Drive: Gosling gives another excellent performance (as he did in The Ides of March), this time as a coolly brutal getaway driver whose lone-wolf lifestyle is imperiled by his relationship with a young mom (Carey Mulligan) whose husband is in prison. Albert Brooks’ turn as a loan shark is excellent, and the movie’s striking visual style marks its young director Nicolas Winding Refn as a young talent to watch.
Midnight in Paris: Woody Allen fans haven’t had much to work with except Match Point in recent years, but this summer he had the sleeper hit of the year with this tongue-in-cheek nostalgia piece about a young novelist (Owen Wilson) who, on a trip to today’s France, steps through a wrinkle in time and finds himself cavorting with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso. Reminiscent of Purple Rose of Cairo in its gentle humor, the movie charmed audiences looking for an antidote to tired blockbuster formulas.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams: A wondrous documentary shot in 3D, this exploration of the oldest art created by humans — the paintings inside the Chauvet caves in southern France — turns into a mystical inquiry about mankind’s relationship with his past and his highest aspirations.
Win Win: One of the movies’ leading underdog actors, Paul Giamatti, plays a small-town lawyer and high-school wrestling coach who winds up virtually adopting the teenage son of a doddering client. The kid, off-putting as he seems at first, turns out to be a star wrestler who helps his new coach get his family and his life back on track in a film that carries a resonant message about the importance of doing what’s morally right.
We Bought a Zoo: Cameron Crowe, who wrote Fast Times at Ridgemont High and wrote and directed Almost Famous, has always been in touch with his youthful side, but this time he goes all in with a film based on a true story that is aimed at children and their parents. Matt Damon plays a widower (watch for a very funny Thomas Haden Church as his brother) who, while caring for his two kids, gets the strange idea of buying a disused zoo in California and reopening it to the public. Working with the animals and a pretty zookeeper (Scarlett Johansson), he gets his family in sync again. A good-natured holiday treat.