The year in film

Arts writers weigh in on the top movies of 2011

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Paul Giamatti and Alex Shaffer star in Win Win, a story about being a loser.
photo by Kimberly Wright TM, © 2010 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp
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Gil (Owen Wilson) dwells on the past, and comes to terms with the present, when he vacations in Paris.
Photo by Roger Arpajou © 2011 Mediapro, Versátil Cinema & Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
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David Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, starring Rooney Mara, is an invigorating adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s bestselling novel.
photo by anders linden, © 2011 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc
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Hair-raising thriller Hanna is ultimately about a girl outgrowing her father.
photo by alex bailey, © 2010 Focus Features LLC.
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Grim reality meets comic relief in cancer drama 50/50, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen.
photo by Chris Helcermanas-Benge, © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC.
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Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) coaches estranged son Tommy (Tom Hardy) in Warrior.
Photo by Chuck Zlotnick, courtesy of Lions Gate Entertainment

Win Win

With its atypical plot and talented cast, Win Win will win you over with a heartfelt story about being a loser. The movie revolves around an ever-so-average father, Mike (Paul Giamatti), who is struggling to make ends meet for his family, and Kyle, a troubled teenager (Alex Shaffer) whose unexpected agility and strength help rescue Mike’s high school wrestling team. If life’s got you down, this movie is a perfect remedy. As its tagline says, “in the game of life, you can’t lose ‘em all.”


Midnight in Paris

This romantic comedy fantasy (say that three times fast) follows successful Hollywood writer and aspiring author Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), and his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) on their trip to Paris (no, they do not reprise their respective roles from Wedding Crashers). As Gil drunkenly wanders through the city streets one night, he is beckoned into a vintage street car which magically travels back in time to the 1920s. Disenchanted with his life in the present, Gil is elated to meet his idols of the past, including Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. These whimsical trips through time help Gil make progress in writing his first novel and reassess issues in his modern-day personal life. Gil’s child-like innocence and naiveté make for a lovable protagonist who you’ll root for from start to finish. There’s a reason it got nominated for (and won) so many awards. See it.


Fast Five

In the fifth installment of The Fast and The Furious series, we see all the characters from the previous movies unite to pull one last heist. Surprisingly, it isn’t horrible. If you’re looking for a believable story or complex characters, stay away, but maybe the fact that we don’t expect much makes it enjoyable. Outrageous stunts, dirty cops, and sexy cars are destined to be a box office hit, and the plot moves along at a good pace to keep it interesting. Beware, those of you who haven’t seen the previous films — much of the plot for Fast Five is derived from 2009’s Fast & Furious. But, if you want to see an entertaining, action-packed movie with eye candy for all, you won’t be disappointed.


Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

With a story as invigorating as Stieg Larsson’s, there is no way this film could lose. Putting aside the fact that the characters’ accents were all over the place, the film does a commendable job of squeezing a 500-page book into a three-hour movie. David Fincher wisely uses what little time he has by focusing on developing the character of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). Mara’s impeccable performance, along with a strong soundtrack and superb cinematography, bring Salander to life. We see Mikael Blomkvist and Salander team up to find a prolific rapist and murderer, and the despicable villains they meet will leave you horrified. Don’t watch this one with your family.



A new take on the badass chick story, Hanna is a must-see thriller with a touch of whimsy for a hair-raising and heart-thumping two hours. Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a teenage girl who has been trained by her father Erik (Eric Bana) to kill Marissa Weigler (Cate Blanchett), a CIA agent. We soon find out why Hanna’s father had to escape to the wilderness from Weigler, and the rest of the film is a creepy and enticing manhunt. Eventually, the story becomes more about a girl outgrowing her father than anything, but the novel way in which this story is told is laudable. Blanchett’s disturbingly sinister performance and Ronan’s spot-on detached portrayal are the cherry on top.



Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, the casting for 50/50 should already have girls and guys hooked. Adam Lerner (Gordon-Levitt) is a young journalist who’s diagnosed with a rare and life-threatening spinal tumor. Given 50/50 odds of survival, Adam tries various remedies to cope with the crescendoing stress of his very possible demise, ranging from medical marijuana to sessions with an inexperienced therapist (Anna Kendrick). Rogen, who plays Adam’s friend and coworker Kyle, provides his signature flavor of comic relief, bringing levity to an otherwise grim story. You may walk away with tears, but they’ll be accompanied by a smile.


Crazy, Stupid, Love

Don’t let the painstakingly repetitive trailer deter you from watching Crazy, Stupid, Love. It’s an endearing rom-com that also has a few surprises. It combines the stories of a womanizer (Ryan Gosling) who wants to change his ways for a charming law student (Emma Stone) and a recently single putz (Steve Carell) trying to win back his one and only (Julianne Moore). With plenty of melt-your-heart romance and some hilarious moments, this chick flick is one that you don’t have to be ashamed to watch. Cameos by Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon are also a plus.



It’s a shame the marketing team didn’t come up with a better name than Warrior, but this movie, sadly overshadowed by The Fighter, is a gem. The film is a beautiful character study of alcoholic patriarch Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) and his two sons Brendan (Joel Edgerton) and Tommy (Tom Hardy). Torn apart at a young age by the divorce of their parents, Brendan and Tommy lead separate lives until they both find themselves needing the prize money from a mixed martial arts tournament. This may seem like just another fighting movie, but each of the characters is developed so brilliantly that the fighting becomes subsidiary. Edgerton, Hardy, and especially Nolte give their respective characters such life that you’ll be cheering all of them on by the end.


X-Men: First Class

Forget Thor and Captain America: The prequel to the X-Men trilogy, X-Men: First Class is the superhero movie of 2011. It cleverly relates the X-Men’s beginnings to the Holocaust and the Cuban missile crisis, and we see how each of the characters chooses their sides for the rest of the series. With just a hint of cheesiness, the movie has enough action sequences, CGI effects, and despicable bad guys to impress loyal fans and first-time viewers alike. Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Kevin Bacon, and Rose Byrne successfully lead a well-rounded cast.



Drive features Ryan Gosling as the nameless protagonist, a Hollywood stunt driver by day and a heist getaway driver by night. After falling in love with his neighbor Irene, the Driver promises to help Irene’s husband pay off his debt to local mobsters, and is consequently drawn into a world of crime. Don’t be misled by the trailer; this is not your typical fast-paced action flick, but rather a stylized action-drama blend with brief yet rewarding bursts of energy. The film may not be for everyone, but I certainly trended with the hugely positive critical consensus (and hey, worst case scenario you’ll get 100 minutes of Ryan Gosling eye-candy).


Source Code

Another masterpiece from Duncan Jones (“Zowie Bowie,” son of David Bowie), Source Code dodges a sophomore slump with an intriguing sci-fi premise, stellar cast, and, much like Jones’ first feature-film Moon, jarring plot twists. Army helicopter pilot Colter Stephens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is appointed with the task of resolving a recent terrorist attack on a commuter train headed for Chicago using a simulation known as the source code, a device which allows Stephens to experience the last eight minutes of one of the deceased passengers’ lives. Without revealing too much of the plot, I’ll tell you that Source Code goes beyond the traditional sci-fi film and even evokes philosophical and existential questions. Just avoid getting caught up in the technical details (tenuously explained through “parabolic calculus” and “quantum mechanics”) and you’ll be in for a thought-provoking treat.