The Guard

As everyone has pointed out, John Michael McDonagh’s brother wrote and directed the recent classic In Bruges, but what they seem to have missed is that his own film, The Guard, is just as great. McDonagh’s Irish western features a perfectly structured script, with a tremendous performance by Brendan Gleeson at the center of it all. This is a film featuring a foul-mouthed hero who pretends to be racist and stupid, a philosophical batch of villains, and an American sidekick who couldn’t be less helpful — what more can one ask for? (Domestic BO total: $5 mil) – JG

Hesher

Everyone keeps talking up the coolness and talent of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and it seems as if only a handful of those people have seen him as Hesher, probably his best performance to date. This is one of those dark and funny summer indies that went by without any notice. Hesher came from Spencer Susher, a member of the Blue Tongue Films and the director of the zombie short, I Love Sarah Jane, and he got an incredible performance out of Levitt in a role that mixes Death and a guardian angel. (Domestic BO total: >$1 mil) – JG

Submarine

While the Weinsteins are currently busy campaigning their so-so or just “pretty good” awards hungry films, none of them hold a candle up to Richard Ayoade’s Submarine. The IT Crowd star’s film is a funny, odd, and lovely coming-of-age story about a creepy and cold kid falling in love — and understanding it — for the first time. People made the obvious Wes Anderson comparisons, but Submarine is its own wonderful and whimsical kind of film. (Domestic BO total: >$1 mil) – JG

Warrior

If America was a child or a hot Asian stripper I would bend you over my knee and spank your ass for the travesty that is this film’s box office failure. Here’s what you missed: 1) Three emotionally affecting performances from Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte. 2) A rare film that shows US soldiers in a positive light as the heroes they often are. 3) A sports film that perfectly balances the action with the shmaltz. 4) A suspenseful and exciting final fight that leaves you breathless and torn trying to decide which side to cheer for. 5) One of the year’s best films. (Domestic BO total: $13 mil) – RH

We Bought a Zoo

Fox was more than likely hoping for this to be another Marley and Me. The fact is, Cameron Crowe’s film isn’t that dog dying heart-warmer, it’s much more than that. I’m sure word-of-mouth will save We Bought a Zoo from being a total dud, but this should have been one of the big hits of Christmas. I understand the other films on this list not doing well, but not this one. Did uncanny-looking warmth of Damon and Scar-jo’s smiles scare you off as being gooey? Well, they are gooey, in an awesome way. There’s still plenty of time to go and support We Bought a Zoo, so go do so. (Domestic BO as of 12/31/11: $32 mil) – JG

Win Win

America’s hatred of films starting with the letter ‘W’ continues with this delightfully simple but surprisingly charming, humorous and realistic little gem. It’s not surprising that it got lost in the theatrical shuffle, but it’s still unfortunate. Paul Giamatti’s turn as a husband and father who works as a lawyer while moonlighting as a high school wrestling coach is him at his most likeable and impressive. He’s the heart of Tom McCarthy’s third film, and even as the character makes dubious and morally questionable choices we can’t help but wish it works out for him. Every character is flawed in real and honest ways making them like people you know and love in your own life, but they’re a lot funnier than your own friends and family. (Domestic BO total: $10 mil) – RH

There are more good, fun-loving lists in our 2011 Year in Review


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