2011 was a pretty damn good year for movies. It’s telling that – even after deciding to expand this list to 15 instead of 10, I still didn’t have room for a lot of movies I liked, such as The Lincoln Lawyer, Ides of March, Hobo with a Shotgun, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil and Midnight in Paris.  Here’s hoping 2012 can match 2011’s level of quality, especially with it being our last year on Earth and all.

MY LEAST FAVORITE MOVIES OF THE YEAR: Green Lantern, Cowboys & Aliens, Adjustment Bureau, Bridesmaids, Horrible Bosses – keep in mind, I try to avoid seeing crap like Jack & Jill or I Don’t Know How She Does It, so this list is more a representation of films I actually had some hope for, and was then sorely disappointed by.

2011’s MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE: Final Destination 5 – certainly not good enough to make my Top 15 or anything, but holy hell was I surprised how much fun this movie was, especially after the dreadful fourth entry.

MOVIES I DIDN’T GET AROUND TO SEEING, BUT WISH I HAD FOR THE PURPOSES OF COMPILING THIS LIST: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 50/50, The Tree of Life, Hugo – would seeing any of these have changed my final list? I don’t know, but these are just the ones I feel are most glaring in their absence.

TWO MOVIES I’M DISQUALIFYING BECAUSE I HAVE STANDARDS: No offense to numbers 15 and 14, but they probably would have been bumped off my list in favor of The Devil’s Double and Bellflower, if not for the fact that I didn’t see those two movies until after January 1st, 2012. You gotta put some sort of deadline in place, so I’m gonna go ahead and enforce that on myself. But just know I also loved those two movies a lot.

And now, without further ado:


15) Melancholia

Lars Von Trier’s follow-up to Antichrist wasn’t as brutal or in-your-face confrontational, but in some ways it is just as disturbing, and certainly just as beautiful. I wouldn’t fault anyone who finds this boring – it’s a personal taste sort of thing – but I found it mesmerizing from slow-motion beginning to uber-depressing end, and absolutely loved Kirsten Dunst’s performance. And, no, I can’t believe I just said that either.


14) Contagion

Gwyneth Paltrow dies in like the first ten minutes. What more do you need? In all seriousness, though, Steven Soderbergh’s disease drama is a realistic look at what it would be like if a super-flu managed to wipe out a large chunk of the world’s population in just a few weeks. The film’s realistic, clinical approach to the proceedings (instead of the typical Hollywood “let’s get in our helicopters and race to get the cure” nonsense) is what makes it so powerful and frightening, and I guarantee that after watching it you’ll be at least a little more aware of how much random stuff you touch every day.


13) Moneyball

I don’t give two craps about baseball, but then, Moneyball is actually about “life”, isn’t it? Sorry, I turned into one of those guys for a second. But only because it’s true. This film covers the behind-the-scene’s quest of Billy Beane to change the way the game works (at least financially), and makes a strong argument that that quest was far more interesting than anything that happened on the diamond itself. Also, a career-best performance from Brad Pitt. And Jonah Hill, too, I suppose, though that’s not really as impressive.


12) Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Let’s all thank Rupert Wyatt, Andy Serkis and the amazing team of WETA for saving Planet of the Apes from the death sentence Tim Burton sentenced it to, and restoring this once-great sci-fi franchise back to it rightful place of glory. Not only an incredibly intelligent sci-fi film about the dangers of man’s hubris and the mis-treatment of animals, but you also get to watch a ton of apes fuck shit up. What’s not to love? Well, I guess the lame human characters, but who the heck was going to see this movie for them, anyway?


11) Sucker Punch

With its flashy CGI-heavy visuals, gratuitous action and let’s-throw-everything-cool-into-a-blender-and-see-what-happens approach, Zack Snyder’s film was an easy target for those looking to lay the sins of modern filmmaking at the feet of one film. And sure, the movie is something of a chaotic mess, but that’s also kind of what I like about it. It’s a fascinating look into one director’s over-charged id, and as such one of the year’s strongest auteur visions. Despite numerous cries of “style over substance,” truthfully this is a film with almost too much to say, as Snyder tries to cram numerous meanings and themes into an already overwhelming brew of pop-culture infused mayhem. If you’re willing to take Snyder’s wild ride, you can start to spot some of what he was going for, and see past some of the common complaints. “The characters are one note stereotypes!” Sure, but then they’re meant to represent common action film archetypes. “The action scenes mean nothing because the girls seem invincible!” Well, this could be seen as a sly commentary on the nerd love for this sort of unrealistic, over-done action (let’s not forget that – in perhaps the most telling sign of what Snyder was up to – these action scenes are played as the idealized version of the men’s fantasies, when in “reality” they are hypnotically watching a sexy girl dancing, thus drawing a condemning correlation between male’s fetishistic love of both sex and violence). Am I over-thinking it and giving it too much credit? Maybe…but the very fact that I can look into it this much and come out with ideas like these elevates it above more tired and uninspired dreck like Green Lantern and Cowboys & Aliens (neither of which had one interesting idea about anything). I think Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir actually said it best in his excellent review of the film: “I can’t be sure whether it’s brilliant or idiotic, although I’m pretty confident it’s both, and not always in different places or at different moments.”


10) Warrior

It was only a matter of time before MMA got the great film it deserves. And, sure, it did so by basically throwing every possible sports movie cliche you could think of into one movie. But, like a few other movies on this list, Warrior proves that those same old stories still work when done right and done well. Warrior might not have shown me anything I haven’t seen before (well, except for an Oscar-worthy performance from Nick Nolte), but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t right there with it from beginning to end.


