Here are some of my favourites of the past twelve months. It was difficult picking out a final 10 – while I greatly enjoyed many films this year, there were fewer features that I felt really passionate about. There are a few titles I haven’t had the opportunity to see as of yet, including the likes of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Shame and Martha Marcy May Marlene, but of what I did see, here are some of my personal picks.
Carnage, Young Adult and The Ides of March were in and out of the list several times. For me, a few other enjoyable efforts of the year include Source Code, Rango, X-Men: First Class, Attack the Block, 50/50, The Muppets and War Horse. The Tree of Life and Melancholia were admirable films and technical triumphs, though they left me a bit cold emotionally. For horror fans, Insidious was pretty creepy (even if it did lose its effectiveness once revealing its villain during the last act), while Tucker and Dale vs. Evil served as the year’s best horror film lampoon.
Top 10 Favorite Films of 2011:
10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – Most film series become tedious by their seventh sequel (if they even get that far), so it seems fitting to reward the cast and crew of the series for consistently maintaining its early enthusiasm and high standards. Sure, one could nitpick with a few elements of this final installment, but in the end it effectively and dramatically captured the final battle between the young wizard and his nemesis in truly spectacular fashion. It was a fun ride, and this effort capped the series in style.
09. Bridesmaids – Taking the comedy-is-suffering mantra to new heights, this hilarious film followed a single bridesmaid (Kristen Wiig) whose life seems to spiral downwards while clashing with the bride’s maid of honour. The film featured some of the best comic set pieces of the year, but elevating the screenplay was its stellar cast, who even managed to sell some of the film’s cruder material with aplomb.
08. Hugo – Part children’s film, part cinema history lesson and plea for film preservation, Martin Scorsese’s latest was perhaps the most visually stunning movies of the year. Not only did this title utilize 3D to its dizzying maximum potential (at one point viewers will believe that they are about to be hit across the face with actor Sacha Baron Cohen’s nose), but its story took several twists and turns both unexpected and welcome.
07. The Artist – This tribute to silent Hollywood films was surprisingly effective in engaging viewers despite a near absence of sound (and when it is used, it’s jolting). While the technique seems a bit gimmicky at first, this French/Belgian production manages to deftly pay nostalgic tribute to the past, while also acknowledging the importance of moving forward and welcoming the future.
06. Hanna – Who would have thought that my favourite action film of the year would feature a face-off between Cate Blanchett and a teenage girl? With rapid-fire pacing backed by a thumping beat and some great action — including an impressive single shot that follows a character for several minutes and features a lengthy and well choreographed fight scene — the film was an adrenaline rush like no other this year.
05. The Descendants – It’s certainly a quiet film, but Alexander Payne’s tale of a grieving husband rekindling his relationship with a troubled teenage daughter is moving and at times humorous. In fact, its low key approach effectively highlights the absurdity of situations that George Clooney’s character finds himself in is particularly successful, including his interactions with a teenage surfer and his stalking of the man he believes to be his comatose wife’s lover. While not initially overwhelming, it was the kind of film that ultimately lingered in my mind long after seeing it.
04. Moneyball – The story of cash-strapped Oakland A’s general manager using statistical data to draft outcast baseball players and form them into a successful and competitive team might seem very limited in its appeal (fantasy baseball fans and, well, no one else). Amazingly, this flick managed to create compelling characters as it ratcheted up the tension and implied devastating personal consequences for the GM should he fail. Instead of focusing on the players, audiences get to wince and wait helplessly with the management as events on field unfold in the background. The end result was a unique and surprisingly engaging underdog story.
03. Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen’s best comedy in recent memory follows a writer who wanders the streets of Paris yearning to live a life like the great artists of the past. It’s a sweet, funny tale gently reminding audiences that the past sometimes isn’t as picture perfect as we’d like to imagine it might have been. Enjoyable escapist entertainment, this picture felt like a refreshing breeze compared to the more serious and somber tones that many of the year’s films possessed.
02. Submarine – While few would remember themselves as eccentric as the lead character, thanks to its witty writing and excellent performance from its young star, this tale somehow manages to perfectly capture a particularly awkward stage in life. At its core, a teenager decides it’s time to grow up, but isn’t emotionally mature enough to handle the events in his new, adult life. The teen’s attempt to woo his schoolmate, rescue his parent’s marriage and deal with the increasingly complicated situations surrounding him result in some of the most hilariously awkward moments captured on screen this year.
01. Drive – For me, undoubtedly the most unique and memorable experience this year at the movies. Like stepping into a time machine set to 1982, director Nicholas Winding Refn encapsulates and builds on all of the best aspects of early Michael Mann films. From its fantastic lead performance, hints of black humour, as well as its stylised photography (including some truly striking images) and jarring bursts of shocking violence, this film was captivating from beginning to end.
Two of the Worst in 2011:
Atlas Shrugged Part 1 – The National Council of Metal Industries is questioning the structural integrity of Rearden Metal?! Time for an emergency board room meeting! And later, a fancy dinner party! The entirety of the movie features scene after scene of executives delivering lengthy speeches and espousing their personal philosophy. That’s fine, but the film would have benefited greatly from any character on screen actually doing something… anything. There’s no real threat presented to viewers, just endless dialogue. Much was made of the politics behind the film, but it’s a non-issue. What is a problem is how quickly this stiff film becomes tedious and boring, ending on a supposed cliff-hanger that most viewers won’t be interested in seeing resolved.
Just Go with It – Adam Sandler can definitely be a funny guy, but his two efforts in 2011 (Just Go with It and Jack and Jill) felt particularly strained and ineffective. After telling a ridiculous lie to a new girlfriend, a dentist (who makes nasty jokes at the expense of his patients) must convince his assistant to pose as his soon-to-be ex-wife, and her children as his own son and daughter. Over the course of two hours, the lead character does absolutely nothing that would make him appealing to anyone. Both this film and Jack and Jill strain any plausibility and suspension of disbelief, which one might be able to overlook if the gags weren’t so lazy and ineffectual. While Jack and Jill is equally terrible, Just Go with It ultimately takes the prize for running a half an hour longer.
Most Enjoyable Bad Movie:
Abduction – While I Am Number Four was also unintentionally hilarious and ranks a close second, Abduction was just a little bit more ridiculous. In a plot that sounds like a parody of a spy movie, a teenager learns that his entire life is a lie and must battle Serbian black-op members who are out to kill him. As absurd as the events are to watch, they’re all played out in earnest, which makes it all the more amusing. The young leads are saddled with a wooden script and look understandably uncomfortable with the material.