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The Best Movies Of 2011

Most 2011 films went from meh to worse, but 10 stand out as the best by keeping their heads above formula

Peter Travers Dec 29, 2011

Peter Travers chooses his top 10 movies of the year. Drive is bloody, polarizing, pure cinema; The Artist has unexpected soul; Hugo is a bedtime story for movie lovers; and more.

10. War Horse, The Help, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2

The pop shot: not a title, but a place to reward superior crowd-pleasers. For me, it’s a three-way tie: Steven Spielberg’s War Horse is an emotional ride ”“ full gallop. Tate Taylor’s The Help celebrates the female bond (a 2011 rarity). And David Yates’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 ends a franchise on a high note that Oscar should heed. Disagree? Let’s hear it.

9. The Tree of Life

Tree of Life

How dare Terrence Malick put the lives of a 1950s Texas family, led by Brad Pitt, on par with the creation of the universe? Because his one-of-a-kind film strives even when it falls short.

8. Margin Call

Kevin Spacey in Margin Call

Here’s the year’s best film from a first-timer. J.C. Chandor tackles the bankers who precipitated the 2008 financial crisis. Blue-chip acting from Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons, as Wall Street gets it in the teeth.

7. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Gary Oldman in Tink Tailor Soldier Spy

A Cold War spy film, directed by Tomas Alfredson from John le Carré’s 1974 bestseller, brings out the acting artistry of Gary Oldman as a spymaster in search of a mole in the British Secret Intelligence Service.

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6. Hugo

Asa Butterfield and Ben Kingsley in Hugo

An irresistible bedtime story for movie lovers. The usually raging and bullish Martin Scorsese tackles his first family film ”“ in 3D, yet ”“ to tell the story of Hugo (Asa Butterfield), a runaway boy who lives in a 1931 Paris train station and discovers the treasure of film history. How? Just give in to the film’s sheer, transporting joy.
5.  Midnight in Paris

Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams In Midnight In Paris

Woody Allen’s love letter to the City of Light is his best and most beguiling film in years, with Owen Wilson learning the hard way that the past isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

4. Moneyball

Brad Pitt in Moneyball

An inside-baseball movie with the pulse of an action flick. Thank director Bennett Miller and acting homers from Brad Pitt as the general manager of the Oakland A’s and Jonah Hill as a numbers cruncher who shows him how to find value in what others miss. Score.
3. The Descendants

George Clooney and Shailene Woodley in The Descendants

Here’s that rare human comedy that earns its laughs and tears. Orchestrated without a false note by director and co-writer Alexander Payne, The Descendants gives George Clooney the role of his career to date as a Hawaiian landowner coping with a cheating wife (now in a coma) and two daughters he can’t fathom. It brims with surprises you don’t see coming.
2. The Artist

A silent movie in black-and-white about Old Hollywood is now the presumptive favorite in the awards race. Why? Because French director Michel Hazanavicius has style to burn and unexpected soul. Jean Dujardin is stupendous as the screen idol who resists talkies until a perky starlet (Bérénice Bejo) convinces him that art should never be afraid to embrace new forms. Roger that.
1. Drive

Ryan Gosling in 'Drive'