1. The Artist_ This silent treasure had me right from the start. The story is simple, yet moving and it's well acted by, Oscar nominees, the luminous Berenice Bejo and the dashing Jean DuJardin. Michel Hazanavicius's clever direction makes it feel at once familiar and fresh. An instant classic!
2. The Descendants_ For years critics have raved about Alexander Payne, and while I've never saw a film of his that I didn't like, I've never been moved like I was by The Descendants. George Clooney, in a career best performance, is a man struggling to connect with his two daughters and to forgive his unfaithful comatose wife. For a film that goes back and forth from hysterical to heartbreaking on a dime, the tone is always pitch perfect.
3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo_ Not having read the best-selling novels, or having seen the Swedish film adaptations, I didn't know quite what to expect from this mysterious Girl, but the intricate plot and the vivid performances sucked me in so completely that I was genuinely surprised to learn the film was nearly 2 1/2 hours long. The graphic sex and violence were handled expertly by director David Fincher (currently having a golden moment) and the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross was a seamless match.
4. Pariah_ Director Dee Rees' astonishing debut film about, Alike [Uh-lee-kay], a young lesbian woman finding herself and experiencing love for the first time is, in a word, inspiring. It was clear a unique cinematic voice was being experienced from the opening sequence. With authentic performances from Adepero Oduye, Pernell Walker and Kim Wayans, playing against type, as Alike's disapproving mother, it also offered the richest roles for black women this year (sorry, The Help).
5. Hugo_ As far as I'm concerned Marty has officially got his groove back! Then again, maybe he never really lost it. All I know is that he transformed The Departed from a standard commercial cop thriller into a Best Picture winning masterpiece and now he's taken a children's book and made a film that not only speaks to the curious child in us, but is also a moving history lesson for adult film buffs. And in 3D no less!
The Muppets / Horrible Bosses / Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol / Beginners/ Scream 4
Shailene Woodley_ The Descendants : This natural beauty and promising young actress more than held her own with Oscar nominee Clooney as the willful and outspoken daughter he can't control.
Dame Maggie Smith _ Downton Abbey (PBS): As the Dowager Countess of Grantham she delivers all the best lines in a way that only a grand dame who has seen and done it all can.
Jessica Lange_ American Horror Story (FX): As the deliciously evil, nosy neighbor Constance, Lange found her most satisfying role in years. It's a pity the next season will be a completely new cast and story. Lange's poisonous threats, delivered in a saccharine southern drawl, will be missed.
The Cast of Happy Endings (ABC): Many have tried and all have failed at becoming the next Friends, but this wacky, hilarious bunch don't try to replicate Ross, Rachel, Monica and co., but sort of pay homage to them in their own absurdist way without feeling derivative and stale.