Best of 2011: 20 Films

2 Feb

A whole month after 2011 ended I have wrapped up my yearly rankings, having seen 256 films released in 2011, granting 13 perfect A+ scores and a really superb 76 scores in the A range. To remember the year that was I thought I should start a feature that will hopefully become a yearly thing for me and do a few Best of 2011 posts, choosing my Top 20 films, directing efforts, screenplays, and performances (separated by lead male, lead female, supporting male and supporting female) and doing a post honoring them with a brief paragraph explaining what made each of those 20 options so remarkable and memorable and thus made 2011 a great year for films. We kick things off with the big one, my Top 20 Films of 2011:

20. SENNA

The best documentary of 2011 by a clear mile, Asif Kapadia’s film about the greatest sportsman to ever compete in the Formula 1 world doubled as both a really compelling and gripping portrayal of a very special man as well as just a hugely entertaining film. Making a documentary about a legendary racing driver become a terrific drama, embedding it with the same pacing you’d see in a thriller. The 106 minutes of film seen here were taken from over 5’000 hours of footage in an editing process that took over a year and a half to complete, that just goes to show the labor that went behind this film. You don’t need to know about the man to love this film, but if you see it there’s no way you’ll finish it without loving him.

19. 50/50

Will Reiser was diagnosed with cancer as a young man and his best friend, actor Seth Rogen, encouraged him to write a screenplay about his experience. Rogen plays the same role he did in real life in Jonathan Levine’s film, as the best friend to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Adam, two terrific performances which we may hear about in the rest of Best of 2011 entries. The screenplay by Reiser is also one of the year’s finest, as it manages to achieve a pitch-perfect balance between the touching and the hilarious, never once being confined by being a film about cancer and always feeling as a labor of love from great people. 50/50 is one of the smartest, funniest and most touching films of year, and there’s not a single bit about it that’s off, which is commendable considering the tough subject matter.

18. THE IDES OF MARCH

If this were a Top 20 Best Posters of 2011 this film would rank atop that list, the poster of Ryan Gosling holding a Time magazine cover with half of George Clooney’s face covering half of his own perfectly encapsulating what The Ides of March is about, about the man behind the man, the press secretary behind the political candidate. Clooney directed and co-wrote the film (and got an Oscar nod for his work on the screenplay) and handles an all-star cast that, alongside Gosling and himself, includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Paul Giamatti and Jeffrey Wright. And just how much fun the whole ensemble is seen to be having with such meaty material for them to sink their teeth into is worth watching the movie for, a smart film about smart men in really complex situations that never once disappoints.

17. THE MUPPETS

Yes, The Muppets are back thanks to Jason Segel, who reboots the franchise in the absolute greatest of ways, showing that he himself is a huge fan of the little furry guys and giving us a film that’s true to their charm and innocence. The parody trailers made to promote this film were great, the soundtrack was amazing (with the Oscar-nominated song ‘Man or Muppet’), the cast was amazing, with the Muppets we know and a love being joined by a new one, Walter, as well Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Rashida Jones and a slew of other celebrities who made cameos here. Certainly one of the better films of the year, it shows The Muppets should be here to stay, and seeing a film made by people who’s hearts are in the right place is just awesome to watch.

16. MELANCHOLIA

Leave it to Lars von Trier to get himself a lifetime ban from the Cannes Film Festival. Still, to me what he did at Cannes in 2011 is totally secondary to the film he showed there, which was the incredible Melancholia, one of the most unforgettable films of the year that sees the controversial director conjuring up some truly stunning images as he spins a two-part tale about the end of the world. Front and center of that story, as Justine, is Kirsten Dunst in a career-best performance, and a great cast that’s rounded up by Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland and many other great actors. It’s a bizarre film, a long one, and it’ll certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea, but to me this one’s unmissable, incredibly powerful and beautiful all at the same time.

15. A SEPARATION

Go ahead and give the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar to A Separation already, Asghar Farhadi’s impeccably directed, written and acted film about a very particular Iranian reality that transcends tremendously well into a much more universal plane. Not to mention that, to me, A Separation is great because it came with no expectations at all, there was not a name I was familiar with attached to it, so it reminded me of the power films can have just by themselves. Few films this year were as riveting as this one was, a domestic drama that isn’t afraid to ask some very tough questions and to make some really complex observations about human nature.

14. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

Like everyone said upon watching this film: Woody is back. To me Woody has been back for a while now because I loved Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, but it’s Midnight in Paris that finally feels like the classic Woody we all know and love being back in the game, giving us his most incredible screenplay in quite some time, crafting a film that’s seriously enchanting, from that opening sequence of Paris that works as a love letter to the city of light as great as the one he gave with the opening of Manhattan, and a film that’s deeply drenched in the best kind of nostalgia for the best era, with some great performances by Owen Wilson, Corey Stoll and Marion Cotillard.

13. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2

The final chapter to film’s most profitable and astounding franchise, and boy what a fitting conclusion this was. Few series of films have delivered eight films, and none of them has delivered such consistently great ones. To cap it all of, a labor of over a decade, with such an epic conclusion, probably the best film out of the eight, is just sensational, and it deserves a perfect grade. The action is amazing, the stakes are met perfectly by director David Yates and a huge cast who deliver tremendous performances across the board, especially the younger actors who turn it up a notch this time around, and show they are the real deal, and that, as the film franchise that saw them grow up comes to an end, their careers are just starting.

12. YOUNG ADULT

I’m a huge Jason Reitman fan, all four of his films are amazing, and Juno, Up in the Air and now this one have all gotten perfect grades for me. To see him reuniting with Diablo Cody meant we were in for something special in my opinion, and something special is exactly what we got, as the character study of Mavis Gary is incredibly piercing, and how Charlize Theron chooses to portray such an unlikable character is phenomenal, never once justifying her behavior, but always being incredibly sincere in her performance. Patton Oswalt, in a key supporting role, is also sheer genius, in an ideal world he would now be called an Oscar nominee.

11. LIKE CRAZY

One of the most heartbreaking films of the year is a story about, fittingly enough, love. But it’s unlike anything you’ve seen on screen before, every single second of Like Crazy is unique, and it feels just so intensely real. All of it achieved by the fact that director and co-writer Drake Doremus just gave his lead actors outlines of the scenes and allowed them to play them the way they wanted to and improvise their dialogue, him as a director always knowing when to stand back and say so much with just a silent frame. The result meant having Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones delivering two of the year’s best performances, really getting into their roles and developing a sincere chemistry with each other that was just so great to watch, giving such raw and painfully honest performances.

10. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE

The feature-length debut from writer-director Sean Durkin is a tremendously powerful film that stays with you for a long time afterwards, just a truly haunting kind of psychological drama. And, as stellar as the script and direction provided by Mr. Durkin are here, to me this was all about another debut, the one by Elizabeth Olsen, the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley, who in the lead role in this film gives one of the most mesmerizing performances of the whole year. She plays the woman that’s known for all three names in this film, her real name is Martha, Marcy May is the name given to her by the leader of a cult she gets into, and Marlene is the name women in that cult use to answer the phone. Confusing, maybe, but this is just exceptional filmmaking through and through.

9. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY

Since this is my number 9 of the year, this could be seen as how my Best Picture line-up would look like if I ran this year’s Oscar’s (since the Academy went with nine films for the top award). Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is probably the year’s smartest film, one that has a lot of moving pieces that director Tomas Alfredsson knows how to manage and put together with utmost care, creating a tense puzzle full of intrigue and paranoia. What’s great about Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is that for it to really work you have to pay really close attention to everything going on, since it’s such an intricately plotted espionage thriller that every little thing counts for something. That, and it has Gary Oldman delivering a master class in acting.

8. THE ARTIST

This is the far-and-out front-runner to win the big Oscar, and with good reason, it’s a French film, that’s in black-and-white, and that’s silent; the fact that such a film actually exists in today’s world is reason enough to celebrate, the fact that it’s also as good as The Artist is, just so clever, and well-made, and joyous and full of tremendous performances is just icing on the cake. True, I wouldn’t give it the Best Picture Oscar, but it’s still a truly worthy winner, with director Michel Hazanavicius clearly tremendously well-versed in the art of cinema, recreating the charm of an era long gone and paying the highest of homages to the art form he loves so much.

7. MONEYBALL

In 2010 Aaron Sorkin managed to write a film about a social network website and make it be a masterpiece (the fact that it was directed by David Fincher and acted by such a talented ensemble helped, too). A year later he was given a new tough book to adapt, one about baseball statistics. The result? Moneyball, one of the year’s finest films that has Brad Pitt delivering a truly outstanding performance, managing to give both a really nuanced kind of portrayal of Billy Beane while still embracing his movie-star good looks and charm to add to the role. Not to mention that this is the film that has made the words “Oscar nominee” follow the name of Jonah Hill. No matter how you feel about that, it’s still a pretty big accomplishment.

