Movie Revolt’s Top 10 Movies of 2011
Article By: Dan Clark
As 2011 comes to a close we begin to reflect in a number of different ways. One way is looking back at the past year’s successes and failures in the world of entertainment. I will be writing up a few ‘Best of Lists’ beginning with my Top 10 Favorite Films of 2011. When people read Top 10 lists they often do so for validation in their own choices. If they think a movie was the best thing to come out that year, and it’s not even on a list, frustration ensues. While disagreement and debate are great, I think Top 10’s can better be used for discovery. I prefer hearing about films I may have missed, or even a different opinion on a movie I may have dismissed. With that said I’m sure some of my picks will anger some and delight others. Whatever you may think feel free to let me know. I’m sure I’ll disagree with myself in only a few weeks time.
10. Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol
I start the list off with a relatively new release. For me this was one of the best action films of the year. It not only resurrected a franchise many thought was dead, but also made Tom Cruise a viable star once again. While I’m not the biggest fan of IMAX this was easily the best use of the IMAX camera since the Dark Knight. The transition from standard film to IMAX was done fluidly, and its limited use made it even more effective. The pace was solid with little lagging. It was also aided with some overall fun humor. While it was easy to find issues I found it even easier to enjoy.
9. A Better Life
On the completely other side of the spectrum is A Better Life. This film is a basically a modern retelling of the Italian classic The Bicycle Thief. It tells the story of illegal immigrant gardener that is attempting to provide a proper life for his son in America. A mishap occurs that threatens this plan and he must do everything he can to try and fix it. Like The Bicycle Thief this film challenges the idea of morality for the sake of love ones. Demian Bichir gave one of my favorite performances of the year as a father trying to connect with this son. It was a reserved performance that came off both as real and touching. His character’s transformation throughout was well done and never felt rushed. You couldn’t help but both feel for and relate to the story that was being told. Based upon the description you may think you’ll find some underlying political statement, but that’s not the case. There is no attempt to wedge in some sort of political message. It is telling a universal tale that can apply to nearly everyone in some way. That openness is what helps it be so effective.
2011 wasn’t the greatest year for animation, but there were a few gems. My favorite was easily Rango, which was a huge surprised to me. What I thought would be a run of the mill CGI animated feature, was actually quite a quality film. For one I really dug the animation style. The visuals were stunning in every way. The character design was sharp and original. It infused a great deal of realism in the character’s anamorphic abilities which allowed for some great action sequences. The landscapes were striking and helped to establish a unique atmosphere. The plot was a mix of Mad Max, Chinatown, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. I was a fan of the voice cast as well. It was a nice mix of both Hollywood staples and some solid character actors. I don’t see this having the mass appeal of a Pixar Film, mainly due to its inability to strike a chord with the younger audience. It still could gain some love during Awards time for its overall quality.
I must admit I thought at the beginning of the year that Moneyball would have been higher on my list. While I wouldn’t say it’s a disappointment, I think my expectations may have been too inflated. One reason my expectations were high was having the knowledge that Aaron Sorkin had a hand in the script. While he didn’t write it himself you can see his touches throughout. Sorkin has shown the ability to take material that should be overly complicated and boring and change it into something that is both fascinating and attention grabbing. He did so with The West Wing and The Social Network and you see that here as well. In addition to an exceptional script were some superb performances. Most notably was Johan Hill as Peter Brand. Hill showed he is a more capable actor then he has been given credit for. Also his knack for humor is arguably more effective in drama then an actual comedy. Brad Pitt is top notch as well as the man running the show Billy Beane. It was more of a character piece then a sports story which allowed it to avoid the majority of sport movie clichés. That character portion gave you a strong foundation of understanding who Billy Beane actually is and why he was so willing to take this chance. Though it didn’t hit the highs I was hoping for it was overall a very good film.
6. Of Gods and Men
This is a choice my wife would call my, “Movie Snob Pick”, but even with that I can’t help but put this on my list. I know the idea of watching a French film about Trappist monks living in Algeria seems more like a homework assignment than a piece of entertainment, but while not truly entertaining it is quite powerful. In the film a group of monks living in Algeria fall under threat of a terrorist group who has taken control of the region. The monks must decide to stay with the community that has become reliant on them to survive or flee for their own safety. It is the classic challenge of faith told with a sense of beauty and respect. The film itself is in a way a representation of the of the monk’s lifestyle. It is simple in nature, but massive in its power to move others. Some impressive camera work accompanied by a striking score help hammer home the themes of the film.
5. Win Win
Win Win is able to capture the current society in an unobvious way. It helps when you have the talent of Amy Ryan and Paul Giamatti staring in your film. Win Win tells the story of Mike Flaherty (Giamatti), a lawyer/wrestling coach who, like the majority of America, is just trying to get by. He makes a morally questionable choice in an attempt to bring in more money for his family. Strangely enough this choice leads him to become responsible for the teenage grandson of one of his clients. The director and writer of the film Thomas McCarthy is able to create characters that are multifaceted in their believability. He isn’t focused on creating a story of morality but rather a story of interest. Giamatti and Ryan take what McCarthy gives them and excel with their dedication to their characters. That isn’t a huge surprise considering their past success, but was what surprising was the performance of Alex Shaffer. This was Shaffer first ever film, and he was actually picked more for his wrestling talent then his acting ability. Though you’d never know he has no acting experience while watching. He does both with great success. Simply Win Win succeeds at being great.
4. Midnight In Paris
Like a lot of films on my list I was surprised on how much I enjoyed Midnight In Paris. My experience with Woody Allen films is limited so I wasn’t sure what exactly I was about to witness. What I got was a charming tale filled with humor, heart, and mystery. The film stars Owen Wilson as Gil a screen writer with a strong love affair with the city of Paris. His fiancé however is not nearly as impressed and wishes to head back to California. His fiancé (Rachel McAdams) is all about the here and now, while Gill is all about romanticizing the past. Without giving too much away Gill gets to live out his love of the past in a way you may not expect. There are a great number of things I loved about this film, and first and foremost has to be its self awareness. The themes and messages are quite obvious and it doesn’t hide it all. It celebrates it with a wink and a smile. Owen Wilson is fantastic and fits the Woody Allen character’s neurotic sensibility quite well. Overall I really was found of the overall message and theme. We all often wish to live in the past and get lost in that fantasy. This takes that idea and brings it to a new level.
The idea that comedy can be found in everything is an interesting one that typically doesn’t get challenged. Then along comes 50/50 a tale based on a real life story about a young man who is diagnosed with cancer. Like all great comedy 50/50 challenges you to laugh at the uncomfortable and taboo. The drama and comedy aren’t separate but complementary of one another. The seriousness isn’t hurt by the humor but made more effective. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen and are both excellent as well. Levitt was a last minute casting choice, but you could never tell. He makes the role is own. Rogen and him have a great chemistry and come off as legitimate friends. All this is supported by one of the best scripts of the year. 50/50 has a subject matter that could easily be Oscar bait, but instead of appealing to the Academy it is more concerned with telling a real life story.
2. X-Men: First Class
I’ll be the first to admit this is a completely absolute whole heartily biased pick. I’ve been a fan of the X-Men for the majority of my life, and X2 happens to be one of my favorite films. Even with my bias it’s hard not to admit how impressive X-Men: First Class is. Especially when you consider the circumstances the film was made under. The extremely short film schedule, the rushed casting, and the dire straits the franchise was left in made it an all but certainty this film was going to be a failure. Matthew Vaughn however overcame those challenges and shows his great talent as a director. Also James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender rose to the challenge of playing two of the most iconic characters in comic book history. 2011 had a number of comic book films and to me this was the best of the bunch.
It was a challenge to determine what my number one film of the year was. Some years are easier than others and this year fell on the difficult side. It all came down to the film that stayed with me the most. The film that made me think and stood out when compared to everything else that came out this year. That film ended up being Drive. My appreciation for Drive has grown even greater long after I watched it for the first time. Nicolas Winding Refn has become one of my favorite directors. I recently experienced the greatness that is his Pusher trilogy. Also Bronson was an intense emotional ride, and I was even a fan of Valhalla Rising. Refn’s films are the perfect example of how a talented director can impact a movie. Drive is not a film for everyone. In fact I would completely understand why some people would hate it. The limited dialogue, the meticulous slow pace, and intense violence may not be everyone’s cup of tea, however it was mine. I appreciated how everything served a purpose beyond just the plot of the movie. Drive is the ultimate exercise in style. It is an homage that borders on self parody. To the opening credits to the final climax I was consistently surprised where the film went. Ryan Gosling was cold and mystifying as the mysterious Driver. Plus how do you beat Albert Brooks as a ruthless gangster killer? Add in one of the best and original car chases in quite awhile as well. Be warned this isn’t a fast pace action thriller the trailer may lead you to believe. It is pretty much the exact opposite. Drive takes the idea of a slow burn and redefines it to an entire new format.
Honorable Mentions: Captain America: First Avenger, Hanna, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Bridesmaids, Our Idiot Brother, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Films I Haven’ Seen: Hugo, The Muppets, The Adventures of Tin Tin, The Descendents, Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, Young Adult, The Artist and many others.