Tuesday, January 24, 2012

OSCAR LOVES MOVIES ABOUT MOVIES

So, the 84th Academy Award nominations were announced this morning, and who does Oscar like this year? What trends can we find? Well, this year, Oscar is quite the navel gazer. He loves movies about movies with the likes of “Hugo”, “The Artist” and “My Week with Marilyn” doing very well indeed. 
Asa Butterfield and Ben Kingsley in "Hugo" which received the most Oscar nominations this year.

“Hugo”, the story of a boy living in a Parisian train station who encounters silent film pioneer George Melies received 11 nominations, including Best Picture, the most of any film this year. One nod shy was “The Artist”, a silent film about silent movies. That crowd-pleasing favorite bagged 10.

Oscar continues to love the famous and saw fit to nominate Michelle Williams for her role as Marilyn Monroe in “My Week with Marilyn”, and Kenneth Branagh for rendering Laurence Olivier in that same film, along with Meryl Streep for portraying Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady". And Oscar will always find love for actors who play against sexual type, including this year’s acting nominees Glenn Close and Janet McTeer who cross-dressed in “Albert Nobbs” and Christopher Plummer who played gay in “Beginners.”
Demian Bichir pulled out an unexpected Best Actor nomination for "A Better Life"
Once again though, Oscar is a bit passive/aggressive as he delivered a handful of mixed messages. Yes, Oscar likes big names like George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Both received multiple nods with Clooney recognized for his acting in “The Descendants” and screenwriting of “The Ides of March”, and Pitt getting nominated for acting in and producing “Moneyball.” But Oscar found room for newer, more unfamiliar names as well, including Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, the French stars of “The Artist”, Rooney Mara for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, newbies Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain from “The Help” and most surprisingly, Demian Bichir, an unexpected Best Actor nominee for his role in “A Better Life.”
Melissa McCarthy snagged a Best Supporting Actress nomination for "Bridesmaids"

And Oscar even nominated those that some feared might not make the cut like Gary Oldman for his understated work in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, Nick Nolte for his gruff work in “Warrior”, and Melissa McCarthy for stealing the show in “Bridesmaids.” He also called up Woody Allen and Terence Malick, both recognized for their sublime film direction last year.

But the nominations wouldn’t be complete if Oscar didn’t act just a little nuts too. Where was the nomination for Albert Brooks in “Drive”? The same with Michael Fassbender for “Shame”? (Perhaps they didn’t know which part to nominate him for. Ahem!) And as much praise and money as “The Help” reaped in 2011, its writer/director Tate Taylor wasn’t remembered for either accomplishment in today’s announcement. Shocking.
Albert Brooks was overlooked for his supporting turn in "Drive"

One thing that this year’s Oscar nominations prove is that the Best Song category continues to be silly and half-baked. Oscar could’ve nominated movie songs written by the likes of Madonna, Mary J. Blige or Elton John, but instead he could barely muster a paltry two nominations - one from “The Muppets” and one from the animated kids film “Rio.” I thought Glenn Close might even win this category with the lovely ballad she penned for “Albert Nobbs” but nope, Oscar stopped at two.

The Academy Awards will be given out Sunday, February 26th and knowing Oscar’s track record, it will be a mix of the expected, along with one or two real head-scratchers. Just like this year’s nominations. Just like every time Oscar makes his picks. After all, Oscar is nothing if not consistently inconsistent.

Friday, January 20, 2012

SO MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS SAMPLED A BERNARD HERRMANN TRACK IN "THE ARTIST". SO?

It happens almost every Oscar season. An Academy Award frontrunner is maligned in the blogosphere by some critics who practically blow a gasket over its perceived sin. It happened last year with the silly uproar over Natalie Portman’s use of a dance double in “Black Swan”. And it’s happening this year again with "The Artist" director Michel Hazanavicius in the cross hairs for choosing to use a piece of Bernard Herrmann’s score from “Vertigo” for a dramatic scene towards the end of his movie.


Here are the facts: In the last 20 minutes of “The Artist” Hazanavicius uses six minutes of Herrmann’s score from “Vertigo.” Hazanavicius said he used it because the music is so moving and it fit the melodrama of his scene. This kind of practice is done all the time. Almost the entirety of music cues from Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” has been culled from existing movies. Martin Scorsese has always used dozens of existing pop songs to create a mood, like he does in “Goodfellas”. If you’ve ever watched “American Horror Story” you may recognize a number of famous horror themes there because creator Ryan Murphy has sampled them throughout the show. He does the exact same thing that Hazanavicius did.

