Friday, January 6, 2012

Top 10 Movies of 2011 (And Then Some)

When I look back on 2011, I believe it will go down as one of my favorite years for film. Sure, there were an abnormally high number of really bad movies that I would never force myself to see but we were also treated to a ton of really strong, quality works that I will remember for years to come. I also had greater access in 2011 to independent, smaller budget films; in the past, there's a good chance I wouldn't have been able to see Drive50/50, or The Descendants until they came to DVD. I can only hope that this trend continues moving forward. In addition, 2011 represents the end to a significant franchise (Harry Potter), the return of Kermit the Frog (duh), and one of the better superhero movies not related to Christopher Nolan (X-Men: First Class).

Each year, I compile a full list of every film I have seen from said year and rank them from first to worst. A couple of things about this list:

1.) My rankings are a mix of quality of film and enjoyment. I would never argue that The Muppets is a better film than Tree of Life but when you add "fun" and "extreme likability" into the mix, I prefer the former over the latter.
2.) Grades and rankings change. If you click on the links to my reviews, you may find that the grade is different than it is on this list. Sometimes the longer I am away from having seen a film, the more my perception of it changes. And sometimes I see the film again and my opinion changes. That's the way it goes. If you're looking at this list at some point in the future it is probably significantly different than it was at the date of publication.
3.) I have missed out on a couple of "important" films to this point, including Midnight in Paris and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, so there's an outside chance my top 10 will change before it's all said and done. I've seen approximately 78 films this year. Couldn't get to them all. Sue me.

So, without further adieu, I present to you my End of Year Rankings for 2011. Enjoy.

1. Drive - Left as much if not more of an indelible mark upon me as any film this year. I loved it. I love the simplistic script, the synthesized soundtrack, and of course, the magnificent central character, Driver. Gosling freaking kills it in this role and embodies every aspect of his character's deceptively multi-faceted persona. For lack of a better term, Drive is just cool, one or two tiny missteps away from a true masterpiece. A+

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 - Everything I could have hoped for in a finale. It brought so many moments to life in just the right ways and serves as a perfect cap to an outstanding series of films. In the future, I'll consider Part I and Part II one big movie (like I do with The Lord of the Rings) and I think that's a darn good movie. But this installment is where the real meat and potatoes comes into play and where the series makes its biggest impact. A+

3. 50/50 - I had the good fortune of seeing 50/50 about six weeks before it opened in theaters. I laughed, I cried, and I came away so impressed that I went back to see it on opening weekend. This is a crowning achievement in filmmaking from top to bottom. When I look back on 2011, I believe 50/50 will be the first film that comes to mind. A+

4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - I'm pretty sure I mentioned this film more than any other film in 2011 with the possible exception of Harry Potter. I was borderline obsessed with it, so much so that I penned 1,500 words about it when I realized I wouldn't be able to see it until a month after its release. Intelligent, complex, and tense, TTSS gives new meaning to the term "slow burn" and yet it's incredibly engrossing. A

5. The Descendants - When I walked out of my screening for The Descendants, I thought I had just seen the eventual Best Picture winner. I've cooled off of that feeling a bit since then but even still, this is an outstanding film. It is at times difficult to watch as it operates within an often dreary atmosphere and yet director Alexander Payne manages to find humor at just the right times to prevent his movie from becoming depressing. A

6. The Muppets - To call The Muppets a success would be the understatement of the year. It embodies all of the nostalgic goodness of the original Muppet entries while offering a few new angles that make this a decisively refreshing experience. The music is incredible and it is unquestionably the most fun I had in a movie theater this year (and maybe significantly longer). A

7. Hugo - Scorsese's ode to the pioneers of filmmaking. Beautiful, exquisitely directed (duh), and extremely personal. It bums me out that this film brought in so few viewers but if you get a chance to check it out, I encourage you to do so. A

8. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol - This is the most surprising film of the year for me. As a fan of the previous Mission: Impossible installments, I expected to enjoy this movie and then forget about it until it popped up on TNT in three years. Instead, I was treated to one of the more intelligent, pulse-pounding action movies in recent memory. So. Much. FUN. A

9. Tree of Life - I debated on where to put Tree of Life on this list. I could have gone as high as second or as low as ten. My opinion on what I think this movie is really about changes on a daily basis but there's absolutely no denying the fact that is a remarkably well-made film. More than any other movie this year, this is one that you simply have to see for yourself before you form an opinion. It is also one of the most beautiful films I have EVER seen. A

