Movies

The Best Movies of 2011

Editor’s Note:  Originally we were only going to post one list of the Top 10 Movies that would consist of films selected by everyone, but the writers had such varied, quality selections that we didn’t want to leave anything out. 2011 was such a strong year for film, covering everything from  huge blockbusters that lived up to the hype and small art house fare that surprised the masses.
So without further ado, see our writer’s Top Ten Films of 2011 and let us know your favorite flicks in the comments!
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Jon Richard’s Picks:

10. Source Code
The second film from the son of David Bowie. Duncan Jones followed up his previous success with a more box office friendly action film about time travel. The film saw moderate box office numbers, but deserves a chance from anyone who enjoyed Moon.
9. 50/50
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a young cancer patient who has to come to terms with his 50/50 chances. The film was more than a basic sob story; it featured great comedic elements from co-star Seth Rogan and also delivered a more realistic depiction of what a cancer patient may go through.
8. The Devil’s Double
This film slew under many peoples radar upon its release back in August. However, the film which depicts the life of a man chosen to play the double of Saddam Hussein’s psychotic son is worth checking out.
7. Puncture
A more serious role for Evan’s after playing Captain America, Puncture tells an Eric Brockovich story. Evan’s portrayal of junkie lawyer Mike Weiss is moving and makes people really see his acting chops.
6. Winnie The Pooh
The newest installment about the little yellow bear was by far one of the best. It was nice to see an old franchise come back without being 3D or set in a modern setting. This film restored my faith that Hollywood doesn’t have to massacre everything I loved as a child.
5. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hollows: Part 2
The dramatic conclusion to one of the highest grossing films franchises ever didn’t disappoint fans. While it was the first HP film I’ve ever seen in theaters, I did enjoy Yates’ handling of the popular series.
4. Drive
Nicolas Winding’s toss up to the eighties was perhaps one of Goslings best films. With a killer soundtrack and an amazing supporting cast (Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston), Drive was well worth the price of admission.
3. X-Men: First Class
A reboot of the already established X-Men franchise saw the origins of the team in 1962. The film manages to feel like a period piece with the addition of mutants, and reminds us that Kevin Bacon can act.
2. Rise Of The Planet of the Apes
Another prequel reboot to another established franchise. James Franco plays second fiddle to the amazing motion capture work of Andy Serkis. A film about humanity and what it means, Rise was amazingly executed.
1. The Muppets
Much like Winnie the Pooh the Muppets movie proved that not everything needs to be revamped in a modern light. For many this was Marshal (Jason Segal’s How I Met You Mother character) meets the Muppets, and that works just fine. The film was over-the-top and filled with sight gags and guest stars making it for me movie of the year.

 

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Eric Ambler’s Picks:

In alphabetical order:

