Nicolas Winding Refn
The driver is in a plain silver sedan parked underneath a bridge as a helicopter passes overhead. He sits silently and does not make a bold getaway, yet this is one of the more exciting scenes in the most invigorating and intense motion picture of the year.
“Drive” is a finely tuned expression of minimalistic filmmaking, but it’s also an elegant example of bloody pulp stylization. Danish Director Nicolas Winding Refn may value style more than substance, but his precise pacing makes for his rapid shift to hyper-violence all the more engaging.
Ryan Gosling, in the nameless anti-hero role, is sapped of his charisma and charm, but he delivers a strictly focused and immersed performance to embody his brooding and complex character. He meets his match in the menacingly nebbish Albert Brooks, who plays a gangster out to kill him, and the resulting noir is a darkly perfect thriller unlike any in 2011.
— Brian Welk
2. “Midnight in Paris”
It’s been said that the real star of a Woody Allen picture isn’t a leading actor, but whatever city he chooses for the movie’s setting. That’s never been truer than in “Midnight in Paris,” a beautifully rendered, cautionary ode to nostalgia seen through the eyes of a Lost Generation-obsessed Owen Wilson. When Wilson’s character concludes that we must live for the present, not the past, it’s a fitting reflection of Allen himself, who at 76 years of age has made what may be his masterpiece.
— Brad Sanders
3. “Super 8”
J.J. Abrams may have made a better Spielberg movie than Spielberg ever did. In “Super 8,” a group of friends spends the summer of 1979 investigating a suspicious train crash and the unexplained events that followed it. Reminiscent of a time when friendship was simple, they ride bikes and communicate without cell phones, and their biggest problem is a minor supernatural encounter. The film manages to evoke a sense of nostalgia even for those of us too young to remember the 1970s.
— Jayne Flax
Martin Scorsese has surprised us all with this mystical children’s fantasy that doubles as a stunningly beautiful love letter to the birth of cinema. The art direction in “Hugo” is bathed in color and light, and the 3-D special effects are a wonder that begin to define what the technology is and can do.
That a movie can be made out of a book about baseball statistics is an achievement in itself — that it is among the best films of the year is nothing short of remarkable. Brad Pitt offers a commanding performance as Billy Beane, the brash Oakland Athletics general manager who, along with Ivy League economist Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), challenges the longtime methods of scouting players and building teams in the face of criticism from baseball lifers.
— Max McCombs
6. “The Muppets”
They’re back. Co-written by Jason Segel, this musical dazzles with Mary (Amy Adams), Gary (Segel) and Gary’s Muppet brother, Walter, traveling to Universal Studios to visit Muppets memorabilia and eventually help the musical monsters, who are struggling to stay in the limelight. With tear-jerking moments, classic Muppets humor, perfect celebrity appearances and a rendition of “Forget You” done entirely by chickens, tell us: Why can’t Kermit be the host of the Oscars this year?
— Francisco Tirado
After premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, “Beginners” received critical acclaim for its warm, emotional appeal. The film shows an elderly man (Christopher Plummer) admitting his homosexuality late in life, and his son (Ewan McGregor) falling in love with a French actress. “Beginners” succeeds in its various depictions of relationships between family, friends and lovers and proves we’re all beginners at life, no matter how old we might be.
— Bridget Ameche
8. “The Tree of Life”
“The Tree of Life” is a purely cinematic experience. Watching it has been deemed a polarizing challenge for most audiences, but the fundamental human emotions Terrence Malick conveys through visuals and style, more than all else, are ambitious themes befitting a masterpiece. In doing so, his film worships the gift of life itself.
9. “Martha Marcy May Marlene”
After his Oscar-nominated turn as the meth-addicted Teardrop in last year’s “Winter’s Bone,” the Charles Manson-like cult leader John Hawkes portrays in “Martha Marcy May Marlene” should feel more familiar and less terrifying but, of course, it doesn’t. With manipulative cuts that force us to see the world through the eyes of cult escapee Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), first-time director Sean Durkin paints a scarred existence from which there is no escape or refuge.
10. “Jane Eyre”
Cary Joji Fukunaga
Starring Michael Fassbender, “Jane Eyre” turns Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel into a visually beautiful and thematically complex film. Mia Wasikowska further solidifies her strong, engaging presence on screen as the film’s titular character. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga delivers a film with powerful visuals and scenery, such as the daunting Rochester mansion, that help create this Gothic wonder.
13. “13 Assassins”
14. “Attack the Block”
15. “Cedar Rapids”
Best Movies of 2011