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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?