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10 Best Movies of 2011

Published: Thursday, January 5, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 07:01

Drive

Ryan Gosling in Drive.

Rango

Paramount Pictures

Johnny Depp plays the animated Rango.

Margin Call

A scene from Margin Call.


Picking the best films of any year is like picking the best ice cream. Moods change and opinions will always differ. However, the following represents the most shocking, entertaining, challenging and moving films of 2011. True, not every movie is in it to win it this awards season, but they're all worth checking out.

10.

"I Saw the Devil" (2011 release in Arizona)

The revenge tale, standing alongside martial arts movies and horror flicks, is one of Asia's most popular exports. Chan-wook Park ("Oldboy"), Takashi Miike ("Audition") and Jee-Woon Kim have built successful careers on the genre, which in turn influenced the biggest American film of its type, "Kill Bill."

Director Jee-Woon Kim's "I Saw the Devil" is a Korean revenge flick that revels in painful comeuppance. It's also a fascinating look at the idea of justifying horrific acts to accomplish vengeance. Despite its place in this overcrowded market, "I Saw the Devil" is proof of what can be accomplished when good actors do good work.

 

9.

"Warrior"

Everyone has wanted to punch a family member at some point. "Warrior" shows just that. Family angst gets hashed out in the ring, and two brothers beat the hell out of each other, fueled by years of pent up rage.

On one hand, "Warrior" feels familiar, be it the sports drama mentality or clichéd big tournament. Warrior also aims at the familial drama full of hatred, regret and despair. However, "Warrior" is not only the best MMA film, with its in-depth analysis of the strategy involved in these bouts, but it also sits on actors who can meet the emotional and physical needs. It's these actors that make not only a strong drama, but a beat-‘em-up film good enough to cheer for.

 

8.

"Margin Call"

The message of "Margin Call" actually references its own existence. Had it been made in 2006 instead of 2011, events might still be the same. "Margin Call" is a fictionalized account of days before the 2008 stock market crash. "Margin Call" is a human look at those events, demonizing some while championing others.

Surprisingly, the heavy talk of analysis and algorithms, projections and profits is more interesting than it should be. Part of this comes from the cast: Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci and Zachary Quinto are the backbone of the film and first-time director J.C. Chandor knows it. Still, this is a movie to get angry about. "Margin Call" is pertinent even if it only says that it's far too late.

 

7.

"Rango"  

The day a computer-generated movie is better than the Pixar movie of that year is a rare day, indeed. That's the case with "Rango," a western satire crafted by Gore Verbinski ("Pirates of the Caribbean").

Rango is a thespian Gecko, voiced by Johnny Depp, who through an accident winds up stuck in the pathetic desert town called Dirt.

It's no surprise when a kid-friendly movie has laughs that adults will get: a pop culture reference, sly double-entendres or a joke that might be too subtle for a child to understand. "Rango" goes so far with this that it barely qualifies as a kid's movie. "Rango" has swearing, violent deaths, pop culture cameos and one incredible appearance by another of Johnny Depp's previous characters. What remains is a movie that's not only funny but ranks way higher than "Cars 2."

 

6.

"The Tree of Life"

How does stream of consciousness work? If you think of one thing, that inevitably leads to another. Grey, elephant, trunk, car, Toyota, etc.

Memories work the same way, where few people can accurately remember an entire scene the way most movies are presented. They're fragmented, jumbled and most often focus on a single detail. This is how "The Tree of Life" plays.

Director Terrance Malick ("The New World") surpasses all his previous works with this film. Malick accurately portrays flashbacks though Sean Penn's Jack, creating a fragmented, yet accurate look at Jack's childhood. It's jarring to see on film and takes some getting used to.

Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain turn in career high performances as Jack's parents. We're not one to divulge plot details, still, it should be said that the sequences that bookend the movie are both gorgeous and disorienting. This is a movie in which audiences can interpret, discuss and theorize.

Malick has created a real brain-teaser, but never sacrifices emotion for the sake of being a little weird.

 

5.

"The Ides of March" 

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