There’s a fine (and sometimes non-existent) line between what constitutes a great movie and a “favorite.” We all have films we absolutely love and re-watch over and over, imperfect though they may be; conversely, we may really admire and respect the quality of a widely-recognized “classic,” but it’s not the sort of flick we feel the need to see more than once or twice.
We’ve settled on a list of 10 movies released in 2011 that the Screen Rant staff not only admired, but flat-out enjoyed. Bear in mind, this isn’t synonymous with a “best of” list for films that hit theaters over the past year. These are simply the ones that we deemed our favorites.
Read on for our top 10 choices, along with 5 honorable mentions that almost made the cut. As always, let us know if you agree/disagree and what your favorite 2011 flicks were in the comment section.
It may have been the last of four superhero comic book adaptations to hit theaters in 2011, but Captain America: The First Avengers (for us) proved to be the cream of the crop. As Marvel Studios’ final lead-in to The Avengers, First Avenger served as a great final piece to the puzzle of Marvel’s cinematic universe.
Captain America is also just a fun old-fashioned period adventure flick and fitting throwback to pulpy serial titles of the 1930s and 40s. Director Joe Johnston successfully delivered a final product that mixed a rousing hero, diabolical villain, and kick-ass lady love with some fun action set pieces – and even some moments of tender drama, to boot.
Several movies released in recent years have been sold as great Indiana Jones clones, but Captain America is (arguably) the most deserving of that title.
As much as we (and moviegoers of all shades) love Jim Henson’s iconic felt puppet creations, Disney’s marketing campaign for The Muppets was so inspired and hilarious, it begged the question – could the actual movie really live up to all the hype?
Fortunately, by most everyone’s account, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Muppets co-writer (and star) Jason Segel, along with co-writer Nicholas Stoller and director James Bobin, delivered a Muppet movie that has it all: catchy original tunes (thanks to Brett McKenzie), fun performance numbers, classic Muppet-style irreverent humor and physical comedy – all topped off with some inspired celebrity cameos and a genuinely heartfelt story.
Suffice it to say: The Muppets are officially back in style and will hopefully stay that way for many years to come.
Chances are good that many of the people reading this are only somewhat familiar with this Sundance breakout flick. Nonethless, Martha Marcy May Marlene is definitely one of the most powerful and haunting titles to hit theaters in 2011 (by our count).
Martha writer/director Sean Durkin crafted an entrancing psycho-drama that transitions with uncanny ease between the present and questionable memories from the fractured mind of the titular character. Elizabeth Olsen delivers a powerhouse performance as the troubled Martha, while John Hawkes’ subtle turn as a charismatic, but unscrupulous cult leader is (frankly) the stuff of nightmares.
Lastly, an enigmatic ending rivaling Inception makes this a film worth checking out.
Michael Fassbender’s star meter has been steadily going up for a few years now, but his popularity increased something fierce in 2011 – in part thanks to the actor’s emotionally-raw (and physically revealing) performance in co-writer/director Steve McQueen’s Shame.
Shame is (arguably) both the most difficult film to sit through and impossible to recommend to everyone, as far as entries on this particular top 10 list go. However, if you’re up for the task of watching a visually and thematically gloomy drama about a psychologically-damaged man suffering from sex addiction, McQueen’s flick is more than somewhat rewarding.
Don’t let the NC-17 Rating scare you off, either; Shame features as much (if not more) in the way of stellar acting and pure thoughtful storytelling as any other film that hit theaters in 2011.
Brad Bird may be a master of animation, but he was covering new ground when he signed up to direct Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. The filmmaker also had to contend with franchise lead Tom Cruise’s diminished star status and the general public’s waning interest in this particular spy movie series.
How then did Bird and his production team overcome those challenges? By crafting a film that boasts an effectively straight-forward narrative and a fun team dynamic (the main cast deserves credit too, in that regard) along with some nail-biting thrills, fantastic blockbuster set pieces, and great use of IMAX cameras to help transport viewers to some truly dazzling spots around the globe.
Ghost Protocol was more than good enough to ensure that we’ll accept the next mission the I.M.F. throws our way.
