Retrospect: Top 10 Films of 2011
It’s been a pretty good year for movies. In assembling this list, there were a handful of films that would definitely make it on, a couple that I spent several days trying to decide which deserved #1, and several more that I really liked but had to omit. I should also mention that there were several movies that I intended to see this year but I could not get to, either through a lack of time or an inability to find a showing near me. Some of the ones I wanted to see, but could not, were: Shame (a drama about sexual addiction), The Artist (a silent film that has been getting awards left and right), Melancholia (Lars von Trier’s latest about a second planet appearing), Moneyball (a stats-based baseball movie), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (an espionage thriller from the director of one of favorite vampire movies, the Swedish Let the Right One In), and Take Shelter (a psychological drama). They are all films I plan on hunting down eventually, whether at the local art cinema that doesn’t update its stupid calendar DAMN YOU KRESS THEATER, or on DVD. But of the movies I have seen this year, here are my favorites:
10. Horrible Bosses
I’m a massive fan of workplace comedies, and Seth Gordon puts a terrific spin on the genre: three men who hate their jobs and employers so much they conspire and attempt to actually murder their bosses. Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, and Colin Farrell make a vile trio as the bosses, and Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis have a rare chemistry. The dialogue, which is sometimes shocking, sometimes filthy, and oftentimes both, is largely improvised, which adds an extra crackle and spontaneity to the film. Best of all, it’s extremely evident that everyone involved in the film was having an absolute blast doing so.
If you’d told me last year that the director of Pride & Prejudice was going to direct an awesome, visually stunning action flick that would be on my Top 10 list, I would have never talked to you again. But Joe Wright has definitely done it, delivering an action flick that is so visually inventive and exciting, so badass, that I can’t believe that he hasn’t done something like this sooner. It has the feel of a dark fairy tale, but without the gimmick. The cinematography is endlessly creative. Hanna kicks a ton of ass. The soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers is rivaled only by the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross composition for Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Wright is a creative director and I’m excited to see what he can pull out next.
Rango deserves accolades simply for completely turning me around on my opinion of it. Upon the first trailers, I immediately rejected the movie based on the strange trailers that gave away almost nothing about the film. Then, one little Super Bowl trailer changed my mind completely, showing me that the bizarre randomness was exactly what the movie was about. And what a bizarre movie it was, too: a gecko facing an existential crisis, alarmingly grotesque character designs and more references to other films than can be easily counted in one viewing. Also, it was funny. The humor is largely dialogue-based and will fly straight over the heads of many young children, but for everyone else, there is some extremely sharp humor here. That vein of utter weirdness helps too.
7. Winnie the Pooh
Winnie the Pooh was my childhood. I love this cast of characters. After tragically missing the movie in theaters, I eagerly anticipated the release on disc, and when I was finally able to see it, I had a huge smile on my face for the entire running time. Nostalgia poured over me and I found myself filled with countless happy emotions, almost to the point of tears. They don’t make them like this anymore: free of bathroom humor and pop culture references, and returning to hand-drawn animation (that looks utterly magnificent on Blu-Ray). The movie is only an hour long, but for an hour I was a little kid again.
6. The Muppets
Appearing at face value to be just another nostalgia trip, The Muppets proves itself to be considerably more than that. Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek), who themselves are unapologetic fans of the franchise, this film is bursting with an air of genuine love of the Muppets. It’s aged with its fans too, seemingly: while the series has always had somewhat sophisticated humor, it seems just a bit more intelligent here (fart shoes notwithstanding). It’s honestly probably the funniest movie of the year, particularly for the self-referential goofiness that the franchise is so well-known for, and plenty of gleeful silliness.
5. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
David Fincher’s adaptation of the Swedish novel is brimming with raw, icy dread. Even though he delivered a fantastic film in The Social Network, he is now back in Seven territory and reminds us all why he is one of the main heavyweights of the thriller genre. When the movie isn’t making your mouth go dry from nervousness, it’s drawing you in with an incredibly dense mystery that is at the same time being rendered completely coherent by Steve Zaillian’s intelligent yet still easy to follow script. The driving force is Rooney Mara as asocial hacker genius Lisbeth Salander, in a performance that is impossible to look away from.
4. Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol
If there is one thing you need to know about the newest Mission: Impossible movie, it is this: it is awesome. Not just “hey, that was a pretty neat little scene” awesome but “OH MY GOD THAT JUST HAPPENED” awesome. Director Brad Bird, in his first live-action film, has made something more entertaining than many alleged “veterans” of the industry. It’s hilarious, stylish, and thrilling, and the centerpiece setpiece in and outside the Burj Khalifa , the tallest building in the world, is the most heart-stopping action sequence I’ve seen in years. In terms of straight thrills and entertainment, Ghost Protocol takes the prize.
3. Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen’s best film since Annie Hall is a complete delight. Also worth noting: I loved a romance movie. While it might not be as conventionally romantic as many mainstream romance films, the movie’s main vein is still that of falling in love, and much of the film’s strength lies in how well it romanticizes its setting and characters: it took two minutes of a rainy opening montage of Paris for me to be instantly sold on wanting to go there. I won’t spoil what makes the movie such a delight, but know that Allen’s sharp dialogue is in full force here. Midnight in Paris is an escape that had me smiling all the way through.
Listen carefully now: Hugo might very well be the best movie Martin Scorsese has made. It’s a love letter to cinema and a whirlwind of emotion and childlike wonder. The clock-filled train station where most of the film takes place is bursting with character, and a stellar cast of characters both major and minor work together seamlessly. It’s not a terribly accessible movie, being about the dawn of cinema and featuring some fairly heavy thematic material, but that doesn’t mean that it kids won’t be attracted to the extremely flashy visual style. Quite simply, it is a beautiful film in every way, and a slight lull in the middle of the very long film does little to dampen that beauty. I spent a very long time trying to decide if Hugo was my favorite film of the year, and even though it barely did not slide into that spot, it is still a remarkable, beautiful, and emotional piece of cinema. Make every effort to see this one; it’s the most emotionally rewarding movie I have seen in years, more so even than this year’s #1 choice, and it simply must be seen.
Hugo is Martin Scorsese’s best movie. And Drive is better than Hugo (though just by a teensy bit). What does that say? Nicolas Winding Refn’s third theatrical film is a masterpiece indeed, and while it just barely edges out Hugo as the best film of the year (indeed, possibly the closest race in recent memory), there’s no denying that Drive is tense, beautifully shot, artistic, and completely, awesomely badass in its occasional hits of startling violence. Refn reportedly removed most of the dialogue originally written for Ryan Gosling’s main character Driver (he has no name, giving the movie a distinct Western flavor), and the result is a character that only speaks when necessary, only adding to the mystique. Gosling’s performance as Driver is stunning. He injects bits of quiet and calculating confidence and is undeniably the coolest character to hit the screen all year. Refn’s direction, combined with Cliff Martinez’s retro soundtrack, create a film that is both pleasing and jarring to the senses. It’s also by turns extremely tense and surprisingly tender. It was the best film I saw this year and one of my favorites in recent memory.
Honorable Mention: I Saw the Devil
I Saw the Devil was technically a 2010 release, so I chose to not include it on this list. However, I cannot in good conscience deny it a round of applause. While I Saw the Devil was not officially released this year, it stands tall as not only one of the best films I’ve watched all year, but my absolute favorite revenge film and one of my favorite foreign films. Its main protagonist is a man who is goes to such lengths to catch his fiancee’s killer that he is unafraid to commit acts of stunning brutality on anyone in his way. Constantly cold and confident, he rushes after his prey with a startling and terrifying fury. The final moments deliver a blindsiding torrent of emotion, starkly contrasting against the utterly merciless, remarkably violent drive of the rest of the film. It’s not easy to watch, but it is undeniably intense and powerful–a true masterpiece of revenge cinema.