Our Top 10 (and Worst 3) of 2011

It's hard to cover the Oscars without covering the films that could be honored. After all, the Academy Awards is all about cinema and h...


It's hard to cover the Oscars without covering the films that could be honored. After all, the Academy Awards is all about cinema and honoring great moviemaking. Over the last year, The Gold Knight has featured movie reviews from our correspondents and rated those movies. And it's our turn to honor the best.

To that end, The Gold Knight presents our Top 10 films of 2011. Deciding on a single set of 10 films that are the "best" is subjective. Because of this our correspondents, along with editor James A. Molnar, will present their own lists.

Please share your thoughts on our Top 10 lists by commenting on this post, on Facebook or by interacting with us on Twitter. We would also like to see your Top 10 lists. Share below. (Find 2010's Top 10 lists here.)



Jake Howell
TGK Correspondent

The year in cinema was a celebration of cinema itself, with Martin Scorsese writing a love letter to the earliest of filmmakers with "Hugo," a return to the classiness and fun of silent film in "The Artist," J.J. Abrams’ childlike awe and amazement at Spielbergian moviemaking on full display in "Super 8," and Spielberg himself returning to the depths of classic John Ford-esque epicness in "War Horse." But it wasn’t all fun and games. The human psyche was dissected and explored, literally in David Cronenberg’s "A Dangerous Method," and figuratively in "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Shame," among others. It was a strong year, and for the first time since maybe 2007, it was quite a challenge to limit myself to only 10 films that I could say defined the year in movies for me. It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve refrained from adding any documentaries here, opting instead to create a separate list for them. Here we go…

10. "The Trip"
An odd niche appeal comes with this one. Maybe, comedy nerds/foodies, if that even is an actual subgroup. In any case, Michael Winterbottom’s pseudo-follow-up to 2005’s "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story" makes mimicry seem like all but the most sophisticated of art forms. Goes great with a nice Cabernet Sauvignon.

9. "Attack the Block"
"Attack the Block" signals the arrival of a new directorial talent in Joe Cornish. With his debut he has crafted a tightly constructed B-movie for the modern moviegoer, one with enough wit and sincerity to satisfy anybody. It was one of the most fun times to be had at the theater this year.

8. "The Adventures of Tintin"
A good old-fashioned adventure movie that, like "War Horse" and "The Artist," recalls memories of what the movies used to be like.

7. "Poetry"
"Poetry" is a beautiful meditation on life and death and all the moments in between. Chang-dong Lee’s sumptuous and sad character study is as heartwarming as it is heart-rending. Jeong-hie Yun is quietly devastating as a grandmother dealing with Alzheimer’s, her grandson’s life-altering actions and a newfound love of poetry.

6. "Hugo"
It took Martin Scorsese to figure out that you had to mix the old and the new to truly make 3D a tolerable experience. My favorite parts in Scorsese’s wonderful new film were the ones in which we caught glimpses of the oldest of movies; of rockets landing in the moon’s eye or trains arriving at a station in France, but in 3-D. Like in Werner Herzog’s "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," another multi-dimensional feast from this year, Scorsese inspects a previous generations’ art through the medium of our own. (Read full review.)

5. "Meek's Cutoff"
Kelly Reichardt’s film is as devoid of dialogue as its landscape is of life, but it remains one of the most fascinating, if polarizing, films of the year. In it, the landscape takes on a life of its own, and it’s one of hostility and oppression.

4. "Martha Marcy May Marlene"
I don’t think Elizabeth Olson will take a backseat to her famous twin siblings anymore. In "Martha Marcy May Marlene" she gives one of the year’s best performances as a cult member suffering through the psychological trauma suffered her by cult leader Patrick, played by John Hawkes with an enigmatic intensity and voraciousness.

3. "Certified Copy"
An impenetrable love story through the lens of one of our greatest auteurs, Abbas Kiarostami’s rumination on the perplexing nature of human relationships is something like "Before Sunrise" meets "Last Year At Marienbad." It feels like a disservice to compare it to anything, though. "Certified Copy" is a wholly unique vision, and one that is not to be missed.

