Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks, Thomas Horn
1 How do we go on without the people who make us who we are? Nine-year-old Oskar Schell (Horn), like so many on 9/11, will have to figure it out. Oskar’s quest is to solve a mystery left by his late father (Hanks), but Extremely Loud (out Dec. 25) has bigger concerns, like proving with scientific certainty the vastness of the human spirit. That it does so in a film that’s wrenching and funny is a minor miracle.
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo
2 By paying homage to cinema’s golden age with a black-and-white silent film, The Artist forces itself to be more imaginative than nearly every other movie this year. It doesn’t lack sound and color, it’s free of them.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston
3 Whether or not the awards come, this was Gosling’s year. He was the wunderkind in The Ides of March and the sex symbol in Crazy, Stupid, Love., but it was here, with all his silence and control as the nameless Driver, that he was at his best. Gosling propels the stylish noir thriller with a naked intelligence that elevates his character from thug to hero, finding redemption through the most inhuman acts.
Starring: Leila Hatami, Peyman Moadi
4 What’s the brilliant A Separation (out Dec. 30) about? Everything. Two Iranian couples tumble into a fierce conflict fueled by misogyny, dogma, class and modernity itself.
The Skin I Live In
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya
5 An impressive display of narrative origami, Skin reveals new layers with every viewing of the dark doctor (Banderas) and his captive (and captivating) patient (Anaya).
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara
6 The first instinct is to be scared of Lisbeth Salander (Mara)-and with her wild eyes and barely checked rage, you ought to be. The second impulse is to be scared for her, and that’s the one that lasts. Director David Fincher delivers a gut-punch of a film (out Dec. 21) that’s gasp-inducing even to fans of the novel. But it’s Mara who gives us our Lisbeth, the hacker who helps a tarnished journalist (Craig) pursue a missing-woman case. Nimble, tough, yet shockingly vulnerable, her performance is hypnotic.
7 Documentaries suffer for where they can’t take us. Culled from 5,000 hours of footage of legendary Formula One racer Ayrton Senna, this one takes us everywhere. The portrait is so intimate, his death feels like a fresh tragedy, not a foregone conclusion.
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley
8 Illness and adultery often rip families apart. In Alexander Payne’s wry snapshot of hell in paradise, a distant father (Clooney) and daughter (Woodley) find that the path through pain leads them back to each other.
The Adventures of Tintin
Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis
9 Leave it to Steven Spielberg to remind us that animation can be as exhilarating as it is beautiful. His lush take on the comic book hero (out Dec. 21) feels like vintage Indiana Jones.
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Chris O’Dowd
10 I toast Bridesmaids for proving that bawdy female-driven comedy can bring in big box office, that McCarthy and Wiig are geniuses and that smart toilet humor actually exists. But not for proving that women are funny-because that we damn well knew.
People TABLET BONUS VIDEO Alynda on her 2011 faves