December 29, 2011, - 11:45 am Best Movies of 2011

By Debbie Schlussel

It’s the end of the year, which means that I give you the magical sack of golden nuggets at the movies after a year of spending hours of my life sifting through a lot of dirt–and sitting in a dark movie theater–to find them.  For more recent readers, I stopped doing a Worst Movies of the Year list because it’s impossible to narrow down 50-plus equally horrid pieces of garbage to just ten.  I’d probably include 75-80% of the movies I saw this year on that list, as is more and more the case in recent years.  Some of the top movies on my list did not come out in 2011, but as a movie critic, I screened them this year, so if they’re among the best, they go on the list.  Also, there were some movies that didn’t make my top ten but which I enjoyed nonetheless and were the best in their genre, in my view.  I’ve linked to my complete original reviews on the title of each movie, and I’ve also provided a brief summary of each movie. (If you buy these movies through the Amazon ads below, it helps support this site. Thanks.)


1)  “Warrior“:  Former alchoholic father (Nick Nolte) finds Christianity, and he and his two estranged sons come together in the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) world.  Rocky for the 2010s.  Uplifting and patriotic.  Fun to watch and heartpounding every step of the way, once it gets going.


2)  “The Artist“: Magnificent movie filled with the style and glamor of old.  Don’t let the fact it’s a silent film keep you away.  It’s fun and charming like no other movie.  Bonus:  no filth or trash involved.

3)  “Sarah’s Key“:  Terrific movie that spans multiple generations from the Holocaust to the present and goes from Europe to North America.  It’s a thriller and a mystery solved in an interesting way.  Sometimes who you think you are isn’t really who you are.  You never really know from whence you came.


4)  “Winter in Wartime [Oorlogswinter]“:  Intense thriller depicting good versus evil in Nazi Europe.  Who are actually the spies for Hitler and who is working for the resistance?  A brave, precocious young boy learns for himself with devastating and shocking consequences.


5)  “War Horse“:  I never thought I’d like a movie about a horse.  But this terrific World War I film about redemption and good brings together several families and individuals touched by the war, in a moving, touching way.

6)  “Limitless“:  Fun, exciting sci-fi thriller about a loser who discovers a magic pill (a sort of superfix for ADD) that changes his life for the better.  But will it last.  I was never a Bradley Cooper fan.  But he’s fantastic in this light, escapist movie.


7)  “The Way Back“:    Several men, including an American, escape from the Soviet gulag and survive harsh conditions to flee Communist hackles and make it to freedom.  Based on a true story.


8)  “The Double Hour [La Doppia Ora]“:  Terrific thriller that even the most jaded moviegoer probably won’t figure out until the end.  A former police officer meets a woman at a speed-dating event and begins seeing her.  But as they are at the estate, where he now serves as a security guard, a robbery ensues, and he is killed.  Soon strange things begin happening in the woman’s life, and to tell you more would spoil it.  So many twists and turns.


9)  “Another Earth“:  Sci-fi drama thriller in which a brilliant high school student, destined for a great life on a college scholarship, kills a man’s family while drunk driving.  When she gets out of prison, a new planet has been discovered that is coming close to earth.  The new earth and the girl’s interaction with the father of the dead family coalesce into a very interesting movie that’s novel and fresh.


10)  “Jane Eyre“:  This is the best film version of the novel that I’ve seen.  It’s well-paced, tight, and masterfully acted by Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.  A chick flick even the guys can enjoy.



Hugo“: Wonderful story about an orphan who lives in a French train station, fixing a robot. He soon learns that the bitter shop owner has a magnificent past, which he discovers with the man’s charming granddaughter. Excellent 3D and eye candy. Great for kids and adults alike, once it gets moving.

The Thing“:  The prequel that is actually sort of a remake of the original is thrilling, well-told, and an enjoyable sci-fi action adventure.


Love Crime [Crime D’Amour]“:  This French murder mystery is a fun and modern psychological thriller.



