The Best Films of 2011
by Phil Boatwright

Some of these entries made my list for the filmmakers’ courage to address spiritual issues, while others simply marveled viewers with their cinematic complexities. A few failed to make my fav list because of the negative content, which overshadowed the positive themes they contained. Keep in mind, Best Lists are subjective. My purpose is not to promote any movie, nor my opinion, but rather to serve as a reporter. Given the synopsis and content of a film, you can decide for yourselves if a film is suitable for your viewing.

Okay, here we go.

The Tree of Life is a thought-provoking hymn to life starring Brad Pitt (in an Oscar-worthy performance), Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain. It is a story of a Midwestern family coping with a death, embittered relationships, and haunting questions concerning God and the afterlife.

With a tip of the hat to Stanley Kubrik’s 2001, Terrance Malick’s viscerally emotional feast is sparked by exquisite imagery that is imaginative and profound, intimate and epic. The Tree of Life fearlessly examines esoteric questions with a sensitivity that avoids piety or prejudice. The film’s intent is not to proselytize, but rather, suggest that we become aware of spiritual matters and rely on faith when the conundrums of the day overwhelm. At least that is what happened for me. A lot of other people, bored, walked out. PG-13. PREVIEW REVIEW

Hugo is a beautifully made film, one that touches our hearts as it salutes the imagination of previous storytellers. A clean film, here language is used to uplift, not abuse, and tragedy, while incorporated to reveal the darker side of man’s nature, is never allowed to molest viewers. And though CGI and 3D add a flourish to the proceedings, they never outweigh the story. Worthy of Oscar attention for its technical aspects, Hugo also charms and satisfies the child in us all. PG. PREVIEW REVIEW

Moneyball is based on the true story of Billy Beane, once a would-be baseball superstar who turned his fiercely competitive nature toward a career in management. The resulting film is just what we have come to expect from screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Rock, A Few Good Men), perceptive writing that’s also witty and absorbing. Director Bennett Miller (Capote) uses every element at a director’s disposal to hold our attention while he takes his time to tell his story. The cast is superb, with special kudos to Brad Pitt, who though he seems to channel Robert Redford in appearance, style and mannerisms, proves he is more than a handsome movie star. The guy is a very good actor. PG-13. PREVIEW REVIEW

There Be Dragons is an epic tale about war, love, the destructiveness of envy, and the healing power of forgiveness. Along with its penetrating dialogue and dynamic performances, the film spotlights a character who truly follows biblical teachings. He’s an example of someone who takes his vows seriously, a devotee of the power of forgiveness and self-sacrifice. PG-13. PREVIEW REVIEW

War Horse, perhaps the best movie adventure of the year, begins as a boy-and-his-horse movie, then progresses into a WWI epic fable, with the animal affecting the lives of several people. I guess what truly makes this a wonderful movie-going experience is the fact that the film is guileless, totally devoid of cynicism, an ingredient that dominates far too many releases garnering Oscar attention. As well as beckoning us back into the family fold of mankind, director Steven Spielberg also takes us out of CGI-governed storytelling, back to the days when story and character were the lead characters. The maker of Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan has given us a perfect movie. Indeed, it is a triumph, a work of art. PG-13. PREVIEW REVIEW

The Artist, a silent film about the silent era of movies, reminds moviegoers of the omnipotence of film imagery. It also makes a powerful point – when life seems darkest, the next day can offer hope and light. I’ve said this about The Tree of Life and War Horse, but The Artist is the best film of the year. So far. PG-13. PREVIEW REVIEW

Courageous made my list for two reasons. First, the production values continue to improve with this, the fourth release from Sherwood Pictures, the moviemaking ministry of Sherwood Church in Albany, Georgia. In this story about four policemen attempting to become more committed fathers, it’s evident that there’s more going on than just a bigger budget. There’s also a growth as filmmakers. And second, one gets the impression that while this is their ministry, at the same time, those in charge understanding the #1 rule of cinematic storytelling – story must come first. PG-13. PREVIEW REVIEW

Others previously discussed in recent articles:
Seven Days in Utopia
Of Gods and Men
Jane Eyre
The Help
Midnight in Paris