Heat Vision's Top 10 Movies of 2011

Drive Film Still - H 2011
<p>Drive Film Still - H 2011</p>   |   FilmDistrict
THR's fanboy expert Borys Kit skips over the comic book movies (except "X-Men") to highlight a list of diverse achievements in 2011.

Just in time for 2012, here are Heat Vision’s top 10 movies of 2011.

This was a good but not great year for movies that appeal to the geek and genre crowd. Few offered the extreme highs (emotional or visceral) of some previous years. There were fewer movies you couldn’t stop talking about.

Time and repeat viewings often change perceptions. But as of now, this sunny week in December, these are the movies I will take from this year.

1. Drive: By far the coolest movie of the year. The look, the mood, the mere 26 (or so) lines spoken by Ryan Gosling’s Hollywood stunt driver by day, getaway driver by night, add up to an electrifying film by Nicolas Winding Refn. You come away with the same kind of feeling you had after watching Reservoir Dogs for the first time.

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2. 50/50: The cancer comedy the world didn’t know it needed. Will Reiser’s script based on his own experiences of living through cancer while in his mid-20s could have gone north of maudlin and south of funny, but in the hands of director Jonathan Levine it balances the right tone at all the right moments. It helps to have Reiser’s alter ego played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one of the best actors of his generation. It’s also a Seth Rogen movie for those that don’t like Seth Rogen.

3. Kung Fu Panda 2: The first movie about Po, the panda with the pounding paws of power, surprised many in 2008 with its sheer joyfulness. This one is deeper emotionally while still retaining the goofy love for its characters. And the use of the 2D animation for the flashback was a nice touch.

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4. Elite Squad: The Enemy Within: Talk about unfairness. If this movie had been made by a studio and done as well at the box office as this did in its native Brazil, people would be lining up to declare it one of the year's biggest winners. Documentary filmmaker Jose Padilha builds on his 2007 feature breakthrough by driving an action crime movie deeper into the labyrinthian world of politics, while not losing his eye on what makes his main character, played by Wagner Moura, tick.

5. War Horse: If liking this movie makes me old-fashioned, call me the Beaver. Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the hit play (itself a take on a children’s book) is decidedly old school but undeniable effective as it shows the cruelty of war and man, the significance of small acts, and how animals are forever great stand-ins to show the human condition.  

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6. The Help: Another traditional offering but also effective. The adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s book by Tate Taylor also navigates that fine line between sentimentality and history lesson to deliver an emotionally honest and genuinely gratifying moviegoing experience. And it’s impossible to forget the best ensemble cast of the year.

7. Midnight in Paris: Woody Allen’s fable about a writer who finds inspiration by nightly walks into Paris of the 1920s is fun and funny (despite one jump-the-shark scene). A must for writers and lovers of books.

8. X-Men: First Class: A movie that washes away the bitter aftertaste of X-Men: The Last Stand, it re-launches the X-franchise by giving us the cool character moments that are essential to a good comic book movie because it knows that without it, any superheroics are meaningless. And who knew that setting a superhero movie in the 1960s would prove to be so inspired?

9. The Descendants: The dramedy from Alexander Payne about a family getting its affairs in order with the impending death of the wife not only gives us a deeply thoughtful performance by George Clooney but also introduces us to new talent Shailene Woodley. It also reminds us why Robert Forster needs to be seen on the screen more often.

10. The Devil’s Double: Lee Tamahori’s drama about a man forced to act as a body double to Saddam Hussein’s son works so well because the filmmakers take the time to convincingly evoke life in Iraqi society (a lesson in mood that most movies could learn). And Dominic Cooper’s performance as both Uday Hussein and the double is something he should be able to dine on for the rest of his career. 

A special mention must go to the comic book movies based on the Marvel characters – First Class, Thor and Captain America – all of which showed that the creative well runs deep for the genre.

And a special huzzah must go to all the movies featuring young actors. From Hugo and Descendants to Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, from Attack the Block to Super 8, this year showcased an inordinate amount of talented fresh faces. If they can make it to adulthood without falling into the Hollywood snakepit, we’re assured some fine acting in the decades to come.

And finally, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Yes, Andy Serkis gives an amazing performance as Caesar, the evolving ape, making you root for him even as you begin to fear him (and setting off a legitimate debate about where this kind of acting fits into the thespian spectrum). But even more of an achievement is how the movie manages to be a true prequel to the 1968 original, logically yet effortlessly laying out the groundwork for a world where apes can rule.

Email: Borys.Kit@thr.com

Twitter: @Borys_Kit