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Rafe’s Top Ten Movies of 2011

For the first time in all of my years of doing this, I’m not incredibly thrilled with my end of the year list. As usual, there are movies appearing on other people’s lists that I haven’t gotten to see, and unfortunate timing means I won’t be seeing them for another couple of weeks at the best. Rather than hold out on my “Best of” list for 2011 until the point that nobody really cares about 2011, I’m going to go ahead and push out my list, with complete knowledge that I may be changing it before all is said and done. So, this is more of my “Best of – for now” list.

What’s missing? Well, I have a slew of movies I haven’t yet gotten to see: George Clooney in The Descendants is a must, as is My Week with Marilyn. Both of those require catching the pictures in the theater though, as does the David Fincher adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (a review that has been conspicuously absent from Widescreen Warrior). On DVD or Blu-ray, I still want to check out Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Midnight in Paris and The Tree of Life, some of which I suspect might have had shots at top spaces, as well as Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which is currently streaming on Netflix. All of these feel like landmark movies that could potentially change the landscape of my “Best of” list, and yet I haven’t gotten to see them yet. Oh well.

The sad thing about my list is that, for the first time in almost a decade, Pixar isn’t on it. Cars 2 is actually almost at the bottom of my list this year. It’s not the worst movie to come out (that spot is reserved for the Arthur remake with Russell Brand), but it might be the most disappointing picture to be released. That’s saying something, considering almost half of my list is comprised of what might be considered “kids movies.” After compiling and rearranging to a point of satisfaction – or at least temporary satisfaction – I asked my wife if she felt this reflected who I am as a film critic or if having a two-year-old son has changed me and my taste in movies. She felt content to say she thought this list probably wouldn’t have changed much regardless of having a child. After all, he didn’t go see these movies; I saw them regardless of having him in my world.

All of that introduction now said, these are still ten very good movies, representing a variety of entertainment that appeals to the mind, heart, and soul. I take pride in my annual list reflecting my love of film as a whole – not just the high end films that aim for awards, but many movies that the entire family can enjoy. While my list may change as I take in a few more movies later in the month (I haven’t decided if I will actually edit the list or not), here are the best of the year, according to me.

10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
When the Harry Potter movie adaptations started, I wouldn’t have expected any of the films to make my list, let alone make it several times over the years. The early pictures were harsh adaptations that sacrificed the entertainment opportunities of the visual medium in a faithful – one might say even slavish – dedication to the source material. Over the course of the movies, that dedication loosened enough to make the movies their own creatures, telling a similar story for the Boy Who Lived, but allowing the directors to bring some of their own vision to the projects. As a result, the last picture is a wonderful finale for Harry, Hermione, and Ron Weasley, as they finally face off against Ralph Fiennes’s Lord Voldemort (still one of the saga’s best casting decisions) for the future of their beloved Hogwarts and the entire wizarding world.

Memorable moment: Harry’s sacrifice, allowing him to come face to face with the people who have paid the ultimate price out of love for him, is probably better realized on the screen than it was on the page.

9. The Adjustment Bureau
I have no doubt that this will be the most controversial choice on my list, offering many detractors the opportunity to poke holes in my credibility. I don’t care. I found The Adjustment Bureau to be a thought provoking, highly entertaining picture. The irony is that it probably best represents the themes and mindset of source author Phillip K. Dick, despite coming from a story that has been massively altered in its big screen adaptation. Because of that, The Adjustment Bureau transcends being a simple action piece like so many other adaptations from Dick’s library of work and offers an interesting existential theme for the audience to ponder after the credits finish.

Memorable moment: The Matrix-esque chase through doors is a fun moment. Yeah, it lacks the film’s deeper themes, but it’s still a lot of fun, and who says you can’t have some sci-fi fun and deeper existential ideas in the same picture – you know, like The Matrix.

8. Paul
I may have enjoyed Paul more than any other recent Seth Rogen movie (and a heck of a lot more than The Green Hornet, which also scored an incredibly low spot on my list for the year), and it’s definitely my second favorite Simon Pegg / Nick Frost picture, right behind Shaun of the Dead. Getting to see the self-proclaimed geeks take on science fiction culture, complete with elements of Comic-Con and so many references it led to one of our more popular Easter Eggs articles is just as brilliant as watching them take on zombie cultures a few pictures back. I didn’t expect Paul to show up on my list at the end of the year, and yet here it is, still earning laughs after several viewings.

Memorable moment: Pick any of the sci-fi references. Just watching the movie for those is fun, let alone the fact that Pegg and Frost have put together a pretty good story on top of that.


7. The Ides of March
As a self-proclaimed Clooney-hater a few years ago, imagine my surprise to find not one, but two George Clooney movies I wanted to see this year. This is the one I got to see and I loved it. Clooney brings a film-noir approach to the world of politics, shining light on the seedy underbelly that goes on behind the scenes of a political race, even in the idyllic camp of a beacon for change. In this world even the good guys do bad things in hopes of positive gain and the better the person seems to be the darker the skeletons are in their closet. That’s where a spin doctor like Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) comes into play. The sad truth is that Clooney’s vision is still probably more positive than the real world of politics, but a lot more fun to watch.

Memorable moment: I love the conviction Clooney brings to Mike Morris, particularly in his first press scene where he recites the dialog we’ve already heard from his spin doctor, but with such conviction that even the audience can’t help but buy into his positive demeanor.

