Best, Pretty Goods, Not Bads (Revised)

Now that the Dragon Tattoo and Extremely Loud embargoes have expired and I’ve seen Margaret and Mission: Impossible 4 — Ghost Protocol, here’s my final revised rundown of HE’s bests, favorites, almost favorites, mezzo-mezzos and worsts of 2011. And I’ve found a place for Margin Call, which I omitted in the initial posting.

My top ten met the usual pick-of-the-litter characteristics — quality, audacity, originality, personal satisfaction, stylistic excitement, something strong and central that said felt new or bold or extra-cool. Aesthetic judgment, personal delight, etc.

If you include the “decent, not half bad” category the bottom line is that 2011 delivered around 65 films that ranged from excellent to very good to respectably passable.

HE’s 11 Best of 2011 (in this order): Moneyball, A Separation, The Descendants, Miss Bala, Drive, Contagion, Win Win, The Tree of Life, Margaret, In The Land of Blood and Honey, Tyrannosaur. (11)

Special “I Don’t Know Where They Precisely Belong But I Like ‘Em More Than Some Of The Others” Distinction (i.e., Close With Unlit Cigar): Attack The Block, Beginners, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, X-Men First Class, Captain America, Hugo, 50/50, Young Adult, The Artist, Hanna, The Guard, Bridesmaids, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Buck, Page One: Inside The NY Times, Rampart, Margin Call. (17)

Good & Generally Approved With Issues (in this order): Take Shelter, A Better Life, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Ides of March, Midnight in Paris, A Dangerous Method, Albert Nobbs, J. Edgar, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Applause, Melancholia, Mission: Impossible 4 — Ghost Protocol, The Lincoln Lawyer, Another Happy Day, Source Code, Point Blank, Cedar Rapids, The Iron Lady, Happy Happy, Super, The Housemaid, Carnage, Another Earth, Le Havre. (24)

Frostily, Tiresomely, Enervatingly Good: Shame. (1)

The Wrong Stuff: War Horse, Tintin, The Lie. (3)

Decent, Not Half Bad: Coriolanus, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, Insidious, The Last Lions, Myth of the American Sleepover, Tabloid, Super 8, The Trip, Making The Boys (doc about Mart Crowley and The Boys in the Band), Jane Eyre, Paranormal Activity 3, Restless, Submarine, Take This Waltz, Thor, Meet Monica Valour, Rango. (18)

Approved But Lesser Almodovar: The Skin I Live In. (1)

Lesser Dardennes: The Kid With A Bike. (1)

Lesser Kiarostami: Certified Copy (1)

Respectable Intentions, Didn’t Get There: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Meek’s Cutoff, London Boulevard, Texas Killing Fields, Warrior, Straw Dogs, The Way Back, Like Crazy, The Rum Diary, Sleeping Beauty, The Adjustment Bureau, The Company Men, White Irish Drinkers, The Devil’s Double, The Dilemma, Warrior, We Bought A Zoo, Wuthering Heights, Anonymous. (20)

Meh, Underbaked, Less is Less, Insufficient: Rubber, Ceremony, Hall Pass, Bullhead, Fright Night, The Help, Magic Trip, Our Idiot Brother. (8)

Most Dislikable Sundance 2011 Film: Bellflower. (1)

Regretful Shortfallers: 30 Minutes Or Less, The Beaver, Higher Ground, Knuckle, Larry Crowne, Limitless. (6)

Haven’t Seen ‘Em (Guilt Factor): Black Power Mixtape, Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within, Jeff Who Lives At Home, The Last Circus, The Oranges, Paul Williams Still Alive, Project Nim, Red State, Pina, Pariah, The Deep Blue Sea, This Must Be The Place, The Turin Horse. (13)

Haven’t Seen ‘Em & Don’t Care That Much: Apollo 18, The Lady, Arthur Christmas, Soul Surfer, Henry’s Crime, Blank City, Cold Weather, Blackthorn, Bonsai, A Boy And His Samurai, Burke & Hare, Cars 2, The Catechism Cataclysm, Conan The Barbarian, The Double, Gnomeo & Juliet, Happy Feet 2, The Human Centipede II, I Am Number Four, Jack and Jill, Just Go With It, Kung-Fu Panda 2, The Muppets, Mars Needs Moms, My Sucky Teen Romance, No Strings Attached, Paul Williams Still Alive, Phillip The Fossil, Priest, The Sitter, The Smurfs, Snow Flower & The Secret Fan, Sound Of My Voice, The Thing, The Woman, The Three Musketeers, Alvin And The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. (38)

