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The 25 Best Movies of 2011

Best Movies of 2011
Warner Bros. / Columbia Pictures / FilmDistrict

It was the year Harry Potter ended, the Muppets returned, Ryan Gosling drove, Apes rose, Matt Damon bought a zoo, and a bunch of raunchy Bridesmaids made us pee our pants (or wedding dresses) laughing.

Yeah, we're pretty happy with you, 2011 movies.

As for counting down the best of the best, we're happy/relieved to report that coming to an in-house consensus was pretty easy, and entirely non-violent. And our number one pick? Even easier to decide.

Tell us your favorite movies in the comments section, and for a taste of sour, check out our picks for the 5 Worst Movies of 2011.

25. 'Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol'

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Paramount

So many movies this year promised edge-of-your-seat action and nonstop popcorn scarfing, but few delivered like the fourth installment in this would-be aging franchise. Tom Cruise is at his best, reminding us that his charisma and ability to sell a crazy fight scene are still top-notch; and Paula Patton proved she's a super-hot actress who deserves to be catapulted to the A-list. At the end of the day, though, this movie earned a spot on our list simply because we were hard-pressed to name another that was more fun to watch. Breanne L. Heldman

24. 'Contagion'

Contagion
Warner Bros.

Much like with the "Ocean's Eleven" movies, Steven Soderbergh assembles a massive cast of A-listers, this time including Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet and Jude Law, to name a few. But that's where the similarities to the "Ocean's" movies stop. This thriller about a deadly virus spreading around the world at an alarmingly rapid pace quickly becomes a horror movie with astounding real-life effects. We're still using more antibacterial gel than ever before, and this movie came out in early September. – BLH

23. 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close'

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Warner Bros.

The horrors of Sept. 11, 2001, have resounding effects for many Americans, but a movie about a boy searching for answers and messages from his father who died in the atrocity is a recipe for a serious cryfest. This movie doesn't disappoint in that category. (Seriously, have a bottle of water before you see it -- we don't want you getting dehydrated). Youngster Thomas Horn has a similar quality to Elijah Wood from his "Radio Flyer" days: blue eyes almost forever filled with tears and an ability to throw one heck of a temper tantrum. Pink, fluffy cotton candy should be handed out following every screening, just to lift people's spirits after such a weeper. -- BLH

22. 'Beginners'

Beginners
Focus Features

It's been a long six-year wait for those of us who loved the quirky indie "Thumbsucker," but director Mike Mills finally unveiled his sophomore effort, and it's a more-than-worthy follow-up. Talk about a piece of personal filmmaking: "Beginners" is based on Mills' real-life relationship with his father (played by Christopher Plummer), who came out of the closet at 75 after his wife, Mills' mother, had passed. There's a dainty love story, a subtitled dog and more enjoyable (and non-annoying!) quirks, but the biggest story to emerge from this tearjerker is Plummer's layered performance. He's practically a shoo-in to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.Kevin Polowy

21. 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes'

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
20th Century Fox

Most had left the "Apes" series for dead after Tim Burton's hot mess a decade back, but the simians have indeed risen again thanks to one of summer's most pleasantly surprising hits. James Franco doesn't really have any business being in this movie (really, it could've been anyone ... say, Noah Wyle), but it doesn't make a blip without Andy Serkis, who's motion-capturing lent the guerrilla ape leader Caesar freakishly real emotions. Someone give the man a damn Oscar nomination (even if he'll just lose to Plummer; see above). Watch James Marsh's heartbreaking doc "Project Nim" and this one back-to-back for an ape-tastic double feature. – KP

20. 'The Adventures of Tintin'

The Adventures of Tintin
Paramount

What other animated film of late has featured rampant alcoholism not only in a main character, but as a pivotal plot point? Three cheers for Captain Haddock, as well as his heroic companion, Tintin! Steven Spielberg takes to cutting-edge performance-capture animation like a duck to water, unleashing his full arsenal of tricks to deliver three or four of the most pulsing, whiplash-inducing action sequences of his career, and that's saying something. Just the high-flying, cannon-firing Red Rackham flashback alone blows all four "Pirates" movies out of the water. Staying true to the exotic, early 20th-century world of Hergé's comics took a lot of moxie, and has given us a rip-roaring franchise for the 21st. More, please? – Max Evry

19. 'Take Shelter'

Take Shelter
Sony Classics

Enjoy a good mind-f**king? Then you'll love this engrossing stunner of a film about a Midwestern man so haunted by visions of an apocalyptic storm that he ruins his life building a storm shelter underneath his backyard. Driven by an excellent, understated performance by Michael Shannon, it's the perfect scarefest to take us into 2012, playing on our fears of extreme weather and financial ruin. Not to mention crazy people from the middle of nowhere. We'll take this small, quietly shocking disaster movie drama over a brainless Roland Emmerich spectacle any day. -- KP

18. 'We Bought a Zoo'

