Like any year, 2011 was very up and down for the movie industry. There were good pictures, bad pictures, great pictures, and dear-God-why-did-Hollywood-make-this pictures. There were artsy flicks, popcorn flicks, chick flicks, and funny flicks. There were moviegoer magnets and forgettable flops.
This year’s Oscar race would appear to be pretty wide open, but I suspect that it’s maybe more of a two-dog race than I initially believed it to be. Those two mutts, each vying for Oscar gold, would be (or so I suspect) The Artist and The Descendants, each of which took home the top prize in their respective categories at the Golden Globes.
With that being said, will those two or any of the other so-called best films of the year make my list? Spoiler alert: the answer is yes, but they aren’t 1-2 like they are on many critics’ and reviewers’ lists.
Before I get into my list itself, there are a couple films I’d like to discuss quick: my honorable mentions. First up is the highly successful female comedy vehicle, Bridesmaids. It is a great comedy, one of the best of this year, and it has a lot of quotable lines that I’m sure will be tossed around for a while to come. Its recent awards push is quite intriguing (the film has earned several acting and writing noms from the Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, and the Writers Guild), and much-deserved, but it fell just outside the top 11 for me.
Another of my honorable mentions is a film I just saw the other day, The Ides of March. I tend to be a bit skeptical of political thrillers, since many of them push an agenda that I feel is unnecessary to include in a film, whether that agenda is left- or right-leaning. However, I found The Ides of March to be far from this: instead of an agenda, Ides tells a story of distrust, disloyalty, and corruption. The acting combination of Clooney-Gosling-Hoffman-Giammati is great, and I have to hail Clooney for his work as writer-director-star.
My third and final honorable mention is J.J. Abrams uber-secretive sci-fi specter Super 8, which I found to be an enthralling salute to the science fiction films of the 80s and 90s. It is easily the best science fiction work of 2011, and the group of child actors in Super 8 is absolutely stupendous. I couldn’t find a spot for it in the top 11, but it easily deserves a mention here.
Now, on to the list, where I’ll work backwards from 11, starting things off with:
Besides being a great film, my liking of Warrior is heightened by the simple fact that it is a fighting movie that worked for me. It has a great balance of drama and action, and the acting trio of Nolte-Hardy-Edgerton is truly phenomenal. The characters are developed so well that, in the end when Tommy (Hardy) and Brendan (Edgerton) are fighting each other, you don’t want either fighter to lose. It takes a lot for me to tolerate a fighting movie, let alone to truly like one and recommend, but Warrior really did it for me.
#10. WINNIE THE POOH
Winnie the Pooh is among the most satisfying, enjoyable, and nostalgic 63 minutes of film you will see. And I don’t just mean this year. I’m talking ever. It makes the adult viewer yearn for one last experience of that long gone childhood innocence. This iteration of Pooh follows the usual formula: Pooh is on the hunt for honey, Eeyore has lost his tail, and everyone is in cahoots. But that’s why it works. It’s simple yet elegant, and, in my opinion, it’s the best animated film of the year.
Drive is perhaps the perfect metaphor for this past year in film: It starts quiet and unassuming, allowing events to unravel at a snail’s pace, and then – BAM – things come together, excitement builds, and by the end, you are actually quite impressed with the finished product. When I look back at Drive, I can’t help but compare it to Scorsese’s 1976 masterpiece Taxi Driver. Both films: came from (at the time) relatively unknown yet renowned directors; served as career launching character vehicles for their stars; and moved from quiet and unassuming to intense and evocative with ease. I could make an even longer list of similarities between the two (Albert Brooks, the soundtracks, etc.), and while I would take Taxi Driver over Drive in a head-to-head matchup, Drive is still a craft of its own and definitely deserves a spot near the top of anyone’s Best of 2011 list.
#8. THE DESCENDANTS
Probable multiple Oscar nominee The Descendants, starring George Clooney as a landowner who has to deal with the probable loss of his wife while also reconnecting with his two daughters, is both funny and dramatic. It may be a bit cliché-ridden, but it moves along damn near effortlessly. The Descendants is one of those movies that your mom sees the preview for and wants to drag you with to the theater to go see, except that this time, when the credits roll, you have fully enjoyed it and want more.
