We sure do love our sequels, don’t we? They’re comfortable and cozy. They’re mindless and blandly entertaining. They feature recycled characters and plots. And they’re relatively cheap and easy to make, which equates to instant “bankability” at the box office, i.e. Hollywood’s own version of Moneyball.

So, it should come as no surprise that we label the year 2011 (and quite possibly every year from here on out!) as ‘The Year of Even More Sequels.’ In fact, the most sequels by the film industry in any single year: 28 to be exact. Everything from Harry Potter to Paranormal Activity, The Hangover to Twilight, Sherlock Holmes to the Transformers, and Pirates of the Caribbean to Fast Five. Or as I like to call it, More Faster and More Furious-er.

You want originality? A whopping 8 of the Top 10 highest grossing films for 2011 were sequels. The only ones that didn’t fit the sequel mold? Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger – films that were made as foundations for The Avengers (2012) and yes, even more sequels.

Even films that weren’t technically sequels, felt like sequels. Puss in Boots clawed its way out of the Shrek franchise, X-Men: First Class was presented as a prequel/reboot, and The Muppets, while thoroughly enjoyable, still trotted out “The Rainbow Connection.”

Fortunately, underneath all of the sequel clutter, were a few gems from 2011 – Terrence Malick’s poetic vision, The Tree of Life, Kristen Wiig’s hilarious romp, Bridesmaids, and Martin Scorsese’s ode to cinema in the lavish, family adventure, Hugo. Many of these non-sequels will assuredly take home shiny, golden trinkets in the next few weeks as the award season officially kicks off with The 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards (hosted by Ricky Gervais on Sunday, January 15th at 6 p.m. MT on NBC).

To help wipe off some of that sequel schmutz and get you prepared, I’ve included my annual Top 10 Films of 2011 below as well as an Award Season Checklist to many great films from 2011 that just so happen to not be sequels.

Happy New Year and Happy Viewing!

-Mark Sells, “The Reel Deal”

Mark Sells is a nationally recognized film journalist and Critic-at-Large for 100.3 FM The Sound (Los Angeles). In addition to his blog on 303, you can follow The Reel Deal on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook for the latest entertainment news, reviews, and interviews.



10. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. While the storyline in MI4 offers nothing new and the characters are fairly static, the action is flawless – sizzling sequences like an old fashioned prison break and a vertigo induced expedition outside the tallest building in the world. As a result, Ghost Protocol succeeds in its mission, delivering one of the most entertaining, testosterone infused adventures of the year.

9. The Descendants. With effortless dexterity, The Descendants bridges dark comedy with tragedy. And features a strong, centered performance from Clooney. Emotionally stirring, The Descendants is somewhat cathartic – a quirky, methodical detour through tropical paradise.

8. Melancholia. From anger to dread, sadness to serenity, Melancholia is an apocalyptic journey with many moods and depressions – much like its famed director. A deeply meditative film with stunning visuals, Melancholia brilliantly captures the chaos and calm before the storm.

7. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Hauntingly immersive with ominous sounds, atmospherics, and camera work. With a top notch British cast that also includes Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, and many more, Tinker Tailor is a perfectly condensed, carefully calculated game of chess.

6. Moneyball. Adapted from Michael Lewis’ book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin follows up The Social Network with another dandy, transforming off the field player management and analysis into compelling drama. And with razor sharp wit and delivery, Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are sensational together, hitting Moneyball clean and out of the park.

5. A Separation. Politics aside, director Asghar Farhadi offers a fascinating, impartial view of modern Iran. And more importantly, through a compelling narrative, offers a fascinating view of modern families in general. All of which helps distinguish A Separation from the pack as one of the very best foreign language films of the year.

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. Returning to the director’s chair, David Yates delivers all the goods – the cinematography and production design have greater depth, the makeup and special effects are better than ever, and even the cinematic score hits all the high notes just right – an abbreviated, yet exhilarating finale that is equally satisfying as it is bittersweet.

3. Hugo. A magical, visually stunning adventure for the entire family, Hugo is not exactly the kind of film you’d expect from legendary director, Martin Scorsese. But with a story that cleverly pays homage to the early pioneers of cinema, it’s easy to see the attraction. Scorsese’s love for film and film preservation shine through in Hugo – an exuberant and meticulous 3D spectacle by one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.

2. The Tree of Life. Through the use of stunning imagery and carefully orchestrated music, Malick takes us on a beautiful voyage of sight and sound across the universe, waxing philosophically on the meaning of life, the existence of faith, and the passage of time. One of the best films of the year thus far, The Tree of Life is an extraordinary achievement in storytelling that will captivate your inner sense of being.

1. The Artist. With nods to such classics as The Jazz Singer, Singin’ in the Rain, and Metropolis, The Artist acts as a movie within a movie, depicting the beauty and bittersweet end of an era. With a touch of romance and comedy, a dash of drama, and one scene stealing Jack Russell terrier – The Artist has it all. Visually stunning, imaginative, and cleverly scored and choreographed, The Artist is quite simply and quietly, the year’s finest film.

Award Season Checklist: