo Del Toro if that is the case. One of the movies is about Nazis, and we know how Oscar feels about those movies. Upset!

Preliminary Prediction: In Darkness

Animated Feature

A Cat in Paris

Chico & Rita

Kung Fu Panda 2

Puss in Boots


Predicted: 2 for 5

Reactions: I had Tintin (obviously), Arthur Christmas, and Cars 2 in for A Cat in Paris (what?), Kung Fu Panda 2, and Puss in Boots. Well, I got one of the no name films right. What happened to Tintin and the surefire Spielberg nomination? I love that Kung Fu Panda got the nod, though. Such a cool movie. Poor Winnie the Pooh. Oh well. The director of Pirates of the Caribbean is going to be an Oscar winner. Nice.

Preliminary Prediction: Rango

Overall predictions: 72/104; 69.23% (67.96% in 2011)

Without the last 5 categories: 60/79; 75.95% (70.37% in 2011)

On the Big 8 categories: 35/44; 79.55% (84.44% in 2011)

So, I did better predicting everything but the main categories this year, which is a change of pace. The arts and techs were a tad easier since the Best Picture contenders are almost all visual spectacles. Not bad. I am pretty proud about how this turned out.

10 coolest first-time nominees (last year had so many better options):

1. Gary Oldman

2. Jonah Hill

3. Rooney Mara

4. Jessica Chastain

5. Kristen Wiig (even though I hate her movie)

6. JC Chandor

7. Berenice Bejo

8. Chris Columbus

9. Jean Dujardin

10. Gore Verbinski

10 worst snubs:

1. Drive in all categories (especially Best Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Supporting Actor)

2. Michael Shannon for Best Actor

3. Michael Fassbender for Best Actor

4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for Best Original Score and Best Director

5. Brad Pitt for Best Supporting Actor

6. Super 8 for Best Sound Editing

7. Winnie the Pooh for Best Animated Feature

8. Carey Mulligan for Best Supporting Actress (for Shame and Drive)

9. Carnage for Best Adapted Screenplay

10. Berenice Bejo for Best Actress

If there were five nominees for Best Picture, they probably would have been The Artist, The Descendants, The Help, Hugo, and Midnight in Paris. If there were 10, it probably would have added in Bridesmaids. Maybe Dragon Tattoo with all its guild and technical category support. Seeing a concrete number would have been nice. Anyway, it was a nominations morning filled with excitement, both good and bad. Most of the important nominations I was hoping for (Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Terrence Malick) were taken care of. Dragon Tattoo missing out on almost everything is discouraging, but it is all made up for with Margin Call getting a nomination. Seriously, it is the best original screenplay since 2009. I can’t wait to see what the next month brings to the race. Maybe the SAGs will give us a surprise. Maybe the DGA will give the award to someone other than Hazanavicius, since the category is filled with amazing, proven directors. Maybe the BAFTAs will help someone’s cause in the acting categories (do not forget that they almost single-handedly anointed Tilda Swinton and Marion Cotillard as winners in the same year). We shall see. I love this time of year.

Stay tuned for our Fourth Annual Oscar Challenge. How do you think the Academy did this year? Who are you predicting to win? Let us know in the comments.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Year in Review: Top 10 Films of 2011

I decided to put off writing this article until I saw the consensus film of the year, The Artist. Yet, it makes no appearance on this list whatsoever. With the Oscar nominations getting released on Tuesday, I felt it necessary to let everyone know how the Academy should be voting. Here are a few examples of the best achievements of 2011, capped by my long-awaited top 10 list…

Films seen: 126

Thumbs up percentage: 47.62%

Actor of the year: Michael Fassbender (A Dangerous Method, Jane Eyre, Shame, X-Men: First Class)

Actress of the year: Jessica Chastain (Coriolanus, The Debt, The Help, Take Shelter, Texas Killing Fields, The Tree of Life, Wilde Salome)

Performances of the year: Michael Shannon – Take Shelter, Jeong-hie Yun - Poetry, Brad Pitt - The Tree of Life, Carey Mulligan – Shame

Most underrated film: The Conspirator

Most overrated film: War Horse

Biggest surprise: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Biggest disappointment: J. Edgar

Best ensemble casts: Carnage, Cold Fish, Margin Call

Best screenplays: Carnage, Margin Call, Moneyball

Bottom five of the year (from bad to worst): Bridesmaids, Father of Invention, The Hangover Part II, Super, Green Lantern

Most anticipated unseen films: The Interrupters, Margaret, Melancholia, Rampart, A Separation

