My Top 10 Movies of 2011

One of my favorite blog posts of last year  was about my Top 10 movies of 2010. At the time, I intended to make the article an annual feature, compiling the films (new and old) that left the biggest impression on me during the previous year. I even went as far as compiling my 2011 list way back in January. My procrastinating ways got the better of my though: here it is, already May, and I never got around to actually finishing that post.

But with the Summer movie season officially starting tonight with The Avengers (I just got my tickets!), it’s now or never. The next few months are sure to add many movies to my 2012 list: Prometheus, Brave, The Dark Knight Rises, Dark Shadows, and the remake of Total Recall all seem like strong contenders. That’s next year though. Without further ado, my Top 10 movies of 2011:

10. Rango


The combination of Netflix and countless hours of unemployment time allowed me to dive head-first into the Western genre during 2010. From The Man With No Name Trilogy and the original John Wayne version True Grit, my crash course included all the classics. So when I saw the trailer for Rango, I got fairly excited. I was hoping for a distilled rendition of the genre a la Fievel Goes West, and in that respect I definitely was not disappointed. It easily surpasses it spiritual predecessor in many ways however, especially in its level of sophistication. Not only is there a Greek chorus narrating the film (which made the English major in me smile), but the theme music for one of the villains is an homage to the Harmonica theme from Once Upon a Time in the West, which is an amazing piece of music. And despite Johnny Depp’s penchant for playing the same character in all his recent films, I actually thought he did an excellent job portraying the eponymous Rango. It may not be as good as the other “Kids” movie on this list, but Rango is definitely a treat to watch, especially if you’re a Western fan.

9. Chasing Amy

I can’t say I’m a huge Kevin Smith fan. Both Clerks and Dogma (the other two films I’ve seen by him) were funny enough at times, but mostly I’ve been unimpressed. Chasing Amy, on the other hand, became one of my favorite movies before I was even done watching it. I think my passion for the film has increased since my first viewing in large part because my life ended up mimicking the plot to a certain extent late last year. The less said about that, however, the better.

8. RED

RED - Helen Mirren and a Giant Gun

Bruce Willis is 57, and the older he gets, the more I have to wonder: will he ever stop being a badass? RED has Willis cast as a former CIA Black-Ops agent who suddenly finds himself hunted by an unknown organization which seems out to eliminate him. To stay alive, he reconnects with his former colleague from the espionage world, played by Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and John Molkovich. The result is two hours of explosions, ass-kicking, and lots of guns. Say what you will about “mindless action movies,” RED is a ton of fun.

7. The Social Network

The dialogue alone put this movie on my list!

You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.

That line is from the first scene of the movie, and it just keeps getting better from there. I’ve heard it said that the script plays fast and loose with the facts surrounding Facebook’s origin story, but it’s hard to care when the narrative is so compelling. The Social Network is basically the Citizen Kane of the modern era, except way less boring and without any subplots involving a sled.

6. How to Train Your Dragon

Toothless the Dragon

I admit: I have a bias against so-called “kids movies”. My niece and nephew have forced me to sit through many awful kid-targeted movies over the years, and it so often seems like each one is more insipid than the last.To be honest, the only reason I sat down to watch How to Train Your Dragon is because it was nominated for Best Animated Picture by the Academy. I figured it couldn’t be as bad as it looked if they nominated it for an Oscar. To my great pleasure, the movie was better than just passable; it was fantastic! Jay Baruchel does a wonderful job voicing the protagonist, Hiccup, and his delivery of the line “Thanks for nothing, you useless reptile” had me rolling with laughter. It may not be quite up to par with Pixar, but How to Train Your Dragon definitely isn’t just for kids.

I’m still trying to figure out why a bunch of vikings have Scottish accents though…

5. Alien(s)

This is a bit of a cheat, I know, but the first two Alien movies are so different that it’s hard to decide which one I like best. On the one had, you’ve got Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror film, which has served as inspiration for many movies and videogames since its release, including Nintendo’s Metroid series. Alien is filled to the brim with atmosphere, tension, and truly surprising plot-twists. On the other hand, James Cameron’s sequel is an action-pack roller coaster. And like its predecessor, Aliens has definitely influenced sci-fi action films such as Independence Day and Pitch Black. It even seems to have influenced Cameron himself, since he so thoroughly ripped off Aliens when he made Avatar. Yeah, I said it! You know it’s true!

So I’m not going to choose. They’re both ridiculously good and honestly deserve to be viewed as a single unit (not unlike the original Star Wars trilogy).

4. Swingers

Sometimes we love movies because they are objectively good. Other time, that love is more subjective, like seeing a movie at a meaningful time in your life. I think Swingers falls somewhere in the middle. It’s undoubtedly a great movie, if slightly obscure and unappreciated. Beyond that, however, I saw this movie at the exact moment I needed to. Similar to Chasing Amy, this was a case of life imitating art. The entire movie centers around one guy struggling to get over his ex-girlfriend, and at that time, I was going through a very similar experience. Somehow, the trials and tribulations (and eventually revelations) of the protagonist were therapeutic for me.

3. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

After I found out the Shane Black was going to direct the third Iron Man movie, I began a mission to devour every film he’d ever written or directed. Black wrote many great action movie screenplays, such as Lethal Weapon 1 & 2, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Last Action Hero, but Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the only film he’s directed. It’s easily his best work too. The man knows how to write great action scenes and almost Whedon-esque dialogue. Watch this movie ASAP! You won’t be disappointed.

2. X-Men First Class

You all should know by now that I’m a big fan of comic book movies, so it’s no surprise that I enjoyed last year’s X-Men reboot. But why so high on the list? Well for starters, it was easily the best film of the Summer (Super 8 fans would disagree, but what do they know?), and it would probably make my Top 5 list of the best superhero movies. As a fan of History, I loved that the movie was set in an alternative version of the 1960s, especially since the Cuban Missile Crisis is such a tumultuous time in our non-fictionalized history. Without a doubt, however, the highlights of First Class are James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr (aka Magneto). The movie may be called “First Class”, but really it’s all about these two characters and the complicated relationship we only got hints of in the other movies.

Oh, and let’s not forget about Kevin Bacon, who is surprisingly good at being a villain.

1. The Muppets

The Muppets

I’ll always have a soft spot for Kermit and the whole Muppet gang. I grew up watching The Muppet Show and the various Muppet movies, and when this latest movie came out, my girlfriend at the time was a die hard Muppet fanatic (she even had a Kermit tattoo). So of course we rushed out and saw this movie. Even if you remove those biases from the equation though, The Muppets is the kind of movie that just makes you feel good about life.

Of course, my subjectivity is what really makes this #1 on the list. Pleasant memories are a powerful influencer.