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Top 10 Movies of 2011  

January 2012

10.     Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol    

The theme song is unmistakable, accentuating the action and intrigue that comprise the Mission: Impossible series. In the 4th installment entitled Ghost Protocol, Tom Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt. And this time, he brings along famed animation director, Brad Bird, responsible for such works as Iron Giant and The Incredibles. In this installment, the IMF is implicated in a bombing at the Kremlin and shut down. To clear their name and diffuse the tension between the U.S. and Russians, Ethan is forced to invoke ghost protocol, assembling a team of specialists off the grid to stop a madman from starting a nuclear war. While the storyline in MI4 offers nothing new and the characters are fairly static, the action is flawless - sizzling sequences like an old fashioned prison break and a vertigo induced expedition outside the tallest building in the world. As a result, Ghost Protocol succeeds in its mission, delivering one of the most entertaining, testosterone infused adventures of the year.

9.     The Descendants    

Hawaii is one of the most scenic places on earth. And for Academy Award winner, Alexander Payne, the perfect backdrop for his latest work, The Descendants, a complex drama slash comedy that comes seven years after indie darling, Sideways, took audiences on a manic trip through California wine country. Here, a Hawaiian land baron, Matt King, played by George Clooney, takes his daughters on a personal journey of self discovery after learning that his wife, currently hospitalized after a tragic boating accident, was having an affair. With effortless dexterity, The Descendants bridges dark comedy with tragedy. And features a strong, centered performance from Clooney. Emotionally stirring, The Descendants is somewhat cathartic - a quirky, methodical detour through tropical paradise.

8.     Melancholia    

It's the end of the world as we know it, according to Danish provocateur Lars von Trier, an unapologetic director known for exploring dark subject material with a graphic nature, a la Dogville or Antichrist. In his latest film, Melancholia, two sisters played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, struggle to find meaning in their lives and their relationships as a new planet threatens the Earth. The setting is an idyllic fairy tale wedding on a lavish estate, offering a fascinating distraction from world events. And an intimate opportunity to explore family drama. From anger to dread, sadness to serenity, Melancholia is an apocalyptic journey with many moods and depressions - much like its famed director. A deeply meditative film with stunning visuals, Melancholia brilliantly captures the chaos and calm before the storm.

7.     Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy    

Based on the novel by John Le Carre, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a brilliantly nuanced spy thriller that takes place during the Cold War era - a time filled with high anxiety, volatility, and disillusionment. Much like today. In the film, Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, a British intelligence operative who is brought out of retirement to track down a double agent, feeding top secret information to the Russians. Like the age old nursery rhyme, Smiley must investigate suspects identified as a tinker, tailor, soldier, poor man, and beggar man, in an effort to find the mole. Directed by Tomas Alfredson, who was responsible for the underrated vampire thriller, Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailor is hauntingly immersive with ominous sounds, atmospherics, and camera work. With a top notch British cast that also includes Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, and many more, Tinker Tailor is a perfectly condensed, carefully calculated game of chess.

6.     Moneyball    

The latest entry in the echelon of baseball movies is Moneyball, a biographical sports drama that exclaims, "Show Me Less Money!" In the film, former slugger and Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane is tormented over a recent epiphany: the lack of a salary cap in professional sports creates an unfair advantage for top market teams over smaller markets with smaller budgets. As a result, teams like the Yankees thrive while teams like the A's continue to struggle. To level the playing field, Beane hires a Yale statistician named Peter Brand, and together, the two embark on a mission to completely revolutionize the game - signing athletes based on sabermetrics or less subjective gauges of player performance. Adapted from Michael Lewis' book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin follows up The Social Network with another dandy, transforming off the field player management and analysis into compelling drama. And with razor sharp wit and delivery, Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are sensational together, hitting Moneyball clean and out of the park.

