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12.26.2011by: Chris Bumbray

TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2011 (According to Chris Bumbray)

And so, another year is in the books. Overall, 2011 has been a pretty solid year for movies, although the majority of really good films tended to fall outside the studio system, once again coming from the indie or international scene. In terms of blockbusters, the year was average. There were a couple of fun ones (FAST FIVE, the Marvel films, the last HARRY POTTER, the latest SHERLOCK, the amazing first hour of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL), but there were no game-changers like INCEPTION, which is a pity.

However, those who ventured outside the mainstream were rewarded with a slew of excellent films, and marking another great year spent reviewing movies for JoBlo.com, I've compiled my personal top ten- along with ten runners-up, and a list of the five WORST films I reviewed this year. Agree? Disagree? Strikeback below!

RUNNERS UP FOR BEST OF 2011:
TREE OF LIFE, BRIDESMAIDS, THE GUARD, THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE, THE DESCENDANTS, X-MEN FIRST CLASS, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, I SAW THE DEVIL, MELANCHOLIA, & YOUNG ADULT.

Dishonorable Mention - Worst of 2011

The Five Worst of 2011

TRESPASS

I cannot believe this grade-z shlocker made it into this year's edition of TIFF. I pity the poor folks who shelled out premium tickets to see what amounted to an almost direct-to-DVD potboiler. Just a few years ago, the three principals- Nicholas Cage, Nicole Kidman, and director Joel Schumacher, were all pretty-much A-list. Oh, how the times have changed. Cage phones it-in even more than usual as a hen-pecked diamond trader being held hostage by a bunch of goons, who threaten to kill his wife (Kidman) unless he plays along. Think of a DTV rip-off of PANIC ROOM and you know what to expect.

JUST GO WITH IT

The only reason Adam Sandler's JACK & JILL (or his production BUCKY LARSON) isn't on this list is that I caught a reprieve, and didn't have to review it. I wasn't so lucky with Sandler's other film, which is a remake of an old Walter Matthau movie called CACTUS FLOWER, improbably casting the gorgeous Jennifer Aniston as Sandler's amorous secretary, who wins him over after he convinces her to pose as his ex-wife to impress his latest conquest, played by Brooklyn Decker. It's a miserable, unfunny film.

NEW YEAR'S EVE

Imagine what would happen if all of the crappy Hollywood rom-com personalities got together and decided to make the worst film possible. Well, it happened- with this featuring a veritable who's who of people I hate, including Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, Jon Bon Jovi, Hilary Swank, Ashton Kutcher, Zac Efron, and countless others- including poor Robert De Niro, who seems hell-bent on destroying his legacy. It's not so much bad as it is evil...

TWIXT

Francis Ford Coppola's new film, a self-financed pet-project that's a homage to the type of film he used to direct when he worked for Roger Corman. I suppose Coppola forgot that DEMENTIA 13 was, ya know, bad- and sure enough, TWIXT is his worst film since that. It's amazing to me that the same man who directed APOCALYPSE NOW, and THE GODFATHER also directed TWIXT. One of the most miserable film-going experiences of the year.

PASSION PLAY

Yes folks, PASSION PLAY tops my worst-of list for the second year in a row. I guess I'm cheating a bit, but it only got it's official release back in May, so technically it's a 2011 release. What else can I say about this “movie” that hasn't already been said? I stand by my opinion that Mickey Rourke, Megan Fox and Bill Murray should have pooled their cash, bought the negative, and burned it. Truly one of the worst films ever made.

But enough of the crap! Here are what I consider to be the ten best films of 2011.

#10 - Senna

Can somebody tell me how SENNA didn’t get on to the Oscar shortlist for best documentary? Perhaps the reason is that, in a departure for a genre that’s grown increasingly driven by advocacy, SENNA strives only to entertain, telling the fiercely dramatic story of Ayrton Senna. I have next to no interest in Formula 1 as a sport, but I still found SENNA a riveting watch. It charts Senna’s rise through the ranks of F1 to his tragic demise in 1994 (a year which was the deadliest in F1 history) and through the 100 minute run time we share in his joys, his triumphs, his setbacks and more. If anything, SENNA also proves that sometimes, a man truly is worthy of his legend.