2. "City of Life and Death"
Here is an under-seen, impeccably crafted and compassionate Chinese film about the inexplicable and horrific Rape of Nanking (also known as the Nanking Massacre), a period during WWII in which (it is estimated) more than 200,000 Chinese were killed, and 20,000-80,000 men, women and children were raped by members of the Imperial Japanese Army. "City of Life and Death" is, to date, the most clear-eyed, honest record of that appalling event.

1. "Take Shelter"
The most singular experience I had at a movie this year, Jeff Nichols’ enviro-horror/psychological thriller is horrifying, distressing and, at last, devastating. One of our finest actors, Michael Shannon, gives his best performance to date as Curtis LaForche, a man suddenly encumbered by apocalyptic visions and dreams. What do they mean? Watching Curtis disintegrate over their significance is a terrifying process.

Honorable mentions: There were a handful of truly great films this year, and numerous other outstanding films, most of which, unfortunately, were repressed by the conditionality of a Top 10 list. Here are 30 more worthwhile films from 2011, for good measure (in alphabetical order): "50/50," "13 Assassins," "Beginners," "Bellflower," "Bridesmaids," "Cold Weather," "The Company Men," "Drive," "The Future," "The Guard," "Hanna," "I Saw the Devil," "In a Better World," "Incendies," "The Innkeepers," "Insidious," "J. Edgar," "Le Havre," "Melancholia," "Midnight In Paris," "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol," "Moneyball," "The Muppets," "Of Gods and Men," "Source Code," "The Tree of Life," "Trollhunter," "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil," "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" and "Young Adult."

3 Worst Movies
3. "War Horse"
Ugh.

2. "Like Crazy"
You know what? That's not okay.

1. "The Dilemma"
Are you kidding me?


Heather Leszczewicz
TGK Correspondent

10. "Water for Elephants"
I am in love with the cinematography and soundtrack of this film. The moment the circus tents start going up is a gorgeous point in this movie. Robert Pattinson isn’t just a sparkly vampire (or Cedric Diggory, depending what camp you’re in). He can act. I enjoyed “Water for Elephants” just as much as the book.

9. "Bridesmaids"
Chicks can be really funny. They can also be really gross. “Bridesmaids” was just a laugh out loud sort of film, but it had that underlying chick-flick mentality. I fell in love with Officer Rhodes (Chris O'Dowd), along with maid of honor Annie Walker (Kristen Wiig). It's a real, feel-good film.

8. "The Artist"
It's just such a different movie than what has been around lately. A black-and-white, silent film. Unheard of! It was charming and had all the hallmarks of a film from the ’20s with shades of “Singin’ in the Rain.” Although, the subject matter gets pretty dark. If you are adept at reading lips, you didn't even need the dialogue screens. Hard to believe some of the big names in this film and they were just walk-on roles.

7. "Hanna"
I love the juxtaposition of the innocence of a child with cold-blooded violence. You see Hanna struggling with the fact that she is a young girl who just wants a friend and a family around her and the fact that she was bred to be a killing machine. And the tinkling, happy music that offsets the acts of violence is great. It gets stuck in your head.

6. "Super 8"
This is truly a combination of movies from JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg — like "Cloverfield," "ET" and "Stand By Me" — and it works together so well. The kids, omigosh, those kids. They make the movie with their innocence and humor, but they also have a maturity about them. I'm not so sure about that alien, sometimes I wish you never actually saw it. The actual zombie movie the kids make is great, too.

5. "The Descendants"
Hands down, it had one of the funniest scenes I have seen in a movie in a long time, although it probably wasn't intended to be so giggle-worthy: George Clooney running at full speed in loafers. While this movie has some great funny moments, it's pretty sad. And the movie created a star in Shailene Woodley, who stole pretty much every scene she was in. (Read full review.)