Honorable mention: Carnage, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Rubber

10. Midnight in Paris (directed by Woody Allen)

This is probably the biggest surprise entry to my top 10 list. After three consecutive horrible films You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Cassandra’s Dream, and one of the worst films of the decade Whatever Works, my confidence in Woody Allen’s ability to still make great cinema had almost completely diminished. With Midnight in Paris, Allen made what I have come to accept as being his best film since Bullets Over Broadway. This nostalgic, beautifully-shot film about an author (Oscar-worthy Owen Wilson) who keeps getting taken back to his favorite place and time, 1920s Paris, is a whimsical, quietly hilarious, and superbly-crafted film. It may have a fair amount of indulgence in its screenplay, but these kinds of throwback films are where Allen really shines and is able to show his true talent as a filmmaker. Woody Allen has returned to form (at least for one year) with this relative masterpiece that is indisputably the best comedy of 2011.

9. Tabloid (directed by Errol Morris)

I still have a bunch of documentaries to see from last year, but this is the only one that really stuck with me. This film is about the notorious Joyce McKinney, former Miss Wyoming, who was charged with kidnapping and imprisoning her boyfriend (refused to be interviewed) while he was away on a Mormon mission in Europe. I could have watched a movie just about her, but it is the other interviews that really give this movie a brilliant atmosphere. Each person interviewed had a first-person account of what happened, yet none of them are close to being on the same page. She allegedly kidnapped her boyfriend from a mission, but she believes that she saved him from a brainwashing cult. She allegedly used him as a sex slave, but she believes that they had a romantic, kinky sex-filled honeymoon of sorts. It is fascinating to watch. Errol Morris does the questioning, and instead of searching for the truth, he is more like a viewer, asking questions about interesting aspects rather than trying to exploit the person or find the truth. The entertainment value on this documentary soars, and it is one of the more memorable films released last year.

8. The Myth of the American Sleepover (directed by David Robert Mitchell)

There is a movie each year that I come across by accident that ends up being one of the best of the year. This film, which I watched randomly on Showtime a while back, is another very nostalgic entry to this list. It takes its place alongside Dazed and Confused, American Graffiti, and Superbad as being among the essential high school hangout films. The film follows a group of interconnected teenagers on a late summer night in metro-Detroit. The themes of the movie are timeless, and the performances from the first-time actors (particularly newcomer Claire Sloma) are terrific. The screenplay is a marvel and a realistic portrait of a typical summer night, filled with slumber parties and juvenile activity. You really begin to feel like you know these characters and that you experienced their search for love and parties with them. It is a wonderful little drama, and had the annoying Christy from At the Movies not had this on her top 10, I would probably be a lot higher on it. Isn’t that frustrating when you feel like you discovered something then someone else publicizes it before you can? That would be like someone else saying Manito is one of the best films of the 2000s. There, at least I still have that one.

7. Shame (directed by Steve McQueen)

The best character study of 2011 is the brilliant and disturbingly authentic Shame. After Hunger, McQueen showed that he had a really keen talent with the camera. That movie was pretty good, but it is nothing compared to this dark and brutal drama. Brandon (the extraordinary Michael Fassbender) is one of the most interesting characters of 2011. The sex-obsessed businessman is faced with his deepest fears, including the exposure of his addiction. His sister (the incredible Carey Mulligan) comes to live him without any real notice and starts to notice certain skeletons that Brandon has long tried to cover up. McQueen exploits the issues of sex-addiction, and goes at it in a way that has not been explored on film. The title of the film is as succinct and meaningful as any of the year. The film shows the reality of the Brandon’s struggles and does not pull any punches. The NC-17 rating should not shy away any audience; it is an astonishing, haunting, and challenging picture.

6. Hugo (directed by Martin Scorsese)

I was completely blown away by this amazing, beautiful, heart-pounding epic by the master Martin Scorsese. From the moment I first heard about Scorsese making a family picture in 3D, I was beyond skeptical. Even when the trailer was released, I had my doubts. The movie could not have been any more magical of an experience. The story is about Hugo Cabret (the talented Asa Butterfield), a young boy who is trying endlessly to get his father’s automaton to work again. He finds friendship, love, and several misfortunes on his way to accomplish his task. Ben Kingsley plays an old man who may have the answer to what he is looking for as well as a man with an important secret past. The plot is not really what makes the film as great as it is. The artistic elements are top notch, and the last act of the film is all about classic Scorsese film preservation messages and a love letter to the origins of cinema. It is a magnificent picture that will capture the heart of anyone who gives it a chance.

