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Top 5 Movies of 2011 So Far

Believe it or not, it's July, movie fans. That means 2011 is halfway spoken for as far as movies are concerned. And although July - December tends to deliver the majority of a year's best films, there's no reason we can't celebrate Part I with a list of our favorites thus far as well as future contenders come our end-of-year lists in December.

The PAM staff (Steve, Simon, Kieran, Julian, Dinah, Max and John) have all provided our individual top five lists and supplemented it with a little bit of a commentary on our choices, which for some of us involved rummaging around an otherwise so-so collection of 2011 films to this point and for others meant reaching out to some foreign films or limited-release indies. As with last year, please excuse Kieran for living in the U.K. and writing a list with his 2011 films so far, which includes with The King's Speech.

Anyway, check out the following lists and see who you agree with the most. We've compiled our collective Top Five list at the bottom.

John's Top 5 

1. Certified Copy
2. Midnight in Paris
3. X-Men: First Class
4. Rango
5. Cedar Rapids

John thought: "Over the last six months, multiplexes have been a sad, sad place. It has become a chore to fork over my 10 dollars to see something lackluster weekend after weekend, but upon reflection, there have been a few real bright spots. The brightest spot actually never made it to your multiplex. Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy floated around America's art house circuit for a few weeks in March and April, and it was one of the best film's I've seen in a long time. I hesitate recommending it to just anyone (Told in three languages and lacking any clear plot structure, it's an art house movie through and through), but it's a brilliant mind puzzle that'll stay with you long after you've exited the theater. 

Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris started in art houses, but I'm happy to see it getting the expansion it deserves. It's a delightful and surprisingly inventive comedy from cinema's favorite neurotic, and it's his most accomplished film in 15 or 20 years. Not quite as good, but still strongly recommended are X-Men: First Class (the best action movie of the year by a country mile), Rango (an charming ode to movie lovers disguised as a kid's movie), and Cedar Rapids (the anti-Hangover comedy featuring one of the stars of The Hangover)."

Max's Top 5 

1. X-Men: First Class
2. Hanna
3. Insidious
4. Thor
5. The Adjustment Bureau

Max thought: "2011 hasn't exactly been a kind one to us all. Coming off some real award-winners last Fall/Winter, we've been subjected to a particularly dry Spring and an arid summer with less showstoppers than prior seasons. Still, what we got in crap was made up for in what's easily one of the better superhero movies to come along in awhile, bolstered by a few original titles and the startup to one of the Avengers leading into Summer 2012: a season that looks like it's going to shake the Earth.

Hands down, X Men: First Class is everything we could hope for in an "X-Men" movie. It's got action, effects, great cast, humor and just enough screen time for everyone to feel like they're a real enough character in this globe trotting affair that never feels stretched or overdone. It's a joy to see the franchise that really kicked off the superhero genre (in the summer blockbuster sense) get an entry that will likely age well. Thor had one sweet leading man and gave us more Asgard than trailers lead us to believe: thank God audiences responded well to these sequences. If it's the more interesting for audiences to watch, hopefully we'll see much more of Asgard (and Loki) in future films. Hanna, Insidious and The Adjustment Bureau all come to us from original scripts and fairly low-profile casts/crew, but each walks on its own two feet: creativity and strong word of mouth are indicators that these llittle sleepers will have long lives after their theatrical runs. It's just as well: Hanna is one of the best takes on the "fairy tale" genre in some time, Insidious will keep you from going down a dark hallway casually and The Adjustment Bureau (despite a few trip-ups), has enough style and chemistry between it's leads to make for a surprisingly good entry into the competitive science fiction genre. Here's hoping the rest of the year can provide for a more bolstered list."


Dinah's Top 5

1. Insidious
2. Drive Angry
3. Fast Five
4. Hanna
5. Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Dinah thought:  “I said this last year and I will say it again, choosing the top five movies thus far in 2011 is difficult because so few movies have been stand out amazing. So I recount five of the films that at least put a smile on my face and a sparkle in my eye. Insidious was say-your-prayers scary. This small horror film returned to the ghost stories of old, with quite the clever twist of course. As the tagline said, it wasn’t the house that was haunted… The makers of the original Saw proved their credibility as some of the few horror creators still able to genuinely frighten audiences without blood or gore.  

I never thought I’d say this, but Nic Cage made a great movie this year. No, I don’t mean  Season of the Witch; that movie belongs at the top of the worst movies of 2011 list. However, Drive Angry was a perfectly styled, acted and executed throwback. This movie had memorable characters that were meant to be eccentric. Cage was able to ham it up without endangering his meager dignity. Fast Five belongs in the same category of “Transformers 3.” It isn’t the most original story but it’s electric and thrilling. That movie is for the fans, and people like myself look forward to the next drag race across the world. Hanna edges out my last pick, but only by one fine-tipped nose belonging to the serene Saoirse Ronan. This is a movie heightened by its star and its score. It was playful, well-acted and even in its absurdity, thoroughly satisfying. Finally, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the third in the robot trilogy has been one of the brightest spots of the year and the summer. "Transformers" is the best of what a blockbuster is all about, big, loud, and fun."

