TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2011 (According to Mike Sampson)

I have the benefit of going last in these "Best Of" lists with our film critics. So I've seen how the JoBlo.com readers have taken to the lists of Chris and Jimmy. To help counteract that negative feedback, I'll simply say that what you're about to read below is not a definitive list of the "best" films of the year. These are simply ten films I really enjoyed. I had a great time watching them, talking about them and then watching them again. Some of them, I can admit, aren't "great" movies and would probably never win any awards. I probably saw some movies that are technically "better" than these movies. HUGO, for example, is probably more well done than some of these films but I just didn't connect with it on an emotional level. But if someone asked me to recommend a movie to them, I'd pass them along this list.

Also, I see a lot of overrated! comments and, well, there's really nothing I can do about that. I can only tell you my honest reaction to a movie and if I loved a movie, it would be disingenuous to not include it in my list. You can disagree but I'm being up front and telling you these are just my personal choices. Like them, love them or hate them.

#1 - Drive

Yeahhh, I know, you're sick of seeing this movie at the top of these Best Of lists. But what can I tell you? It really is that good. And I saw it after all the hype and it still lived up to expectations. In The Driver, Ryan Gosling has created an iconic movie character (who doesn't want one of those Scorpion jackets and a toothpick?) in a world of recycled comic book superheroes. DRIVE is one of those movies that you'd say, "They don't make movies like that anymore!" But guess what? They do and they did.

#2 - Attack the Block

I saw this film at the US premiere at SXSW and films like ATTACK THE BLOCK are the reason I go to film festivals. ATTACK THE BLOCK, a smart, scary, funny and wonderfully executed bit of commercial pop cinema that curiously never caught on with American audiences in a big way. When many have tried (and failed) to emulate the success and tone of SHAUN OF THE DEAD since that film's release, Cornish achieves it in spades and puts his name right up alongside producer Edgar Wright. A few people have called this film overrated but being in the audience that night, I wanted to stand up and cheer.

#3 - 50/50

It took me a while to process my thoughts on 50/50. Sometimes when you get emotional at the end of the film, it can skew your thoughts on whether it's actually a good movie or just struck a particular emotional tone for you. After a few days of thinking about it (and later, a repeated viewing), I became convinced that 50/50 really is a great film. It's full of performances that will go largely ignored this Oscar season but still deserve respect. Early on in the film it name-checks TERMS OF ENDEARMENT and while it may not quite be on par with that James L. Brooks classic, 50/50 holds its own and creates a winning film about cancer and how it affects those diagnosed with the disease and everyone around them. And yes, you'll cry.

#4 - Bridesmaids

Say what you will but some nine months after I first saw it, BRIDESMAIDS is still the funniest film of 2011 and it still makes me laugh when I catch parts of it today. What makes this a great film though, isn't just that it's funny. It also tells a story, has characters you can relate to, it's intelligent and has heart and a mean streak and everything that makes a good comedy a great movie. Along with ATTACK THE BLOCK, I can't think of a film I recommended more this past year.

#5 - We Need to Talk About Kevin

There were a lot of scary movies to be enjoyed in 2011 but my favorite horror film was WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN. It's not scary in the traditional sense but I defy anyone to watch it and tell me it's not a horror movie. Tilda Swinton gives one of the year's best performances as the mother of a monster of a child. But THE OMEN this is not. Kevin is not possessed by the devil, he just acts like he is. And the real horror isn't just what he does when he finally snaps, but the mess (both literal and figurative) he leaves his mother to clean up.

#6 - Moneyball

MONEYBALL is the very definition of a nice movie. It's not trying to be anything controversial or crazy or make a huge statement about something, it's just a superstar (Brad Pitt) delivering a superstar performance in a an old-fashioned good movie. So many times we put so much pressure on a movie to be something new, but MONEYBALL proves that sometimes you can take a story that is tried and true and when you've got creative talent firing on all cylinders (Jonah Hill, writer Aaron Sorkin, director Bennett Miller), you can still have yourself one of the best movies of the year.

