I know, I know… I’m a bit late to the “best of 2011″ party, but alas, I finally found the extra time to hammer down a list (not easily) and figure out how to present it. Rather than do a standard “top 10″ list — which proved very unfair to several films that I truly loved last year — I decided to frame this under “what movies, to me, were worth plunking down the cash to purchase on Blu-Ray?”
This isn’t to say that I only enjoyed these films from this year, but in the long run, they’re the ones I’m most likely to revisit again on multiple occasions in the future.
To be fair, there are still a number of films I haven’t had the chance to see yet for a variety of reasons. At the top of that list are titles such as Take Shelter, Drive, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Midnight in Paris – all of which I’m greatly looking forward to finally seeing in the near future, and all of which I’ve heard nothing but good things about (if not great things). So if you’re shocked to see something like them missing from my list…well, that’s why they aren’t there.
In the meantime, this is my countdown of favorites from 2011. With regard to most films ahead of the top two, the rankings are likely to switch around at any given time depending on my ever-shifting moods…
I’m a sucker for popcorn entertainment and few directors do it as well as Michael Bay. Granted, I still feel that the film’s shortcomings held it back from the entertainment value that the 2007 first film still provides, but it was a huge improvement over the 2009 sequel Revenge of the Fallen.
Featuring some of the best visual effects of the year, an incredible sound mix that will please any movie fan’s home theater system, and the ever-enjoyable charisma of leading man Shia LaBeouf, Dark of the Moon proves that its okay to switch off the brain for two-plus hours and enjoy some pure, action-packed eye candy.
Steve Carell is a genius. I wholeheartedly believe that, because the man can have me in stitches one minute and in the next he’ll remind me why he’s one of — if not “the” — most ‘human’ comedic actor working in the industry today.
This film was no exception, and Ryan Gosling should be given fair credit as well for creating a sleazy character that an audience actually sympathizes and identifies with. The inevitable crossroads of the ensemble cast toward the end of the film is hilarious and priceless. We need more romantic-comedies like this one.
Much like #17, the Fast and Furious franchise has evolved to become a guilty pleasure of mine. 2009′s entry that reunited the original cast was leaps and bounds ahead of the first two sequels (2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift), but it was this year’s Fast Five that finally realized its full potential.
Increasing the focus on its core characters, adding a highly entertaining new one in the form of one-liner master Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and upping the ante with a heist-focused plot while lessening the emphasis on the romanticized world of underground racing, this franchise — against all odds — finds new life in Fast Five.
Yet another film that I was very skeptical about prior to its release. The franchise had practically been left for dead after Tim Burton’s 2001 remake disappointed audiences (myself included).
I do feel that the film could have devoted more time to the first act (the film has a pretty short run time). The jump to five years into Caesar’s young adult life felt a bit forced, but its a mere blemish on otherwise exceptional film in the sci-fi genre. Andy Serkis’ performance capture work continues to excel with each film he does. If that man doesn’t get nominated for an Oscar, something is truly wrong in this world.
After a mysterious and seldom revealing marketing campaign, Super 8 reminded me of a time that, as part of the Internet generation, I didn’t really get to know: a time when you didn’t know what to expect from a movie; when the Internet didn’t spoil it. To this day, I admire Abrams for his efforts to protect the secrecy around his films.
Not only did he do classic 1980′s Spielberg proud with this film, he continued to prove how capable he is of creating thoughtful, entertaining, and original characters on a big screen setting (still though, I’m anxiously awaiting his Star Trek sequel).
Leave it to Steven Spielberg to turn a story about a horse into one of the most emotionally poignant films of 2011.
With War Horse, Spielberg reminds us of the heart that he’s capable of infusing into his work while still pairing it with scenery and visuals that are nothing short of epic in their grand scope. The final scene’s emotional delivery and cinematic beauty is one of my all-time favorites by the legendary filmmaker (as is a scene between a British and German officer just prior to the climax), and John Williams offers some of his most memorable musical compositions of the last decade.
Following 2010′s Kick-Ass, director Matthew Vaughn injected some much-needed life into the X-Men franchise after its incredibly disappointing entries in 2006′s The Last Stand and 2009′s Origins: Wolverine.
The back story of Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr was something I had longed to see since Bryan Singer’s original X-Men released back in 2000. Following the older portrayals of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, their characters could not have been better cast than they were with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Not only is the franchise back, its never been better — and I say that having utterly adored X2.
I was already a fan of Jason Segel and director/collaborator Nick Stoller, but their transition from R-rated humor to one of the best family movies of the year proved the diversity of their talent. As an 80′s baby, the Muppets were hugely influential on my childhood and after numerous failed attempts by Hollywood over the last twenty years to keep them freshly entertaining, Segel knocked it out of the park.
What’s cooler (for me) is that we have his numerous Muppets references in Forgetting Sarah Marshall to partly thank for this revival movie happening, another of my favorite films from recent years.
This must have been the year of the transition by typically adult-centric filmmakers into family-friendly ones, because director Cameron Crowe’s heartfelt tale about a widowed father and his family’s uprooting and subsequent zoo adoption has to be my favorite film of his since 1996′s Jerry Maguire.
After many serious roles (all of which I enjoy), it was incredibly pleasing to see Matt Damon take on a lighter — but still deeply structured — character like this. He really brings it home emotionally, and by the end, I was much like the kid sitting behind me in the theater. His closing remarks: “I wanna go to that zoo!” Don’t we all?
