Toy Story 3
Closing Pixar's signature franchise was always going to be tough. It could have been wearisome pastiche (see the Shrek movies) or a lazy retread, but instead Toy Story 3 was the best of the entire series.
With Andy (voiced by John Morris) finally moving off to college, and his toys being shifted off as day-care donations, the stage was set for a monumentally profound and heartbreaking movie about maturation, death and the loss of love, but one that came peppered with rapid-fire action set-pieces and non-stop one-liners. The latter mostly courtesy of Michael Keaton's scene-stealing Ken.
The Social Network
The irony is so thick you could choke on it, but with The Social Network, movies were finally given back their voice, and from a filmmaker who for so long has been obsessed only with visual style.
Here David Fincher (Fight Club) directed a breathlessly witty and literate script from Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) with something close to reverence and awe. Thus the story of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and of Facebook's tricky foundational moment unfolded not with knock-out camera moves and synapse-splitting edits, but only with the building blocks of classic Hollywood cinema: language, setting and performance.
Ben Stiller gives the performance of his career as Roger Greenberg, a former musician and unemployed house-sitter struggling with an existential crisis in contemporary Los Angeles. The shocker here, and the revelation, is just how willing Stiller is to make himself unappealing, and to trounce his reputation as a mainstream funny man.
Thus his tentative relationship with Florence (Greta Gerwig, the movie's other standout) is forever on the verge of collapse thanks to Greenberg's neurosis, his self-absorption, and his refusal to believe in the possibility of a happy-ever-after ending. Funny-painful and funny-haha at the same time.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
The latest offering from the Thai visionary Apichatpong Weerasethakul, it deservedly scooped up the Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival and is certainly unlike any other movie released this year.
Hovering around our eponymous protagonist, who is slowly dying from kidney failure in extremely rural Thailand, we have a movie that seems to be pushing cinema to the very limits of expression.
Thus ghosts drift into dinner table conversations, visions are glimpsed in the forest, afterlife metaphors abound, and all the while the movie somehow seems to articulate an unspoken and collective knowledge of the transcendent in us all.
For once the Oscars got it right. There has been hardly a more towering performance in American film, perhaps for several years now, than this turn by Jeff Bridges as a failed country singer called Bad Blake.
It's a testament to Bridges' ability that he was able to imbue every grimace with a lifetime of Blake's regrets - and he does it so well you hardly notice the surrounding film is not exactly thundering along.
Instead, as Blake plays dive bars, as his career ebbs and flows, and as he nurtures a delicate love affair with single-mom journalist Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal), we are reminded that sometimes superlative screen acting can be enough in itself.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Banksy, the clandestine graffiti artist, proved that not only can he be subversive, political and witty with graffiti but he could repeat the same trick on celluloid too.
Surprisingly, given his propensity for anonymity, the director appears on camera too, albeit silhouetted and with his voice scrambled to keep his identity hidden.
A crazy French street-art fan and vintage clothes merchant named Thierry Guetta has a hobby filming street artists and dreams of making a documentary on the subject. When Banksy realises that Guetta will never make use of all the great footage he's accumulated, he takes the tapes and cuts this acerbic picture, which is part documentary, part education, part truth - and wholly entertaining.
Finally, after more than eight decades of wondering just how good Metropolis really is, the debate was ended when an almost complete version found in Buenos Aires at the Museo del Cine was restored.
It turns out to be even better than anyone could have hoped and it cemented the film's position as one of the greatest ever made. Even in its edited form and with it's many narrative jumps, Fritz Lang's tale about the struggle between the workers and the employers in a capitalist dystopia reached classic status, with it's superb production design and intriguing characters. An enduring classic.
Watching Ryan Reynolds stuck in a coffin for an hour and a half sounds utterly hellish. Instead, it turned out to be a brilliant lesson in filmmaking from Spanish director Rodrigo Cortés, and it cemented his reputation as one of the top young directors in the world today.
Reynolds plays a US contractor working in Iraq who wakes up to discover that he's been buried alive. Armed only with a cell phone, he needs to raise a ransom or organise a rescue before he dies.
From the coffin, Buried highlights global issues such as corporate power, bureaucratic bungling and broken relationships.
The winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival didn't perhaps garner as much praise as befits the prize - and this is a shame, given that it's a brilliant movie that is Sofia Coppola's best work by some distance.
Naturally, it deals with her favourite topics, alienated youth and the price of fame. Coppola uses brilliant pacing and a fantastic soundtrack to depict the vacuous life of a world-famous movie star living at the Chateau Marmont when his 11-year-old daughter comes to visit.
This psychological drama has an odd premise to match the odd characters. A patriarchal figure keeps his wife and three children locked away in an isolated country estate to protect them from the excesses of the world.
Unsurprisingly, this has drastic psychological impact on the children - made all the more profound by way of the father's invention of a whole new vocabulary designed to communicate a picture of the world outside.
Through it all, the Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos takes a piercing look at family life.
2011 film highlights
Tree of Life
It's fair to expect that any film from Badlands and The Thin Red Line director Terrence Malick is going to be exciting, and his first picture since 2005's The New World confirms that. Starring Sean Penn, Brad Pitt and exciting newcomer Jessica Chastain, Tree of Life was shot more than two years ago and anticipation about the story, which incorporates family and the meaning of life, has reached fever pitch.
This is the highly anticipated directorial debut from the Academy Award-nominated actress Vera Farmiga. One of the top actors of her generation, Farmiga also stars in this film that examines complex themes of faith and doubt by looking at all the relationships in the life of Corrine: family, friends, God, a hippy-fundamentalist community in upper state New York and ultimately herself.
An Education director Lone Scherfig finds herself adapting yet another beguiling text set in Britain. This time, it's the smash hit novel from David Nicholls, One Day, about a couple who meet at university in 1988 and agree to reunite for one day each year for the next 20 years. Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway star.
Do we really need yet another adaptation of a Charlotte Brontë text? Well, the trailer for this adaptation by Sin Nombre director Cary Fukunaga suggests the answer is yes. And this time this classic is set to be told as gothic horror. The Alice in Wonderland star Mia Wasikowska plays the mousy governess while Michael Fassbender is Rochester. The cast also includes Jamie Bell, Judi Dench, Imogen Poots and Sally Hawkins.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
After the disappointment of Part 1, much is expected as the Hogwarts wizard finishes his schooling and finally gets to see the day of reckoning with Lord Voldermort. The expectation is that this final instalment will be in 3D, although this is yet to be confirmed. Whatever the case, the likelihood is that the most successful franchise in movie history will go out with a bang (and leave the first part of the final Twilight instalment in the shade).
It's taken performance artist, director, writer and actress Miranda July (is there anything she can't do?) five years to make her second film, after the brilliant Me and You and Everyone We Know. This tale sounds equally eclectic: about how the life of a couple changes when they adopt a stray cat.
This will be Martin Scorsese's first children's film and also the first time he's filmed in 3D. An adaptation of Brian Selznick's book, it stars Chloe Moretz, with newcomer Asa Butterfield playing the eponymous lead. (All eyes will be on how Scorsese handles Sacha Baron Cohen, however, who plays the station inspector). Add Kenneth Branagh helming Thor, and it's the year of directors making surprising family films.
Atonement director Joe Wright's new film stars Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana. Saoirse Ronan plays a 14-year-old girl who is raised by her father to be a cold-hearted killing machine but is then forced to lead a more conventional life with a family in France.
Anything that the Lost creator touches seems to turn to gold. Having made Star Trek cool again, JJ Abrams keeps to the space theme with his new film.
Details are being kept under wraps, but from what has surfaced, it sounds like it has the touch of Cloverfield about it. In 1979, the air force closes a section of Area 51 and the materials are transported to a secure facility in Ohio. A group of kids with Super 8 cameras capture what escapes on film. Awesome.
The first kung fu film from Wong Kar Wai is likely to premiere at Cannes. It stars Tony Leung as Yip Man, the man who trained Bruce Lee in martial arts.
Yip Man, who invented Wing Chun, has become a popular figure in martial arts films recently - this will be the fourth biography about him in recent years. Leung spent one year training in Wing Chun for the role.
* Kaleem Aftab and Kevin Maher
For more stories looking back on 2010, click here.