Acute Dislike, Blah, Nothing, Stinko: The Big Year, Arthur, Bad Teacher, Battle: Los Angeles, Butter, The Caller, Cat Run, The Change-Up, Cowboy & Aliens, Colombiana, Crazy, Stupid, Love, Dream House, Fast Five, Final Destination 5, Five Days of War, Footloose, Friends With Benefits, The Green Hornet, Green Lantern, Hall Pass, The Hangover Part II, Hobo With A Shotgun, Horrible Bosses, Kaboom, Machine Gun Preacher, New Year’s Eve, One Day, Paul, Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Red Riding Hood, Sucker Punch, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1, Tower Heist, Twixt, Water For Elephants, We Need To Talk About Kevin, Your Highness, The Zookeeper, Your Highness, Miral. (41)

  • Ray

    Hall Pass; not just meh, but also acutely disliked meh!

    I finally watched Bridesmaids last night with the girlfriend. I don’t get the love for it. I laughed at all the parts Jeff surely rolled his eyes at, but the movie just deflaaaaaaaaaaaaaates in the second half, which also never ends. It’s like they did such a good job of being funny in the first half they said FUCK IT WE’VE DONE ENOUGH JOKES LET’S HUG in the second. I know that’s the Apatow formula (raunchy start, touchy feely second halfs), but IT DOESN’T WORK.


  • J. Ho

    I agree on the second half of Bridesmaids. Never understood the good reviews because the movie just completely dies after the plane scene.

    My best of the year would be The Tree of Life and Moneyball. I haven’t seen War Horse or The Descendants yet though. Dragon Tattoo was strangely disappointing and i enjoyed Mission Impossible 4 more than i could ever have imagined.

    And the worst film of the year by far is Battle: Los Angeles.

  • coxcable

    I will never get this Drive love.

    It had all the dramatic resonance of the intercut scenes in a Grand Theft Auto game.

    I wanted to reach into the screen & hug Carey Mulligan, pat her on the back and say, “You are being so polite to this Nicolas Winding Refn poseur.”

    And third the Bridesmaids indifference. The Jon Hamm scenes were pretty funny though.

  • Robert Cashill

    You, the zoo hater, haven’t seen PROJECT NIM? Not that it’s about zoos but its themes are likely to resonate.

  • welington

    You should see Elite Squad 2 and avaluate it. The film combines political issue with entertainment like few movies did. It was the biggest hit of all time in my country, Brazil, and deserves all the praises it has received.

  • Tristan Eldritch2

    Coxcable – It seems to have been a love or loath thing. Drive was my favorite of the year, hands down. It wasn’t by any stretch a realistic movie, which may result in a lack of dramatic resonance for many viewers. But it was a fascinating, stylized cinematic fever dream which hinted at the darker ambiguities of the strong, silent loner in a way few films have done since Taxi Driver.

  • The Reek

    DRIVE was drivel and nothing more. The critics who praised it are delusional at best. In a subpar year for flicks, this crap rated too high.

  • Mr. F.

    “I finally watched Bridesmaids last night with the girlfriend. I don’t get the love for it.”

    Same thing happened with me, but I expect a lot of it had to do with watching a comedy at home vs. in a crowded theater. Laughter is contagious (and communal). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve laughed my ass off in a theater with other people, only to watch the same movie a year later on video and not made a peep.

    I suspect most of the critics giving Bridesmaids (and other comedies) a pass had a good time in the theater with other people, and haven’t rewatched at home since.

  • reverent and free

    2011 had more variety of films than last year, and more B+ entertainment, so every month there was plenty to see in theaters or on video. However, other than Tree of Life, I can’t really think of many films I loved enough to even want to put on a Best of the Year list.

    Bridesmaids was very funny for the first half, and maybe that was enough for most people to forgive the rest. But that scene where Wiig is trying to get O’Dowd’s attention was just pitiful, the equivalent of watching a stand up bomb onstage.

