I know these lists have been circulating like mad for the past few weeks, but I thought I’d chime in with my two cents. I like to spend some time really thinking over my top ten lists because I don’t want to be that person that just shoves every single Oscar nominated movie on the list without sprinkling in a few favorites. I have no problem recognizing strong directing and performing, but I also like to mention a few personal favorites that I enjoyed more than others. It all comes down to personal preference, replay value and overall scoring. Sure, there might be a few movies that I rated higher than something that barely makes my list, but that’s because I might have enjoyed a movie a lot more and gone back to revisit it time and time again, despite its lower rating due to a few acting missteps or weaker story.
However, most of the films will fall in that order because I rate films based on how much I liked them. People give me shit because I absolutely love raunchy dark comedies and because of my enjoyment I rate them higher than some bullshit Oscar bait. My goal when reviewing films is to give you my perspective on the film. What did I like and dislike about the directing, acting, cinematography, writing and so on. My word means whatever you want it to mean. At the end of the day it all comes down to what you enjoy. It doesn’t make you less of a movie fan if you thought Drive or The Tree of Life was a piece of shit because that’s your opinion and I’ll respect it! So without any more babbling here’s my list starting with a few honorable mentions that didn’t make it!
Take Me Home Tonight (8.5/10) – Yeah, I bet this one will surprise almost everyone. I enjoyed this movie probably more than I enjoyed any other film released this year. I revisited it in theaters about 5 times during its short two week run. I’m a huge fan of coming-of-age stories and I feel Take Me Home Tonight delivered on everything it was trying to do. Sure, it’s a lot like American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused, but those are two great flicks and I’m fine with a director and his crew paying homage to them. Topher Grace, Dan Fogler and even Teresa Palmer all provided honest and approachable performances for human characters. They weren’t perfect, but that’s what I liked about it. Take Me Home Tonight is funny, honest and a blast to watch. It’s not going to get points for originality or best batch of jokes, but I found its take on struggling to figure out what to do in life touching and sincere.
Source Code (8.5/10) – Director Duncan Jones follows up his impressive sci-fi film Moon with a film that is a little more mainstream and not as good, but still miles better than most original sci-fi material getting pumped out to the masses. Source Code borrows ideas from Groundhogs Day, but twists and turns into its own unique film. The concept of time travel always interests me and Duncan Jones knocks it out of the park with Source Code. The film completely changes what you thought was going to happen about 15 minutes in and from that point it becomes a sci-fi film that takes a familiar idea and adds a new approach. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a standard performance that touches on the emotions without getting too heavy. It’s not as powerful as Sam Rockwell‘s Oscar worthy performance in Moon, but it’s good stuff. The ending divides most and I side with the ones that liked it. It initially confuses, but quickly soothes.
Margin Call (9/10) – I’m going to start this out with saying I usually don’t give a shit about Wall Street or movies dealing with them. Walking into this film I was dreading a borefest and I walked out pleasantly surprised. The power comes from the impressive ensemble cast consisting of veterans of the trade like Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci and newcomer Zachary Quinto. The films bleak honesty and precision make it a gripping experience to watch. The last 24 hours leading to the downfall of Wall Street couldn’t have been any better.
Now that those are out of the way I can’t forget to mention a few films that I haven’t seen.
- The Artist
- We Need to Talk About Kevin
- A Dangerous Method
Those are the only big contenders that I haven’t seen that might have made the list. Other than that I’m almost sure I’ve seen everything that would have been top ten material. So enough of the stalling, check out my top ten films of 2011. This is kind of an informal write-up, so feel free to click on the titles for links to my full reviews.
10. Shame (9/10)
Michael Fassbender, Steve McQueen, Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender again. Shame provided me with the most uncomfortable experience I’ve had at a theater in 2011. Michael Fassbender screams give me the Oscar and Steve McQueen unloads more than depressing honesty onto the viewers. Its controversial subject material isn’t for everyone, but if you’re in the mood for an emotional kick in the nuts then climb aboard for the ride! Forget watching The Human Centipede 2 for shock factor because Shame provides enough shocks and squeamish moments while giving you a coherent story and combustible performances.
9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (9/10)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was one of those films that most had not expected to be much of anything. Who would want a prequel this long after the shitty Mark Wahlberg/Tim Burton disaster? I was intrigued by WETA’s motion capturing and Andy Serkis‘ portrayal of the leading ape Caesar. Serkis proves that motion capture and special effects aren’t just tricks, but they require the same delicacy as traditional acting, if not more. He captures the screen and never let’s go. You instantly forget that you’re watching a computer animated ape and you start believing that Caesar is just as real as James Franco, who acts bewildered the entire time. The main problem Rise faces is the heavy reliance on Serkis. Without him the film would have been a wasted demo reel of impressive effects. He makes the character dimensional and he drives the story.