10. Super 8 - This was the best movie from the first half of the year in my opinion. It contains a fantastic story, some seriously good special effects, and surprisingly good acting across the board. The combination of Steven Spielberg and JJ Abrams plays out more beautifully than I could have imagined and every moment of Super 8 reeks of these two great filmmakers. A

I Am Number Four - Between Beastly (which made my Top 15 Worst Movies I Didn't See in 2011 list) and this one, it's safe to say the shine has worn off Alex Pettyfer's star. Number Four had a cool concept  but it never gets off the ground, due in large part to Pettyfer's lack of acting ability. 

The Change-Up - I knew going in that this would be a train wreck but even that term isn't quite enough to describe this. Everyone loves a comedy that delivers zero laughs, right? D

Green Lantern - BY FAR the worst movie I saw in a theater this year. All the signs were there but the summer blockbuster/superhero nerd inside got the best of me. So there I sat at a midnight screening, being treated to one of the most painful cinematic experiences of my life. D

Another Earth - I saw a number of top 10 lists that mentioned this movie. And strangely enough, I kinda get that. If you can get past all of the screw-ups related to the sci-fi portion of the plot, I can see how someone could dig Another Earth. I could not get past that stuff, however. Rubbish. D

Killer Elite D
The Sitter D
J. Edgar D

Scream 4 - Awful. Just awful. All Scream 4 did was remind me of why I don't watch scary movies.  D

Priest - Here's the thing: of the five movies I just listed, if you forced me at gun point to watch one of them again, I would choose Priest. It is so bad and mixes so many horrible cliches with a host of embarrassing performances that it almost becomes funny. It's one of those bad movies. And I think at this point we have to wonder if Paul Bettany is in some sort of financial trouble. F

In Time - Unquestionably the worst movie of the year. F


Grade: A
Crazy, Stupid, Love
Undoubtedly a flawed film but as I said in my initial review, the flaws just make this seem all the more realistic. These are real humans at work within CSL and all of them exhibit strengths and weaknesses throughout the movie. In addition, this movie served as a reminder to me that Ryan Gosling is an incredible actor. Easily the best date movie since 500 Days of Summer.

Warrior - Great sports action but more importantly, a compelling human interest story. If you're a Movie Crier, just know that big tears are a' comin' if you rent this one. 
Take Shelter

Grade: A-
The Help - Tough to keep this one out of the top 10. Great performances all around, including one of the best by a leading lady in several years. Viola Davis should be given the Oscar right now.

X-Men: First Class - I think First Class holds up against the best of the comic book/superhero genre (Nolan's Batman films aside, of course). Really fun, good action, and a superb cast led by Michael Fassbender, who had one of my favorite performances of the year.

Midnight in Paris
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Pearl Jam 20

Source Code - If you're a filmmaker and you're trying to catch my attention, creating a smart, original piece of sci-fi is probably the easiest way to make that happen. Between Source Code and 2009's Moon, Duncan Jones is rapidly becoming one of my favorite directors.

Attack the Block - One off the cooler blends of sci-fi and horror that I've seen in a while. I'm not sure I understood 25% of the dialogue but that's alright, it was still a blast.

Bridesmaids - My pick for Best Comedy of the Year (in a decidedly unfunny year), this made superstars out of both Kristin Wiig and Melissa McCarthy. Hilarious and so wrong.

Captain America - Not quite up to the caliber of X-Men but still a likable and lively superhero flick. I also really enjoyed the sort-of antiquated patriotism of the main character which, obviously, fit the storyline.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop - I wouldn't say this was an entirely insightful documentary but as a longtime Conan fan, it was very interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look at his life and career. Great subject matter.

Horrible Bosses - A close runner-up to Bridesmaids for Best Comedy. The Bateman-Sudiekis-Day lineup is quite strong but the supporting work of Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrel really sold this one for me. 

The Adventures of TintinA much more worthy successor to the Indiana Jones legacy than Shia LaBeouf will ever be. What Tintin lacks in plot it makes up for in pure fun and excitement. 

Cave of Forgotten Dreams - If you haven't heard of this one, it's definitely worth looking into. It is shot with what amounts to a handheld camcorder inside a cave in France that contains the oldest known human drawings. Cave is as stripped down as it gets but it is nonetheless fascinating.

