Top Ten Tuesday: Best of 2011
Another year has come and gone and with it passes another year of movies, good and bad, but today we focus on the best films to have hit theaters in 2011. Of course, the very phrase “best of…” is subject to widely varying opinions, which is why we choose to do things a little differently. While we do consider these the best films, that’s merely how they’re seen in our eyes. You may, heck… we even encourage you to disagree. For what it’s worth, here’s our Top Ten list of the Best Films of 2011.
How it works: We five Movie Geeks each have compiled our own lists of the top ten films of 2011. From these lists, we’ve tabulated votes based on a point system, resulting in our Movie Geeks Top Ten Films of 2011. Each of the individual geeks’ lists can be found at the end of our compiled list. *Our lists are based on the selection of films released theatrically in Saint Louis during the 2011 calendar year. (*This is why you will not see SHAME represented on our list.)
Honorable Mention: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
We begin this year’s best of 2011 with the honorable mentions. While it didn’t make our 10, this film was loved and hailed by both moviegoers & critics alike and no list would be complete without director Rupert Wyatt’s stunning RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Never once feeling CGI-driven, Wyatt made sure the action and suspense went hand in hand with the powerful, emotional prequel. WETA Digital Senior supervisor Joe Letteri’s ground-breaking work made you feel like you were watching real apes done with performance capture — you never knew where effects began and the person ended. The legendary role of Caesar was fully realized with Andy Serkis’ riveting portrayal of the Ape that would be King. The extraordinary Serkis infused soul, wisdom and heart into the chimpanzee APES fans have grown to know since Pierre Boulle wrote his 1963 novel. It’s another historic performance by Serkis and, hopefully, one voting members of The Academy will award with a Best Supporting Oscar nod in the early morning of January 24th when the nominations are announced.
Honorable Mention, Part 2: HARRY POTTER & THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2
As the highest grossing film of 2011, and the third highest grossing film of all time, we couldn’t leave HARRY POTTER & THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2 off the list. Not only is this film the final chapter in the Potter saga, it’s the end of an era. Harry, Hermione, and Ron have dominated the screen since the release of HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE in 2001. The stand out performance in this film doesn’t go to the main actors, however. Alan Rickman brought a presence to the screen that was touching and deep. His final portrayal of Snape should really settle the great Snape debate for fans around the world. This film wrapped up the series in the best way possible. The final battle was eloquent and stunning. I wouldn’t change a thing! (Well, other than the death of Fred Weasley. He deserved a better death scene!)
10. THE TREE OF LIFE
In his review, Travis Keune called THE TREE OF LIFE an “exquisite sensory escape into one of the most spiritual cinematic experiences” and thus is #10 on our list. Through stunning cinematography and raw emotional power, director Terence Malick’s hymn to life excavates answers to the most haunting and personal human questions through a kaleidoscope of the intimate and the cosmic. From the raw emotions of a family in a small Texas town to the wildest, the movie delves into the infinite edges of space and time, from a boy’s loss of innocence to a man’s transforming encounters with awe, wonder and transcendence. Under Malick’s careful direction and visionary work, THE TREE OF LIFE showcased complicated and haunting powerhouse performances by Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and newcomer Jessica Chastain.
09. TAKE SHELTER
TAKE SHELTER is a film driven by its performances, but this small cast is so immensely in tune with their characters that the film becomes more than just a passive form of entertainment. Drawing the audience into the internal/external conflict of Michael Shannon’s performance, the film is much more of philosophically charged thrill ride, an amusement park of Armageddon, and a mystery that unfolds slowly and meticulously. The special effects, as minimal as they are, are used splendidly for the most wonderful emotional effect, signifying both the confused fear and looming dread experienced by Shannon’s lead character.
“Sistas’ are doin’ it for themselves” goes the title of a great rock anthem which can be applied to this year’s funniest film since it was written by star Kristen Wiig and Anne Mumolo (their first screenplay!) and starred several of the best comic actresses working today. Wiig played maid of honor to another SNL vet Maya Rudolph and leader of the bridesmaids featuring Mellissa McCarthy in a scene stealing supporting (Oscar take note!) performance (her Megan may be the most fearless comic screen creation since John Belushi’s Bluto). That’s not to say that the men were left out of the fun. Director Paul Feig keep the comic timing brisk and comedy movie kingpin, producer Judd Apatow stunned Hollywood by only featuring the women in the film’s marketing. And, some of the actors scored big laughs especially Jon Hamm as the ultimate slimy Lothario and Chris O’Dowd as Wiig’s sweet-natured Irish state trooper (their courtship was certainly more engaging than any of this year’s dismal romantic comedies, many of which will show up on the worst lists). Of all the movie comedies inspired by the box office bonanza THE HANGOVER, BRIDESMAIDS delivered even more laughs and a whole lotta’ heart.
07. WAR HORSE
A nearly perfect blending of Steven Spielberg’s favorite subjects merges effectively his latest epic adventure, WAR HORSE. The film is a parable on life and death, a war movie, a children’s tale and a period story, a film about the unconditional love between a boy and his pet. It’s corny and manipulative as Hell but the breathtaking scenery, the grandiose John Williams score, and the rich emotional attachments deliver exactly what one goes to Spielberg movies for; an emotional experience. Spielberg sends us the message of pain and suffering yet spares us from the carnage. Take your family to see WAR HORSE and view it for exactly what it is. A look at a very special relationship, one that transcends time and species.
