Thursday, December 22, 2011

Best Films of 2011

Tough year to judge, but I'll judge it anyway . . .

Top Ten Best Films of 2011:

1. "The Artist"
Best movie I’ve seen in quite a while, one of the few movies I’ve seen that received a thunderous applause when it ended. A must-see in the theater, and dare I say, a perfect movie that’s funny, melodramatic, and profound. It’s simply a remarkable achievement in filmmaking that’s incredibly rewarding. Jean Dujardin, and Uggie, might be my new favorite actors.

2. "Drive"
A meditation so hypnotic I downloaded the soundtrack the next day. Methodical in its pacing with sudden bursts of violence, this trip takes you to unexpectedly tumultuous places. Dark and exciting while deceptively simple, Nicholas Winding Refn is able to weave one of richest tapestries of a seedy Los Angeles with an 80’s movie kind of feel to boot. Check out his "Pusher" trilogy and "Bronson." Albert Brooks . . . tour de force!
3. "The Tree of Life"
Gorgeous, riveting, and at turns maddening, I couldn’t explain to you what the movie is about, but hey, I like pretty pictures, and on that note this luminous movie delivered tenfold. I can overlook Terrence Malick’s obvious lyrical pretentiousness because many moments in the film moved me deeply. A marvelous year for Jessica Chastain, who will surely lose her anonymity.
4. "Midnight in Paris"
A great time-travel movie, disarming and often very funny. I like movies where I find myself smiling all the way through. Far removed from "Law & Order: L.A.," the real scene stealer is Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway, who deserves serious awards consideration. Plus Kathy Bates is always good when she isn't naked in a hot tub. Arguably his best film since "Match Point," this is one of my favorite Woody Allen movies, and maybe even Mia Farrow would like it.
5. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
After seeing the original, I knew what to expect. A stylish, taut thriller, this sweeping work is a triumph in acting, writing, and direction, along with a highly effective score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Can't decide which version I liked better. The daring Rooney Mara delivers what can only be described as a very brave performance.
6. "The Skin I Live In"
Apart from "Shame," this was the most disturbing and unsettling film I saw all year, courtesy of Pedro Almodovar at the top of his game. An unflinching work of art with darkly comic touches, it transcends the horror genre in a way I never imagined. I've been a big fan of Elena Anaya since "Talk to Her" and "Mesrine," and her haunting work here is amazing. Antonio Banderas . . . tour de force!
7. "Moneyball"
Living in the Bay Area at the time brought the story closer to home. Compelling with fully-realized characters, something that can only come from a fascinating true story. Pitt does tremendous work here, and Jonah Hill surprised me in his second to last fat performance.
8. "The Descendants"
A quality blend of comedy and drama with engaging performances, Shailene Woodley being the revelation. Quite rare when we really care about what will happen to the characters. A very satisfying film, one with enduring wit and an insightful look at imperfect people when faced with grief. Has Alexander Payne made a bad movie? I still like "Election" and "Sideways" better.
9. "The Ides of March"
Saw "Farrugut North" on stage with Scarlett, which we both thoroughly enjoyed. Since I continually struggle with my love/hate relationship with politics, this movie was right up my alley. The last 30 minutes of the film were tacked on by George Clooney, giving us a bold plot device and the happy ending that the play never had.
10. "Take Shelter"
Michael Shannon should be noted as one of the best actors working today. His gripping and powerful portrayal of a man seemingly losing his mind never loses steam to the very last frame. Who else can capture the paranoia of an impending apocalypse with more emotion? Shannon's subtleties with the craft are savored.
The Very Long List of Honorable Mentions
"13 Assassins" I like when domes are lopped off with regularity.
"Attack the Block" great combination of horror and comedy, like "Shaun of the Dead"
"Carnage" the tulips are on me, a finally confined Polanski . . great acting
"Cave of Forgotten Dreams" another engrossing documentary from Werner Herzog
"Hanna" highly entertaining, even though I can’t pronounce the lead’s name
"Hugo" the marvel of filmmaking with Scorsese in top-form . . loved it
"Kill the Irishman" funny movie, and the effectiveness of car bombs can’t be disputed
"Martha Marcy May Marlene" the good looking Olsen sister knocked it out the park
"My Week With Marilyn" Michelle Williams can act
"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" thrilling when CGI apes emote so well
"Senna" I remember watching the great Ayrton Senna race as a kid
"Shame" spare and startling like "Hunger," I won’t see this movie again
"The Debt" liked the original a lot as well
"The Devil's Double" that psychotic degenerate Uday had it coming
"The Future" almost cracked the top ten, Miranda July can do no wrong
"The Help" I see a bright future for this on Lifetime/Oxygen
"The Iron Lady" Meryl Streep can do no wrong either
"The Muppets" feels like old friends coming back to town
"Thor" so many haters, but I really liked it
"Tyrannosaur" can a very serious drinking problem lead to redemption?
"War Horse" the swelling John Williams score tried very hard to make me cry
"Warrior" a movie to make men cry . . I, alas, did not
"We Need To Talk About Kevin" really made me want to have children
"X-Men: First Class" Fassbender should have his own Nazi hunting movie
"Young Adult" made me feel really good inside, quality Patton Oswalt