#9 - Take Shelter

TAKE SHELTER proves once again that Michael Shannon is one of the most exciting actors to emerge in the last decade. Reteaming him with his SHOTGUN STORIES (great film) director, Jeff Nichols, it’s the story of a man tormented by apocalyptic visions. Throughout, we’re never quite sure whether he’s crazy or not, but Shannon plays him in a way that always draws our sympathy. Playing his wife, Jessica Chastain, who emerged as a real breakout star this year, makes you believe the hype that’s touting her as the next big thing.

#8 - Martha Marcy May Marlene

Walking into the Sundance screening of MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE I hadn’t the faintest idea what to expect. I knew nothing about the film other than the fact that John Hawkes had a role, and that was enough for me. I was rewarded with a fantastically haunting story of a young woman (Elizabeth Olson in a star-making performance) on the run from a cult- run by Hawkes, in a turn that’s simultaneously scary AND charismatic. An absolutely amazing film and one that more people need to check out.

#7 - Hanna

HANNA was one of the sleeper hits of the early part the year, and back then, I predicted that it would end up on my top 10. Sure enough, here it is! HANNA really could have been awful, with the whole teenage assassin shtick being pretty dopey, but luckily a smart script, great performances by Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchette, and (especially) Eric Bana- coupled with taut direction from Joe Wright, made this an art house-action mash up that surprised a lot of people. Expect Joe Wright to eventually become a hot property as an action director (assuming he goes down that route). Also, The Chemical Brothers soundtrack NEEDS to be recognized.

#6 - Kill List

It’s not really fair for me to put KILL LIST on the Top 10, as it still hasn’t gotten a release in North America yet (it hits VOD the first week of January). Nevertheless, it did come out everywhere else, and I thought Ben Wheatley’s KILL LIST (a follow-up to his great DOWN TERRACE) is one of the most effective and unsettling horror films in the last few years. More than that, I also appreciated the more low-key aspects of KILL LIST, specifically the incredible supporting performance by Michael Smiley (who also stole DOWN TERRACE) as one of the more chipper hit men you’re ever likely to see. I love this film, and Wheatley’s quickly turning into one of my favorite directors.

#5 - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

It’s so funny seeing TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY come out at the same time as MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE- GHOST PROTOCOL, with Le Carré’s dark tale of espionage a far cry from the sight of Tom Cruise dangling from the top of the world’s talent building (which, to be sure, is satisfying in its own way). TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY is a film one can easily get lost in, and like many of the films on this list, it demands reflection or repeat viewings. Here’s hoping that Tomas Alfredson and Gary Oldman re-team for SMILEY’S PEOPLE.

#4 - War Horse

WAR HORSE is not for the cynical. It’s an unabashedly sentimental, humanistic film, and like THE ARTIST, it’s very reminiscent of old Hollywood (owing much to the films of John Ford and Lewis Milestone). A great story of war and sacrifice, it’s much more than just “s movie about a horse”, as most have been saying with a smirk. It’s an epic adventure, and perfectly rousing. Spielberg’s best in a long time.

#3 - The Artist

Like I wrote in my review from TIFF, Michel Hazanavicius’ THE ARTIST is not an easy sell. Never mind the fact that it’s in black & white (which I adore), but it’s also SILENT! Nevertheless, THE ARTIST has struck a nerve with audiences, and it’s currently one of the most heavily hyped films to clean-up at the Oscars this year. It’s a beautiful little film, and one which is truly infectious in its love of old-Hollywood. Stars Jean Dujardin (not to mention his pup Uggy), and Bérénice Bejo are wonderful in this story of a fading star and his protégé. A must-see.

#2 - Warrior

WARRIOR should have been a hit. It featured two strong, up and coming young actors (Joel Edgarton & Tom Hardy), took advantage of the massive popularity of MMA, featured an Oscar-worthy performance by Nick Nolte, and happened to be a great film to boot. Sadly, WARRIOR got tapped out at the box office, but hopefully it’ll be rediscovered on Blu-ray/TV/VOD, as it’s a truly excellent piece of work, and the best film of its kind since the original ROCKY.

#1 - Drive

For me, this is a real no-brainer. No other movie has even come close to striking the nerve that Nicolas Winding Refn did with DRIVE. For one thing, it's an old-school action flick that keeps things at a somewhat believable level, and doesn't sacrifice character and emotion for the sake of eye-candy and empty spectacle. It marks the beginning of what I hope will be a long and fruitful collaboration between Refn and star Ryan Gosling. More than any other film on this list, I also think DRIVE will stand the test of time and will go down as a classic.

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