  • Attack the Block
Imagine if the Goonies had grown up in the projects instead of the suburbs, and you’d
begin to understand this kinetic British sci-fi comedy about of a group of teenage street toughs defending their south London apartment complex from an alien invasion. A boisterous thrill ride from start to finish, writer-director Joe Cornish – a protégé of Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim helmer Edgar Wright – finds the time to weave in a political subtext that appeared especially prescient in the wake of this summer’s riots in London and several other U.K. cities. Breathlessly plotted and brimming with attitude, Attack the Block should be a cult favorite for years to come.
  • Drive
Combining expressionistic visuals with an angular synth score that evokes Risky Business and Chariots of Fire, director Nicolas Winding Refn lends a bit of magic to the mundane story of a conflicted getaway driver in Drive, and suggests a timelessness in his examination of intractable human nature. And it wouldn’t work at all without Ryan Gosling, whose slow-burning, laconic charm keeps us in his corner even as he plays the role of the action hero archetype to its darkest, bloodiest conclusion. Most decent movies have to strain to make even one shot or sequence feel iconic – Refn’s effortless combination of restraint and release guides Drive toward a poetic perfection.
  • Hugo
There aren’t many family films that provide insight into the nascent French cinema of the 19th century, but then again there aren’t many directors with a love of film history as deep as Martin Scorsese’s. Hugo whirrs along like a well-oiled machine as it delves into its story of a Parisian orphan who discovers a cranky old toymaker’s unexpected connection to a pioneer of early filmmaking. First and foremost, it’s a visual feast dedicated to the alchemy of cinema and a commanding chorale of the senses. Though sometimes it feels like it was constructed to appeal directly to the people who make these kinds of lists, Hugo is still one of the rarest of films: a clockwork masterpiece of technological precision with a huge, throbbing heart.
  • The Interrupters
“War zone” is often a reductive way of describing America’s most beleaguered urban communities, but it almost fits the neighborhoods examined by accomplished documentarian Steve James in The Interrupters. Into the breach step the members of CeaseFire, self-proclaimed “violence interrupters” profiled over the course of an entire year on Chicago’s crumbling South Side. Alternately exhausting and affirming, the film’s journalistic style eschews sound bites and simplifications as it patiently catalogues each grim setback and unexpected success. The best part is that neither James nor the interrupters are naive enough to expect that this documentary represents a major turning point. They, like the film, are dedicated to the long haul.
  • Melancholia
Half mordant comedy of manners, half apocalyptic drama, Melancholia has almost all the humor, heart, and hopelessness you could want in Lars Von Trier’s caustic valentine to the frailty of feelings. Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg are fantastic as chips off the same passive-aggressive block, two sisters whose bond is such a complex potion of pain and camaraderie that allows them to face certain death together. The diptych structure favors the film’s first half, a wedding reception full of color and character, but things end with a bang – who knew the end of the world could seem so triumphant? Von Trier articulates it all with a sympathetic eye and the assertion that loneliness is humanity’s worst enemy: even if you’re going down with the ship, you’ll be better off with all hands on deck.
  • Moneyball
It’s not often that a movie with a production history as tortuous as Moneyball makes it to the screen, much less winds up conversations about the year’s best films. It’s as savvy as its protagonist, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), general manager of baseball’s Oakland Athletics, who built a winning team by outmaneuvering his richer competition and maximizing every last bit of potential. Pitt’s revelatory partnership with a soft-spoken statistics whiz played by Jonah Hill also makes Moneyball the year’s best buddy flick. Only a sports story on the surface, it drills down into the many reasons that people are resistant to change and the scrutiny that follows innovators whose ideas, when proven successful, are promptly stolen. When’s the last time a movie made you stand up and cheer for a pyrrhic victory?
  • Rango
Full of purple prose and odd comedic rhythms, Rango is perhaps the strangest multiplex hit of the year, an animated fable about a high-strung lizard tasked with bringing justice to a dusty Western outpost populated entirely by animals. It’s so weird, in fact, that kids might lose the thread early on. But older folks will have a blast, as it assumes that you have seen a few good westerns and already forgotten plenty of subpar animated films. The film is absolutely gorgeous, by the way, maybe more so than even the prettiest Pixar products. Rango is a most pleasant surprise – a daring creative leap from Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski where the connection between plot points A and B isn’t as important as the abundance of whimsy, off-kilter wit, and other grin-inducing delights.
  • Senna
A moving biography of the late Formula One driving star Ayrton Senna, it’s a stunning exercise in immersion. Though the Brazilian driver’s career was relatively brief, the documentary doesn’t lack for great material, weaving interviews, race footage, voiceovers, and candid home movies to skillfully juxtapose Senna the phenomenon with Senna the man. Here was an athlete whose genius was as daring as it was reckless, though not without a sense of mortality – a devout Catholic, he frequently invoked the divine to describe the sublime terror of piloting a kayak on wheels around hairpin turns at 150 miles per hour. Even if it may overindulge in hero-worship, Senna has an irresistible verve and a legitimate case to join the canon of great sports documentaries.
  • The Skin I Live In
Pedro Almodóvar’s latest is a gleefully licentious film about mad scientist Antonio Banderas and his mysterious captive, Elena Anaya, who submits herself as a guinea pig for his experiments in creating an impermeable synthetic skin. It’s also much more than I can reveal – The Skin I Live In features some of the year’s wildest twists in a pulpy narrative that envelops and devours the imagination like a boa constrictor. But however outlandish it gets, the film always manages to transcend exploitation. Much credit should go to Anaya, who lends poignancy and feistiness to a character that is otherwise a plasticine toy, and even more to Almodóvar himself, who has a way with finding the beauty and empathy in otherwise ugly, horrifying stories.
  • The Tree of Life
Much has been said about how The Tree of Life has not lived up to the public’s expectations of it as a “movie.” But what truly has more cinematic imagination: Terrence Malick’s unabashedly philosophical and visually arresting ramble, or a predictable assemblage of stock character types and simple moralizing? I couldn’t get over how quiet it was where I screened it – not just the movie, but the audience. They may have been letting their minds wander, or struggling to translate the narrative into more conventional terms, or inviting it to wash over them like a dream. I did all three, and I suspect that this is a major part of the intended experience. Life is completely what you make of it.
Honorable Mention: 50/50, Another Earth, Into the Abyss, The Trip, We Need to Talk
About Kevin