In one of the year’s best “comedies,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a 26-year-old who discovers he has cancer. Gordon-Levitt’s multifaceted performance, which deserves an Oscar nom but likely won’t get one, is combined with a fantastically real screenplay from first-time writer Will Reiser, whose life serves as the basis for the story. 50/50 has been classified as a comedy, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a funny, dramatic, and ultimately moving picture. It’s everything Funny People was supposed to be, but wasn’t.
#6. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
Woody Allen’s latest and highest-grossing film looks like a surefire Best Picture nominee, and for good reason: the film is an experience. The cleverly straightforward title tells the story: an extraordinary series of events occur to Gil (Owen Wilson) when the clock strikes midnight in the beautiful city of Paris. If you have ever thought you were born in the wrong era, then this film is a must-see for you. Heck, it’s a must-see regardless. It’s that good.
Scorsese’s love letter to early cinema, Hugo is an imaginative story that explores the life and career of film pioneer Georges Méliés through two kids, a magical automaton, and some truly captivating and excellent use of 3D technology. It is pure entertainment, a magical joyride through 1930s Paris, and you’d be amiss to not enjoy Scorsese’s first “children’s movie.”
#4. CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE
By far the biggest surprise to me this year was the star-studded romcom Crazy, Stupid, Love. I’ve seen it many times and it still gets me with every viewing. It is funny, smart, and heartfelt, and is probably one of the most well written films all year. The stories of each of the characters weave together extraordinarily well, which helps to create a tear-inducing laughfest at the end of the movie when you see everything come to fruition.
#3. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Side note: I love David Fincher. He is among the best directors in the industry today, and his entire filmography is pretty much great (okay, so Alien3 was a bit contrived). Fincher knows his way around both a crime thriller (think Seven or Zodiac) and also a book adaptation (Fight Club comes to mind here), so I knew to expect something good from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; but after seeing it, I was blown away. It’s gripping, disturbing, and a thrill-ride from start to finish.
#2. THE ARTIST
The Artist is brilliant, multi-dimensional, utterly entertaining, and best of all, a truly enjoyable film. Not what you expected to hear about a silent black-and-white picture that harkens back to yesteryear, when motion pictures were considered art and the newest advancement in film was the invention of the “talkie”? I knew from the get-go that The Artist would be charming, but there is a moment about 30 minutes into the picture when it morphs from enticing to sheer brilliance. The Artist is, above all, a truly great movie.
Very rarely is a sports movie both entertaining and intellectual, and Moneyball strikes a perfect balance of both. It rids itself of so many of those sports film clichés that we all find annoying, which is both relieving and an achievement in its own right. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill were easily the most surprising acting duo of the past year, each turning in a great performance with the help of Aaron Sorkin’s fast-moving and witty dialogue. The best sports film since 1989’s Field of Dreams, Moneyball is simply superb, and that’s why it is my top film of 2011.
And there you have it, my top 11 films of 2011, which is comprised of two sports films, two romantic comedies, an animated film, a crime thriller, two dramedies, a pseudo film history lesson, a quiet car caper, and a black and white silent masterpiece.
I’m sure plenty will disagree with my placements and rankings, but that’s the beauty of a best-of list: it’s entirely subjective. Your favorite movie of the year may have been the new Twilight installment, though I sincerely hope it wasn’t, or perhaps you thought Crazy, Stupid, Love should be moved up higher on my list or that The Artist was vastly overrated. Either way, my list is my list, and your list is your list.
That being said, I hope my rankings can provide you with some insight next time you are at a Redbox scouring the screen for a good movie to catch, or maybe make you give a chance to a film you hadn’t considered before or had previously written off. It’s astonishing how a belief about a movie can change overnight.
So, what do you think? Did your favorite from this past year make my list? Was it left off completely? Do you think any of these films are under- or overrated? Sound off in the comments section and tell us your favorites (and least favorites) of 2011!