Could “The Artist” composer Ludovic Bource have written original music for that one scene as well? Of course. Just as Quentin Tarantino could have used an original score rather than sample other movie scores by the likes of Ennio Morricone and Giorgio Moroder. But they didn’t. And that’s his creative choice, just like Hazanavicius’. And their choices work.

But that’s not good enough for some movie bloggers and critics still railing despite those facts. Maybe they just want to stir the pot. Or get people to pay attention to them. After all, many of these protestors are the same folks who last year wrote so stridently about Natalie Portman. Did they really expect her to have the moves of a prima ballerina? How naïve.

At the end of the day, “The Artist” will likely win the Best Picture Oscar. And maybe that doesn’t sit well with these awards prognosticators who want more influence over the Academy vote. Perhaps they have a different favorite in the mix and don’t want their film to lose. But it is all so much ado about nothing.

Perhaps “The Artist” would have been even more wonderful with a dramatic score that was 100% original. But that point is really moot. The movie is what it is. And in my opinion, it is great. And the Bernard Herrmann piece was used in it beautifully. That should be enough.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

THE GOLDEN GLOBES FOR ONCE ARE QUITE GOLDEN

Sunday night was the 69th Annual Golden Globes, and within a minute host Ricky Gervais bit the hand that was feeding him, remarking that the Globes were like the Oscars, only without the esteem. A few minutes later he made a naughty joke about Jodie Foster’s movie “The Beaver.”  Not the Oscars, indeed.
That being said, most of the show was pretty respectable this year. There were no truly jaw-dropping insults from Gervais. And aside from too many jokes about Melissa McCarthy’s character taking a dump in a sink in the comedy “Bridesmaids”, and some censors working quickly to bleep out Meryl Streep of all people, the show was rather staid and even conventional. One could say it bordered on tasteful. Most of the humor showed true wit, as when George Clooney came out with a cane to mock his friend Brad Pitt’s recent ailment. (He did make an off-color joke about Michael Fassbender of “Shame” golfing without his hands later in the broadcast, but it wasn’t too outrageous.)

Even if the humor wasn’t all that dangerous this time, there still remained something edgy about the Globes broadcast. As it does every year. Maybe it's that tiny room at the Beverly Hilton that all those celebs from the world of TV and film are squeezed into. Or the free-flowing booze that never stops pouring throughout the show. And then there's the often unusual taste level the Hollywood Foreign Press Association shows in bestowing their honors. But in 2012, there were a lot fewer surprises than there usually are.
As expected, “The Artist” won three Globes with wins for Best Comedy, Score, and Actor in a Comedy (Jean Dujardin). Most of the other wins in the acting categories were expected too like George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer. Martin Scorsese’s win for Best Director of "Hugo" was something of a surprise, but not if you’ve seen that marvelous film. And nobody thought Madonna would win anything for her universally panned “W.E.” which has yet to open in Chicago, by the way. She scored a surprise victory in the best song category. Though not surprisingly, her acceptance speech was typically Madonna-esque with that odd combination of jitters and hubris she always expresses.
The tribute to Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement winner Morgan Freeman was quickly done and deft, something the Globes hasn’t always done in salutes like that. I still cringe thinking about the atrocious jokes uttered during the Robert DeNiro tribute a few years back. And the pacing of the show was sharp with nothing dragging, and all A-listers acquitting themselves quite nicely on stage including Angelina Jolie, Reese Witherspoon, Natalie Portman and Colin Firth, just to name a few.

For me, the highlight of the show was seeing the cast of “The Artist” get up on stage together to celebrate the Best Comedy win with their director/writer Michael Hazanavicius and producer Thomas Langmann. Best of all, Uggie, the movie's scene-stealing dog went up too, and he performed some adorable tricks with leading man Jean Dujardin. The audience loved it and proved once again that if the Academy members could cast a write-in vote as Best Supporting Actor for the canine, they would! Woof!
And for those of you who watch these events for the fashions, to my eyes it seemed that Charlize Theron more than anyone else, looked the most stunning on the red carpet. In fact, I'll go so far as to predict that she’ll be the choice of a lot of critics and fashion experts for best dressed at this year’s Globes.

