Associated Press reviewers Christy Lemire and David Germain saw the same films in 2011, but they clearly weren't seeing the same pictures. They usually have a fair amount of overlap in their top 10 lists, but this time, they agreed on only one film. Here is David Germain's picks.
Somewhere back in the 1980s, there were two shows a college girlfriend and I never missed: "SCTV" and "The Muppet Show." Director James Bobin, Jason Segel and Amy Adams team for a gentle, loving rebirth for Kermit and pals, filled with those schmaltzy, toe-tapping Muppet tunes and giddily corny gags. The movie is an elaborate production, but it feels guileless and timeless. Don't know what became of the college girlfriend. But it's nice having the Muppets back in our lives. Mah na mah na.
This deliriously weird mock documentary is a wild ride through remote and alien landscapes of Norway, where huge, hideous trolls — yes, trolls — are on a bloody rampage. Director Andre Ovredal adds his own mad spin to the found-footage horror story a la "The Blair Witch Project" and "Cloverfield." Purportedly shot by filmmakers who disappeared while chronicling the exploits of a professional troll hunter, the film is a fresh, visceral take on the monster movie, loaded with impressive special effects and warped, wicked humor.
You get a Big Hollywood Social Message — and you leave the theater with that feel-good spring in your step. First-time director Tate Taylor does a slick, smart job adapting childhood pal Kathryn Stockett's best-seller about black maids in 1960s Mississippi spilling the beans on their white employers. And where to begin with the performances? Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard — we can go on and on. Working-class help or idle gentry, every woman in the film is polished to brilliance.
Richard Ayoade's directing debut is dead on in the emotions — from blissful obsession to abrupt indifference — that accompany first love and teen desire. Craig Roberts as a big-eyed Welsh romantic and Yasmin Paige as a rebellious firebug are the unlikeliest but most adorable couple in all of Wales. Their tender story is sweetly shadowed by that of Roberts' dowdy parents (Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor), seemingly a pair of dead fish who just might have a little spawning left in them.
Who says cancer can't be entertaining? Inspired by his own medical battle, screenwriter Will Reiser tells an authentic tale where laughter, lust, selfishness and duplicity don't go away just because of a little tumor. Every cancer patient should have a lewd, crude friend like the one Joseph Gordon-Levitt has here in Seth Rogen. Director Jonathan Levine juggles a jangle of emotions and keeps them all in the air, while the cast — including Anna Kendrick, Anjelica Huston and Bryce Dallas Howard — makes every moment genuine.
Rooney Mara. Wow. It seemed a thankless task to follow Noomi Rapace, the electrifying lone-wolf in the Swedish-language adaptation of Stieg Larsson's best-seller. But Mara goes deeper and darker with a controlled detonation of a performance in David Fincher's Hollywood version. As a disgraced journalist who teams with Larsson's avenging angel, Daniel Craig is an anchor of cool rationality around which Mara revolves like a demon. Fincher — one of the least sentimental directors around — and Larsson's harsh emotional terrain are an ideal match of filmmaker and material.
Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's simple tale of a French shoeshine guy and an immigrant youth is sly and stealthy. Sweet yet unsentimental, understated yet rich in spirit, the film is populated by old souls who are a joy to watch, led by Andre Wilms as the shoeshiner who steps into the guardian angel role for an African boy who is in France illegally. The film hints that good deeds are a reward in themselves — but karma just might toss a little magic your way for doing the right thing.
If we must have 3-D talking pictures, they all should be held to this standard. This is the only film I've told friends must be seen in 3-D. Martin Scorsese makes the third dimension not just eye-catching but essential to the experience. Scorsese's 3-D enfolds viewers in 1930s Paris, letting fans walk right alongside his two child heroes as they restore a bitter old man's faith and sense of wonder. And what a trip back to the moon it is to see Scorsese's affectionate re-creations of film pioneer Georges Melies' silent fantasies.
Somewhere, Obi-Wan, er, Alec Guinness is smiling down on Jedi protege Gary Oldman. OK, so Oldman never apprenticed with Guinness, who did what seemed the definitive version of John le Carre's spymaster George Smiley in two miniseries 30 years ago. But Oldman makes the role completely his own, inhabiting Smiley's stillness and impenetrability, somehow conveying the man's subsurface passion while barely twitching a muscle. Director Tomas Alfredson and his phenomenal cast tell a fiercely cerebral, meticulously paced spellbinder, masterfully compacted from le Carre's sprawling novel.
Enough with 3-D. Enough with super widescreen Technicolor. Enough with all the talking. Cinema finally is back where it belongs with this boxy, black-and-white, silent gem about a 1920s screen idol whose career is muzzled by the talkies. Director Michel Hazanavicius lets us all in on his wondrous dream, a film whose every moment delights with grand visual tableaux, lush music, ageless performances by Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo and the most adorable dog this cat lover has ever seen. Luddites unite. Silence really is golden.