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The Film Issue

Looking back on the year in movies, and what's coming in 2012.

The Film Issue

It's been a big year in film, not that we'd ever expect our critics to agree on the best movies of 2011. Which is why for our year-end film issue, we're including two top 10 film lists — from Pete Vonder Haar and Karina Longworth. But that's not nearly all: This issue also features stories on the year in film graphics, how 3-D filmmaking has finally gone legit, and our people of the year — including Girl with the Dragon Tattoo producer Scott Rudin. Also look for Longworth's essay on what she's looking forward to in 2012 — Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, anyone? — and check our expanded film-review section included in this issue, with our critics' takes on A Dangerous Method, War Horse, The Adventures of Tintin and, of course, Dragon Tattoo.

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
Houston Press film critic Pete Vonder Haar's top 10 movies of 2011.

It's a crazy time of year for Hollywood. The studios, in their haste to get as many films into "awards consideration" for the Oscars and other award-granting organizations, flood critics with screener DVDs and shove movies into qualifying runs in New York and Los Angeles. All because nobody ever remembers what came out last January. (Here's a reminder: The Green Hornet and Season of the Witch. At least in this case, the month of release has nothing to do with lack of nominations.)

Take Shelter: tough to sit through, but worth it.
© 2011 - Sony Pictures Classics
Take Shelter: tough to sit through, but worth it.
Anna Paquin gives the performance of the year in Margaret.
© 2011 - Fox Searchlight
Anna Paquin gives the performance of the year in Margaret.

But neither does it make a hell of a lot of sense to call Win Win, an admittedly splendid little film starring Paul Giamatti, one of the "best of 2011" when it doesn't go into wide release until March of next year. Maybe it's just me, but I suspect people would like to hear about the movies they might have had a snowball's chance of actually seeing during the year they're supposedly representing. So most of the movies on this list made an appearance in Houston during the last 12 months. If they didn't, a release date is included. Just in case you're not up to seeing Breaking Dawn: Part 1 for the 15th time.

1. TAKE SHELTER

Directed by Jeff Nichols

I was afraid to check this out for a long time. Since becoming a parent, my tolerance for movies about fathers and their endangered children is zilch, and I've seen enough of Michael Shannon to know that watching him play a father desperate to protect his daughter from impending catastrophe would hit really close to home. And it did. It's both a thoughtful examination of the terrors of mental illness and a powerful statement about the decay of modern society. Tough to sit through, but worth it.

2. DRIVE

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Refn reintroduces suspense to cinema in a taut thriller that showcases Ryan Gosling's best performance since Half Nelson and a throwback '80s vibe that will please anyone who cut their teeth on Michael Mann and William Friedkin. And just between us, does anybody else think Gosling looks a lot like a young Peter Stormare? I think it's time to work on my prequel script for Fargo.

3. THE DESCENDANTS

Directed by Alexander Payne

Fun fact: George Clooney wanted to play the role of Jack in Sideways, but Alexander Payne thought he was too famous. I guess Payne was swayed by Syriana and Good Night and Good Luck in the meantime, and his decision to cast Clooney as Matt King was a sound one. Like his earlier films, The Descendants is primarily about the often-illusory nature of relationships and how difficult they can be to establish or repair. No explosions, no vampires, just one family's attempts to move on from tragedy.

4. THE ARTIST

Directed by Michel Hazanavicius

A love letter to Hollywood's bygone Silent Era (by a bunch of French filmmakers, at that), The Artist is notable not only for its lack of dialogue, but for the obvious affection the filmmakers have for the institution of cinema. When was the last time you were engaged by a film with no "action" and almost no spoken words? A true pleasure to watch, and that Bérénice Bejo? Ooh la la.

5. WARRIOR

Directed by Gavin O'Connor

This doesn't seem to be getting a lot of year-end love, and that's too bad. For while I won't lie and say the story is original (estranged brothers Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton train separately for MMA tournament, the former under the tutelage of recovering alcoholic father Nick Nolte), you'll have a hard time resisting the Rocky-style climax and a standout performance by Nolte.

6. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY

Directed by Tomas Alfredson

(Release Date: January 6)

I recently watched Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and it made me realize how accustomed we've become to the idea of spies as James Bond/Jason Bourne-style badasses, all krav maga and gadgets and high explosives. In reality, intelligence work is shadowy, yes, but meticulous and less a sprint than a marathon. Alfredson's adaptation of the John le Carré classic revisits a Cold War more concerned with forcing the audience to piece things together than blowing things up, all bolstered by standout performances by Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy and Colin Firth.

7. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

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