Here are the winners in the film categories:

Best Drama – “The Descendants”
Best Comedy – “The Artist”
Best Director – Martin Scorsese “Hugo”
Best Actor (Drama) – George Clooney “The Descendants”
Best Actress (Drama) – Meryl Streep “The Iron Lady”
Best Actor (Comedy) – Jean Dujardin “The Artist”
Best Actress (Comedy) – Michelle Williams “My Week With Marilyn”
Best Supporting Actor – Christopher Plummer “Beginners”
Best Supporting Actress - Octavia Spencer "The Help"
Best Screenplay – “Midnight in Paris”
Best Foreign Language Film – “A Separation”
Best Original Score – “The Artist”
Best Original Song – “W.E.”
Best Animated Feature – “The Adventures of Tintin”

So what implication does all this have for upcoming awards shows?

Well, the usual suspects will likely continue to be called for more accolades. “The Artist” remains the frontrunner for Best Picture at the Oscars. And Billy Crystal certainly has his work cut out for him hosting the show, especially after such an entertaining Globes show. It was the most respectable show the Hollywood Foreign Press has put on in years. In fact, some might say that the show even had esteem

Saturday, January 7, 2012

MY FAVORITE IMAGES FROM 2011 MOVIES

My friends, this month The Establishing Shot celebrates its one-year anniversary! Thanks to all who have visited here and continue to come back again and again. I’m especially appreciative of those who share their thoughts in the message boards below. Part of the reason I called this blog The Establishing Shot was to take a shot at something and then let you keep the conversation going. So thanks to those of you who do so.

Today I’m going to take a shot at picking the best images from movies of 2011. It’s only fitting as the very first post of this blog was my picks from 2010. Here then are my favorite images from this past year. (And there are spoilers in some of them so proceed with caution.)

1.) THE ARTIST
I’m tempted to choose this entire movie as one big favorite image, but I’ll restrict myself to two specific shots. My first, and my favorite shot from any movie this year, is the image below of ingénue Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) visiting the dressing room of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin). She has a crush on him and fantasizes being held in his arms by putting her arm in the sleeve of his hanging coat. It’s a pantomime bit full of cheeky wit and effervescent sexiness. Who wouldn’t fall in love with that girl? Who wouldn’t fall in love with Michael Hazanavicius’ movie with moments like that?


2.) THE TREE OF LIFE
Another movie that has so many fantastic images, it’s hard to pick one. But for me, it’s most arresting shot was one that most thought confounding. During the 20-minute sequence showcasing the creation of earth, director Terrence Malick shows a dinosaur lying wounded in a stream. Another dinosaur enters the frame and thinks about killing him, but decides not to. This act of mercy is an earliest form of grace demonstrated on this planet, proving that nature can change, and humanity can exist anywhere.


3.) TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
Some seemingly throwaway moments in film tell you everything about a character. The essence of veteran spy George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is captured in a funny and odd little scene involving a stray bee. After just picking up a retired spy from his home where his hobby is beekeeping, there’s an errant bee with them in the car. We watch the backs of their heads as his two colleagues try to bat it away. Smiley takes a different tack. He waits for the bee to get close to the window and then calmly rolls the window down, letting the bee escape. That moment tells the audience everything about the patience of the man who will smoke out the mole in MI-6 by letting the errant spy come to him.


4.) MELANCHOLIA
The movie opens with a handful of stylized shots, frozen moments in time, of the movie’s characters reacting to the end of the world. One of them is a strange image of Charlotte Gainsbourgh clutching her child, sinking into the putting green on a golf course. It’s a shocking opening, unsettling as hell, but what does it all mean? By the end, you know. And it’s just as unsettling then.


5.) HUGO
In this children’s fable, when Hugo (Asa Butterfield) and his friend Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) discover that her Uncle Georges (Ben Kingsley) is actually pioneering filmmaker Georges Melies, the story flashes back to his early years making movies. Director Martin Scorsese clearly adores Melies and painstakingly recreates the rich tableaus from his early work aided by his brilliant production designer Dante Ferretti. In a movie that is a visual wonder from its opening shot to its last, these moments are a treasure.


