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2010 was a very definitive year when it came to the very best films. Sure there were many great releases that year but two films, Toy Story 3 and True Grit, both stood heads and tails above the rest. So, picking the top few movies at least was easy. This year assembling a top 10 list was a little tougher because there was a bevy of films that were all of great quality but not perfect so not too much different than each other when it simply comes to overall quality.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was an astounding achievement for example but it has and odd hero/villain switch that you just have to accept without much exposition. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a riveting and gritty film but the first half hour was so convoluted it was tough to settle into the mystery. The Muppets was a surprise to someone who doesn’t care for either the Muppets or musicals but as good as it was there was one horrible song and one actor who just came through flat and he was the most excited to be there. All of these films were great but they all had flaws that just evened the playing field. This was a fairly constant problem from number one to ten. So it comes down to the question of which films were just so good that they overcame their flaws in a stronger or more innovative way than the others. This was the criteria for ordering the films for me after assembling the ten films I liked the best this year.

Now it goes without saying that there were some real stinkers this year. It’s kind of fun to talk and write about them now but at the time of the theatrical viewings I wouldn’t have said these films were fun in any shape or form. In fact I can think of various surgical procedures I’d rather endure or horrible foods I’d rather choke down than watch some films again that I saw this year. That’s another list coming soon, after one more round of therapy to try and deal with what those films collectively did to my psyche. Do some filmmakers really hate us that much? It certainly seems like they do after watching their films.

To hear more discussion of these films and the overall validity of these lists, and the lists of the other writers here at CineGeek, Check out episode 193 of the CineGeek Webcast. But this article is my forum, so no debating me or questioning my choices, well until the comments section of the page anyway! Comment away after you see the full list below:

10. Attack the Block

Alien invasion films are all the rage these days along with vampires. There’s been Cloverfield, Battle Los Angeles, Skyline, and even Cowboys and Aliens. This little British film takes a different approach to the alien invasion film; What if the aliens landed in the roughest block of a neighborhood? Those buggers would have to face off against drug users, thugs, and thieves. They inevitably face off against a gang of 11 year old toughs. These kids mug woman but also negotiate with their mother’s about what time to be home at night. Get where we’re going here? This is a lighthearted film in the style of the Goonies. This ragtag group of kids is the only thing that stands between the aliens and the block which they dearly love. The aliens by the way are more in line with Critters or Ghoulies than giant District 9 style intelligent bugs. The special fx budget is hilariously low, the kids are all precocious and entertaining, oh and there’s Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead)!

9. Contagion

Steven Soderberg is one of the few modern directors that has truly cut his own stylistic path. If you’ve seen one of his films you’ll recognize his approach in his other films. His style is unique though. Very seldom do you hear his films referred to as being “like” someone else’s work.  Regardless of the type of film he’s making the work always feels independent and character focused and precisely paced. This film follows an all-star cast including Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Lawrence Fishburn playing characters dealing with the outbreak of a contagion that’s rapidly killing people. The film is long and a little slow but precisely so, all to prepare you for a fascinating story finale. This one was underappreciated due to some character flaws.

8. Waiting for Superman

Documentaries are a hard sale these days because after so much influence by Michael Moore few of them are actually documentaries. So many “docs” are truly message pieces meant to influence viewers to believe what the filmmaker believes rather than simply open the viewer’s eyes to something they may never have seen and allow them to form their own opinions. Waiting for Superman is no different. The filmmaker has decided he knows what the problem with public schools is and he thinks he’s on to a way to fix them. While I’m not a fan of the propaganda film his case is compelling. All things said though the subject is handled fairly balanced and the blame is spread around. The film follows a group of families hoping to win a lottery that will get their children into successful charter schools and out of the failing schools they currently attend. This one’s definitely thought provoking and worth a watch even if you don’t have kids.

7. Another Earth

Another Earth is a drama based art house film approach to sci-fi. In the film we discover that there is another Earth, exactly the same as ours in every way. A rich entrepreneur launches an essay contest to give a seat away on his space ship to one lucky winner to go and visit the other Earth. A depressed young woman considers entering the essay contest as a way to reset her life. She has just been released from prison where she was serving time to pay for killing a man’s wife and children in a drunken driving accident. She struggles to reboot her life with the heavy weight of what she’s done resting on her shoulders. Things change radically for her when she decides to attempt to apologize to the man for what she took from him. Another Earth is slow paced, but mesmerizingly so. It’s character driven and extremely well-acted. This is easily the best simple drama of the year.