Certified Copy“:  You don’t really know what is going on here until the end, and even then, it’s up to your mind to do the math.  Who are these people, really?  And how do they really know each other?  I think I know, but you have to watch and come to your own conclusions.



The Illusionist [L’Illusionniste]“:  Terrific animated, charming movie about an older magician who travels around Europe doing his routine and trying to stay financially afloat, while he tries to keep the affection of a much younger girl who is looking to come up in the world.



Fast Five“:  This is the best of the “Fast and Furious” movies.  Lots of action and cool stunts, even if it glorifies car thieves.  It’s fun and exciting.  You’ll be on the edge of your seat the whole time.



Candyman:  The David Klein Story“:  Bert Klein, the son of the inventor of Jelly Belly, tells his father’s story.  We see how the delicious gourmet jelly beans were invented and made into a hit by a marketing genius, David Klein, and how he lost it all (multi-millions), after being strong-armed out of it.  A great lesson for entrepreneurs and an interesting piece of Americana you never knew about. And, above all, a story about a mensch.



30 Minutes or Less“:  Normally, this wouldn’t be my pick, but so many other comedies this year were such utter crap.  It’s raunchy and features some nudity, so it’s not for family viewing or kids (and it has its low-class moments).  Still, it’s a funny, semi-thriller about a pizza delivery man who must rob a bank or a bomb strapped to him will be set off by two losers in their get-rick-quick scheme.  If you are prudish or easily offended, this isn’t for you.



The Lincoln Lawyer“:  Matthew McConaughey is the lawyer who works out of the back of a chauffeur-driven 1980’s Lincoln Continental and cuts corners.  Now, he’s defending a rich kid accused of raping and killing women.  Things are not always as they seem.


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22 Responses

Thank you for this list. I will make sure to see most of them. I am a very, very, very picky movie-lover but you seem to have the taste I enjoy. You really know when a movie is good and when a movie is crap. THe Double Hour and Another Earth sound very intriguing!

I recently saw “The Swan” and could not believe what absolute crap it was! Ugh! And all that hype over a glourified “Showgirls”…and then I remembered that the boring Natalie Portman won an Oscar last year for it!! Between that and also seeing “Tiny Furniture” (which I remembered your review) made me feel like Hulk and I wanted to smash things! LOL…..I should have listened to your reviews. I was cranky after I saw both because I hated them so much!

Thanks for sitting through the crap and telling us to avoid the crap. I think every movie lover wants to be a movie reviewer BUT we all must forget how crappy most movies are.

Skunky on December 29, 2011 at 11:59 am

    Skunky, I know you will love The Double Hour if you happen to see it.

    Burke on December 30, 2011 at 4:45 am

Thanks for the reviews. Helps A LOT when loading up my Netflix queue.

Ilan on December 29, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Good list. My artsy wife wll be getting the Artist vid and I’ll watch Warrior(finally).

samurai on December 29, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Debbie – we saw War Horse over the holidays and it was a wonderful movie. I will try to see the other movies shortly. And I understand dropping the Worst of the year list, as most of the movies were just crap. The Swan was mentioned. Apparently Ms. Portman did not perform most of the dancing (as we were led to believe).

Concerned Citizen on December 29, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Debbie I’ve only seen one of your top ten movies. My new BFF Herschel and I would like to see that “Warrior” movie, though. Btw Herschel is quite social and has been busy organizing a Chavura for his fellow Jewish Sphynx cats.

A1 on December 29, 2011 at 2:27 pm

I love Debbie, but her taste in movies is hit-or-miss for me.

“Warrior” is no “Rocky”, that’s for sure. I saw it based on Debbie’s reco and I was sorry I did. It was too long, hackneyed, uninspired and trite. The “climax” scene of the championships was repetitive, predicatble and dull.

I know a lot of women enjopyed this movie because of the “cute, rugged guys” and “hardbody” men. Nothing wrong with that, but don’t try to sell it as some sort of cinematic gem. It wasn’t.

If you want a “Rocky” for the 2010s, watch “Rocky” in Blu-ray on a plasma screen.

