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The best (and worst) of 2011

The good news: Overall, 2011 was WAY better than 2010 for movies. It's unlikely that Hollywood tried to do so, but there were as many good and bad films in the late spring and early summer as there were in the late fall and early winter. The peak summer season was inordinately strong and the usual Oscar-hopeful cold-weather offerings were for the most part lackluster.

The year saw the passing of what will likely be the highest-grossing, most critically-acclaimed franchise in history ("Harry Potter") and the continued presence of a plethora of mostly inferior franchises, sequels, prequels and reboots that all made a lot of noise and delivered relatively little. The sole big bright spot from last year (animation) was essentially AWOL, but the number of overall recommendable original live-action titles rose considerably.

This year also saw the breakout of actress Jessica Chastain who, if she stays on her current career path, might just wind up being the greatest screen performer of all-time. In 2011, Chastain starred in "The Tree of Life," "The Debt," "The Help," "Coriolanis," "Take Shelter," "Wilde Salome" and "Texas Killing Fields." There have been many other performers who have appeared in multiple productions in a single calendar year, but no one has ever done so with the level of critical acclaim in so many quality productions as Chastain has this year. If you consider yourself a serious movie fan, you should go out of your way to see every film in which she appears.

It's time now for my annual year-end list of stand-outs and industry embarrassments. Some choices are obvious, most hopefully, are not. Thanks for reading and have yourself a great 2012.

-- Best Lead Actor: George Clooney in "The Descendants"

-- Best Lead Actress: Tilda Swinton in "We Need to Talk About Kevin"

-- Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer in "Beginners"

-- Best Supporting Actress: Melissa McCarthy in "Bridesmaids"

-- Best Ensemble Cast: "Margin Call"

-- Best Director: Martin Scorsese for "Hugo"

-- Best Original Screenplay: Woody Allen for "Midnight in Paris"

-- Best Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash for "The Descendants"

-- Best Documentary: "Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times"

-- Best Foreign Language Film: "The Skin I Live In"

-- Best Animated Film: "Rango"The remainder:-- Best action flick: "Thor"

-- Best action performer: The cast of "Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol"

-- Best cinematography: "The Tree of Life"

-- Best date movie (clean): "Crazy. Stupid. Love."

-- Best date movie (risque): "Friends with Benefits"

-- Best movie for AARP members: "Potiche"

-- Best film with a no-name cast: "The Artist"

-- Best guilty pleasure: "Bridesmaids"

-- Best line: "Feel that heat? -- that's my undercarriage" from "Bridesmaids"

-- Best looking film shot in Georgia: "The Conspirator"

-- Best action-comedy: "The Guard"

-- Best horror flick: "Insidious"

-- Best "Inception" clone: "Source Code"

-- Best mob flick: "Kill the Irishman"

-- Best movie (almost) no one saw: "The Debt"

-- Best performance by a singer/musician: Justin Timberlake in "In Time"

-- Best performance in a so-so film: Leonardo DiCaprio in "J. Edgar"

-- Best performance by a non-human: The dog in "The Artist"

-- Best performance by a juvenile: Maggie Elizabeth Jones in "We Bought a Zoo"

-- Best franchise reboot: "X-Men: First Class"

-- Best motion-capture performance: Andy Serkis in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"

-- Best political film: "The Ides of March"

-- Best prequel: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"

-- Best retelling of a classic work of literature: "Jane Eyre"

-- Best remake: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

-- Best romance: "The Adjustment Bureau"

-- Best scenery-chewing: Kristen Wiig in "Bridesmaids"

-- Best score: "The Artist"

-- Best soundtrack: "Melancholia"

-- Best special effects: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"

-- Best sports-related movie: "Moneyball"

-- Best Steven Spielberg imitation: Director J.J. Abrams for "Super 8"

-- Best stylistic throwback: "The Artist"

-- Best thing to happen to movies since Meryl Streep: Jessica Chastain

-- Best trend: Lots of movies and TV shows being produced and shot in Georgia

-- Best use of profanity: "Bridesmaids"

-- Best vamp: Amanda Seyfried in "In Time"

-- Best villain (female): Bryce Dallas Howard in "The Help"

-- Best villain (male): Albert Brooks in "Drive"

-- Biggest disappointment: "War Horse"

-- Biggest flop: (sadly) "Hugo"

-- Both creepy and unfunny: "Jack & Jill"

-- Both depressing and bad: "One Day"

-- Both good-looking and vacant: Kristen Stewart in "Twilight: Whatever"

-- Classiest exit: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2"

-- Don't quit your TV day job: "happythankyoumoreplease" filmmaker/leading man Josh Radnor

-- Grammatically incorrect: "There Be Dragons"

-- Hardest working movie studio liaison in Atlanta: Cindy Stoltz

-- Let's remake "Beauty and the Beast" and do it badly: "Beastly"

-- Most accurate portrayal of the South: "The Help"

-- Most bizarre: "Melancholia"

-- Most clunky title: "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"

-- Most grating: Kate Hudson in "Something Borrowed"

-- Most likely to be the subject of a 2012 movie: The Penn State scandal

-- Most obvious casting: Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady"

-- Most original concept: "Midnight in Paris"

-- Most overrated film: "The Help"

-- Most overrated performance: Meryl Streep in "The Iron Lady"

-- Most underrated film: "Source Code"

-- Most underrated performance: Melissa McCarthy in "Bridesmaids"

-- Most unnecessary remake: "Footloose"

-- Most unnecessary sequel: "The Hangover II"-- Most twisted: "Hesher"

-- M.V.P. (female): Jessica Chastain

-- M.V.P. (male): Michael Fassbender

-- R.I.P.: Sidney Lumet, Pete Postlethwaite, Cliff Robertson, Jane Russell, Elizabeth Taylor

-- Stop whining: Conan O'Brien in "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop"

-- Surprisingly, it wasn't that bad: "Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie"

-- The Little Engine That Could: "Bridesmaids"

-- The next Dakota Fanning: Maggie Elizabeth Jones

-- What were they thinking: "Your Highness"

-- When all else fails, pose for "Playboy:" Lindsay Lohan

-- Worst bait-and-switch: "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"

-- Worst continuing franchise: "Twilight"

-- Worst follow-up by a 2010 Oscar winner: Natalie Portman in "Your Highness"

-- Worst one-two punch by a great actor: Tom Hanks for "Larry Crowne" and "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"

-- Worst one-two punch by a great director: Steven Spielberg for "The Adventures of Tintin" and "War Horse"

-- Worst trend: Declining box-office revenues

-- Worst date movie: "New Year's Eve"

-- Worst franchise reboot: "Scre4m"

-- Worst movie of the year, perhaps the decade: "Margaret"

-- Worst movie with religious overtones: "Seven Days in Utopia"

-- Worst remake: "Conan the Barbarian"

-- Worst sequel: "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"

-- Worst waste of an otherwise good ensemble cast: "Tower Heist"

-- Would you please go away: Adam Sandler

-- Wow, he really can act: Jonah Hill in "Moneyball"

-- Your 15 minutes are officially over: Julia Roberts

Top 10 live-action films:

  1. "Hugo"
  2. "The Debt"
  3. "The Descendants"
  4. "Bridesmaids"
  5. "Source Code"
  6. "X-Men: First Class"
  7. "The Artist"
  8. "The Guard"
  9. "The Tree of Life"
  10. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"