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The magic of the movies came to life last year

Maija Gustin | Friday, May 20, 2011

In spite of all the rubbish that passed through theaters this year, there have been enough pieces of cinematic wonder to redeem Hollywood. From moving on to diving in, these films captured our minds and hearts and won’t easily be forgotten. While the doors to some beloved franchises prepare to close, this string of films continues to inspire long after their release.

For “Harry Potter” – and our childhoods – the end is near

“It all ends here.” So read the teaser poster for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.” The first film installment of the epically popular franchise’s final book hit theaters in November to sold-out audiences, earning $125 million. We watched in anticipation as the boy wizard we grew up with left the confines of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to face the dangers of the real world. As Harry prepares for the climax of his fight with Lord Voldemort this summer, we prepare to close our chapters on what was, at least in the realm of fantasy young adult literature, a pretty amazing childhood.

“Toy Story 3” brings the 20-somethings to tears

If Harry Potter was a story of venturing into the unknown, “Toy Story 3” was a blatantly heart-wrenching and heart–warming tale of moving on, but never leaving the past behind. In what might be the series’ last adventure on the big screen, our favorite toys dealt with love, loss and new beginnings in the poignant-but-giddy manner that Pixar mastered in the first two films. As Harry grows up in front of our eyes, Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang remind us where we came from.

The British monarch with the stammer steals the world’s heart, and all their gold statues

A little British film called “The King’s Speech” came out in theaters late last year and met stunning reviews and great success. The movie, driven by its star Colin Firth, quickly catapulted to global prominence thanks to word of mouth and a continuing string of award wins. Unlike the cynical tale of greed and revenge in “The Social Network,” an early awards front-runner, audiences were touched by the story of an underdog fighting for a position of power he didn’t want in the first place. A good old-fashioned tale of triumph over adversity, with a little bromance tossed in for fun, “The King’s Speech” proved that movies don’t need sensational content to be popular.

“The Social Network” defines the Facebook generation

For all its cynicism, something about the story of Mark Zuckerberg and his creation of the Facebook phenomenon captured the essence of our generation on film. We may not all be greedy, power-hungry social outcasts from Harvard, but “The Social Network” showed the power, comfort and danger of social networking and living our lives online. Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue was quick and masterfully witty and David Fincher’s camerawork visualized all of the story’s internal tensions in a stunning way. “The Social Network” is ultimately both a send-up and a warning to a generation prepared to put everything and anything on the line (and online) for success.

“Inception”: the movie that rocked Hollywood and continues to blow our minds

What happened to that spinning top? Last summer, Christopher Nolan pushed our minds into overdrive with his tale of dreams within dreams within dreams, etc. Born from the success of “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” Nolan’s psychological thriller featured a stellar cast and jaw-dropping visuals (done without serious computer aid), earned a few Oscar nominations and had us still talking about it almost a year later. “Inception” is an exhibition of ingenious filmmaking and proof that Hollywood has more to offer than adaptations of best-seller books and real-life stories. It raised the bar for future summer blockbusters and left us anxiously anticipating Nolan’s next “Batman” movie.