Also, no “Hugo” on the top 10????

DS_R: OOPS! I forgot to include Hugo, which made my honorable mention. I am adding it now. THANKS! BTW, since you are down on my movie choices–and that’s fine b/c I welcome disagreement and dissent–what movies did you think were the best in 2010? DS

DS_ROCKS! on December 29, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    If I may throw in two cents here…
    The Devil’s Double was really fantastic! It’s about Uday Hosan and hos body double both played by the same actor. It’s creepy and disturbing look at what was going on in the late 90’s, early 2000’s.

    P: I did not see “The Devil’s Double,” b/c they did not have screenings of it here and when they showed it here, I read reviews that there are parts of it that are really graphically disgusting and barbaric. I choose to stay away from stuff like that b/c I don’t want to have nightmares about it. Given that preference, did I make the right choice? DS

    petebone on December 30, 2011 at 10:41 am

I must now see Warrior. I agree about The Thing. It was very well done and blended into the 1982 version very well.

Oscar on December 29, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Thank you so much for the list! I am sooo disappointed in movies the last couple of years and will see almost nothing unless it’s DS-approved 😀 And, special thanks for the David Klein tip as we live within driving distance of the Jelly Belly factory and have taken the kids on tours. Happy New Year!

Nat Brown on December 29, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    The only problem with Debbie’s reviews is that she doesn’t do a whole lot of kids’ movies (not her fault). But yeah, if she says it’s good, it’s good. I may take my kids to see War Horse on Monday, when I’m not on call, as my daughter is HORSE CRAZY (age 8, wants to be a vet, can already canter and jump).

    OT: I think it’s a great movie, even for kids (at whom it’s aimed). However, with your daughter being 8 years old, I just want to caution you that there are a few very brief scenes in which soldiers die. It’s not bloody, graphic, or close up. But you should know. Still, she’d probably like it. DS

    Occam's Tool on December 30, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Debbie: How about a list of the 10 worst movies of 2011?

Allen on December 29, 2011 at 5:48 pm

I really like The Way Back. I am going to see Candy Man. I beginning to think that Hollyweird is running out of ideas, especially after The Black Swan.

Boo RN on December 29, 2011 at 9:41 pm

I’m sorry for going off on a tirade about “Warrior”, Debbie – you have a tough job sitting through the sea of schlock that gets produced every year to try to find the few gems for us. It’s thankless work and I – as I know a lot of others do – appreciate it.

I rely quite heavily on your reviews (you’re the only reviewer I read) because I only see a couple of movies per year and you are the only reviewer who actually rates the propaganda quotient as well as the entertainment values. This is very important and very valuable service.

I would never have seen “Hugo” in a million years, let alone anything 3-D, but your review convinced me to do both, and I’ve actually paid to see it twice.

“Warrior”, OTOH, I actually perceive more as a “chick flick” because I also saw that at the movies and, like you, my girlfriend went bananas over it, much to my chagrin.

Anyway, I haven’t seen enough movies this year to make a list, so I leave that you, the professional, and will just shut up for now 😉

DS_R: I didn’t see it as a tirade, and there’s no need whatsoever to apologize. I welcome opposing views and comments like that as it is always good to get another point of view, especially on movie choices. I was genuinely curious to see what you liked out of what you saw b/c you didn’t agree with my choices. Thanks. DS

DS_ROCKS! on December 30, 2011 at 3:41 am

Thanks for all the work you did this year in viewing these films and writing your reviews. It’s really an amazing commitment on your part to do this week after week, month after month, going on years now.

I liked your choices, agree with lots of them. And I like the way you created special categories like “best action” and “best documentary.” That was interesting.

I think my own favorites of the ones you mentioned were The Double Hour and The Illusionist.

I am sorry you don’t have a list of ten worst even though I respect your reasoning for not including one. Some movies just particularly grated on me–like Horrible Bosses and Bad Teacher, for example.

B: Thanks. What is on your list of favorite movies for the year?

