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Opinion

Top 8: Box-office hits from 2011

Moneyball

With a script penned by Aaron Sorkin (of “The Social Network” fame) and a stellar cast including Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Chris Pratt and Philip Seymour Hoffman, it would be hard for anyone to not find something to like about this movie, almost impossible. And it is. “Moneyball” takes what should be the most boring story that you can tell about baseball and makes it come alive. With its heartfelt performances and tense scenes the audience begins to live and die with each decision Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) makes. This is more than just, as some have called it, the sports movie for people who don’t like sports. This is a truly great film.

50/50

Finding the funny in living with cancer is no easy feat, but “50/50” does just that and more. Joseph Gordon-Levitt in what is the performance of his career, plays Adam Lerner, a 27-year-old man who is diagnosed with cancer while Seth Rogen plays his friend and co-worker Kyle and Anna Kendrick delivers a predictably standout performance as his inexperienced therapist Katie. What follows is an infectious and deeply affecting mix of comedy and drama that feels incredibly honest and raw, most likely because it is. Will Reiser based much of the script on his actual experience of dealing with cancer when he was in his twenties.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

This tense and meticulous thriller pits journalist Mikael Blomkvist against a creepily secretive wealthy family of Swedish industrialists as he investigates the 40-year-old disappearance of a young girl. Daniel Craig stars with Rooney Mara as Lisabeth Salander, a hacker who violently takes revenge on men who abuse women and Christopher Plummer appears as the family patriarch. With an excellent score by Oscar-winning composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, based on the best-selling series of novels by Stieg Larsson and expertly directed by David Fincher, this film is truly a masterpiece.

The Descendants

This film, the fifth by acclaimed director/screenwriter Alexander Payne and his first since 2004’s “Sideways”, is understated and moves slowly, but it packs a powerful emotional punch. George Clooney delivers one of the performances of his career as Matt King, a man who finds his life unraveling as he struggles to keep his family together in the wake of a tragedy. Alexander Payne’s talent for writing honest, flawed characters without being condescending is on full display in this excellent family drama and it is absolutely worthy of your attention.

Drive

Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” reminds us that action films can be about more than just action. Starring Ryan Gosling in an iconic role, this film eschews the clichés of its genre to get to something deeper and far more compelling. Ryan Gosling’s enigmatic performance keeps you captivated while a supporting cast that includes Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks is equally stunning. Gathering inspiration from classic car-chase films such as “Bullitt” and “The Driver,” “Drive” tells the story of a Hollywood stunt man who moonlights as a getaway driver and becomes infatuated with his neighbor, played by Carey Mulligan. In the age of “Transformers” sequels and crappy Nicholas Cage movies, “Drive” reminds us that a movie doesn’t have to be bad in order to be thrilling.

The Muppets

This movie is pure, unadulterated cinema joy. From the very first song to the end credits this movie reminds you how truly magical films can be and how much fun the Muppets are. Full of big name cameos and all of your old favorite characters from when you were a kid, this movie has something for everyone. Jason Segel, one of the most electrifying talents in Hollywood, stars in and writes the film which introduces the new Muppet character of Walter, a man who grew up idolizing the Muppets on The Muppet Show and seeks them out to reunite the gang for one last show together. With wonderful songs written by Bret McKenzie and an excellent supporting cast including Amy Adams and Fozzie Bear, this film demands to be seen.

Win Win

In “Win Win,” Paul Giamatti plays a fundamentally decent man in an almost impossible situation. A lawyer and family man who, for the first time in his life, makes a selfish decision and desperately tries to keep his fragile existence from falling apart in the aftermath of his decision. Much like “The Descendants,” “Win Win” is an expertly observed family drama that forces you to invest everything in its well-intentioned but ultimately flawed characters. Featuring Amy Ryan (famous for her roles on “The Office” and “The Wire”), Jeffrey Tambor and directed by Thomas McCarthy, this “Win Win” is probably my favorite film of this year.

Anything that isn’t Atlas Shrugged: Part 1

While I have to admire the raw audaciousness of the class of conservative political intellectuals that provided the financial backing for this sloppy excuse of a franchise. Films in 2011 didn’t have much to offer that actually compared to how awful this first installment was. Based on Ayn Rand’s opus that celebrates selfishness and self-interest and has served as the philosophical foundation of conservative economic thinking since 1957. This movie will most assuredly put you to sleep. Poorly acted and even more poorly conceived, the film’s director, Paul Johansson updated the film’s setting to the modern era. However, the film’s plot, that of Dagny Taggart and her magical railroad metal, remains remarkably dated. Chances are that if you saw a movie in 2011, it was better than Atlas Shrugged: Part I. Part II is expected to be released in the fall of 2012.

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