 

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Catherine Edison’s Picks:  

10. Priest
I am a huge fan of Paul Bettany and enjoyed his journey into graphic noveldom.  I thought Priest was well executed and adapted.  I wasn’t a fan of the daughter, played by Lili Collins, but I’m willing to overlook that one glitch in an otherwise well developed story and visually entertaining film.
9. Winnie the Pooh
I can’t tell you how leery I was of this movie.  I did not like that it was being done and was concerned that they would tarnish my favorite characters with new voices and new music.  I was put at ease with the music when Deschanel’s rendition of the title song was playing and was just beautiful and full of innocence.  The rest of the movie played out the same way and made me forget that the voices of the characters were not the same and allowed me to just become lost in the Hundred Acre Wood as I always did as a kid.
8. X-Men First Class
I am a fan of the ensemble cast when it’s done right (I’m talking to you NEW YEARS EVE).  James McAvoy is brilliant as Xavier and getting to see my favorite group of super humans from the beginning was thoroughly enjoyable for me.   Again, it comes down to casting carefully and not just picking big names to beef up the movie.  If it’s done well, the film will speak for itself.
7. Win Win
Paul Giamatti, need I say more?  Oh yeah, I forgot he did Lady in the Water, I guess more explanation may be necessary.  It’s a feel good movie that never feels cheesy.  Giamatti starts with his own interests in mind when offering to take care of his client, no good intentions here and really seems only to take the kiddo on out of some guilt,  it speaks to humanity and how the best intentions can be laden with a little less morality than we would like to admit.  Even doing the right thing is messy in this movie, as it should be.
6. Crazy, Stupid, Love
The chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell as well as Emma Stone and refreshingly Julianne Moore was fantastic.  This film is everyone’s dream situation after someone does you wrong in a relationship, to be able reinvent yourself into an irresistible man/woman.  For the filmmakers to then change a relationship revenge movie to the ultimate true love movie is not what I thought I would root for, but the way they did it couldn’t have been more perfect.  I’m not a love story movie kind of girl, so for this to be in my top ten says something.  Best love story movie since Love Actually.
5. Rango
Who doesn’t love a good spaghetti western?  I didn’t expect Rango to have such a strong adult appeal.  It was a big surprise and a pleasant one.  I forgot Johnny Depp was the voice very soon into the movie and became invested in and taken in by Rango himself (getting me to forget about Johnny Depp is quite a feat, believe me.)  I forgot I was watching a cartoon and got completely lost in the movie and the story and was cheering for the good guys until the end.
4. Attack the Block
I love those crazy Brits.  This was a very imaginative foray into aliens and monsters and fear of the dark.  I think it tapped in to something in the child in so many of us that fell for this movie.  The idea not only that there is something very dark to be afraid of in the dark, but that we could conquer it. Looking at the cover I’m reminded of Goonies, I like that parallel…a dark, British Goonies. .
3. Bridesmaids
I came to really love Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy through this movie.  These women are so talented and self-assured and make no apologies for how they do what they do.  Finally an amazing female ensemble cast to rival the likes of Steel Magnolias.
2. Thor
The best by far of the Marvel releases leading up to the avengers.  This film could not have been more perfectly cast, they finally got that part right.  I think it has what was lacking in all f the other films, a lead that is not a blockbuster, but has proven his acting chops and a supporting cast that is believable/popular in this genre and has real chemistry.
1.  Super 8
Nostalgia always goes a long way with me and this movie captures the movies from my childhood, Stand By Me, ET, even Close Encounters, in such a fantastic way.  So much detail went into recreating that environment and time period, you can really see that it was a labor of love.  It truly is a throwback to great storytelling among an industry time when bigger is made to be better.

