1. “Drive”

Screen Gems
Warner Bros.
Sony Pictures Classics

A guy supplements his income by getaway driving for the Los Angeles underworld and becomes trapped between the mafia and the woman he loves. It sounds utterly conventional, yet somehow, “Drive” defies expectations, an example of everything Hollywood’s missing.

Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s masterpiece is more arthouse than blockbuster, but it isn’t the arrogant wish-fulfillment of “Midnight in Paris,” nor is it Terrence Malick’s, “I studied philosophy at Harvard” brand of condescension. Refn takes us back to a time when filmmakers cared about how their films looked, designing the composition of each frame, each action set piece, each incredibly choreographed outburst of white-hot violence, with meticulous detail. With the help of lead actor Ryan Gosling, who turns in his best performance, Refn’s film reinvigorates the crime-action genre, breathing new life into a tired field.


2. “The Adventures of Tintin”

Tintin always moves (unless he’s been knocked out by some ruffian). Motion is his appeal and the reason Steven Spielberg’s representation rings true.

Every second conveys cartoonish energy: slipping, sliding, tripping — the swashbuckling fun never stops. It’s vintage Spielberg — an animated Indiana Jones.

Great movement requires great characters, and luckily, “The Adventures of Tintin” has them. The inebriated Captain Haddock (does Andy Serkis ever do wrong?) is the perfect foil to the grounded Tintin, and Snowy (can dogs win Oscars?) may be the greatest dog in the history of dogs.

“Tintin” testifies to the fact that you’ll never find adventure sitting on your couch (or “locked” up, drunk, in a ship’s cabin). If you keep searching for life, you’ll find it. As they say near the end of the film, “How’s your thirst for adventure, Captain?”

“Unquenchable, Tintin.”


3. “Attack the Block”

Damn, it feels good to be an alien-thrashing gangster. The teenage hoodlums of “Attack the Block” realize every adolescent male’s dream as they gang up and hop on BMX bikes to repel an extraterrestrial invasion. With the swagger of an old master, rookie writer-director Joe Cornish captures claustrophobic, frightening action as leader Moses guides his people against the “gorilla wolf motherfuckers” that land in their South London housing project.

And the action, gloriously gory without being gratuitous, is hilariously hair-raising. Cornish keeps raucous humor alive throughout (aided by a superb extended cameo by Nick Frost), yet nimbly avoids parody.

The film’s American release suffered from unfortunate timing — the miscreant heroes closely resemble the instigators of the London riots — and the film floundered, so it’ll take a groundswell of support before posters of this cult masterpiece become a dorm-room staple. An exclamation by one of the valiant teenage thugs properly sums up the “Attack the Block” experience — “I’m shitting myself but … this is sick.”


4. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”

When director David Yates joined the “Harry Potter” franchise, he was under a lot of pressure. The series was four movies and three directors in, with notoriously expectant fans. But Yates rose to the challenge, culminating in a dark finale more rewarding than this year’s alleged Oscar contenders.

“Harry Potter” is a fantasy bildungsroman: a coming-of-age story for the characters, the filmmakers and us. “Deathly Hallows: Part 2” boasts some of the best ensemble acting of the series, relying as much on the actors who grew up in London’s Leavesden Studios as it does on British veterans. There are fantastic special effects, beautiful cinematography and a sweeping soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat. There are spells and broomsticks. But it’s also a damn good film that broke box office records and made devoted fans cry buckets (Expecto Pa-tissues! … anybody?).

After a decade, history’s most epic film series has ended. But as J.K. Rowling said at the world premiere, “Whether you come by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”


5. “Midnight in Paris”

After several poorly received films, many questioned whether Woody Allen still had it. But recent films have reversed the tide.

This year’s “Midnight in Paris” was one more. Featuring beautiful scenery, Woody Allen’s trademark snappy dialogue, captivating characters and the best Woody Allen surrogate since Woody Allen himself, “Midnight” is one of his cleverest films in years.

A brilliantly neutoric Owen Wilson stars as Gil Pender, a jaded screenwriter vacationing in Paris with his beautiful but vapid fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams). Strolling the Paris streets at midnight, Gil is magically transported to the 1920s, where he wanders into its famous community of expatriate artists and meets historical icons such as Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter, F. Scott Fitzgerald and countless others, all of whom are hilariously written and portrayed.

