My favorite films of 2011


The other day, Molly Knight and I were chatting on Twitter when we both realized how much each other loved the films of 2006. That happened to be my first fall working full-time at Variety, and it was a spectacular one for the movies, led by "Little Children," "United 93" and "The Last King of Scotland."

All three of those films would rank ahead of my favorite film of 2011, using the system I designed long ago. It's a system that is decidedly personal, because film is decidedly personal. I don't think there's any such thing as a "best" film, but only a "favorite" film, because what we bring to a film and what we desire from it is so idiosyncratic. Here's how I explained the system back then:

Ambition (1-7): How much the film is taking on, in subject matter and in filming challenges? For example, is it offering both a romantic story and social commentary at once? How difficult was the film to make technically? This allows one to distinguish between two equally well-made films when one is Casablanca and the other is Animal House. Ambition isn't the be-all and end-all, but it allows some extra credit to be given where it is due.

Quality (1-10): This is essentially how most films are graded - simply, how good are they. As objective as I can be, how well do I think the film succeeds in achieving its ambitions?

Emotional resonance (1-13): How much did the film affect me personally. This category gets the most weight because it's the most important - I'd rather see a flawed film that touches me than a technically perfect but emotionally stultifying picture.

Just to give you a quick idea of how this works, here are the scores of my favorite films of all time.

The Misfits: Ambition 5, Quality 9.5, Resonance 13, Total 27.5

Casablanca: Ambition 6, Quality 10, Resonance 11.5, Total 27.5

Both are great movies in my mind, with Casablanca being objectively better and The Misfits being the most powerful to me emotionally. Now, there probably aren't 10 people in the world who would consider these films equals, but that's the whole point, isn't it? This system helps us rank our favorites without trying to say that they're definitively the best.

And, for comparison, down near the bottom of the scale ...

The Bad News Bears Go To Japan: Ambition 1.5, Quality 2, Resonance 2, Total 5.5.

During my single days, I rated nearly 600 films using this system before it fell by the wayside. But I decided to hurriedly resurrect it to knock out the films I saw that were released in 2006. You'll see that list below.

Two last quick points: I wouldn't get caught up in single-point distinctions - those don't amount to a significant difference between films. In fact, each time I look at the list, I feel like tinkering with some of the grades.

The other thing is that in the past, an average film totaled about 16 points, which means that I did pretty well in what I saw this year. I honestly didn't feel that I saw a truly awful movie from 2006.

Now while I didn't see a movie in 2011 that I would rank ahead of the best of 2006, I did see plenty of good ones in a year that matched up well with 2010 – along with one truly awful, despicable one. So here, the day before the Oscar nominations are revealed, is my list for the past year ...