6.) THE ARTIST
Uggie the dog gives one of the greatest animal performances in the history of movies in THE ARTIST. The canine’s wondrous acting ability is never more apparent than when he tries to stop his best friend George from committing suicide. Uggie’s fervent barking and pleading for George to put the gun down and choose life makes for one of 2011’s most moving moments. 
7.) THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
When cyber hacker/researcher Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) visits her firm to report the findings on Mikael Blomqvist to Henry Vanger’s lawyer, the counselor asks if there’s anything she didn’t put in the report that may be useful. She offers, “He’s had a long standing sexual relationship with his co-editor of the magazine. Sometimes he performs cunnilingus on her. Not enough, in my opinion.” She hits the first syllable of opinion so hard, emphasizing the 'o' that it’s rather startling. The fact that it’s accompanied by her unblinking stare at the lawyer makes it all the more so. She rattles him with her candor, and her blunt look and style defines who she is in that first minute of her screen time. 


8.) DRIVE
A getaway driver (Ryan Gosling) gets involved with the wrong gangsters and they come gunning for him and the young, single mother (Carey Mulligan) he’s seeing who lives in his apartment building. The couple gets on the elevator together and the driver realizes that they're riding with a hit man. As he readies to take him out first, he moves his girl out of harm’s way. The moment is shot in slow motion, making it all the more tense and poignant. It’s a moment both terrifying and beautiful, like all of director Nicolas Winding Refn’s taut, stylistic thriller.


9.) WAR HORSE
In this wrenching World War I movie, Joey, a thoroughbred horse, is sold to the allied forces to be an officer’s steed. He becomes lost in battle and ends up being passed along from deserting Germans, to a French farmer, then back to the Germans again where he’s put to work pulling cannons up hills. When the allied forces move in, Joey is abandoned and becomes disoriented amidst all the chaos. He runs wildly through the trenches and the war fields, eventually  becoming ensnared in ribbons of barbed wire. It’s absolutely harrowing to witness and director Steven Spielberg's audacious scene is still haunting me.

10.) X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
This origins story imagines the X-Men’s formation in the early Sixties, at the height of the Cold War. Professor X tries to help prevent war in Cuban waters and calls on Magneto to help by using his metal-moving powers to exhume a villainous submarine from underwater. He strains to do so, but manages to neutralize it. It's one helluva trick. And then it's gloriously topped a few minutes later when Magneto stops a slew of missiles aimed at the X-Men. As tricks go, it’s pretty darn neato. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

