I thought 2011 was a quite a good year for film as there were a ton of great movies to see these past few months. From the art house to the big budget fare you could find a lot of options no matter what your interests as the line between the two seems to be blurring. Some would argue that is a bad thing, but I feel that line is only blurring because of what you can do on a budget nowadays. Regardless, all that matters is that the films are good and that blurring line is allowing filmmakers at every level to better bring their visions to light.
Again, a quick disclaimer about the list: This is some weird amalgamation of best made films, my favorite films, and some other strange feelings one can’t really describe. So please don’t think I am snotty jerk who thinks their opinions are the end all be all.
Ok, moving on.
Before the overly long list of films gets rattled off lets get to a couple of special awards for the year.
Worst Film of the Year: The Hangover Part II
Lazy, a waste of talent, and a complete fuck you to the audience, no film dumbfounded me more than this one. There were films less well made, with worse acting, and terrible plots, but the fact that this film didn’t even try with all of its potential is how it ended up here. The cast was great in the first film and I wanted to see more from this troublesome trio, but instead we got a half baked step for step retread of the first film. I have ranted about this in my review and won’t go on much further here, but I think it wholly deserves to be in this esteemed spot.
Most Overrated Film of the Year: The Artist
Look, I really like The Artist, but in no way do I think it is anywhere near the best film of the year that many have placed it. I enjoyed Jean Dujardin and Michel Hazanavicius’ OSS 117 film and I think The Artist is a bit better than that. What is The Artist doing that is so interesting or new? I think the filmmakers were simply making homage to silent pictures and the champions of the film are trying to make it out to be more than just that. The Artist is being heralded as a love letter to cinema, but it isn’t even the best love letter to film nominated for best picture; that would be Hugo. Anyways, I like The Artist and think Bejo and Dujardin are great in it, but let’s not blow things out of proportion here and try to act like it is the best film of the year; it’s just a really good one.
Best Scene of the Year: The Moroccan Chase – The Adventures of Tintin
Spielberg pulled out all the stops for Tintin, creating crazy shot, after shot in the un-tethered world of motion-capture and we are all the better for it. You can just feel Spielberg’s glee jumping through the camera and no scene in the film could you feel it more than this breathtaking single shot chase scene. A motorcycle chases down an eagle as a tidal wave destroys everything behind them and the camera flies everywhere. The scene is just crazy to behold and looked remarkable in 3D, it’s a scene/shot that will likely not be matched anytime soon; unless Spielberg gets back on that motion capture stage for the sequel.
Runner Up: The pre-title sequence of Drive
The Muppets – I loved revisiting the world of The Muppets and I was transported back to my childhood from the opening frames. Seeing them recreate The Muppet Show made me swoon inside and I really hope this isn’t the last we have seen of these lovable guys. That said, I think the film could have been even better, but I can see why James Bobin and Jason Segel didn’t try to go to crazy with things here. Playing the film safe, rather than sorry, might get us a film/show in the future that can take more chances and I can live with that. More Swedish Chef next time!
Attack the Block – This British monster movie was made on a relatively small budget and is the promising debut of director Joe Cornish. Edgar Wright produced the picture about young British punks stuck in the middle of an alien invasion and the results are a fast paced and fun creature feature. Featuring creative monster designs, a great hero, and a plot that isn’t afraid to kill off its characters the film will feels both classic and modern at the same time. An excellent companion to Super 8, both films will give you a flash of The Goonies and they would make a great triple feature together. Also, there is an excellent score that runs throughout the picture that just rocks.
The Thing – I might be the only person who really liked this prequel to John Carpenter’s classic The Thing, but I can’t find a real reason to fault it. I think audiences that went into this thing fresh, having not seen the original, would eat up the tension and creature effects and would be able to enjoy Carpenters film just as much as some one who watched that film first. The film has likable characters, is fast paced, and tries to do something different with the “thing.” Matthijs van Heijningen’s film isn’t trying to be a pot boiler mystery the Carpenter classic is, this is a cat and mouse creature feature that is propelled by a group of characters that are more adept to figure out what this thing is. I think this prequel also gives the creature more depth as it shows how it itself has evolved its approach to trying to survive among these men across the two films. I like this film a lot and it holds up on a second viewing, plus Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Lars rock.
