It’s safe to say that 2011 was a terrible year for movies.
Wait, no, that’s not right. I mean…2011 was a terrible year for me to get out to SEE movies. Between work, allergies that might as well have raped me in prison and watching my brother’s toddler for the bulk of the Spring/Summer, I was and still am way behind on my typical viewing schedule.
By my count, I saw fewer than 75 of 2011’s movies. That is so God-awful that I can’t even begin to explain to you the feeling of my testicles retracting into my pelvis at seeing such a number. It’s revolting. It’s repugnant. It is WRONG. Usually I see double that, and perhaps even a few more. That in mind, you should take this list as the musing of a compromised, sad little cinematic. Among movies that I desperately wanted to see this year but didn’t (though a few I will get to in the next couple weeks): JANE EYRE, SUBMARINE, A BETTER LIFE, PROJECT NIM, WINNIE THE POOH, ATTACK THE BLOCK (attempted the other day but only got 20 minutes in), BELLFLOWER, TAKE SHELTER, BEING ELMO, THE ARTIST, SHAME, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, CORMAN’S WORLD, PARIAH, GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (which I’m seeing tonight). And then a whole bunch of others. Upon seeing them, this list could obviously change.
Onto the bullshit. As per normal, this is ranked not by movies I necessarily think are “best”, but by which ones I like the most/resonate with me. Also, I’m going to cheat ruthlessly:HONORABLE MENTION:
CEDAR RAPIDS; RANGO; GREEN HORNET; LIMITLESS; SOURCE CODE; THOR; BRIDESMAIDS; HORRIBLE BOSSES; CAPTAIN AMERICA; SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS; FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS; RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES; THE DESCENDENTS; HUGO; THE MUPPETS; SENNA; MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER; TURKEY BOWLGEOFF’S TOP TEN OF 2011:
10 (tie): MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL and X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
Flat-out, MI:GP was the most fun I had at the movies this year. No question. Probably the most entertaining action film that I’ve seen in a while. It seems almost stupid to say that this was a coming-out party for Brad Bird, but for a lot of people who never recognized his work with Pixar, it will be. And I don’t care what anyone says – I love and will always love Tom Cruise. The man is a hero.
XM:FC might have ended up as my favorite comic book movie ever. It managed to combine a couple legitimately thrilling set pieces with a ton of heart, a particularly smart origin story and some cleverly-bent history to create a fantastically great time at the movies. Also, Zoe Kravitz. Purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…
9. THE IDES OF MARCH
You don’t get many political thrillers that are spent on the campaign trail, where the real seeds of corruption are filmy planted…if they’re not flowering out of control already. Long a much-loved unproduced script, this is the first entry on my list out of THREE that includes a performance by Ryan Gosling, who had as successful a year for an actor in terms of performance as I can ever remember. Special kudos go to Clooney for directing this twisty, turny affair with crisp grace, managing to leave us wondering still at the end – are there ANY good guys in this story?
Special mention: Clooney provided my favorite performance by a male actor this year in THE DESCENDENTS. Even though the film itself was strong, I had my issues with it. But Clooney was terrific as a subtly broken man who’d lost his way but managed to be a leader and role model anyway.
Most post-apocalyptic films work for me just because I’m fascinated by the concept – the deserted, crumbling landscape, the emaciated walking corpses, the loss of hope. And CONTAGION isn’t quite apocalyptic, but it’s a movie that shows you just how close you can brush up against it, which it turns out is just as (if not somehow more) terrifying. This was the scariest film of the year in my estimation, and I don’t think there’s any doubt that Soderbergh is one of the modern masters at setting mood.
My favorite Original Screenplay of the year and a movie that really worked on me because even if you had no idea that the script was based on the writer’s actual experiences, you would know that it was based on the writer’s actual experiences. It’s incredibly personal and unique in that it’s not JUST the writer laying bare everything – it’s the director, the actors, everyone involved as well. In a dramedy it’s almost impossible to not hit a false note somewhere, and this never does. Major props to JGL for pulling off a ridiculous performance after coming onto the film just weeks before it started shooting.
6. CRAZY STUPID LOVE
A lot of people liked this movie, but I found that most who did still had a lot of caveats. I suppose I understand that to some degree, but what I heard most was some form of, “It couldn’t decide what KIND of movie it wanted to be.” And though I disagree, there’s an element of truth to that – it’s alternately, slapsticky, observational, dramatic, sentimental, winsome, melancholy, etc. Well guess what? So is life. And I thought this film captured that perfectly, right down to the improbable-yet-entirely-possible set of coincidences that grace the third act. Loved every minute of this one, including the first act which moved a little more deliberately than the rest of the film.