MY PICKS FOR THE 10 BEST FILMS OF 2011

Ah, the New Year: no more holidays, snow in Chicago, critics making their 10 Best List’s. Thus, it’s time for me to make mine as well. I previously picked my Top 10 in horror for the year, and now I will for the general cinema. Granted, some movies of 2011 have not yet opened in Chicago. I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of A SEPARATION, THE IRON LADY, CARNAGE and ALBERT NOBBS. But of what I was able to see, these ten are my picks for best of the year, from top to bottom. And if you haven’t seen all of my choices, you owe yourself the treat of viewing these cinematic highlights. (WARNING: Some plot spoilers are about to be revealed. Sorry. It’s inevitable.)
THE ARTIST
Written and directed by Michael Hazanavicius
At first glance, this charming and clever black & white movie seems to be all about the love of the cinema. French filmmaker Hazanavicius has made a silent movie about, well, silent movies, and his attention to all the details of that era are superb. But look closer and you’ll see he’s really made a movie about embracing modernity. How ironic that a movie so rooted in the past is actually about the future. In the late 20’s, a matinee idol named George Valentin (the impeccable Jean Dujardin) stubbornly refuses to embrace the coming sound era of filmmaking. He clings to silent movies and becomes a thing of the past just like them. But a good woman and a good dog save him. The girl is Peppy Miller (the appropriately effervescent Berenice Bejo), an ingénue he helped get a start in the biz, now a big star in the ‘talkies.’ The dog is Uggie, George’s constant companion, on screen and off. They help him realize life is worth living and his gifts are worth sharing in this new art form. THE ARTIST has a lot to say about art, love, friendship, loyalty and redemption, considering it’s a film with limited sound. It says that everyone, be they artists or everyday citizens, needs to keep moving forward, towards the promise of better tomorrows. I haven’t smiled throughout a movie like THE ARTIST in a long time. For my money, it’s the best film of the year and one I will cherish forever. (A special note: that dog Uggie gives one of the greatest animal performances in the history of the cinema and all the talk of getting him a supporting actor nomination is warranted. He’s that good.)
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
Written and directed by Woody Allen
This film also embraces the past while cajoling its lead into the future. Owen Wilson plays a blocked Hollywood screenwriter trying to find inspiration to make something of his first novel. While vacationing in Paris with his harping girlfriend and her snobby parents, he gets lost in Paris at the witching hour and is transported back to the City of Light of the 1920’s. There he meets Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and a host of other artists from that era who help him find meaning in his writing. And in a comely young Parisian (Marion Cotillard), he finds a woman who opens his eyes about confronting his future. (This and THE ARTIST are two peas in a pod.) It’s a marvelous time-travel fable and ended up being Woody Allen’s biggest hit of all-time, playing at Chicago’s Century Landmark for the better part of six months. That kind of box office feat should inspire Hollywood to make more films like this each year. (They can stop with those infuriating TRANSFORMERS films anytime as far as I am concerned.)
HUGO
Written by John Logan and directed by Martin Scorsese
Chicago’s very own John Logan (a NU grad from 1983) is one of Martin Scorsese’s favorite screenwriters working today and with good reason. He’s a superb writer, both of original screenplays and adapted ones like this one, based on Brian Selznick’s famed children’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Logan and Scorsese have made a film for all ages about a lonely orphan boy (Asa Butterfield) who lives in a Parisian train station and tends its clocks. Not only does he make sure they keep time but he resets the lives of a few station workers as well, notably its grumpy toy seller (Ben Kingsley). The sterling cast includes Chloe Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helen McCrory, Emily Mortimer, Richard Griffiths, Michael Stuhlberg, Frances de la Tour, Ray Winstone and Christopher Lee. It’s a movie that celebrates childhood, dreams and film preservation. (See it and you’ll see what I mean.) It’s the best looking film of any this year with incredible art direction, costumes and cinematography that simply pop in Scorsese’s brilliant first film shot in 3-D. (Maybe 3-D isn’t over, after all.)
THE TREE OF LIFE
Written and directed by Terrence Malick
Some loved it. Some loathed it. I loved every frame, even the 20 minutes in the middle concerning the creation of earth. Like THE ARTIST, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS and HUGO, this movie is about moving forward in life, working with what the past has given us. The film argues that earth’s populace should live life by choosing grace and forgiveness over brutal instinct, be it prehistoric times or the 1950’s or today. That’s not always easy for the nuclear family at its core, a struggling one in the Eisenhower era, dealing with a tug of war going on for the souls of their children between the bullheaded dad (Brad Pitt) and ethereal mom (Jessica Chastain). This movie suggests that our lives should focus on the positive, and that theme is reiterated by every single shot that is framed in this artistically exceptional film. The simplest movement, like the mom washing the cut grass off of her feet with a trickling hose, is gorgeous. So is every inch of this movie. It’s a very misunderstood movie, but many great works of art are. And this work will only grow in reputation as the years pass.


THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Written by Steve Zaillian and directed by David Fincher.
I loved the original Swedish movie and I love this one too. Zaillian has kept much of the good in Stieg Larrson’s original prose, but he’s eliminated most of the hoary coincidences and contrivances. (Really? Mikael Blomqvist is hired to search for Harriet Vanger, who just happened to be his nanny one summer when he was seven?!) Fincher establishes a marvelous tone throughout, filled with throbbing dread and imminent danger. And his cast actually outshines their Swedish predecessors. Despite struggling with a Swedish accent, Daniel Craig makes for a wonderfully complex and troubled lead. And Rooney Mara does wonders with her role of Lisbeth Salander, bringing the harsh looking heroine’s vulnerability to life in ways that Noomi Rapace didn’t. Despite great reviews, the film didn’t live up to expectations at the box office last week. That has more to do with marketing than artistry. No one can argue with the craft in this film. One can argue with opening a movie about serial murders, anal rape and the abuse of women on Christmas day. Perhaps it should have opened in the cold, stark month of February when the temperature would more appropriately fit the mood of this chilly thriller.


