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The Projectionist’s Best Films of 2011

Editor’s Note: I would be remiss not to include The Muppets, Super 8, and The Tree of Life on this list.  I always forget or overlook a few movies it seems like these days.  So if you want, this becomes a top 15.  Super 8 would be 15th because of it’s poor ending.  The Tree of Life probably would sit around Melancholia, in 8th or 7th, and The Muppets…how could I forget The Muppets?  That one is probably in my top 5.  So rather than suddenly disclude movies and put those in, I’ve added them.  It’s a top 15.

2011 was an awful year, close to the epic 2005 in awfulness.  It was so epically awful that we once again saw people coming out of the woodwork to decry a box office slump and blame it on almost everything except well, what matters: the product.  You see, the blockbusters will make their money, but every year there has to be some good, original entertainment to fill in the gaps when the blockbusters aren’t there.   2011 was lacking in a really unusual way in that department.  8 of the top 10 domestic box office were sequels, and the other two were comic book adaptations.  The only box office surprise this year was Bridesmaids, and you need a lot of those to offset slumps.  Now, some originals came and went because of poor marketing or limited appeal, but those weren’t going to be huge by any stretch.  They can be creative or original or whatever, but they have to have mass appeal.

Whatever happened with 2011, it’s in the rear-view now.  Expect tons of sequels next year, too.

The following list basically amazed myself.  There are films that crack my Top 12 that would not even be considered in a better year.  My number one movie would have probably made the top 5 in a better year, but for the rest, some might sniff a top list and others would be made honorable mentions.

Also, for the record, I have not seen The Artist, or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and probably a few others that would get a chance to break this list.  But I’m going to call out the distributors of these films because this year was up for grabs competition-wise and there is no reason why their release patterns should be so erratic.  I understand giving movies to New York and LA first, but what I don’t understand is that in this day and age, when everybody who would watch such films hear about them well in advance through the Internet and multiple publications, why these movies can’t get released earlier to the rest of the country.  Word-of-mouth is lightning fast these days.  Get in the now.

My Top 12 (now 15):

15. Super 8 (Directed by JJ Abrams)

Great, until a stupid CGI ending drags it down.  Overall though, JJ Abrams throwback to the old days of Spielberg worked for the most part and it was quickly becoming my favorite movie I saw all summer…until that damn ending!

14. Hugo (Directed by Martin Scorsese)

Basically a fight between this and Drive for the introduction into the list, Hugo won because I was far more complementary of it in my review.  Martin Scorsese’s family film, actually a really good use of 3D, is a love letter to the silent film era and George Melies.  It’s a film-lover’s treat disguised as a family movie, which is why it isn’t a huge hit.  This is a movie like The Secret Garden or A Little Princess that doesn’t do well in theatres, but do pretty well in their afterlife on video.  Shame, though, it’s a big-screen movie.

13. Source Code (Directed by Duncan Jones)

Source Code got lost in a Spring movie season that had quite a few interesting pictures that just couldn’t stand out from one another.  This sci-fi Groundhog Day-style thriller set up the rules logically and basically followed them (although I’m sure there are numerous plot holes) and I found this to be a really exciting, interesting movie overall.  I just didn’t think there was any way it would be on my list at the end of the year.  Not that I didn’t think it was worthy, but usually so many good films come out a movie like this gets lost.  Not this year.

12. Rango (Directed by Gore Verbinski)

Here’s another family movie that really had adults in mind.  Rango and Hugo are both movie-loving pictures, looking back to an era that children don’t understand.  This one had Johnny Depp, though, and it ended up doing pretty good box office, despite the fact that it was an homage to Westerns and had more adult humor than Bridesmaids (obviously not as crass).  Beautifully animated and often funny, Rango definitely deserves its place.

11. Hanna (Directed by Joe Wright)

This action picture took 16-year-old Saoirse Ronan and turned her into a badass.  Another Spring movie that got lost in the shuffle of interesting, but without mass appeal, pictures.  The scene where Hanna breaks out of a heavily-fortified facility is one of the best action scenes of the year.

10. Warrior (Directed by Gavin O’Connor)

It takes a lot to sell a boxing/fighting movie anymore because the genre has been done to death.  In 2005, Cinderella Man memorably failed to connect with audiences despite being one of the best pictures of the year.  And we had decent returns for The Fighter last year, but it was buoyed by the Oscars and would not have been nearly the hit it was without them.  Warrior came a little too soon after The Fighter and its generic title and B-movie look turned audiences away.  Too bad.  It was one of the best movies I saw this year.

