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).

– – – – – — – – – – — – – – – –

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.

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The Ides of March – Movie Review

If you’re like me and had no idea what “Ides of March” meant until after the movie, it’s interesting to note it’s Roman for the 15th of March.

The Ides of March is the story of the days leading up to that day, on which a heavily-contested Ohio Democrat primary is supposed to take place between governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) and senator Pullman. Morris is the frontrunner but not by much. He is easily able to inspire many by his rousing speeches and his ability to draw empathy out of his audience. He is seen by his campaign managers as the best candidate to ever grace the US political scene up to the point where they’ve come to believe they cannot be disappointed by him.

Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is one of the top managers in Morris’ campaign and he’s also one of those people. After an attempt by the opposing Pullman camp to court Meyers and have him join their side, Meyers will start discovering an aspect to the political life he loves so much that is much darker than he thought. And as his closest friend in the field, journalist Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei), had told him without him believing: “[Morris] is a politician. He will let you down — sooner or later.”

The movie itself is highly engaging. It has a dark, somber mood to it that doesn’t let down from the get go, making it highly enriching for you to sink your senses. The movie sets itself as a political drama from the first minute and stays as such for the course of its ninety minute run.

Scene after scene, the movie builds the tale of how Americans elect their leaders. It forms a plot of corruption that goes on behind scenes we can never see and it illustrates the brutality of people towards each other – how in politics, playing everyone is key to survival. This teaches the main character, Stephen Meyers, an invaluable lesson, one that he wished he’d never learn: to reach places in the political world, you have to give up your basic principles in life. And seeing Meyers transform from the utopia boy at the beginning of the movie to the pragmatic man at the end is a very engaging journey.

The acting in the movie is top notch, as is expected from Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman and George Clooney. As mentioned previously, Gosling provides the movie’s crux when it comes to the acting with the other actors and actresses coming in as accessory to his story. You can sense his anger when he is so, you can feel his sadness when he’s devastated. He slightly reminded me in The Ides of March of his outstanding performance in Blue Valentine, although this still doesn’t come close to that.

George Clooney starts off by portraying a leader you all want to follow: one that shouts integrity and honor and respect. His speeches captivate you, his ideas engage you… and sooner or later, with the twists in the story coming to surface, the leader loses that gleam of pride in his eyes and he becomes someone you can’t but run away from. The transition is performed very subtly by Clooney.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is the angry campaign manager whose goal in life is to get Morris to the White House. And as is expected from Hoffman, his performance is top notch.

The script, co-written by Clooney, is very sharp and that is overly obvious by the way it flows and by the realism it exudes. It’s so realistic, in fact, that it could have easily been a conversation between a bunch of people prior to any elections. The movie has many of the issues people discuss and these issues have been weaved into a highly interesting political movie canvas that doesn’t come off as preachy or trying to convince you of one point or another.

Clooney, as a director, provides good subtle nuances. One particular scene that comes to mind is one where Morris is delivering a speech on one side of the American flag, while Gosling and Hoffman are panicking about the campaign on the other side. Such scenes, although mostly go unnoticed, reveal a high attention to detail, one that you cannot but credit.

The Ides of March, however, is far from being perfect. Sure, it’s highly engaging. But the twist in the movie is highly predictable, which ultimately makes the plot more on the deja-vu side, but it’s the kind of deja-vu that remains interesting. And even though you feel connecting to the characters on screen, towards the end of the movie you get disconnected from everyone as they change to characters you don’t want to relate to. The movie leaves you with an ending that feels lacking. You want more mostly because you want to feel that this man you cheered for is better than what he turned out to be.

At the end of the day, The Ides of March remains a highly realistic movie that is sure to please anyone with an interest in politics in general and political movies in particular. It’s a very tightly-produced drama that doesn’t ask much of you except to concentrate and watch, ultimately inherently asking fundamental questions about the values of democracy we all consider a given.