6. Rango

Another movie that I didn’t expect to see on my list at the end of the year. Rango was an enjoyable picture at the beginning of the year, but I fully expected other animation giants (especially Pixar) to push it off the top ten. Imagine my surprise when we stand here in January and Johnny Depp’s quirky chameleon is still standing. We got a lot of flack for liking Rango, particularly by people who wanted this to be a kids’ movie. It’s not, but the elements that keep it from being kid friendly help build the archetypal world of the western – an important element for the story. Gore Verbinski and Depp continue to work well together, but let’s learn from the mistakes of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and hold Rango as a single tale.

Memorable moment: Rango meeting the Spirit of the West is a beautiful moment to behold and a wonderful homage to a Western legend. Just don’t bring the kids.

5. The Adventures of Tintin
I knew Steven Spielberg still had it in him to create another Indiana Jones style adventure (although, remember, I liked Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for what it was) and Tintin delivers on that. Spielberg brings his penchant for action (and his wonderful partnership with John Williams) to the animated world for the first time with a character most Americans won’t care about, which is their loss. Between Spielberg’s direction and Andy Serkis brilliantly bringing another motion-capture character to life, Tintin stands to be one of the best-but-overlooked movies of 2011.

Memorable moment: Watching Snowy chase down the bad guys who have kidnapped his master shows just how incredibly talented the animators are, while seeing Serkis’s character recall the legend of the Unicorn will remain one of this year’s best dramatic moments, animated character or not.

4. Young Adult
Jason Reitman is becoming yet another staple on “Best of” lists everywhere. It seems like every movie he puts out earn top honors, and Young Adult is no difference. Thematically similar to Up in the Air in many ways, Reitman takes on the story of Mavis Gary, a disaffected, self-absorbed woman who is mentally stuck in the very high school days she loathes. Focused on winning back her high school sweetheart, Charlize Theron takes on yet another role that allows the actress to be at her best (quite beautiful) and at her worst (inner ugliness) at the same time. Add in a killer part for Patton Oswalt and the best script Diablo Cody has put out, and you’ve got quite an entertaining tale, made a bit sadder with the thought that people like Mavis Gerry really do exist, and few of them look like Theron.

Memorable moment: Mavis’s climactic confrontation at the baby’s naming ceremony shows the audience isn’t the only one who has been pitying the self-absorbed girl throughout the film.

3. J. Edgar
As I said when I first reviewed the movie, Clint Eastwood may have been the best person to direct this biopic of the legendary FBI director, mostly due to his age. Part of the reason J. Edgar works is because we get to see the aging titular character reflecting back on his life. If this had been a straightforward account of Hoover’s story we might have missed a level of reflection and even regret as we see how Hoover built his agency and rose to power despite many obstacles, including his own moral code. Between Eastwood’s direction and a versatile performance from Leonardo DiCaprio depicting Hoover at many ages, J. Edgar should be getting some attention come Oscar time.

Memorable moment: The first meeting of J. Edgar and Clyde holds all the electricity of love at first sight, and although the film mostly dances around the ambiguous relationship between the two men, Armie Hammer reveals everything with his fawning gaze.

2. The Muppets 
Okay, I’m biased. A lifelong Muppet fan, it was inevitable that Kermit and company would wind up with a prime spot on my annual list. Still, what if the movie sucked? Fortunately, that wasn’t a reality we had to face as Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller’s story brings back the wacky, chaotic antics of the Muppets along with the lovable idea of family we’ve all loved over the years. Even the addition of a new Muppet, Walter, played out better than the mistake it initially appeared to be, providing a much needed outer perspective instead of trying to create a flash-in-the-pan new character. Mix in some appropriately tender, yet hilarious new songs and you have a Muppet project worth of the legacy of the characters, and possibly the best Muppet movie to come along since Jim Henson’s unfortunate death.

Memorable moment: It’s a hard tie between the conflicted emotional setup of “Man or Muppet” and the tender regret of the lost past in “Pictures in my Head.” Either way, it’s the songs.

1. Kung Fu Panda 2
Kung Fu Panda was a fluke. Nobody expected anything from the movie, so when it delivered an entertaining and emotionally thrilling ride many critics were caught off guard. The sequel had a bigger challenge to take on now that there were expectations, and yet the story manages to pull off just the right moves to keep the audience wanting more. Not only did I find more of what made the first movie so good, but Kung Fu Panda 2 makes me hope they’ll make a third film as well. Po’s story is clearly not over with, and Jack Black may have finally found a non-Tenacious D character who makes his outlandish style work to his advantage. Bring on more Panda!

Memorable moment: Gary Oldman manages to fill the villainous void left by Ian McShane with an equally great, yet sympathetic, antagonist – something I didn’t think was possible.


Other movies that didn’t quite make the cut (but are still excellent): The Debt, Moneyball, X-Men: First Class, Warrior, Insidious

See our other Best of 2011 coverage!

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  • Keith Viverette

    WOW, i’ve seen almost nothing on your list.  I guess not many movies appealed to me this year.

  • Doctor Rotten

    It may have been a poor year for Pixar, but it was a fantastic year for animation! They took the easy road (no pun intended) and let the others pass them by. Seriously, Gnomeo & Juliet and Rio were better.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting article! Best place to find coupons during holidays for free is Printapons I would recommend them

  • Drchristallant

    I didn’t know 
    The Adjustment Bureau was a Philip K. Dick adaptation…now I have to see it.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve seen everything here except Ides of March & J. Edgar, but the only one I’d put in my top ten is Tintin.

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