9. The Tree of Life (Directed by Terrence Malick)

Originally not included, I forgot how dreamlike this movie was.  Malick makes a movie I think he’s always wanted to make: almost entirely free of plot, he’s able to ponder life’s little mysteries.  It didn’t work with everyone, and that’s cool.  But I enjoyed the mesmerizing state there for awhile.  Jessica Chastain is great, so is Brad Pitt.

8. Melancholia (Directed by Lars Von Trier) - Not Reviewed

Lars Von Trier got in a lot of trouble talking about Hitler and the Nazis earlier in the year while this film made its debut at Cannes.  And in effect, the movie probably didn’t get as fair a shake as it might have.  Despite a rather strange, somewhat interesting, somewhat boring opening “chapter,” the last 45 minutes or so of this end-of-the-world film is really, really, good.  So much so that it was able to lift itself past the also-flawed films that come before it on this list.

7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Directed by David Fincher)

The story is what wins out with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and David Fincher adds a little bit of zest that was missing from the Swedish version adapted from Stieg Larsson’s opening novel of The Millennium Trilogy.  The movie is soaked in absolute filth and queasy scenes, but what ends up trumping all that is a mystery that is well-plotted and acted.  He’ll probably have to do better with the next two films.

6. Moneyball (Directed by Bennett Miller)

Being a fan of baseball, and the book Moneyball, and thinking logically outside the box, I was quite proud of this adaptation.  While the movie simplifies sabermetrics so that the common movie fan can come watch a Brad Pitt/Jonah Hill movie in peace, I think overall the message was clear and the drama was sound.  Pitt will likely win the Oscar for his portrayal as Beane, but it’d be nice to see Hill get a nomination for a performance he’s not exactly known for.

5. The Muppets (Directed by James Bobin)

A sore overlook when I reviewed my own list.  Hey, it sucks remembering sometimes.  The Muppets is funny, touching, and nostalgic, and I think they won new fans with this musical comedy from the minds of Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller.

4. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Directed by Rupert Wyatt)

This stunning entry into my top 12 films of the year comes about two ways: we had a bad year, but this was way more surprisingly good than I ever hoped it would be.  Anchored by an incredible motion-capture performance from Andy Serkis, Rise is an intelligent action picture that is probably better than all of the other Apes movies (that first one is a classic, though).  It’s certainly better than that crap that came out 10 years ago from Tim Burton.

3. X-Men: First Class (Directed by Matthew Vaughn)

No he didn’t. Yeah, I did. X-Men: First Class is a great action picture and continued the awesomeness of Michael Fassbinder. If he and Tom Hardy ever make a picture together, I’ll have a hard time not turning gay. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this movie almost unlike any other in 2011. What X-Men: First Class‘ lofty position on my list shows is that this year’s crop of films were lacking in a really unusual way. But, in most years, I’d at least give this a 10-12 mention anyway. It highlighted an awful summer.

2. Midnight in Paris (Directed by Woody Allen)

We had a big theme in movies this year looking back to a simpler time, or a time better than this one.  Although this movie certainly pays homage to the 1920’s through its character Gil (Owen Wilson, perfectly cast), the point of this film is that we look too fondly back at times, missing what is good about the present.  There is some classic Allen writing in this, especially in Gil’s interaction with Luis Bunuel, and the film has a real magical quality to it.  It also introduced us to French babe Lea Seydoux, who would later grace the screen in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.

1. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (Directed by Brad Bird)

This is an absolute slam-dunk action picture, filled with genius.  This movie would crack my top 5 in most years, and here it’s all alone at #1.  In fact, it might be far and away the best picture I saw in 2011.  There are many scenes that can be chalked up as favorites, but the centerpiece of the film is Tom Cruise’s scaling of the Burj Khalifa, an introduction to an oncoming sandstorm, a deal involving four groups of people (two good, two bad) that requires precise timing, and then a chase into said sandstorm.  Brad Bird is now 4-for-4 in excellence after this and his three animated features The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille.

After all that, it’s actually going to be harder to come up with the Worst 12 films of the year.  Coming soon!

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