Top 13 Movies of 2011

Note: This list is tentative and will be constantly updated to be hopefully finalized by March at the latest due to the unavailability of many movies that are garnering critical acclaim and award traction, be it on DVD or in local theaters.

After checking my first “Top of 2011” list which dealt with music, it is time for the second one about another thing that I’m interested in and which I’ve discussed many times throughout this past year: movies.

So without further ado, let us begin.

13 – X-Men: First Class

This reboot of the franchise of which I am a fan was a very needed approach in order to keep these X-Men relevant. Showing how Dr. Xavier became as such and Magneto became, well, Magneto, the movie was really a breath of fresh air for action movies that became more reliant on screen explosions and aerobics than on a decent story to which those special effects come as a complement. (My review of X-Men: First Class)

12 – Stray Bullet

This Lebanese movie may be too short and not a very accurate reflection on the war it is supposedly set in but the acting performances in this are so gut-wrenchingly real, it can’t but be on my list. (My review of Rsasa Tayshe/Stray Bullet)

11 – The Ides of March

This political drama is my favorite of its genre this year. I may not agree with the accolades it’s getting everywhere over more deserving movies but it’s still a great movie in its own merits. It’s riveting, engaging, highly reflective and real. It can happen anytime in any political campaign. The performances are top notch as well. (My review of The Ides of March).

10 – Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s back to basics is definitely one of the better movies of the year. This Parisian comedy will make you dream. It will take you beyond the confines of whatever room you’re watching the movie in and take you aboard its own fantastical world in a trip back in time. Marion Cotillard is more than brilliant in this. The plot is very original and the movie is very enjoyable. (My review of Midnight in Paris).

9 – One Day

Many didn’t like this movie. I found it enthralling and enchanting. Telling the story of a couple revisiting each other on the day they met every year over the course of 23 years. The premise is intriguing and while I’m sure it flows more smoothly in the book upon which this is based, the movie doesn’t botch it. In fact, the transitions are very smart at times. (My review of One Day).

8 – A Separation

This Iranian movie is simply stunning. It’s a cross examination of Iranian society through the lives of  a couple getting a divorce. The emotions in this run high, they never relent. The hurt in the characters is examined and not feared. Taboos are approached and at the end of the day, it leaves you with a stereotype-breaking view of Iranian society. (My review of A Separation).

7 – War Horse

Steven Spielberg’s WWI epic is, well, an epic movie as well. Based on the children’s book of the same name, War Horse is emotional and phenomenal. It’s stunning to look at and boasts one of the most pleasurable scores I have heard this year in a movie. It is a sentimental movie that transcends age lines and turns into a story for the ages. A must watch. (My review of War Horse)

6 – Moneyball

Brad Pitt shines as Billy Beane, manager of a struggling baseball team, as he tries to get his team to survive a grueling league with a dismal budget. So he enlists Jonah Hill’s Peter Brand to help him change the whole baseball game and turn it head on heels. Moneyball might be the best sports movie made. (My review of Moneyball)

5 – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher’s take on this Swedish noir novel preserves the book’s essence and turns it into a stellar movie, fueled by a top notch performance by Rooney Mara who embodies the novel’s heroin Lisbeth Salander in spellbinding manner. I loved the book and the movie. (My review of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo)

4 – The Artist

The Artist is a black and white movie which relies on the symphony playing throughout its run for its only auditory input. And it just works. It asks nothing of you as a viewer but to simply watch, not even listen. It relies on the strength of the performances by its cast to communicate the emotions it tries to convey. (My review of The Artist).

 3 – The Help

Based on the book of the same titleThe Help is easily one of the best movies this year as well. It is the tale of the quest of three Southern women in a 1960s racially segregated America for racial equality. The movie may be a work of fiction but it feels so real when you watch it, you can’t but be amazed. “You is kind. You is smart. You is important” – that’s a sentence for the ages. (My review of The Help).

2 – Where Do We Go Now? (W Halla2 La Wein?)

The Lebanese movie that could. Nadine Labaki’s latest movie is without a doubt one of the best movies this year. After being robbed of a Golden Globes nomination (Angelina Jolie, I’m looking at you), we find solace in this movie winning at the Toronto International Film Festival. Telling the tale of women who go beyond their means to get the men of their religiously-divided hometown to ease the tension, the movie tugs at your heartstring, activates your tear ducts and makes you laugh uncontrollably – all at the same time, sometimes. (My review of Where Do We Go Now?)

