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1. THE ARTIST Not in IMAX, 3-D, color (Credit: The Weinstein Company Photo/)

1. THE ARTIST

Not in IMAX, 3-D, color or even sound. But this silent-film throwback is the freshest, most imaginative movie of the year, and one of the most unabashedly romantic.

Read the full story

Screen gems: The year's 11 best movies

"You know what's a drag about being a grown-up?" a friend asked the other night. "Nobody makes movies for me anymore."

He's not entirely correct, but I know how he feels. Hollywood's focus on young viewers has been intensifying for decades -- at least since the original "Star Wars," if not before -- and this year was no exception. From the latest "Pirates of the Caribbean" installment to the third "Transformers" blockbuster, the box-office biggies of 2011 were largely cinematic junk food marketed to the PG-13 crowd. Even the year's most popular R-rated film, "The Hangover Part II," seemed made for (and by) enormous eighth-graders. The final chapter of "Harry Potter" was a special case, the rare film that appealed to anybody big enough to sit in a chair.

The dearth of adult fare may explain why Woody Allen's light comedy "Midnight in Paris" became his biggest-ever financial success in North America. It wasn't exactly "Annie Hall," just a whimsical romance starring Owen Wilson as a writer who time travels to the glamorous 1920s. But it was smart, charming and had nothing to do with aliens or men in tights -- manna from heaven for moviegoers of a certain age. Ditto for "The Help," a racially-themed drama that 20 years ago might have been dismissed as Hollywood fluff but today feels well-tempered and positively refreshing (and there'd be no arguing in any era with the superb performances of Bryce Dallas Howard and Viola Davis).

Unexpectedly, some of the year's comic-book and sci-fi offerings were also worth noting. "Captain America: The First Avenger" was a marvelous-looking piece of pop entertainment, while "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" gave the campy franchise a jolt of serious energy and could even bring Andy Serkis (as an eerily smart chimp) the first-ever Oscar nod for a motion-capture performance. Special mention goes to "X-Men: First Class," a smart, snazzy superhero flick with a dollop of minority politics.

My favorite film of the year, "The Artist," may seem like a typical critics' pick -- it's French, black-and-white and silent -- but there is absolutely nothing stuffy or snobby about this movie. The story of an outmoded silent star (Jean Dujardin) and a chatty newcomer (Bérénice Bejo), "The Artist" is a genuine crowd-pleaser, full of humor, drama, romance, even dance numbers. As the cigar-chomping moguls used to say, it's got everything.

Though I haven't seen two of the year's major contenders -- the Streep-as-Thatcher biopic "The Iron Lady" and David Fincher's long-awaited version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" -- here are my top 11 movies for 2011. Grown-ups, take heart.

--RAFER GUZMÁN

Chris Evans as Captain America.
(Credit: TNS)

Chris Evans as Captain America.

10. MAGIC TRIP Painstakingly assembled from footage shot
(Credit: Ted Streshinsky/)

10. MAGIC TRIP

Painstakingly assembled from footage shot by the Merry Pranksters during their famous 1964 bus trip, Alex Gibney's documentary is a vivid, vibrant chronicle of idealism, recklessness and the start of a revolution.

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9. SLEEPING BEAUTY Emily Browning (
(Credit: AP)

9. SLEEPING BEAUTY

Emily Browning ("Sucker Punch") plays a co-ed moonlighting as a prostitute -- while unconscious. It's a discomfiting fairy tale from Australian novelist Julia Leigh, who borrows from Stanley Kubrick and feminist filmmaker Chantal Akerman but thanks Jane Campion in the credits.

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8. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE A tense, tingly
(Credit: AP)

8. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE

A tense, tingly drama about a young girl fleeing from a violent cult leader (John Hawkes, "Winter's Bone"). Elizabeth Olsen's remarkably raw and surely Oscar-worthy performance is not what you'd expect from someone related to the "Full House" twins.

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7. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY A cool, stylish
(Credit: Focus Features/)

7. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY

A cool, stylish version of the classic British spy novel, with ace performances from Tom Hardy, Colin Firth and Gary Oldman as owl-eyed agent George Smiley. Thomas Alfredson ("Let the Right One In") is now officially a director to watch.

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6. MELANCHOLIA Lars von Trier's apocalyptic drama about
(Credit: Nordisk Film Photo/)

6. MELANCHOLIA

Lars von Trier's apocalyptic drama about a chronic depressive (Kirsten Dunst) is designed to provoke strong reactions, not all of them pleasant. Mission accomplished. Whatever you think of it, you won't soon forget it.

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5. MONEYBALL An unsentimental, cliche-free drama about major-league
(Credit: MCT/)

5. MONEYBALL

An unsentimental, cliche-free drama about major-league baseball, with fine performances from Brad Pitt and -- surprise! --Jonah Hill as number crunchers dismantling the game they love. It's a pro-sports, but anti-sports movie.

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4. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
(Credit: Twentieth Century Fox)

4. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

This reboot of the hokey franchise proved absolutely electrifying, with hair-raising action and a career-high performance from motion-capture veteran Serkis.

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3. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS Sometimes Woody Allen still
(Credit: Mediapro/Versatil Cinema)

3. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

Sometimes Woody Allen still gets it right, as he does in this deceptively light comedy-fable about love, literature and time travel.

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2. THE HELP Some criticized its soft treatment
(Credit: Photo by Dale Robinette)

2. THE HELP

Some criticized its soft treatment of racism, but I was grateful for a message movie that didn't browbeat me into submission. Funny, tender and filled with great performances, it's a near-perfect example of intelligent Hollywood entertainment.

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1. THE ARTIST Not in IMAX, 3-D, color
(Credit: The Weinstein Company Photo/)

1. THE ARTIST

Not in IMAX, 3-D, color or even sound. But this silent-film throwback is the freshest, most imaginative movie of the year, and one of the most unabashedly romantic.

Read the full story

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