It is the day before the Oscars, and it is now time to list my favorite films of 2011. Here goes:
10. Take Shelter- This tense and moving film is the most recent addition to my list. Michael Shannon (who gives one of the best performances of the year) is amazing as Curtis, a man who begins having disturbing dreams and hallucinations about a coming storm. It is not merely a movie about a disturbed individual; it is a movie about family. Curtis’s relationships with his wife and daughter are greatly affected by his strange actions, making for some of the year’s most compelling drama.
9. Moneyball- Coming from somebody who knows nothing about baseball (or sports in general), I loved Moneyball. It works on so many levels: as an underdog movie, a family drama, and a character study. Brad Pitt is phenomenal, and screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin give the film snappy dialogue that is a pleasure to listen to.
8. Hugo- Taking his loves for film and film preservation to an intimate level, Martin Scorsese has crafted a wonderful movie. Starring Ben Kingsley as French filmmaker Georges Melies, it is about respecting cinema’s rich history, yet also about looking ahead. Scorsese’s use of 3-D is perfect here, as it ties into the film on both a visual and a thematic level.
7. 50/50- Joseph Gordon Levitt is fantastic as a man in his 20s who is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. The film manages to be both a comedy and a drama, without ever uncomfortably clashing the two genres. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the movie is loosely based upon screenwriter Will Reiser’s personal experience with cancer. Great writing combined with great acting makes this one of 2011′s most touching and life-affirming pictures.
6. Midnight in Paris- Unlike most people, I do not think that Woody Allen’s 21st century career has yielded mainly bad movies. I am actually a fan of most of his recent projects; however, Midnight in Paris is a whole different level. It is everything one can ask for from an Allen film; it is funny, nostalgic, and most of all, poignant. For those who have not yet seen this gem, please try to do so without reading or watching anything about it beforehand. I will not spoil what happens, but this movie is full of delights, that are best experienced cold.
5. Super 8- Ending problems aside, this film has the best group of child performances of 2011, on par with almost any adult performance of the year. Like many of this past year’s movies, it embraces nostalgia and a love for cinema, with its genuine setting and imaginative children. Combining a monster movie with a coming of age story, it is a very well-made spectacle, one that does not skimp on character development or humor.
4. The Artist- A black and white silent film from 2011 sounds like a gimmick, and in some ways it is. However, The Artist goes beyond its aesthetics to create an entertaining, throwback to the silent film era. In addition to great performances by Jean Dujardin and Bernenice Bejo, it contains wonderfully clever direction by Michel Hazanavicius. One of my favorite moments shows Bejo’s character, Peppy (who is an actress) rising to fame, with a montage of opening credits. Peppy’s name keeps going further up on the credits, showing her breakout from character actor to leading lady. The film is a joyous celebration of the cinema art form, and is a major crowd-pleaser.
3. Hanna- This is easily one of the greatest action movies of the past 10 years. The story at first seems like something we have seen done a million times before, that is, until the action starts rolling. Hanna has a pulse to it, an unstoppable energy that can be attributed to director Joe Wright’s brilliant filmmaking choices. While it may not have had much mainstream appeal (it is actually an art-house thriller), the film stands out because it is stylistically unique and very well acted. Oh, and it has an equally great score by the Chemical Brothers, perhaps the best soundtrack of 2011.
2. Beginners- As much as I loved Midnight in Paris (see #6), this is the best film of 2011 that Woody Allen could have directed. It feels like perfectly done Woody, though I do not say this to undermine at all the achievement of director/writer Mike Mills. Besides for its three perfect lead performances (McGregor, Larent, and Plummer), it feels like a very personal project from Mills. Based upon the director’s own life, Beginners has a bittersweet mood throughout, which feels extremely consistent. The film never betrays itself or its characters; rather, it is dramatic and funny and moving to watch.
1. The Tree of Life- Essentially the culmination of director Terrence Malick’s fascination with both human and environmental nature, The Tree of Life is a staggeringly ambitious film. It is about everything at the same time: growing up, regret, uncertainty, joy, and sadness. Aided by Emmanuel Lubezki’s gorgeous cinematography, it spans generations and millenia, while dealing with very human issues. I cannot possibly give a plot summary of this movie; it is an experience rather than just a story, and will make you think long after the credits roll. Simply stunning.
Honorable Mentions: Drive, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, The Descendants, Life in a Day