The eighth and final installment in the Harry Potter movie series was really more a “cinematic event” than just another blockbuster sequel. Fans turned out in record numbers at the film’s midnight release, eager to see the decade-old franchise’s finale (while also dreading its ending).
Fortunately, director David Yates and his all-star British cast helped make Deathly Hallows: Part 2 not only a great thematic conclusion to the eponymous boy wizard’s story; but also one that features lots of touching moments and triumphant character beats, along with plenty of spectacular effects and thrilling action to go around.
Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is the rare franchise concluder that manages to be “epic” in terms of both emotionally-satisfying drama and visual spectacle. Even non-Potter fans have to admit, that’s an impressive feat.
David Fincher is no slacker when it comes to directing intoxicatingly dark and adult murder mysteries. So the idea of him taking on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was met with unadulterated enthusiasm, right?
Well, had Niels Arden Oplev not already directed a highly-acclaimed Swedish adaptation of Dragon Tattoo back in 2009, that certainly would have been the case… and yet, a quick survey of both Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb show that people (in general) actually like Fincher’s interpretation a bit more than Oplev’s.
The reason for that is the same reason Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo ranks so high on this list: because it features chilling visuals, engaging storytelling, and a gorgeously broody score, along with a fully-committed lead performance from both Daniel Craig and especially Rooney Mara as the titular (and gnarly) anti-heroine, Lisbeth Salander. Hard to hate that winning combination.
In an age where cynicism and trendy humor reign triumphant in family-friendly entertainment, it’s that much easier to cherish a visually-poetic and enjoyably whimsical (yet emotionally-genuine) film like Hugo.
Director Martin Scorsese designed Hugo as both his personal love letter to the beauty of cinema and a meditation on how artistic expression and creativity help define our very existences. The final product is a thematically-rich tale brought to life by a charismatic and capable collection of thespians, both young and old.
Hugo also manages to pay homage to old-school filmmaking techniques, while simultaneously embracing new technology (namely, 3D and digital effects) more effectively than just about any title released to date. Put mildly, it’s a treat to watch.
Extraterrestrials of all shapes and sizes invaded theaters in 2011, but it was this scrappy flick about a bunch of inner city London street hooligans who do battle against other-worldly fuzzballs with glowing teeth that emerged as the best alien movie of the year (and one of our favorites).
Writer/director Joe Cornish and his crew of (largely) unknown actors helped make Attack the Block a wonderfully fun flick that combines true sci-fi elements with an exciting low-budget action romp – one that boasts colorful characters you can cheer for, excellent storytelling, and a hip soundtrack to top it off. This flick really does put all those ultra-expensive (but lackluster) alien movies Hollywood churned out in 2011 to shame.
And our MOST favorite movie of 2011 is…
At the beginning of this past year, all we (and pretty much everyone) knew about Drive is that it sounded like a basic neo-Noir flick directed by well-liked Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn. Jump ahead to the present and it’s the one title that almost everyone on the Screen Rant staff ranks as one of their favorite (if not top favorite) titles of 2011.
Drive successfully blends impressionistic visual storytelling style with often-wordless (but highly-expressive) acting to spin an artsy, but very entertaining yarn. Refn’s film also benefits from some impeccably-constructed car chase sequences, shockingly brutal bits of graphic violence, and a love story that often plays out like a contemporary re-imagining of a Grimm fairy tale.
We know Drive isn’t for everyone; however, those who choose to take the ride are in for one strangely fantastic trip.
The following films were enjoyed by many of the Screen Rant staff, but ultimately didn’t rank high enough for an official spot on our list:
- Moneyball – A very intelligent and enjoyable real-life sports tale with a charismatic leading performance by Brad Pitt.
- Warrior – This Rocky-style gritty sport drama packs both a powerful visceral and emotional punch.
- Bridesmaids – Hilariously raunchy at times, endearingly sweet at others, Bridesmaids is a delightful girl-centric comedy.
- Rise of the Planet of the Apes – This successful franchise reboot features yet another magnificent motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis.
- The Way Back – Emotionally-draining but rewarding, this is a well-made (and well-acted) survival tale.