Captain America: The First Avenger (Joe Johnston)
In a year filled to the brim with comic book adaptations, the one that stood head and shoulders above the pack was none other than Captain America. The latest in Marvel's Avengers series of films is also, by far, the best thus far. Chris Evans does an awesome job playing the Cap, and is supported by equally impressive performances from Tommy Lee Jones and Hayley Atwell. This is just a fun, colorful throwback to really old school propaganda comics, and one of the better entries in the superhero genre.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Guy Ritchie)
As much as I loved the first movie, this one is better in every way imaginable. It's every single thing that made the first one great, only expanded on and delivered to their fullest potential. But above all else, the bromance between Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law is alive and well, and better than ever. These two just have the best chemistry of any on screen couple I've ever seen. I could just sit back and watch these two banter for hours, and never grow bored! And as great as their interactions were in the first, they're just as good here, and they share so much more screen-time than before.
I also really enjoyed the actual plot this time around, too. The mystery was much more intriguing, and Moriarty was a far more interesting villain. The final face-off between Holmes and Moriarty was especially glorious to watch. I just had so much fun with this movie. It's often humorous, it's action packed, and the story is overall intriguing. Add in the inclusion of Holmes' brother, played by Stephen Fry, and you've got the makings for just a lovely movie-going experience!
The Ides of March (George Clooney)
Ryan Gosling is on a roll this year! I didn't expect much from this film, but it more than delivered, far exceeding my expectations. In this political thriller, Ryan Gosling gets caught up in a scandal involving presidential candidate Mike Morris, played by George Clooney. With careers on the line and an ever looming feeling of distrust, this really was just a captivating movie from start to finish. The performances are great, and the direction is spot on in this cleverly written adaptation.
Kung Fu Panda 2 (Jennifer Yuh Nelson)
Without being weighed down by an origins story, this one surpasses its predecessor with one of the most emotionally fueled stories of the year. Seriously, this movie is just heart-wrenching. But intense as it can sometimes get, it's also one of the most light-hearted films of the year, and really just an all out fun movie to watch. This one brings the humor and the action in full spades, and is just absolutely gorgeous, quite possibly the best looking 3D animated film to date. Like the first movie, despite the fact that Kung Fu Panda 2 has all of the ingredients present for a potential disaster, it turned out way better than it ever had any right to be. Please don't pass up the chance to see it, and check out the original, too!
Super 8 (J. J. Abrams)
Who woulda thought that, in a year where we got two new movies from Steven Spielberg, the best Spielberg movie of the year wouldn't even be directed by Spielberg himself? In this homage to Spielberg-style classics, Abrams delivers a nice, heart-warming tale, made all the more special by the surprisingly spectacular performances from the mostly child cast. I really can't say enough just how awesome the kids in this movie are. Top it all off with awesome effects and all of the lens flares that one can ask from a J. J. Abrams flick, then you're really in for a good time with this one.
Hugo (Martin Scorsese)
And moving on from one homage to another, Hugo was also quite a magical movie. The cinematography was especially phenomenal, as this is one of the most visually appealing films of the whole year. The kids were, again, great, as was the rest of the cast, who know how to have fun with their roles without going overboard. And it's just a wonderful journey to witness as the movie unravels and delves further into the history of cinema itself. You could just tell that this was a deeply personal film for Scorsese, and it shows in its marvelous execution.
Another Earth (Mike Cahill)
This feels like the oddball choice of the bunch, being not only a limited release arthouse film, but one that even several film buffs opted to ignore. But when I saw this playing in town, I just had to check it out, if only out of sheer curiosity. And boy was I glad that I did. It's a fairly simple drama with a light sci-fi backdrop, but it's a totally engaging, if tragic, story about a girl coming to terms with the terrible mistakes of her past. Meanwhile, a second Earth has been discovered, which looms gracefully in the background all throughout the story. It's an odd film at times, though the ideas it presents are certainly interesting, and leads to some seriously inspired imagery. The final shot in particular is especially satisfying.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt)
Talk about unexpectedly good, I'm not sure anyone took this film seriously going in, but my god, it really is outstanding. Playing out as more of a drama, despite its action-oriented trailers, this is exactly what the title suggests, though probably not in the way you'd think. We follow the ape, Caesar, played by Andy Serkis in yet another awesome performance, as he rises into power as the leader of his ape allies who seek to live a life of freedom. But the movie is actually quite subtle, and it takes its time to let the story naturally flesh out, and often acts as somewhat of a silent film. The CGI apes all look great, and the movie itself is really quite beautiful as well. It's a touching story, and probably the biggest surprise of the year.
Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)
Refn calls this his gritty, neon version of a superhero movie, and if we count it as that, then sorry Cap, but Drive's got you beat. And holy crap is this movie fantastic! Not only one of the best of the year, but one of the best I've ever seen. Everything about this movie is just outstanding, the cinematography, the soundtrack, the acting, the action! From top to bottom, this movie is just about perfect. And the actors are able to tell us so much while saying so little, none doing this better than Ryan Gosling (I told you he was on a roll this year!). And that elevator scene, just, wow!
I was shocked to see this actually get a wide release, since its definitely more of the artsy kind of movie that typically gets a limited run. But I'm just glad that, as a result, this one was so easy to catch at the theaters, even if the general public didn't quite go for it. And shame on everyone who dismissed it for not being just another stupid Fast and Furious clone! Y'all are really missing out!
Of course, I say that about the general public, but then I make this next movie my #1 favorite of the year:
Sucker Punch (Zack Snyder)
Now here's an unpopular choice, but what can I say? I loved this movie! I raved about it in my review earlier in the year, and though my feelings on it may not be quite as strong now as they were then, I still love this movie for all that it set out to accomplish. But I'm really just baffled at how many people flat out didn't understand this movie at all, especially since it's not exactly the most subtle thing. I've seen so many critics try to dissect this movie in order to point out its flaws, all the while only proving that the film just flew right over their heads. It's a movie that celebrates escaping into your dreams and letting your imagination run wild. Sure, it's also a kick ass action flick with hot girls in skimpy outfits, but that's besides the point! The point is, so many people would have you believe that this is a stupid movie for the lowest common denominator, when in fact, it's actually one of the more brilliant pieces to release in some time. So brilliant, that even a lot of the smart guys didn't get it!
But enough about that. As I was saying, I loved this movie for several reasons. In many respects, it feels like a movie that I would have come up with myself. The way it transitions between dreams and supposed realities, as well as differing point of views between characters, is just seamless. And I also love how it's almost like watching a two hour long music video, with some of the most awesome remixes of old classic tracks. Snyder has perfected his particular style with this movie, and he's given us his masterpiece. It's one of the most hated movies of the year, but I loved it, enough to call it my favorite movie of 2011.
So anyways, those are my top picks for the year, and now, as an added bonus, I'll throw out my choices for best performances in the past year as well:
Top 5 Actresses of 2011:
#5: Carey Mulligan - Drive
#4: Elle Fanning - Super 8
#3: Charlotte Gainsbourg - Melancholia
#2: Rooney Mara - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
#1: Elizabeth Olsen - Martha Marcy May Marlene
Top 5 Actors of 2011:
#5: Andy Serkis - Rise of the Planet of the Apes/The Adventures of Tintin
#4: Michael Fassbender - X-Men: First Class
#3: Brad Pitt - The Tree of Life/Moneyball
#2: Ryan Gosling - Drive/The Ides of March
#1: Joseph Gordon-Levitt - 50/50
So that's it, and next time, we'll take a look at my least favorite movies of the year. See ya then!