Best of 2011: John P. Meyer’s Top 10 Films

Thomas Horn and Tom Hanks in 'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close'

1. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (dir. Stephen Daldry)

Movingtouchingendearing, and all those other adjectives that describe how a movie affects us profoundly apply to this post-traumatic stresser about a family dynamic put on hold after the horrific events of 9/11. It’s also a crackerjack mystery story, played out against the backdrop of New York City and its polyglot denizens. Full of terrifying realities, challenging truths, and cathartic outcomes. Youngster Thomas Horn and oldster Max von Sydow shine brightly. (Opens in Dallas on Jan. 20.)

2. Midnight in Paris (dir. Woody Allen)

I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to find Woody returning to the sort of manic tomfoolery he orchestrated so well in his “early, funny stuff” days. This madcap time traveling romance — complete with appearances by Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Pablo Picasso — is a pure delight to watch. (Available on DVD and Blu-ray.)

3. Win Win (dir. Thomas McCarthy)

Leave it to offbeat genius writer/director McCarthy (The VisitorThe Station Agent) to turn the story of a high school wrestling coach and his unlikely protege into the most heartwarming odds-against sports drama of the year. It’s also an odds-against family drama, one that will leave you with a great big smile on your face when you walk away from the theater. (Or, at this point, I suppose, the DVD player.) (Available on DVD and Blu-ray.)

4. Melancholia (dir. Lars von Trier)

Hands-down the most visually arresting movie of the year and one of the most thematically disturbing — starting with its first several minutes, during which we see a woman in bridal regalia running in extreme slow motion across a golf course, while vines appear to be pulling against her. Before this Wagner-accompanied sequence is done, we’ll see one planet collide with another. And wait ’til you meet the wedding guests! (Now playing.)

5. The Artist (dir. Michel Hazanavicius)

Given the level of contrivance employed in its production (black & white cinematography; silent, subtitled dialog), this movie should never have worked. But we leave it feeling ennobled instead of manipulated, thanks to a good-hearted script and illuminating performances by a pair of international actors with whom we were previously unfamiliar (Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo). Simply charming.  (Now playing.)

6. War Horse (dir. Steven Spielberg)

Spielberg-style sentiment at its most epic, here applied to the heartwarming tale of a boy and his horse. Throw in an ill-fated cavalry charge (mounted swordsmen against machine guns), a lonely girl living in the countryside with her grandfather (shades of Heidi), and quiet on the western front (the trenches in WWI) and you’ve got yourself a horse story for the ages. (May be too intense for younger colts.)  (Now playing.)

7. Hanna (dir. Joe Wright)

I can’t tell if I’m more impressed with Saoirse Ronan as a bio-engineered killer adolescent, Cate Blanchett as a bleeding-gums control-freak villain, or The Chemical Brothers for constructing the most whimsical score ever for a Bourne-like thriller that never lets up from start to fabulous finish. (Available on DVD and Blu-ray.)

8. Beginners (dir. Mike Mills)

Ewan McGregor quietly underplays one of the sweetest and most affecting roles of his career as an emotionally stunted fellow whose father (played by the great Christopher Plummer) embraces his gayness just as he’s coming to terms with a grim medical diagnosis. Mélanie Laurent charms as the woman who threatens to break the ice composing Oliver’s (McGregor’s) lonely shell. Best talking dog movie ever. (Available on DVD and Blu-ray.)

9. Crazy, Stupid, Love (dir.s Glenn Ficarra, John Requa)

Don’t be fooled by its comedic trappings: This relationship-savvy romantic drama has more heart (and intellect!) than most of the “serious” films that released this year. Steve Carell demonstrates why his brand of funny ought to be patented, while Ryan Gosling builds on his “actor who excels at everything” credentials. Emma Stone’s portrayal of the hopeful, courageous Hannah is irresistible. (Available on DVD and Blu-ray.)

10. Contagion (dir. Steven Soderbergh)

From beginning to end, this multi-threaded chronicle of the relentless spread of an infectious virus commands our attention — and gives us pause to wonder whether a scenario like this might actually be in the cards for the oh-so-cosmopolitan human community that we have become (for good and — in terms of this story — ill). Terrifying and fascinating “what if” stuff, expertly presented. (Available on DVD and Blu-ray Jan. 3.)

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