11 Great Films of 2011

PHOTO: It's the late 1920s in Hollywood and handsome George Valentin is a silent movie idol in The Artist.
Weinstein Company
1.
'The Artist'

This silent film from Belgium tells the story of 1920s silent film star George Valentin.

"I couldn't wait to tell people about 'The Artist,'" said Alynda Wheat, movie critic at People magazine. "Which is sort of odd because, you know, it's black and white … and silent. Yes, it's an homage to that era, you know, as we came into the talkies. But it is just beautifully done, so witty. And just beautifully composed, almost like a painting. Just gorgeous, great performances. You're absolutely going to be seeing 'The Artist' talked about at the Oscars."

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PHOTO: Drive is a 2011 American crime neo-noir drama film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, starring Ryan Gosling.
FilmDistrict
2.
'Drive'

In "Drive," Ryan Gosling stars as a Hollywood stuntman who becomes the target of a hit.

"I was in love with 'Drive,'" said Wheat. "I thought Ryan Gosling was absolutely amazing, and, violent as it is, it used violence in a way that was extremely necessary. And it was just very artfully done, beautifully done."

PHOTO: A middle-aged husband's life changes dramatically when his wife asks him for a divorce in Crazy Stupid Love.
Carousel Productions
3.
'Crazy, Stupid, Love'

Ryan Gosling also starred in this romantic comedy, alongside Steve Carrell, Julianne Moore and Emma Stone.

Gosling was "all over the place this year," said movie critic Joe Levy. "'Crazy Stupid Love', 'Drive', 'Ides of March.' The guy's got some range. He's interesting as well as really, really good-looking."

PHOTO: Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter in Warner Bros. Pictures? fantasy adventure ?Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,?.
Warner Bros.
4.
'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2'

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter movie franchise is the most successful in the history of film, and fans say this year's eighth and final installment does not disappoint.

"When Snape says to Harry, you know, look in my eyes, because he wants to see Harry's mother's eyes for the last time, the love of his life, for the last time, it's the most emotionally rewarding moment," said Wheat. "It's amazing."

"Part two was just amazing," she continued. "Great use of 3-D graphics, beautiful storytelling, the most mature acting we've seen from the cast yet. I think it could have an Oscar chance. ... It has as much of an outside chance as anybody."

"Harry Potter's changed the game," said critic Levy. "The sense that the audience is growing up with the cast, this creates a real bond. Also, the movies become bigger. And bigger in ways that often work."

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PHOTO: Franz Drameh as Dennis, Alex Esmail as Pest, John Boyega as Moses, Jodie Whittaker as Sam, Leeon Jones as Jerome in Screen Gems' attack the block.
Screen Gems
5.
'Attack the Block'

London teens take on a pack of invading aliens in this film from writer-director Joe Cornish.

"I hope more people see 'Attack the Block,'" said Wheat. "You know, it's not often that I'm out there stumping for a sci-fi spoof, with monsters with glowing blue teeth. But let me tell you, this was a really fantastic movie -- funny and scary and just terrific."

PHOTO: A land baron tries to re-connect with his two daughters after his wife suffers a boating accident in The Descendants.
FOX
6.
'The Descendants'

George Clooney stars as a Hawaiian land baron whose wife is left in a vegetative state following a boating accident. Newcomer Shailene Woodley, who plays one of his daughters, gives a "sweetly belligerent performance" that may well land the actress an Oscar nomination," said ABC's film critic David Blaustein.

"I think 'The Descendants 'really had a very nice story to tell. Alexander Payne, the director, is coming back. It's his first movie since 'Sideways,'" Wheat said. " I really like 'The Descendants,' not only for the storytelling, but I thought Shailene Woodley, who's on' The Secret Life of the American Teenager,' this was her breakthough performance. I mean, there's one scene where she finds out her mother is probably going to die. She dives into water in the family pool, and you can see the tears in the pool. It's a brilliant performance."

PHOTO: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a 2011 espionage film directed by Tomas Alfredson.
StudioCanal
7.
'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'

Gary Oldman stars in this adaptation of John le Carre's 1974 book about Cold War spy George Smiley.

"Oldman leads an excellent cast, a veritable who's-who of top British actors working today, all of whom keep us guessing as to who the traitor might be among them," wrote AP movie critic Christy Lemire.

PHOTO: In the comedy bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig stars as Annie, a maid of honor whose life unravels as she leads her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), and a group of colorful bridesmaids on a wild ride down the road to matrimony.
Universal
8.
'Bridesmaids'

With the huge success of "Bridesmaids," comedian Kristen Wiig proved she could headline a major feature film. The movie has been called "The Hangover" for women, but Wiig says she wasn't trying to revolutionize women's comedy when she wrote the film.

"So much of what is said about the movie, is, you know ... new to us," Wiig told Katie Couric. "We shot it, and we had fun. And then all this stuff came out about how it's a different kind of female comedy, and raunchy, and all this stuff about women in comedy, and all of these things that we weren't planning on, you know, receiving."

"Bridesmaids is actually taking a very female perspective on humor. ... It's not just toilet humor," Wheat said. "There's a lot of toilet humor. But it's not just toilet humor. It's also about relationships, it's also about female bonding, it's about the ways women interact that aren't always as overt and aggressive as the way men do it. And what we saw is that audiences really responded to that."

"I hope that Bridesmaids is a sign of things to come, because Kristin Wiig and that whole crew of women are really, really funny," said Joe Levy.

PHOTO: Midnight in Paris stars Own Wilson and Marion Cotillard.
Sony
9.
'Midnight in Paris'

The latest film from Woody Allen stars Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams.

"It's about a guy who goes through a door and, and suddenly is in Paris in the swing era," said writer-producer-actor Brett Erlich. "And it's a romance, and it's very sweet."

Wheat called the film "absolutely wonderful."

"It's Woody Allen getting back to what he does best," she said. "Totally whimsical, funny, light, delightful film, probably one of his most accessible to mass audiences in a long time. ... I really enjoyed 'Midnight in Paris,' and I think a lot of audience members did."

PHOTO: In Jackson, Mississippi in 1963, Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone), Minnie Jackson (Octavia Spencer) and Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis) together take a risk that could have profound consequences for them all in DreamWorks Pictures' drama, "The Help", based
DreamWorks
10.
'The Help'

Hands down, the sleeper hit of the summer was "The Help," based on the wildly successful novel by Kathryn Stockett. The film, about a white writer's mission to expose the treatment of black maids in 1960s Mississippi, "is the kind of movie that brought women together and got people talking," Wheat said.

And people are still talking about the Oscar-worthy performances of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, who starred in the film alongside Hollywood it girl Emma Stone.

"It's emotionally rewarding," Wheat said, "and it gives people an in to talk about a subject that we don't talk about enough in this country, and we don't talk about it well. 'The Help' really did help with that."

PHOTO: Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig star in Columbia Pictures' "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."
Columbia Pictures
11.
'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'

Will Lisbeth Salander live up to expectations on the silver screen? The hotly anticipated first film, based on Stieg Larsson's runaway best-selling Millenium Trilogy, hasn't hit theaters yet, but is already generating early buzz.

More on "The Year" from People magazine.

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