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Movie Rewind: The 10 Best Films of 2011

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Intrigue, spectacle and a tremendous dose of Oscar bait were the primary hallmarks of Hollywood’s top offerings in the past year. But although it was a fascinating year at the movies – perhaps more so than 2010 – the quality of the overall crop was expectedly mixed. Still, upon dipping into the archives, I was able to produce sufficient items to allow me to count to ten. That said, the best movies I experienced over the course of the last 12 months:

The Ides of March
George Clooney directs and co-stars in this remarkable treatise of politics and corruption on the campaign trail. Paul Giammatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Clooney himself are characteristically sturdy in their roles, but the film ultimately belongs to Ryan Gosling, who is pitch-perfect as campaign manager caught up in a morality maelstrom that tests him in unanticipated ways.

Another superb vehicle (no pun intended) for the amazingly talented leading man Ryan Gosling, one of Tinseltown’s most bankable stars. In this brutal and haunting pic (co-starring Carey Mulligan and Albert Brooks), he gives a gripping performance (as a hired driver) that creeps upon you before dealing a powerful, shattering blow.

Melissa McCarthy rocks! Hands down the funniest movie I saw in 2011, Bridesmaids puts forward a compelling argument that women can be just as raunchy as the fellas, buddy comedy style, and seriously court Oscar buzz along the way. Take that, Hangover!

Delicately paced and filled with moments of quiet revelation, Beginners was undoubtedly one of 2011’s unexpected delights – a lyrical coming-out tale of a 75-year-old widower (Christopher Plummer, excellent) whose loyal son (Ewan McGregor) is charged with the task of taking care of him in his final years. Expect Plummer to make the cut for Best Supporting Actor when Oscar nominations are announced in a couple weeks.

The usually morbid subjects of cancer and cancer treatment are handled with remarkable sensitivity and a welcome dose of humour in this charming dramedy starring Joseph-Gordon Levitt (as the afflicted soul), Anna Kendrick (his therapist), Seth Rogen (his best bud) and an almost unrecognizable Anjelica Huston (his teary mother).

The Help
Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain render fine examples of exemplary acting in this racially and emotionally charged tearjerker, a wise big-screen adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s bestseller about black maids in Jim Crow-era Jackson, Mississippi. It’s already racking up awards nominations.

A Separation
This first-rate and wonderfully spun divorce tale, which comes from Iran, holds you in its thrall with an engrossing meditation on complex family relations, the sacredness of tradition and the sometimes unfortunate restrictions of one’s culture. Many are calling it a shoo-in for Best Foreign Language Film at next month’s Academy Awards. I unreservedly agree.

In one of the most criminally underrated releases of 2011, Nick Nolte is Oscar-worthy as an alcoholic father on the road to redemption whose two estranged sons (Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy) are gearing up to compete in a brutal mixed martial arts competition. Warrior happens to be one of those films I had to work up the interest to finally watch. I’m glad I finally did.

Like Crazy
A breakout hit at Sundance, this wonderfully clear-eyed story of young love blossoms along with its pair of radiant leads (Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones), who settle into their roles nicely and deliver layered performances marked by emotion and maturity.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
An origin story with big heart, the film (starring James Franco and Freida Pinto) is also an exhilarating, action-packed blockbuster that keeps you riveted while rewarding interest with a well-written tale of man versus beast in a world where compassion is so often trumped by cruelty.

Must Mention: Margin Call, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Higher Ground.

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  • Henry L.

    Got to love Nick Nolte in Warrior!

  • I’m really pleased that you included 50/50 in your list. The movie was a great effort that didn’t get nearly as much recognition as it should have

  • @MediaRunner

    I did see Moneyball. Found it mediocre. Yet to see The Descendants, hopefully I’ll catch it before Oscar night though.

  • What I was able to see (Bridesmaids, Beginners, and 50/50) I agree were great. You do a nice job offering succinct summaries of what made each film for you “the best” of 2011.

    That said, I’m wondering if you saw The Descendants or Moneyball?
    Because of the way those two were able to address so many issues, remain interesting, make me laugh, and put established actors (George Clooney and Brad Pitt, respectively) in new, more nuanced roles, I would include them too in any “Best of” list.

    Not yet having seen the other films you have on your list, I’m not sure which two I’d replace, but I’m wondering, if you saw Moneyball or The Descendants, what you thought?

  • I wasn’t able to see all these films but Bridesmaids was incredibly funny and awkward with some great moments that are unforgettable.