In a movie year mostly filled with mediocrity and a struggling domestic box office to prove it, a few films stood head and shoulders above the rest. Here they are, in one man's humble opinion and order of preference, with his annual list of personal favorites.
"The Artist" -- Silence is golden in black and white and glorious old Hollywood.
"The Descendants" -- Co-writer and director Alexander Payne and unquestionable star George Clooney (right), in perhaps the year's best performance, touch all the right emotional chords with this simply grand dramedy.
"Take Shelter" -- Just because this big little film was shot mostly in northeastern Ohio doesn't put it on this list. The disturbingly powerful study of one man's fears in our troubled times so rife with uncertainty makes it as deserving as it is.
"The Tree of Life" -- Moving, memorable and perhaps filled with images never before seen in a studio film. At its core, though, is a family story very unconventionally told, as always, by the ever-perplexing Terrence Malick.
"Drive" -- With violence to the compelling max, courtesy of Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn and an unnamed hero nicely played by Ryan Gosling, it also offers up mood, style and terrific pacing.
"Moneyball" -- Somehow they made a movie about my favorite sport (baseball) without dumbing it down (even if they didn't mention that the best starting pitching staff at the time was mostly responsible for Oakland GM Billy Beane's diamond success).
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" -- The end of the most successful franchise in cinematic history came with a bang and one very special finale. If there's any justice, it will at least get some well-deserved notice among Mr. Oscar's Best Picture nominees.
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" -- David Fincher gets back to unsettling territory with an intense and thrilling adaptation of Stieg Larsson's original best seller. Oh, yeah, Rooney Mara (left) gives a star-making performance, too.
"Midnight in Paris" -- You won't usually see either Woody Allen or Owen Wilson on any best list here, but the latter is superb as a kind of Allen clone mingling with a literate ol' crowd in a sparkling and funny tribute to the City of Lights.
"Win Win" -- Another indie-like gem from Thomas McCarthy and a smart ensemble cast that makes his small, yet complex story feel so incredibly human.
For more on the best and worst of 2011 movies, visit Sun News this weekend.