Top 20 Movies for 2011 (and the Worst)

A quick note:

Live chat! Live chat! We’re doing to live online chat thing Friday at 11 a.m., if you haven’t heard. If you’ve never hung out at one of the live chats, I take my cues directly from you guys. Whatever you want to talk about it what we’ll talk about. We’ve got Oscars on Sunday, tons of winter TV to talk about including a polarizing Glee winter finale (whatever that is) and the upcoming return of Community and whatever else might be on your mind. Plus, at some point in the chat, I’m giving away a pair of tickets to see Marky Ramone’s Blitzkreig at the Sherman Theater on March 29. Friday, 11 a.m., be there!

On to one of my favorite posts of the year, but it’s long, so strap in:

People yell at me for being a movie reviewer and giving their favorite movies a bad review. But I’m not a movie reviewer, I’m a movie observer. Movie reviewers get cool things like screeners, private viewings and salaries. Not me. Anything I see I paid for on my own dime in one way or another.

The problems with that is 1. I don’t see everything I should and 2. I don’t see it when other reviewers do, I’m forced to wait for a lot of DVDs. So it takes me a long time to come up with a decent top 20 movie list. With that in mind, this is what I will be submitting for my admittedly dorky but very knowledgeable Orange Street Oscars movie review club. We’ll be announcing our official compilation top 20 list and Orange Street Oscar winners over the weekend, feel free to follow along.

really good movies don't have to be artsy. they can just be well-written, well-acted and have a good premise. and that's with matthew lillard, just imagine how good it would have been without him!

1. The Descendants. My only problem with this movie is that it promises Hawaii isn’t as gorgeous and glamorous and luxurious as it looks … then spends two hours sending its stars to four-star resorts, beautiful views and gorgeous homes with nary a day of anything other than sunshine, all of this while the stars figure out ways to spend their millions. Oh, sure, there’s the whole, “Adulterous wife and mother dying after a horrific water jet ski accident,” but this might as well have been sponsored by the Hawaiian Tourism Bureau. Other than that, there isn’t one thing in this movie anyone should complain about. It’s that close to perfect. Probably my favorite Clooney role, he’s my easy choice for best actor.

2. Moneyball. I went back and forth alternating these two for my top movie. I had to punish Moneyball somehow for its shockingly bad baseball memory, so I’ll just make it #2 instead of #1. Poor Miguel Tejada took a steaming poop on his copy of the DVD for being so overlooked.

3. Win Win. Make this performance #4 that Paul Giamatti should have been nominated for an Oscar for but wasn’t. He’s still only got one nomination (for Cinderella Man). That’s a lot of Pete Rose fans on the Academy.

4. Cedar Rapids. I read somewhere that this is the movie Ed Helms’ people used to push him to position of branch manager on The Office. If it is, he totally deserved it, especially when John Krasinski’s people tried to use Something Borrowed. And didn’t it seem like John C. Reilly was in, like, 10 movies this year? And all of them were good indies that he was at least partly expected to carry! If Pigman would have spent the year trying to prove the Reilly-Fassbender Theory of 2011, he would have had a much easier time of it than with the Caine-Hackman Theory

is she a jerk in twilight too? wait, don't tell me, i wanna be surprised!

5. 50/50. Part 1 of a two-night “Bryce Dallas Howard is Not Welcome on My Property” double feature with …

6. The Help. Seriously, I don’t want her anywhere near my house. I really shouldn’t have watched those movies on consecutive nights. Genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed this movie.

7. Another Earth. And so begins the line of movies I really liked in 2011, but more than likely won’t ever watch again. Another Earth is creepy, awkward, scary and emotional — right up my alley.

8. Drive. Forget about hoping that Christina Hendricks might show a boob or something. Next time I’ll just hope she’s in a movie for more than 10 minutes. Gawd, SPOILER!!!

9. Take Shelter. We alternately cheer for a potentially destructive storm and a budding psychopath on the brink of driving his family away. Fun. In another year, Michael Shannon might have been my best actor pick.

10. Beginners. Ewan McGregor should fire his agent. How did he let this turn from a Ewan McGregor movie into a Christopher Plummer movie? Plummer is great, but McGregor is pretty darn good too.

oh, conan. whhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyyy?

11. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop. I’m pretty sure O’Brien didn’t allow cameras into his home, tour offices and everywhere else to be made out to look like a two-faced Hollywood douchebag. But there you go.

12. Super 8. No expectations from me on this, but a good, fun movie. Apparently the Culkin Reign of Terror on movies like these has finally dried up, because all of these kids seemed like they could have been Culkins. None of them actually are. Perfect initial post-Friday Night Lights role for coach Taylor.

13. Harry Pott-ah and the Deathly Hallows, Part Deux: Some random thoughts on the movie and the end of the Harry Potter series: I’m really glad I didn’t read the books and have them ruin the movie experience for me … I still don’t know if Snape is Harry’s real father or not … More people should have died in the Hogwarts battle … Ralph Fiennes has been criminally overlooked for an Oscar nomination in the last two years … Maybe he turned good at the end, but there is no way a Malfoy should be allowed into Hogwarts again, ever, forever … I really like these movies when I see them. But I never watch them again after that, so it always takes me about a half-hour to catch my bearings and get back into the swing of things … I’m disappointed my use of “Pott-ah” will be drastically cut … I’m glad my wife got me into it just before the fourth movie, and I’m glad I watched the whole series. Never thought I’d say that.