Thor – This piece of the Marvel puzzle was my favorite of the two released this year as I was enthralled with the world of Asgard. The mythology and set up of the world of the Gods was some of the best new fantasy stories put on film and I hope the sequel spends even more time among the heavens. I am not nearly as critical as some are on the Earth based stuff in Thor and I think that is mostly due to Chris Hemsworth’s great performance as the fish out of water God. The action beats are great, especially the battle on the frost giant planet, the film is surprisingly funny, and Loki was one of the better bad guys as of late. Yes the Natalie Portman romance was a bit rushed and easy, but I know a number of girls fell for Hemsworth as soon as they saw him with his shirt off; so maybe it wasn’t quite a stretch.
Winnie the Pooh – The classic character was brought back to the big screen in gorgeous hand drawn animation and I was smiling from ear to ear over the course of the brief runtime. Featuring a fresh mix of animation styles, wonderful songs, and a fine sense of humor there isn’t much you can complain about here. The film’s story might be stretching to fit an already short film, but you have to remember the target audience here. That’s not to say kids are the only ones who can enjoy this picture though, it is an ideal example of a family film. And as an added bonus I got to hear a few new songs from Zooey Deschanel and you won’t find me complaining about that any time soon; love her rendition of the theme song!
Cars 2 – This film, like The Thing, was prejudged from the instant it was announced and that is a damn shame as Pixar put together a hell of a fun spy film with humor to spare. Besting the original lesser Pixar effort, yet still underrated, Cars, the film creates a number of great set pieces while somehow making Larry the Cable Guy a tolerable entity in Mater. In fact, I really like Mater in this film. The whole mistaken identity plot asks for a bit too much suspension of disbelief for the audience, but as a pure spy film this Pixar effort is a lot of fun and no where near as bad as people say it is. Cars 2 is an unfairly bashed effort that wasn’t even given a chance in the first place by most of its detractors.
Rango – On first viewing the thing that stood out the most in Rango is the incredible animation by ILM, but on a second viewing I began to appreciate the film on a weirder level. Johnny Depp gets to channel one of his weirdest creations yet in Rango and the humor in the picture is a bit off; but a joy if you like that sort of thing. Beyond the weirdness and homage filled storyline I have to come back to the breathtaking visuals which feature some of the most diverse character designs I have ever seen in an animated film. Come for the visuals and stay for the weirdness; oh an ILM please make more animated films.
Paul – Simon Pegg and Nick Frost teamed up without their buddy Edgar Wright and the results were still quite funny. Greg Mottola is an excellent stand in for Wright and this love letter to sci-fi films of old is full of references for movie geeks everywhere. Beyond being referential, the character of Paul is just a funny creation brought to life by Seth Rogen. The cast is also comedy gold from top to bottom and features one of my favorite performances of the year in Kristen Wiig. Paul was one of my favorite comedies of the year and fans of any of the talent involved will find a lot of love here; Spielberg fans especially.
X-Men: First Class – Matthew Vaughn and Bryan Singer’s reboot, of sorts, of the X-Men franchise was a pretty big success and features such a great cast that I pray that they make a sequel. The film had a weird path to the big screen, consolidating a few separate X-Men scripts and they have been kicking around and bringing back the aforementioned directors to the franchise after both had left on not so great circumstances was an odd move by Fox, but it paid off in the end. Michael Fassbender’s Magneto is awesome and I would love to see him get his own origin story. The rest of the cast is almost just as great with a line up that might best any of the previous efforts in the franchise. James McAvoy, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence, Oliver Platt, Caleb Landry Jones, and January Jones all fit right in to this stylish and cool 60’s version of the X-Men and I hope they get another chance to blend these guys into history again.
Cedar Rapids – This film might deserve to be higher on this list as it features a bunch of great performances and laugh out loud moments from start to finish. Ed Helms grounds the film as an oddball straight man, but John C. Reilly is the reason to see this movie. His performance as Dean Ziegler is one of his better characters and the evolution of his and Helms relationship over the course of the film is both sweet and natural. The film finely walks that line of going to far over the top, but it manages to always keep things just grounded enough that makes the world all the more believable. The rest of the supporting cast has plenty of great moments as well and this is another one of those under seen gems that is going to find an audience over the years.