#7 - Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I didn't think I was going to like this movie. I was never a huge fan of Andy Serkis' work as Gollum in the LORD OF THE RINGS movies (I know, flame me now) and was worried that some of that might translate to his work as Caesar. But once the movie got past the baby chimp (where the mo-cap technology was at its weakest) the film took off. Sure it featured some leaden acting from James Franco but you don't go see a PLANET OF THE APES movie to see James Franco emote. It's a slow burn of an action/sci-fi film and one that pays off with a glorious third act. And all these years later the story still works as a powerful metaphor for race and liberation. (But also giant apes smash stuff!)

#8 - Fast Five

It may seem ridiculous to put the fifth installment in the FAST AND THE FURIOUS franchise in my list of favorite films from 2011, but c'mon this movie was sooo much fun. I went in expecting almost nothing. I'm not a gearhead and had really only seen maybe two movies in the franchise. When I left I wanted to hop in my Saturn, floor it and race home (I sat in traffic). FAST FIVE straddles the line between being ridiculously cheesy yet sincere about its action that makes for a perfect combination. It knows it's silly (how else can you explain that monologue about Vin Diesel's dad?) yet serious (The Rock vs. Vin Diesel). It's not THE ARTIST but in an era when our action stars are 5'8" and 160lbs soaking wet, I'll take FAST FIVE any day of the week.

#9 - Warrior

I maybe didn't like this film as much as some other people did, but it's still very well done. Like MONEYBALL, which we'll get to in a little bit, WARRIOR isn't exactly breaking new ground. It's a classic sports underdog story but this one at least features two underdogs. But even with that, the movie wouldn't be much without its performances. While Nick Nolte will likely get a deserved Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role in the film, I can't believe how many people are overlooking Tom Hardy's performance. Is there at least an award for Best Lats in a Movie? It was a little groan-worthy at times (they're going to wait until after the fight to arrest him?) but despite all that, it sucked me in and I couldn't help but feel it at the end.

#10 - Hanna

I've seen the comments on both Jimmy's and Chris' list that most people don't seem to like HANNA and frankly I can't explain why all three of us like the movie so much. We saw it separately, all at different times and all enjoyed it thoroughly. Last year, I was somewhat surprised at all the love for KICK-ASS, a movie I felt was wildly uneven. But this year I was even more surprised at how much I loved HANNA, another crazed-teenage-girl-assassin movie. In fairness, it has very little to do with KICK-ASS aside from that hook, and that's a good thing. It's more of a beautiful and demented fairy tale mixed up with a hardcore hitman actioner. If you haven't seen it yet, definitely check it out, and if you didn't like, give it another shot.

Dishonorable Mention - Worst of 2011

#5 - BELLFLOWER: I know good things will eventually come from director Evan Glodell but BELLFLOWER isn't it. A half-assed meditation on the male ego that left me so pissed off at the wasted talent, I almost started booing.

#4 - PAUL: Speaking of wasted talent, how can a film starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (with a supporting cast that features Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen) be so unfunny? Content to just reference classic sci-fi tropes instead of making any kind of statement about them, PAUL is lost in space.

#3 - SUPER: A super dark comedy that is never once funny. It tries to be sad and dramatic and bizarre and scary and essentially tries a little too hard to be too many things without ever being anything at all.

#2 - YOUR HIGHNESS: What hurts most about YOUR HIGHNESS is that I really thought this film was going to work. As a fan of the genre they were paying homage to, this film should've been right up my alley but instead I rolled my eyes and groaned at some of the abysmally bad jokes. A comedy that fell flat in almost every possible way.

#1 - SUCKER PUNCH: Zack Snyder's masturbatory fantasy of a sci-fi epic is just about everything that's wrong with big-budget movies. Too much CGI, a senseless plot and camera tricks and hot girls trying to make up for everything it lacks. At least TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON knew it was stupid. SUCKER PUNCH insults your intelligence by actually pretending to be smart.

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