Back to The Best Movies of 2011
12. 'The Help'
There are a lot of reasons 'The Help' shouldn't work -- mostly because it puts Hollywood gloss on the civil rights movement and hedges a bit into white-savior myth territory. Social implications aside, though, this is just old-fashioned moviemaking of the highest order. Like 'Steel Magnolias,' but without out-of-left-field deaths. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer shine -- and have deserved Oscar buzz surrounding them -- as the two Alabama maids who decide to help young journalist Skeeter (Emma Stone) blow the lid off the conditions of "the help." Equal parts heartbreaking and hilarious, 'The Help' is also notable because it features a villainous turn by Bryce Dallas Howard. Between this and '50/50,' it wouldn't be a surprise if Howard's next role involves kicking a puppy. -- C.R.