4. "Crazy Stupid Love"
If you didn't love Ryan Gosling before this movie, you should have fallen in love with him after this movie. It had one of the best lines of the year: "Seriously?! It's like you're Photoshopped!" And a knockout cast. There are some great monologues and moments in "Crazy Stupid Love." I highly suggest it.

3. "Midnight in Paris"
I am not a Woody Allen fan. Blasphemy I know. This is truly the first Woody Allen film I have liked, loved actually. I understand writer's block and the nostalgia. Owen Wilson is fabulous as Gil, especially during the first fish out of water scenes when he gets sucked into the 1920s. I can't blame Gil for wanting to abandon the modern world, with the people he has in his life. And to hang out with your literary and artistic heroes? Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Pablo Picasso, love it.

2. "Warrior"
This is a heart-pounding action film with a side of devastating drama. Think of it as "The Fighter," but with both brothers fighting and a more hard-hitting sport. It's as much about being inside the octagon as what's going on outside. I admire Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton for the dedication to their roles since they had to bulk up, learn to fight and speak with American accents. And Nick Nolte as their father, a recovering alcoholic, is also amazing. The scene where he has a breakdown totally earned him that Golden Globe nomination.

1. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2"
This is both a sentimental No. 1 selection and a cinematic choice. It's the end of an era, there's no denying the evolution of "Harry Potter." This was truly the best movie of the bunch, the darkest too, of course. It was beautiful, including the scene where the protective spells are melting away atop of Hogwarts. Plus it made me cry, like when Harry walks into the Dark Forest.

3 Worst Movies
3. "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"
Couldn't finish this. It's truly time to just say goodbye to this series.

2. "The Green Hornet"
Ya, I couldn't finish this one either. Kato was probably the only interesting thing.

1. "Your Highness"
Let's make a dirty movie, say the F-word a lot, but set it in medieval times. Oh, and have fake accents.


Jackson Quick
TGK Correspondent

10. "Midnight In Paris"
Woody was back this year with what felt like his most constructed film in a while. Boasting a stellar ensemble cast and a lovely premise, “Midnight” wasn't as much a surprise as it was a nice rejoicing in the effortless talents of this long-weathered writer/director.

9. "Biutiful"
More melodrama from one of Latin America's most exciting filmmakers, Innaritu broke away from his famous multi-plot line structure to provide us with a grim, depraved yet beautiful film about redemption and the end of life. (Read full review.)

8. "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives"
Rightfully taking the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2010, “Uncle Boonmee” is unlike any movie I've seen. The film itself seems to exist as its very subject matter — slow, wise, unrevealing. “Boonmee” is a mystery about the mystic undertones of our existence, but giving away anything else would spoil all the fun — and there’s plenty of fun to be had.

7. "The Skin I Live In"
Pedro Almodóvar’s back with fun, frothy cinema in the gender-bending romp that is “Skin.” A masterfully crafted film that hearkens back to Almodóvar’s earlier years, it was fun to see him drop the constant topics du jour juggling act to which we’ve been accustomed from his more recent work. “The Skin I Live In” is all ups and downs and twists and turns, and that’s what we’ve come to love about Almodóvar.

6. "Melancholia"
Lars von Trier’s end-of-the-world film that’s more about familial relationships than it really is the apocalypse. Just as “Black Swan” seemed to awaken everyone to Natalie Portman’s true abilities, this too seems to be the case for lead Kirsten Dunst in “Melancholia.” She delivers the best performance of her career, and it will be a travesty if she’s not nominated for the Oscar.

5. "Hanna"
One of the best action movies I’ve seen in a very, very long time, “Hanna” is smart and sophisticated, and instead of being a nonstop action-infused CGI-injected blood bath for two hours and 30 minutes, “Hanna” makes use of its cast’s incredible ability (14-year old Saoirse Ronan continuing to totally murder it) and its director’s own natural restraint to provide you with a truly wonderful action film that keeps you on the edge of your seat for all the right reasons. Worth mentioning is The Chemical Brothers’ outstanding score for this film, perhaps 2011’s best.

4. "Beginners"
Mike Mills made me laugh and cry this year in “Beginners,” which boasts awesome performances from its three stars (Ewan McGregor, Mélanie Laurent and Christopher Plummer). A comedy-drama about our own effed-up self-destructiveness in attempting to secure our own happiness, “Beginners” is a laugh-out-loud comedy with a hard punch of truth that truly showcased what the romantic-comedy genre is all about.

3. "Shame"
“Shame” is a type of film, so bold in its sexuality, that seems to come around too infrequently. Following the sordid wanderings of an urban nymphomaniac (played very stormily by Michael Fassbender), this movie is chock full of sex. It’s beautifully directed by Steve McQueen, with plenty of meticulously framed long takes and some tracking shots that seemed like it took weeks to rehearse.

2. "Moneyball"
It’s all there: Aaron Sorkin, Steve Zaillian, Bennett Miller, Wally Pfister, Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman, honestly how can you go wrong? This is another brilliant work from Sorkin, again exemplifying a complex tableau of ideas behind a conversational and captivating screenplay. Miller is at his prime here as is Pitt, who seems a shoe-in for a Best Actor Oscar nomination. I expected nothing but good things from this film and was pleased to have received them all in full.

1. "The Tree of Life"
“The Tree of Life” is excellent, mysterious and quintessential Malick. Boldly taking on the debate behind the meaning of life, “Life” unfolds slowly as it slingshots between montages of the cosmos and the domestic trials of Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain. Pristine cinematography and a beautiful score by Alexandre Desplat accompany this elegant, graceful and captivating film, which truly is the best of 2011. (Read full review.)

3 Worst Movies
3. "Blue Valentine"
Don't get me wrong, I think Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams delivered spot on performances in “Blue Valentine,” but unfortunately that’s not all I need to deem a movie good. The directing strived for melancholy but felt perfunctory, and a heaping splash of color correction isn’t a cure-all in making the viewer feel “blue.” Glacial pacing and bland composition helped make this movie a total flop for me.

2. "Never Say Never 3-D"
I will actually admit to being a relatively active Belieber for months preceding the release of “Never Say Never.” I don’t think Biebs deserves all the scrutiny, but that doesn’t mean that this documentary showcasing his rise to fame was anywhere near good. I wanted one thing from this movie and that was an honest opinion on what Justin himself had to say about this whirlwind lifestyle, and that was the one thing this film was missing. Not to mention weak and unnecessary 3-D.

1. "Sucker Punch"
I truly wonder why I even went to see this movie. I knew it was going to be bad, but I just couldn't stop myself (“300” is one of my guilty pleasures). Slave/stripper girls trapped in an insane asylum who dance their way into video games to seduce and destroy their enemies on a hair-brained scheme for escape. How could that in any way be bad, with the king of all CGI Zack Snyder behind the wheel? Go figure.


Devin Fuller
TGK Correspondent

10. "Moneyball"
Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball” is another example of a sports drama that’s not really about sports. Working from a script by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, the film uses baseball as a jumping off point from which to explore a new way of thinking — in this case, the conflict between statistical mathematics and the industry’s standard ideas of talent and popularity. Brad Pitt’s charismatic performance as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane grounds the film, while Jonah Hill surprises in a non-comedic role as Beane’s assistant general manager.

9. "Young Adult"
Jason Reitman’s pitch-black comedy ranks among the most uncomfortable film viewing experiences I’ve ever had, but its sharp insight into our celebrity and popularity-driven culture is worth the awkwardness. Charlize Theron’s young adult novelist is incredibly difficult to like, but that’s the point. Far from making her character a one-note bitch, “Young Adult” makes us understand why her character is so terrible while forcing us to confront our own societal values.

8. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
After his success with last year’s “The Social Network,” David Fincher returns to the familiar serial killer film territory of “Se7en” and “Zodiac” with the American adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Rooney Mara is excellent as the damaged, fragile but tough Lisbeth Salander, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross follow up their work in “The Social Network” with one of the year’s best scores. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a dark, brooding stunner.