Hands down: this was my favorite comedy of the year and easily my favorite since 2009′s The Hangover.
The trio of Jason Bateman, Jason Sudekis, and Charlie Day is pitch perfect while the casting of Aniston, Spacey, and Colin Farrell as their titular bosses was a stroke of genius. With this one film, director Seth Gordon has me anxiously awaiting his next venture into the world of raunchy R-rated comedy. This one will be getting a lot of repeat plays…
Never doubt a talent like Martin Scorsese. The man behind The Departed and Goodfellas made the jump from “hard R” to family-friendly about as smoothly as anyone could dare imagine. While I had some initial doubts from the trailers alone, I figured Hugo would turn out to at least be an enjoyable film.
It far exceeded that. If Scorsese chose to continue making family-friendly films for the rest of his illustrious career, I wouldn’t complain one bit. The aura and heart behind this adapted story made for one of the most personal and warmly enthralling movie experiences of 2011.
George Clooney stepped behind the camera again to direct a tout political thriller that, as far as I’m concerned, ranks as one of the best of its genre in a very long time. He also co-starred alongside leading man Ryan Gosling, who knocks the role out of the park and solidifies himself as one of my favorite young actors working right now (making my desire to catch Drive all the more potent).
Political intrigue, corruption, sly and subdued humor, and a fantastic ensemble cast featuring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, and Evan Rachel Wood … Ides has it all. My only complaint: it ended too soon.
Quite literally, I saw the trailer for this and thought “looks like a generic version of The Fighter“. Quite wrong.
Warrior stands on its own as a powerful and often moving story about a family’s internal clash and survival in a world that has started to leave them behind. Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton offer up powerhouse performances to the point where the inevitable showdown between them leaves you unsure as to who to really root for. Genuinely, the final ten minutes gave me chills at times. If in need of a feel-good comeback story, Warrior delivers.
Sleek, fast-paced, and incredibly well-balanced, this film’s highly marketed stunt on the Burj Khalifa in Dubai could have easily ended up being the only part worth the admission price of an IMAX ticket.
Thankfully, it wasn’t. The extraordinary ensemble cast — led by a new favorite of mine, Jeremy Renner — brings a whole new dimension to the franchise, one that many have argued was never quite as present as it should have been in the first three films.
Pure popcorn entertainment with a brain and a side of unadulterated spy porn to boot, Mission: Impossible has never been better and Ghost Protocol stands as my favorite spy-related genre blockbuster since 2006′s Casino Royale. I just wish the central villain had a been as maniac and unapologetic as Hoffman’s in the third film.
Who knew cancer could be funny?
Writer Will Reiser (whose real life battle with the disease this film inspired his brilliant screenplay) did, and director Jonathan Levine helps to bring out the best performance of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s young career thus far.
Additionally, Seth Rogen’s turn as the oddball best friend of a man dying from a cancer paints genuine balance into the kind of story that often gets “over-dramatized” — for lack of a better word — on film. That’s certainly not to downplay the tragic impact that cancer has and continues to have on millions of lives, but instead it simply serves to underscore the fact that sometimes humor is the best cure.
50/50 boasts a powerful, heart-felt, and sometimes amusing story that is more than deserving of recognition on this year’s awards circuit.
At the risk of forming a habit of ties for my favorite films in a given year (it happened in 2010 as well), its nigh impossible for me to say that the grand finale of Harry Potter isn’t, at times, my favorite of 2011 despite my minor quibbles with it. That applies not only as a Potter fan, but as a movie fan.
After two franchise entries (Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince) that — while very entertaining to me as a fan — didn’t quite measure up to the grand scale I felt they could have in certain technical aspects, director David Yates and the entire cast cranked up their efforts to deliver the grandest and most emotionally-driven fantasy film in years (though a certain trilogy about a ‘Ring’ still takes the cake).
Deathly Hallows Part II is a sweeping conclusion to J.K. Rowling’s fantasy empire, and everyone from Daniel Radcliffe to Alan Rickman and Ralph Fiennes deliver unforgettable performances in this swan song. I can be a nitpick and argue that I wish a few more scenes/elements from the book had been included, or that the ending felt a hair too short, but at the end of the day this finale turned out better than I already expected it to and — combined with Part I — does complete justice to a franchise that has left an indelible mark on the world.
Movies and baseball have always been two of my biggest passions in life, so naturally, I’m quite picky about baseball films. There hasn’t been one that I truly loved since 1992′s A League of Their Own, but the story of the statistics-based game-changing methods employed by Billy Beane with his early 2000s’ Oakland A’s ball club is a subject that I’ve taken particular interest in over the years — particularly since reading Michael Lewis’s book on which the film is based.
With a dramatically rich performance by Brad Pitt and my favorite script of the year (provided by screenplay masters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin), as well an excellent ensemble cast, Moneyball is an already exemplary film made all the more resounding for me personally thanks to the care its filmmakers put into making it a serious and relative underdog tale. The world was due for a good baseball movie, and we ended up getting far more than that.
Hollywood should draw some parallels of its own to the story of Beane and the A’s: its an unfair game driven by variables outside the control of any one individual. But, sometimes, it takes the courage to defy tradition and rely upon one’s own integrity for success rather than bow to false perceptions or the number of dollars — or lack thereof — being thrown toward any given problem.