Every year since the dawn of man, movie critics (and people like me) have counted down their favorite movies at the end of the year. Instead of hurriedly posting my list at the end of December like most people would, I have instead decided to wait until now to give a more fleshed-out countdown. No, I have not seen every movie from 2011, and even if I did I wouldn't count on most people agreeing with my rating and placement of said movies, but having seen over 100 released in the year, I feel I have seen enough to produce a satisfactory list. So, without any further ado, here are my 25 best movies of 2011:
25. A BETTER LIFE
An illegal immigrant living in California tries his hardest to better him and his son's lives.
I am usually not a fan of these kinds of movies (this and The Pursuit Of Happyness being exceptions), but I was quite invested in this movie, and found the ending very moving. Demian Bichir, though not quite Oscar caliber, was very effective, particularly near the latter half of the movie. So despite various cliches, A Better Life is a much better movie than I originally expected.
24. I SAW THE DEVIL
After the brutal murder of his fiance, a secret agent seeks revenge on her killer, no matter what it takes.
Some question as to whether I should consider this a 2010 or a 2011 movie, but it wasn't released stateside until the latter, so that's good enough for me. Twisted, brutal, and utterly ruthless, I Saw The Devil is very reminiscent of Oldboy, which stands as one of my favorite movies of the past ten years. This, though not quite as effective as Oldboy, is still a top-notch thriller worthy of recommendation.
23. BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER'S JOURNEY
Documentary chronicling the successful career of puppeteer Kevin Clash and his development of the beloved muppet Elmo.
Both interesting and enlightening, Being Elmo is that rare documentary that I actually find entertaining. Watching behind the scenes workings of various muppet shows proved to be quite enjoyable for me, though I can see how it might be a tad disillusioning to others. Regardless, this is one of those movies that can't help but to put a smile on my face without having to resort to cheap tricks to do so.
22. THE TREE OF LIFE
A chronicle of the creation of the world, evolution of life, and a '50s suburban family in Texas.
With a plot that is as hard to describe as the feelings this movie might give you, The Tree Of Life is very much a one of a kind experience all avid moviegoers should give at least one chance. Beautiful visuals and a particularly strong performance by Brad Pitt, this is a movie that may be hard to sit through, but is worth your time if you have the patience to endure it.
A violent, alcoholic widower finds the possibility of redemption when he meets a kind woman, who has some troubles of her own.
As reliant on its performances as The Tree Of Life was on its visuals, Tyrannosaur provides two of the strongest performances of the year, most notably by Olivia Colman. May be too dark for some viewers, but I found the story quite enthralling and was genuinely moved by the powerful performances of its two leads.
A study on a man with a strong sexual addiction that completely consumes and overwhelms him.
As difficult as it was for me to watch, over the past couple days I have come to admire this movie very much. As raw and unsettling as they come, Shame features one of the best performances of 2011, courtesy of Michael Fassbender. Worth watching if only for him, but quite intriguing in its own right.
19. THE MILL AND THE CROSS
Shows the lives of several of the figures found in Pieter Bruegel's painting "The Way To Calvary".
Visually tremendous and strangely compelling, The Mill And The Cross will either bore you to tears, or captivate you with its style. Adapted from a painting, this movie is very much a unique experience, not to be missed by lovers of film as an art form.
18. THE IDES OF MARCH
A successful presidential campaign manager discovers he may have to resort to unsavory methods in order to win.
Featuring an immaculate script and strong performances by an incredible ensemble including Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Paul Giamatti, The Ides Of March is one of the best political thrillers for years. Ruthless in its portrayal of campaigning tactics, this movie successfully manages to reveal certain truths about politics without pulling any punches.
17. WIN WIN
A struggling lawyer/ high school wrestling coach stumbles upon a troubled teen with inate wrestling skill and a grandfather in need of legal representation.
Third directorial effort by relative newcomer Thomas McCarthy, Win Win is an engrossing, albeit somewhat generic sports drama. Compelling performances by Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan round out this well-written comedic drama with characters you grow to actually care about.
A 12-year-old orphan boy who lives in the walls of a Parisian train station attempts to track down what he believes are clues left behind by his recently-deceased father.
A first for Martin Scorsese, who usually directs more adult-oriented material, Hugo is a charming kids movie with solid performances and a whimsical nature unlike anything he has ever done before. Brilliantly shot and ceaselessly entertaining.
15. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
A renowned journalist is hired to investigate a 40-year-old murder case, aided by an enigmatic computer hacker.
Under the direction of master filmmaker David Fincher, this American adaptation of the popular novel of the same name proves to be even stronger than the original Swedish version. With a great lead performance by Rooney Mara, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo manages to maintain interest throughout its 160-minute (or thereabouts) running time -- a notable feat.
14. THE SKIN I LIVE IN
An esteemed, but disturbed plastic surgeon attempts to replicate his dead wife through twisted experiments.
As disturbing as it is brilliant, The Skin I Live In is one of the most bizarre movies of 2011. Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya excel in their roles, helping provide believability to an otherwise absurdly demented motion picture. I may never watch it again, but I'm glad I saw it.
13. YOUNG ADULT
A lonely, depressed author of a failing book series returns to her hometown in hopes of romantically reuniting with her now married (and recent father) ex-boyfriend.
Featuring what I believe to be the best female performance of the year by Oscar-winner Charlize Theron, Young Adult is Jason Reitman's fourth directorial effort. As funny as it is pitiful, few movies are able to take a central character this deplorable and make you actually care -- though most of this feeling is of pity on the unlucky few who interact with her.
12. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
An ex-British Intelligence agent is brought out of retirement to hunt for a potential double agent near the top ranks of the British Secret Service.
Bearing striking similarities to espionage thrillers of the past, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a brilliant spy movie with strong performances and an intelligent script that may be hard to keep up with if you don't pay close attention. Proof that Tomas Alfredsson (who previously directed the Swedish vampire drama "Let The Right One In") has more than one trick up his sleeve.
A young journalist discovers he has cancer as he, his friends, and his family try to cope with his life-threatening illness.
With the sense of humor of a more mature teen comedy, 50/50 does more than make you laugh as the film progresses. Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers an strong emotional lead performance, with excellent support by Anna Kendrick, Seth Rogen, and Anjelica Huston as his clingy, but lovingly concerned mother. As funny as a comedy should be and as dramatic as a drama could hope to be.
Top 25 Best Movies of 2011: Part II (#10-1)