The year 2011 was a tremendous year for movies with a fair deal of pictures that put an emphasis on nostalgia. There were so many great movies in 2011 that a top 10 list isn't going to cut it. I'm going all out with the 25 best films of 2011.

25. "Rango." Gore Verbinski's bizarre and visually dazzling animated Western with some great voice-over work from Johnny Depp.

24. "My Week With Marilyn." Michelle Williams gives her most dedicated performance in this charming comedy about screen legend Marilyn Monroe.

23. "Horrible Bosses." One of the year's funniest comedies with a terrific cast lead by Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis.

22. "X-Men: First Class." Mathew Vaughn directs what may be the best of the "X-Men" series, providing an interesting origin story for Professor X and Magneto.

21. "Captain America: The First Avenger." Another fun predecessor to next year's highly anticipated "The Avengers."

20. "The Ides of March." George Clooney directs this very well written political thriller, starring Ryan Gosling in one of his best performances.

19. "Young Adult." Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody hit another home run with this dark comedy about a self-centered, immature woman played by Charlize Theron.

18. "Thor." The year's best superhero entertainment impacted by a witty performance from Chris Hemsworth.

17. "Sarah's Key." A fiercely overlooked drama with an Oscar-caliber performance from young Melusine Mayance.

16. "Hugo." Martin Scorsese's unexpected and imaginative family adventure that wholly embraces the art of movies.

15. "Super 8." J.J. Abrams' wonderful and nostalgic love letter to Steven Spielberg fuelled by some winning adolescent performers.

14. "The Adventures of Tintin." Steven Spielberg's hyper and dazzling motion capture adventure reminiscent of "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

13. "Moneyball." Brad Pitt delivers one of his finest performances in this fascinating movie about changing the way people perceive baseball management.

12. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." A more than worthy American remake of last year's underappreciated Swedish film, with a star making performance from Rooney Mara.

11. "Drive." Director Nicolas Winding Refn's gritty and constantly mesmerizing piece of art that's fortunately growing in popularity.

10. "The Tree of Life." Mainly told through the perspective of a little boy played by Hunter McCracken, Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" is a profound collection of fragmented memories that capture the joy, confusion, guilt, and fear of being a child. Like Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," this movie sends its audience on a deep spiritual journey through visual poetry, envisioning everything from the creation of the universe to the growth of a baby boy. Among all the films released in 2011, "The Tree of Life" might have been the hardest for mainstream audiences to embrace. This certainly isn't a movie to watch casually as it tests the audience's patience to the max. Those willing to be challenged though are likely to discover something truly special.

9. "50/50." Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives another winning performance in this unlikely comedy about a young man trying to beat cancer. Most comedies that attempt to tackle a subject as tragic as cancer often fall flat, unable to strike the right note. This is a rare movie that finds the perfect balance of dark comedy and tender charm in the midst of its main character's horrible circumstances. While "50/50" is a very funny and sweet picture, it's not one that overlooks the hardships that befall cancer victims. It's a movie that sufficiently depicts people coping with cancer and, at the same time, makes its audience feel nothing short of grateful that they're alive.

8. "Bridesmaids." No movie this year came close to topping "Bridesmaids" in the laugh department. In addition to being a raunchy laugh riot, "Bridesmaids" also manages to tell an appealing story about the friendships and rivalries women share. Kristen Wiig leads an excellent cast, which includes Rose Byrne, Jon Hamm, Chris O'Dowd, and numerous others. The funniest performance of all comes from Mellissa McCarthy, who deserves a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her flawless physical comedic timing and sheer lovability. She also delivered the single most quotable line of the year, "It's coming out of me like lava!" So many people had "Bridesmaids" pegged as just another generic "Chick Flick." Director Paul Feig and company proved skeptics wrong though with a film that's every bit as fun for men as it is for women, maybe even more.

7. "The Muppets." After a 12-year hiatus from features, director James Bobin and writers Jason Segel and Nick Stoller managed to breathe life back into the "Muppet" franchise. Their wonderful film, simply titled "The Muppets," is a winner in just about every respect imaginable. It is crystal clear that all the people involved with the picture share nothing less than complete admiration for the Muppet legacy. The end result is a warm, delightfully corny, refreshing, and funny gem that appeals to adults and kids being introduced to the Muppets for the first time. This is the one movie of the year that I can't possibly imagine somebody not enjoying.