 

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Daniel Sarath’s Picks:

 

10. Take Shelter

Take Shelter may only be a modestly budgeted independent film, but its scope feels huge. With stunning visuals and directorial flair Take Shelter transforms from a small character study into an epic study of blue-collar, suburban paranoia in a post-9/11 landscape. This sophomore release from Jeff Nichols, featuring a killer performance from Michael Shannon at its core, is easily one of the most engaging American films of the year.
9. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Spy films don’t come much finer than this. Soaked in a pallet of grey and brown, Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy takes us inside the real British intelligence. He brings to life a complex, dark and murky world here where double-crossing thrives and trust is rarely displayed. One where everyone is a suspect and the political stakes are high. The acting from its British ensemble is stellar and the movie is presented with such brilliant attention to detail that true film lovers will be left in awe.
8. Submarine
A poetic ode to adolescence, Submarine may quirky but it conjures up one of the most honest coming-of-age tales ever produced. It’s creative in a way British cinema rarely is thanks to Richard Ayoade’s inspired direction yet loses none of its unique sense of humour or touching story as a result.
7. Margaret
Hindered by legal battles, internal disputes, creative differences and financial woes, it has taken almost half a decade for Kenneth Lonergan’s sophomore feature to reach the big screen. But while the wait has been long, Margaret proves to worth every minute of it. A modern New York saga, it’s the story of a self-centred adolescent who turns a tragic bus accident into an operatic melodrama in which she is the lead actress. It’s big, ambitious and packed with an ensemble of great performances from Anna Paquin, Mark Rufallo and Matt Damon.
6. Senna
Proving that documentary cinema can be innovative, Asif Kapadia tells the life story of Brazilian racer Ayrton Senna entirely through stock footage, news reports and home videos. It creates the effect of a live-action movie, placing you alongside the driver as he fights the corruption and the politics of the sport to simple do what he loves: Race. Whether you’re a fan of Formula One or not, Senna’s journey is one impossible to avert your eyes from as he inspirationally puts his life in danger to achieve his life-long dreams.
5. A Separation
This gripping Iranian drama has rightly picked up every award hurled at it so far this year. It’s an enlightening portrait of life in modern Iran telling a tremendous story about two families whose lives are thrown into disarray when a potential crime brings them together. Its dialogue is perfect, performances are stunning and every single character in this large ensemble is as compelling as the next. A Separation is nearly flawless.
4. We Need To Talk About Kevin
After many years Lynne Ramsay has returned and let’s hope this time she is here to stay. Her radically cinematic adaptation of this best-selling novel is a full-blown visceral attack on the senses. Splashed with a foreboding red, uncomfortably bright aesthetic and contrapuntal uses of popular music, she’s tells her story of a mother’s grief after her son’s serial killing spree in a daring style that ignites memories of Stanley Kubrick. At the centre is Tilda Swinton at the best she has ever been.
3. The Artist
Cinema at its very purest, The Artist is a throwback to the silent films of the 1920s. Telling he story of a fading movie star, it’s a perfect pastiche of the genre from its acting and music right down to its cinematography. At the same time, however, the film is devilishly self-aware of its purpose as a homage as opposed to a carbon copy throwing unexpected modern touches into the mix too. What makes Hazanavicious’ film stand out though is how charming it is. It’s simply so much fun that it will leave you feeling like you’re floating on air as you emerge from the cinema.
2. The Tree Of Life
Terrence Malick’s Cannes-winning film is unlike anything you will ever witness. On one hand, he shows us the intimate, expressionistic fragments of a middle-aged man’s memories from his tortured childhood. On the other, the enigmatic filmmaker paints an epic portrait of what life ultimately means taking us right back to the dawn of time and the birth of humanity itself. It’s art cinema on a grand scale, challenging the conventions of what film can be.
1. Shame
Steve McQueen’s controversial sophomore effort is a masterpiece on every level. A contemporary study about human connection in the digital age, he drops us into the world of sex addict Brandon as we watch his life quietly spiral out of control. Though its sparse in dialogue, it’s the spaces in between the words that make Shame such a mesmerizing release offering so much depth that you’ll feel like you know Brandon as well as your closest friends by the time it draws to a conclusion. The film tackles his addiction head on, unafraid of projecting the suffering that such an affliction causes without concern for taboo and Michael Fassbender’s subtle, nuanced performance bringing it to life is among the best you’ll see all year. Shame is a bleak film, but without a doubt the most daring and successful of 2011.
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Kristal Bailey’s Picks:

