Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo in The Artist. (PHOTO: Warner Bros. France)
I experienced a silver screen rollercoaster of emotions this year, thanks to Woody Allen, a black-and-white picture, 3-D done properly and of course, Ryan Gosling.
I laughed shamelessly from one of the first scenes of Bridesmaids. My heart ached watching a young couple crumble before me in Like Crazy.
Leonardo DiCaprio aged some 60 years in two hours in J. Edgar, while Ryan Gosling looked cool driving a 1973 Chevrolet Chevelle with a toothpick dangling from his mouth (Drive).
And then there was The Artist, the silent picture from French director Michel Hazanavicius.
I did not have the pleasure or time to see all the films released this year. My must-see list includes Moneyball, The Descendants, Martha Marcy May Marlene and The Iron Lady.
So readers, be warned. This list is based solely on the films I've seen this year, the actors' performances, the directors' vision and the general feeling I was left with when the credits started rolling.
Here are my picks for the 10 best films of 2011, in no particular order.
The Little Film That Could
The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)
Sunset Boulevard, Singin' in the Rain, Cary Grant, old Hollywood -- The Artist celebrates a bygone era and a genre long forgotten. And somehow, for some 100 minutes of silence, the film works. Director Michel Hazanavicius does a fine job with his cast, which includes his real-life spouse Berenice Bejo and the film's star, Jean Dujardin, who won the Best Actor prize in Cannes earlier this year. Dujardin's portrayal of an actor caught between two genres (silent and the talkies) serves as a delightful journey.
Like Crazy (Drake Doremus)
Who knew young love on the big screen (a sight we've seen before) could put such a lump in your throat? Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones play Jacob and Anna, two lovers who find themselves in a romantic dilemma after she overstays on her student visa. Drake Doremus delivers a simple, yet powerful story about the trials and tribulations of long-distance relationships.
3-D Done Right
Hugo (Martin Scorsese)
Without giving too much away, Hugo celebrates a handful of things: family, childhood, time. Martin Scorsese feeds us epic shots of the title character weaving in and out of the giant clocks at the Parisian train station he lives in, followed by equally beautiful scenes of a library, the rush-hour crowd and the hustle and bustle of the station's shops and characters. Scorsese's adaptation of Brian Selznick's beloved book is a picture not to be missed. Plus, Sir Ben Kingsley co-stars, and I'd watch him read the ingredients on a cereal box.
J. Edgar (Clint Eastwood)
Leonardo DiCaprio has the accent, the expression -- even the body language -- of the nation's first FBI director. Under Clint Eastwood's direction, DiCaprio makes a remarkable transition from his usual boyish looks (even though he's 37 in real life) to play the controversial G-man who lived until his late 70s. Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts and Dame Judi Dench round out the superb cast of this biopic, which was penned by Dustin Lance Black (Milk).
The Period Piece
Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)
Woody Allen's highest grossing film to date was so lovely, I saw it twice. Owen Wilson's trips to Jazz Age Paris made me want to join him on those antique car rides and party with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Cole Porter. Blink and you'll miss the First Lady of France, Carla Bruni, who plays a museum guide.
The Best Gosling
Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)
Ryan Gosling offered three films to choose from this year, but none played out quite like Drive, the Nicolas Winding Refn picture based on the James Sallis' novel of the same name. A throwback to film noir, Drive follows a getaway driver (Gosling) who takes a standard let's rob a pawn shop job, when the heist takes a turn for the worst. Kudos to Ron Perlman, Albert Brooks, Carey Mulligan and Bryan Cranston in supporting roles.
The Buddy Film
The Trip (Michael Winterbottom)
A restaurant tour in the north of England? For a high-profile food magazine? The north of England? The Trip stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as two friends who eat a lot of good food, drink a lot of wine and muse about life, all while delivering hilarious impersonations of movie stars (Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Hugh Grant, Al Pacino, to name a few). My friends are tired of me impersonating Coogan and Brydon impersonating other people (She was only 15).
Bridesmaids (Paul Feig)
Thank you Kristen Wiig and Judd Apatow. Please make another film about how to deal with food poisoning, how to give a toast, how to out-talk a teenager who wants to get friendship bracelets, how to track an undercover air marshall, how to gracefully exit a bridal shower (giant cookie!), and other lessons.
The Art House Flick
The Tree of Life (Terrance Malick)
Terrance Malick's experimental drama was loved and equally hated this year. It was random, beautiful and featured some of the finest performances of recent memory (I'm looking at you, Jessica Chastain). Dinosaurs? Volcanoes? Deep space? Sean Penn as Brad Pitt's son? Sure.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt)
I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying every minute of this film, mostly due to the impressive performance capture technology led by the undervalued Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Please give this guy and the visual effects team a major movie award.
Honorable Mentions for the best films of 2011: Jane Eyre (Carey Fukunaga); The Ides of March (George Clooney); X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughn); Kung Fu Panda 2 (Jennifer Yuh Nelson); Source Code (Duncan Jones)