Any year that can includes a half-dozen superhero films and an Oscar front-runner that's a black-and-white silent film ("The Artist") needs to be given at least a bit of credit for breadth. I'll go one further and say 2011 has been a year filled with plenty of cinematic delights. Hell, if I couldn't even squeeze one of two Spielberg films or Terrence Malick's meditation on our existence on my top 10, that's got to say something.
Without any further ado, my top 10 movies of the year — completely accurate as of the moment I wrote it. (What can I say? Moods come and go.)
10. "Attack the Block"
It could qualify as one of the year's best comedies, thrillers and sci-fi flicks. That Joe Cornish's genre mash-up is all of the above more than earns "Attack the Block" a spot in my top 10. Stick with the indecipherable accents and dialects for a few minutes and you'll be richly rewarded by one of the most consistently surprising and pleasurable moviegoing experiences of 2011.
It's one of the greatest baseball films of all time, and all I can think of is Brad Pitt driving around listening to the radio and watching his daughter play him a song. Don't worry; that's a good thing. Pitt turns in a leading-man role like he's never delivered before, saying so much even when he says so little.
8. "X-Men: First Class"
From Kevin Bacon's deliciously hammy villain to Michael Fassbender's steely, take-no-prisoners attitude as Magneto, "X-Men: First Class" emerged as the superhero film of the year. Between his Nazi-hunting pub visit and his memorable bar exit in "Inglourious Basterds," Fassbender might want to sign up for the "Cocktail" remake.
How many different ways could a cancer comedy have gone wrong? Instead, Jonathan Levine directed Will Reiser's life-inspired tale with grace and wit, drawing out winning performances from everyone in his stellar ensemble. Funny and moving, "50/50" stands as a truly unique and impressive piece of entertainment and pathos.
A dash of Stanley Kubrick and a dollop of Terrence Malick. Not a bad couple of filmmakers for a movie by a young director like Jeff Nichols, right? I admired Nichols' festering creepfest, but what truly sent "Take Shelter" into the middle of my top 10 was a searing, brilliant performance by the remarkable Michael Shannon. He owns this movie. It's a piece of acting that's haunted me since I saw it in January.
5."The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"
It's a dark and depraved world, and that's just the way David Fincher likes it. Can a movie that clocks in at nearly three hours really feel propulsive and unrelenting? This one does. Know the story already? Who cares? Anchored by top-notch performances by Rooney Mara (nice call, Mr. Fincher) and Daniel Craig, the film makes me more than ready for volume two.
4. "The Descendants"
You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll wonder where the hell Matthew Lillard's been. But most of all, you'll marvel at director Alexander Payne's gentle touch, Shailene Woodley's where-the-hell-did-that-come-from performance and George Clooney's heartbreaking goodbye to a long-lost love.
On paper, this looked to be the Martin Scorsese movie that time would forget (or willfully ignore). Children's film? Parisian train station? Blech. In reality? A sumptuous 3-D meditation on escaping and ultimately embracing our past, not to mention the greatest cinefile's love letter to the medium he truly is the master of.
2. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2"
I'm as surprised as anyone that a "Harry Potter" film landed so high on my list. It's far and away the finest of the franchise's eight installments. But let's set aside all that for a second and call this what it is: an awesome movie. David Yates directs the franchise finale with a lean, mean efficiency (it's the shortest of all the Potter films). And when he does slow the action — for a riveting exchange with a goblin or a long, mysterious gaze by the likes of Alan Rickman — it's with purpose and to great effect. I could go on and on about the memorable moments in this film, including Professor McGonagall's rousing defense of Hogwarts, Snape's tragic flashback, Harry Potter's reassurance to his son as he sends him off to Hogwarts. Is there a spell to stop me from getting misty-eyed?
What do I look for in my favorite movie of the year? Simple: I want something special. And there was nothing even close to "Drive" for me this year. I'm in unabashed love with everything about the film. Sure, it oozes cool, but cool only gets you so far. How about these adjectives? Riveting. Hypnotic. Sexy. Fun. Brilliant. Masterful and confident direction from Nicolas Winding Refn, Ryan Gosling at his absolute best and a gaggle of great supporting turns, it all added up to a movie permanently lodged into my cerebral cortex. Now let me give that soundtrack one more listen.
Check out everything we've got on "Drive."
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