For me, 2011 was like 1939, an epic year for movies. It was a crowd-pleasing year, full of happy endings that were all hard won, a welcome respite from the darkness and ambivalence of 2010. My mom thinks I'm a bit crazy for thinking so highly of 2011 in the movies but I was simply mesmerized, I had rediscovered the magic of the movies--the evidence: I got more chills that year at the movies than I had for many years before or since.
Top equals favorite. What else matters otherwise?
1. Hugo: A marvel of a film, Scorsese shows how 3D is done with astounding imagery, a mesmerizing blend of CGI and photography. Hugo deals with the revival of dreams, the rediscovery of innocence, and the real magic of show business. It will make you believe, at least until the credits roll.
2. War Horse: Actually, my favorite ending of the year. It can be tedious upon repeat viewing but the ending is a Shawshank Redemption caliber ending. Arguably the best cinematography of 2011, certainly the best musical score (thank you John Williams). A film that gives gooseflesh and brings o on the cascade of joyful tears. It was a pleasure seeing Spielberg get back to feel good territory.
3. Super 8: ET styled exploration of youth and aliens meets super independent film-making. This is another film like Hugo: the kids are center stage, show business is celebrated (even contains vital information for saving the day), and cynical, hardened adults discover the magical. Almost as beautiful as War Horse and Elle Fanning is an angel, certainly gush-worthy. The ending could have used a little more something (not as powerful as Close Encounters of the Third Kind) but the end credits bonus makes up for its lack of punch. Nevertheless, a highly satisfying movie that also celebrates perseverance like The Adjustment Bureau.
4. The Adjustment Bureau: Emily Blunt and Matt Damon have surprisingly good chemistry. Great use of New York locations and one of the more unique concepts portrayed in the movies in recent years make this one not to be missed. Perseverance is the essence of this film but the effect is affirming.
5. In Time: Amanda Seyfried is my favorite, sexual attraction wise, so I am mesmerized by her even under the fake hair and somewhat gaudy gloss-heavy wardrobe. Justin Timberlake is sympathetic and likable. This is another unique concept built around the reality of socioeconomic disparity. This film has titillating logic and thrilling adversaries. Justice is served and that's what this movie is about: justice and the fight for it. And the preciousness of life. Did I say that I love Seyfried?
6. The Help: What the film lacks in Seyfried it makes up for with Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Jessica Chastain. Howard's hair is gaudy but her skin is radiant and those dresses cute as a button: she is perhaps the cutest shrew in movie history. Stone is radiant through and through and Chastain is a bombshell belle, proving that naivete can be sexy as all hell. Chastain makes a huge impression for such a late introduction of her character and a relatively small role. Sure, there is all the civil rights business, the anti-discrimination against race and sex but, ultimately, it's all about saying thank you to the ones we depend on. The deep south has never looked so beautiful and inviting in spite of all the mean-spirited goings on.
7. Source Code: I love films that deal with consciousness after death. I like Michelle Monaghan. I love trains. I love thrillers. I like well-photographed Chicago movies. I love happy endings. There is just so much good stuff here. This film offers a bit of heaven in our Earthly lives.
8. The Descendants: Perhaps the best writing on this list, it's full of humor, sadness, and tranquility--sometimes all at once. This is my favorite Clooney, my favorite Woodley and my favorite dramatic use of Hawaii, by far. The humor comes from how bold, direct, and unfiltered most of the characters are, and those ordinary misunderstandings that are so common. This is at once the most realistic film on this list and the most absurd. The essence is holding on and appreciating what you have because once it's gone it's too late. Clooney's character loses his wife, therefore he won't allow himself to lose his children or his land (yet) at the end of the movie. His changing attitude toward his family's land and the sale is the key to understanding the significance of this film.
9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II: The series comes to a rousing conclusion and it has one of my favorite things, a triumphant return from the dead. The 3D version is good and the emotion is always there, the urgency is felt. This film like so many here are about the power of belief and the embrace of the magical. Harry Potter may not be making pots with Patrick Swayze but this film puts me in that same kind of heat.
10. Limitless: Yet another film driven by a unique concept hits the list. My favorite Bradley Cooper movie still to this day. There is a wit to this film (check out the "saner heads prevailed" scene) that just makes me happy. This film would make a great triple feature with Source Code and In Time, or quadruple up with The Adjustment Bureau. If the drug in the movie makes people much smarter and more productive then the movie will make you feel good.