  • the400blows

    I also don’t get the Drive love. I found it derivative and meaningless. Same goes for Contagion. One of the most boring (and pretentious) films I have seen all year–it’s right up there with Melancholia and Tree of Life. At this point, I have given up on Sonderbergh and Von Trier. (Soderbergh hasn’t made a decent film since he won his Oscar–which should’ve gone to Ang Lee for Crouching Tiger anyway). To me, the best film of the year is The Descendants.

  • LexG

    What are you talking about, that scene had the movie’s biggest laugh, Wiig bumping “Natural Born Killaz.”

    Anyone who doesn’t like “Drive” is a clear sign they are a total asshole. This isn’t just a usual movie-blog bluster matter of subjective “taste”– no, you literally are HUMAN GARBAGE if you don’t like Drive, and I seriously wish ill upon you and your no-intensity life and family.


  • LexG

    Oh, hey, look another one! A bunch of bitter, untalented, unfunny, NO-INTENSITY people who can’t write and are Hollywood strikeouts with delusions of importance and gonna list all the movies they think are “overrated,” because they’re a bunch of LA/NYC hanger-on poseurs who think their special little drawered screenplay could blow away any- and everything else they saw this year, which they went into grumbling and came out griping over a turkey burger at Fred 62 how they could do so much better.

    Maybe some of you assholes should try taking your act to a nice sport or George Condo ART blog, since you sure as fuck don’t like movies, unless they have some no-charisma Oriental dorks in it.


  • BoulderKid

    I’m with Lex. I really don’t understand how any red blooded organism can actively dislike “Drive.” Just an entertaining, cool film through and through. Maybe it isn’t your favorite of the year, but it’s going to be better than 90% of the films out there on any given weekend.

    Also, why are some saying it’s not a dramatically “resonant” as a criticism? Were the various chase scenes and shootouts not thrilling? What kind of drama were people expecting? That Gosling and Mulligan’s eye-fuck romance was going to make them tear up? I think the only true character drama that the film attempts is through the Craynson and Brooks relationship, which the actors and script totally nailed.

  • Zach

    I loved Drive when I first saw it – and still do, to an extent – but after a second viewing, it lost a lot of its punch. Once you settle into that super-cool-indie aura, it becomes a hollow shell. You can’t compare Gosling’s “Driver” to Travis Bickle, because Travis actually had a personality. He had a backstory, he had quirks, insecurities, shortcoming… we felt for him and wanted to placate his frustrations, which oft mirrored our own. But “Driver” has zero personality. He’s an Asperger’s case who happens to be good with cars.

  • Nick XX

    My favorites of the year in order– 1. Sleeping Beauty (did *anybody* else see and like this??) 2. Margin Call 3. Warrior 4. Take Shelter 5. Rise of the Apes

  • Geoff

    I’m not saying you have to love and worship Drive. But if you walked out of that movie hating it, or bitterly complaining why others were so in love with it, then you’re a huge douchebag.

  • CinemaPhreak

    I’m guess that since he saw it last year at Toronto, Jeff forgot that THE DEBT was a 2011 release. Watched it last night and it’s one of this year’s better films. Certainly better than ATTACK THE BLOCK and as good as WIN WIN.

    The Christmas Day movie for the Phreak household adults was THE ARTIST – and just as suspected Jeff’s award season related derangement about this film is completely irrational. It most deservedly belongs in year end best lists and is just as worth of whatever pointless awards it garners. Sure, the dog was unnaturally intelligent, the films within the film should have been shot with more era-appropriate lenses and he would have been incinerated in about 90 seconds if those were nitrate prints.

    Yet, here is a film that repeatedly expects intelligence from its audience, evidenced by just how few title cards it uses. In scene after scene we are simply given enough clues to the nature of an exchange to get the gist of it without knowing exactly what was said. I’d also like to point out how full of it were critics (some I suspect had not seen it when they wrote this) who claimed this was the “A Star is Born” scenario. Saying THE ARTIST is just another version of that story because it deals with a big male star being surpassed by a female newcomer that he falls for is about as stupid as saying that TREE OF LIFE is JURASSIC PARK because of the dinosaur part.

    MONEYBALL, THE DESCENDENTS and THE ARTIST are all very different films made by very talented filmmakers which must be judged on how well they do within their own constructs. I’d say a very compelling case can be made that THE ARTIST fires on more it’s cylinders than the engines that drive the other two. I sure as shit cared more about George Valentin than Billy Beane or even Matt King.