We Bought a Zoo
20th Century Fox

"Almost Famous" is among the most nostalgic movies ever made, but our poor heartstrings were somehow unprepared for Cameron Crowe’s newest movie. A broken-hearted widower (Matt Damon) uproots his family to assume ownership of a defunct little zoo in danger of closing forever -- maybe the premise and the curly-headed moppet who plays Damon’s daughter should have tipped us off. Whatever. No matter how hard it made us cry, which we neither confirm nor deny, the movie really captures the need to save something broken, be it a zoo or a motherless tween. It’s never as schmaltzy as you expect, and it has tigers. Win win. – Brooke Tarnoff

17. 'Attack the Block'

Attack the Block
Screen Gems

You'll long for subtitles to help you navigate the thick South London accents in this indie political alien invasion movie (yeah, you read that right), but the effort you spend understanding the dialogue is well worth it. A gang of teen thugs joins forces with the young woman they've just mugged in this beautifully original, funny and genuinely thought-provoking action thriller. Plus, it has vicious, furry aliens with glowing eyes and Nick Frost from "Shaun of the Dead." Basically, there's no downside. -- BT

16. 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Focus Features

Your electrolytes have to work overtime to follow the plot complexities and subtleties of this film adaptation of John La Carre's popular British spy novel, but the strain on your brain will pay dividends. About a retired agent (the excellent Gary Oldman, who plays his oldest old-man yet) lured back into business to smoke out a mole, the grey-hued Cold War-era set mystery recalls "Mad Men" in its painfully detailed recreation of a bygone era. This very adult film is like the anti-Bond movie; it's easily the quietest spy movie you'll ever see. – KP

15. 'Midnight in Paris'

Midnight in Paris
Sony Pictures Classics

If you've wondered how Woody Allen would’ve handled "Bill and Ted’ Excellent Adventure" -- and who hasn't? -- the answer is "Midnight in Paris." It's half love letter to literature and art history, half dizzy time-travel fantasy. We have no idea what Allen's deal is with pretty girls; he wastes our collective girlfriend Rachel McAdams in a role any actress with a bitchy setting could have handled, but that couldn't extinguish the movie's allure. We want to hang out with Zelda Fitzgerald at impromptu Parisian parties! We want Gertrude Stein to read early drafts of our novels! We want to kiss Marion Cotillard in the rain! Problems aside, the writing is Woody Allen at his almost-best, and the lustful shots of late-night Paris had us seeking discount airfares. -- BT

14. 'X-Men: First Class'

X-Men: First Class
20th Century Fox

Before this movie, few people had even heard of Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence. Coincidence? Actually, yes. But the fact that two of the biggest breakout stars of 2011 are in the same movie is pretty darn awesome. Kinda like this movie. In a year filled with good superhero flicks ("Captain America," "Thor"), this one took the cake. From flashy action sequences to killer special effects, its "prequel" status didn't deter the "X-Men" virgins or fanatics and managed to stay fresh despite a presently oversaturated genre. – BLH

13. '50/50'

50/50
Summit

"Cancer comedy"? Really? Anyone who's lived through tragedy more profound than a hangnail knows that suffering can be pretty damn funny -- there's nothing quite like the laugh you laugh after five hours of crying. But still. For a Hollywood movie to capture the delicate balance between honesty and insensitivity is a tall order ... and "50/50" delivered. Rarely dwelling in misery and never so crass that it diminished the disease, the mostly-true story of screenwriter Will Reiser was genuinely the "cancer comedy" we were promised. Who knew? -- BT

12. 'Moneyball'

Moneyball
Columbia Pictures

Director Bennett Miller has insisted his sharp drama about the sabermetrics movement in professional sports is "not a baseball movie." Guess what, dude, it's a baseball movie. But that doesn't make it any less fascinating for sports fans and non-fans alike; the drama is so engaging we don't even seem to mind that the story's most suspenseful buildup focuses not on a championship run but a 20-game win streak (yep, a win streak). In one of Brad Pitt's most Brad Pittiest roles in years, he forgoes showiness for natural charisma and in turn delivers one of the most convincing performances of his career. This one's money. – KP

11. ' Crazy, Stupid, Love.'

Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Warner Bros.

They would've had us with just Ryan Gosling playing a cad, but Gosling playing a cad who takes Steve Carell under his wing and subsequently changes his womanizing ways for the always fabulous Emma Stone? Heaven. Throw in Julianne Moore, Marisa Tomei and impressive upstart Analeigh Tipton, and you've got the perfect example of comedy and drama as two great tastes that taste great together. – BLH

Also Check Out: MTV's Top 10 Movies of the Year

10. 'Drive'

Drive
FilmDistrict

Ryan Gosling puts the pedal to the metal as the unnamed lead of Nicolas Winding Refn's moody flick, and, for our money, it was one of the coolest-looking films to hit theaters this year. Whether you liked the story or not, or dug the '80s-themed soundtrack or not, it was simply sweet to look at. The scene in the elevator with Carey Mulligan -- you know the one -- was both of the sexiest movie moments and the goriest kill of the year. Now that's an accomplishment. – BLH

 
 

9. 'The Help'