8. X-Men: First Class (9/10)
The X-Men prequel that nobody wanted and that nobody expected to be any good. I’ve never cared for the series before First Class. The film managed to revive a comic book franchise of films that I didn’t know needed reviving. Michael Fassbender (again) steals the show as Magneto. The pain and anger he bottles in comes out in a full force rage. James McAvoy also balances the scale as Professor X. The two carry Matthew Vaughn‘s film to new heights that most thought were unreachable.
7. Attack the Block (9/10)
Joe Cornish‘s Gremlins and then some. Attack the Block is full of funny British dialogue, a great mix of simplistic practical creature effects and CGI. It’s a perfect balance of horror, sci-fi and comedy in the same vein as Edgar Wright‘s Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead. It’s another one of those fun flicks that came out this past summer during a crowded time and never got the true attention it deserved. Luckily for Cornish and the gang the film already has a pretty big following on the web. All of its praise is well deserved.
6. Midnight in Paris (9/10)
Possibly Woody Allen‘s best film yet. Midnight in Paris brings that magical feeling of movie making back to the big screen. From start to finish Midnight in Paris is a beautifully shot journey about a man who discovers himself and faces the realization that life isn’t always going to be better in a previous time. Owen Wilson leads the cast with another one of his kind of funny kind of lost performances. Allen’s the real show stealer and he transports the viewer to another world full of life and fun. I fully submerged myself into the film and didn’t want to leave.
5. The Tree of Life (9.5/10)
Terrence Malick‘s return to film after all of the years away is perhaps his biggest and most personal film yet. The film spans from the beginning of the cosmos to the end of the world and it takes not one shortcut. It slowly unfolds and jumps around its nonlinear story. The narrative might be a little too unfocused for most, but I enjoyed the freedom to bounce around. Malick’s a visual director and The Tree of Life is one of the most stunning films ever to look at on the screen. He uses his strong visual senses to tell the story like no other director has ever done before. Brad Pitt plays the father with strict will and tough love. The universal telling of life is what makes the film so special. You can take away hundreds of meanings or you can simply enjoy the camerawork and familiar places it visits.
4. Warrior (9.5/10)
Gavin O’Connor‘s Warrior is this years The Fighter. It tackles the world of mixed martial arts and the world of heavy family drama. He successfully tells two different stories about two different fighters. Tom Hardy plays the troubled war vet with raw physical power and Joel Edgerton plays the school teacher with a history of fighting. Both men come from opposite sides and slowly move closer and closer until the final bell rings. Nick Nolte tops them both as the former alcoholic father. His ability to display such a wide variety of emotions over the span of the film is unreal. He’ll make you burst into tears when it’s all said and done. Warrior is a great family drama with bone crunching action! How did people skip over this when it made its brief appearance in theaters?
3. The Descendants (10/10)
George Clooney gives one of his most personal performances yet in Alexander Payne‘s The Descendants; a real life drama about a dying wife in a coma. Payne’s film is a complex family drama that never substitutes story for laughs. It’s both an incredibly sad movie and a really funny one and Payne’s way of showing that is by letting it all play out without interruption. Clooney’s character is at the heart of the film, but his daughters and the people around him count just as much as he does. Payne evenly distributes the emotions and laughs throughout the entire film, keeping you constantly alert and ready. I was moved by Clooney and I was moved by how much his character was put through in the film. The Descendants is a reflection of life and how we struggle so hard to get over the bad stuff because the rewards are always worth it.
2. 50/50 (10/10)
Jonathan Levine‘s latest film billed as a cancer comedy is much more. It’s another dose of reality. It has no problems being funny thanks to co-star Seth Rogen, but it’s also a serious drama dealing with cancer and appreciating your friends and family and the people that matter in life threatening situations. Joseph Gordon-Levitt breaks out from his indie fame in 50/50 and proves that he has no problems expanding on his emotions. While I give credit to Rogen and Levitt for their great performances I think the real thanks belongs to director Jonathan Levine. He knows how to capture real stories/situations on film without making them feel too Hollywood. By that I mean that the jokes are rude and immature, but exactly something like Seth Rogen would really say in the situation. Levine counters the comedy with more real drama that comes with getting cancer. Levitt’s character goes from being the pushover to being in control of his life. 50/50 will have you in tears guaranteed from either laughing too hard or crying.
1. Drive (10/10)
Drive is the best film of the year. Ryan Gosling gives so much with so little and director Nicolas Winding Refn redefines cool. The film oozes with style and sticks out with pride in a world full of loud generic scores, quick cuts, heavy dialogue and constant action. It sucks you into the world right off the bat with the opening score that’s an instant toe tapper. The characters aren’t given many details because it’s their actions that matter. The phrase actions speak louder than words has never been more relevant before. Drive is a different film than advertised, but that’s why it’s so damn good. The music, lighting, tone and general structure all help factor in. Ryan Gosling and Albert Brooks play polar opposites with a thirst for blood and Bryan Cranston, Carey Mulligan and even Ron Perlman make the best of their small roles. Drive is the slickest film of the year and its brutal violence mashes well with its stylistic visuals. It’s my favorite film of the year and I can’t wait to own it on Blu-ray next month.