I never thought I’d say this, but I was pretty burned out on 3D this year. And then Martin Scorsese’s HUGO came out. Leave to one of cinema’s older statesmen directors to use this technology (and state of-the-art computer graphics) in exciting, new ways. Like Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, Scorsese celebrates a golden era of the fabled city in telling the story of a boy living in the train station. This would’ve made for a delightful family film, but then this movie master surprises us with a moving story celebrating one of the early cinema master and makes a powerful case for film preservation. It’s wonderful to see a master artist embracing the future while reminding us of our shared film history.
They’ve always loved Woody Allen in France and apparently the feeling is mutual. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is Allen’s time-traveling love letter to Paris and is mostly sweet and sentimental. Allen clearly idolizes the city and the luminaries (Cole Porter, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway etc) who once hung out there as much as Gil, the Allen proxy so well-played by Owen Wilson. Allen’s script is often hilarious and his take on the ex-patriot bohemian art scene is never cynical or tongue-in-cheek. These artists are presented matter-of-factly and it’s mostly up to the audience to be up to speed on their cultural history. Woody Allen has a habit of redefining himself with unimaginable success. His directorial skills have led him to both musicals and drama, and though his popularity wanes and his films are inconsistent, Allen has always kept a steady foot in the comedy spotlight and continues, like the famous artists depicted in his new film, to retain a place among the greats.
To use a term from this film, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, after his previous grand slam, steps up to the plate and hits another one out of the park. One of the best films of 2010 was THE SOCIAL NETWORK, about the creation of a website (and the litigation over it). Sorkin took what could have been a dry subject and, along with director David Fincher, made a compelling piece of cinema. Now, with co-writer Steve Zallian, he’s crafted an equally involving script based on a book concerning baseball stats and acquiring the best performing players for the bucks. MONEYBALL is not the typical sports movie. Most of the excitement occurs in the locker rooms and management offices, not on the field. The anchor of the film is Brad Pitt’s portrait of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane. Beane’s had his share of hard times (in flashbacks we see this golden boy bomb out in the major leagues), but he fights tooth and nail for the club (going toe to toe with grizzled old player scouts as he puts his team together). We also get to see him as a loving, divorced father ( look at his eyes as he’s mesmerized by his daughter’s singing ). Pitt uses all of his considerable acting chops, and charm, in this uplifting underdog story of a team, and a man, who decide to go against the tide and prove that baseball is not just about the almighty dollar. As Jack Buck would say, “Now, that’s a winner!”
03. THE ARTIST
Like HUGO, THE ARTIST celebrates film history, but in a very different way. Writer/director Michel Havanavicius does not use the new tech that Scorsese embraces. Instead he tells his story of 1920′s movie making forsaking most modern film techniques. Yes, it’s in black and white, and it’s silent. Somehow the style helps draw us into this riff on A STAR IS BORN by way of SINGING IN THE RAIN with a dash of SUNSET BOULEVARD. It helps that the two leads are able to say more with a look or gesture than pages of spoken dialogue. Jean Dejardin’s George Valentin begins as affable veteran star whose ego sends him into despair, while Berenice Bejo is a delight as the actress on her way to the top whose idol worship of Valentin turns to love. The two French stars get great support from their American co-stars (led by a blustery, soft-hearted studio boss played by John Goodman), authentic LA locations, and the best movie canine sidekick ever. This love letter to Hollywood from Paris may be the most sweetly charming film of the year.
02. THE DESCENDANTS
Writer/director Alexander Payne’s THE DESCENDANTS, based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, is the story of a father and husband trying to find his way after failing in both roles. It isn’t as funny as Payne’s previous films CITIZEN RUTH, ELECTION, ABOUT SCHMIDT, or SIDEWAYS, but it’s his most emotional. The tale of a man who has to pull his family together, THE DESCENDANTS is the story not of death, but of the strategy people devise to cope, to defend and to protect themselves against pain and loss. And though it sometimes reveals the distasteful, ugly ways in which people interact while coping with tragedy, it is also a beautifully shot and truthful portrayal of human frailties and reactions to losing a family member. Clooney gives one of his richest, most nuanced performances, generating real warmth and vulnerability as well as the usual smoldering charisma. THE DESCENDANTS is deserving of the many awards it’s received.
DRIVE can be considered a ballet of visceral violence, an ode to the underbelly of ’90s nostalgia and a fiercely fresh artistic venture into cinema as an all-encompassing medium for full sensory storytelling. Ryan Gosling portrays a young Eastwoodian silent but deadly badass, a dangerous man with a heart of gold, while Albert Brooks breaks out of his typically hapless comical mode and shocks audiences with his deviously withdrawn but maniacal mob boss performance. Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston and Ron Perlman all supply solid supporting performances. DRIVE is visually tremendous with a soundtrack ranking amongst the best of the year, DRIVE is a fantastic film. Period.
06. LIKE CRAZY
05. MY WEEK WITH MARILYN
04. THE HELP
03. THE TREE OF LIFE
02. THE ARTIST
01. HARRY POTTER & THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2
10. THE TREE OF LIFE
09. MY WEEK WITH MARILYN & JANE EYRE
05. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
04. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
03. WAR HORSE
02. THE DESCENDANTS
01. THE ARTIST
10. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
09. HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2
08. THE SKIN I LIVE IN
06. WAR HORSE
05. THE MUPPETS
02. THE DESCENDANTS
09. YOUNG ADULT
07. THE INTERRUPTERS
06. OUR IDIOT BROTHER
03. THE DESCENDANTS
01. THE ARTIST
10. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE
06. THE DESCENDANTS
04. *WE NEEDS TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (*Technically, this film is not eligible, as it does not release theatrically in Saint Louis until 2012.)
03. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
02. TAKE SHELTER