My favorite Adapted Screenplay of the year – I mean, I know, a real fucking stretch considering it was Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin contributing. What really impressed me about this one was both how funny it was and the fact that it was built around a premise that is both somewhat of a failure and also open-ended, not to mention based on a work of staggering nonfiction…and yet it worked beautifully as a complete, three-act story. It’s one of those rare sports films that non-sports fans can appreciate and understand as well as hardcore sports fans, and it is so appreciable because it never tries talking down (or using copious amounts of exposition in explaining its intricacies) to the audience.
4. YOUNG ADULT
I’m a big fan of the anti-hero, but I was NOT prepared for how far Charlize Theron (in my favorite performance of the year by ANYONE) was about to beat that archetype into my skull with unrelenting fervency. I love, love, love, love, love love love love love that Reitman, Cody and company NEVER let up in the assault on the audience of this one terrible woman, who starts awful and finishes awful. Even better: this is not someone who is a broken person and is made bad by the world around her. This is someone who CHOOSES to be terrible. All the time. With no reluctance. And the result is a disturbing, dark, insanely painful and funny ride.
(FULL DISCLOSURE #1: Diablo is producing one of my films.)
(FULL DISCLOSURE #2: Go fuck yourself. This is still brilliant.)
The third movie featuring Ryan Gosling. A ton has already been said in praise of this one, from the directing to the acting to the writing to the score, and it’s all correct. I don’t want to add anything unnecessary, so I’ll just say this: this film pulled off a nigh-impossible task in simply being unabashedly, effortlessly cool. Many have tried. This one came through.
Here’s how much the second half of this movie knocked me off my feet: I could take or leave the bulk of the first half of the movie. I didn’t dislike it, per se, but after a few minutes I just didn’t care. She’s a manic-depressive; we get it. In fact, I spent the near-entirety of it (outside of the first ten minutes, which is peerless in its sheer visual beauty) convinced that I was going to be writing this off as a pretty, pretentious pile of shit.
Man, was I wrong. When we kick into the second half and the film’s vision of the perhaps-approaching apocalypse, I was RIVETED. This is the quietest film I’ve ever seen about the potential end of the world and also the loveliest in so many ways. In particular, the human struggle to fear the end of life as we know it while trying to balance the logic of those in a position of expertise to tell you that it’s not going to happen was fascinating. Trying to make the most of your time with your loved ones just in case while attempting to do perhaps the most human of things – pretend that nothing’s wrong. By the end, this movie had rocked me to my core and left me – legitimately – nearly breathless. If you haven’t yet, seek it out.
1B. TREE OF LIFE
I’m splitting up my #1 film into two films because there’s no other way to do it – they’re so impossibly different that I have no choice.
The first, to me, isn’t really a film so much as it’s a memory – the way it’s shot, the way it’s acted, the story it tells. An examination of what we as people share universally with the forces of nature and the very construction of our planet itself…I mean, look. If you hated this movie, I totally get it. This is one of those films that either locks into you on an extremely personal level or shuts you out with a heavy steel door. I will argue certain points about what the film does or says, but I can’t imagine a film that calls more to be personally absorbed or rejected outright.
And so there’s almost no constructive way to discuss it other than in personal terms. For me, it posed questions (with very few answers, which I found refreshing) that I have about life and the vastness that surrounds me while reminding me almost wholesale what it was like to be a burgeoning adolescent trying to find my place within my family, friends, and the world at large. Maybe the best compliment I can give it: I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it again quite yet. All things considered, the “best” movie I saw this year.
Again, a seminally different film from co-#1 TREE OF LIFE, this is the film that hit me on all levels this year, the film that I saw the most times in a theater this year (4), and the film that I’ll probably rewatch the most in the future.
I’m a big-time MMA fan, and curiously, I think that might have actually been a slight detriment to my enjoyment of the film. If there was one problem I had with it, it’s that portions of the MMA action were overstaged, which converged on the realism for me to a degree. Still, it wasn’t anywhere near the transgression of the depiction of sport seen in the likes of the ROCKY series; it was enhanced properly to give a general audience a sense of the scale of what can or could happen in MMA, so it’s understandable.
But for me, this was first and foremost a movie about family. It played on familiar tropes and maladies and covered ground that many have charted previously. But you know what? It got it so, so, SO right. It’s all heart, the quintessential underdog story that sucks you in and smacks you around in all the right ways. I clapped at the end. Oh man, did I clap. Yes, you know from the very beginning of this thing that Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy, playing estranged brothers, are going to be fighting for a title at the end. That’s never in question. What is in question is whether or not they’re ever going to heal from that fight – and that has nothing to do with broken bones or deep bruises. It’s exhilarating and moving and poignant and wonderful. And it’s my favorite movie of the year.