I had a lot of trouble deciding whether to make this list right now or wait. There’s still a few films I’m really looking forward to but haven’t been released in Boston yet, or I just simply missed them (We Need to Talk About Kevin, A Seperation, Kill List, Margaret, Rampart). Ultimately I decided I didn’t want to release my favorite films of 2011 sometime in February, but if I see these films in the next month or two and they change this list I plan on submitting an updated list. Anyways, 2011 was kind of a strange year. There were some really great films, but I didn’t fall head over heels for most of them. There was usually some small aspect of the film holding me back. There were also a few films a lot of people loved but I found disappointing (I’m looking at you Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Artist). That said, this list is very subjective and truly reflects how I felt about the year in film.
Honorable mentions: Source Code, Bridemaids, Hanna, The Ides of March, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Contagion.
I wanted to love this film, but I only loved bits and pieces. The very beginning (before Sean Penn and the creation of the universe) was brilliant. The coming of age story is powerful, but I didn’t understand what Sean Penn was doing in this film and the creation of the universe was beautiful but it didn’t really do anything for me. In my opinion The Tree of Lifeis too ambitious. If this was a concise story about the family I think Malick could have said just as much as he wanted to say with everything else. That said, the acting is amazing. The production design is incredible. Visually, the film is breathtaking. Emmanuel Lubeski (Children of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien) is easily the best cinematographer in the business. If you say film is dead and digital cinematography is better in every way I have one question, “Did you see The Tree of Life in a theater?”
This is a very powerful film. The people behind Hoop Dreams follow CeaseFire. CeaseFire is anti-violence organization located in Chicago. They use Interrupters, people who used to be involved with violent crimes, to see find violent situations and try disrupt them and give people time to think about what’s happening. There are a lot of moments in this film that are very hard to watch, but that’s reality. As I watched these Interrupters make a difference in the lives of so many people the hope inside me grew. This documentary shows what were are capable of when we love. The Interrupters is the most important film of the year.
Jason Reitman teamed up with Diablo Cody again, but Young Adult is a much different film than Juno. It’s less “cute” and much darker, but it’s still hilarious. Charlize Theron gives a great performance. You hate her character but Theron brings humanity to the her and some how you’re kind of on her side the entire time. Patton Oswalt continues his streak of strong performances. I really related to growing up in a small town and going back to that place and feeling like an outsider. I also really liked that the film plays around with your expectations then throws them out the window. When I saw this film I immediately compared it to The Descendants and in my opinion this is a much stronger film.
50/50 is about cancer, and yes, it is easily one of the funniest films of the year. Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are hilarious and have amazing chemistry. They really seem like best friends. Anna Kendrick is great as Levitt’s rookie psychologist and potential love interest. The film also has some emotional weight, but ultimately, I wish the film concentrated more on the drama than the laughs. The film could have been truly powerful, but it is very very good.
Moneyball is one of the best sports movies I’ve seen since The Wrestler. The film conveyed what it was like to have an emotional investments in sports in a very real and organic way. Most sports movies don’t do this very well and it was very refreshing. I had chills as the A’s were on there huge winning streak and it hurt when they lost in the playoffs (even though I already knew it happened). This is a testament to how well done this film is. Brad Pitt is great and Jonah Hill is awesome. It was weird seeing him be a serious character, but he really pulls it off and gets perform one of the best parts of the film. Fenway popping up at the end of the film wasn’t too bad either.
Is a tie cheating? I’m not sure, but since I saw both these films this summer I couldn’t separate them. They’re practically the same film. Both films are about apes that are capable of communicating with human, but are abandoned. The difference is one is a documentary about the sad life of Nim and the other is a fiction film where the ape, Caesar, leads a revolution. Project Nim was an incredibly sad film. I’ll admit, I love animals, and seeing an animal that was capable of communicating with people through sign language being treated progressively worse as he got older was devastating. Planet of the Apes was an amazing Hollywood blockbuster. The human part of the story doesn’t matter. The acting is pretty terrible, James Franco is sleep walking here. It seems like the actors didn’t believe in what was being made, but that was a huge mistake because behind the scenes Andy Serkis and the animators were doing incredible work that made apes in to living breathing characters. I really cared about Caesar and actively rooted for him to lead a revolution over humanity which made the set pieces meaningful. I cared about what was happening (unlike a film like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol). This film also has one of best moments in cinema this year.
Beginners is one of those films where the most important aspect is the screenplay. There’s nothing special about the way it’s film or anything. It’s just a good story told in a very interesting way that explores how hard it is to fall in love, whether you’re a 30 something guy or a 70 something gay man who has lied to world his entire life. The relationship between 30 somethings is okay. Nothing groundbreaking, but relationship between son and father really reaches into your soul and affects you. This is a very solid film.
Weekend is a great little film with brilliant performances. The film follows to men as they hang out over a weekend and slowly fall for each other. A lot of people have called Weekend the “Gay Before Sunset.” I understand the comparison (two characters falling in love over a short period of time, a lot of conversation between these two characters), but simply making this comparison neglects everything that does in a subtle and powerful way. In my opinion, any film that deals with gay relationships will have to be compared to this film. I have more to say about this film, but I’m saving it for a blog post in the near future.
You need to see this film. Attack the Block came out in the US during the summer, but not many people saw it. This is unfortunate because I saw it in theaters and dvd and it’s a much better experience on the big screen. Edgar Wright (director of Shaun of the Dead) produced the film by first time director Joe Cornish and it’s great. It’s one of the funniests film of the year, it’s scary as hell, the alien design is brilliant (old school, not overdone), and it’s socially aware. If you paid any attention to the London riots this year the main characters may look familiar, but you’ll see them in a way corporate media will never show, as human beings.
