Top 10 Movies Of The Year

Julie Fisk is a film critic in the DFW Film Critic Association and our resident movie buff.  She reviews new movies every Thursday in Lite’s Review Room.  She submitted her top 10 movies of the year.

It’s the end of the year and time for my Top 10 Movies of 2011. Not all of these movies are Oscar caliber films. They’re just the movies or performances I enjoyed the most.

#10 The Help Nowhere near as good as the book, but it was elevated by Viola Davis’ turn as Abilene. She will probably get an Oscar nomination for it.  Here’s my review:

The Help stars Emma Stone as a writer in the deep South, who teams up with 2 local housekeepers to write a book about the white households they work for. I, like the 5 million people who bought “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett, love this book so I was nervous about the movie. Plus, “The Help” is coming out at a point in the Summer when studios tend to sneak out the stinkers.

But here comes a film starring wonderful actresses like Viola Davis & Octavia Spencer, who play Aibilene & Minnie, the house-keepers who risk their jobs & lives to speak out.Emma Stone plays Skeeter, the writer they collaborate, but it’s hard to buy her as the main character. Skeeter is supposed to be awkward & unattractive, not Emma Stone. [photogallerylink id=50353 align=right]

The relationship between Skeeter & her own housekeeper Constantine, is also disappointing. Fans of the book will notice big changes in that storyline, and there’s not real connection between Emma Stone & Cicely Tyson, who plays Constantine. Other than that, the movie is lovely and thankfully, NOT a disappointment.

We might even see some of these actresses on the short list when Oscar time rolls around, so I’m giving “The Help” a B+. But my biggest complaint about this movie is the same complaint I had about the book.

The story ends during the heat of the Civil Rights Movement, so we don’t REALLY know what happens to our courageous housekeepers. People who spoke out for equality were dealt with harshly in the South at that time, so things would have been especially dangerous for them. Just wish we knew exactly how it out for Aibilene & Minnie.

#9 Drive I prefer Ryan Gosling when he’s playing crazy because I think underneath that pretty face he probably IS crazy, and I like that.  Here’s my review:

“Drive” stars Ryan Gosling as a Hollywood stunt man, who moonlights as the getaway-driver for some criminals. Something is UP with Ryan Gosling.  I’m not talking about those outstanding good looks or his chiseled body, though given the chance, I could talk about those at great length. No, Ryan Gosling is simply different from all of the other good-looking leading men out there. He stays out of the spotlight and picks interesting roles. Plus, there’s something mysterious, even a bit dangerous about him and that’s what makes Ryan Gosling the only, and I mean ONLY actor out there who could pull off the role of the Driver.

This guy is painfully quiet but he translates everything through his facial expressions, or sometimes, lack thereof. The Driver has to help a friend and her son avoid some seriously bad guys but ends up on their hit-list in the process. This is when we see the Driver’s true colors. He might be a quiet, shy guy but there is a psychopath lurking in there and it’s exhilarating to watch him surface.

Let me be clear about the quiet nature of the movie. There are entire minutes filled with nothing but staring. The audience was actually YELLING at the screen at times but this doesn’t take away from the movie. Those long, quiet moments, paired with some tense car chases and edgy cinematography, makes Drive a treat with a style all its own and that’s why I have to give “Drive” an A-.

You will want to prepare yourself for some shocking violence though. Those of you with sensitive stomachs should watch for scenes involving an elevator or a bathroom. You’ll want to hide behind your popcorn box during those.

#8 Kung Fu Panda 2 I thought they threw this one together to profit off the first Panda movie and BOY was I wrong. Such a wonderful movie. I was so excited when my kids got the DVD for Christmas.

#7 The Descendants I wasn’t a fan of the Sid the Stoner Kid character, but that’s nit-picking. I love any Alexander Payne movie.  Here’s my review:

The Descendants” stars George Clooney a wealthy land-owner in Hawaii after his wife’s life-altering accident. This is the first full-length movie from Director Alexander Payne since Sideways in 2004 and it appears he’s spent a great deal of that down time being depressed in Hawaii.