6. "Midnight in Paris." Easily Woody Allen's best movie in years, "Midnight in Paris" is a witty and refined comedy about nostalgia, escapism, and frustrated artists. Owen Wilson is splendid as a wannabe novelist who is transported to 1920s Paris every night at the stroke of midnight. He crosses paths with Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway, Tom Hiddleston as Scott Fitzgerald and Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, all of whom are completely believable. But the real star of "Midnight in Paris" is the City of Lights itself. Few directors do as good of a job at turning locations into real characters. Like he's done with New York time and time again, Allen fashions Paris into a breathing presence with a life of its own.

5. "The Descendants." Alexander Payne's follows up his exceptional "Sideways" with "The Descendants," a magnificent dramedy about heartache, betrayal, forgiveness, and letting go. George Clooney gives the best performance of his career as Matt King, a father of two who must stand up as a single parent when his wife is put on life support. As great as Clooney is, the real discovery is Shailene Woodley as his foul-mouthed teen-aged daughter who tries to keep her family together while feeling severe animosity towards her father and dying mother. Director and co-screenwriter Payne has made a genuine film that feels factual to the hardships of life and still manages to put the audience in high spirits.

4. "The Help." If movies were living, breathing organisms, I'd give "The Help" a big hug. The movie impeccably mixes moments of heartbreak with an abundance of sheer delight, telling an empowering story about race and some of the most strong-willed female characters of recent times. Every performer is superb in their portrayals, from Emma Stone as the outspoken Skeeter, to Bryce Dallas Howard as the ignorant Hilly Holbrook, to breakthrough actress Jessica Chastain as the naive Celia. The standout performances come from Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, both of whom are destine to receive Oscar nominations. Director Tate Taylor does a sincere job at adapting Kathryn Stockett's novel, delivering a funny and joyous experience that will only leave the most pessimistic spectators not uplifted.

3. "War Horse." Many people seem indifferent to Steven Spielberg's "War Horse." In my eyes though, this is nothing short of a miracle of a motion picture. The film tells a beautiful story about the unbreakable bond between a young adult named Albert, played by Jeremy Irvine, and his remarkable horse Joey. When the two are separated during wartime, Joey goes though several different owners as he attempts to make his way back to Albert. Joey himself may be the most daring and courageous animal star in the history of live-action pictures, never being downgraded to a cartoon horse. From the epic musical score by John Williams, to the sweeping cinematography, to the creative screenplay, I loved just about everything regarding this magical movie.

2. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2." The "Harry Potter" series is truly among the greatest cinematic achievements of the past decade, delivering a saga with the same level of storytelling and inventiveness as the original "Star Wars" trilogy. Director David Yates brought the franchise to its stunning conclusion last summer with "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," one of the most satisfying cinematic finales of all time. In addition to being a revelation of craft, "Deathly Hallows: Part 2" is a cavernous emotional experience as the once grand Hogwarts shatters to the ground, favorite characters meet their demise, and secrets are revealed. The final five minutes of the film will dramatically impact anybody who has followed this story from the beginning, providing a perfect ending to a timeless series.

1. "The Artist." I never would have thought that a silent film shot in black and white would top my best of the year list in this day and age. Director Michael Hazanavicius' "The Artist" completely exceeded my doubtful expectations though, treating me to one of the best times I've ever had at the movies. Jean Dujardin deserves serious consideration to win the Best Actor Oscar for his funny and tragic portrayal as George Valentin, a fictional silent movie star whose career is put in jeopardy when talkies begin to take the public by storm. On his road to redemption, Valentin is aided by a luminous rising movie star named Peppy Miller, played by Bérénice Bejo, his loyal limo driver, played by James Cromwell, and his scene-stealing terrier. Hazanavicius has made a masterful tribute to the silent movie era that never feels forced or gimmicky. Many audiences are likely to avoid "The Artist" no matter how much praise it receives. That's a royal shame because they will be missing out on a humorous, suspenseful, and romantic entertainment that they'll never forget.

• Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, Reach him at

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