6. The Muppets

Love them or hate them the Muppets are truly iconic. They deserved saving and Jason Siegel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) believed he was the man to do it. After seeing the film there’s no denying that he was right. The story is as formulaic as they come and the kid focused message is common but it’s all delivered in such an enthusiastic and entertaining way that the familiarity doesn’t matter. The fact is the filmmakers know the whole thing is formulaic to the degree that they mention it in the film making the whole thing that much more fun. The songs, all but one, are fun and catchy and the jokes are all gut bustlingly hilarious. There are plenty of obvious over the top jokes and tons more smaller quick little gags that are just as funny. Siegel himself is the worst performer in the film coming off wooden and a little amateurish. He’s not doing it for a laugh or effect either; he just sucks in this movie. With that said his writing for the film is top notch. This is a fitting retooling of this iconic franchise and enjoyable for everyone, even people who don’t like musicals or Muppets.

5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

The Planet of the Apes franchise is made up of some pretty campy films but it’s a true classic franchise because it’s just so damn much fun. This reimagining of the series isn’t as campy or fun but the thematic elements from those films do find their way into the reboot just executed much darker and more realistically (Did I just type that?). The story is engrossing throughout save for the one issue of a complete hero/villain swap that happens really quickly and without enough exposition. The apes are rendered some fantastically from the CGI to the Andy Serkis motion capture that you can’t hardly take your eyes off them. This little movie shouldn’t have been this good but it truly deserves a place in this list. Hopefully it’s the start of a new exciting franchise.

4. Captain America

It seems like Marvel Entertainment is reading my mind. My favorite of the Marvel Universe is Spider-Man, they made a movie, next is Iron Man, they made that movie, and third is Captain America, and now they’ve made that film. Any many ways Captain America has the most grounded story of all the films so far (well once you get past the whole super serum part of his origin). After all he has the most valid excuse for being in a costume. His costume is truly a uniform meant to inspire those that see him because during the war his image meant something. He was a marketing tool in other words. This film tells not only the origin story of a super hero but it also successfully portrays a Dirty Dozen style war movie. Cap wasn’t a one man army. Perhaps his greatest power is that of his ability to lead and inspire those around him and that’s represented in the film. Now with that said, when that shield flies it gave me chills. The film looks gorgeous and is well acted and directed. Could it be a little shorter?  Well yes but it’s hard to complain about to much of a good thing.

3. Super 8

I am an unabashed JJ Abrams fan. His Mission Impossible was the best of the franchise, LOST was one of the best series on television EVER, and his Star Trek reboot was extremely entertaining. So, what do we get when he meets Stephen Spielberg? We end up with a little gem of a film called Super 8, that’s what we get. Super 8 simply put is The Goonies crossed with ET for a new generation. It’s a kids adventure but it’s expertly crafted for any age viewer. It also gets points for giving us an alien that doesn’t look like a giant bug. The kid actors are near perfection and the adventure is simply enthralling. There’s even some expertly rendered innocent romance in the film.

2. Hugo

Did Martin Scorsese just deliver us a kids movie? The man that created Goodfellas? Well no he didn’t and that may have disappointed some viewers. Are there elements of a young adult film within Hugo? Well yes there are but the film is so much more complex and deep than your average Harry Potter clone film. Hugo is easily the most breathtaking film of the year in terms of look and style but it’s also the most subtle and nuanced and at the same time over the top. Scorsese makes filmmaking feel effortless and at the same time magical here. Hugo is the director’s love letter to film and the art of crafting it and it truly defines where he believes the art to fall in the world of culture and within humanity itself. The film is too long but the precise pacing makes the important scenes all the more important and all the more meaningful. Check out my full review of Hugo here.

1. Drive

Drive may be the least known of the films on this list but it’s easily the most impactfull. Yes it feels like a remake of another European film called The Professional but so what? This wouldn’t be the first remake on this top 10 list and it would drown in a sea of remakes hitting theaters every year. This film strikes an amazing balance between quirky storytelling, moving drama, romance, and action that no other film came close to this year. Drive is number one here because it stuck with me like no other film this year. The story is as fresh in my mind so many months after seeing as it was after the credits finished in the theater. I’m not going to get into plot specifics because you can check out my review here to get more of that level of coverage. I will say that Drive and Hugo were a hair’s breadth of being swapped on this list. Both films are the ones on the list that I would say are true achievements in filmmaking as a whole, not just great stories but so much more. Drive simply gets the top spot because it is the perfect length where Hugo is a bit too long.

Well there you have it, the list of best films of 2011. If you haven’t seen any of these get to Redbox, On Demand, or Vudu and check them out. They all offer up important and entertaining experiences. There are some honorable mentions that just narrowly got bumped from the list including Thor, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and The Adventures of TinTin. They either had some flaw that kicked them off the list or they simply just weren’t quite as good as the ones that are here. Watch for my top guilty pleasure list coming shortly too!