Burke on December 30, 2011 at 4:24 am

    Thanks, Debbie. It’s a little early in the year for me to be compiling a list of favorites. I haven’t even yet seen “The Artist,” for example, or “Iron Lady.” But here’s what I’ve got so far (in no particular order except for “Tree of Life” which I enjoyed in particular).

    1) “Tree of Life”: My favorite of the year. Retells the three most important religious stories of our Western culture (“Job,” “Paradise Lost” and “Divine Comedy”) in complex, tightly woven allegorical form. Not one second of its 139 minutes is wasted.
    2) “Like Crazy”: Deconstructs first romantic love. Bittersweet and lethally accurate.
    3) “Double Hour”: Textured, haunting, moody, unpredictable.
    4) “Anonymous”: Gorgeous, dazzling, intellectually demanding and stimulating, a paeon to Shakespeare’s genius (just as “Amadeus” was a paeon to Motzart’s).
    5) “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”: Le Carre’s masterpiece, the greatest espionage tale ever told as Time called it (and I agree), based loosely on Kim Philby, the communist-loving British double agent who betrayed his friends and country for his socialist ideology. An understated but remarkably powerful tale of evil and bureaucratic corruption.
    6) “Atlas Shrugged”: Ayn Rand’s monumental 645,000-word fable efficiently and faithfully adapted.
    7) “Drive”: Propulsive, lyrical tone poem.
    8) “Moneyball” and “Limitless”: Each in its separate way extolling traditional American cultural values of ambition and competitive enterprise along with our “limitless” possibilities.
    9) “Martha Marcy May Marlene”: Psychological horror as effective as “Psycho” or “Repulsion.” Part of the “horror” here is of our youths seduced out of the mainstream by the siren call of utopian socialism.
    10) “The Illusionist”: A 2010 French feature-length cartoon that we Americans didn’t see in time to make last year’s favorite list. Like Chomet’s other cartoons, charming and weirdly entrancing.

    Genre favorites:

    1) Comedy: “30 Minutes or Less” — I agree with you! A hilarious farce.
    2) Supernatural horror: “Seconds Apart” — Twins are scary.
    3) War movie: “Battle: Los Angeles” — Rousingly patriotic.
    4) Documentary: “Into the Abyss” — Werner Herzog’s own version of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.”
    5) Animated: “Rango”– Cheerfully demented.
    6) Fantasy: “Midnight in Paris”– Woody Allen’s comeback.
    7) Action: For pure effects, adrenaline and choreography, “Don 2”; for subtext, “Ghost Protocol.”
    8) Biopic: “My Week with Marilyn”– A fair and balanced treatment (as you yourself wrote)–not your typical hagiography.

    Burke on December 30, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Sitting through all the dreck that comes out just to capture a good movie every now and then must be like that crew in the Klondike digging out tons of dirt and rocks for a few flakes, and maybe a nugget or two , of gold.
I printed this list and will keep it handy for when I wander up to a redbox kiosk.
Thanks for your work and insight on this, Debbie (along with all the other stuff that you work on), and let’s have a blessed and great New Year.
Lock and load!

Dustbag [Genesis 2:7] on December 31, 2011 at 9:47 pm

I only saw 2 movies on your list. I loved Warrior and War Horse.

Carlos Ortiz on January 1, 2012 at 2:41 pm

I discovered your site by accident and now I have to sit through all this just to see what movies might not be a tax write off for some hollywood prettyboys.

Pissed off Libtard on January 2, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Planning to pick “Another Earth” up at the library this evening/tonight. Really interested in knowing how it ends.

MH on January 4, 2012 at 5:51 pm

War Horse was fantastic Debbie; I actually have it slightly in front of The Artist which I loved too. I’m surprised that Spielberg was not nominated by the DGA.

Stephen Schochet on January 12, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Thank you,my two loves combined Debbie’s site and Amazon,I am buying most of the movies here and help this great site going….. life is good.

Juan on January 18, 2012 at 8:01 pm

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