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The Top 15 Movies of 2011 — Part One!

So last year I really struggled to come up with my Top 10 Movies list.  I had a hard time finding ten films that I felt were really GREAT.  What a difference a year makes!  This year there were so many films that I loved that I wanted to include on my list that, for the first time, I decided to expand my Top 10 list to a Top 15 List!  AND I cheated even more and made my number 15 a three-way-tie!

I thought 2011 was a really terrific year for movies, and there were a lot of great films that didn’t make it onto this list.  I really enjoyed Moneyball, 50/50, The Ides of March, Like Crazy, The Descendants, 30 Minutes or Less, Your Highness, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2, The Rum Diary, The Muppets, Midnight in Paris, and Our Idiot Brother, but they didn’t make the cut in this strong year.  (Follow the links to read my reviews of those films.)  But, wow, those films could have been on my Top 10 list and that would have been a really strong Top 10 list, one that would have held up quite well in comparison to my previous years’ Top 10 lists!  That’s how good a year this was.

I saw a lot of films in 2011, and particularly in the last month I’ve crammed in a lot of movie-watching, trying to catch up on all the 2011 films I wanted to see.  There are a lot of films that I saw in the last few weeks that I didn’t think warranted inclusion on this list, but about which I’ll be writing reviews on this site in the coming weeks.  These include My Idiot Brother, The Help, Tree of Life, Horrible Bosses, and more.  So you can look for those reviews soon.

As I always do, before I dive into my lists I want to mention the films I wanted to see, but never got to: A Dangerous Method, Shame, The Debt, Drive, Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, Larry Crowne, Beginners, The Trip. So if you loved one of those films and want to know why they’re not included on my list — well, now you know.  Hopefully I’ll get to track down some/all of those films in the near future.  (They’re all on my Netflix queue, so all I need is time!)

15.  Marvel’s Summer Movies: Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and X-Men: First ClassI do love me a good super-hero movie, and this summer mighty Marvel gave us three of ’em, each one a really terrific, fun film in its own right.  None of them were home runs like Iron Man or The Dark Knight, but all three were solidly entertaining flicks.  Thor and Captain America, of course, were the last two stepping-stones in the march to this summer’s The Avengers. The continuity between Marvel Studios’ films is unprecedented, and they way that the films all fit together (the references in Captain America to the World Tree from Thor, the appearance in Thor of the Cosmic Cube that is a key plot point in Captain America, etc. etc.) is delightful, but none of that would mean a thing if the films didn’t succeed on their own.  I never thought the cosmic zaniness of Thor or the true-blue idealism of Captain America would translate well to movie-screens, but I was thrilled by how well the characters were realized — totally faithful to their comic-book origins, but also alive as cinematic characters.  X-Men: First Class, meanwhile, is another dreaded prequel but somehow managed to be the best X-Men film we’ve seen in almost a decade.  Terrific performances by Michael Fassbender (having a hell of a year) as Magneto and James McAvoy as Professor X anchor a fun, exciting X-Men adventure.  None of these films are masterpieces, but compared to DC’s offering this year (the abysmal Green Lantern) they’re like Citizen Kane. (Click here for my full reviews of Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and X-Men: First Class.)

14.  Conan O’Brien Can’t StopA behind-the-scenes look at comedy tour that Conan O’Brien put together after getting forced off of The Tonight Show, this documentary is absolutely hilarious and also a fascinating portrait of one of the great comic minds of our day.  I loved watching the extensive clips of the live shows, but I also delighted to all of the back-stage shenanigans, both when things were going well and when things were going poorly.  I love these peeks behind the curtain of the world of comedy.  This film takes the spot on this year’s list that Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work had on last year’s list.  It’s a mark of how strong a year 2011 was that in 2010 Joan Rivers was number five on my list, and this year Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is down here at number fourteen.  (Click here for my full review.)

13.  Page One: Inside the New York TimesFilmmaker Andrew Rossi was given incredible access to The New York Times for a year, and the result is this incredible documentary spotlighting the nation’s most prestigious (and some would say most important, others would say most hated) newspaper.  The documentary highlights several fascinating, charismatic reporters in the Times’ media department, and I found the exposure to the work those men do to be endlessly fascinating.  The film addresses head-on the struggles that the Times (and pretty much every other newspaper in this country) has had in recent years, trying to survive financially with the collapse of print advertising and the rise of web-site aggregators that dispense the news for free on-line every day.  This is an important, fascinating piece of work, and I’ll have my full review coming soon.

12.  Mission: Impossible — Ghost ProtocolOne of the finest popcorn adventure films of the past several years, director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, The Iron Giant) makes a bold, brash live-action debut with this film that brings Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible film series roaring back to life.  The stunts are incredible, the action is intense, and the gee-wiz spy gadgetry on display would have Q green with envy.  Each action set-piece is more stunning than the next, as the film speeds along with a can-you-top-THIS glee that I found infectious.  I loved that, for the first time in the film series, Ethan Hunt finally had a real TEAM surrounding him, and it’s the strength of that terrific ensemble (Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, and Paula Patton) that carries the movie.  I’d love to see several more M:I film with this director and that cast! (Click here for my full review.)

11.  PaulSpeaking of Simon Pegg, we come to this mostly-ignored sci-fi comedy that once again re-teamed him with Nick Frost.  (The two famously duoed in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.)  In this film, the two play British comic-book geeks visiting the San Diego comic-con and touring famous UFO spots.  Wouldn’t you know it, they happen to run into an actual alien (voiced by Seth Rogen and brought to life with really terrific CGI) on the run from government Men in Black (Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Jo Lo Truglio, and their boss The Big Guy, played by a perfectly-cast famous somebody whose identity I wouldn’t dare spoil here).  Kristen Wigg turns in a dynamite performance as a one-eyed redneck who winds up befriending the two British nerds.  The film tickled my funny bone in all the right places — it’s hilarious and energetic and just a heck of a lot of fun.  (Click here for my full review.)

C’mon back tomorrow for numbers ten through six!

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