Hello there, and welcome back to The Friendly Film Fan’s first-ever rankings series, Movies of the Decade! We’ve already gone through my Top 10 Movies of 2010, so let’s move this train right along to the following year. 2011 was, overall, a pretty weak year for Oscar season and indeed most of the cinematic landscape, with the likes of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close being nominated for Best Picture, and even the well-meaning and well-made but ultimately somewhat dull (compared to some others) The Artist going on to claim the Academy’s top prize at the 2012 ceremony. This meant that most of the best movies of the year, and especially some of my favorites, never made it to the Oscar stage; however, that doesn’t mean they aren’t great in their own right. Remember, I can only use movies I’ve seen, so don’t expect to see The Descendants show up here (I’ve heard it’s great, though). With all that in mind, let’s get started; here are my Top 10 Movies of 2011.
I actually don’t remember much of this movie off the top of my head, but the fact that it still lands at #10 on this list on the strength of its final moments alone is a testament to just how solid those moments are, as well as the rest of the film. It’s not a perfect movie, and there are some issues I have with it in regards to character and pacing, but this movie also deserves credit for introducing us on a more macro level to two of the now greatest living screen performers in Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, the latter of which has become an established director as well. And again, those final moments? An utter cinematic gut-punch.
9. Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen may be a garbage excuse for a human being whose penchant for massive age gaps and the token extra-marital affair in his movie relationships are only outdone as the worst things about him by the fact that he’s married to his daughter (gross), but Midnight in Paris does carry some of that more whimsical charm that informed his early work before everyone felt icky about him. The theme of being content where you are in life and notion that being “born in the wrong generation” is a legitimately stupid way of thinking is a refreshing message to see a feature film expunge, especially since it presents a nostalgic, idealized version of the past which Owen Wilson travels to, only to tell him that it’s not as good as he thinks. Plus, Tom Hiddelston as F. Scott Fitzgerald is a lot of fun to watch.
8. Fast Five
Like I said before, all lists are subjective, and I can only use movies I’ve seen. Fast Five may not be an especially great movie in its own right, but it is a ton of fun to watch. This is the one that began the Fast & Furious franchise winning streak as it leaned into what made it ridiculous and barely mentioned what didn’t work enough that we all got tricked into thinking it was some sort of action masterpiece; it may not be that, but it almost gets there, if only due to the genius addition of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to the franchise to balance out Dom Toretto’s less nuanced character beats. From here on, the Fast & Furious franchise would find success by relying on what they should have all along – just being a wild ride that leaned into how ridiculous it can get, and having fun getting there.
7. The Ides of March
From a more objective standpoint, Midnight in Paris is probably a better movie overall, but even that didn’t hit me nearly as hard as this one did, despite this one just not having as good of an ending or clever of a script overall. George Clooney directed this movie, and while there’s nothing ultimately very impressive about his directing style apart from his restraint, his performance in this movie (as well as that of co-star Ryan Gosling) prove a thousand times over that he’s more than just a pretty face with a knack for pulling off suits. Admittedly though, the script is a bit overcooked.
6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
I’ve never been the biggest Harry Potter fan, not just because my parents demonized the books because they “taught witchcraft,” but because once I was “allowed” to read those books, I had just kind of let it go as a franchise I wanted to read, largely due to the books being about 18 times as big as the ones I was reading at the time. I did end up finally catching up on all the movies, though, over the course of about 2 or 3 days, and I had a lot of fun with them, even if they didn’t mean as much to me as they do to some others. Deathly Hallows Part 2 was basically the Endgame of its day, and if the reception to this film has anything to say about it, a lot of people loved this movie as a conclusion to their own decade-long movie saga. And admittedly, it is a pretty solid finale to such an iconic franchise. It doesn’t do everything well (and J.K. Rowling’s subsequent retcons and new creations make me wish the franchise stopped here), and the final scene by the train with the kids of our grown-up protagonists is a bit weird and tacked on, but it does enough right that I’m able to let go of what doesn’t work to enjoy the experience. Neville was always the real hero, too, and this movie knows it.
5. War Horse
Steven Spielberg made a movie about WWI told through the eyes of a horse, and it’s one of his best movies. That’s it; that’s the whole summary. Go watch it.
4. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
The Planet of the Apes franchise has always had quite a surprising longevity as a sci-fi brand, with multiple sequels to and even a disastrous Tim Burton-directed remake of the 1968 original, which makes it all the more surprising just how good this first prequel is. Seeing how the “Planet of the Apes” came about was good enough, but this movie goes the extra mile and actually makes us side with the apes over its human characters, even the good ones, thus forcing us to root for our own downfall, confronting us with how awful we can sometimes be. This first entry in the series prequel trilogy gets especially overlooked with its two sequels also being excellent movies in their own right, and Rupert Wyatt doesn’t get a lot of the credit he deserves for re-vitalizing this franchise successfully after Burton took a dump on it; his direction, as well as Andy Serkis’ landmark motion capture performance as main ape Caesar, plus a tightly wound, brilliantly paced script make this prequel well worth watching.
3. X-Men: First Class
Before Logan came along and “Dark Knight”-ed the X-Men franchise by breaking genre conventions to become something wholly compelling and unique among its compatriots, there was X-Men: First Class, the movie that came to wear the crown of the best X-Men movie ever. We were all remarkably nervous after X-Men Origins: Wolverine shat the bed and a brand new film was announced, unsure of whether we would get something as good as the first two or as bad as the last two. Luckily, it wasn’t just the former of those; it was even better than that. Functioning both as a prequel to the original trilogy and a soft reboot of the franchise (because Fox never cared about continuity), this film really leaned into the identity of the X-Men like none in the series had before, embracing the bright yellow costumes, telling an engaging story, and featuring some of the most compelling characters the franchise had to offer, even ones we already knew. The central relationship between Magneto and Charles Xavier is by far the best part of the film, and while James McAvoy more than ably carries Professor X to greatness in terms of performance, it’s Michael Fassbender who really shines the most here, as a vengeful Eric Lehnsherr on the hunt for his mother’s Nazi killers. And on top of all that, Kevin Bacon makes a great villain for them to fight in the midst of the cold war. This movie is just awesome.
Even when he makes a family-friendly, child-centered movie, Martin Scorsese (king of mob violence, gangster glory, murder, drugs, sex, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s career) makes a masterpiece. Hugo is what you get when the greatest director of all time makes something outside of his usual R-rated wheelhouse. The story is engaging and poignant as a young boy attempts to reconnect with his father’s work and stumbles onto the all-too-charming history of cinema. It’s difficult to describe just how good this movie is without spoiling it. I mean, it’s a movie from 2011, so spoilers have been fair game for a while, but I really think the film should just speak for itself, because it’s really something sweet and wonderful. If this were to have stolen Best Picture at the 2012 Oscars, I certainly wouldn’t have complained.
1. Captain America: The First Avenger
My favorite movie of 2011, though, belongs to my favorite Avenger himself. At first, Captain America could have seemed like a difficult character to tackle in a modern day setting, and he is, which is why this movie is an old-fashioned, heart-on-its-sleeve, rock-em-sock-em WWII period piece with all the dressings that affords. The most genius thing this movie does is establish Steve Rogers as a hero first and foremost, a guy who really is as good at being as good as we all wish we could be – the Superman of this universe. Throughout the film, instead of watching him change, we watch the world that doubted him change around him for the better, and the sincere earnestness that fuels Chris Evans’ performance puts him on or extremely close to the Mount Rushmore of all-time greatest superhero performances. His relationship to Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter is one of the sweetest in cinematic history, and the classical nature of the film is a perfect fit for Tommy Lee Jones to just be Tommy Lee Jones, which is enough for any movie to get a green light from me. I mentioned in my piece ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe that the Red Skull is the first great single-appearance Marvel villain, and that this is also the best of the Phase 1 pre-Avengers movies, much of that being due to director Joe Johnston, who imbues the film and its leading character with such a pervading sense of goodness that you can’t help but root for it. The script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (their first in this series, in fact), who also worked on the Narnia screenplays together, is impeccably written, ably balancing tension, drama, comedy, and tragedy all at once, ending with what will surely go down as one of the best final lines in any movie this decade. Marvel had to get this movie right for The Avengers (and indeed the future MCU) to work, and boy, did they get it right.
And those are my Top 10 Movies of 2011. What are yours? Were there any I missed? How do you feel about this list and/or the movies in it? Let me know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading, and watch out for my Top 10 Movies of 2012, coming July 27th!
- The Friendly Film Fan