6. THE TREE OF LIFE

After a six-year absence, the master director Terrence Malick is back, crafting yet another stunning masterpiece. Visually, it’s so obviously beautiful, some of images he crafts here are just a treat to lose yourself into, but once you actually connect to the story you realize that the true payback is the emotional one, anchored by Brad Pitt’s other stunning performance of the year, as well as the best one the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain gave in a year full of incredible ones from her. Few films have ever been ambitious enough to tackle topics such as the creation of life as seen through a twentieth century family in 1950’s Texas, complete with images of dinosaurs and long, gorgeous shots of just various states of nature. It won’t be a masterpiece for everyone, but it certainly was for me.

5. THE DESCENDANTS

If there was any doubt after Sideways that Alexander Payne was one of the most important living American directors, I sure as help hope those doubters have had their minds rectified after seeing The Descendants. His first proper film since 2004, this is just a tremendous example of how great a director Payne is, guiding a with such a light touch and a great sense of pacing, so beautiful and moving and funny all at the same time. And so beautifully acted, too, including a career-best effort from George Clooney, with an ensemble that makes every single character, even those that are on for just one scene, leave a lasting impression, and a terrific screenplay that is true to these characters and really gets us to care about them.

4. DRIVE

Drive is the kind of film that actually gets you say “holy fuck” out loud a few times during its running time. It’s incredibly ambitious, masterfully directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, with an iconic lead performance by Ryan Gosling, a slew of impeccable supporting performances, especially by Albert Brooks and Carey Mulligan, and a sensational score by Cliff Martinez. Yes, it was truly polarizing for audiences, mainly because it was too bloody, a woman even tried to sue the studio after saying the trailers led her to believe this was like a Fast and Furious movie. Well, in case you’re still unsure, let me tell you, it’s nothing like those films, it’s insanely better.

3. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

Why remake a Swedish film that came out only a year ago and that was already pretty damn great on its own merit? Because you’re David Fincher and you’re a master of your craft and, in Rooney Mara, you have found a perfect actress able to give a perfect performance in one of the most thriller and memorable roles of the year. Every single thing about this film is mesmerizing, no matter how many times you’ve read the books and how well you know the story, this is just fantastic filmmaking that will grab you by the throat. And not only is it visually stunning, but the score, done by The Social Network‘s team of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, is pure genius yet again. Oh, and what they say is true, you’ll never listen to that Enya song the same way ever again.

2. SHAME

The performance of the year is the one Michael Fassbender gives in Shame. And the film itself is pretty damn close to being the year’s finest. Steve McQueen’s masterpiece is about Brandon, a man who is driven to have sex, is addicted to it because he needs them to supplant the need for human interaction. The full-frontal performance given by Fassbender, as well as the equally mesmerizing one given by Carey Mulligan as his sister, make this film incredible. Yet it’s a tough one to watch, I’ve seen it once and I believe that is enough for Shame, enough times to see Michael Fassbender so vividly portray this inner hell Brandon is going through. One of the best acted films of the year, a chilling look at addiction.

1. HUGO

Martin Scorsese makes a PG-rated film, oriented mostly at kids, and it’s the best film of the year. That’s how great the legendary director is, he goes as far out of his comfort zone as you could imagine and he produces one of the finest films he’s ever made. And that’s because he found a way to make this a tremendously personal film for him, a film of his that his young daughter could finally watch, a film that spoke in huge volumes about his love for cinema. People are all about how The Artist is a love letter to cinema, and it’s true, it is, but Hugo is the best love letter of the year. Just a hugely entertaining, beautiful film, made with such a great amount of passion by the greatest who has ever lived.

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One Response to “Best of 2011: 20 Films”

  1. youjivinmeturkey February 3, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    I’m Not Even A Huge Fan Of Ryan Gosling, BUT “DRIVE” May Be My #1 Pick.
    I Had SO SO SO Much Fun Watching That One.
    As A Top 20 List…
    …I Think You’ve Made Some Exceptional PICKS and You’ve Backed-Them-Up VERY WELL.
    I Do So Enjoy Your Bloggin’ings, Fo SHO!
    Keep’Em Comin’, PLEASE! hehehe
    -BRADLEY

    PS: Have You Ever Seen “THE DRIVER” Starring Ryan O’Neal AND Bruce Dern?!?! Came Out In 1978. LOTS-A-FUN, I Do Promise You! hehehe

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