THE RUNAWAYS - Great music, exhilarating performances (Shannon deserves a supporting actor nod), great 70s atmosphere and delightfully obscene. Easily my favorite film of the year. I'm blindly in love with each and every frame.
INCEPTION - Nolan's visuals and unique spin on the heist film combined with some fine performances (Cotillard in particular) elevate Inception from a b-genre experiment to the stuff dreams are made of.
TOY STORY 3 - Pixar never ceases to impress, packing Toy Story 3 with more laughs and tears than you would think Woody Buzz and the gang were capable of. They even utilize tacked-on 3D to immerse an audience in their world more effectively than Avatar.
THE GHOST WRITER - Polanski's best mystery since Chinatown reminds you why he's one of the masters of uneasy tension and the mystery that seems just out of reach.
WINTER'S BONE - A family drama epic in scope, but with a powerful emotional core in Jennifer Lawrence (I'm betting n her to win Best Actress) and an Oscar-worthy supporting turn in John Hawkes.
THE KILLER INSIDE ME - One of the most visually astonishing and harrowing films of the year, both exhilarating and sickening.
TRUE GRIT - The Coen's latest is at once a bleakly beautiful love letter to westerns and a hilarious dark comedy. It's their fifth attempt at something that didn't spring directly from their heads, but it has the uniquely Coen feel of a Fargo or Miller's Crossing.
EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP - Banksy makes his directorial debut - or does he? - with this witty, fast and fascinating documentary on the graffiti art movement.
SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD - Edgar Wright's most energetic, inventive and fun film mixes high-energy video game and comic book aesthetics within the purely visual world of film masterfully. The most aesthetically astonishing film this year.
KICK-ASS - Matthew Vaughn's comic-book film isn't afraid to draw blood. At once a satire of the modern superhero movie and it's real-world implications, while also basically wish-fulfillment for bloodthirsty would-be vigilantes, Kick-Ass is fun, dark and pervasive. It may not be a great film, but it's easily one of the year's most entertaining. Chloe Moretz gives one of the year's most memorable performances as Hit-Girl.
SPLICE- This odd science fiction horror bends more than just genres and feels like an early Cronenberg film with a higher budget. This one is best left unspoiled.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK - Fincher and Sorkin's collaboration will probably win this year's Best Picture. It's an excellent film, perfectly capturing the fleeting feelings and friendships in the age of Facebook, and Jessie Eisenberg deserves the Oscar for his outstanding performance. Both Justin Timberlake and Andrew Garfield deserve nominations as well. Also contains one of the year's best quotes: "You know what's cooler than a million dollars? A billion dollars."
CARBON NATION - The natural and much-needed follow-up to An Inconvenient Truth. Carbon Nation recognizes the seriousness of climate change, but realizes somber voice-overs and pretty penguins isn't as effective as good-natured humor and informative investigation when prompting people to change their ways. This one I can guarantee you didn't see, but check it out here: www.carbonnation.org
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON - Dreamworks' surprise hit deserved it's success for delivering a real emotional and visceral thrill with stunning 3D, achieved not only through the technology's visual pop, but well done traditional storytelling.
PIRANHA 3D - The most unabashedly fun exploitation film this side of Grindhouse. It isn't half as good as that film, but that's the point; it's closer to real exploitation.
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART I - Harry Potter 7.0 managed to improve upon the book (for me at least), making it more urgent and engaging. This series is fantastic, and although I wish Yates hadn't been tapped for the last 3 books/4 movies, if Part I is any indication, Part II will be a brilliant finale.
Ones I reeeally enjoyed but didn't feel like writing a ton about for you:
BLACK SWAN - maybe not emotionally captivating, but an exquisitely paranoid journey
BURIED - the year's most inventive thriller
CITY ISLAND - a quiet and funny family dramady
THE CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION - surprisingly not the latest installment in the Final Destination franchise
EASY A - a surprise comic gem a la Mean Girls, Easy A turned Emma Stone into a leading lady
THE FIGHTER - contains some of the year's most electrifying performances
HOT TUB TIME MACHINE - Ok, NOT a good film, but the best time travel movie this year, hands down
I AM LOVE - fantastic filmmaking, if not the most emotionally compelling
JACK GOES BOATING - cute and touching romance with the perfect pop-soundtrack
THE KING'S SPEECH - thrilling and funny, the best kind of Oscar-bait
NOWHERE BOY - Aaron Johnson is breathtaking as a young John Lennon
SALT - this Bourne-esque action pick was a welcome escape from disappointing summer releases
SHUTTER ISLAND - Scorsese's love for Val Lewton shows throughout each frame
127 HOURS - Boyle's energy bursts through the screen, and James Franco's arm
YOUTH IN REVOLT - Michael Cera's other film was also a commercial failure, even though it's hilarious
WORST FILMS OF THE YEAR (that I saw):
ALICE IN WONDERLAND - Tim Burton's abortion of a film failed to leave an impression with it's tired visuals, poor 3D and unnecessary "re-imagining" of an already captivating story.
SHE'S OUT OF MY LEAGUE - This cheap Judd Apatow knock-off simply didn't provide any laughs.
MY SOUL TO TAKE - Wes Craven's newest felt like a bad '90s teen horror rip-off of a '90s Wes Craven horror flick. This one was at least hilariously bad, at least until the last 15 minutes, which were just dull.
JONAH HEX - This awkward semi-steampunk western failed to deliver fun action or memorably campy laughs. It's a shame, because the original script, from the creators of CRANK, was apparently pretty badass.
Overall there were a ton of excellent films this year. There were also a bunch that sort of just... happened (Iron Man 2, Hereafter, Robin Hood, The A-Team, Despicable Me, Devil, etc). Some of those were pretty decent (Iron Man's cast was inspired and The A-Team was a guilty summer pleasure), but overall a lot of the major releases this year felt lackluster. This note may feel more like an assessment of all the films I've seen this year than a "best of" list, but trust me, I've left a lot out.
So, there you have it. I didn't see everything that came out, and there are a ton I missed out on and mean to watch. Meanwhile, feel free to rip apart, comment on, or agree with my opinions. What was your favorite film this year? Least favorite?