Kieran's Top 5 
(based on UK Release dates)

1. Hanna
2. The King's Speech
3. X-Men: First Class
4. Souce Code
5. True Grit

Kieran thought: "2011 certainly is shaping up to be a good year for cinema. Hanna is so far my frontrunner for best film of the year, an excellent action film that I was looking forward to for a while. Thanks to Joe Wright’s direction, Saoirse Ronan’s performance and the Chemical Brothers' score, it delivered the goods. The other major themes of my top five list are history and sci-fi, one of them even combining the two. The King’s Speech obviously makes the list because of its acting, compelling story, historical detail and wider themes and well, I love my country. As an "X-Men" fan I am pleased with how X-Men: First Class turned out: a fun action-packed and dramatic superhero film. Michael Fassbender made a fantastic Magneto.

Duncan Jones’ directorial stock is deservedly going strength to strength as he proved that he can deliver a compelling thriller in the form of Source Code, which focuses on the same event and shows he can work with a bigger budget. Finally, the Coen Brothers’ True Grit was a great Western with strong historical character and excellent performances across the board. Hailee Steinfeld was a stand-out performer and the Coens are some of the best directors around."


Julian's Top 5 

1. Super 8
2. Bridesmaids
3. X-Men: First Class
4. Insidious
5. Hanna

Julian thought: "
Although the first six months of 2011 have proven to be mostly unfortunate for cinema, it’s been better than some years despite titles such as Season of the Witch terrorizing moviegoers across the nation. That being said, my pick for 2011’s best film so far is J.J. Abrams’ Super 8. It brilliantly uses the sci-fi convention of an unknown monster and its violent acts to tell a powerful story about loss, love, and redemption and boasts a stellar cast of mostly unknown actors, all of whom should have amazing careers in Hollywood.

Bridesmaids took audiences – including myself – by surprise with its combo of raunchy humor and relatable human comedy, not to mention Kristen Wiig’s awesome breakthrough performance, Rose Byrne’s subtle grip on her tricky role, and Melissa McCarthy’s stellar supporting part. X-Men: First Class tells a wonderful story through some complex characters, and while it may be a bit obvious in some places, it still holds its own as an amazing superhero feature.

The horror film Insidious (I didn’t plan this to be a Rose Byrne tribute, I swear!) was so terrifying that I literally couldn’t handle a second viewing of the film (believe me, I tried). Lastly, Joe Wright’s Hanna proves that one can make an intelligent and accessible thriller."

Simon's Top 5 

1. 13 Assassins
2. Source Code
3. X-Men: First Class
4. Kung Fu Panda 2
5. Super 8

Simon thought: "
Viewing this year as a whole based not only on the films themselves but also regarding how Hollywood seems to present itself is a discouraging outcome all together: too much 3D, bad sequels and inspiration are as elusive as ever. Don’t think me pretentious for having this as my top choice, but by far the best I have seen is Takashi Miike’s bloody foreign samurai epic 13 Assassins. Not only is it incredibly entertaining but regarding production values and scope it puts every other release to shame with ease.

Moving on to more conventional fare, we have a foursome of blockbusters, all technically impressive and all with ample heart. Source Code was an early year delight and the follow up to Moon I was dreaming of from director Duncan Jones. X-Men: First Class was simply a shocking revelation, easily correcting many of the transgressions conducted by the later entries with its period feel and bolstered cast. Then we have my dose of animation with Kung Fu Panda 2 which succeeds beyond what I would have expected from an animated sequel especially considering the love the original garnered. Finally, a burst of nostalgia from Super 8 made another nice late summer additios to my list. Even in this subpar year, at least slight glimmers of care shine through."   

Steven's Top 5 

1. X-Men: First Class
2. Midnight in Paris
3. Hanna
4. Source Code
5. The Adjustment Bureau

Steven thought: "The best films of 2011 so far have definitely been movies we crossed our fingers for and prayed to be really good and they delivered despite our skepticism. The rushed production schedule of X-Men: First Class, for example, led many to believe its effects would be shoddy and the whole product would feel balled together, but Matthew Vaughn proved what a fresh and well-written origin story carried by consummate actors can do to a franchise seemingly on the decline. "First Class" proved to be fun, cool and emotionally satisfying, the last of which few films have been this summer.

Like every year, we hope Woody Allen's latest will get him back on track, and Midnight in Paris proved to be that combination of nostalgia, joy and magic that the legendary director once had. Although I have yet to see Bridesmaids, this film is shoulders above 2011's other comedy "offerings." My list finished with action and science fiction. Hanna deeply delved into its titular character and provided high-stakes action at a level that many other cat-and-mouse action films simply don't achieve, which bumped Joe Wright up into one of my favorite blossoming directors. Source Code proved another up-and-comer, Duncan Jones, to be no fluke with the thrilling pace and complex story. We might be able to say the same about George Nolfi based on The Adjustment Bureau, a film many had written off when it was moved from Summer 2010 to this past March. Turns out only Inception can rival this film's character focus for a sci-fi story." 

Player Affinity Consensus Top 5
(Based on averaging above lists)

1. X-Men: First Class
2. Hanna
3. Insidious
4. Source Code
5. Midnight in Paris


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