This film has definitely been popping up on a lot of end of the year lists and there are a lot of reasons why. Drive may have been the coolest film of the year. It’s full iconic moments and sequences. The elevator scene was easily one of the best scenes of the year. But there’s a lot more to this film. The screenplay is brilliant, but not in the obvious ways. Typically, to be a great screenplay you have to be filled with amazing dialogue. Drive has barely any dialogue. We learn everything we need to know through actions. The entire film is propelled by decisions made by the characters. There’s a simple scene where a few characters are eating at a table, but there’s so much tension under the surface because all the characters want different things. It’s almost unbearable, and once the action starts the film combined genre tropes with art house cinema almost as brilliantly as Black Swan did last year. I’m dying to see this film for a second time and it may easily jump a few spots on this list.
Shame felt incredibly original and truly unique. The way McQueen told his story felt so different. McQueen’s editing choices represent Fassbender’s mundane life controlled by his sexual addiction. By repeating a scene a couple times we immediately understand this is his life. Sleep, Sex, Work, Sex, Sleep, and so on. Some people might consider the beginning boring, but it’s a perfect representation of Fassbender’s life. It is bravura filmmaking by a filmmaker who sees the world differently than most. McQueen simultaneously brings us into the mind of his characters and distances us from them with his different compositions and long takes. Shame reveals how mundane and meaningless sex can be without intimacy and how hard it can be to change who you are when you meet someone you have feelings for. Real, honest relationships, whether they’re with significant others or family members, are what make us human. Fassbender’s inability to maintain these relationships makes Shame a challenging film, but if you’re willing engage with the beginning of the film you’re rewarded with a heartbreaking final act that literally had me grasping my chest.
The first chapter of Melancholia has one of most realistic depictions of depression I’ve ever seen. Dunst’s acting is superb. It’s refreshing to see consistent, restrained acting through out without an “intense” performance during a scene. Unfortunately, these are the kinds of scenes that win awards. All of this is great, but I respect the first chapter of the film more than I love it. It’s too long. Lars von Trier could have made his point in a more concise, powerful manner. That said, the second chapter of Melancholia is better than anything I’ve seen this year. It reveals how different people deal with the potential destruction of the world. How would you react if you thought the world was going to end? Would you try to live your final days to the fullest? Or would you let the fear consume you? Melancholia forces us to confront our fear of death because we know the destruction of earth, like life, is inevitable. Even though we know the planets are going to collide, the moment the characters realize it doesn’t lose any of it’s power. The end of the film is incredible emotional. All the different ways the characters react when they know it’s end of the world is heartbreaking. Melancholia is one of the only narrative film this year that brought me to the verge of tears. Everything leads to the brilliant final shot, where some characters have accepted their fate, together.
This is the scariest film of the year. We see the entire film through Martha’s eyes (Elisabeth Olsen – yes the younger sister of the Olsen twins) and we feel every bit of anxiety and paranoia that she feels. Elisabeth Olsen is great. Like Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia, her performance is subtle and real. This is a role that could easily be exaggerated. This is a testament to her and director, Sean Durkin. I can’t believe this is a film by a first time director. The way Durkin blurs the line between fantasy, reality, and dream is brilliant. Some of the cuts between past and present are well done, but some of them are genius (members of the cult swimming in dark murky water to Martha walking out of the darkness). This film also has one of my all time favorite slow dissolves. Martha Marcy May Marlene moves at a methodical pace as the dread builds and ties knots in the pit of your stomach until the brilliant final shot.
The first half of Take Shelter is truly disturbing. We experience Michael Shannon’s nightmares through his eyes and they’re real, visceral, and universal. He’s dreaming about what it would be like if society fell apart and people only cared about himself. He’s dreaming about a world not that different than our own. When we aren’t seeing intense nightmares we’re watching an honest portrayal of working class life and a man slowly losing it. Take Shelter isn’t as consistently great as Martha Marcy May Marlene. A few moments were kind of on the nose, but there moments so powerful and brilliant you forget about the little things. When Michael Shannon can’t hide his fears anymore he loses it in front of a whole town that has been talking about him. Chills ran up and down my spine. As the intensity increases and the film climaxes I was disappointed the film didn’t end. I didn’t need the resolution we were getting, but then the final scene happened and it was worth it in every way possible. The final scene of Take Shelter is a brilliant emotional catharsis to a great, great film.
The Future recently came out on DVD and I decided it was time to give it a spin. I was not prepared to have my heart broken. No other film affected me as drastically as this film did this year and this really surprised me. The events in The Future are simpler than my other favorite films this year. The film is not about the the end of the world (Melancholia), sex addiction (Shame), cults (Martha Marcy May Marlene), apocalyptic storms (Take Shelter), aliens invading earth (Attack the Block). Also, there isn’t anything amazing about the cinematography or technical aspects of the film, but the film is just so powerful, profound, unique, and unlike anything I’ve seen in recent memory. For example, there were moments in Shame and Melancholia that had me on the verge of tears, but the final 40 minutes of The Future literally had me in weeping like a little child. The Future is emotionally devastating and utterly brilliant. My favorite film of the year.
- The Future
- Take Shelter
- Martha Marcy May Marlene
- Attack the Block
- Project Nim/Rise of the Planet of the Apes
- Young Adult
- The Interrupters
- The Tree of Life