50/50 – This cancer comedy strikes a great balance between drama and comedy and is full of great performances. Seth Rogen is great as the best friend, Anna Kendrick is sweet and odd as the young psychiatrist, and Joseph Gordon Levitt does a great job of slowly boiling over as a young cancer patient. The film is a great third effort from director Jonathan Levine as he continues to be a director to watch even if he didn’t top his previous effort. The film flies along and has one of the better looks at friendship put on film this year, but the way they handled Levitt’s girlfriend in the film, played by the great Bryce Dallas Howard, seems a bit unfair and hurts the film a bit for me. Still, the moment before Levitt heads into surgery will stand as one of the most moving moments of the year.
Immortals – This classic hero’s journey is superbly put together and features some of the best visuals and the best action of the year. When the gods fight in this movie, Tarsem creates visuals I have never seen before. Moving at super speeds and decimating their enemies, holy shit doesn’t even begin to describe the carnage on display here. Henry Cavill proves he is a leading man even with not a whole lot to do besides being the badass hero, but Mickey Rourke and Stephen Dorff get to have a lot of fun among the mortals. The action is really unprecedented and demands to be seen though, just settle in for the nice hero’s quest along the way.
Hanna – Joe Wright’s action/spy/fairytale is a great showcase for the young star Saoirse Ronan and is one of the finest crafted films of the year. Featuring some great single takes, thrilling action, and solid performances all around I don’t know how this film didn’t resonate with more people. I will say that something kept it from leaping into the love it as a whole category for me, but I can’t really file a single complaint against it. Joe Wright is one of my favorite directors working today and it is nice to see his take on the genre as he seems focused on doing something different between period pieces. Ronan is one to watch though and I really wish more people would cast the awesome Eric Bana more often.
Meek’s Cutoff – This quiet and deliberate film by Kelly Reichardt is a tale set along the Oregon Trail with a small caravan desperate to find water. As the group becomes more thirsty the faith in their leader, Meek, becomes much more fragile. The situation is elevated further when they come across a stray Native who’s lost himself in the middle of Oregon and the young wife, Emily, is thrust into a leadership role. Told from the perspective of the women, the film features a great cast and a compelling and accurate account of life in a caravan and the dangers that come with it. I don’t expect a lot of people to be able to take both the pacing and the ending, but it’s worth checking out for the great work from Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Paul Dano, and Will Patton. Reichardt continues to impress and is one to watch; especially when she gets an actual budget, which she actually might not even want.
Rampart – Oren Moverman is another young filmmaker and he and Woody Harrelson have now teamed up for two pretty great movies. Rampart might go a little bit too off the rails in the end, but the film is a very visceral and engaging story of a rouge cop in late 90’s LA. Harrelson is the lead here of a fantastic cast and he turns in one of the best performances of the year. Harrelson’s David Brown is a tough bad ass type, but not in the traditional sense and when he gets alone Harrelson opens up a whole other side of torment in the character. There have been plenty of cop’s going off the deep end movies, but Harrelson has to be the most believable and likable renegade put on screen in a long while. Moverman is quite the talent and I hope he and Harrelson keep making movies for years to come.
Margin Call – J.C. Chandor’s feature directorial debut is a straight faced and terrifying look at the start of our financial crisis in ’08 and paints a picture of greed and ambivalence that is sadly not that shocking in this day in age. Centered around one firm realizing the housing bubble is about to burst the film lays out, in compelling fashion, how much damage was done to this country overnight. Featuring a huge ensemble of talented stars and the best Kevin Spacey performance in years there are a lot of reasons to check this one out. It’s great to see Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, and Zachary Quinto all deliver some of their best work and the cast is great deep beyond those leads. Above all, the film serves as a giant red flag and cautionary tale of the power we have given Wall Street and why we need to change the game before things get taken down again.
