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Richard Roeper’s Top Films of the Year include Contagion and The Beaver

Richard Roeper’s top 11 films of 2011 BY RICHARD ROEPER SUNTIMES COLUMNIST December 15, 2011 5:56PM 1. ‘Drive’ A classic example of a film that incorporates familiar elements from a dozen other movies yet stands alone as a unique, dazzling, sometimes breathtaking work of modern film art. Ryan Gosling is the driver — a 21st century man with no name. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn has created a moody neonoir with echoes of everything from “To Live and Die in L.A.” to “Pulp Fiction” to “Bullitt.” Gosling owns the screen as the title character, whose cool reserve wavers only when he’s spending time with Carey Mulligan’s Irene and her young son. With brilliant supporting work from Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks as middleaged gangsters, Bryan Cranston as the driver’s hardluck friend, and Christina Hendricks as the wrong girl in the wrong place, “Drive” is an adrenalin shot to the senses. I love this movie and as soon as it was over, I wanted to see it again. 2. ‘The Artist’ A silent movie, shot in black and white, with two leads unknown to most American viewers, yet this is one of the most accessible, enjoyable, entertaining movies you’ll ever see. What a funny, romantic, melodramatic treat. I love this film. 3. ‘Contagion’ Perhaps the most impressive cast of the year: Kate Winslet. Matt Damon. Jude Law. Marion Cotillard. GwyÂneth Paltrow. The prolific Steven Soderbergh chronicles the outbreak of a deadly virus in a film that’s equal parts thriller, horror film and human drama. The final 10 minutes are just stunning. 4. ‘The Tree of Life’ In Terrence Malick’s spiritual epic, Brad Pitt gives another career highlight performance as a distant, strict father of three in rural Texas in the 1950s. There’s equally wonderful work from Jessica Chastain. The lives of that seemingly ordinary family are countered with cosmic, visually stunning sequences that ask the biggest questions imaginable about our universe, the afterlife and our very existence. 5. ‘The Descendants’ Alexander Payne’s quirky, offbeat, original film, with George Clooney giving a nominationworthy performance as a man struggling to keep his head above water. His wife’s on life support, his daughters are in full rebellion stage, and those are just some of the issues he’s facing. Outstanding cast, whipsmart screenplay, surehanded direction. 6. ‘Young Adult’ Charlize Theron plays one of the more unlikable yet one of the more enthralling leads in recent years in Jason Reitman’s dramedy. At times we cringe at the antics and decisions made by this thirtysomething ex-prom queen. But to the credit of Theron and screenwriter Diablo Cody, we still root for her. Great supporting work here from Patrick Wilson and particularly Patton Oswalt. 7. ‘Source Code’ In the most romantic and most daring thriller of the year, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michele Monaghan have sizzling chemistry as a couple who keep sharing the same eight minutes on a train bound for disaster. I’m still not sure every twist and nuance in the time-tripping plot makes sense, but this is a hell of an entertaining ride. 8. ‘Moneyball’ It’s not easy to make a baseball movie about a team that never won the big prize. But “Moneyball” had me rooting for the Oakland A’s and delighting in their triumphs. Brad Pitt gives another career performance as Billy Beane, the innovative and beyond-stubborn numbers-cruncher who changed the game. The scenes with his daughter are tender and authentic. 9. ‘The Beaver’ With that WTF title and the beleaguered Mel Gibson in the lead, the Jodie Foster-directed film faced long odds from the start. But forget all the baggage and appreciate the film itself as a near-masterpiece about a desperate man who turns to a tattered puppet to save his life. Sure, it’s bizarre, but it’s also bold and unique, with one of the year’s best screenplays. 10. ‘Hugo’ With his magical, mysterious and beautiful film, director Martin Scorsese makes wonderful use of the latest 3D technology and plunges us into a dreamlike Paris train station filled with colorful characters. Heartbreaking, hilarious and inspirational, it’s a timeless story of a young boy and an old man who each find a second act in life. 11. ‘50/50’ Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues his string of impressive performances as an ordinary, nice-as-can-be guy who learns he has a rare form of cancer. Seth Rogen is in his comfort zone as the gregarious best buddy, but he hits some new notes as well. The same could be said of Anna Kendrick’s supersmart, tightly wound and very sweet therapist. We’ve seen her play this role before, but she’s still a treasure. Moving with being maudlin, funny without losing its air of realism, “50/50” is one of the best movies of its kind since “Terms of Endearment.” http://www.suntimes.com/entertainment/movies/9444688-421/richard-roepers-top-11-films-of-2011.html