14. Margin Call. At least 25 percent of the words and phrasing could have been made up in this movie. I don’t know. I don’t know anyone who could prove it one way or the other. But it sure sounds cool when they all say it.

15. Red State. The ultimate paradox — I’m glad Kevin Smith got away from his normal stuff, but now I miss Kevin Smith’s normal stuff. I would have liked this movie a lot more if it weren’t for the 20-minute church preaching/torture scene, although I just fulfilled one of my dreams by using “church preaching/torture scene” in its correct context.

still my favorite hip hop album of all time

16. Beats Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest. The climax is a letdown. You spend an hour and 15 minutes minutes building up to what is supposed to be this big fight that breaks up Tribe Called Quest, and it’s the equivalent of a hair-pulling dust-up in the high school cafeteria that’s broken up by the gym teacher in like 10 seconds. But other than that, it’s a perfect picture album of early 90s hip hop.

17. (tie) Ides of March and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I’m either not smart, very lazy or have full-blown ADD. Or some combination of all three. I really liked watching both of these movies, but they made my head hurt a little more than I’d like. I’m pretty sure I’m getting dumber.

19. Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I’ll probably never know or understand how much Andy Serkis actually acted. But I think I’ve convinced myself he deserves an Oscar. 

20. Terri. It’s really, really creepy and disturbing watching Tommy Gavin’s youngest daughter getting drunk and (almost) showing off the goods. When I saw Alyssa Milano and Tiffani-Amber Thiessen on TV in their teen years, I couldn’t wait for them to get naked in something (still waiting on Tiff). I was a guy who was around their age, that’s what I’m supposed to do. But apparently I’ve gotten too old for that, because I was hiding my eyes when Katy Gavin turned drunken slut.


It’s not fair for me to call these my least favorite movies of 2011 because I didn’t/couldn’t make it through them. So maybe they had some completely life-altering moment at the end. But I fiercely doubt it.

1. Sucker Punch. As in, “I’d like to Sucker Punch Zack Snyder in the back of his head then kick him in his genitals for this.”

2. Meek’s Cutoff. I shouldn’t have to rewind a movie and turn the TV volume up as far as it goes to decipher the explanation to what is a really pivotal part of a movie.

3. The Conspirator. If you think you care about Civil War politics, this movie is your Litmus test. If you can get through it, you actually do care. But for the other 99.999 percent of us, we really don’t. I will no longer refer to myself at any point as a Civil War buff, I will only say “enthusiast.”

4. Your Highness. Somewhere, there’s a funny movie in there. A really, really funny movie. But they never found it, and they sure weren’t going to find it with Natalie Portman mucking things up. More on her coming up.


I can, however, say I didn’t like these movies with absolute certainty:

you shouldn't be able to screw up this movie. but they did. badly.

1. Take Me Home Tonight. I should have never, ever, ever bought in to the trailers or the publicity for this movie. But I did. I figured 80s homage+Topher Grace+Anna Faris = a fun movie, if nothing else. It is not. It is laughless and unfun. If it’s even possible to further exploit the 80s, then this movie does it. Since I assume I’m one of the few people that actually watched this movie, I’ll ask those of you who haven’t watched it a question. If you were going to completely rip off an 80s movie that you believe told the true story of the 80s teen scene, what would that movie be? Go ahead, think about it. Seriously, I’ve got time, go ahead and think. Got one or two? Great! Now, here’s the important follow-up question: Where exactly did Less Than Zero fall on your list? Oh, wait, it didn’t? Well no crap it didn’t! You know why? Because there are approximately 549 other movies of teen life in the 80s that are far more real, important and true besides Less Than Zero. Yet this movie is kinda like a comedy version of Less Than Zero, which I didn’t think was possible, but apparently it is. Who knew? Better yet, who wanted to know?

2. The Future. Really liked Me and You and Everyone We Know, but this is just a misguided mess. At first I was thinking “What the hell???” at the whole dancing in the yellow shirt scene, but by the end of it I was laughing. I doubt either reaction was what Miranda July was going for. I’ve vowed never to rent from the Redbox kiosk at the Weis on Ninth Street because that’s where I got this movie and I’m worried it might give me something else like this.

it's not brad pitt's fault, and it's not jessica chastain's fault. that doesn't leave too many culprits.

3. Tree of Life. Every year there is a movie that the more I think about it, the more I don’t like it. This year, it’s Tree of Life. I was willing to look past its “quirks” when I watched it to break it down to a decent story of pre-Vietnam American life. But the more I thought of it, the more pompous and presumptuous I thought it was of Terrence Malick to force us to accept those quirks. Maybe if the whole creation thing fit with the rest of the movie (like it did, say, in 2001: A Space Odyssey) then I could forgive it. But a jackoff who gets his kicks by knocking around his kids and his wife doesn’t have anything to do with a dinosaur stepping on another dinosaur’s head. That half-hour of nothingness is a distraction. It’s like Malick had the rights to some stock footage that would have reverted to the studio if he didn’t use it within a certain time period. So he threw it in this, dared us to understand it, then laughed when we said we did.

4. The comic book movies of 2011. They’re indiscernible from each other at this point. Unless Natalie Portman is around to muck the whole thing up and make it even worse, that is. This may have been the worst follow-up year for a best actor/actress ever. This new been-there-done-that comic book trend makes me really worried that Avengers won’t live up to the very good Avengers cartoon.

5. Bridesmaids. Just not as funny as it’s supposed to be. Not even close. You know what else isn’t as funny as it’s supposed to be? A Judd Apatow movie.

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