Now that i've lashed out on the worst of the worst, it's time for me to honor the best of the best of what 2011 had to offer. There was nostalgia this year at the movies, from a love letter to Paris and the Roaring 20s, all the way to a a big, fat kiss to the silent movie era. We said goodbye to a beloved wizard, and one director said hello to the future of movies, and an all-female cast put the boys to shame in the comedy war. These are the movies you should have seen, need to see, and the types of movies that the Suits at Hollywood need to make more of.
2. Hugo - Martin Scorsese, the same man who uses gangsters, mob bosses, deranged degenerates, crime and corruption as a torchway to the human condition, made a family film? And it's in 3D!? If it sounds like the man who made Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and The Departed has jumped the shark, prepare to be wrong and make room for this enchanting, visual and emotional masterwork that ranks alongside all the movies mentioned. Based on the story, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Scorsese's take on a orphan boy (a revelatory Asa Butterfield) trying to piece together a mechanical writing machine in 1930's Paris is more than what its synopsis reveals: It is a lovely, passion-filled ode to magic of cinema itself. Watching a never-better Ben Kingsley as the magician/filmmaker, turned toy mechanic in a montage of his days as a filmmaker with his wife is wondrous to behold, as is Scorsese's masterful use of the 3D technology, DanterFerretti's gorgeous art direction, and longtime Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker's top-notch level editing. Hugo shines a light on film's glorious past and gives you hope for it's future.
4. Drive - In a year where Ryan Gosling played a disillusioned spin man for a Presidential campaign (The Ides of March) and a smooth-talking womanizer helping a soon-to-be divorced 40-something man get back in the dating game (Crazy Stupid Love), it's his role as a Hollywood stuntman/getaway drive for the bad guys protecting a mother and his kid from the mob that lands him in my 10 best list. Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn borrows from other crime movies like Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, Michael Mann's Collateral, Joel and Ethan Coen's Fargo and Sergi Leone's Man with No Name trilogy to create a stylistic, ultraviolet crime noir tale of a heist gone wrong and car chases that put to shame all of the Fast and the Furious movies. And who knew Albert Brooks could play a mob boss with such malice and menace?
5. The Descendants - Alexander Payne follows up to his dramedy 2004 classic Sideways with this hilarious and bruising Hawaiian family drama about a workaholic lawyer coming to terms with his wife's infidelity as she lies in a hospice about to be taken off life support, and his overall absence as a father. George Clooney scores a career-best performance as the weary husband dealing with his wife's impending death, his two daughters; reckless teenager Alexandria (a touching Shaileen Woodley) and ten year-old Scottie (Amara Miller), and a looming decision on whether to sell his handed-down 250,000-acre Kauai land for a big payday. In lesser hands, this would've been a sappy family melodrama. In Payne's hands, not a moment rings false or reeks of sentimental overkill.