9) The Descendants

I think a bill should be brought before the President, one that officially names Alexander Payne this nation’s Czar of Emotionally-Heavy Dramedies. Once again, the director knocked it out of the park with a tale of a man finally finding himself under trying circumstances. This time, that man was George Clooney, playing a refreshingly anti-Clooney type as a man searching for the lover of his dying, comatose wife. As his rebellious teenage daughter, Shailene Woodley gave my favorite female performance of the year. Oh, also, let me just say this – after Kathy Bates in About Schmidt and MC Gainey in Sideways, I especially want to thank Payne for holding off on the unnecessary nudity this time around. We all appreciate it.


8) TIE: Thor/X-Men: First Class

When I did the podcast version of this list, my podcast-partner Kyle declared “no ties allowed,” and so I gave this spot solely to Thor. But this is no longer a democracy, and if Quentin Tarantino can have a tie on his Year End list, well then so can I. Because as time has gone on, I realize I really do love these two Marvel movies equally. Thor took a character I never much cared about and delivered one of the best Avengers lead-ins yet, combining cosmic spectacle with Shakespearean family drama (hiring Kenneth Branagh for the director’s gig on this one was one of the wisest moves Marvel has made yet). Plus, it had the best villain any Marvel film has had yet. Meanwhile, First Class was just the course correction the X-Men franchise needed after the dreadful X3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were perfect as the young Professor X and Magneto, and the film’s 60’s setting gave the whole movie a cool vibe that actually recalled some of the best runs of the book that inspired it.


7) I Saw the Devil

When a secret agent discovers the identity of the serial killer that killed his pregnant fiancee, he decides to get his revenge not by killing the man, but instead dedicating himself to making every minute of the man’s life a living hell. But, in doing so, has he sacrificed his own humanity? This intense Korean doesn’t offer any easy answers to that question, but it does give us one of the most memorable serial killers in recent cinematic history, as well as scenes of violence so sudden and shocking that even I was caught off-guard a couple times. And if you know me, you’ll know that’s one hell of a compliment.


6) The Muppets

There were a lot of reasons to be worried about a new Muppets movie, but thankfully this one was a heartfelt and genuinely hilarious movie that proved how timeless Jim Henson’s characters are. Though it made me more hopeful for a new Muppets TV show than it did more movies, it was still a respectful and worthy re-introduction of the characters. Now, can we get ’80’s Robot his own spin-off?


5) Attack the Block

The debut film from Edgar Wright’s good friend Joe Cornish succeeded by remembering one important element than most modern horror and sci-fi movies always forget – no matter how cool your monsters might be (and the monsters in this film certainly are), they’re nothing if they don’t have great human characters to go against. In this case, it’s a gang of thuggish British youths, who start the film as somewhat unlikable jerks, and slowly morph into heroes before our eyes. Funny, scary, and just plain awesome.


4) Hanna

So, the year’s best action film was a modern fairy tale, starred a little girl, and was directed by the guy that made Pride & Prejudice and Atonement. How about that? Joe Wright’s Hanna is another film that gave us a familiar story but filtered it through about a hundred levels of cool. The tale of a young girl raised to be a killer, now hunted by those who would have had her be their weapon, is a stylistic treat for both eyes and ears (thanks to an awesome score from the Chemical Brothers). Cate Blanchett plays the movie’s version of the wicked witch, in a very fun performance. And Saoirse Ronan commands the screen with a depth and strength that most actresses twice her age (or more) could barely dream of. Plus, one of Wright’s main visual inspirations for the film was Run, Lola, Run, so of course I’m gonna dig it.


3) The Skin I Live In

While everyone was freaking out about Human Centipede 2, Tom Six’s continuation of his epic mouth-sewn-to-ass trilogy, it was actually beloved Spanish director Pedro Almodovar who delivered this year’s most gleefully twisted and disturbed story. This psycho-sexual horror thriller concerns a a brilliant but demented doctor keeping a young woman prisoner as his guinea pig, grafting a new, tougher human skin onto her body. But there’s more – much more – below the surface of their unique relationship. To say anything more would spoil the fun, but let’s just say this one will stick with you for a long time.


2) The Artist

A year or so ago I discovered and fell in love with OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost in Rio, two supremely silly French spy-parodies. After getting a big kick out of them, I knew I would continue to follow both Michel Hazanavicius and Jean Dujardin, the film’s director and star, respectively. But never did I imagine back then that their next project would be this level of masterpiece. A tribute to the silent era of cinema, The Artist is actually done in the style of that era, and it’s an absolutely perfect recreation. Not only did it rekindle my love of silent movies, but – like all the best movies about movies – it reminded me of why I love film, period.


1) Drive

If you’ve been around me any significant time since I first saw this film at the San Diego Comic-Con in July, then you’re no doubt sick of hearing me talk about it. If you’re going to be around me any significant amount of time in the future, you’re going to get sick of hearing me talk about it.  I will gladly wave the Drive flag until the day I die. It’s become the obvious thing to say now, but Drive is the ultimate representation of “cool” put on film. Like Warrior and Hanna, it is a story I feel I have seen before – dozens of times, in fact. But also like those two films, it is still done incredibly well. As I said in my original review, director Nicolas Winding Refn “takes the trappings of a ’70s-era exploitation flick and turns it into high art. Drive is at times lyrical, at times shockingly violent, at times beautiful, and at times moving. It is a samurai film disguised as a neo-noir revenge tale. It is arthouse and grindhouse melted together. It is all of these things, and yet never feels inconsistent or scattered.” Yes, and it is by far the best movie of 2011.