Monday, January 23, 2012

2011 Year in Review - Top Ten Films

Well here we are again.  Last year was my first top ten list as an amateur movie critic and I realized that I made the mistake of doing it too soon.  Unfortunately, in my part of the country some films don’t come there on limited releases.  This makes it even harder to see all the movies that would be necessary to make a list such as this.

On one hand, it’s my list and I’m making it based on the movies I saw.  If a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound?  Well if I don’t see a movie, how can it be one of the top ten in a year?  Such is the intensely personal nature of lists.  However, there are some that I feel could possibly warrant inclusion and therefore have driven me to wait on this list until they have been seen.  Last year I saw 'Blue Valentine' and 'Barney’s Version' after I made list and probably would have included both had that gap been closed.

As it stands this list probably won’t even go out until the Oscar nominations are announced, but then, my list is not affected by such things.  I agree with the Academy on occasion and yet still find course to disagree greatly.  My list will be my own and will only serve to allow me to pay myself on the back for any crossovers in the awards realm.

Without further ado, here is the list of the best films of 2011 (according to me):

10. (Tie) Shame/The Help

Well this is about the oddest couple you could imagine for a tie for a best films list.  Then again, these are not made by genre, just by choice.  Shame is an uncompromising film about one man’s battle with an addiction so powerful it takes over his life.  Fassbender gives a great performance and Steve McQueen as a director puts him out there and doesn’t blink giving us an unsettling look at what someone in this position goes though.

The Help has a bit more of an uplifting message.  More than about the racism and ignorant thinking that prevailed in the 1960’s this film is about hope and perseverance.  People in that time did have the ability to stand up and make people take notice and it didn’t matter if you were black or white.  The fact that the book written in the film is penned as ‘Anonymous’ could stand as an allegory.  It doesn’t matter who it is that stands up, but somebody has to.  The fact that somebody does only gives hope for the future.  The fact that there were stories to tell only show how great their perseverance was.  It’s a film that was largely safe in its choices but effective in craft.

9.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Occasionally there is a movie every year that will catch you by surprise.  While it may look on the outset as a film that is just standard fare for its chosen genre, it end up inhabiting a plane much higher than that.  ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ is that film.  It doesn’t strive to be more than it looks, it simply is.  The source material is rich enough for a good movie to be there, and the filmmakers were smart enough to put the right people in the right positions and let that play out on screen.  There are not more fun movies out there this year and this one will tug at the heartstrings as well.

8. Contagion

Steven Soderbergh has created a ‘harrowing’ film here that is briskly paced and incredibly entertaining.  The topic of a rampant virus is handled with enough realism to make it very scary but never goes over the top.  The film contains itself and uses the protagonists to great effect.  There is a great cast in this film and one that should be recognized more for the great film they have made here.

7. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher appears to really be coming into his own as a director.  He is really quite on a roll now with 3 straight movies that could earn him a best director nod (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network as well).  He is a fierce director who has the command of his skillset that one only exhibits when at the top of their game.  Rooney Mara adds by putting forth an excellent performance that is rivaled by few this year.  She has proven to be a bright young star and will no doubt have many great performances to come.

6. Margin Call

This is a film that many aren’t talking about but should be.  For a debut film J.C. Chandor puts forth a brilliant effort.  A perfectly cast film is only aided by sharp writing and calm directing.  Kevin Spacey gives one of his best performances in years and we get a scary look at part of what brought our economy to the brink of depression in just a few fell swoops.

5. Martha Marcy May Marlene

Another first timer Sean Durkin proves that you can create brilliance your first time out of the gate.  While not the most conventional of movies, and stumbling a little bit at times, MMMM still proves to be a great film.  Anchored by Elizabeth Olsen and her mesmerizing performance, more people should take note.  Unfortunately, like many other films of this limited scope and fanfare, it will probably largely be forgotten come Oscar time.  It is my hope at that the very least Olsen is rewarded and that John Hawkes is as well, who continues to amaze with the characters he portrays.

4. Beginners

You won’t find as many films this year that are as lighthearted, touching, and deep as this film.  While ‘Beginners’ doesn’t hang a heavy soul on itself, it does present the realities of a situation in which a person struggles with cancer and trying to discover who they truly are.  Christopher Plummer gives one of the best performances of the year and continues to prove that he is still at his peak even at 80+ years of age.  Ewan Macgregor and Melanie Laurent both provide great stability in their roles and counter the brilliance of Plummer greatly.  This is truly one of the best films of the year.

3. 50/50

This is another movie that will take you by surprise.  It looks like a funny film, and it has its funny moments.  It covers a deeply emotional and hard to deal with topic, and has those moments too.  What it does brilliantly is mesh the two and handle them with such mastery it makes this a contender for best film of the year.  Joseph Gorton-Levitt gives an incredible performance and imbues enough realism into his character that he’s both relatable and frightening.  While I may not put this as number one, when it’s all said and done this may go down as my favorite movie of the year (even if I don’t think it’s the best).

2. Moneyball

More a performance than a whole movie, but what a performance it was.  Brad Pitt as Billy Beane is truly a sight to behold.  Pitt appears to be at his best when he has to show restraint and it must be shown in this role.  Thankfully, he’s up for the task and we get a show to remember.  I spent much of this fall and winter awards season saying this was going to be the best movie of the year.  That is, until I saw…

1.  The Descendents

To put it out there, I was floored by this film.  Not a fan of this type of movie and particularly on board with Alexander Payne’s style, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth, emotion, heart, and greatness of this film.  George Clooney’s performance rivals Pitts from #2 as one of the best of the year.  In fact, performances all around were some of the best of the year.  In a year where movies have to struggle to find something likeable about them, this one does nearly everything right and leaves us with a great feeling and wanting more.  It deserves the title of best film of 2011.

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