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Jimbo’s Film Faves of 2011

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The Jimbo List would never presume to pick the best films of the year. That’s a job for a film critic. Instead, here are 10 movies from 2011 I personally loved. Maybe you liked them, too.

MONEYBALL

I know people are more likely to talk about Brad Pitt’s work in “Tree of Life,” but I thought this one was better. He made audiences care about a baseball executive trying to rethink everything about his sport. It’s both a story about the way metrics are reshaping our society and a story about the personal calculations we all make in our lives.

WIN WIN

Paul Giamatti continues to astound me. Here he modulates his intensity to play a good, decent family man struggling with the boatload of crap we all face. Sometimes he gets it right and sometimes he doesn’t. The wonderful Amy Ryan is here, as well.

BRIDESMAIDS

Much like Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig slips into this zone where she can be outrageous while also being low key in the same performance. Quite remarkable. Add in a powerhouse comedy performance by Melissa McCarthy and you’ve struck gold, Jerry, gold!

THE DESCENDANTS

This movie about a distant dad dealing with a family crisis is far from perfect. Yet it has so much interesting stuff to say, and so many worthwhile moments, that it stayed with me. Director Alexander Payne’s movies always have a way of making life seem like a ride in a fast-moving vehicle over which you have only partial control.

THE LINCOLN LAWYER

Speaking of fast moving vehicles, here was a perfect role for Matthew McConaughey. He’s an ultra slick defense attorney who deals with clients ranging from biker gangs to wealthy children of privilege. The film is slick, too, but in a good way. Plenty of twists, turns, thrills and even charm.

OUR IDIOT BROTHER

I’m a big Paul Rudd fan, but I’ve been disappointed sometimes when he plays the lead role in a film. He’s best when he has an odd edge to his characters. In “Our Idiot Brother” he gets to do both. Although it’s highly contrived, the film is hilariously on point in its relationships between siblings and other family members. And it offers Rudd a great, cathartic scene toward the end.

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS

This romantic comedy is not of my generation, but it has something timeless: witty banter. Not only that, there’s actual chemistry between Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake. I wouldn’t be surprised if this developed a larger following later on, the way “When Harry Met Sally” did after its first release.

MARGIN CALL

For my money, “Margin Call” had the best ensemble cast of the year: Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Demi Moore, Simon Baker, Zachary Quinto. The movie is riveting, set at a Wall Street brokerage house just before the 2008 economic collapse. Fair warning, though – it will make you angry all over again.

50/50

The title refers not only to the main character’s chances of surviving cancer, but also, I’d say, to the excellent balance between tragedy and comedy. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen are top notch here. With tons of humor, they show how personal ordeals may be solitary journeys, but they’re a hell of a lot easier with loving friends and family sharing parts of the trip.

BEGINNERS

Just terrific in so many ways. The performances by Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent are winning; the talking pooch is inspired. And beyond the central plot of a guy whose elderly father comes out of the closet, there’s a visual sensibility to this movie that is inventive and fresh. When McGregor’s sad character goes to a party and meets an intriguing woman, it feels both clever and real. Great stuff.

So what are the movies that moved YOU this year?

10 Great Character Actors

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You may not know their names, but these masters of character acting make every TV show and movie they grace a whole lot better.

DELROY LINDO

What a pleasure it is to watch Mr. Lindo at work. He has charisma to burn, whether he’s playing a manipulative drug dealer (“Clockers”) or a noble family man (“Crooklyn”). People may know him lately for his TV turn as a corrupt alderman in “The Chicago Code,” but my favorite Lindo roles are his low-level gangster in “Malcolm X” and his brilliantly suave crook in “Get Shorty.”

LUIS GUZMAN

Pure, deadpan brilliance. He’s great in dramas, including “Traffic,” “Oz,” and “Boogie Nights,” but he’s sublime in comic roles, such as his inept criminal in “Out of Sight.” Actually, even most of his dramatic roles are marked by their comic edge.

AMY RYAN

I’m in awe of her incredible range. She was truly raw in “Gone Baby Gone,” wonderfully loopy as Steve Carell’s love interest in “The Office,” and intellectually agile as a therapist on “In Treatment.” In each case, she tempers or expands her characters with complex shades of thought and emotion.

STEPHEN ROOT

This gentleman is a virtuoso of weirdness, and I mean that with respect. All his best performances have a tinge of insanity: Jimmy James, the station owner on “NewsRadio”; Milton, the cubicle mutant from “Office Space”; and certainly the henpecked dude from “Dodgeball.” Count me as a big fan.

CCH POUNDER

She’s been in all sorts of good projects, from “Prizzi’s Honor,” and “L.A. Law,” to “ER” and “The West Wing.” She lends immediate intelligence to each part. Her best role has been as Capt. Claudette Wyms on “The Shield,” where she played with complex, shifting notions of morality amid violence and corruption.

KEN JEONG

As anyone who has seen “The Hangover” knows, Ken Jeong is fearless. Male frontal nudity, played for laughs? I’m just sayin’. He’s verbally dexterous, as well, specializing in teachers, doctors, Medieval role-playing gamers and other imperious types. He seems to be having a blast on TV’s “Community.”

DAVID MORSE

He’s sort of a modern Ward Bond – great at playing strong, quiet, wise characters who are unthreatened by being the loyal second-in-command. It was just the right vibe for “The Green Mile” and “The Rock.” Yet there are other sides to Morse that are equally cool, like his bad cop in “16 Blocks” and his turn as Hugh Laurie’s nemesis on “House.”

JOAN CUSACK

No matter how outrageous she is in her film roles, she always finds a vulnerability that makes it believable. She’s just rock-solid as an actress, from “Working Girl,” to “Broadcast News,” to “Cradle Will Rock,” to “Friends With Money.” She even played a terrific, evil schemer in “Addams Family Values” opposite the great Christopher Lloyd.

PHILIP BAKER HALL

Mr. Hall’s memorable appearance in the recent film “50/50” only hints at his greatness. With his raspy voice and those bags under his eyes, you never expect him to be so nimble. He was excellent in “The Loop,” a TV comedy no one saw a few years ago. And he was remarkable in the movie drama “Magnolia.” But my favorite of his roles is Lt. Bookman, who hounds Jerry about an overdue library book on “Seinfeld.”

RICHARD JENKINS

Anytime I see Jenkins appear on a movie or TV screen, it’s like seeing an old friend. Such heart and soul, and sad eyes. He takes small parts, such as the private eye in “Shall We Dance,” or the fitness club owner in “Burn After Reading,” and gives them a quiet, desperate humanity. His role as the ghost of Nathaniel Fisher on “Six Feet Under” is nothing short of incredible. And then you have his repressed widower from “The Visitor.” It’s like watching a dormant volcano finally erupt.

So that’s 10 for me. Who are some of your favorites?