Grade: B+
The Adjustment Bureau - 2011 was somewhat of a throw-back year. Between the values of Captain America, the resurgence of the Muppets, and even the early Spielbergian feel to Super 8, we were treated to a heavy dose of an old school mentality. Adjustment Bureau set the tone for that trend early in 2011 with a decisively retro narrative that I really enjoyed. It's not a movie I want to see over and over again, but it is nonetheless a touching romance and a solid piece of sci-fi.

Moneyball - My pick for Most Overrated Film of the Year. Not that it's bad in any way, I just don't think it's worthy of the Best Picture nomination it is almost certain to receive. At the end of the day, it's still a film about a baseball team that didn't win a World Series title and builds a major storyline around whether or not said team will win its 19th consecutive game. 

The Guard - A quality dark comedy headlined by one outstanding performance (Brendan Gleeson) that for me, overshadows the merits of the film as a whole. 

Fast Five - A film that serves as an illustration of the top quality the 2011 movie calendar brought to the table: fun. That's what the Fast franchise is and Fast Five is the best of the group (by a fair margin). If you plan on checking this one out at some point, let me help you out: if at anytime you begin saying to yourself, "that could NEVER happen", just go ahead and stop watching. This movie isn't for you.

War Horse - Another film I don't think is worthy of a Best Picture nomination. War Horse definitely has its merits and it gets better as it goes but it just doesn't do it for me. Then again, I don't like horses. So...

The Girl with the Dragon TattooPossibly David Fincher's first misstep. Far too much choppiness  in the early stages makes for an unbalanced experience. 

The Debt - Not a seamless blend between past and present but The Debt developed a compelling story and presented us with two solid performances by Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain. Chastain had an outstanding year with her work in The Help and Tree of Life drawing a lot of attention but for me, this was her best portrayal. 

Blackthorn - It's easy to sell me on a film about an aging Butch Cassidy; the Butch and Sundance legend is one of my all-time favorites. But add in Sam Shepard, one of the better actors of his generation, as Butch and you've got yourself a fan. Really good movie that no one will see.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - Good follow-up to one of the more enjoyable films of 2009 but not quite up to par in my mind. Always fun to watch Robert Downey Jr. work, though. 

Kung Fu Panda 2Outside of Tintin, this is the only animated film that was really worth seeing in 2011. I dig the first Kung Fu Panda and adding Gary Oldman's voice to the cast wasn't a half-bad idea. And visually speaking, this is a beautiful film.

Thor - Would have found a place much higher on my list without the superfluous and painfully cliche characters played by Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings. I don't understand the purpose of putting high-profile actresses into these damsel in distress roles if you're not going to give them ANYTHING to work with. I also found the villain, Loki, to be a bit dull. I'm concerned about his presence in The Avengers this summer.

A Better Life
Young Adult

The Ides of March - I struggled with what to write about Ides more than any other film on this list. There are some outstanding performances at work here but the overall story, while fine, is more than a little bland. There's just nothing new here and that leaves it punch less in my book.

Dolphin Tale - A perfectly acceptable family film. Yes it is full of cliches and yes the child actors are occasionally terrible, but there's a worthwhile story to be told here and it's presented in a harmless, somewhat touching way. 

The Beaver - The best performance from Mel Gibson in a long, long time. That's not really hard to do, of course, since Gibson has basically been out of the business for the last decade, but it's still a nice reminder of what the guy is capable of when he's not, you know, making anti-Semitic statements and drinking like a member of the Jersey Shore cast. 

We Bought a Zoo - Much like Dolphin Tale, there's nothing wrong with Zoo as a family-film. I just wanted more from a Cameron Crowe production. Matt Damon, though, is great and there are a few truly special moments hidden away here and there.

Contagion - Perhaps the most telling thing I can say about this movie is that I saw it only a three months ago and yet I remember almost nothing about it. I was bored through most of it. 

Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Hands down, best special effects I saw this year. Andy Serkis deserves some sort of Oscar for the genuine life he gave to the apes in this movie. Just spectacular in that department. But for me, everything else about Apes is a let-down. It's basically a B-movie with great effects. Worth seeing once for the visuals alone but that was enough for me.

