Returns of Tom Cruise

It was the year that saw the end of the Harry Potter film series. Thanks to a competently mounted Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- Part 2, directed by David Yates, the franchise went out on a high. Ageing megastar Tom Cruise, too, hit a high with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, his fourth on-screen outing as undercover agent Ethan Hunt. So wide was the choice available that drawing up a list of only ten foreign films of the year was a mission impossible. So we've made it Top 13. Unlucky? Nope. With such consistently high-quality fare emerging from around the world in 2011, film buffs had no reason to feel hard done by.

Nader and Simin, A Separation

This sensitive, superbly written, pitch-perfect Iranian marital drama, which became the first-ever entry from its country to win the Golden Bear in the Berlin Film Festival, is an absolute master class in directorial ingenuity and modulated realism. Crafted by director Asghar Farhadi, it revolves around a middle-class Tehran couple who have separated. The man hires a caretaker to take care of his seriously ill and infirm father- a decision that leads to one trouble after another as the estranged couple's 11-year-old daughter watches with utter helplessness and growing consternation.

The Tree of Life

The reclusive Terrence Malick's fifth film in nearly four decades is worth every minute of the long wait.Certainly not for all palates- The Tree of Life is more visual poetry than just cinema- it is a film of transcendental beauty. It follows the eldest son a 1950s Midwestern family (played as an adult by Sean Penn). He traverses from the innocence of childhood to the disenchantment of his adult years as he struggles to come to terms with a knotty relationship with his father (Brad Pitt).

The Artist

Gallic director Michel Hazanavicius' black and white, largely silent film recreates the late 1920s and early 1930s Hollywood with an unfailing eye for detail.In this Oscar frontrunner, France's best-paid actor Jean Dujardin essays the role of a silent era Hollywood megastar who hits the skids when the talkies loom on the horizon. Premiered in Cannes,the film,enlivened by wonderful comedic set pieces and a vibrant,varied musical score,found ready takers on its release in the US and elsewhere.Yet to be commercially released in India, The Artist was screened at the recent 42nd International Film Festival of India.

Hugo

Martin Scorsese's personal tribute to the birth of cinema, Hugo is a remarkably well-crafted fantasy that employs 3D to great effect. It's about an orphan boy, Hugo (Asa Butterfield), lives inside a gigantic clock in a post-war Paris train station and steals for a living. He runs afoul of a grouchy toymaker (Ben Kingsley), but finds a soulmate in the latter's adopted granddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). The girl sports a heart-shaped key around her neck. Hugo discovers a link between the key and a rusty automaton he has inherited from his inventor-father. The rest is pure magic.

Carnage

Despite all the troubles that he is surrounded by on the personal front, Roman Polanski has lost none of his edge as a consummate filmmaker. Ample proof is provided by this masterly adaptation of French dramatist Yasmina Reza's play, God of Carnage. It yields an outstanding chamber piece, shot inside a single room and in real time. Two affluent New York couples meet to discuss a fight that their children have had on a playground. They wear carefully cultivated cloaks of civility, but the veneer of graciousness is in tatters by the time the argument to settle whose son was really at fault draws to a close.

A Dangerous Method

Canadian auteur David Cronenberg's latest film is a fascinating imagining of the origins of psychoanalysis. Powerful, pensive and provocative, it benefits from a crunchy screenplay woven around the story of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung (Michael Fassbender), his mentor Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and a severely troubled Jewish-Russian woman patient, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), who comes between the two men. Bolstered by near-flawless performances and astute dramatic exchanges between strong-willed personalities, A Dangerous Method is gripping and disturbing, but not half as unsettling as a pure Cronenberg film is known to be.

Melancholia

In Melancholia,Danish agent provocateur Lars von Trier serves up a characteristically quirky personal vision of the apocalypse. This visually stunning film mines poetry and philosophy out of an impending cataclysm. A depressive young woman is in the midst of a lavish wedding as a rogue planet heads straight for Earth. You'll rarely,if ever, encounter so much cinematic beauty in a film about the end of the world. A great central performance from Kirsten Dunst is backed up by equally solid character interpretations by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kiefer Sutherland.

Midnight in Paris

The jazz age of the 1920s is the obsessive undercurrent in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. It may seem like a slight whimsy, but it is the veteran maverick's best film in many years. It is an exquisitely crafted tribute to a magnificent city seen through the eyes of a Hollywood screenwriter (Owen Wilson),who aspires to be a serious novelist and swears by the values that the city of lights transmitted around the globe in the jazz age. Back then, Paris was inhabited by the likes of Picasso,Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Luis Bunuel,Ernest Hemingway and Salvador Dali, among other cultural path-breakers. Midnight in Paris is a lyrical celebration of the mystique of a city and a bygone era.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

This isn't a hollow CGI-aided extravaganza. Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, starring James Franco and Freida Pinto, is a dark, meaningful sci-fi saga that is almost Shakespearean in scope and spirit. The apes here are capable of real emotions and they are given tangible expressions. The primate who leads the rebellion against humankind, Caesar, is brought alive by actor Andy Serkis. It is an engaging, evocative and intelligent entertainer.

Drive

Genre filmmaking gets a makeover in this riveting LA-set thriller about a movie stunt artist who moonlights as a get away driver. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, best known for his 'Pusher' trilogy, shows how an action film can be cool and chilling without having to resort to conventional Hollywood narrative tropes. Ryan Gosling is outstanding as the protagonist.

The Help

In 1960s Mississippi, where racial tensions and warped values are rife, a fresh-out-of-college White girl decides to write a book to highlight the lives of Black housemaids, based on their own testimonies. Supported by great performances from Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, Tate Taylor's somewhat old-fashioned film redeems itself through the power of its obvious humanism.

Moneyball

Sports movies are an American favourite but this is a baseball film that goes well beyond genre conventions. It presents a believable character study of a wheeler-dealer team general manager (played with aplomb by Brad Pitt). See the film to believe that so much drama can be squeezed out of the numbers game.

The Descendants

A deeply felt tragicomedy about a flawed husband and father who finds redemption when his wife meets with a boating accident and he is, in the shadow of the worsening family crisis,drawn closer than ever to his two daughters. Both director Alexander Payne and star George Clooney are Oscar frontrunners for this effort.
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