My Top Ten Movies of 2011

It’s that time a year again, where I’ve seen enough movies that I feel comfortable assembling what I’ve seen into something resembling a top ten list.

It’s been a strange year however, and it’s created a rather strange list to go with it. There were few true blockbusters that amazed me, nor many potential Oscar contenders that truly wowed me. Rather, I thought the best films of the year were mostly of average size and scope, and was pleasantly surprised by many of them when I hadn’t been expecting much.

Though you’ll likely find a lot of the same picks on many critic’s countdowns, I don’t believe that’s going to be the case with mine, as my tastes have been admittedly a bit different this year. These picks may not be the equivocal, objective “best,” but they are absolutely the ones I enjoyed the most. See for yourself below:

10. X-Men: First Class

I was thinking that there wouldn’t be ANY superhero films making the list this year, as there was no Nolan Batman features released, and Thor, Captain America and Green Lantern were all lacking in various ways.

I thought that First Class would end up being the worst of the bunch, but I was happy to find that I was sorely mistaken, and Kick-Ass’ Matthew Vaughn created one of the most visually impressive and story driven superhero movies ever, and phenomenal performances from Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) made this the best comic book film in years.

9. Bridesmaids

The selling point of this movie shouldn’t be that “women can be funny too,” which seemed to be why everyone was so amazed by Bridesmaids. What was surprising was that women could be funny in the same way as men, using gross-out, R-rated humor to great effect.

Bridesmaids dominated the poorly conceived Hangover 2 in every way, and rotund comedienne Melissa McCarthy stole the show and created many of the film’s laugh out loud moments. Now, just PLEASE don’t ruin it with a sequel.

8. 50/50

Another comedy, but one with a much harder edge. 50/50 tackles cancer, an issue that most of us will face in our lifetime, be it through a loved one or dealing with the disease ourselves.

Joseph Gordon Levitt’s portrayal of a young man trying to beat a rare form of cancer is heart-wrenching, but the film does the impossible and still manages to be very funny throughout. It’s what Funny People was supposed to be, with Seth Rogen in pretty much exactly the same role.

7. Limitless

This is an odd little film that came out of nowhere to be one of my favorite offerings of the year. The central concept was so incredibly interesting, a pill that grants unlimited intelligence and focus, that it was impossible to not be intrigued, and in the end, maybe a touch…motivating to get your own life together?

Bradley Cooper made a great slacker turned super genius, and the way the story unfolds is usually masterful, despite dancing around a few plot holes along the way. I recommend this movie to almost anyone, though I worry it might encourage increased adderall usage among my grad school friends.

6. Midnight in Paris

I just watched this last night actually, and it was the final nail in the coffin I needed to start writing this list. I am normally not a Woody Allen type of guy in the least, but Midnight in Paris in undeniably fascinating.

Allen has Owen Wilson’s troubled writer interact with all manner of authors and painters from the golden era of Paris in the ’20s, and it aims to teach something about nostalgia in the process. It’s a phenomenal film, and even if it doesn’t seem like your cup of tea, give it a chance.

5. Source Code

This is the one movie this year that had me talking about it for hours afterward, trying to figure out the exact timeline of events that would cause the story to make sense. And make sense it does, once you figure it out, and then you realize you’ve just witnessed one of the most creative original films in recent memory.

Director Duncan Jones (who also did the fantastic Moon) is a rising star, and is now two for two in quality, memorable films. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

  • Morono

    wow, no blockbusters? (I count 5) Once again a terrible list.

  • Nick

    I seem to be the only person I know who doesn’t like RotPotA or Source Code. I can respect your picks – most of those movies were a lot of fun (if not always well made) so I can see why they are your faves.

    My Picks:

    10 – Drive
    09 – The King’s Speech
    08 – Melancholia
    07 – Tron: Legacy
    06 – Marwencol
    05 – Kill List
    04 – The Prize
    03 – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
    02 – Take Shelter
    01 – Warrior

  • Josh

    Nick, at least two of your films are from 2010…

  • Wermine

    X-Men: First Class: Enjoyable movie. I’m glad that I saw it.
    Bridesmaids: I tried to watch this with my friends, we all groaned for 30 minutes and then had to stop. The scene where two women tried to surpass each other in the speech was just loooong and not funny at all. That was the scene when we had enough.
    50/50: In my watchlist.
    Limitless: Could’ve been more epic, but was a good movie.
    Midnight in Paris: Hadn’t seen, probably won’t.
    Source Code: Interesting movie with likeable characters. Could’ve used a bit bigger budget (the ending CGI).
    Drive: Perhaps this was overhyped. The protagonist just doesn’t make sense to me. Extremely talented guy makes extremely stupid decisions. Drives me nuts. The movie was ok, but not as amazing as I was led to believe.
    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Haven’t seen, might add to watchlist.
    Fast Five: Could’ve been awesome mindless action flick if it was a bit shorter. Also, some characters made illogical decisions.
    Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Very “serious” movie. It was good. Climax was timed a bit oddly. Perhaps it wasn’t, but it just seemed like so to me.

