The end of the year is all about one thing: lists! Ahead, my favorite 11 movies of 2011, from Harry Potter to Billy Beane. Apologies in advance if your fave didn't make the cut!
11. 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2'
The Harry Potter films were invariably disappointing, but both parts of the 'Deathly Hallows' were actually good movies as opposed to live-action book readings. It all ended ... well. Also, R.I.P. Snape.
10. 'Midnight in Paris'
Reasons 'Midnight in Paris' is hella charming: Owen Wilson's non-Woody Allen impersonation (no easy feat; looking at you, Will Ferrell, Kenneth Branagh, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson), everything Corey Stoll says as Ernest Hemingway, Alison Pill's Zelda Fitzgerald, Marion Cotillard. Reasons it's not: Rachel McAdams. Charming wins! Easily one of Woody's lightest and most enjoyable films in a while.
9. 'War Horse'
Be brave. 'War Horse,' Steven Spielberg's latest epic, takes you through an emotional ringer -- and to the brink -- before reminding you that hope can spring forth from the darkest places on Earth. Based on the young adult novel by Michael Morpurgo (and adapted for the screen by Richard Curtis and Lee Hall), 'War Horse' is often as wordless as fellow Best Picture contender 'The Artist.' That's because the film is told from the point of view of Joey the horse -- from his upbringing with the Narracot family (Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan and Emily Watson, offering up sturdy, 1950s-era performances) to his first encounters with World War I (don't blink or you'll miss Tom Hiddleston as the kindest soldier ever). Unabashedly schmaltzy, 'War Horse' is a throwback to a time when people put aside their differences for the greater good. In 2011, that idea is quaint; perhaps 'War Horse' can help remind everyone that quaint isn't always bad.
8. 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'
If you needed any proof about the importance of the director in the filmmaking process, cast your gaze toward 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,' which David Fincher transforms from a stock thriller into something so much more. Part of that is because of his success with actors. As the titular tattooed female, Rooney Mara becomes an instant star with an iconic performance as Lisbeth Salander. As her cohort, disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist, Daniel Craig provides needed stability, while having more fun than he ever seems to in the James Bond films. Thanks to Fincher's expert technique, 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' is the mainstream movie of the year ... for adults. No small task, this one delivers on the hype.
You probably didn't see 'Warrior,' which is a shame since it was one of 2011's most emotionally satisfying bits of adult drama. The story of two estranged brothers (Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy) who meet inside the octagon-shaped ring of an ultimate fighting championship -- a log line which certainly provides ample opportunity for schmaltz -- 'Warrior' plays things with a close-to-the-vest honesty that few 2011 releases even attempted. Edgerton and Hardy are outstanding as two sides of the same coin, while Nick Nolte, as their alcoholic and formerly abusive father, steals his scenes with the gusto of a guy gunning for an Oscar nomination. In a just world, Nolte, Hardy and writer/director Gavin O'Connor would get some Academy recognition for 'Warrior'; unfortunately, as 'Warrior' proves in both content and reception, the world isn't always just.
The greatest bromantic cancer comedy of all time? Perhaps! '50/50' is a near impossible sell -- do you wanna spend two hours watching a young man suffer through his cancer diagnosis? -- but those who took the chance were rewarded with a funny and honest film about relationships and how people deal with illness. Demerits for Bryce Dallas Howard's one-note lady villain are balanced out by the bonus points earned by "Yellow Ledbetter" being chosen as the film's closing music cue.
5. 'Young Adult'
The non-feel-good movie of 2011. Written with welcome vitriol by Diablo Cody and directed, surprisingly, without any cloying pretense by Jason Reitman, 'Young Adult' focuses on Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a busted YA author who wallows in booze, Diet Coke, one-night stands and the idea she is still destined for the greatness that her high-school years as Queen Bee promised. Mavis is self-destructive and mostly awful, but it's hard not to empathize with her at times; after all, who doesn't harbor the hope for "more than this"? Well, maybe one person: Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), an old high-school classmate of Mavis who has long closed off his heart to anything more than his lot in life. The relationship that forms between Mavis and Matt makes up the bulk of this anti-romcom, and hurtles 'Young Adult' toward its unwavering climax. This is a movie that basically should not have been made; that it was -- that Mavis, as ostensibly unlikable a lead character as has graced the screen in a while, exists -- is good news for viewers. Also, bad news, since 'Young Adult' could make you ask some harsh questions about yourself while looking in the mirror.
Or, what would happen if Wes Anderson and Woody Allen had a baby? 'Beginners,' director Mike Mills's second feature following 'Thumbsucker,' is the indie naval-gazer that people who don't like indie naval-gazers will love. About the changing relationship between a father and son (Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor) after the elder man comes out as homosexual at age 75 (Mills based the film, in part, on his own life), 'Beginners' squeezes a lot into its 100 minute running-time: love, loss, commitment-phobia, Woody Allen-like jazz music, and a dog that talks in subtitles. A buffet of mish-mashed emotion, the film never strays off course, thanks to some deft sleight-of-hand by Mills and his extraordinary cast. Plummer has gotten deserved Oscar buzz for his role as the recently out Hal, but it's Ewan McGregor who drives 'Beginners' with his sad-sack lost-boy performance.
3. 'The Artist'
It's a gimmick film, that's true. And in the hands of a less-talented creative group than director Michel Hazanvicius and stars Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, 'The Artist' would likely be an insufferable twee exercise that hipsters, real and faux, embrace as a bit of old-school cool. What makes Hazanavicius's silent black-and-white curio rise above that fray? At its core, 'The Artist' is about the evolution of society at the expense of the old guard. It's a poignant reminder that the top dogs won't always be on top, but that doesn't mean we should discard them without any care or concern. (Especially Uggie.) In a year of feel-good movies, 'The Artist' is one of the most feel-good-y; it's also one of the sweetest -- despite what the growing cacophony of haters might have you believe.
2. 'Crazy Stupid Love'
Without a doubt, the romantic comedy of the year -- maybe even years. Buoyed by a winning cast (Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Julianne Moore), 'Crazy Stupid Love' doesn't try to reinvent the rom-com wheel; instead, it revels in the genre cliches, yet feels new by remembering that people want to fall in love with characters. The results are enjoyable beyond belief. Credit for 'Crazy Stupid Love' goes to directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (for doing their best James L. Brooks impersonation), screenwriter Dan Fogelman (for doing his best Cameron Crowe impersonation), as well as the likable cast. For Gosling completists, this could be his ultimate performance -- a charm offensive that includes many scenes of The Gos, sans shirt. Hey, girl, indeed.
You actually can't call 'Moneyball' a home run. Not because it's such a hack pun related to the premise of Bennett Miller's adaptation of Michael Lewis's seminal book about how statistical analysis changed baseball forever, but because 'Moneyball' isn't about home runs. It's about the little things. This is a movie that features a montage devoted to taking pitches for goodness sake. Oh, sure: there's a bit of on-field heroism in the third act, but even that is fleeting; after all, it occurs in September during the regular season instead of October and the World Series. This is baseball as it has never been depicted onscreen before: 'Moneyball' is filled with tiny failures, small successes, and doesn't conclude with a trophy. Brad Pitt gets the role of his life as Billy Beane -- his golden hair and golden-er skin recalls a younger Robert Redford -- but the real surprise of the cast is Jonah Hill as Pitt's onscreen apprentice. The best baseball movie ever, and the best movie of 2011; in 'Moneyball' terms, it's better than a home run -- it gets on base.
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