Unknown - I always like Liam Neeson's brand of action. He simultaneously manages to come across as if he doesn't take his roles too seriously and yet he's busting his butt to make your experience enjoyable. Unknown isn't up to par compared to Taken (which I unabashedly love) but it has some fun twists and turns and it's always nice to see Neeson beating the crap out of European tough guys.

The Mechanic - You could probably sell me on this movie belonging higher up the list. If nothing else, this is one of Jason Statham's better films and one that has more value from a storytelling perspective than his typical endeavor.

Cedar Rapids - I don't know why Cedar didn't work for me. There was just something about it that kept me at bay. I found it to be fairly humorous, I just didn't buy into it the way many respected critics did.

Beginners - Like several other films that find themselves in the middle of my list, I think Beginners is overshadowed by a single performance. Christopher Plummer is incredible as an aging widower who comes out of the closet just before he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. This is the only performance that is a lock to receive a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nod and it will be totally deserved. But beyond Plummer's work and an adorable dog that Ewan McGregor hangs out with, I didn't find much within this movie to get excited about. And I was wholly annoyed by Melanie Laurent's character. 

The Thing - My pick for Best Horror Movie of the Year even if it is by default. John Carpenter's 1982 version is a classic and while this vision doesn't quite compare, it's also far from an embarrassment. 

The Lincoln Lawyer - I didn't think it was possible to watch a Matthew McConaughey movie and enjoy it but Lincoln Lawyer worked for me. Possibly even more shocking, McConaughey wasn't the worst actor in the cast! In fact, it wasn't even close. Ryan Phillippe's performance was so wooden and cliche-riddled that he actually made McConaughey look good. Way to go, Ryan!

Puss in Boots

Arthur - I've never been a big fan of Russell Brand but I didn't think this was nearly as bad as people made it out to be. Sure, all the laughs were cheap but it made me laugh nonetheless and that's all I wanted from it.

Grade: B-
Cars 2 - Without question, the most disappointing film of the year. As a Pixar junkie, I anticipate each picture from that company as much if not more than just about any other film year in and year out. I still won't go so far as to call Cars 2 a bad movie but man, what a flop compared to what we've become accustomed to.

The Green Hornet - I enjoyed this one the first time I saw it. But then it popped up on HBO or Starz or something and I watched it again. Not so enjoyable the second time around. 

Gnomeo and Juliet - Yet another example of "acceptable family fare" that doesn't impress otherwise. I did, however, dig the Elton John-heavy soundtrack. Can't go wrong there.

Battle: Los Angeles - I still don't understand the absolute hatred thrown at this movie. No, it isn't great and yes, it's full of alien/action movie cliches. But I found it to be far from the "worst movie" candidate it was made out to be. 

Just Go With It - I refuse to see this again because I actually kind-of-sort-of enjoyed it the first time around and judging by the HORRIBLE reviews it has received, I was clearly wrong to not hate it. I don't want to be proven wrong. Perhaps by exceedingly low expectations allowed me to look past the issues. I don't know.

Cowboys and Aliens - What a waste. So much talent both on screen and off of it and yet C&A never finds its stride or gains any momentum. Probably would have been better served if it had stuck with the Western theme and left the aliens out altogether. I would pay to see a Western starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford and directed by Jon Favreau.

Paul - The first 45 minutes of this movie are solid and entertaining. The back half...not so much. I appreciate the concept but the execution is sloppy. 

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - Unfortunately, this movie made a crapload of cash which will undoubtedly lead to more sequels. I'm tired of Jack Sparrow now, however. Pirates came across as a cash grab and delivered almost nothing new. 

Blitz - The perfect movie for a late night Netflix viewing. Lots of energy, short runtime, multiple chase scenes. 

The Company Men - This is the classic "B-" movie: I can't really think of anything to say about it, good or bad. It just "is." 

Grade: C+
Real Steel
Super - There have been so many vigilante movies over the last few years that I think we've reached a point where a filmmaker will have to really reinvent the genre to get me excited about this concept again. I thought Super lacked any sort of flow and I wasn't impressed by the script.

The Hangover Part 2 - Because, as everyone knows, the secret to making a great sequel is to put the exact same cast in the exact same situations and have them do the exact same things. Embarrassing.

Tower Heist - With a decent director at the helm, I think Tower Heist probably turns out alright. Unfortunately, Brett Ratner was in charge and he makes films that are the cinematic equivalent to a midday bowel movement. 

