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Year's best movies left intrigue for the audience

  • Gary Oldman in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," one of the year's best movies.

    Associated Press

    Gary Oldman in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," one of the year's best movies.

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By Robert Horton
Herald Film Critic
  • Gary Oldman in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," one of the year's best movies.

    Associated Press

    Gary Oldman in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," one of the year's best movies.

2011: Year of mystery? Sometimes it felt like it at the movies. I'm not talking about actual whodunits, or in the case of the brilliant spy picture "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," a whoizzit. No, the best movies of the year were a collection of offbeat mind-benders that challenged the viewer to keep up, in one way or another. Maybe it was an enigmatic hero (How'd that guy in "Drive" get those crazy skills, anyway?).

Take a look at the year's best and worst movies here.
Or a black comedy about depression that abruptly shifted into a meditation on, literally, the end of the world ("Melancholia"). Or you could have that tingly feeling of what-the-heck-am-I-watching-here-exactly, which might be mesmerizing ("Certified Copy") or finally too navel-gazing for its own good ("The Tree of Life"). Even Woody Allen delved into a surreal world, with his biggest hit in years, "Midnight in Paris." This tendency was true in bad movies, too; the giant stinker "Sucker Punch," for instance, did its share of brain-teasing. What gives? So many movies offer up simple solutions, but some 2011 filmmakers seemed to be suggesting that things aren't as easy as they seem. A lot of the movies on my Ten Best list pushed the boundaries of our expectations, and I was grateful for that. The year was supposedly a disappointing one at the box office, and some of the usual powerhouse franchises failed to rack up big numbers of the past. However, certain series were unbeatable: the final "Harry Potter" installment, for instance, and wherever we are (does it matter?) in the "Twilight" saga. I found out I could still be surprised when the third "Transformers" picture, "Dark of the Moon," turned out to be zany fun. And "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" not only breathed new life into a dormant franchise, but got downright thrilling when the chimps took over in the second half. Winners of the movie year included the apocalypse, which figured in many a storyline (Pre-2012 jitters, thanks to the Mayan calendar predicting our demise? Discuss.) and women in comedy, who will get a chance to prove themselves thanks to the deserved success of "Bridesmaids." Also "winning," in the Charlie Sheen sense, were two actors who surely appeared in half the year's releases, between them. Ryan Gosling hit it big with "Drive," "Crazy, Stupid, Love" and "The Ides of March." Michael Fassbender arrived with fine work in "Jane Eyre," "X-Men First Class," "Shame" and "A Dangerous Method." The year's biggest loser was film. By that I mean 35 mm. film, the format that has provided the vast majority of what we've known as the movies for more than 100 years. Maybe you haven't heard, but actual film has quietly disappeared from theaters in the past three years or so, and will be almost entirely gone within another year. Digital rules the day, ushered in by convenience, improved technology and the needs of 3-D. It's a change as important as the coming of talking pictures, but unlike the end of the silent-movie era (so charmingly recreated in "The Artist"), almost nobody has really noticed it. That shift is more significant than any single film of the year. Nevertheless, it's time for the year-end cataloguing, and here are the best new movies I saw this year. A box of Professor Freud's cigars to the following: Click here to see the year's best and worst movies.
Story tags » Movies

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