5. Margin Call (directed by JC Chandor)

This is one of the best and most realistic Wall Street movies ever made. The film is about a company whose risk management associate (Zachary Quinto) is given research data depicting a major flaw in the company’s projections. The steps he takes to send the vital, potentially disastrous information to his superiors are documented. The film takes place all in about a 24 hour period, which makes each scene fascinating and thrilling. Margin Call has a superb eye for the hierarchy of a business and the expertise of each level of leadership. The conversations in the film and how the actors are able to completely embody their characters are astonishing. This breezy, breathtaking film is the most intelligent film of the year and one of finest collection of character actors in recent years. There is neither a false note nor one wasted second in this mini-masterpiece. With time and another viewing, this could make a case for being my number one of the year.

4. The Tree of Life (directed by Terrence Malick)

Watching The Tree of Life on the big screen was one of the great movie-going experiences in my life. The beauty and scale of the movie is beyond anything that has ever been portrayed on screen, and it works on almost every level. It is of course not a flawless film, but artistically and technically it is something to behold. The stories about an abusive father (Oscar-deserving Brad Pitt) in the 1950s as well as his son Jack (the superb Hunter McCracken) trying to find his place are well-told and poignant, but it is everything else that makes the movie a masterpiece. There are long sequences of space and scenery that could only be shot by the magnificent cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. The film has this brilliant, thought-provoking message about nature vs. grace and really has an interesting perspective on the origin of the universe and life. If for nothing else that to sit there and marvel at the screen watching some of the most gorgeous shots ever and to take a step inside the mind of Terrence Malick, you must see this movie. It is certainly not for everyone, but the themes and story are something that anyone can appreciate and get caught up in. It is one of the essential movies of the year, and one that will stand the test of time and be looked at as one of the defining films of this age of cinema.

3. Tyrannosaur (directed by Paddy Considine)

This is about as brutal and devastating of an experience as I have had at the movies in my life. Paddy Considine makes his directorial debut in this gritty British drama about Joseph (Peter Mullan, astonishing), a widower who is on his alcohol and violence-induced path to self-destruction. He meets Hannah (Olivia Colman, equally good), who just may be his salvation. The images in the movie will haunt me forever, and the ending is just perfect. The movie is a gut-wrenching 90 minutes, and it is something what I will never quite be able to shake. Considine certainly learned a great deal from his friend/mentor Shane Meadows, and this first film eclipsed anything that Meadows has accomplished. Tyrannosaur did not get much pub in America (I saw it at a film festival in June), but it is an absolute must-see.

2. Take Shelter (directed by Jeff Nichols)

This film snuck up on me and floored me more than any movie I can remember. This Jeff Nichols indie centers on Curtis (Michael Shannon, best performance of the year), who is a mentally-challenged man with apocalyptic dreams of an impending storm. The dreams become so painful and potent that he is waking up in cold sweats and with injuries. He decides to take up a storm shelter, despite the worries from his loyal wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain, Oscar-worthy) and his friends and coworkers. This movie has an approach to mental disability that I have never come across in a film, and while it is a devastating drama, it is also one of the most authentic and compelling thrillers in the past few years. Take Shelter has the best third act of any film in 2011, a spellbinding 45 minutes capped with a brilliant, thought-provoking final scene. It is an incredible character study and an exercise in minimalist filmmaking, and arguable the most stunning and hypnotic film of the year.

1. Drive (directed by Nicolas Winding Refn)

At no point did I really expect Drive to remain my number one film throughout the year. It appears that 2011 has had a very underwhelming conclusion. That is not to say that this is not a worthy movie, though. It is as enjoyable of a movie-going experience as anyone could ask for. It is a brutal, funny, perceptive, and endlessly entertaining crime drama. Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a wheelman/stunt driver/mechanic who unwittingly gets involved in a botched robbery trying to free his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) from the sins of her ex-con husband. That is the plot, but the experience and style of it are what make this movie-going bliss. The “action” scenes are quick, brutal, and realistic, bringing to mind such scenes in films like A History of Violence and Scarface. The music and color of the film may seem out-of-place, but that only makes it more mysterious, eerie, and intoxicating. Drive is as intense as any movie that you are likely to see, but it is very quiet and less about thrilling the audience than telling its story in its own fresh way. It is so much different than anything I have ever seen, and it completely blew my mind. Drive is my number one film of 2011, and I have no reservations about it.