With the promise of "The Avengers," "The Hunger Games," "The Hobbit," "Prometheus" and new films in the Bond, Batman and Star Trek series, 2012 looks like a splendid year at the movies.
On the other hand, 2011 has been fairly dismal. Until last week, I had only six movies on my "best-of" list; but the spate of holiday openings filled in some blanks:
1. "The Help" Flawless ensemble acting fleshes out this adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's bestseller about black house-maids in the racially oppressive society of 1960s Mississippi. Viola Davis will take an Oscar for her dignified and heroic Aibileen; Octavia Spencer should also win for her supporting work as the sharp-tongued Minny. A perfect film.
A scene from J.J. Abrams “Super 8” is shown. Sun-Gazette movie critic Joseph W. Smith III named the film the third best film release of the year.
2. "Hugo" Martin Scorsese's love letter to the movies; it's the gently paced, tender-hearted tale of a boy who lives in a Paris train station. Visually dazzling, with exceptional 3-D effects and enchanting music by Howard Shore.
3. "Super 8" A good old-fashioned monster movie that also happens to be about grief, young love, making amateur films and the late 1970s. The cast of kids is spectacular, especially Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney. Hilarious, thrilling and often deeply moving.
4. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" Steve Zaillian's screenplay for this gripping thriller is the best adaptation of a successful book I've ever seen. An intricate murder mystery laced with excellent performances, particularly Christopher Plummer and Rooney Mara, who gives the fierce and self-contained Lisbeth Salander a tenderness that isn't found in the book.
5. "War Horse" Slow pacing and a straightforward storyline don't hamper Steven Spielberg's near-epic about a boy and his horse - and World War I. Stunningly photographed by long-time Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski, with a knock-out mid-film scene between a German and a Brit in "no man's land."
6. "Soul Surfer" Emotionally supercharged story of real-life teenage surfer Bethany Hamilton, whose arm was bitten off by a tiger shark; months later, she was back on the board competing - and winning. Teetering on the brink of sentimentality, "SS" works due to solid acting (AnnaSophia Robb, Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt) and adherence to the facts.
7. "Source Code" Though its plausibility spins out of control at the end, this is an absorbing metaphysical thriller about terrorism and a train wreck buoyed by superlative performances from Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright.
8. "Thor" The world did not need another superhero movie -- unless maybe it was directed by Kenneth Branagh. Marvelous acting all around, particularly from the winsome Chris Hemsworth in the lead, plus Anthony Hopkins and the up-and-coming Thomas Hiddleston ("War Horse," "Midnight in Paris"). A mythical superhero movie about real people.
9. "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" The year's best action movie, beautifully directed by Brad Bird ("The Incredibles") in his first live-action outing.
The set-piece on the skyscraper is alone worth the admission price.
Once again, I'm leaving the 10th spot open for films that didn't (yet) play in Williamsport, including "The Artist," "The Descendants," "Young Adult" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close."