Thursday, February 16, 2012

End-Of-Year: Top 15 Films of 2011

Last Thursday, I said I would post my top 15 films of 2011 "tomorrow or the day after that." Fast forward a week full of internet troubles and here we are. So without further a due, I present to you the films...

15. The Muppets - I wasn't really a Muppet-head growing up. I saw a movie here and there and knew the famous songs and characters, but I wasn't a hardcore fan. So I can't really explain the feeling of absolute joy that overwhelmed me from the very first scene to last of this completely adorable film. From the get go, it felt as if I was a kid again watching my favorite characters similar to what the protagonist must have felt like when he met his felt idols. I didn't know Jason Segel had this in him, but he really pulled this off with some wonderful assists from famous friends. Now if you'll excuse me I'll go listen to "Pictures in My Head" for the 100th time. Join me won't you?

14. Incendies - To say this film was shocking would be an understatement, because the end really does leave the viewer speechless by what just transpired. I don't mean shocking in that visceral sense a horror film may evoke, but in that more subtle way an epic story such as the one being told in this film naturally brings forth. It's a film after all about two adult twins learning about the extraordinary story of their mother before she had them and the secrets discovered in that journey. Strong acting throughout, but especially for Lubna Azabal for her impressive work portraying the battle-tested mother through the years.

13. Attack the Block - I barely heard of the film before I saw it, which probably contributed to the giddiness I felt while watching this fantastical sci-fi thrill romp unfold before me. The plot is the usual alien invasion story, but this time the setting in condensed to a street block in London and the saviors of humanity a bunch of young British hooligans. Led by Moses, charismatically played by unknown John Boyega, these kids take it upon themselves to protect their turf and the end result was just too enjoyable for words. Great movie to see with friends. Plus this got the seal of approval from Edgar Wright. 'Nuf said.

12. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Never read the super popular nor watched the Swedish miniseries so I pretty much went into this movie knowing as little as possible. Suffice it to say, I found it pretty damn fantastic from that scintillating opening title sequence to that quiet end leaving you wanting for some more. David Fincher is a master of his craft and he proved it once again with this film, but it's Rooney Mara playing the titular character who really showed why she is a force to be reckoned with by really owning all of the sides of the complicated character that is Lisbeth Salander. The film also featured Daniel Craig in various states of undress, which was much appreciated.

11. Thor - If you asked me last year if this film would be ranked this high, I would've laughed. Not because it's a comic book superhero film, but because it's frickin' Thor. And yet here it is just outside my top 10 and beating fellow Marvel films X-Men: First Class and Captain America. For me, what pushed this above the others is how much it exceeded my expectations. The trailer made Asgard look cartoonish and overblown, but on screen it was just absolutely grand. It also helped that the relationship of Thor and Loki as played by Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston felt real and sincere. At least more sincere than it had any right to be.

And now the top ten...

10. My Week with Marilyn - My knowledge of Marilyn Monroe is actually pretty lacking. I've probably seen only two of her films ever and I never really looked into her life, knowing her only as the iconic woman she is famous for. So this measure of ignorance on my part heightened the mystique surrounding Monroe that made me more willing to wholeheartedly embrace Michelle Williams' heartbreaking and eye-opening performance. She was electric, funny, sad, charming, vulnerable all at once and it never once felt like she was stretching to be any of those. But a grand performance such as this would falter without strong support and I personally think she got that from Kenneth Branagh and Eddie Redmayne.

9. Warrior - Brotherly drama always gets to me (see Thor) so on the one hand I wasn't too shocked that this film, pardon the pun, knocked me out. The tale of two brothers' futures hanging in the balance on a series of matches was told as recently as last year's The Fighter and yet as much as I really liked that film, I much preferred this most recent one a bit more. It's probably unfair to compare the two, but on the surface at least the fights were certainly more exciting especially since mixed martial arts is a bit showier than boxing. But going deeper, I just fell hard for Joel Edgerton's quietly strong performance making me invested pretty quickly on every outcome. I cheered and I cried. What more could I have really asked for?

8. A Separation - Why this film wasn't included in my initial list of ten is easy to explain. I only saw the film a week ago and so of course now that I have seen it, I just knew it would be ridiculous to not give this a top ten spot. First of all, it was just plain gripping throughout with the films full commitment to show just how messy a dissolution of a relationship can be not only to the two people getting separated by to those around them. The complex morality at play throughout the film was also one of my favorites making me constantly question my loyalties and beliefs. The whole Iranian cast was superb, but Leila Hatami and Peyman Maadi are the undisputed pillars of the film. That final shot with the two of them was exquisite.