 10. Fast Five

While everyone is buzzing about Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, I feel this ultimately was the stronger reboot to a franchise. While the first Fast and Furious films centered around the thrill of the race, this redefined the franchise while bringing in familiar faces and playing within the timelines of the previous films. This film is pure adrenaline and always kept me on my toes.

9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

I fully admit this may be a sentimental choice, this was by far the strongest installment in the franchise. Balancing the action, the relationships, and adeptly wrapping up the story of The Boy Who Lived it, Harry Potter could not have gotten a better final chapter. Growing up with this character, I still can’t believe I won’t be visiting this world again in books or film but I’m glad it had such a strong finish.

8. Martha Marcy May Marlene
Elizabeth Olsen breaks away from her famous twins in her stand out role as the title character. Following a young girl as she’s entering and then leaving a cult, it is a horrifying look into the huge brain-melt of that environment. Cutting between her two lives seemingly at random, it slowly peels back layers of Martha/Marcy and allows the viewer to interpret her fate. Somehow, it makes cults even more unsettling.
7. Kung Fu Panda 2
It’s a rarity that a sequel can surpass the original film, but Kung Fu Panda 2 takes the characters that we loved and heightens the stakes, adds an even more maniacal bad guy, and a healthy dose of heart. The fact that this was directed by a woman is just icing on the cake, since I always try to keep an eye on how that celluloid/glass ceiling is holding up.
6. Crazy Stupid Love
This was definitely the year of Ryan Gosling! Out of all the memes, funny videos/photos, and films this was my favorite project of his in 2011. Funny, clever, and cute it raised the standards of what “romantic comedy” could be.
5. Warrior
I’m so glad I caught this at a random screening! Having no interest in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) or UFC, I was going to pass this by. While it does revolve around the MMA scene, the story of rival brothers and what they are fighting for was riveting and heartwrenching.
4. Bridesmaids
Hilarious with the right blend of raunchy/gross out gags, relationships, and character growth – Bridesmaids was the only movie this year I needed to see multiple times in theaters. Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig shine; I only wish Jon Hamm had more scenes as his cad routine was a definite highlight.
3. Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen’s best feature in years, Midnight in Paris is full of charm and explores the rather refreshing idea that maybe our own time is the best time. With the current craze for 90s nostalgia going on in my generation, this message resonated with me. Let’s hope Woody can stay on this track.
2. 50/50
Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to be one of the most natural, talented actors in his age group. Balancing the darkness and dark humor inherent in a comedy about cancer, he makes Adam sympathetic without veering into pathetic and course withough being unlikable. Hinging on his performance, this (mostly) true story hits all the right notes to make you laugh, cry, and root for Adam.
1. Attack the Block
Super 8 got all the theaters, marketing, and buzz but ultimately Attack the Block is the best alien-invasion-fought-by-kids movie of the year. Not just that, it takes my number one spot thanks to the action, camaraderie amongst the young characters, and humor that all wove together to create a fantastic directorial debut for Joe Cornish and my favorite flick of 2011.
Honorable Mentions: Shame, Captain America, X-Men: First Class, Rango, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Share your favorite flicks of 2011 in the comments!
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The Author

Kristal Bailey

Kristal Bailey

With a soft spot for movies that fall into the “So Bad They’re Good” category, Kristal Bailey regularly watches B-movies, 80s comedies, and sci-fi from the 50s and 60s. She also refuses to grow up if that means she has to hide her love for Disney and Pixar films.

In her free time, she enjoys reading graphic novels or books that are soon to be turned into movies, watching hours and hours of television, and spending way too much time on Twitter.