1. Certified Copy Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami’s first film outside of his native country is a haunting and graceful love story, or perhaps a story about love gone sour. The central couple (played beautifully by Juliette Binoche and William Shimell) shifts its dynamic over time, and Kiarostami uses that uncertainty to explore the changing nature of identity and truth. (DVD release date TBD.)
2. Beginners A touching, funny meditation on grief, loneliness and parental influence, with a heartbreaking performance from Christopher Plummer as a man finally discovering his true happiness just as his life is coming to an end. (Now available on DVD.)
3. Terri Perfectly captures adolescent awkwardness, and finds humor and unexpected depth in the way that fellow outsiders connect with each other. (Now available on DVD.)
4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy This tense, bleak espionage thriller features no explosions or chase scenes, just the quiet determination of shrewd, often vindictive men to outmaneuver each other. (Opens in Las Vegas January 6.)
5. Young Adult Charlize Theron is captivating as a grown-up high-school mean girl in this bracingly cynical comedy by Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody. (Now in theaters.)
6. Martha Marcy May Marlene Elliptical, ambiguous and often terrifying, this slow-burning drama captures the feel of life spinning out of control one small moment at a time. (Available on DVD February 21.)
7. Bill Cunningham New York This joyous, life-affirming documentary follows fashion photographer Cunningham as he pours himself into his work with undiminished enthusiasm even past his 80th birthday. (Now available on DVD.)
8. We Need to Talk About Kevin A disjointed, hellish look at the raising of a monstrous child, with Tilda Swinton embodying the dizzying highs and horrific lows of motherhood. (Las Vegas release date TBD.)
9. Hanna Director Joe Wright’s inventive visuals and Saoirse Ronan’s intense performance elevate this action thriller about a teen-girl assassin into something poetic. (Now available on DVD.)
10. 50/50 A very funny and very real take on dealing with disease, in a matter-of-fact way that acknowledges life continues even in the face of ongoing tragedy. (Available on DVD January 24.)
Most versatile male: Michael Fassbender as a sex addict in Shame, a brooding nobleman in Jane Eyre, a renowned psychiatrist in A Dangerous Method and a supervillain in X-Men: First Class. Most versatile female: Jessica Chastain as a flighty Southern belle in The Help, a dedicated wife and mother in Take Shelter, an ethereal angel in The Tree of Life and an Israeli secret agent in The Debt. Top signs of life among big-budget blockbusters: Super 8, X-Men: First Class. Best new development in local film: Theatre 7 in the Arts District. Film festivals best filling the CineVegas void: Dam Short Film Festival, Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival, PollyGrind.
1. A Separation The year’s very last release (it opens December 30 in New York and Los Angeles) turns out to be its very best. Ostensibly the portrait of a dissolving marriage, this infinitely complex and emotionally overwhelming Iranian drama ranks alongside the best work of Ibsen, Chekhov and O’Neill. (Las Vegas release date TBD.)
2. Meek’s Cutoff Kelly Reichardt’s tale of a 19th-century wagon train lost in an arid wilderness features some of 2011’s most quietly stunning filmmaking, plus a much stronger Michelle Williams performance than My Week With Marilyn. (Now available on DVD.)
3. Certified Copy Elegant gamesmanship abounds in Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami’s two-hander about a man and a woman who might be strangers, married or somehow both. (DVD release date TBD.)
4. Martha Marcy May Marlene Elizabeth Olsen makes the year’s most impressive debut as a young woman who escapes from a dangerous cult and foolishly attempts to deprogram herself, without telling anybody. (Available on DVD February 21.)
5. The Arbor No documentary was more formally astounding than this portrait of the late playwright Andrea Dunbar, which has actors lip-sync to recordings of interviews with her friends and family. (Now available on DVD.)
6. Margaret Barely released after six years of post-production and legal action, Kenneth Lonergan’s follow-up to You Can Count on Me emerged as a wounded but still magnificent account of one girl’s (Anna Paquin) moral reckoning. (DVD release date TBD.)
7. Sh*t Year This black-and-white fantasia opened only in New York—which is a shame, because Ellen Barkin, playing a retired actress alone in the woods with her memories, gives the year’s best performance. (DVD release date TBD.)
8. House of Pleasures Another barely seen gem—that’s how it goes these days—was Bertrand Bonello’s gloriously melancholy account of life in the waning days of a Paris bordello circa the dawn of the 20th century. (Now available on Video on Demand.)
9. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, this mesmerizing Buddhist tale of reincarnation features red-eyed monkey-men and a talking catfish. (Now available on DVD.)
10. Drive Nicolas Winding Refn’s homage to ’80s action movies features Ryan Gosling at his most iconic, as a nearly silent getaway driver who gets embroiled in neighbor Carey Mulligan’s troubled home life. (Available on DVD January 31.)
1. Friday Night Lights (DirecTV/NBC) In its final season, the small-town drama provided fulfilling endings for characters new and old, while maintaining its fundamental optimism about family relationships and the healing power of football. It was like saying goodbye to old friends; you’ll miss them, but you know they’re headed for better things.
2. Homeland (Showtime) A searing, unpredictable drama, equally adept at depicting the hunt for terrorists and the personal torment of the people caught up in it.
3. Community (NBC) Not only the funniest show on TV, but also the most self-aware and deconstructive, fearlessly mixing genre parodies and meta-commentary with rich character development and hilarious dialogue.
4. Louie (FX) Comedian Louis C.K. writes, directs, edits and stars in every episode, pushing the boundaries of the TV comedy and using it to explore subjects ranging from suicide to masturbation.
5. Fringe (Fox) The most daring sci-fi show on TV featured parallel universes, alternate timelines, freakish aberrations of science and plenty of romantic longing as it headed into its fourth season.
6. Justified (FX) Timothy Olyphant’s maverick U.S. marshal faced a fascinating backwoods crime boss played by Margo Martindale in this Kentucky cop drama’s superior second season.
7. Archer (FX) An animated spy-show parody that’s packed with layered jokes, literary references, oddball supporting characters and an encyclopedic knowledge of Burt Reynolds movies.
8. 30 Rock (NBC) Still TV’s most reliable joke-delivery machine, with no sign of running out of funny things for Liz Lemon, Jack Donaghy and Tracy Jordan to say.
9. Men of a Certain Age (TNT) Just three middle-aged guys still trying to figure out their everyday lives, with low-key humor, real emotions and nuanced acting from Ray Romano, Andre Braugher and Scott Bakula.
10. Revenge (ABC) The best kind of nighttime soap, with awesomely devious characters, breakneck plotting and a ruthless anti-heroine (played effectively by Emily VanCamp) at its center.
Cruelest hiatuses: Cult comedies Community and Cougar Town, both benched just as fan frenzy was building to new heights. Most pleasant surprise: MTV’s warm, relatable teen comedy Awkward. Biggest fall 2011 disappointments after strong pilot episodes: 2 Broke Girls, Terra Nova, Pan Am. Ballsiest shows: Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones. Can you believe they killed [redacted]?! Crappiest show I’m still watching for some reason: Gossip Girl. If only Blair Waldorf would stop being so awesome.