7. Meek's Cutoff - Director Kelly Reichardt is known for stark and contemplative films and so it's only natural that Michelle Williams would gravitate towards her projects (see also their previous collaboration with Wendy and Lucy). It won't be for everyone, that's for sure, as the camera lingers at the breathtaking, but also bleak desert landscape that surrounds the characters with extended dialogue or action few and far between. But when they happen, and they do, the experience becomes heightened somehow, the dangers they face becomes all the more real. Williams is unsurprisingly perfect for the role, determined and calm in the face of everything that threatens her compatriots. Bruce Greenwood, who I didn't recognized until I saw his name in the credits, was also a standout.

6. The Help - The politics at play is definitely awkward at points, but that didn't really stop me from laughing, crying, laughing from crying, crying from laughing every other scene of this film. Most of the praise goes to its stellar ensemble headlined by the incredible performances by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer as maids who find the courage to stand up for their rights. There's also Jessica Chastain who may have played my favorite character of the year as the saucy and vulnerable Celia Foote. In the end, it was a tricky film to pull off, but the cast managed to do just that all the while evoking plenty of real emotions from me.

5. Drive - This neo-noir crime drama film just refuses to get out of my head which is probably why it's ranked so high considering I wasn't completely head over heels in love with the film immediately after seeing it. But the more I got to thinking about the film--about its wonderfully stylistic images and arresting synth-pop score, about its laconic anti-hero, about its impeccable direction and wonderfully minimalistic screenplay--the more I grew to love it. It was such a great blending of art-house fare and action thriller which also lent itself to the iconic portrayal of the nameless Driver by Ryan Gosling, perfectly cast here able to give off sexy, dangerous, vulnerable, tough, sweet, and psychotic vibes all at once with very little effort (or dialogue).

4. The Artist - Pure joy. That's pretty much what I think about when I think of this film, which is actually pretty odd to say since this movie is actually quite dark for most of its compacted run-time. Yes, it's a black and white mostly silent film and for about the first 15 minutes I was enamored by the novelty of it all, but if you left the movie focusing on those aspects of the film, you missed a great chunk of what makes this film great. There are of course the incredibly charismatic performances from Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, and yes, Uggie, which made me smile throughout the whole film. No, it's not a strict silent film and I don't think it ever really wanted to be. But the courage it took to do this in this day and age where every Tom, Dick, and Harry only seem to want the latest 3D remake sequel, is an achievement by itself that deserves plenty of praise.

3. The Ides of March - This political thriller was perfectly pace, perfectly cast, and perfectly written. I have no idea why it didn't get more love than it did this year from audiences and from the various awards bodies, but I have a feeling it'll be a film more people will discover later on, even perhaps as early as this year when the ugly tradition of presidential campaigns take over all of our lives once again. What made this movie work for me was its topicality considering how so many people have become so jaded by the government. Ryan Gosling, as per usual for him this year, was great and showed that even surrounded by a crazy talented ensemble, he can rise above and deliver a true leading man performance. Seeing his character's idealism tested under the immense pressure and cynicism in politics was really quite something to behold.

2. Weekend - This tale of two British men having a chance meeting at a club then proceeding to spend an intimate weekend with each other knocked me off my feet. Chris New and Tom Cullen's chemistry was so sincere that I sometimes forgot I was watching a film, but that's also a testament to the confident direction from newcomer Andrew Haigh and his elegantly naturalistic script. It's a sexy film between two guys who engages in sex, but it goes deeper into the emotional lives of these two guys who are different, but no so different. Through this prism, the film explores the relationship between men and the identities they juggle with every day. In the end, I have to admit that I probably fell in love with this shockingly romantic film because it reminded me of Before Sunrise. And while the ending was done perfectly, poignantly so, I'm pretty much wishing for this film to have its own Before Sunset.

1. Midnight in Paris - A few months back, I wondered if my favorite summer film would once again be my favorite film of the year and it turns out that is the case again this year. Now, it may be corny to admit, but I was just taken aback by how magical this film was. I wouldn't go as far as to say that Woody Allen got his groove back since who knows if it ever really left, but this really was one of his best films in a long while. As a Francophile, my love for this film was akin to the main character's great love of Paris in the rain and with its highly original concept, inventive screenplay, and a cast stacked with talent, it's no wonder this became Allen's highest grossing film. Prominently featuring the theme of nostalgia and looking into the past that seemed to have pervaded many buzzed about films this year, it afforded a fun glimpse to such characters as Ernest Hemingway, Dali, the Fitzgeralds among others giving us all a lesson that the key to living is to live in the present.

And now it's time to live those lessons learned from my top film of the year and end this look back to the year that was. It was great talking about my favorite films, especially my top 15 above, but I'm also looking forward to seeing new films this year! Happy viewing all!

More year-end film posts:
- Favorite Films #16-35
- 2011 Film Winners
- 2011 Film Nominations
- Favorite Posters of 2011


  1. I really loved 'Attack the Block'... glad to see it made your list!

  2. So glad to see The Ides of March get some love.

  3. @Brian - Looks like it'll be destined to be a cult film. At least that's what I'm hoping.

    @Andrew - Yeah! Who knew my favorite Gosling film would have turned out to be the political one?


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