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Dubious Achievements: the best and worst of cinema in 2011

By Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Following a tradition established long ago, here is a list of year-end awards you won’t see anywhere else: The Dubious Achievements — in movies, that is — of 2011.

Best performance in a lost cause: Helen Mirren (“Arthur”), Patricia Clarkson (“One Day”), Jay Chou (“The Green Hornet”), Michelle Pfeiffer (“New Year’s Eve”), John Krasinski (“Something Borrowed”), Isiah Whitlock Jr. (“Cedar Rapids”).

Best performance by an animal: This year brought two genuine canine star turns, both by Jack Russell terriers who could give any human actor a run for his money: Cosmo in “Beginners,” and Uggie in “The Artist.” Which was better? You decide.

Best chemistry: Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo (“The Artist”), Matt Damon and Emily Blunt (“The Adjustment Bureau”), Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone (“Crazy, Stupid, Love”), Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender (“Jane Eyre”), Matthew McConaughey and Marisa Tomei (“The Lincoln Lawyer”), Paula Patton and Laz Alonso (“Jumping the Broom”), Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan (“Win Win”), Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (“Paul”).

Worst chemistry: Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson (“Water for Elephants”), Sarah Jessica Parker and Greg Kinnear (“I Don’t Know How She Does It”), Liam Neeson and January Jones (“Unknown”).

Funniest chemistry: Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm (“Bridesmaids”).

Best cameo: Judi Dench (“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”), Sigourney Weaver (“Paul”).

Best breakthrough performance: Viola Davis, who finally got that leading role she’s long deserved (“The Help”); Michael Fassbender, who had four breakthrough performances this year (“Jane Eyre,” “X-Men: First Class,” “Shame” and “A Dangerous Method”); Elizabeth Olsen (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”); Ryan Gosling, showing us that he can do comedy, too (“Crazy, Stupid, Love”).

Best abs: Gosling, (“Crazy, Stupid, Love”). Yes, they did look photoshopped.

Best debut: Walter (“The Muppets”); Jacob Wysocki (“Terri”). A special nod to Noomi Rapace, the former Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (in the Swedish edition of the movie trilogy), who made her English-language film debut in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” and stole the show.

Best kid performance: I doff my (very stylish) hat to the young “Harry Potter” cast, but must note that they have graduated out of this category. Among the under-18s who shone this year: Amara Miller (“The Descendants”), Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz (“Hugo”), Garance Le Guillermic (“The Hedgehog”), Abigail Breslin (“Janie Jones”), Morgana Davies (“The Tree”), Alex Shaffer (“Win Win”) and the entire young cast of “Super 8.”

Best popcorn movies: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2,” “X-Men: First Class,” “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” “Paul,” “My Week with Marilyn,” “Midnight in Paris,” “The Ides of March,” “Fast Five”

Best superhero: Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

Best sequel: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2.”

Worst sequel: “The Hangover, Part 2.” Please tell me there isn’t a Part 3.

Best performance by an actor whose face we never saw: Andy Serkis (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”).

Best villains: Bryce Dallas Howard (“The Help”), Albert Brooks (“Drive”), John Hawkes (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”), Helena Bonham Carter (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2”), Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Spacey (“Horrible Bosses”).

Most disappointing villain: Weren’t you expecting more from Jared Harris as criminal mastermind Moriarty in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”? I was.

Best evidence that the romantic comedy isn’t dead: “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” “Midnight in Paris”

Most convincing evidence that the romantic comedy is, indeed, dead: “Something Borrowed,” “What’s Your Number?,” “New Year’s Eve.”

Slyest scene-stealing: Lake Bell (“No Strings Attached”), Marisa Tomei (“Crazy, Stupid, Love”), Miles Teller (“Footloose”), Kat Dennings (“Thor”).

Slyest stealing: That crew in “Fast Five” who swiped a pair of sports cars from a speeding train.

Busiest bees: It’s not even that Michael Fassbender (noted above in “Best breakthrough”) and Jessica Chastain (“The Tree of Life,” “The Help,” “The Debt,” “Take Shelter”) pulled off the impressive feat of being in four movies each — it was that the performances were all so very good.

Performances we couldn’t watch without thinking about how much we miss “Mad Men”: John Slattery (“The Adjustment Bureau”), Christina Hendricks (“Drive”), Vincent Kartheiser (“In Time”), Jon Hamm (“Bridesmaids”).

Best performance by an article of clothing: All those natty hats in “The Adjustment Bureau.” Runner-up: the eloquent Hawaiian shirts worn by George Clooney in “The Descendants”

Stunt most likely to induce vertigo: Tom Cruise’s Spider-Man-like climb up an insanely tall Dubai skyscraper — assisted by sticky gloves — “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol.”

Most unforgettable death: Gwyneth Paltrow’s in “Contagion.” Brrr. (Bet you all started washing your hands a lot after that movie, no?)

Best depiction of a well-known person: Michelle Williams’ uncannily breathy impersonation of Marilyn Monroe in “My Week with Marilyn.” Jell-O on springs, indeed.

Saddest goodbye: The last of the old-time movie stars left us this year: Elizabeth Taylor closed her famously violet eyes for the last time on March 23.

Most magical moment: George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) suddenly finding that he can hear sounds in “The Artist.”

Best reason to look forward to 2012: Who among us isn’t eagerly awaiting “The Dark Knight Rises”? Or “The Hunger Games”? Or “Dark Shadows”? Or the new James Bond? Or “Anna Karenina”? Should be something for everyone; see you next year at the movies.

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