“The Descendants” finds George Clooney as Matt King who is tending to his comatose wife. He is assisted by his 2 rebellious daughters, and explicably their stoner friend Sid, played by Nick Krause. This kid manages to turn even the most painful scenes into a “Dude Where’s My Car” moment. He’s obviously there to lighten the mood, and you need it when you’re dealing with cheating spouses, disconnected families, Alzheimer’s and OH YEAH, death.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Hawaiian islands look so BLEAK and that’s why “The Descendants” is one of my least favorite Alexander Payne movies thus far, but that’s like picking out the bad donut. Even my least favorite Payne movie is head and shoulders above OTHER films so I’m giving “The Descendants” a B.

Heck, George Clooney’s hair could score THAT on its own.

#6 Bridesmaids I only gave it a C when I first reviewed it, but I was suffering from Too High Expectations. The truth is that “Bridesmaids” is funny and Melissa McCarthy is the greatest thing since Nutella.

#5 Midnight in Paris This movie is for anyone who has ever fantasized about going on a bender with Ernest Hemingway. Yes, he probably WOULD pick a fist fight and then hit on your date.

#4 Super 8 Honestly, if Stephen Spielberg & J. J. Abrams made a Geico commercial together, it would probably end up on this list.

#3 Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2 A fitting end to a brilliant series, and this is coming from someone who struggled to stay awake through the other Potter movies.

#2 50/50 Hilarious & heart-breaking, but one of the most underrated movies of the year. A general Seth Rogan malaise kept people from seeing it. “50/50” will be just as good on DVD so pick it up as soon as you can.  Here is my Review:

“50/50” stars Joseph Gordon Levitt as a 27-year-old man who is diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer. This movie is loosely based on the real-life experience of comedy-writer Will Reiser, who is a friend and writing partner of Seth Rogen.

A young man finds out he has a cancer and a 50/50 shot at surviving, so how does he cope? Especially when his friends and girlfriend are completely incapable of handling the news properly? This is a Seth Rogen movie so OBVIOUSLY he uses his diagnosis as a way to pick up chicks and get medical marijauna, but 50/50 doesn’t turn into a stoner movie.

Okay, it does have moments of that, but it manages to still treat the subject matter with respect. This is partly due to the outstanding cast. Angelika Houston is heart-breaking as the cancer-patient’s mother and Anna Kendrick shows surprising depth as his therapist. Even Seth Rogen is great as the best friend and I must address Mr. Rogen.

There has been a terrible Seth Rogen back-lash, but do NOT avoid this movie because of him. He’s actually great in 50/50, but the story is so much bigger than just him. There really wasn’t anything I DIDN’T love about this movie and that’s why I’m giving 50/50 an A+.

Because if you’ve ever been diagnosed with cancer, or loved someone who has, you know that once you get past the shock & sadness, sometimes you HAVE to laugh. And occasionally that laughter comes at the most INAPPROPRIATE times.

And my #1 movie of 2011 is Take Shelter. I gave this one an A+ with a gold star & a smiley face, but here’s another good reason to see it. Writer/Director Jeff Nichols lives in Austin, so when you see it, you’re supporting a Texas boy!  Here is my review:

“Take Shelter” stars Michael Shannon as a man whose apocalyptic visions signal either the end of the world, or the onset of his own mental illness. Look, I’m going to tell you right off the bat, that I LOVED this movie and am giving it an A+. I left the theater out of breath, with a lump in my throat & goose bumps on my arms. That’s how good it is.

I’m telling you this because I know you have no interest in seeing “Take Shelter.” For one, there are no big stars in it. Fans of “Boardwalk Empire” will recognize Michael Shannon as the wide-eyed Agent Nelson Van Alden, but he’s certainly not a matinee idol. Jessica Chastain also stars in “Take Shelter” & is so effortlessly wonderful, she shows us why she’s been getting all the best roles this year. However, only the movie nerds will recognize Jessica.

“Take Shelter” is also a big commitment, of time & emotion. It’s 2 solid hours of watching a perfectly nice guy fall down the rabbit hole, taking his wife & sweet little deaf daughter along with him. It’s not an easy thing to witness. Despite all of this, “Take Shelter” is glorious to behold. I wanted a Thesaurus to express how much I love “Take Shelter,” but there are only 4 words you need to hear: Go see this movie.

Go see “Take Shelter” because Michael Shannon at the very least will probably be nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.

Go see it because it deserves to be seen on the big screen.

Go see “Take Shelter” because I gave it an A+ with a gold star & a smiley face.

And in case you missed it the first however many times I said it, go see “Take Shelter.”

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