The Help
Disney

This year saw quite a few popular book club reads make their way into theaters ("Water for Elephants," "Something Borrowed"), but from the screenplay to the casting, none hit the mark quite like "The Help," based on Kathryn Stockett's novel of the same name. Emma Stone leads an award-worthy ensemble, including Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, as their characters all make a bold move to speak out, even at great risk, about injustices before them. It's a tale of bravery, and one we can all be inspired by. – BLH

8. 'Warrior'

Warrior
Lionsgate

And now for the most criminally underseen gem of the year. Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton play estranged brothers who reunite to fight each other at a high-stakes mixed martial arts championship, and the phenomenal Nick Nolte is their broken-down father who cries a lot. Tense and emotionally stunning from beginning to end, "Warrior" is fueled by amazingly choreographed fight scenes and stinging familial drama. Did we mention Nick Nolte cries a lot?! Maybe audiences had brothers-in-combat-sports-movie fatigue after "The Fighter," but they missed a real winner. – KP

7. 'Hugo'

Hugo
Paramount

Martin Scorsese making a family film that rocks?! Who'da thunk it? Still, Mr. Mafia Movie manages to weave the tale of a young orphan boy (played with aplomb by Asa Butterfield) into a love letter to the history of cinema that truly dazzles. The film is beautiful, the score stunning and the use of 3-D among the best since "Up" and "Avatar." Not that we ever doubted the Oscar-winning director. –BLH

6. 'The Descendants'

The Descendants
Fox Searchlight

The sky is blue. Water is wet. George Clooney is handsome. Some things are just objectively true. But we applaud "The Descendants" for showcasing Clooney in the schlumpiest role possible, where we could finally concentrate on his excellent performance without the distraction of his dreamy, dreamy appearance. In the role that will surely garner another Oscar nomination and possibly his first Best Actor win, Clooney manages to find the humor in desperate unhappiness as he mourns the certain loss of his wife while digesting the uncovered, ugly truth of their marriage. Also, ABC Family can probably kiss "Secret Life of the American Teenager" star Shailene Woodley, who plays Clooney's surly teenage daughter, goodbye. She's going places, and we're not sure they're on TV. -- BT

5. 'The Muppets'

The Muppets
Disney

You'd have to be dead inside to walk out of "The Muppets" without a big fat cheesy grin on your face (no offense to those dead inside, by the way). This return to glory for Kermit, Piggy and company -- dreamed up and cowritten by star Jason Segel -- is 103 minutes of nostalgic, unadulterated bliss … with musical covers! (Including the best cover of Cee-Lo's "F**k You" that will ever exist). Consider this franchise fully reinvigorated (well played, Segel). We're still humming a month after seeing it. For the record, it's spelled "Mah Na Mah Na." -- KP

4. 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Columbia Pictures

Very few people can make a story with multiple rapes, a bunch of murders and so, so many facial piercings this appealing and strangely sexy. Director David Fincher and his "Dragon Tattoo" stars, specifically Rooney Mara, are among those people. Though Mara's Lisbeth Salander is coolly detached at best (and borderline sociopathic at worst), she invites a connection you don't quite see coming, and Daniel Craig is broodingly excellent. Even if you've read the Stieg Larsson source material and keep the original Swedish trilogy on the best shelf in your media library, the Fincher adaptation is not to be missed. -- BT

3. 'Bridesmaids'

Bridesmaids
Universal

As much as we hate having the "are women funny?" conversation -- because duh, stop wasting our time -- it's handy to have an unassailable example sitting right there on the DVD shelf. Far from having one breakout star, "Bridesmaids" was the perfect kind of ensemble comedy; it's actually hard to choose the best performance. Is it Kristen Wiig, as quirky as she is on "SNL" but somehow a thousand times more engaging and a million times less annoying? Is it Melissa McCarthy's boundary-free supporting role, Chris O'Dowd's charming love interest or Jon Hamm's unexpectedly hilarious (but sadly familiar) douchenozzle? We dare anyone to suggest the writers (women) or actors (mostly women) aren't as funny as any dude. -- BT

2. 'The Artist'

The Artist
Weinstein Company

Insisting you must run, not walk, to theaters to see a black-and-white silent film? Yeah, we sound pretty pretentious right about now. But you'll be thanking us five minutes in -- that's about how long it takes to fall head over heels in love with this love letter to Old Hollywood about a silent movie mega-star whose career fades when "talkies" arrive. It's funny, touching, sweet, charming, technically amazing and a true crowd-pleaser. Look for it to win Best Picture at the Oscars next year, and possibly even do for silent black-and-white films what "Avatar" did for 3-D. Okay, probably not that second part. – KP

1. 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2'

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Warner Bros.

Hang on, need to grab a box of tissues before explaining why this movie, the final movie in a series that shaped a generation of movie fans, deserves the number one spot on our list of 2011's best. The bottom line is this: The best minds in the movie industry -- including just about every serious British actor and their 26 collective non-"Potter" Oscar noms -- put a great deal of effort into realizing the dreams of "Potter" fans worldwide, and they've earned our top honors for getting it exactly right. "Part 2" is a fitting send-off, blending whimsy and horror as well as "Potter" ever has. Plus, we waited a decade to see Molly Weasley take her gloves off. It was worth the wait. -- BT

 

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