    The real test will be in 5 and then 10 years which ones are still being sought and discussed. I could easily wager money on that one…

  • Slothrop

    I’m not 100% sure Drive adds up to much in the end but its stylistic flourishes are so wildly successful I’m tempted to agree with mr. G that anyone who doesn’t like it is a total asshole. If only for how it uses that “real human being, and a real hero” song in a hipster ironic way that’s also heartbreaking you should appreciate it as craft if not more.

    My favourite movie of the year remains Tree of Life though and it’s also probably my favourite movie of the last ten years and maybe even of all time. It aims for the stars in every single scene and even when it fails it’s gets damn close. It’s the type of movie that’s above end-of-year lists and awards talk and the kind of movie it’s hard to talk about without getting pretentious so it’ll be interesting to see how it’s perceived a few years from now. I’m also very curious about how people who DON’T love it as much think about it. Has anyone read the screenplay floating about the net and know if it’s real or not? It reads very real and is a fascinating companion piece to the film itself.

  • CinemaPhreak

    LexG calling ANYONE a poseur is surely the funniest thing that will be written on this or any other film blog today.

    Him chastising anyone about what movies they should see in order to be taken seriously as some sort of true film fan is a close runner up.

  • coxcable

    You guys do know that “LexG” is performance art, right? That the lonely intelligent Oswaltian guy behind the name actually hates the movies his “LexG” alter-ego dry humps on this board year round.

    All you have to do is look at the tone of his criticism. Horny hyperbole means he’s kidding, while calm & articulate means he’s being sincere.

    Or do you really think that the best movies he saw in 2009 were Transformers 2 and Up In The Air?

  • Krillian

    I didn’t care for Battle: LA but I saw far worse. Red Riding Hood, The Rite, Your Highness, Breaking Dawn (which really is the worst in the series), Just Go With It, Passion Play, The Other Woman, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Sucker Punch, etc.

  • Gaydos

    From a slightly different perspective:

    I ran into a young Hispanic couple at the Arclight and showed them your list.

    They’re grad students in the film studies dept at Mexico City U and they said they consider you something of a “cinenada,” which I’m told is Spanish for “eloi.”.

  • AnnaZed

    ‘Paul Williams Still Alive’ both a guilty not seen and a meh’ not seen? A double whamy of indifference. Where is ‘Pusss in Boots’? I really liked that, and I HATE (really really hate) the other ‘Shrek’ things.

  • BoulderKid

    One thing that I’ve noticed is The Descendants is a film that only appeals to cinephiles and the rich. I liked the film well enough, but the response from the general public has been surprisingly meh. Even though the film begins with a universal tragedy, the de facto death of a family matriarch, the rest of the film neutralizes the loss first by exposing the wife as one who is deeply flawed and then by moving on to other issues. Clooney sheds some tears for his wife, but mostly out of resentment that she has wronged him and then bailed early on their commitment to raise the two daughters. After this it’s just Clooney and his two adorable girls dealing with first world, upper tax bracket problems. The film is so genial that it sidesteps the obvious conflict that Clooney has with the Beau Bridges character.

    The film basically refuses to take a stance on anything. Clooney isn’t wrong to retain the ultimate decision about the land entirely to himself and Bridges just shrugs away any potential grievance he may have with it. It’s cool that Woodley is aimless, and who cares if an entirely extraneous character is towed along for the entirety of a family’s most intimate days.

    I resist the urge to call it Payne’s worst film, but it’s nowhere in the league of Election or Sideways. The Descendants is pleasant enough to sit through but I cringe whenever someone suggests that it’s among the best of the year.

  • Mr. F.

    Boulder: I don’t know if it’s fair to call DESCENDANTS a bad film because it deals with “upper tax bracket problems”… and then say it’s not in the league of SIDEWAYS. Sure, Miles is middle-class at best… but the movie’s set in wine country, at wineries, with people going on and on about wine and wine making. And Jack does fine for himself — not to mention the fact that he’s marrying into money. Wine is not a subject that generally keeps the lower and middle classes awake at night.

