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The best five movies of 2011

Lisa Miller
George Clooney wrote, directed and starred in The Ides of March, by Sony Pictures.
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During the past year, my favorite movies have come in various shapes, sizes and genres. “The Ides of March” is a plausible drama, “Moneyball” is based upon a true story, “Super 8” is a coming-of-age tale with science-fiction trappings, “Drive” is an old-fashioned actioner, and “Fright Night” is a horror remake that has real bite!

These picks benefit from tight scripts and eye-popping cinematography. While most feature well-known actors, “Super 8” starred a cast of youngsters. Ryan Gosling has become one of Hollywood’s brightest young talents, with lead roles in both “Ides of March” and “Drive.”

This primer on the American political process highlights many of its flaws while taking to task one of its more controversial problems – the superdelegates and delegate votes that ultimately decide which candidate each party nominates. Adapted from Beau Willimon’s play “Farragut North” (named for a D.C. Metro station located in the center of the lobbyist district), George Clooney produces, directs, and plays Pennsylvania Gov. Mike Morris, a presidential candidate at the center of a bid for power. We see Morris through the eyes of 30-year-old campaign aide Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), who believes his candidate has managed to avoid the corruption and ethical lapses that so frequently accompany political life. Meyers will learn there is more to Morris than meets the eye, and that it’s nearly impossible to remain squeaky clean when power is up for grabs. Complex events zip by with minimum exposition, creating a challenging and suspenseful film that draws the viewer in.

– Directed by George Clooney

Starring Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood

Sony//Rated R//Drama//101 minutes

“Super 8” is a science-fiction story that dabbles in horror and resonates as a pitch-perfect coming-of-age drama. The director recalls his past when depicting 12- and 13-year-olds with an interest in filmmaking. It’s 1979 in the small steel town of Lillian, Ohio, when Charles (Riley Griffiths) grabs his super 8 camera and gathers his best friend Joe (Joel Courtney), their friend Alice (Elle Fanning), and two others to make a Zombie movie. While filming a pivotal scene, his camera captures a stupendous wreck as a train collides with a pickup truck. In the days that follow, their town is overrun – first by a malevolent force freed during the train wreck, and then by the U.S. military as it runs a dangerous containment operation. Armed with their film and the invisibility afforded to children, the kids attempt to understand what has invaded their town and why. While the monster story intrigues, the urgency of pubescent friendships kicks up the intensity and makes this movie super.

– Directed by J.J. Abrams

Starring Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Gabriel Basso, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Glynn Turman

Paramount//Rated PG-13//Sci-Fi//112 minutes

Playing the unlikely vampire-villain next door, Colin Farrell oozes dangerous sexuality in this remake of a campy 1980s horror. The film’s gory elements are topped with tension that is diffused by humorous observations, simultaneously prompting laughter and raising goose bumps. The fading friendship between newly popular high school student Charlie (Anton Yelchin), and his nerdy grade school best friend, Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), reintensifies when the pair go looking for their missing buddy and Charlie learns that his next door neighbor Jerry (Farrell) is the likely suspect. Suspecting Jerry is a vampire, Charlie seeks help from outrageous Las Vegas showman, Peter Vincent (David Tennant), a self-proclaimed vampire expert. The film includes three action sequences bound to become classics for their balance of terrifying thrills and humor. It’s fang on!

– Directed by Craig Gillespie

Starring Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin, David Tennant, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Imogen Poots, Toni Collette

Disney//Rated R//Horror/101 minutes

Despite very limited dialog, “Drive” delivers characters that reach us at gut level. The career of Driver (Ryan Gosling) depends upon his ability to live by rules of his own making. By day he works as a mechanic and Hollywood stunt driver; by night, he works as a getaway driver who requires robbers to adhere to the schedule he sets. Driver works for Shannon (Bryan Cranston), a kindly, big-dreaming garage-owner who bets everything on Driver and borrows money from crime lords Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Bernie’s partner Nino (Ron Perlman), to purchase a race car that will be piloted by Driver. Shannon’s plan is complicated by Driver’s new friendship with Irene (Carey Mulligan), and her young son Benicio. The story puts these characters through an emotional and physical gauntlet, and we sweat every moment. Go there Æ if you dare.

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, Kaden Leos

FilmDistrict//Rated R//Action//100 minutes

“Moneyball” views baseball from an insider’s perspective, warily observing opposing camps as they size one another up. Based on a true story, the film opens in 2001. After losing his small roster of star players, Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), laments the small budget that makes signing proven stars impossible. Then Beane meets Peter Brand, a number cruncher who shows Beane a cost-effective approach to recruit winning players. Played by Jonah Hill, nerdy Brand hides beneath a cheap sports jacket and dreads interacting with players. Filmed with a minimum of fanfare, the movie explains the statistics used by Brand to predict a player’s odds of getting on base. Pitt easily slips into the character of an ambitious workaholic who has fallen short of achieving his goals. Philip Seymour Hoffman appears as Art Howe, the A’s curmudgeonly team manager, refusing to hang his cap on Brand’s untried theories. “Moneyball” is all about outthinking your opposition and it fascinates.

– Directed by Bennett Miller

Starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt, Kathryn Morris, Robin Wright, Stephen Bishop, Reed Thompson

Sony//Rated PG-13//Drama//133 minutes


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