5.     A Separation    

The spotlight on international cinema hones in on a sensational drama from Iran called A Separation. In the film, a woman files for divorce from her husband because she wishes to relocate the family abroad to pursue better opportunities. Meanwhile, her husband is insistent on staying put in order to take care of his ailing father. When the divorce request is dismissed, a series of unexpected events occurs that places each character in a unique moral dilemma. Tackling issues of pride, religion, money, and social class, the beauty of A Separation is that there is no obvious villain. With each predicament, the characters are put through a psychological grinder, attempting to distinguish between right and wrong. Politics aside, director Asghar Farhadi offers a fascinating, impartial view of modern Iran. And more importantly, through a compelling narrative, offers a fascinating view of modern families in general. All of which helps distinguish A Separation from the pack as one of the very best foreign language films of the year.

4.     Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2    

As the ancient proverb states, all good things must come to an end. And after 10 years of cinemagic that included 8 films and more than 6 billion box office dollars, the most successful motion picture franchise of all time officially comes to a close with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2. In the film, Harry, Ron, and Hermione continue their search for the remaining Horcruxes in the hopes of defeating Lord Voldemort, who is quickly approaching immortality and attempting a hostile takeover of Hogwarts. In a climactic showdown, Harry finally takes a stand against his arch enemy to save the world from evil. Returning to the director's chair, David Yates delivers all the goods - the cinematography and production design have greater depth, the makeup and special effects are better than ever, and even the cinematic score hits all the high notes just right. The only downside is the film's brevity. Coming in at 131 minutes, Deathly Hallows - Part 2 is the shortest in the franchise - an abbreviated, yet exhilarating finale that is equally satisfying as it is bittersweet.

3.     Hugo    

Based on the best-selling novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznik, comes Hugo, a whimsical, childlike fantasy that takes place in the 1930s, deep within the walls of a Paris train station. There, a 12 year old orphan named Hugo works anonymously to keep all of the clocks running on time. Such was the work of his late father. And following the disappearance of his uncle and an accidental encounter with an eccentric young girl, he embarks on a quest to unlock the mystery of his past, present, and future left behind in cryptic and mechanized clues by his father. A magical, visually stunning adventure for the entire family, Hugo is not exactly the kind of film you'd expect from legendary director, Martin Scorsese. But with a story that cleverly pays homage to the early pioneers of cinema, it's easy to see the attraction. Scorsese's love for film and film preservation shine through in Hugo - an exuberant and meticulous 3D spectacle by one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.

2.     The Tree of Life    

Filled with nostalgia, classical music, and very little dialogue, The Tree of Life might not be the right film for everyone. But it is certainly one of the most introspective. Directed by Terrence Malick, who also did Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, the film depicts the journey of life taken by the O'Brien family in a sleepy Texas town in the 1950's. Specifically, it follows the upbringing of their eldest son, Jack, from his carefree days as a child to his disillusionment as an adult. And his attempt to reconcile a complex relationship with his father (played by Brad Pitt) - a stern disciplinarian with many imperfections of his own. Through the use of stunning imagery and carefully orchestrated music, Malick takes us on a beautiful voyage of sight and sound across the universe, waxing philosophically on the meaning of life, the existence of faith, and the passage of time. One of the best films of the year thus far, The Tree of Life is an extraordinary achievement in storytelling that will captivate your inner sense of being.

1.     The Artist    

Cinematic nostalgia is back in vogue as The Artist, a sensational throwback to the silent era of film, makes its way to audiences worldwide. Directed by French auteur, Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist is a masterpiece on many levels - both dramatically and historically. In Hollywood 1927, silent movie superstar George Valentin has a difficult time adjusting to the future. Specifically, the age of talking pictures. Meanwhile, a young dancing sensation, Peppy Miller, appears to be a star on the rise, ready for her moment of fame. With nods to such classics as The Jazz Singer, Singin' in the Rain, and Metropolis, The Artist acts as a movie within a movie, depicting the beauty and bittersweet end of an era. With a touch of romance and comedy, a dash of drama, and one scene stealing Jack Russell terrier - The Artist has it all. Visually stunning, imaginative, and cleverly scored and choreographed, The Artist is quite simply and quietly, the year's finest film.

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