Moneyball – The first time I watched Bennett Miller’s film I wasn’t sure how to take it. As someone who has old school baseball roots the complete rejection of those methods caught me off guard, offended me maybe, and I don’t think I could get around that while watching. But watching a second time the film worked a lot better for me as did Brad Pitt’s performance. He is really good as Billy Beane (love how he throws things) and Jonah Hill is excellent as the right hand man. Sure I wish Phillip Seymour Hoffman had a bit more to do and the baseball could have looked a tad more authentic, but Pitt is more than compelling enough to carry the whole film; and I think this film will only continue to grow on future visits.
Take Shelter – Michael Shannon might be one of the most underappreciated actors of his generation and he uses this staring role to show just how great he can be. Playing a calm and kind father, he begins having dreams and visions about the impending apocalypse and this scares him for two reasons; one, he might be right and two; he might be succumbing to the schizophrenia that runs in his family. Shannon is just fantastic and he is supported by great turns by Jessica Chastain and Shea Whigham who have to deal with Shannon’s slow unraveling; both physically and mentally. Jeff Nichols’ film is an intense and often times filled with scary imagery, and the ending was one of my favorites of the year. Go in knowing nothing more about this and I think you will be taken in by this gripping character study.
The Skin I Live In – Pedro Almodóvar’s weird and twisted tale is secretly a monster movie and that is almost too much of a spoiler. A beautiful young woman is being held captive by a scientist in an isolated room of an affluent doctor and as the film slowly reveals its mysteries it completely changes your perspective of the film. Elena Anaya is just mesmerizingly gorgeous and talented in the picture and the way Almodóvar plays with her sexual attraction is brilliant. Antonio Banderas hasn’t been this good in a long while and he fits right into this fantastic world Almodóvar created. It is a weird one, but seek it out; it will certainly force a reaction out of you.
The Ides of March – George Clooney’s latest directorial effort features his standard fantastic cast and is an engaging political thriller from start to finish. The film is rather pessimistic, but I imagine the politically minded Clooney has a lot of frustration in today’s political arena. Even if politics aren’t your thing, you can’t deny the phenomenal cast on display here. Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the same film! Gosling is great, Evan Rachel Wood is great, Clooney makes you wish he was a politician, and it’s nice to see Marissa Tomei as always. A lot of people claimed the film’s message wasn’t big enough, but I think the majority of our country is quite oblivious to the insanity of politics and campaigning; The Ides of March is a great little snapshot of the messiness of the political game.
Sucker Punch – Probably the most underrated and misunderstood film of the year, Zack Snyder’s film is, on the surface, a visually mesmerizing and superbly choreographed action film played out by a bunch of gorgeous and talented young actresses. But there is so much more is going on in this film and the film as a whole is a fucked up and disturbing story of misogyny, rape, and abuse. We only see a couple scenes at the “reality” level of the film, and what we are subjected too is an elaborate fantasy these women live in to try and deal with the horrible things forced upon them. The film is more than worth a look for the visuals alone, but if you dig into the layers of the film there is a lot to be dissected and taken away from it; it’s not the vapid action exploitation film many would have you believe.
20. Bridesmaids – Probably the funniest film of the year the film is so much more than, “the Hangover with ladies,” people unfairly wanted to label it as. At its heart the film is about women trying to find their way in life and it just so happens to be populated and written by a bunch of very talented women. Kristen Wiig wrote her character with an underlying twinge of sadness and loss that makes the film so much more impactful and funny as the film ebbs and flows almost unnoticed between melancholy and hilarity. Mellissa McCarthy has gotten all the love for the cast, but while hilarious she is mostly a cartoon in this rounded reality. Rose Byrne’s “bitchy” character has a lot of complexity along side Wiig and she is actually just as funny as McCarthy if you ask me. Jon Hamm is great playing against his Don Draper persona he shouldn’t be pigeonholed in, Maya Rudolph is great as always, and the cast has a strong supporting crew of character actors. If you still haven’t seen it for whatever reservation you are holding against it, stop it already and check it out; you will laugh a lot.