The film, a contemplation of the futility of romanticizing nostalgia, isn’t one of Allen’s deeper films, but it’s still inventive and continually surprising.


6. “The Ides of March”

“The Ides of March” is a tragedy, a cynical tale of naïveté consumed by dishonesty. The film plays like a gripping workplace thriller, but what makes it great is that we never get a chance to stray far from its deeper implications.

Perfectly weighted dialogue, sleek direction and a pithy script allow this film to break free of the stream of backroom politics repeated every day. For the first time in a while, the topic actually resonates, allowing us to see the context behind the poignant examination of greed and revenge.

Every performance — highlighted by Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of a talented up-and-coming campaign adviser forced to question his beliefs — hits home, bringing something new and interesting to the table. But somehow, the character designs all remain familiarly Machiavellian. We expect the calculated plotting, and as the title suggests, an assassination. But the idea that is murdered is something that can only be guessed at.


7. “Hugo”

When Martin Scorsese unveiled “Hugo,” peopled wondered if a children’s film could stand with his towering filmography. Luckily, “Hugo” casts its own shadow. What starts as a fantasy about orphan Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), who lives in the walls of a Parisian train station, becomes one of the director’s most personal works. It’s an ode to cinema, but it’s also a semi-autobiographical fantasy, complete with themes of legacy and belonging. Even with these substance-heavy themes, it possesses charm, leaving room for Sacha Baron Cohen’s hysterical performance and characters who’re simple yet eloquent. The film allows its 3-D technology to play a part in the storytelling with ingenious cinematography. “Hugo” reminds audiences how much children’s movies can mean, how much they can move us with just enough innocence and a whole lot of heart.


8. “Win Win”

Writer-director Tom McCarthy’s third feature, “Win Win,” sidesteps extremes. It’s an underdog sports drama that’s never schmaltzy, a sweet family dramedy that’s never saccharine, tied together in a simple-but-not-simplistic narrative. McCarthy rescues us from cynicism with the story of lawyer and high school wrestling coach Mike Flaherty (played by Hollywood’s resident schlub Paul Giamatti), whose 99 problems include a sinking practice, failing health and an incompetent team — until the teenage grandson of a senile client shows up at his doorstep.

Overly idealistic or not, the inherent goodness of the characters power “Win Win” past an indie world that favors delinquency. Played with sincerity by a tremendous cast, Flaherty’s boisterous best friend (Bobby Cannavale), his adorably tough wife (Amy Ryan) and the monosyllabic wrestling marvel he adopts show us that loving support is all you need to avoid getting down for the count. McCarthy proves you don’t need bags of money, a working boiler or tiger blood to be a winner.


9. “Moneyball”

“It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball,” says G.M. of the Oakland Athletics Billy Beane to an empty diamond, head laid across the immaculately groomed field. The graceful “Moneyball,” about the A’s forgoing of old-fogey-scouting in favor of measuring players by cold, hard numbers, has an unexpected magnetism to audience members who don’t know anything about sports, statistics or sabermetrics. But they get the romance: the delicious crack of a bat, the buttery fumes of kettle corn and the wide-eyed wonder of a home run. At the crux of this grand human drama is Brad Pitt, who exudes kilowatts of star power from each of his radiant temples. This is an All-American movie.


10. “Super 8”

When J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg sit behind the steering wheel together, the resulting journey can be smooth or very, very bumpy. But “Super 8,” bumpy? Please. The coming-of-age-meets-sci-fi drama echos Spielberg classics such as “E.T.” But so what? In an age when free time spells Facebook, it was charming to see kids sneaking out to make a movie.

That’s until they get caught up in the real-life monster movie unfolding in their town. While the monster provides thrill and doesn’t need to phone home (he can build his own space ship!), “Super 8” really isn’t about him. It’s about sorrow, loss and friendship. Abrams and Spielberg have created an innocent, unpretentious film with a talented young cast, blending the best aspects of childhood with modern effects. It’s pure, old-school fun — fun we rarely experience in films anymore.


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