Other Achievements
Best Actor: Jean Dujardin - "The Artist"
Best Actress: Jessica Chastain - "The Tree of Life"/"The Help"/"Take Shelter"/"The Debt"
Best Suppporting Actor: Albert Brooks - "Drive"
Best Supporting Actress: Berenice Bejo - "The Artist"
Best Director: Michael Hazanavicius - "The Artist"
Best Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, & Jim Rash - "The Descendants"
Best Foreign Language Film: "The Skin I Live In"
Best Documentary: "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"
Best Cinematography: "The Tree of Life"
Best Score: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
Best Animated: "Arthur Christmas"
Best Costume Design: "Midnight in Paris"
Best Make-Up: "J. Edgar" (yikes, almost made my worst movie list)
Best Art Direction: "Hugo"
Best Special Effects: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"

The Worst Movies of the Year

"Sucker Punch": Loud, obnoxious, and incomprehensible does not make a good film. Zach Snyder’s bombast needs to be kept under control or he'll keep turning in turkeys like this convoluted mess. It's a misfire where alleged female empowerment never felt so crudely debasing.

"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy": Nearly put me to sleep. The biggest complaint I read was that it’s confusing and tough to keep track of exactly what's going on. The big problem for me was boredom. I fear "Smiley's People."

"A Dangerous Method": zzzzzzzzzz . . . this one did put me and my companion to sleep a couple times. Keira Knightley is gravely miscast, a truly mortifying performance from the bizarre get-go which gives way to unintentional humor. As a big David Cronenberg fan, hurts to say it’s the kind of movie that high-brow imbeciles will embrace in a feeble attempt to impress others by their own shallow intellectuality, trying to be so cool. I like philosophy and psychology, and I hated this. Cronenberg's worst movie since "M. Butterfly."

"The Hangover Part 2": A shell of the first one, great box office will surely lead to a third. I doubt any sane woman would overlook her fiance having sex with a transsexual right before their wedding day. Oops, did I spoil it?

"The Change-Up": Brave performance by Leslie Mann. Her acting is made majestic by the continual disrobing.

"Bridesmaids": At least I know I’m not the only one that was disappointed after fatuous publicity. I have yet to climb onto the Kristen Wiig bus, doubt I ever will. For me, Melissa McCarthy was the movie's one bright spot.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- Part 2": Thank God this is finally over, and this entry didn’t deliver in the way the hype machine promised. The series kind of went awry for me after the magical "Prisoner of Azkaban."
And the very worst, maybe ever . . .
"Bucky Larson- Born to be a Star": In my humble opinion, the TV spots were much better, and a lot funnier, than the moronic and mentally offensive final product. Probably sat on the shelf for a while. Although my view on the commercials stray greatly from the nearly common belief held by many that it was the most annoying ad campaign ever conceived, I admit heavy bias. My boy Peter Dante should've been in the movie more, as you can tell here: