Reel Critics: Some of year's best movies not recognized as nominees

Nine films were nominated for Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards, but I think only my top three picks below have a real chance of winning. They're included here with some other movies that I think also deserved recognition:

1. "The Artist"— Innovative, dazzling look at the silent film era. Jean Dujardin should win Best Actor for his multi-talented portrayal of a studio contract star.

2. "The Help"— Revealing, intelligent study of the sinister Jim Crow era in the deep south. Viola Davis deserves Best Actress for her striking performance as a gutsy maid.

3. "Hugo"— Martin Scorsese's epic tribute to 100 years of movie making. Lush production with equal parts mystery, charm and magic.

4. "The Ides of March"— Actor/director George Clooney delivers the best film about political operatives in many years. Runner up:"Margin Call."

5. "Midnight in Paris"— Woody Allen's alluring return to his comedy/fantasy roots.

6. "Moneyball"— Brad Pitt takes a different but very real look at the modern world of big league baseball.

7. "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"— Realistic gritty spy thriller with great acting. Runner up:"The Debt"

8."Source Code"— Overlooked sci-fi thriller in the Twilight Zone tradition. Surreal runner up:"The Adjustment Bureau."

9. "Adventures of Tin Tin" — Spielberg's wildly animated adventure in the style of "Indiana Jones."

10. "Iron Lady" — Controversial biopic with outstanding Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher.

Honorable mentions go to"The Descendants"and"Bridesmaids."


Seeing 'Safe House' is a safe bet

I made a "vow" not to see another insipid rom-com just because it was Valentine's Day. So I saw "Safe House" and had a rollicking good time.

Following the trend of frenzied "Bourne"-like action and shady CIA operatives, this is a first-rate thriller with lots of suspense.

Denzel Washington is the epitome of cool as mysterious rogue agent Tobin Frost. Just the mention of his name inspires shock and awe and makes him the target of a gazillion bullets in Cape Town, South Africa.

In a dizzying opening sequence, Frost turns himself in to the American Embassy after a mysterious deal goes wrong.

He's handed over to a safe house for torture/questioning, where "housekeeper" Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) looks on reverently. But the rookie agent gets more excitement than he bargained for when he must be the one to lead Frost out of danger. At every turn and against all logic, there are always more men waiting to kill them.

With his Cheshire-cat grin, Washington gives a slow-burning, elegant performance while the blank-faced Reynolds does his best to keep up.

The action in "Safe House" is beautifully shot, including a car chase that gets the heart racing as much as any in "Bullitt" or "The French Connection."

Denzel, you make bad look good.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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