Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Best Movies of 2011...

Here's my belated list of the best movies of 2011, one of the more low key years for movies in recent times-and also one of the finest. I really felt spoiled by the amount of good movies from good directors that came out this year-and I haven't even seen everything yet. It's a year refreshingly devoid of typical big Oscar movies. Voters are left with a large handful of strange little movies to deal with (and the one that puts on the biggest show for the audience is silent and in black and white). We had already been dealt Moneyball, Take Shelter, Drive, J. Edgar, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Hugo, Melancholia, Young Adult, and The Descendants (among many others). But it was a week in late December when Mission Impossible, Tintin, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo all opened early, and then on Friday The Artist, A Dangerous Method, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, all arrived, that I realized this was a special year for cinema. I suppose if there was one word to describe this year's best films, it would be original. Look even at some of the Summer's big blockbusters: Thor, Super 8, Captain America, The Green Lantern, and Cowboys and Aliens. Granted, three are superhero films, but all five are non-sequels. As far as the big mainstream releases earlier in the year, I found a lot of original and decent material: The Adjustment Bureau, Limitless, Unknown, Sanctum, Paul, Rango, The Lincoln Lawyer, Source Code, and Hanna. This is all good stuff, the latter two titles close to great. There were lousy sequels, but also some of the best in years, like Fast Five, X-Men, and Harry Potter, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes (which I actually haven't seen but year is amazing). At times I felt like there was too much this year. Anyway, here are the top 10 films of 2011:

10. Cave of Forgotten Dreams/ Certified Copy. Prehistoric men were pretty good artists, as seen in this great and unusual documentary from Werner Herzog. If you see it, you'll also see that in a way they were creating cinema with their drawings, which ultimately made me all the more grateful for this wonderful medium. With some other great movies from the year, 2011 in a way gave us a tour of the cinema's history. One could say it starts in the cave. Certified Copy is simultaneously simple and complicated, a conversation throughout the countryside and city between a woman and a writer that slowly becomes a sneaky mind game from writer director Abbas Kiaostami.

9. Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol. The Mission: Impossible series got way cooler with Ghost Protocol, a movie that really wowed me. I know the Dubai sequence will go down in history, but I'm still shocked at how much I loved this movie overall. I guess when seeking answers, one can really only turn to Brad Bird.

8. Hugo. This movie is so fun to watch, yet Scorsese is after so much more than just visual magnificence. Thankfully he keeps the plot simple, making a very busy movie come across as smooth and effortless.

7. Midnight in Paris. Best Woody Allen movie since... Manhattan Murder Mystery? A long career, but also pretty shaky, especially in recent years. Allen sneaks up on us here with a true original that also maintains his signature wit, cynicism, and romantic idealism. Owen Wilson does the best job of being Woody Allen since he stopped acting.

6. The Mill and the Cross. The most visually beguiling movie of the year, the most interesting movie in years, the one that will have you talking most-if you've got the nerve to actually pay attention.

5. A Dangerous Method. The new Cronenberg film worked nicely, a different project for the director, yet, like Hugo, something he seems to have been working towards his whole career. Yet it's not a grand statement kind of movie, but rather one that maintains the efficiency of a lot of his recent pictures. Thematically it's all Cronenberg, yet visually he takes a step into the shadows, making the moments when he decides to come out all the more chilling.

4. The Artist. I loved this so much more than expected I would. I expected a lark, and got something more, something should keep my mind on this movie for a long time to come.

3. Moneyball. Masterful. Bennet Miller is a director to watch, making biographical dramas more than just history lessons. Aaron Sorkin helped with the screenplay, which has the same zip as The Social Network last year. But I liked this more, partly because I like baseball so much more than I like Facebook. Anyone can enjoy this, but to get the most out of it, one must have pretty deep baseball knowledge.

2. The Tree of Life. Two Brad Pitt movies in a row? What a year for the guy.

1. Drive. I had difficulty selecting my favorite movie of the year. It was Drive for a long time, but the more films I saw this year the more I realized how much I liked them all about equally. I know a lot of people are picking Drive, so I figure I might as well join them. I can't wait to see it again when it comes out on video, and then I'll really know how much I like it. But for now I'll have to rely on that electrifying experience I had in the theater on the first day of October, 2011.

Honorable mention: Of Gods and Men, Hanna.

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