1. The Descendants
"Paradise can go fuck itself", says George Clooney's character in "The Descendants," after learning that his (unfaithful) wife is in a coma. He lives in Hawaii but that doesn't mean every day is devoted to sipping cocktails on the beach, basking in the sunshine and doing the hula. Alexander Payne can do no wrong in my eyes and he doesn't here either. A perfect little film about making amends and starting over.
What's funny about cancer?, you may ask, eyebrows arched. Writer Will Reiser (who based "50-50" on his own experience) makes it so with a lot of help from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen. It's a disease film that avoids tear-jerking, contrivances and soap opera antics. Here is a real guy getting cancer and addressing it with a mix of humor and humility. Not enough people actually saw this movie, but it's really something special.
3. The Artist
How ballsy to make a black and white silent film in this day and age - and how impressive to make it work so spectacularly. While it's not quite the joyfest it appears to be in trailers, it's a fine piece of filmmaking worthy of its worldwide applause. Every shot is so stylish and purposeful. See it.
I knew I'd love this film within five minutes of flipping it on. It's so sweet. The stellar cast, dog included (especially?), gels together naturally like old friends who still like each other. Christopher Plummer will break your heart as a gay father who comes out way late in life.
5. We Need To Talk About Kevin
Lynne Ramsay's study of a sociopathic son made me both want to hide under a blanket and race to the doctor to get my tubes tied. It's essentially a real-life horror movie. Nobody really knows what goes through an adolescent's mind when he goes on a killing spree, a la Columbine, and the movie doesn't pretend to either. It's just a pitch-perfect glimpse at something almost too frightening to fathom.
6. Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen's still got it. (And I'm sure I'll be saying that when he's in his 90s continuing to churn out quality movies - we should all have such creative stamina.) "Midnight in Paris" is a love letter to the City of Light, shot with the same adoration he once reserved exclusively for New York. Owen Wilson plays the token neurotic in this one, with a time travel twist: He stutters and bumbles with famous faces of the past such as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. A sheer delight.
I would write a paragraph about "Bridesmaids," but I'm just too busy cracking up thinking about it. Can't...stop.
Sex has never been so unsexy. In the aptly-titled "Shame," Michael Fassbender plays a successful business executive who can't kick his constant cravings for the next big O. He's a sex addict, and not in the trendy "oh wow, how cool" way that Hollywood generally depicts men who get around. His compulsion torments him. This simple-yet-powerful flick really got under my skin.
What's not to love about Paul Giamatti? His shlubby curmudgeon bit is always entertaining, and it helps that "Win-Win" is so well written and breezes on by without a lull in sight. What can I say: I'm a big fan of uncomfortable comedies with real life at the core. In the film, Paul is a down-on-his-luck attorney who sees dollar signs in a young wrestler whose grandpa he happens to be ripping off. Whoops.
10. Young Adult
Speaking of uncomfortable...hello, Mavis Gary. Charlize Theron nails this role, tackling the dark side again after it won her an Oscar for "Monster." As a 30-something woman who has learned absolutely nothing in life, she comes back to her hometown to seduce her old beau. So what if he's married with a newborn. Patton Oswalt shines as the voice of reason, but of course she's deaf to anything but her own delusional nonsense. It's a witty, gritty, cringe-inducing gem from dream team Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman.