“We can tell them when they ask why does Hollywood make such shitty movies because when they do great ones, you don’t fucking show up!” — Guillermo Del Toro

As with many problems in the world today, I blame the recession. Between shrunken wallets and inflated ticket prices, the common moviegoer isn’t going to waste so much money on a ticket for a film they may not enjoy. They need safe and familiar cinematic comfort food, and that’s what they got.

This is the best explanation I have for why this was one of the lowest-attended years on record, yet Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2 and Transformers: Dark of the Moon still managed to make nearly a billion dollars each worldwide. For why The Help got three consecutive weekends at #1 and racked up almost $170 million domestic against a $25 million budget. For why The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) and The Adventures of Tintin debuted far behind the returning champions of Mission: Impossible 4, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked.

Now, I realize that it’s not exactly new for the big, loud, and expensive franchise films to get all the money and attention. That said, I don’t think that trend has ever been more obvious than it was this year. Just look at the top ten domestic grossers of 2011. Every single film in the top seven is a sequel, with two comic adaptations and a franchise reboot at the bottom.

With all of this in mind, you might easily be forgiven for thinking that this was a bad year for cinema. But that would only be because you weren’t paying attention.

On the contrary, I’d argue that this wasn’t a bad year for movies at all. I say this for two reasons: Firstly, because quite a few of the disposable CGI spectaculars turned out to be really good. Secondly, while the masses were content to stay with the quick and easy, my fellow film geeks and I (and hopefully you as well, my enlightened and educated readers) got to enjoy a ton of awesome movies that went flying under the radar. Seriously, the awards buzz for this year has already been thrown completely out of whack because support has grown so diffused between The Descendants, The Artist, The Tree of Life, and all the other many worthy candidates. Nearly every union and organization in Hollywood has a different champion, and naturally, I have mine.

Last year, I prepared three Top Ten lists: The Masterpieces, The Disappointments, and The Wild Rides. This year, there were so many awesome films that I’m adding a fourth list: The Honorable Mentions. All of them are ranked according to different criteria, but they all adhere to the following rules:

1. I can only list films that I’ve already seen and reviewed. I’ve heard amazing things about Submarine, I Saw the Devil, and 13 Assassins, and I’m sure I’ll get to praising them myself eventually, but not right now.
2a. Any film that got a wide or limited release before 1/1/11 is disqualified. I’m not just talking about American releases, but public releases anywhere in the world. This means that Detective Dee, Rubber, and Troll Hunter are all out.
2b. Film festival premiere dates don’t count. It’s a proven fact that movies can change a great deal in editing between festival screenings and public screenings, so movies that debuted in 2010 film festivals are still in play. For example, Super screened in two 2010 film festivals, but it didn’t get a limited release until April 1st of 2011, so it’s still up for consideration.
3. A tie is only permitted for two films that are on the list for similar reasons. Every critic has different ideas for the proper use of tied entries. Personally, I choose to use tied entries as a means to avoid repeating myself.

This introduction has already gone on long enough, so I’ll end it here and begin the festivities with a separate entry very soon. Please keep reading, I hope you’ll enjoy it.