Rango - There's a great deal of love out there for Rango and I get that. I was hung up on some of its bigger issues and couldn't get past them and even the good moments weren't enough to make me want to sit through it again. 

Rio - Boring. It's just boring. I felt like it would never end. I can't imagine a child enjoying this beyond the pretty colors.

Higher Ground

Happythankyoumoreplease - There's some promise within this movie and you can bet that writer/director/star Josh Radnor (of How I Met Your Mother fame) will get another chance to make a film. But there are too many plot holes for my tastes and Radnor's character becomes annoying quickly.

Grade: C
Hanna - Similar to Rango, a number of people have Hanna ranked somewhere in their top ten. As an artistic action film, I guess I get that. But I hated this movie and virtually everything about it. HATED it.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon - This is the tale of two movies. The first 90 minutes is what passes for Michael Bay's attempt at creating a "serious" plot. And it stands as one of the worst movies EVER in the history of film. But in the back half, Bay returns to what he knows best: explosions, gun play, and special effects. And that movie is pretty darn good as far as plotless action movies go. I have no idea what to do with that. I would totally watch that second movie again. I would never, ever, ever subject myself to the first 90ish minutes again. In fact, I expect President Obama to pass some sort of law that prevents the military from using those 90 minutes as a tool for torture. Brett Ratner thinks that first movie is a piece of crap. 

The Three Musketeers
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Apollo 18

Our Idiot Brother - Loved Paul Rudd in this movie and thought everything else was rotten. I really did not like any of the characters outside of Rudd's. 

Friends with Benefits - I did not laugh. I did not like the characters. I did not care whether or not the characters I did not like would get together. The only good thing about this movie was Woody Harrelson, who killed me in his limited screen time. Otherwise, no thanks. 

30 Minutes or Less - When Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari were on screen together, I enjoyed 30 Minutes. Everything else, though, came across as pointless filler. 

Suckerpunch - If you told me Suckerpunch was the worst film of the year, I wouldn't argue with you. It's just a train wreck on almost every level. I think at this point we have to really be concerned about director Zack Snyder's vision for Superman in next year's Man of Steel

No Strings Attached - This is pretty much the exact same movie as Friends with Benefits. The only difference is that Woody Harrelson is not involved, which is always a poor choice.

Grade: C-

Bad Teacher - There's a lot not to like about this one. But the biggest issue for me is how morally bankrupt and completely reprehensible Cameron Diaz's character is from top to bottom. I could not, on any level, root for her character to succeed. 

The Way

Larry Crowne - You have to try REALLY hard to make Tom Hanks unappealing. Mission accomplished, Larry Crowne! A truly painful movie. 

Limitless - Hate the story, hate the characters, hate that Robert De Niro looks desperate in his role. Hate it. 

The Eagle - Of all the bad movies on this list, this is the one that I hope you'll take the time to click the link and read the review for. There are so many miserable things I want to say about The Eagle if only I had the time. Channing Tatum plays a Roman soldier. That's really all you need to know. 


  1. I certainly don't see as many movies as you do, but I would put "The Help" into the top ten. Perhaps that's because I watched it again last night and it still holds up very well for me.

    I guess I shouldn't watch "Fast Five," because I cannot entirely turn off the "That could NEVER happen" impulse. I can suspend it sometimes if the story has internal consistency, but I doubt if I could do it for "Fast Five."

    On reflection, that's probably why I liked "Thor" so much better than "Captain America," the cardboard female characters not withstanding. Thor was internally consistent. The silly things in it fit within its genre. The silly things in Captain America (especially his team) did not.

    Regardless, there are many movies here I want to see. I'll never catch up with you, though.

  2. Very nice summary here, well done!

    I thought Tinker Tailor would make my top 10 but after seeing it, I'm not exactly in love with it.

    Not surprised at all that The Eagle & I AM Number Four are horrible... Tatum and this Alex Pettyfer are the kind of pretty boy actors I can't stand.

    I stand vindicated!!!

  4. @Ruth, TTSS seems to be one of those that a number of people appreciate for what it is but don't love. But I loved it. And I'm with you on Tatum and Pettyfer. Not what I want in a "movie star."

    @Marshall, it's me and you against the world, man! I saw Another Earth on so many top 10 lists...blah. Hated it.


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