Just to be clear, this list (for the most part) is not an attempt to play the ‘I’m-a-movie-critic-and-therefore-know-more-about-cinema-than-you’ card. You’ll see many a critic pull this trick at year’s end – forging lists comprised of movies you’ve never even heard of… Peppering it with movies you’ll never even see. There is a place for that kind of list making – but not here. Yes, there are some on here with art house flair. Movies that may have existed on the silver screen for less than a month – but they’re ones that, I think, would play well to the masses if the masses would have ‘em. My choices are based on movies that I’ll actually want to watch again – perhaps even many times over. Please keep in mind that first and foremost, I’m a fan of movies that entertain – a critic second – now, on to my favorite fifteen movies of 2011…
The SOCIAL NETWORK of sports movies! It’s effective, efficient, entertaining and Brad Pitt shines in one of his most accessible roles to date (his Jerry Maguire moment). It’s an involving, intelligent, character-driven, savvy and beautifully shot future multi-Oscar nominated film that doesn’t require your liking of baseball – just your appreciation of really good movies. MONEYBALL is a homerun!
**PREDICTED OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, best Cinematography and Best Actor
#2 THE DESCENDANTS
Although a little depressing at times, it still moves with a cool, calm and soothing charm. It’s a sharp, hopeful, heartfelt, compassionate, touching, heartbreaking and occasionally funny story of one man’s attempt at letting go of the past and coming to grips with his uncertain future. Catch George Clooney giving one of his best performances to date…
**PREDICTED OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography and Best Screenplay
A hard-hitting, dysfunctional family, art-house, cage-fighting formulaic sports drama who’s formulaic pieces fit perfectly together. The three main leads all deliver gritty, brutal, sympathetic, well-developed performances. Its last year’s THE FIGHTER meets 1979’s ROCKY – but this time out we get two Rocky Balboa’s to root for… It’ll knock you out!
**PREDICTED OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Best Supporting Actor
#4 MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-GHOST PROTOCOL
This thrillingly ballistic, non-stop, high-stakes, globetrotting, death-defying, dazzling and breakneck-paced fourth installment of the hit-and-miss MISSION franchise is the new bar by which all like-minded, cartoonishly fun action flicks should be measured. The most fun I had at the movies all year – and, really, isn’t that what it’s all about?!
#5 MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
Easily one of Woody Allen’s most accessibly charming films. It’s romantic, poetic, intelligent, funny and sparkles with its joyous celebration of love, art and the titular city itself. This is one that I think most anyone would enjoy…
**PREDICTED OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay
#6 THE ARTIST
In black-and-white and with no sound (aside from music), THE ARTIST is a gimmick movie – but a gimmick that’s delivered with shockingly effective results. It’s a slimmed-down, charming, captivating and whimsical ode to old Hollywood that entertains with gentle touches of humor, romance and showmanship.
PREDICTED OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Score
#7 THE MUPPETS
I have no idea why there are so many songs about rainbows – but I hope a sequel to this nostalgically exuberant, innocently heartfelt and Vaudvillian-esque comedy is on the other side. THE MUPPETS makes for a simple, charming, clever and enjoyable night for the entire family!
Luscious set design, a haunting score, marvelous performances and a seedy underbelly of lies, betrayal and deceit make this a taut, political potboiler worth every penny – and a tale of The Bard that won’t leave you bored.
#9 X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
The recently lumbering X-MEN franchise finally moves again with speed and grace. Intelligent, engaging and action-packed. It’s easily the best superhero flick of the year.
#10 HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART II
I am not a Pott-Head and have never been emotionally invested in the geeky drama of the Hogwart’s gang. That being said, this final installment is exciting, exhilarating and spellbinding. The drama is gripping, the action is intense, the scope is epic and, should you be a fan of blockbuster films in general, the movie delivers on every single cinematic level imaginable (aside from, maybe, a solid tug of the heartstrings). Simply put, it’s magical!
**PREDICTED OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Best Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Design
#11 RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
A riveting, compelling and thrilling piece of campy, B-level, drive-in theater, popcorn cinema. Through the use of mind-bending special effects and simple yet effective scriptwriting APES evolves in to an adventurous, action-packed and emotionally-taught edge-of-your-seat story of compassion turned ignorance.
**PREDICTED OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Design
#12 CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
A spirited, simple, beautifully designed, stylistically retro, good ol’ fashioned, popcorn-munching, crowd-pleasing blockbuster – the acting is solid, the script is tight and the fun is infectious.
#13 SOURCE CODE
GROUNDHOG DAY meets SPEED by way of television’s QUANTUM LEAP. It’s a smart, fun, breezy, easily-accessible, straight-shooting, action-packed, romantic sci-fi thriller.
#14 THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
A captivatingly tense, edgy, brutally bleak, razor-sharp and gruesomely slow-burn thriller. It’s a feel bad movie – but a really good feel bad movie.
**PREDICTED OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Best Actress, Best Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay
#15 SUPER 8
A nostalgic, Spielberg-esque, slice-of-life meets sci-fi summer crowd pleaser, SUPER 8 succeeds on almost every intended level: masterfully made, beautifully shot, tightly written and expertly acted. It’s an intelligent, funny, exciting, thrilling, suspenseful and touching tale. It was a ton of fun, however, that would have benefitted from a more emotional punch to the gut.
HONORABLE MENTION (movies that were oh-so-close to making this list): Hugo, The Lincoln Lawyer, Bridesmaids, 50/50, Attack the Block, Drive, The Adjustment Bureau, Rango, Win Win, Beginners, The Help, The Ides of March, Hannah and Margin Call
ALMOST THERE (movies I enjoyed but they never had a shot at making my top 15 list): Horrible Bosses, Real Steel, Footloose, Disneynature’s African Cats, Puss in Boots, Contagion, Thor, Cars 2, We Bought a Zoo, Fast Five, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Change-Up, Tower Heist, Larry Crowne, Rio, Arthur Christmas, No Strings Attached, Friends with Benefits, Happy Feet Two, Winnie the Pooh, Kung Fu Panda 2, The Beaver, The Dilemma, Fright Night, Paul, Limitless and Mr. Popper’s Penguins
WHAT A WASTE (movies that just flat out let me down – but still didn’t crack my worst of 2011 list): War Horse, Sherlock Homes: A Game of Shadows, Young Adult, The Big Year, Cowboys and Aliens, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Battle: Los Angeles, Colombiana, The Eagle, The Rum Diary, Hall Pass, I Am Number Four, Killer Elite and Just Go With It
Brian the Movie Guy, the Northwest’s most listened to movie critic, can be heard every week on KOMO Newsradio AM 1000/97.7 FM, STAR 101.5 FM and Smart Talk 570 KVI!