Well, this is late. But I’ve caught up on a few films from last year, and now feel confident about my list. I saw right around 60 films from 2011. These are my top 10. And to clarify how I choose my top ten: these may not be the best films, but they are the ones that I left the theater most excited about, that I will buy on DVD and watch over and over again (some of which I already have). Generally these are the movies that made me FEEL the most. And if I had to sum up this year, I’d have to say it’s the year of the great ending. Some of the films below may be flawed, but all of them won me over by the end.
Feel free to disagree and sound off in the comments below. Let me know any films you think I missed, and I might even get around to some honorable mentions.
10. REAL STEEL
Between this, Super 8, and Attack the Block, could this be the year of return to Amblin-style films? Those films of our youth that leave cynicism at the door and embrace the magic of the movies? Where robots and aliens and treasure maps all really exist and are embraced by emotionally genuine characters? Real Steel is a great father & son story. Is it Over the Top with robots? Sure. But you get more emotion from the deadest of these robots than you do from Sly Stallone. Made me want to stand up and cheer AND evaluate my relationship with my son at the same time.
Unforgettable Scene: The first time the kid wins a fight, even after everyone telling him he’ll never make it out alive. Who doesn’t love an underdog?
9. TAKE SHELTER
Take Shelter is like Field of Dreams’s goth little brother. Not that the film itself is goth – it’s actually a refreshingly accurate portrait of middle-America – but it is dark. And this plot ALWAYS works: A man who gives up everything for a goal. And in this film, the (possibly insane) protagonist sacrifices everything in order to build a shelter to protect his family from a coming apocalypse. The greatest compliment I can give this movie is I had no idea where it was going. Much like the main character, you’re not sure what is reality and what isn’t. But underneath it all, it’s also a film about family. About acceptance and unconditional love. Brutal and beautiful.
Unforgettable Scene: Don’t’ wanna ruin it, but it’s the last scene. I had no idea how they were going to end it, but couldn’t ask for a more surprising, satisfying, and unforgettable ending.
Thor? I couldn’t think of a less interesting comic book character. Kenneth Branagh? Not my thing. Chris Hemsworth? Never heard of him. Natalie Portman? Okay, I’ll watch her in anything. But other than that, I wasn’t expecting much from this film. And boy was I pleasantly surprised. This is one that I really enjoyed in the theater and it got better each time I watched it, ultimately becoming my favorite super hero movie of the year (apologies to all the X-Men, Cap, and the Greens). It was big and fun (and funny). Lacking in cynicism. And had a great heart.
Unforgettable Scene: They hit this same beat a number of times – “I’m Thor, how dare you challenge me?” followed by Thor getting tazzered or hit by a car or getting a tranquilizer to the butt. But I belly laughed every time.
7. SUPER 8
A wonderful celebration of youth. Not just all the moments that remind us of our own childhood, but the homages to the MOVIES the remind us of our own childhood. On top of that, a very honest exploration of loss and new beginnings. I lost my father at a young age, and this hit so close to home. I’ll be honest, the monster parts of this movie were my least favorite. It’s everything else that draws me to this film.
Unforgettable Scene: When Joe is applying zombie make-up on Alice and she shows off her acting skills, coming THIS CLOSE to biting his neck, leaving lipstick behind. Such a cute and romantic moment.
6. THE ARTIST
A silent feel-good epic. Such charm. A nice companion piece to Midnight in Paris, except while that film told us to look forward instead of back, I sure am glad the Artist looked back. Touches on our value in the creative world, how it can (and will) be swept away in an instant… and all that’s left are the relationships we cultivate along the way.
Unforgettable Scene: The last “line” in the movie. Such a unique twist that made the entire film before it a masterpiece.
5. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
It took me a while to check this one out. While I usually enjoy Woody Allen, the original previews mentioned nothing of time travel! So once a friend explained to me what it was actually about, I had to check it out. Such a feel-good little film with a great concept. Great performances all around from Dignan, to Loki and Kim Pine playing the Fitzgeralds, to Bloom as Dali, to whoever played Hemingway, and that guy from Twilight being such a great non-blood sucking douchebag. Another film defined largely by its score of classic swing tunes.
Unforgettable Scene: Anytime Hemingway is on screen.
4. ATTACK THE BLOCK
This one kind of came and went, praised inside the fanboy community, but not much outside of it. It’s unfortunate because it’s a great, fun film. Breakfast Club meets Die Hard with aliens is the most accurate way I could describe it. And that’s pretty spot on. And it wasn’t just good for laughs or scares, but a real in depth look at family and a generation growing up without one, and a great message of taking responsibility for your actions. That might sound borderline after-school special, but Joe Cornish couldn’t have picked a more interesting and authentic world to tell his tale in. Loved it.
Unforgettable Scene: “Moses! Moses! Moses!”
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of all things Gosling. And yes, I do mean ALL things (*cough* Notebook). He’s always a pleasure to watch and Drive was no exception. So refreshing to watch an UNDERstated action movie. And that soundtrack! I recently watched Last of the Mohicans for the first time, and while it was a good movie, it’s soundtrack makes it UNFORGETTABLE. Same thing here. Such a refreshing choice to throw in the synth-pop soundtrack and it fit perfectly, like a musical with the songs filling in the blanks of what’s left unsaid.
Unforgettable Scene: Come on… gotta be that elevator kiss. This did not make me cry, but it did make me want to fall in love. Bash a guys head in? Not so much.
I don’t play sports. I don’t watch sports. But this movie made me love baseball, it made me love business, it made me love Brad Pitt (even more), it made me love my family (even more), and it made me love film (even more). Brilliantly written by Aaron Sorkin & Steve Zaillian and equally directed by Bennet Miller. One of the all-time great “guy who is good at his job overcomes obstacles” dramas, right up there with Jerry Maguire and Up in the Air.
Unforgettable Scene: Pitt driving off into the sunset listening to his daughter’s acoustic version of Lenka’s “The Show.” Such a sweet and satisfying ending. And yes, this made me cry.
1. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART II
My love for the Harry Potter films, especially the last four is… how do I put this… RIDICULOUS. So ridiculous that I feel like I can safely say that Deathly Hallows Part II is not only the best finale of any franchise, but a perfect finale to the greatest franchise ever. An amazing emotional roller coaster that is completely satisfying. David Yates and team pulled off a miracle.
Unforgettable Scene: That Snape back story montage will always bring me to tears. SO beautiful. This is why Snape is one of the top ten greatest characters ever put on screen.