EDITORIAL: The most overlooked films of 2011

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In reviewing the many facets of movies from this past year, I've been lucky enough to gather lists of the best, the worst, and everything in between.  In showcasing the best and the worst, I feel that the last piece that needs to be addressed is the middle.  In a year where franchise and the most sequels (28) in history dominated the box office, there were many other excellent, unique, and original movies that were overlooked for box office success and audience attention.  In all of my efforts as a novice critic to see as many movies as possible, even I can't see everything and miss some winners.  Here are a pair lists from me.  The first list are the movies that I saw and reviewed that I feel, in the grand scheme of 2011, are overlooked and under-appreciated.  The second list are the movies I myself overlooked and missed the chance to see in person.

"YOUR REGRETS"-- Your most overlooked movies of 2011: These are the ones that I saw and you missed.

1.  50/50-- My #2 movie of the year made just under $35 million at the box office.  This outstanding cancer-driven drama/comedy deserves better.  It will get a Best Original Screenplay for Will Reiser's autobiographical accounts.  If you haven't seen it, it gets my highest recommendation and I've been shouting its praises since October.  (full review)  (trailer)

2.  SOURCE CODE-- This year's best thriller is 10 times smarter excitement and 100 times more original than  many of the year's 28 sequels.  Grossing a respectable $54 million, that's still still a long way from the $352 million stateside and $1.1 billion for something like Transformers: Dark of the Moon.  Such ingenuity should get better attention.  (full review)  (trailer)

3.  MIDNIGHT IN PARIS-- While Midnight in Paris has gone on to be Woody Allen's most successful film at the box office (over $56 million), its quality was worth double the attention and attendance.  Filled with fun performances and a great Paris setting, seek it out on DVD and Blu-ray for a genuinely good time.  (full review)  (trailer)

4.  HUGO-- With a $170 million budget and only grossing just $50 million, this dazzling family film from Martin Scorsese isn't going to earn back that budget.  With its vast technical achievements, Hugo may very well go on to lead the number of Oscar nominations later this month.  More people really should catch its visual brilliance in 3D.  (full review)  (trailer)

5.  THE DESCENDANTS-- Much like Hugo, The Descendants, my #1 movie of the year, carries heavy respect and will also be showered with Oscars.  I know it's early since its November-December release, but $40 million is too small a showing for a possible Best Picture winner this good.  George Clooney's superb performance alone demands attention.  (full review)  (trailer)

6.  THE IDES OF MARCH-- George Clooney, from a commercial standpoint, didn't do so hot this year.  To go with his great performance in The Descendants, his directorial effort on a presidential election scandal with him headlining a dynamite cast (Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and others) has earned just over $40 million.  You would think it could do better with that cast and that hot topic in an election year.  (full review)  (trailer)

7.  WARRIOR-- Ask me what the best sports movie was this year and I won't be telling you Moneyball.  The movie out of my mouth will be Warrior

with Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte, and Joel Edgerton.  Far more compelling and engaging than watching Brad Pitt take conference calls, there's part of me that hopes Warrior could do for MMA what Rocky did for boxing a generation ago.  (full review)  (trailer)

8.  LARRY CROWNE-- In a summer dominated by a wave of very successful and very popular R-rated comedies, this squeaky-clean and easy-going directorial effort from Tom Hanks, starring himself and Julia Roberts was a Fourth of July counter-programming release to Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but tanked at the box office to a tune of just over $35 million  (full review)  (trailer)

9.  THE CONSPIRATOR-- I sawThe Conspirator, but I didn't get around to finishing the review for it to publish.  It would have been a three-star complimentary review for Robert Redford's courtroom drama surrounding the trial of John Wilkes Booth's supposed accomplices in the assassination of President Lincoln.  Redford is a very good filmmaker and James McAvoy asserts himself well.  Give it a try via rental.  (trailer)

10.  THE BEAVER-- I know Mel Gibson isn't exactly high on anyone's likability list with his off-camera rants and antics, but, when he's focused, he's still one of the best and most under-appreciated actors in the business.  His unraveling and realistic performance of depression was amazing in Jodie Foster's directorial effort. While it's not a pick-me-up movie,The Beaver's a very good examination on depression tearing apart a family.  (full review)  (trailer)

"MY REGRETS"-- My overlooked movies from 2011: These are the ones that I missed seeing and wish I had.

1.  DRIVE-- In so many words, I'm so pissed that I missed this one.  Good action and tense storytelling with notable performances from Ryan Gosling and Albert Brooks, the front-runner for Best Supporting Actor, and I missed it.  Dang it!  (trailer)

2.  LIKE CRAZY-- This was the little movie of little movies that I heard about all year, but, to my defense, it never played in my area.  The exuberant tale of young romance with Anton Yelchin won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and has been under the radar ever since.  (trailer

3.  J. EDGAR-- I have a huge amount of appreciation and respect for Clint Eastwood as a filmmaker.  I'm normally really good and first in line to see his resume of great work, but I have missed my chances to see his biopic of the CIA head, played by Leonardo DiCaprio (another star I've come to respect and appreciate).  (trailer)

4.  MARGIN CALL-- I received a bootleg DVD rip copy of this from my boss at work nearly two months ago and it's been sitting on both my work computer and my Amazon Kindle Fire every since.  I just haven't found time to fire it up and see what's winning a lot of independent awards for first-time filmmaker J.C. Chandor.  (trailer)

5.  TAKE SHELTER-- In much the same way as Like Crazy, this slow-boil paranoid thriller just hasn't come close enough in commuting for me to see anywhere.  I'd really like to see what all the fuss is about with Michael Shannon's highly awarded lead performance and Jessica Chastain's supporting role as well.  (trailer)

6.  CEDAR RAPIDS-- Part indie comedy and part limited release, I blame being busy at school to catch Ed Helms and John C. Reilly party down in central Iowa.  I've heard nothing but good things, but DVD or a future spot on the Netflix queue will have to do.  (trailer)

7.  (TIE)  JANE EYRE and A DANGEROUS METHOD-- After seeing X-Men: First Class and being lucky enough to see the NC-17 Shame this year, I've taken notice to Michael Fassbender's immense talent.  Jane Eyre and A Dangerous Method are his two other performances this year.  One's a classical novel and one's a study on renowned psychologists Carl Jung (Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortenson).  All told, he's had a great year.  (trailer and trailer)

8.  PUSS IN BOOTS-- Here's the sentimental vote for this list.  As a swashbuckling big kid at heart, I love Antonio Banderas playing Zorro and Desperado, where catching him ham it up via animation as the dashing feline hero would have been fun on the big screen.  I bet I would have liked it.  (trailer)

9.  WIN WIN--  If you're seeing the theme on this list, you'll see that many of my regrets are small independent films that fly under the radar.  Tom McCarthy's quirky sports coaching movie Win Win with Paul Giamatti qualifies as another missed indie chance to see a movie that's getting awards attention.  (trailer)  

10.  MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE-- Finally, right there with the other small fare, I've heard and read rave reviews of Martha Marcy May Marlene, anchored by Elizabeth Olsen (young sister to the Full House twins) and Academy Award nominee last year John Hawkes about a girl who fled a cult and is now trying to de-brainwash and re-acclimate to society.  (trailer)