I originally did not plan to post a list of the top 10 movies of 2011. I had my reasons.
For one, Ann Hornaday, the Post’s extremely wise film critic, had already posted hers. I also had already planned to write (and later did write) a list of weepiest moments from the year in movies, which I thought would be sufficient. Last, I’m supposed to be on vacation right now and not posting items to the blog. That one seemed like the best reason to resist the list.
Then I had to go and read this great essay entitled “The Top 10 Reasons to Make (and Love) Top 10 Lists,” written for the New York Times by frequent Post contributor and friend Dan Kois. In it, he argues that lists are a flawed but necessary ritual for anyone who writes about culture, and that they also provide a satisfying, organized way to put a stamp on the past 365 days. He also makes other sound, entertaining points, all of which are presented in easy-to-digest list form.
After pondering his words, I felt that I had a no choice but to embrace my inner Rob-from-“High Fidelity”; join what Dan refers to as “the great cultural conversation” (which is another way of saying “volunteering to allow blog commenters to mock stuff that I like”); and make a list of my 10 favorite movies of 2011.
After all, I sat through somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 films this year. And while I didn’t fall unabashedly in love with any of them the way I did with, say, “Up in the Air” in 2009 or “Moulin Rouge” in 2001, I very much liked many.
That said, here are the 10 movies from 2011 that I would recommend to friends and relatives with zero caveats or qualifiers. And yes, they are counted down for you, Casey Kasem-style. Read the choices, then feel free to mock them by posting a comment.
10. “Queen to Play”
A small French film about a Corsican housekeeper discovering new confidence by learning how to play chess, I saw this subtle, subtitled gem as the summer blockbuster season was ramping up, which made the experience that much more edifying and refreshing.
9. “We Bought a Zoo”
I know that a lot of what happens in this movie is hard to believe. But I do not care. Maybe it was Matt Damon’s performance, or the use of Tom Petty on the soundtrack, or the uber-optimistic Cameron Crowe-ness of it all. But this is my favorite feel-good movie of the year, and one I bought into far more than anything I saw onscreen in “Crazy Stupid Love.” (Note: Ryan Gosling’s abs are the notable exception to that statement. Also: Yes, Kois, this is a classic No. 9.)
“Moneyball” boasts the smartest dialogue of the year, as well as a thought-provoking story that celebrates the underdog while, in a way, dehumanizing him at the same time. “Moneyball” explores that central paradox — the losers win. Hooray! But their entire careers have been reduced to data points. Hmm. — without beating us over the head with black-and-white solutions, and that is to its credit. This is one of those movies that, two years from now, will be in regular rotation on TNT or FX. And when it airs, I will be unable to flip away from it.
7. “The Muppets”
We wanted a new Muppet movie that was silly and fun, that we could take our kids to see and that would make us fondly recall the good ’ol days of “Great Muppet Capers,” “Rainbow Connections” and Statler and Waldorf. And that’s exactly what we got.
6. “Midnight in Paris”
This was Woody Allen at his most whimsical, droll and imaginative, pure “Purple Rose of Cairo” stuff.
The funniest comedy of the year, one that still elicits guffaws on multiple viewings and, weirdly, managed to score points for female empowerment by demonstrating that, yes, women can experience intense intestinal distress onscreen just as hilariously as men can. They are women. Hear them belch.
4. “The Descendants”
As with pretty much every movie Alexander Payne has made, it’s a perfectly executed character study from beginning to end, a portrait of a man (George Clooney, at his frumpiest and most vulnerable) distracting himself from saying the hardest goodbye of his life.
3. “The Artist”
This joyfully old-school, black-and-white silent film looks poised to win this year’s Oscar for Best Picture. And if it does, you won’t hear me quibbling. It’s proof that movie magic can be achieved without CGI, 3D technology or even the oh-so-modern sound of people speaking.
Is it strange to cal this the best cancer movie I’ve ever seen? Okay, maybe ”Terms of Endearment” is better, but I’d argue that this film, featuring a great debut screenplay from cancer survivor Will Reiser and a wonderfully subtle performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is more authentic. I laughed, I cried, and then I made it my No. 2 pick of the year.
Why is this my No. 1? Because I so actively enjoyed every moment of watching this Martin Scorsese salute to cinema. Because it restored my faith in 3D. And because it did something that the very best films often do: It widened my eyes with wonder.