19. Super 8 – JJ Abrams latest was easily my most anticipated film of the year and after a first viewing I am not going to lie, I was disappointed. The third act seemed a bit rushed and they tried to have it both ways with the alien and I just feel like there was potential to take this story some where if they had a bit more time to develop the idea. It was on subsequent viewings that I was able to just embrace the film for what it is and enjoy the fact that the film is 96% great. The kids are awesome; the action beats are exhilarating, and the train crash in particular being one of the best scenes of the year. I still wish Kyle Chandler had a bit more to do, and a bit more depth, but he mostly makes it work. Elle Fanning is also worth the price of admission alone as she pulls off some work that is as good as anything her sister has done. The film pulls off almost exactly what it was going for, it feels like a Spielbergian film, and I think this is going to go down as a classic at least on the level of The Goonies with young audiences and probably be referenced as a film that gave a bunch of young filmmakers the filmmaking itch in 15-20 years.
18. We Need To Talk About Kevin – Easily the darkest film on this list, the film is a great way to convince you not to have children. Kevin would be the stronger more powerful spawn of the Devil if this was a horror film, but it is firmly planted in reality. Tilda Swinton is fantastic as the mother of the title character and watching her go through the child raising process with this horrible child is terrifying. All of the actors portraying Kevin at all ages of life do a fantastic job and I am worried for the parents of every kid that dove into this role. It’s the moments Kevin interacts with others that the movie really gets haunting and that stare will just send chills down your spine. Lynne Ramsay’s film is unflinching and deals with some potentially unsettling material so be warned, and new parents should probably just stay as far away as possible.
17. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – The fact that we got seven (Deathly Hallows is one movie) great films out of this franchise is unprecedented, especially given the fact that it maintained the same cast and did it in over only ten years, and we were given one of the best fantasy series in film history. Paring part one and two together might have got this moved up higher on the list, but even on its own the film is quite incredible. The epic Battle of Hogwarts more than lived up to its potential and the final showdown between Harry and Voldemort couldn’t have been much better. David Yates did a great job wrapping up the series over the last three films and while a couple bits and pieces from the books would have been nice to see the creative team did a pretty remarkable job. Harry Potter is a series a will continue to visit for the rest of my life and it was great to see them stick the landing with The Deathly Hallows.
16. Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen’s latest is a love letter to Paris and struggling writers and there is this sense of magic that runs throughout the picture from start to finish. Your knowledge of the Parisian art scene will greatly enhance your enjoyment of the film, but this viewer still enjoyed the hell out of it only knowing the big names of the picture. Owen Wilson is the best Woody Allen stand-in for some time and he has a fantastic cast surrounding him. Marion Cotillard, Allison Pill, Tom Hiddleston, Kathy Bates, Rachel McAdams, and Michael Sheen all do great work with Corey Stoll’s Hemingway being the biggest standout. The film is warm, quite funny and the sneaky bit of fantasy just makes the film that much more special; plus the film’s message of living for the now is one everyone can learn from.
15. Contagion – Steven Soderbergh’s pandemic film is one of the scariest films of the year because of just how realistic this scenario actually is. Soderbergh puts together an all-star cast, isn’t afraid to knock off any of them, and keeps his film moving along at the perfect pace. The film is a straight forward procedural of what might happen if a virus like this broke out and Soderbergh does a great job of capturing every level of the crisis. No one is safe, everyone can be affected, and there are very few places one can hide. As scary as the film is I think Soderbergh could easily have taken things further and not have crossed the line of realism, which in itself makes things all the more terrifying. Wash your hands and don’t touch your face.
14. Rise of the Planet of the Apes – This reboot/origin story of the classic film franchise doesn’t really owe that much to it besides the title and I really wish this film would have just been called by its original title, Cesar. That is what this film is, a film about Cesar, he just happens to be an ape. Cesar is one of the deepest and most fully realized characters of the year and he is brought to life wonderfully by Andy Serkis. This is the third amazing mo-cap character created by Serkis and it is a damn shame he doesn’t get more credit. “Of the, of the” is a great character study, with some stellar action, and Rupert Wyatt launched himself into blockbuster directors game with one fell swoop. Can’t wait to see where they take Cesar from here.
13. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – This isn’t your Hollywood spy film and I couldn’t be more ecstatic. As a big fan of Robert DeNiro’s The Good Sheppard, Tinker Tailor seems like a spiritual successor of sorts. The film is deliberately paced, features great direction by Tomas Alfredson, and has phenomenal acting from top to bottom. There isn’t any action to be found here, just a mystery that won’t pause to spell things out for you so be ready to pay attention. If you aren’t ready to give yourself over to the film you will quickly find yourself left behind and I applaud Alfredson for it. The movie conveys so much with so little it is hard to be topped filmmaking wise, luckily the film is an engaging mystery on top of that and I found myself hooked to the final frame. Gary Oldman is also about as good as he has ever been here and the cold calculations by Smiley somehow remain cool. For set design fans, Control is a pretty remarkable piece of production design and almost worth the price of admission alone. Tinker Tailor will surely repel a number of viewers, but if you it a chance you will be rewarded over and over again.
12. The Adventures of Tintin – I mentioned this film earlier in the best shot of the year and there is far more to take away from it than that single shot. Spielberg really feels rejuvenated by the motion capture format and Tintin feels fresh. Not that Spielberg had got really stale as of late, but there is something in Tintin that seems like Spielberg felt no limitations; and that was on his first effort in the format. The film is funny; fast paced, features great action set pieces, and has Snowy the dog. Seriously, Snowy is awesome. Above all the film is just flat out fun and Spielberg shows again how affective great directors paired with these new technologies can be and show the true potential of these mediums. Tintin missed out on a lot of audiences because no one knew who Tintin was, do yourself a favor and find out.
11. Beginners – Mike Mills’ sweet and sad dramedy about a son dealing with his dad in his twilight years is also one of the years funniest. Featuring great work from Christopher Plummer, Ewan McGregor, and Mélanie Laurent the dual story lines are assembled perfectly to create a narrative that peels back just the right amount as we jump back and forth. The film is weird yet accessible and handles a lot of delicate subject matter with ease and that balance is what makes the film so special. Beginners is another film on this list that was criminally under seen, so don’t be left in the dark any further and check this one out ASAP.
10. Martha Marcy May Marlene – One of the most tense thrillers of the year is also the best directorial debut as well. Sean Durkin leads the fantastic Elizabeth Olsen down a path of paranoia and fear that we are never able to get a good grasp of what is going on in this girl’s head. Olsen is so good that it’s astonishing that it took this long for her to break onto the scene and she has immediately become one of my top actors to watch. Durkin is also one I won’t take my eye off of anytime soon as this debut is so deftly made and seems to have been made by someone far deeper into their career. I am not spoiling much about the plot and you will thank me for that when you see the film, but just know that you will get to see John Hawkes be great, see the emergence of Olsen, and discover a great young director in Durkin. And that ending will keep you talking for days.
9. War Horse – Spielberg’s other film is on this list as well and where Tintin was a technological marvel, War Horse is a portrait of classic filmmaking. That isn’t to say the film isn’t technically impressive, it’s stunningly well assembled, but it is its heart that puts War Horse so high up on this list. Long story short, I cried. A lot. The film’s protagonist is a horse and you just get swept up in the emotion around it as it takes us all over the WW I landscape. The film starts off a little rough, I am not going to lie, but once the horse gets sent off to war the film flies high. The film’s third act is in particular an emotional roller coaster and features the most terrifying scene of the year, followed by one of the best representations of the futility of war shortly after. I loved War Horse and didn’t have a more emotional reaction to a film all year.
8. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – David Fincher’s adaptation of the bestselling novel is the best version of this story available, yes better than the book, and that isn’t all that surprising given the talent involved. Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth Salander is just a completely compelling heroine and one that I hope we get to see in the eventual sequels. Mara herself gives everything to the role and she delivered one of the finest performances of the year. Beyond Mara, Fincher’s talents are on full display here as this was one of the finest looking, sounding, and assembled pictures of the year and the filmmaking is hard to deny. Some called the film overkill and many prejudged it before it even came out, but as someone who has read the novel and seen the Swedish adaptation I couldn’t be more pleased with Fincher’s incarnation and am very happy that it exists.
7. Hugo – Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is a magical movie and a revolution for 3D in cinemas. The movie isn’t what you were being sold and once you dive into the film you will discover that there is so much more to the picture than boy meets girl in a train station. Scorsese puts on a history lesson and does so with a beautiful visual eye and takes full advantage of the 3D format in a way no one else has. The film showcases the magic of movies and the power the love of cinema can have over just about anyone. Hugo deserves to be discovered on its own terms and those writing it off as a children’s movie are extremely short sighted. Hugo might be a masterpiece and I know I enjoyed even more on a second viewing.
6. The Descendants – Alexander Payne’s film is a fantastic balance of humor and sadness that features George Clooney’s best work to date. The film never lets you in on where it is going and that element of surprise goes a long way even if there aren’t any shocking twists along the way. Just being along for the ride with the characters is an experience we don’t get all that often in film nowadays and being surprised goes a long way in film. Looking back after seeing this, I am shocked at how funny I found the picture based on the subject matter, but Payne always seems to find humor in the most unlikely of places; The Descendants is no different.
5. Melancholia – Lars von Trier’s apocalyptic exercise on depression features amazing visuals, a number of great performances, and a tone that is unique to the film. The film is told in two halves and is at its heart a character study of a pair of sisters. One played by Charlotte Gainsbourg is desperately always trying to keep everything appearing as normal, the other played by Kirsten Dunst is barely able to keep herself together. The material can be dark and down at times, but I still found a surprising amount of humor spread throughout the film. The film’s second half also builds up tension exceptionally well and I was on the edge of my seat even with the ending foreshadowed in the opening minutes of the film. Melancholia was unlike any other film I saw this year, to be expected from a filmmaker like von Trier.
4. 13 Assassins – Takashi Miike’s samurai epic plays it old school for the first half of the picture and then opens up into an insane action set piece over the final forty five minutes of the film. It is insane. The film instantly launches itself into the upper echelon of samurai films and has one of the craziest action scenes ever put on film. Bloody, brutal, and inventive the action is worth checking out alone, but the build up to the battle is what makes it all the more worthwhile. The villain of the piece is painted with no shades of grey, his heart is black, but as we connect with the assassins assigned to take him out it makes the film’s finale all the more compelling. A great, great film.
3. The Tree of Life – After I saw this film in the theater it felt like I had just seen one of the best films ever made and I hold onto that statement to this day. So why isn’t this film at the top of my list? It has to do with part of that weird amalgamation of what makes this list what it is. The film is powerful and endlessly affective as you are taken on this journey by Terrence Malick. The film will mean something different to everyone who sees it and I know the reaction will not always be positive. The film’s lack of a traditional narrative will drive some people mad, but you just have to sit back and interpret the film by what it makes you feel and not get caught up in what exactly is going on. I think there is a strong narrative though that I can enjoy, Malick seems to be capturing a life on film in my eyes, and even on that level alone it is one of the finest films of the year; and certainly the most beautiful.
2. Shame – Steve McQueen’s second feature is a showcase for the best performance of the year in Michael Fassbender. Fassbender is just simply astonishing playing the sex addicted Brandon and the film captures his affliction and struggle to move past it with beautiful camera work over this painful journey. Fassbender has ascended to being one of the best actors working today and this is the perfect display of why that is the case. McQueen is not to be forgot though as in only his second feature he has proven he is one of the best directors working today. His camerawork and shot creation is incredible and the boldness to shoot so much of the film in single takes just makes me happy inside. He puts his actors on the spot and they deliver with Carey Mulligan delivering one of my favorite scenes of the year with a heart breaking rendition of “New York, New York.” Don’t let Shame’s rating keep you away, the film doesn’t have anything you haven’t seen before, expect Fassbender’s penis, and it is easily one of the best films of the year. McQueen and Fassbender will hopefully continue to make great films like this for years to come.
1. Drive – No film this year gripped me like Drive did from start to finish in what was the most thrilling movie of the year. A classic tale of revenge, Drive is a perfect film from Nicolas Winding Refn. Ryan Gosling’s nameless driver is beyond cool with everything thrown his way and cool goes a long way in describing the film as a whole. From the opening scene I knew we were in for something special and the film never stops to let go of your throat. Shocking, violent, and surprising at every turn, Drive never lets up until the credits role. I can’t recommend the film anymore than I already have as the first experience with the film was so good I almost don’t want to ruin it by watching it again; even if my appreciation will likely grow for it. Drive will be the film many remember from 2011 and it is one I will revisit time and time again as the years go on.
Thanks for reading and see you next year! I think my grand total was 135 films this year.