Time for the year-end wrap up, which -- for most critics -- means a list of the top 10 movies of the year. If 2011 wasn't a banner year for movies, it wasn't bad either. I always figure that if I have a difficult time narrowing my list to 10, it must have been a better-than-average year.
In 2011, even some of the more hyped movies (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II were good. A word about the series, which concluded this year, probably is in order: Aside from keeping a ton of British actors off the unemployment line, the Harry Potter movies turned out to be more consistently involving than anyone initially might have expected.
But among the special pleasures of the year, I rank a few more highly than others, even though I don't necessarily want to burden them with 10-best stature.
-- Screenwriter Jonathan Hensleigh turned director for Kill the Irishman, the story of the rise and fall of Cleveland hoodlum Danny Greene. Ray Stevenson gave a fine performance as Greene, and the always enjoyable Christopher Walken had an equally nice turn as Jewish racketeer Shondor Birns. At the time of the movie's release, I wrote that it broke no new ground, but did a hell of a job turning over old soil. If you're partial to gangster movies, you should make it your business to find this one on DVD.
-- Sometimes, a movie arrives with buzz acquired at the Sundance Film Festival. That was the case with Another Earth, a movie in which director Mike Cahill used a sci-fi backdrop (a second Earth hovered mysteriously over this one) to explore the grief-stricken life of a young woman (Brit Marling) whose careless driving resulted in the death of a mother and child. The sci-fi element may sound a bit far-fetched, but the movie's emotions felt absolutely real.
-- I approached Rise of the Planet of the Apes expecting nothing, but found something I'd been missing, a genuine helping of pulp excitement. Who'd have believed anyone could breathe new life into the Planet of the Apes series? Director Rupert Wyatt did.
-- Great performances abounded in 2011. Brendan Gleeson was glorious, profane, rude and strangely endearing as an unorthodox Irish cop in The Guard.
And then there's John C. Reilly. What a year for an actor who usually flies under the radar. Reilly played the raucous Dean Ziegler, an insurance agent who insisted on upholding the cause of ribald fun at a gathering of Christian-oriented insurance agents in Cedar Rapids. In Terri, a movie about an overweight teen-ager, Reilly was wonderfully inappropriate Mr. Fitzgerald, an assistant principal unlike any other we've seen, not that assistant principals are much of a movie staple. Of course, Reilly also appears in We Need to Talk About Kevin and Carnage, both of which have yet to open nationally.
And the year shouldn't pass without mention of Kevin Spacey's work in Margin Call. We're not talking about the flippant Spacey of movies such as Horrible Bosses or Casino Jack, but an actor who carried the full weight of a collapsing financial institution on his shoulders.
And while we're on the subject of Margin Call: I didn't put it on my top-10 list, but it should be acknowledged as one of the best acted movies of the year -- not only by Spacey, but by Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore, Simon Baker and Paul Bettany.
Throughout this topical drama about a Wall Street firm on the verge of collapse, the actors keep their performances under tight control as they keep an eye on one another during a long night of meetings, personal jockeying, financial analysis and ethical indifference.
When Alfred Nobbs starts playing around the country, watch for the robust performance of Janet McTeer in a role that's best discovered in a theater.
I would, of course, be remiss if I didn't mention a couple of special foreign-language films: Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's Le Havre takes an encouraging look at people behaving decently toward an "illegal" immigrant, and Korean director Chang-dong Lee's Poetry manages, rather miraculously, to make a successful mix out of a horrific event and the search for self-expression by an aging, Alzheimer's-stricken grandmother.
Whether any of these movies becomes an important part of movie history remains to be seen, but each boasted elements that either moved me or which I enjoyed immensely, and I didn't want to push on without at least giving them a tip of the hat.
So now, for my top 10:
1. THE TREE OF LIFE.
3. The ARTIST.
4. A SEPARATION.
5.MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE
7. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN.
8. INTO THE ABYSSS.
9. THE DESCENDANTS.