THE SKIN I LIVE IN
Written by Pedro and Agustin Almodovar and directed by Pedro Almodovar
This is the only horror movie on my list this year, and it’s from a filmmaker who’s never done one before. Almodovar’s familiar themes of identity, unrequited love and obsessive behavior are all still present, but here he’s channeled into a modern version of Frankenstein. Antonio Banderas plays a brilliant plastic surgeon out to avenge the assault on his daughter. What that has to do with a beautiful woman (Elena Anaya) imprisoned in his ultra-sleek mansion is not explained until well over the two-thirds mark, but the revelation is the jaw dropper of the year. Like all Almodovar movies, this one is beautiful, sensual, funny, strange and unsettling. And here its horrors really get under your skin.
MELANCHOLIA
Written and directed by Lars von Trier
There are two forms of melancholy in this film: one comes in the form of Justine, a depressed bride played by Kirsten Dunst; and the other arrives in the form of a rogue planet hurtling towards earth. Where the new planet Melancholia is headed, no one quite knows for sure, but Justine knows her marriage is headed for doom even while the extravagant wedding is going on around her.  This film plays as a complex dissertation on the dreams of our lives vs. the realities of our true existence. And von Trier, who can be an erratic and unfocused filmmaker, keeps a tight rein on his material this time, even during the brilliant and audacious, world-ending climax. It may be depressing but boy, is it exhilarating! 
YOUNG ADULT
Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman
Another dyspeptic female protagonist in a year filled with them, but here Charlize Theron may surpass them all as the wounded former high school prom queen Mavis Gary. She returns to her hometown hoping to reclaim a lost love but bitterness has colored her perceptions and keeps her from moving on with her life. It’s a dark comedy with an awful woman at the center, but kudos to Cody for writing such a disturbed yet fascinating lead and to Theron, not flinching one inch at playing such a pathetic protagonist. There should be more complex character studies made like this, and I applaud Cody and Reitman for creating a small but smart picture where the only special effects are in its sharp writing, deft direction and sublime acting.

BRIDESMAIDS
Written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo and directed by Paul Freig
Some may call this a female version of THE HANGOVER but it’s actually more of a knowing satire on the recession, as much of a film of its time as MARGIN CALL. Kristen Wiig’s Annie Walker has lost her business to the crap economy and her confidence has been flushed with it. She lets it taint all aspects of her life, poisoning her attitude towards relationships, her part-time job, and causing her to drink and swear too much. When her best friend (Maya Rudolph) names her maid of honor for her upcoming wedding, she chomps down on the task like a starving dog with a bone. It’s her big chance at doing something right and her attempts to be the perfect attendant makes for a hilarious and often painful comedy. Ably supported by terrific comic actors, including a brittle Rose Byrne and the outrageous Melissa McCarthy, this film is the year’s best farce.


TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
Written by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan and directed by Tomas Alfredson
This is the antidote to the non-stop adrenaline of spy movies like Bond and the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE series. TTSS is a cool, quiet and sinister little thriller about the business of spying. I use the word business because the spies here are officious ‘suits’, businessmen whose trade is fighting the Cold War in the 1970’s with their intellect. The stiff, upper-lipped Brits are as gray and dull and as staid as their clothing in this sly adaptation of the John Le Carre bestseller, but there’s a mole among them ("He's been there for years," as one character complains) and the traitor is feeding the Soviets info and getting British field agents shot and killed, so retired agent George Smiley is brought in to smoke out the double agent. He does so not with tricked up Aston Martins and cool gadgets but with clever footwork, thinking outside the box and trap setting. Gary Oldman plays Smiley with disquieting calm, like a cat slowly waiting for a mouse to leave its hole. And he’s ably supported by some of England’s finest character actors including Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, David Dencik and John Hurt. Alfredson directs each page of the tight script with a sense of dread and potential danger. Unfortunately, this thinking man’s thriller got a little lost in the glut of December releases but hopefully you will get to see it, if you haven't, before it disappears from the Cineplex.

All in all, 2011 was not a great year in the annals of films. Too many expensive duds like THE GREEN LANTERN brought revenues down on the whole too. But each of the films on my list is making money here or throughout the world. That’s a testament to the logic that if you make a good movie, more often than not, it will find an audience. We need more movies like THE ARTIST or YOUNG ADULT, and less super hero bores and CGI extravaganzas long on budget and short on content.

So tell me, what would you pick as the best movies this past year? Tell me your thoughts and let’s keep the conversation going. And stay tuned for my upcoming post on my favorite images from 2011 movies. There are some truly stunning visuals from these films and others that will stay with me a long time. And if you see them, I think they’ll stay with you too.