  • jaromir

    My brother is a huge movie snob, we both like movies and often don’t agree with what is good and what isn’t (and for what reasons). Although my list would be totally different than yours I do respect your what you liked.

    Although I would argue that Brides Maids wasn’t that good of a movie. I waited to see it off of itunes on my Apple TV and have to say that to me the movie was just okay at most….my opinion though.

  • Jim Lahey


    Not to nitpick, but did you really judge Fast 5 based on if the characters made logical decisions? How did you ever manage to make it through the first four?

  • Wermine

    @Jim Lahey: I watched the first one many many years ago. Haven’t seen other three because I heard terrible things about them. First one came out over ten years ago, I was a lot more oblivious about character motives back then.

  • For a guy who loves his genre stuff and action films, I was totally blown away by THE HELP. I think you’ll like it too, Paul. Just ignore the horrible dvd and poster design.

  • DisturbedIndividual

    Drive – Great “Grindhouse” type movie. The slow build up was great. The lack of emotion from Ryan Gosling played great into his Sociopathic character. The great serial killer vibe toward the end was great. Lot of tensions which is lessened by the stellar 80’s vibe soundtrack. Serious flick.
    Source Code – I didn’t love this movie but it wasn’t bad. A great take on the concept of multiple realities and how they may interact with each other with a great twist at the end.
    As for the rest of the movies on the list that I seen your pretty spot on.

  • Nick

    @Josh I didn’t say I was living in the USA did I? My picks came out in the calendar year where I live.

  • Diva D

    You won’t hear me getting onto you about Apes. It’s not my personal favorite, but I really do love that movie.

    I can’t speak for all that you haven’t seen, but The Artist, War Horse, and Tree of Life are all terrific, and you should definitely get to them as you find yourself able to.

    I’m not making my list until I see Take Shelter.

  • Asa

    i absolutely agree with Bridesmaids, stopped it at the same scene 😀

  • Nick S

    This should be called “a list of movies that I need to stop putting off and just freaking watch.”

    Except for Source Code and Girl with the Dragon Face Tattoo. Watched and enjoyed both.

  • Andrew C

    Fast Five is one of the best action movies in recent memory? Have you SEEN Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol?

  • Drester

    These are some great picks Paul. I agree with almost all of them. Though I haven’t seen 2, 3, 5 an 6, my favorite movie is definitely Drive. Normally I don’t really like those slow movies, but with that great soundtrack it was awesome. Ryan Gosling was also much better then I had expected.

    I didn’t like Real Steel so much. That kid was so annoying. Instead of that movie I would give a honorable mention to Crazy, Stupid, Love. I know you didn’t like it, but I really enjoyed it. Could be that I have a man crush on Gosling though.

  • Dahustler

    You should definitely watch Warrior and Melancholia. Some good picks though.

  • Oh yeah, Rise is my unexpected pick of the year.

  • Themoot

    Harry Potter?? Come on Paul.

  • Morono

    @ DisturbedIndividual

    wow, I think you just misinterpreted an entire thought process.

  • Camden

    my list.

    10. I Saw the Devil

    9. Red State

    8. Drive

    7. Insidious

    6. Attack the block

    5. 50/50

    4. The Woman

    3. The Innkeepers

    2. Melancholia

    1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

  • Cheryl

    I always enjoy your lists because they are not heavy on movies that only go to 5 theatres in the whole world kinda thing…

    The Descendants was very long…George Clooney is always good so there’s that but it doesn’t make my list of bests for the year.

    I feel The Help was over-hyped. It was actually kind of dull…I understand the message it makes and racism is bad but it’s more of a ‘meh kinda movie.

    I guess I’m going to have to make a serious effort to see X-Men…I’m susprised it has shown up on so many people’s Bests lists (seeing as X-Men United was so panned)

  • Ted

    1. Midnight In Paris
    2. The Descendants
    3. Martha Marcy May Marlene
    4. 50/50
    5. Hugo
    6. Bridesmaids
    7. Harry Potter
    8. Captain America
    9. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
    10. Source Code

    I thought it was a pretty excellent year for movies

  • Great choices, which I mostly can agree with. My personal top 10 was different, but great picks!

  • Amy

    I loved Drive and X Men: First Class, the rest of the list were either movies I haven’t seen yet or do not want to see. Though I love each explanation of each movie. I agree with Cheryl in that Hugo was overrated.

  • Movies strangely missing from even your lists of “still to be watched” or “honourable mentions”:

    Sarah’s Key

    And more importantly:
    The Guard

    Troll Hunter!