In 2011, Daniel Radcliffe brought the “Harry Potter” franchise to a firecracker of an ending after a decade bewitching the multiplex. Ryan Gosling played kissy-face with Carey Mulligan in an elevator, then turned around and smashed a dude’s skull in. Kristen Wiig made us laugh, Martin Scorsese made us gasp, and Kermit the Frog made us want to sing along.
Memorable moments, all. But what makes a great film — what makes it one of the best of the year — is not just a buzzworthy few seconds here and there, but a moviegoing experience packed with them.
How, then, do we pick the Best Movies of 2011? How do we weigh Joe Cornish’s genre-busting directorial debut against Matthew Vaughn’s rescue job of our favorite comic book mutants? Do we favor George Clooney’s ability to elicit laughs in the most tragic of circumstances, or do we bow down to the staggeringly raw performance by Rooney Mara?
Those are questions no one person could answer. So we gathered a roundtable of the savviest minds at MTV to discuss, debate, argue and occasionally curse about everything that went down at the multiplex this year: Eric Ditzian, Josh Horowitz and Amy Wilkinson of MTV Movies and Kevin Polowy and Brooke Tarnoff of NextMovie. In the end, we came up with our 10 picks:
10. “Attack the Block”
In a year filled with alien-invasion movies from the likes of Michael Bay and J.J. Abrams, it says a lot that Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish’s little indie that could, “Attack the Block,” was the best of the bunch. Taking science fiction for a ride through the gang-ridden streets of South London results in a wildly inventive and hilarious twist on the genre, complete with what has to be the absolute best creature design seen in any movie all year. Believe, bruvs: This suspenseful, action-packed and endlessly charming movie was the sci-fi flick of 2011. Allow it. — Josh Wigler
9. “The Descendants”
“The Descendants” meant a change of pace for its star George Clooney. His character, Matt King, couldn’t use Clooney’s trademark charm to fix his broken family after a boating accident takes away his wife and the mother of his two teenage daughters. The Clooney we saw was not the suave movie star, but a confused schlub, figuring things out as he goes. The result is a complex and emotionally honest film that would be sad if it weren’t so hilarious. — Kevin Sullivan
Harrowing, heartbreaking and at times hilarious, “50/50″ is perhaps the most honest onscreen portrayal of cancer ever. And it’s one you’ll actually want to watch. The film follows 27-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he’s diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, battling the disease with the help of friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) and therapist-in-training Katherine (Anna Kendrick). Based on the real-life experience of Rogen’s friend Will Reiser (who penned the screenplay), “50/50″ doesn’t apologize for finding the funny in a bad situation. And that’s why we like it. — Amy Wilkinson
7. “The Muppets”
It’s “The Muppets” for the new millennium: Kermit and friends return to theaters after a painful 12-year absence, updated for a new generation by writer/co-star/”it” schlump Jason Segel and songs from “Flight of the Conchords” star Bret McKenzie. If the story starts off a little depressing — the Muppets have gone their separate ways and their studio is falling apart — that’s nothing a little choreographed dancing, Amy Adams and a chicken chorus can’t fix. — Brooke Tarnoff
6. “X-Men: First Class”
Matthew Vaughn’s prequel had a lot of things working against it, namely Bryan Singer’s two “X-Men” films and the talented actors in those films who are already associated with the classic Marvel mutants. Vaughn smartly found a way to use that to his advantage, giving fans nods to Singer’s films through well-placed cameos while laying the foundation for an entirely new franchise based on the characters’ backstories, anchored by the very talented and bromantic James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr/Magneto.” — Kara Warner
With so many different ways to see a movie, the magic of going to a theater and sitting in the dark seems like an outdated idea. Martin Scorsese attempted to recapture the feeling that made the movies such a special thing in the first place with “Hugo.” Through the story of an orphan boy living in a Paris train station, “Hugo” dives into the creation of movies and reminds us all of why the movies are a place to see dreams come true. — K.S.
“Bridesmaids” is one of those rare comedic gems in which everything worked: The crazy talented cast, led by Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Melissa McCarthy in a killer breakout performance; the one-liners, many of which were ad-libbed; that unpleasant-but-hilarious scene at the bridal store; Jon Hamm playing a d-bag — it was all so good and so funny. And not just funny for women, funny for everyone, to the tune of a $169 million box-office gross. — K.W.
3. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2″
All good things must come to an end. When it came time for the “Harry Potter” series to fulfill that old adage with this summer’s “Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” it wasn’t just a good thing. It was — if you’ll forgive our sappiness — a magical thing. Watching Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint grow into their heroic owns over the past decade has been a thrilling ride filled with tragedy and hope, despair and triumph, death and life. It wasn’t just the best “Potter” movie of all time; it was one of the best movies of the year. — J.W.
In a movie year that could easily have been renamed the Year of Gosling, the flasher of abs, breaker-up of street fights and all around great Canadian guy’s finest performance was as a nameless driver (regardless of what the Hollywood Foreign Press might have you believe). You either wanted to be him or be with him. No matter what, you couldn’t take your eyes of him. While the box-office bow of “Drive” lacked punch (to date, it has grossed $34.7 million), the film’s cultural impact has been huge, inspiring some first-rate spoofs and unleashing a soundtrack that became required listening for anyone with an iPod and half a soul. There was no cooler movie in 2011, and there is probably no other movie on this list we’ll still be talking about in 2021. — Eric Ditzian
1. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”
Devotees of Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular books (or the Swedish-language movie versions) need not fret: “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” is in good hands with master filmmaker David Fincher. The director follows up the excellent “Social Network” with another tour de force, injecting the murder mystery that introduces us to outcast hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) and embattled journalist (Daniel Craig) with style, intensity and relentless suspense. Mara is a revelation, and the film’s daunting 160-minute runtime breezes by thanks to one heart-racing scene after the next. Dark and tough to watch at times, but a triumph all around. — Kevin Polowy
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