January 1, 2012

My Top Ten Movies Of 2011

Since 2004 I have written down at the end of every year my own top ten lists of such things as movies that I saw the previous year, music that I really enjoyed, and books that I read. For me it's a reevaluation of the things I liked most to keep things stored in my memory chronologically. This year I decided to share my list of top ten films released in 2011, since I haven't read really any new books published in 2011 (except The Last Werewolf), nor have I been excited about most new music released in 2011 (except Let England Shake by PJ Harvey and Blood Pressures by The Kills).

In my opinion, 2011 has been a great year for movies. Though I haven't watched every movie that has come out in 2011, I have seen most of them, with scarcely a week going by without seeing at least one new release. With this being the case, I think I can be a pretty good evaluator of a top ten list. Below, therefore, is my list along with, very briefly, the reasons why I put them there instead of the dozens of others I saw, though I must say it was a tough list this year to put together.

10. The Ides of March

As much as I enjoyed Ryan Gosling's other two films this past year (Drive and Crazy, Stupid Love), probably his best movie was The Ides of March co-starring George Clooney, who also wrote and directed the film. The reason I really liked this movie was because of its interesting portrayal of the loss of innocence of a professional politico and the great acting on behalf of the strong cast.

9. Young Adult

I walked into this movie not knowing what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised how good it was. Directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, Young Adult is a movie about prolonged adolescence with a convincing performance by Charlize Theron. The no-holds-barred character study mixed with humor compels me to place this movie in my list of the best of the year. As someone correctly wrote: "Young Adult may be the year's most engaging feel-bad movie."

8. Shame

Shame will probably be the least seen movie on my list, and with the NC-17 rating it received in the United States for its explicit sexual scenes it will likely remain unseen by most, unfortunately. This is not only one of the best directed films I saw this year (dir. Steve McQueen), but it contains the best male performance of the year by Michael Fassbender who plays Brandon. Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a 30-something yuppie living in New York who is unable to manage his sex life and urges. After his wayward younger sister (Carey Mulligan) moves into his apartment, Brandon’s world spirals out of control. It portrays sexual addiction on the same level as drug addiction quite powerfully and brilliantly. This voyeuristic peek into the life of a voyeur is naked and raw in more ways than one.

7. Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte's 1847 novel by the same name is one of my favorite novels, so it is usually a joy for me to see its portrayal in film. This version however is the best of the bunch, with a splendid performance by Mia Wasikowska. It is a great example of how to turn a beloved classic into a movie, without updating the story nor making it look stiff, but keeping it faithful to the original book. Michael Fassbender stars also in this film.

6. Moneyball

Moneyball is a compelling biographical sports drama film starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill and directed by Bennett Miller. It is a sharp, funny, and touching portrait of a sports underdog and his sacrifice.

5. The Descendants

This movie was called a comedy-drama, though I saw it as a dark and emotional portrayal of the consequences of a betrayed relationship with occasional humor, and this is why I liked it so much. George Clooney stars in this film, making him the second actor to appear in two of my top ten movies for 2011.

4. Super 8

Super 8 is a science fiction action thriller film written and directed by J. J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg. This is a gripping and exciting tale seen through the tender nostalgic eyes of the children who star in the film. This is only one of two movies in my top ten list I saw twice in the theatre.

3. Hugo

Probably the movie I was most surprised by this year was Hugo, which I thought was more of a children's story but was pleased to discover it is more about capturing the child within us all. Martin Scorsese does an excellent job directing this homage to classical films, and he uses the 3D medium possibly better than any other film, including Avatar. By using this latest technology in film effectively, he poetically shows the rise of early film by a pioneer of film (Georges Méliès) who was ahead of his time in the early 20th century. In essence, it is a glorious movie about the glory of movies.

2. The Artist

The Artist is a French silent romantic comedy which is both very clever and charming, despite its lack of audible dialogue and black and white color. The acting is superb and the film-making is magnificent in its simplicity. After I watched it, I wanted to see it again. It is another homage to movies, but this time about the transition from silent film-making to talkies. It shows how difficult transitions can be for one older generation entering into a new and younger generation, and how quickly trends fade in the atmosphere of Hollywood.

1. Midnight In Paris

Woody Allen wrote and directed my favorite film of the year, the supernatural romantic comedy Midnight In Paris. I also saw this movie twice in the theatres and enjoyed it just as much the second time as I did the first. This is not a movie for everybody, but this is why I liked it so much. The viewer will either connect with it and embrace it, or not feel anything for it and leave it to be appreciated by those who do. It is also one of the best and cleverest romantic comedies in years, that teaches us through a parable to appreciate the present and not dream idealistically about the past. Owen Wilson also brilliantly portrays the lead character, as if Woody Allen himself would have starred in the film, though with an added and necessary charm.

These are my favorite movies of many favorites in 2011. Most interesting to me is that my two favorite films were romantic comedies and my four favorite films were homages to the past offering lessons for us contemporaries. I don't know which films and which actors will be nominated this year for the Oscar's, but I hope the critics agree with one of my top five. For best actor I would choose Michael Fassbender and for best actress I would choose Rooney Mara for her brilliant portrayal of Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo almost made my top ten list, but I think it lacked the intensity and mysteriousness and storytelling of the original Swedish version, which was my favorite film of 2009, though the American version is more accurate to the book in plot and ending. So having compiled my list, I hope to compile an even better one next year, and may in the meantime write more movie reviews here on this website.