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John’s Top 10 Movies of 2011

Every year I try to see all the movies I can and I’m still never ready for this list. I think I’ve done a good job seeing most of the year’s critically lauded films. My only regrets for 2011 is that I didn’t see Shame, Take Shelter, or the last Harry Potter, though that last one was just because of my own laziness. All that aside as long as I can settle on ten films I like I’m happy so here they are.

Honorable Mention
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Source Code

10. Drive

Drive is a film that really took me for a left turn. With it’s wide release I expected Drive to be Nicolas Winding Refn’s most accessible film yet and instead I felt the exact opposite. That may sound like criticism but quite the contrary, I’m glad that Drive is the existential thinking man’s action thriller that it is. Drive may seem subtle on the surface but it’s exceedingly stylish. The cinematography captures L.A.’s. landscape in a way I’ve never seen and the retro synth soundtrack compliments it perfectly. Like Refn’s brooding yet beautiful films  Bronson and Valhalla Rising, Drive is unconventional in almost every way and that’s a rare treat today.

9. Warrior

If you had told me at the starting of 2011 that I would have a film about UFC fighting on my top ten movies list I would have been convinced you had brain damage. Warrior is this year’s answer to The Fighter, both are about competitive fighting and both are about a complex relationship between brothers. What makes Warrior stand out is that it’s what many sports movies aren’t “unpredictable”. Who will win? Brendan (Joel Edgerton) the likable high school teacher in financial dire? Or his brother Tommy (Tom Hardy) a former marine with a dark past and nothing left? This has the potential to become one of those films that can bring even the manliest of men to tears.

8. Midnight in Paris 

A movie so charming and witty it could only come from a legend like Woody Allen. Midnight in Paris is the perfect blending of fantasy and humor complete with a talented supporting as some of the greatest artistic legends of 1920s. Not only is Midnight in Paris a delightful romantic comedy but it’s a fun twist on the time travel genre as well. Woody may misfire from time to time but you’d still be hard pressed to find another writer/director who puts so much wit and heart into his films, this has all that and more.

7. The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is no more a movie than a ballet of images and sounds. Terrence Malick is in a world of his own and even though I may not always understand what he’s trying to say, it’s an amazing journey nonetheless. Tree of Life could of potentially made this list for it’s creation of earth sequence alone by master effects veteran Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner.) Visuals aside there’s also a strikingly real story about people in The Tree of Life that poses some powerful questions. I don’t think any two people are supposed to walk away with the exact same message and that’s part of the beauty of it.

6. The Descendants 

I don’t know if there’s anyone else in the biz right now that can craft a better dramedy than Alexander Payne. He can entertain you one minute and then make you feel something the next and that’s not an easy task. In addition The Descendants may have one of the best ensemble casts of the year with George Clooney and Shailene Woodley being the most prominent standouts. Just as well captured as any of the cast is the film’s lavish Hawaiian setting that captures the state in a way I can’t recall ever seeing. The Descendants has it’s highs and lows but is ultimately a rewarding experience.

5. Attack the Block 

It feels strange to have a list featuring so many Oscar friendly selections only to throw in a film about invading aliens, but I found Attack the Block to be one of my most satisfying movie experiences of the year. Not only was Attack the Block my favorite sci-fi film of the year but also my favorite horror, comedy, and action film of 2011. The thrills are big and the laughs are even bigger in this B-movie style smorgasbord. With a debut like this writer/director Joe Cornish could be the next Edgar Wright. Then again Cornish may not be that far off, he and Wright were two of the co-writers of The Adventures of Tintin.

4. Hugo

Here is one that really captured my imagination. Hugo is an inspirational and insightful effects laden look into who else but the man who invented special effects. The story may be fiction but Hugo truly captures the spirit of Georges Melies and celebrates his passion to create. Scorsese has delivered a labor of love with a simple story in a very pleasing package. What I love the most about Hugo is it celebrates the movies in a way that only a true movie lover like Scorsese could.

3. Moneyball

A funny, informative, and occasionally dramatic look behind the scenes of America’s pastime. Entertaining for sports fans and non-sports fans, Moneyball maybe the most honest film ever made about baseball. The script by heavy hitters Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian is smart and punchy but still flows naturally. In some ways watching Moneyball is like watching a documentary, so much information but in a very accessible way.

2. The Artist

In an age of over extravagant computer effects and bloated 3D it’s nice to see a film that hearkens back to a simpler time. The Artist reminds us why we love the movies. People won’t care about effects, color, or even dialogue as long as you can give them a compelling story with interesting characters. The Artist has to be the most surprising “Feel Good Movie of the Year” you could have but I have no problem with that. My fingers will be crossed for this one to win big at the next Oscars.

1. The Guard 

This was was a movie I knew a lot of people wouldn’t see so I made it my mission to annoy everyone to death until they checked it out. Not since In Bruges have I been so impressed with a dark comedy which makes it no surprise that writer/director John Michael McDonagh is none other than In Bruges’ writer/director Martin McDonagh’s brother. The Guard charms with it’s excellent cast (particularly Brendan Gleeson) portraying genuinely conflicted and relatable characters. Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) is no saint, he has a penchant for prostitutes, he’s stubborn, unintentionally racist and yet you love him because of these flaws. Everyone has their quirks and oddball dilemmas and the result is something that is funny, thrilling, and even moving. The dialogue unravels like Quentin Tarantino (If he was from Ireland) with hints of the Coen brothers and that’s not something I can say about too many people. I don’t even know which McDonagh brother I like better now, as long as they keep making off-beat dramedies like this I will be a happy moviegoer.