With 2012 over, I’m eagerly anticipating the day I release my best movies list (still have to see at least “Zero Dark Thirty”). I know. #lame But I don’t care. In fact, I’m so eager that I couldn’t help but update my list from last year. Looking back, last year was lacking in truly memorable movies, at least compared to a year like 2012. But let’s look back anyway for the hell of it now that we’ve had a year to let these films linger in the back of our mind.
Honorable Mention: Rise of the Planet of the Apes The best film of summer 2011, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” may have been a mouthful of a title but it still blew away expectations. Director Rupert Wyatt revives a franchise that had been buried in the dust and Andy Serkis gives life to the leader of the ape uprising, Caesar, in stunning motion capture. I still say he was snubbed a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
10. The Ides of March Ryan Gosling and George Clooney (who both starred in and directed) lead a superb cast that includes Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in this political thriller. Poking at the dark side of politics (is their a light side?), there’s a fine dose of lies and deceit being uncovered that feels straight from headlines.
9. Hugo Martin Scorsese takes on 3D in glorious fashion. It was the best I’d seen at the time since “Avatar” and has only been upstaged since by “Life of Pi.” It’s a magical film about film nostalgia that turned out to be surprisingly more charming and moving than I thought it would be.
8. Moneyball A baseball movie about the numbers and statistics? It’s still accessible to all thanks to great performances from Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in an impressive dramatic turn. Pitt plays Billy Beane with a demanding presence and the screenplay zips under the pen of Aaron Sorkin.
7. War Horse “Lincoln,” Steven Spielberg’s historical picture from 2012, may be one of the front runners in the Oscar race this year, but he released another history-inspired film in 2011 that has the emotional punch that “Lincoln” doesn’t. “War Horse,” retelling the classic tale about a boy and his horse, is moving and quite beautiful to look at.
6. The Descendants Before that black-and-white silent movie came along, this little gem was the front-runner in the Oscar race. George Clooney takes a break from his charming womanizer persona and plays with convincing emotion a man dealing with a dying wife who cheated on him and daughters he must connect with. It’s both sad and heart-warming, and Shailene Woodley gives an impressive performance as well.
5. The Artist Speaking of that black-and-white silent movie, “The Artist” thrived during the award season even in the wake of the “Avatar 3D stampede.” So how did a silent film win Best Picture in an era that seems obsessed with in-your-face special effects? It’s teeming with charm you can’t help but fall in love with.
4. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo David Fincher’s adaptation of the hit-novel is dark and brutal and strips the story to its essential elements. Perhaps too cold for most audiences, the film didn’t hold up well at the box office so continuing the trilogy is questionable at this point. But Rooney Mara is solid as Lisbeth Salander and Fincher is a master at mystery thrillers. “Dragon Tattoo” didn’t disappoint.
3. The Muppets Probably the most fun I had in the theater in 2011, “The Muppets” is even more enjoyable and hilarious than I thought it would be. Serving as both a nostalgia trip for old fans and an introduction for new ones, “The Muppets” were back and still had it.
2. 50/50 Perhaps the most underrated film of 2011, “50/50” is the rare dramedy that gets everything right. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a man suffering from cancer with more than respectable grace and is probably the most over-looked performance of that year. It’s equal parts emotionally gut-wrenching and enjoyably humorous.
1. Drive “Drive” is cinematic art and it’s hard to describe it as anything but. A film where the protagonist (played with ruthless yet restrained conviction by Ryan Gosling) barely speaks a word, awkward silence meets graphic violence, and quite frankly, not a whole lot of driving takes place (but when it does, it’s pretty awesome), “Drive” is a film you either love or don’t get. Those who love it, though, get just how superb the film really is and why it’s the best film of 2011.