1 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

Because there’s no other movie that deserves to be here. Because there’s no other franchise that has had such a thrillingly brilliant finale. Because no other movie has ever gotten me this close to tears and because every single award show is hell-bent on shunning this from the awards it most definitely deserves. Yes, this may be predictable to many but there’s just something about the final installment in the story of Harry Potter that transcends it being just a movie and turns into a cinematic experience that we, as the Harry Potter generation, are very lucky to have experienced. (My review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2).

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Notable mentions:

Puss in Boots, previous #13 on the list’s initial version. 

Soul Surfer (check my review) previous #12 on the list’s initial version.

Source Code (check my review) previous #11 on the list’s initial version.

Soul Surfer – Movie Review

Soul Surfer follows in the Hollywood footsteps of movies such as The Blind Side, a true story based drama with a central Christian theme.

Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) is your regular teenager in almost every way, except that her blood is “salty water” – she lives to surf. Surfing is who she is and it is how she spends most of her time, in her Hawaiian hometown. However, fate has it that a shark attack causes Bethany to lose her left arm. If the attack had been two inches higher, Bethany would have lost her life as well. She lost 60% of her blood before she was rushed to the hospital where she struggles for her life and barely grasps to it.

It is then that Bethany’s struggle towards normality begins. How do you lead a surfing-based life with only one arm? How do you do your basic home chores and help around in the most basic tasks with one limb less?

With the help of her Youth Pastor Sarah Hill (Carrie Underwood) and her parents (Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid), Bethany regains her footing, learning the most valuable lesson of her life: with love and faith, you gain a new perspective on life, one that allows you to see the workings of God even in tragedies and allows you to come out triumphant.

I am by no means a sappy Christian. I struggle with my faith on daily basis. But Soul Surfer is one of those rare movies that demand nothing of you except to sit with an open mind and watch. It doesn’t preach. It doesn’t try to serve arguments about the existence of God, it simply shows you how Bethany found God in her life, as she stood on the precipice of a tragedy, the day before the rest of her life.

AnnaSophia Rob delivers a great performance as young Bethany. Her performance is highly nuanced, showcasing both aspects of her character’s character meticulously: the carefree teenagers and the tragedy-struck woman. She showcases Bethany’s struggle in a highly natural way and doesn’t shy away from asking those most crucial question in situations like this: why me?

Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt deliver performances that are representative of their acting caliber. They are the parents horrified by the troubles of their little girl, as they simultaneously put up this invincible facade to get her through her ordeal. But it’s Bethany at times who has to tell her dad not to cry.

Carrie Underwood holds her own in her movie debut as the youth pastor Sarah Hill. She is in about five scenes where she serves as guidance for Bethany and she does her job as a supportive character with flying colors. I had no idea what to expect from Carrie because I have never seen her take on a serious acting role of this magnitude before (although she has shown some acting chops in her Just a Dream and Temporary Home videos as well as a comedic side in a guest role on How I Met Your Mother) but I was pleasantly surprised. She held her own, did not over-act or under-act and gave the character the amount of emotion it deserved. And no, I’m not being biased.

All in all, Soul Surfer is one of those feel-good movies that actually make you feel ecstatic by their end. And even the story could have been this saccharine tale with the happy ending resolution, it doesn’t feel like this in this movie, mostly because you know this is not fiction – someone actually went through all of this. When Bethany is asked, towards the end of the movie, if she could go back and not go surfing on the day she got attacked, her reply was: “I wouldn’t change what happened to me because then I wouldn’t have this chance, in front of all of you, this chance to embrace more people than I ever could have with two arms.”

And when the end credits roll with real life footage of the real Bethany Hamilton, you remain in your seat, transfixed by this young woman who, against all odds, beat her tragedy to become one of the world’s most important surfers today.


Soul Surfer – Movie Trailer

This is the trailer of an upcoming movie titled Soul Surfer. It’s based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton, a champion surfer, who loses her arm because of a shark attack, fighting through her tragedy and getting back on her feet.

The movie stars Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt as Bethany Hamilton’s parents. Bethany is played by newcomer AnnaSophia Robb.

And, my favorite artist, Carrie Underwood makes her acting debut as Sarah Hill, the youth counselor who helps Bethany get by.

The movie is released on April 8th, very close to Easter. Screening has already begun for select Church leaders across the United States, seeing as it looks to be a deep movie about Christian values.

Check it out!