sThere were many films worthy of top 10 recognition this year, and coming up with a final list was no doubt tougher than in previous years. In the end, I had to include 11 on the final list (there's one tie), and whether you agree or disagree, here are the picks. Have fun at the movies in 2012.
10. "Bridesmaids" -- "Saturday Night Live" star Kristen Wiig's first film in a lead role (she's appeared in several supporting turns) not only is one of the biggest surprises of the year -- it is by far the funniest. Wiig plays Annie, a hapless maid of honor to her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph). While Wiig proves her comedic genius throughout the film as she fends off Lillian's best friend wannabe and bridesmaid, Helen (Rose Byrne), Melissa McCarthy (TV's "Mike & Molly") steals the show with her knock-down, drag-out hilarious turn as fellow bridesmaid Megan. Comedy wise, it's as good as a movie gets.
9. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2" -- It's hard to say whether this last of eight "Harry Potter" films is the definitive best of the bunch, just because each one of the films has its own sort of special magic. Whether fans thought the first was best -- or the best was saved for last -- there is no doubt that the final chapter to Harry's 10-year flight in theaters is an amazing cinematic achievement. As proved by the exciting and emotional "Deathly Hallows, Part 2," the consistency in which stars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson (as well as the impressive core group of other actors and filmmakers) delivered throughout the series is an unparalleled feat.
8. "The Descendants" -- George Clooney easily delivers the best performance in his career in this deeply affecting family tale about Matt King (Clooney), a Hawaiian land baron who suffers an emotional crisis after his wife is gravely injured in a boating accident. Clooney is aided greatly, though, by the screenplay and direction of Alexander Payne ("Sideways," "About Schmidt"), who deftly makes the proceedings relatable to moviegoers as Matt tries desperately to reconnect with his two emotionally distant daughters and pull the trigger on a land sale that will set his immediate family for life -- all while dealing with an unexpected revelation of his wife. With several bits of comedy mixed in-between, it's an engrossing film from start to finish.
7. "Moneyball" -- You don't have to have a huge interest in Major League Baseball to enjoy this captivating look at the behind-the-scenes dealing of the sport in "Moneyball," this year's great underdog movie. Brad Pitt stars in this true-life tale as Billy Beane, the struggling general manager of the Oakland Athletics who employs an economics graduate (Jonah Hill), who helps him build a winning team by finding undervalued players through the computer analysis and crunching numbers of performance data. While Hill excels in his first dramatic role, "Moneyball" is Pitt's movie, as he brings heart to Beane, a once-hot MLB prospect, who sputtered through four teams before becoming a scout -- and eventual GM -- for the Athletics.
6. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"/"The Adventures of Tintin" -- After the disastrous reception of "Mars Needs Moms" earlier in the year, the art of motion capture made a huge comeback with two brilliant films later in the year. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," best described as an "Apes" prequel, not only amazes with its visual effects (all the apes were motion-capture performances in a live-action environment), but its plausible plot and soul-stirring performance by Andy Serkis as ape leader Caesar. The Steven Spielberg-directed and Peter Jackson-produced "Tintin," on the other hand, is all motion-capture and feels like you've stepped directly into the world of the Belgian comic book hero (played in the film by Jamie Bell). With Spielberg at the helm, the rip-roaring adventure has an "Indiana Jones"-like feel -- and is made complete by Serkis in yet another motion-capture performance, this time as a drunken sea captain. Give this man an Oscar -- now.
5. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" -- Deeply disturbing subject matter notwithstanding, director David Fincher's adaptation of Stieg Larsson's international bestseller is a brilliant example of potent, gut-wrenching, crime thriller moviemaking. For those who haven't read Larsson's novel (or caught the acclaimed Swedish screen adaptation of it), the film follows a disgraced journalist (Daniel Craig) and brilliant, but emotionally damaged computer hacker (Rooney Mara) who investigate 40-year-old missing persons case of a young teen, only to uncover a series of other ghastly crimes. It's a film that only Fincher ("Seven," "Fight Club") could direct with such unnerving effectiveness.
4. "The Ides of March" -- With primary season election season soon upon us and the general election just around the corner, the timing is perfect for this brilliantly told political thriller by director George Clooney, which unapologetically delivers some much-need social commentary on the current state of politics. The film centers on the crisis of conscience high-level political staffer Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) has in the final days of a close presidential primary between his boss, Gov. Mike Morris (Clooney), and another Democratic candidate -- but overall provides a searing look at the game of dirty politics behind the scenes of a campaign. The film during its theatrical release was criticized by some for being too cynical, but truthfully, it's not cynical enough. There's no doubt that it doesn't even come close to the antics of the real scumbags who will say anything to get re-elected, and do anything they please behind the scenes.
3. "The Help" -- Writer-director Tate Taylor's adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's best seller Emma Stone features the best ensemble cast of the year. Emma Stone is perfectly cast as Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, a headstrong college graduate who defies social norms by asking Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer) to risk grave harm by revealing their untold stories a secret book project about African-American maids' mistreatment by their white employers in the early 1960s. Davis' and Spencer's brilliant performances bring heart and humor to the film, in what is the most heart-wrenching yet emotionally triumphant film of the year. Not to be lost in the greatness is Bryce Dallas Howard's evil turn as Minny's volatile former employer, and Jessica Chastain as a big-hearted housewife who can't find a way to fit in with her snooty contemporaries.
2. "My Week with Marilyn" -- Michelle Williams gives one of the year's best performances as Marilyn Monroe in this snapshot of a brief period in her life: a volatile and emotionally challenging stretch where she stars with and is directed by Sir Laurence Olivier (the once-again brilliant Kenneth Branagh) in the 1957 comedy romance "The Prince and the Showgirl." Based on the diaries of the late Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), the film gives a unique behind-the-scenes look at Monroe, who struck up a unique friendship with Clark, a third assistant director (a gopher) on the film. Williams brings heart, humor and vulnerability in the film, which also examines Olivier's bumpy career adjustment from the stage as he tries to deal with the emotionally-fragile superstar.
1. "The Artist" -- Despite what the title might imply, "The Artist" isn't an inaccessible art film, but a magnificent, crowd-pleasing look at landmark period of cinema, where the silent film era was dying and talkies came storming into play. Presented, appropriately, as a black-and-white silent film, "The Artist" specifically follows the complicated relationship of silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and charismatic ingénue Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), as his George's star rapidly fades and Peppy's rises in the new era of talkies. Accompanied by a brilliant score, "The Artist" has it all -- love, heartbreak, humor and drama -- and even a lovable canine co-star who figures prominently into George's life and career. A brilliant ode to a bygone era, "The Artist" is by far the most unique -- and entertaining -- film of the year.
Worst Film of the Year: "The Tree of Life" -- Brad Pitt and Sean Penn aren't the stars of non-narrative look at life from the beginning until now -- but merely incidental players who just happened to be there when critically overrated director Terrence Malick yelled "action." It's not an audience movie, but a film for critics -- which gives those white-haired reviewers (full disclosure: my beard is mostly white, but I'm bald) a chance to justify the myth that they're much smarter than you are when it comes to understanding film. The truth is, "The Tree of Life" is a pretentious heap of dreck. Alexandre Desplat's score is beautiful, though.