Exciting and amazing at the same time. In his debut as a live-action filmmaker, the animation wizard Brad Bird (The Incredibles) creates scenes so audaciousa break-in at the Kremlin staged like a magic trick; a vertiginous, how the hell did they film that? crawl across the tallest building in the world; a nuclear countdown that redefines down-to-the-minute—that they get you moving around in your seat and laughing at your own susceptibility. Tom Cruise, in his fourth turn as IMF agent Ethan Hunt, has a pulsating presence, a dynamic mind-body fusion. This is not only the best entry in the Mission: Impossible series but the most vibrant thriller since the Bourne films and Casino Royale. In an action-ride culture that offers so much fake adrenaline, it's cathartic to encounter the real thing.
Click here to jump to Lisa Schwarzbaum's 10 best movies of 2011
Image Credit: David James
EW's critic rates a big-budget franchise action flick, a quiet Iranian family drama, and a welcome return by a director after a seven-year absence among the year's top new releases. Plus: The five worst he saw in the past 12 months.