Custom has it that my profession loves to moan, but only the most churlish film critic could grizzle after what has been one of the most bracing years in recent cinema.
True, if you only looked at US multiplex product, you'd be seriously depressed, but it's a big world, and the level of inspiration around the globe shows that, in terms of capturing our imaginations, Hollywood currently matters less than ever.
Surprise of the Year
In a thoroughgoing burst of health from British cinema, 2011 saw the release of Tyrannosaur, Archipelago, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Peter Mullan's underrated Neds. It brought compelling comebacks from Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin) and Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea) and startling work from newer names Andrew Haigh (Weekend), Ben Wheatley (Kill List) and – on the cusp of art and film – Ben Rivers, who made the hallucinatory Slow Action.
Some Hollywood titans weighed in with overblown disappointments: Spielberg's Tintin, Scorsese's Hugo, David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (see page 52). But the Year's Most Overrated was surely Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, with its bizarre blend of kitchen-sink intimacy and pan-galactic awe. It's a hugely ambitious, boundary-pushing film, no doubt of that – but it's also overblown and not a little kitsch. Let's just say it's the least good masterpiece in recent memory.
Of the few American films that stood out, let's remember the Coen brothers' True Grit; the smart, spikily outrageous Bridesmaids; and the wonderfully demented Rango, which rewrote Chinatown as a spaghetti Western, and cast it with hideous furry critters: the first CGI animation to really worry Pixar.
Turkey of the Year
This goes, by many digital miles, to Sucker Punch, a nerd-boy wank fantasy that was at once sleazy, bombastic, ugly and mind-crushingly dull; at one stroke, director Zack Snyder forfeited the trash-genius status he'd achieved with 300 and Watchmen.
Stunt of the Year
Lars von Trier's "Nazi" routine at Cannes was less a press conference than inept stand-up. A pity it overshadowed his cosmic meditation Melancholia, a film of surpassing strangeness and beauty that also marked a personal best for its star Kirsten Dunst.
Best of the Year
Apart from the titles listed above ... Korean drama Poetry was a subtle, unassuming psychological portrait of genuine depth, with a superb performance from veteran actress Yun Jung-hee. From Iran, the Berlin winner A Separation had a vice-like grip that transcended its domestic melodrama format. From Greece, there came Attenberg, a demented sociological comedy with silly walks and bird squawks. Two Latin American films offered the year's steeliest political visions: Mexican drug-war drama Miss Bala and, from Chile, Post Mortem's eerie take on the Pinochet coup.
Then there was How I Ended This Summer, a Herzog-like Arctic essay from Russia, about two men facing the elements; Gerard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve reliving their disco days in François Ozon's joyously cheesy Potiche; the byzantine entanglements of Raul Ruiz's Mysteries of Lisbon; and the ingenious French silent treat The Artist (out on 30 December). But my Film of the Year was Michelangelo Frammartino's Le Quattro Volte – or, as most people prefer to call it, the Italian Goat Movie. This hugely original wordless picture of life in the Calabrian hills was poetic, philosophical, visually and sonically inspired – and featured a stupendous extended sight gag featuring goats, a dog, an Easter parade and a runaway truck. Buster Keaton would have raised a glass of grappa in approval.
Elizabeth Taylor; the majestically crumpled Peter Falk (not only TV's Columbo, but also star of John Cassavetes and Wim Wenders films); and British film's mad magus Ken Russell. We also lost wildly prolific Chilean visionary Raul Ruiz and his sometime associate Gilbert Adair – novelist, screenwriter, Bertolucci collaborator, and a perceptive critic who was my predecessor on this paper.