7. "The Artist"
Michel Hazanavicius’ film is a loving tribute to silent cinema of yesteryear as a silent film star faces the oncoming transition to sound. Light-hearted, nostalgic and carried by charming performances from Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, “The Artist” is the top contender for this year’s Best Picture at the Academy Awards. By the time the film reaches its buoyant tap-dancing finale, it’s easy to see why.

6. "Shame"
Whether or not sex addiction actually exists is debatable, but Steve McQueen’s depiction of one man’s unending struggle with the ailment is remarkably riveting. Michael Fassbender turns in his best performance of many in 2011 here in “Shame” as a sex addict whose routine is thrown off balance by the arrival of his sister (Carey Mulligan, playing totally against type). “Shame” is an intense and graphic film about the costs of addiction.

5. "Take Shelter"
The first film on this list about the end of the world as we know it, Jeff Nichols’ “Take Shelter” finds a young husband and father, played by Michael Shannon, who dreams startling apocalyptic imagery. Filled with tremendous dread and suspense, the film is both an allegory for mental illness and a stunningly effective and unconventional horror film.

4. "Drive"
Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” is a stylish slow-burn thriller with pops of extraordinary hyper-violence. Ryan Gosling delivers a terrific performance as a getaway driver trying to protect his neighbor’s family, and Albert Brooks is terrifying as a powerful eyebrowless mob boss. Cliff Martinez’s synth-filled score and the pop soundtrack also provide the coolest aural film experience found in 2011.

3. "Martha Marcy May Marlene"
Buoyed by Elizabeth Olsen’s unsettling performance as a young woman who escapes from a cult, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is an assured debut feature from writer/director Sean Durkin. Olsen's multi-named character succumbs to increasing paranoia and becomes more withdrawn from her family as she attempts to leave her old life behind, but the film is a haunting reminder that we can’t escape our past no matter how hard we try.

2. "Weekend"
A bittersweet love story directed by Andrew Haigh, “Weekend” follows two young men whose one-night stand turns into something far more meaningful. Haigh’s film captures a relationship that feels intimate and real, devoid of the clichés found in most mainstream romances. Proof positive that two people connecting alone in an apartment can be just as, if not more, engaging than the flashiest spectacle.

1. "Melancholia"
Lars von Trier has crafted his most personal work, a stunning depiction of one woman’s bout with depression in the face of impending doom. In a better world, Kirsten Dunst would be racking up award nominations for her fearless performance as Justine, a woman who drifts into despair on her wedding night as an enormous planet named Melancholia drifts ominously closer to Earth. Von Trier finds an unexpected serenity in coming to terms with the end of everything. With Wagner’s prelude to “Tristan und Isolde” adding a heavy dose of romanticism to the epic imagery, “Melancholia” stands as the most beautiful, compelling and, in spite of its bleak premise, hopeful film of the year.

Honorable mentions: “The Descendants,” “Margaret,” “The Tree of Life” and “Bridesmaids”

Worst Film of the Year:
I’ll be honest and say I didn’t really see a lot of films in 2011 that I would describe as terrible since I tend to avoid movies I think are going to suck, but I do have one selection that was definitively the worst film I saw in 2011.

"Red State"
Take everything awful that Kevin Smith has become in the last few years and you’ll wind up with “Red State,” a preachy, loud, inconsistent mess that takes aim at everyone and everything but says half as much as it thinks it does. A documentary about the Westboro Baptist Church would be more terrifying than this “horror film.”


James A. Molnar
TGK Editor

10. "Rango"
The animation is beautiful and the story is very good. The attention to detail is remarkable. If I didn't know better, I'd think Pixar could be behind this. (Read full review.)

9. "The Ghost Writer"
This movie was released in 2010 and was eligible for the Oscars, but did not pick up any nominations. A mysterious thrill ride, "The Ghost Writer" is perfectly written, cast, scored and shot. Roman Polanski hits it out of the park.

