- 1. The Artist *
Michel Hazanavicius's best picture Oscar winner now seems as distant as the silent cinema it celebrates but it still shimmers in the memory more vividly than any movie this year. While the stunningly accurate mimicking of silent movies was enough to keep us mesmerised, The Artist went way beyond pastiche, evolving into a very funny yet moving examination of arrogance, pride and generational change. Made me fall in love with movies all over again.
- 2. Hugo *
James Cameron's Avatar, showed us that technology could be used to dazzle; Martin Scorsese, with this giddy celebration of cinema's earliest years, showed us it could be used to make art. Not only did he bring his usual breathtakingly fluid visuals butScorsese used the depth of field afforded by 3-D with an artistry that recalls Orson Welles' Citizen Kane and perhaps shows us cinema's future.
- 3. A Separation *
Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi deservedly won every award going with this heartbreaking drama abut two Tehran families caught in a Slap-like dispute that spirals out of control. Farhadi does not demonise any of his characters, bringing enormous sympathy to everyone caught in this web of desperation, anger and confusion. A timely plea about the dangers of judging a situation before we know the facts.
- 4. Monsieur Lazhar *
Never before has a film dissected the damage wrought by an educational system that's supposed to be nurturing as this delicate, deeply moving classroom drama from Quebec. The layers brought by Philippe Falardeau are matched by the dignified performance of Mohamed Fellag and the astonishing work of the children, who communicate their pain and confusion without ever being actorly. A film of great beauty and profundity.
- 5. The Descendants *
Alexander Payne, the great humanist of contemporary US cinema, again peered deep into the soul of a floundering middle- aged man, this time telling the story of successful Hawaiian lawyer (George Clooney giving one of his most perfectly judged performances) struggling with a dying wife and two rambunctious teenage daughters. Payne has the deftest of touches, colliding comedy and tragedy so skilfully that laughter and tears flowed at the same time.
- 6. The Master *
Paul Thomas Anderson followed There Will Be Blood with another masterful study of addiction, obsession and empire building, an intimate epic centred on a master-slave relationship that tells us something abut the origins of modern America. Anderson shot on 65mm - it looks glorious - but the blistering psychotherapy sessions between Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix are what burn in the memory.
- 7. Shame *
British director Steve McQueen followed up his astonishing IRA drama Hunger with this searing, uncompromising look at the descent of a New York corporate striver into an all-consuming sex addiction. Shame is not really about the financial crisis but the joyless drive for pleasure of Michael Fassbender's dead man wanking tells us as much about the soullessness of Wall Street as Margin Call, Arbitrage or Cosmopolis.
- 8. Moonrise Kingdom *
Wes Anderson finally cut through the cuteness and quirk that has encrusted his recent work to make the most affecting film of his career, the tale of a boy scout and his girlfriend who go on the run on a New England island. Moonrise Kingdom is as impeccably art directed as any of Anderson's previous work and hilariously artificial but somehow he made us see his characters as people and not cut-outs.
- 9. To Rome With Love *
I stupidly allowed myself to be browbeaten by fellow critics into underrating Woody Allen's love letter to the city that inspired his filmmaking (if you want to know how bad film reviewing can get check out the notices for To Rome With Love). A second viewing revealed this collection of loosely linked tales to be a summation of many of his perennial themes but wrapped up in the breeziest, goofiest film he has made since the early 1970s ("the early funny ones").
- 10. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy *
Swedish mood specialist Tomas Alfredson seemed like an unlikely candidate to direct this first big-screen adaptation of John le Carre's 1974 spy thriller about the hunt for a mole inside the British secret service. But Alfredson's ability to create an unsettling ambience through the use of setting, lighting and pacing was the perfect counterbalance to the mind-boggling complexity of le Carre's novel. A brainy, artful thriller that keeps audiences as alert as an MI6 agent.
- Honourable mentions *: Beasts of the Southern Wild, A Better Life (Mexico Film Festival), Bernie, Brave, Coriolanus, Declaration of War (PIAF), Friends With Kids, The Deep Blue Sea (PIAF), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Goodbye, First Love (PIAF), The Hunger Games, Holy Motors, In Darkness, Les Miserables, On the Road, Skyfall, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, The Kid With A Bike (PIAF) The King Is Dead, The Sessions, Lore.
- WORST: * 1. Rock of Ages; 2. Any Questions for Ben?; 3. Salmon Fishing in Yemen; 4. Men in Black 3; 5. Total Recall.