31 January, 2012

The Best Films of 2011

A lot of movie pundits have agreed to label 2011 as a weak year. I suppose I see where they are coming from. I can only claim to love just a few of 2011's releases, but I sure did like a lot. Titles like "Certified Copy," "Melancholia," "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and "We Need to Talk About Kevin" showcased crisp and intelligent European cinema as good as anything else in the past several years. Commercial American films such as "Contagion," "Hugo" and "Moneyball" paired sharp screenplays with excellent visuals. Independent cinema shined too, with films like "Martha Marcy May Marlene," "Take Shelter" and "Sahkanaga" standing out. One film, however, stands heads and tails above the rest.

After years of doing this, one usually develops a sense of how strong or weak the year in film is pretty early on. But once you start going back and compiling a list of accolades, each year seems strong in it's own right. Check out my top twenty films of 2011 after the jump.

Honorable Mentions

"HappyThankYouMorePlease," "Midnight in Paris,"
"Rise of the Planet of the Apes," "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,"
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

"Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol"
directed by Brad Bird

As a long time fan of the franchise, I am thrilled to see it reinvigorated with such energy and finesse. This one is the standout of 2011's big budget action films.

directed by Martin Scorsese

American master Martin Scorsese is on top of his game here with an homage to one of the first guys anyone ever studies in film class, Georges Méliès. Some of the best art direction of the year mixed with killer techs and a premium cast.

directed by Lars von Trier

Perhaps one of the films that has the least commercial appeal, despite some big names. It's hard to single out particular elements in "Melancholia" because they all work so well in unison. Dunst and Gainsbourg give their career best as duel leads.

directed by Steven Soderberg

This film is a testament to the spectacular artistry of director Soderberg. He carefully leads the eye to the smallest detail or the quickest glimpse because he already knew what you were going to be thinking before you were thinking it. A fantastic ensemble keeps you at arms length and that is certainly as close as you want to get.

"In Darkness"
directed by Agnieszka Holland

One of the most memorable films on the Georgia festival circuit (Savannah Film Festival), Agnieszka Holland's heart-wrenching holocaust drama takes you down into the sewers of Lvov. "In Darkness" earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film. (Review)

"The Artist"
directed by Michel Hazanavicius

This year's award circuit darling and Savannah Film Festival opener takes us back to the days of silent cinema. "Hugo" showed us a little about a pioneer of early cinema, but "The Artist" recreates Hollywood's golden age with charm oozing out all over the place. Leads Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo give us two of the year's most entertaining performances.

directed by Richard Ayoade

I've been a fan of Richard Ayoade's acting on TV's "The IT Crowd" for years and I am even more of a loyalist now thanks to his writing and directing debut, "Submarine." All of the pieces came together to create the perfect mood and a swift pace for this lovely British comedy-drama. 

directed by John Henry Summerour

A very deserving Audience Award winner at the Atlanta Film Festival last April, "Sahkanaga" recreates the drama surrounding the tri-state crematory incident from the early 2000s. Writer-director John Henry Summerour, a native to the area, used a cast of locals and made an intriguing film that pulls you in deep.

"The Descendants"
directed by Alexander Payne

Another big hit of the awards circuit this year, Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" features one of the best casts in recent memory. George Clooney gives his least-Clooney-ish turn as a man struggling with decisions and revelations as he is forced to become more of a father to his damaged daughters. Robert Forster, Shailene Woodley and Judy Greer give three of my favorite supporting performances of the year.

directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Big style. And I think that is all I need to say.

"Take Shelter"
directed by Jeff Nichols

Michael Shannon absolutely kills it as a man suffering from apocalyptic visions that he struggles to explain. Jessica Chastain (because we just can't get enough) gives another superb supporting turn as Shannon's loving but concerned wife. Writer-director Jeff Nichols creates a quiet and cozy atmosphere which makes the impact of the troubled moments resonate even deeper.

