In honor of the Oscars tonight, I thought I would finally sit down and do my annual ten favorite movies list. As usual, these aren’t necessarily the best movies of the year. They’re the ones I enjoyed most.

Many of the movies on my list are anchored by a strong central performance. In a couple of cases, that’s what I love most about the film. Others are great stories. At least one is an artistic work that I don’t understand but really loved anyway!

Number one on my list is The Iron Lady.

I know that practically no one besides me loved this film, but I honestly think it’s not being given a fair shake. Meryl Streep’s performance is a masterpiece — one of her best ever — but I also liked the script, direction, makeup, sets, etc. The secret, it seems to me, is not to think of it as a Margaret Thatcher bio-pic. You have to think about it as a study of power, memory, and loss. Of all the movies I saw this year, it’s the one I most look forward to owning on DVD.

Number two on my list is Weekend, a film about two gay guys in Nottingham who meet each other at a bar and spend the weekend together.

I was a little ambivalent about this movie when I first saw — I was worried about its depiction of drug use by the two lead characters. I also thought the plot device of having one of the characters announce he was moving to the U.S. in two days was hokey. But I watched it again last night and really fell in love with it. It resists our impulse to want a happy, romantic ending and gives us instead a happy, bittersweet ending. It’s not just your usual rom-com but with gay characters. It moves the genre forward. I definitely want to see Andrew Haigh‘s next movie! (And I’m now even more in love with Chris New!)

Shame is the third movie on my favorites list, which means that all three of the top films on my list are British.

This movie is an exquisite character study about a handsome, successful man whose sex addiction masks his inability to deal with real emotions and relationships. Michael Fassbender is espcially wonderful in this role.

Number four on my list of favorites is Meek’s Cutoff, a quiet, naturalistic film about a group of settlers led astray by guide.

Michelle Williams gives one of her best performances in this movie. The film is based on a historical event, but I knew nothing about it before I saw it. The result was that I really didn’t know what was going to happen next, and this film does a great job of not giving it all away. It’s extremely suspenseful in a non-gimicky sort of way.

Number five on my favorites list is Beginners.

I liked this movie’s story about Christopher Plummer‘s widower coming out late in life as a gay man, but the real heart of my movie is Ewan McGregor‘s excellent performances as Plummer’s son, who is trying to figure out his life in light of the curve ball thrown by his father’s new romance with a much younger man and impending death from cancer.

Moneyball is a surprising number six on my list.

My interest in baseball is limited (though I do enjoy watching a game every now and then), so I was surprised by how much I liked this movie. Brad Pitt is great, and somehow the movie manages to make the Oakland A’s season suspenseful and fascinating.

I don’t understand what The Tree of Life is all about, but I loved it nevertheless.

This movie is clearly a work of art more than commerce. It’s beautiful to watch, and what I got out of it is that we’re all so small within the vast scopes of history and the universe but that we nevertheless matter because of the relationships we forge, especially our familial relationships. It’s the kind of movie that you have to sit back, relax, drink a glass of wine, and just go with it.

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is number eight on my list.

This valentine to Paris is also a great film about embracing your life now rather than hoping for something else that doesn’t exist. It’s probably the “sweetest” film on my list. Michael Sheen is especially good as the insufferable pseudo-intellectual who irritates Owen Wilson’s Gil. Allen should win another Best Original Screenplay Oscar tonight.

Number nine on my list is The Help.

I think this movie is more complicated in its racial message than some other viewers have argued. Viola Davis is exceptional, and other different circumstances Jessica Chastain would be winning her first Oscar tonight (or Davis would be in the supporting category and win her first Oscar). As is, Davis is likely to win Best Actress tonight. I really wish there was a way for Academy voters to declare a tie, because Davis and Streep both deserve Oscars tonight!

The last film on my list is The Artist, a whimsical comedy that charmed me when PJ and I saw it with our friend Matt last night.

Jean Dujardin will likely win Best Actor tonight, which I think is deserved. It must be difficult to carry a film without audible dialogue, and he has to master and portray the acting styles of both silent movies and talkies. Uggie the dog is also great!

So, that’s my list for 2011. I have yet to see The Descendants or Like Crazy, which both look good. Some honorable mentions are Margin Call, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Devil’s Double, The Future, and Crazy, Stupid, Love.

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