Honorable Mentions (cinematic highlights from movies that did NOT make it to the top of my list):
The cinematography of "Pina" / "星空 (Starry Starry Night)"
The opening sequence of "Melancholia"
The production design of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II" / "武俠 (Wu Xia)"
The film music of "Drive" / "La piel que habito" / "La Guerre est déclarée"
The costume design of "Anonymous"
The action sequences "train wreck" in "Super 8" / "forest chase" in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" / "battle at Mahebo" in "賽德克‧巴萊- 彩虹橋 (Seediq Bale: Part 2)"
The on-screen duo/couple Brad Pitt & Jonah Hill in "Moneyball" / 竇驍 & 周冬雨 in "山楂樹之戀 (Under the Hawthorn Tree)"
The ensemble cast of "The Help"
The musical numbers "Express" in "Burlesque" / "Alle kinder dieser Erde" in "Männerherzen"
Runner-ups (all-around solid movies just missing my top 10), in alphabetical order:
1. "The Adventures of Tintin"
4. "Fish Tank"
5. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
7. "翻滾吧! 阿信 (Jump! Ashin)"
8. "Les petits mouchoirs"
9. "The Romantics"
And finally, the cream of the crop- out of the 180 movies I saw in 2011, these are my favorite 10, in alphabetical order:
1. "Another Year" (dir. Mike Leigh)
Beautifully written, masterfully directed and brilliantly acted, every note of this deceptively simple British dramedy rings true. Lesley Manville's portrayal of the pathologically insecure Gerry feels so genuine and honest it's almost scary.
2. "Attack the Block" (dir. Joe Cornish)
Refreshing, invigorating, adorably nerdy, this highly original action comedy is hilarious and exciting in equal measure. The hefty subject of social integration and disenfranchisement has never been turned into an easier pill to swallow.
3. "Black Swan" (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
On the strength of the fearless direction, fiery cinematography and a ferocious performance by Natalie Portman, the ballerina, the Mother and the devil inside all spin into a deliciously toxic mix of angst, guilt and self-destruction.
4. "Bridesmaids" (dir. Paul Feig)
The most relentlessly and unapologetically funny movie of the year is also a surprisingly humanistic one; the carefully observed script is brought to life by the collective comedic genius of an impeccable cast- a riot from start to finish.
5. "Incendies" (dir. Denis Villeneuve)
An unflinching look at the consequences of war at its most tragic- for a country, a family and a person- this Canadian mystery/drama is thoroughly engaging with its twists and turns, powerful in its message and utterly devastating in its emotional payoff.
6. "Kynodontas (Dogtooth)" (dir. Giorgos Lanthimos)
Starkly sparse, bloodlessly cold and so magnificently odd, this perverse psychological thriller from Greece doesn't just blow you away with its singular style and quietly terrifying tone, it's a breath of fresh air with teeth that bite.
7. "晚秋 (Late Autumn)" (dir. Tae-Yong Kim)
This Korean drama about love between two lost souls under the most impossible of cirsumstances boasts a pair of lead performances so fully realized and compatible and a story so painfully romantic it hits the softest spot in your heart and refuses to let up.
8. "志明與春嬌 (Love in a Puff)" (dir. 彭浩翔 Ho-Cheung Pang)
Through a group of potty-mouthed and chain-smoking friends, this irreverent comedy paints a vivid portrait of a modern-day relationship born and tested between the skyscrapers of Hong Kong- breezy, heartfelt and clear-eyed, all the haze notwithstanding.
9. "Midnight in Paris" (dir. Woody Allen)
Witty, warm and wildly imaginative, this movie is a transcendant love letter to the magic of Paris. Through the celebration of art, literature and the ages gone by, it itself offers a transportive experience rooted in the finest writing and filmmaking.
10. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" (dir. Tomas Alfredson)
An espionage thriller with production value of the highest order; its images and sounds are so rich and evocative they practically leave a scent. Add to that a flawless cast that masters the craft of restrained performance, and every scene becomes a trickery of the senses and the mind.