    I actually agree with you, though, that SIDEWAYS and ELECTION were better than DESCENDANTS — but for me, it has to do much more with the use of humor in all those films. I found the balance between comedy and drama to be more compelling in Payne’s earlier works. There was nothing al that funny in DESCENDANTS, even the bits that were supposed to be comedic.

    Also curious why DESCENDANTS only appeals to (besides the rich) “cinephiles” — what is it about the filmmaking that speaks particularly to cinephiles?

  • Rashad

    Sleeping Beauty is by far the worst of the year.

    I hope Margin Call can get a few Oscar noms. Irons and Spacey both command the screen.

    I still need to see: Beginners, War Horse, ELIC, Take Shelter, Coriolanus, Dangerous Method, and Win Win.

  • DeafEars

    Good list, although I’d put either TAKE SHELTER or MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE where CONTAGION is – an ok to good movie, but it didn’t stick to my ribs like the other two did, they seriously shook me up.

    Loved DRIVE, saw it three times in the theatre, and I think I could see it again right now.

    SLEEPING BEAUTY looks insufferable, but it can’t be worse than SUCKER PUNCH – it just can’t.

  • Poodle_Skirt

    Either EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE is missing, or I’m blind.

  • KRF

    Loved The Descendants. Think it’s Payne’s best. Excellent representation of place. Comfortable with itself. Mature film. Thought it was very humanistic in a way that should transcend class. Left me in a good mood for days. Reminds you of what’s truly important without shoving your face in it. Haven’t seen much on the list, but best film I’ve seen in some time.

  • HarryWarden

    Never saw Sleeping Beauty but want to. My faves were The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Young Adult. Drive was pretentious and I don’t like Mulligan. Such a goody two-shoes with no edge or personality. There’s a reason she didn’t get the Lisbeth role in Girl; Fincher knew she lacked the necessary edge for playing a character like that.

  • raquelswell

    Margin Call is a nice surprise. Drive is my top movie of the year. And I liked Tabloid and Anonymous quite a bit. The Tree of Life and The Beaver are two of the worst.

  • Wu Yong

    My best favorite of the new year is:my family is hapiness,security.My sleeping is very beauty-My Insomnia permit is very bad.

    I agree on the first half of Bridesmaids.

  • phantasmata

    “Drive was pretentious and I don’t like Mulligan.”

    There we go. Was waiting for someone to call Drive “pretentious.” Not saying you were being in any way predictable or anything. No, sir.

  • Chicago48

    For me the top 3 best were Moneyball, the Artist and the Help. These movies kept me in my seat. I was pleasantly surprised with the Artist. The ending was the payoff.

  • Chicago48

    “I hope Margin Call can get a few Oscar noms. Irons and Spacey both command the screen.”

    Is Spacey still boxoffice?

  • French Ant

    Jeff has his final rundown well and pampered and yet, he managed to miss the 2 South Korean gems of the year: “I saw the devil” and “The Murderer”.

    Also; DRIVE is the future.

  • French Ant


    And yet, one hand will be enough to count the movies where Mara will be staring until the end of the decade.

    Mulligan will laugh all the way.

  • HarryWarden

    Considering she’s the heir to billion dollar fortune, I think Mara will be the one laughing at Mulligan.

  • econeywaaa

    Drive was the most overrated piece of shit I’ve seen in years. A movie that tries to be street smart but comes off as if was written by someone from Vermont.

  • French Ant

    I’d be very surprised if Mara stars in five high profile movies in the next five years.

  • Chris Willman

    Spookily, once again, I agree with Jeff on almost everything I saw, as I do with no one else I know. Except… for someone who claims to hate comic book movies, he still put “X-Men” and “Captain America” a category too high, I’d say.

    And “Melancholia” belongs in the top flight, for me. I can’t think of any more enveloping experience this year, though I would never expect it to hit everybody where they live. I was certainly never so surprised to be knocked out all year.

    Whoever said “Puss in Boots” is pretty good was right. “Rango,” too. Each one about 50x as good as “Cars 2.”

    Is “In Darkness” in there anywhere? Did you see it, Jeff? That would be top 10 for me.

    Finally, I will join in with the chorus of not quite getting the love versus like for “Bridesmaids.” Not that anyone asked. Took me about three-quarters of the way through to acknowledge that the strong will to love it I’d come in with was flagging. I loved the movie that Jeff first described… but I don’t feel like I saw that movie.