"The Adventures of Tintin"
directed by Steven Spielberg

"The Adventures of Tintin" shows us a familiar Spielberg action-adventure but gives us a whole new way to enjoy it; performance capture. Whether it should be classified as animation or not, I haven't had this much fun at the cinema in ages.

"Martha Marcy May Marlene"
directed by Sean Durkin

Debut filmmaker Sean Durkin has carefully crafted a mesmerizing collection of moments, memories and delusions. Elizabeth Olsen was robbed of a Best Actress nomination for this Sundance darling that deserved ever bit of attention it got and more. (Review)

directed by Bennett Miller

One of the most well-rounded films of 2011 is "Moneyball," director Bennett Miller's understated but dense followup to his 2005 debut, "Capote." Brad Pitt gives one of two outstanding performances this year and also served as a producer. 

"War Horse"
directed by Steven Spielberg

Spielberg had a busy year, with both "War Horse" and "The Adventures of Tintin" hitting cinemas within a week of each other. All his hard work has paid off. "War Horse" has gotten slighted for being 'sappy' but I see it as everything it was intended to be. Based on a stage play and serving as a tribute to mid-century storytelling, each element seemed focused and purposeful; from the stage-like lighting and vivid cinematography, to the episodic screenplay brought to life by terrific but little more than cameo performances.

"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
directed by Tomas Alfredson

Smooth, smokey and slick; this Cold War spy drama capitalizes on the immense talent throughout the cast. Director Alfredson covered all his bases with meticulous attention paid to each technical detail.

"Another Earth"
directed by Mike Cahill

I wish I had seen "Another Earth" when it screened at the Atlanta Film Festival, but unfortunately I didn't get around to watching this until the end of the year. What a wonderful surprise to see such new talent from Mike Cahill, co-writer and director, and Brit Marling, co-writer and lead actress. Science-fiction in premise alone, this film will surprise you.

"Certified Copy"
directed by Abbas Kiarostami

Abbas Kiarostami created something special with "Certified Copy," a soft and elegant film set in the rolling hills of Tuscany. By leaving many questions unanswered, the audience is left alone with their own speculation and the evidence presented to us in Juliette Binoche's extraordinary performance. Certainly the most subtle and complex performance of the year, it is a shame that Binoche has slipped through the cracks in the awards circuit. 

"We Need to Talk About Kevin"
directed by Lynne Ramsay

My favorite film I saw at any of the Georgia film festivals in 2011 was Lynne Ramsay's "We Need to Talk About Kevin." Tilda Swinton is incredible as the mother of a teenage mass murderer. Pieces of her life before and after the tragedy are seamlessly sown together with blood-red thread and we are left to decide for ourselves whether or not any responsibility lies with her.  (Review)

"The Tree of Life"
directed by Terrence Malick

Terrence Malick took years to make his latest epic, "The Tree of Life," and it was worth every second of the wait. From the incredible cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki to the towering performances by Hunter McCracken, Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain, this film is timeless. I don't recommend it for everyone, but to think that lacking mass appeal lessens it's worth one bit would be an enormous mistake. Whether one likes or dislikes the film, it has to be acknowledged that Malick accomplished bringing to life a strong and singular vision for his film. "The Tree of Life" is the best film of 2011.

There you have it. To recap, here are my top films of 2011.

1. "The Tree of Life"
2. "We Need to Talk About Kevin"
3. "Certified Copy"
4. "Another Earth"
5. "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
6. "War Horse"
7. "Moneyball"
8. "Martha Marcy May Marlene"
9. "The Adventures of Tintin"
10. "Take Shelter"
11. "Drive"
12. "The Descendants"
13. "Sahkanaga"
14. "Submarine"
15. "The Artist"
16. "In Darkness"
17. "Contagion"
18. "Melancholia"
19. "Hugo"
20. "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol"

1 comment:

  1. Good choices here. I've still got many I need to see myself.