8. “Midnight in Paris”
The latest offering by Woody Allen is an ephemeral experience of Paris and the classics. The Francophiles and literary enthusiasts will love this movie. The dialogue and characters in the film are timeless. Literally. The choice of music is also perfect.

7. "The Help"
This moving film has a superb cast, led by Emma Stone and Viola Davis. You may need some tissues.

6. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
An unexpected and refreshing surprise in a lackluster summer with few success stories. The animation of the apes, particularly their eyes, is breathtaking. Motion-capture technology works perfectly here with Andy Serkis behind lead ape Caesar's movements and facial expressions.

5. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2"
Ultimately a wonderful send-off to the series. Like other franchises such as "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings," some of the best scenes and sequences of the series are in the final movie. As audiences learn more about the characters and story lines, the payoff is in the denouement. After eight movies, fans learn what happens to Harry. Does good triumph or evil? Readers of the series already know, but that doesn't make the film any less exciting to watch. (Read full review.)

4. "Hugo"
Director Martin Scorsese has created a visual masterpiece and one of the best movies of the year. With a fantastical plot and superb cinematography, ‘Hugo’ works magic on screen. Did I mention the splendiferous visuals? And who doesn’t love a movie set in Paris? The only downside: the movie doesn’t include much French, but that can always be changed on the DVD. (Read full review.)

My Top 3 are movies that hit home:
3. "The Descendants"
George Clooney gives us one of his most emotionally raw performances on the big screen. As is the opposite case for Clooney in "The Ides of March," audiences feel for Clooney's Matt King in "The Descendants." Combined with Clooney, the perfect execution by on-screen daughter Shailene Woodley and a very good screenplay, audiences are treated to one of the best movies of the year. In addition, the soundtrack perfectly blends the plot's transitions with Hawaiian music. (Read full review.)

2. "Beginners"
A compelling story and cast with Ewan McGregor as the son of a dying man (Christopher Plummer) who came out of the closet at age 75. Mélanie Laurent plays McGregor's new girlfriend and is perfect. Based on director Mike Mill's relationship with his father, "Beginners" shows that life is a constant state of discovery and self-awakening. This is one of McGregor's most quietly emotional performances to date. The editing is also superb, with show-and-tell styling throughout that added to the films quiet simplicity.

1. "Super 8"
JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg. What else is there to say? This dynamic matchup is the perfect pairing for "Super 8," an homage to a classic extraterrestrial story and Sci-Fi fantasy. At the heart of the story is not an alien. It's a young boy who's lost his mother and a father struggling to be a parent. The true action is not the train derailment at the beginning nor the other explosions throughout the film. Again, it's the personal connection between a boy, his father and his friends. (Read full review.)

Honorable mentions: “Bridesmaids,” “War Horse,’” “Margin Call,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (Review), “Hanna,” “Page One: Inside The New York Times,” “The Lincoln Lawyer,” “The Muppets” and “J. Edgar, “The Future” and “Weekend,” “Source Code” and “Moneyball” (Review).

Worst Movie:
Similar to Devin, I avoid seeing movies I think may be bad. After opening and confirmed by critics and friends, some movies may see my $10 and others may not.

There was a disappointment I saw in 2011: “The Green Hornet”
If the movie weren't set at a newspaper, I probably wouldn't have cared for this movie. Up until about halfway through I didn't mind the movie, but by the end I was turned off. The closing credits were very cool and utilized the 3-D technology well, but the rest of the movie’s 3-D was typical and bland.

Dishonorable mentions: “Hop” and “Sucker Punch”

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The Gold Knight - Latest Academy Awards news, predictions and insight: Our Top 10 (and Worst 3) of 2011
Our Top 10 (and Worst 3) of 2011
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The Gold Knight - Latest Academy Awards news, predictions and insight
http://www.thegoldknight.com/2012/01/our-top-10-and-worst-3-of-2011.html
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