2011, for me, was an odd year for movies, and I am still not sure it was a great one. Then again, as I mentioned above, I haven't seen everything I want to see yet. Just look at this year's academy award nominations. Now, while I don't think the Oscars are the end-all, be-all of what's great in the movies, I do have to say that for a lack of a better term this year's nominations on a whole seem really....safe. Which I suppose they always are but safe in a way that for the rest of the first decade of the 2000's they seemed to be trying to get away from. But as my friend Peter points out, I mean, are these movies that people are going to remember 20 years from now? Or even ten, to be honest? Oh man, the snubs this year are nuts....but that's another entry.
So here, from what I have seen are my personal ten favorite movies from 2011, with the caveat, as Roger Ebert points out that it is an odd thing to try to put art in any sort of list such as this. The other caveat is this list is certainly going to change, they all do.
My Favorite Movies Of 2011
10) Margin Call
9) The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
8) 13 Assasins
This is a samurai movie by Japanese director Takashi Miike, and from my experience, this has got to be one of his more subdued and less, well, crazy efforts. Who make no mistake, there are definitely some Miike touches, particularly in the early going. But what Miike offers up here is a mashup of well known elements from Samurai movies as well as the Western. It's set in the waning days of the Samurai in late 19th century Japan, and follows one group of Samurai as they try to get rid of the sadistic brother of a Shogun before he can take REAL political power. The problem? He is also guarded by a huge army of samurai. It's your average set up, and the first part of the movie is the slow burn as all these elements come together (getting the team together, the plan, etc.) Then it just explodes in this crazy battle which lasts for a good half hour to forty five minutes. Its really a sight to see, although at times it does get repetitive. All in all a really interesting effort by Miike.
Absolutely gripping, and, really, crazy documentary from Errol Morris not quote tackling the really serious subject matter we are used to (besides celebrity culture, I guess). But this thing has more twists and turns, and some of the most colorful characters to put a lot of the fictional movies that came out this year to shame.
6) Win Win
Win Win is probably a more conventional movie, so to speak, then The Station Agent and The Visitor, which sounds like a criticism against it but it's not. Paul Giamatti plays a small town lawyer whose small practice is losing money, so he makes a shady business deal around an elderly client to make some extra money. The man's estranged grandson (and eventually his estranged) daughter come back into the picture and, of course, things change. Paul Giamatti's other job happens to be as wrestling coach for the local high school, and the teenage grandson who, out of nowhere, comes to live with is grandfather also happens to be a wrestling prodigy. It definitely deals with Thomas McCarthy's favorite theme of lonely people finding one another, but its also about your actions and how they can come back and bite you. The acting is uniformly good, particularly Giamatti and Amy Ryan as his wife. Although Bobby Cannavale is a bit tonally over the top.
5) Martha Marcy May Marlene
Here I can point two a couple of other worthy performers who were overlooked in Oscar nominations, John Hawkes and Susan Olsen both, in my opinion, deserved nods for their performance here. Although, to be fair, I think John Hawkes deserves one all the time, but he is really chilling here as a cult leader in upstate New York. This is somewhat of a psychological thriller, as Susan Olsen plays a young woman who escapes from said cult, only to be haunted by her experiences, as the divide between the present and the past bleed together horribly for her.
4) Mission Impossible:Ghost Protocol/Fast Five(tie)
I'm as surprised as you are. To be honest Mission Impossible is probably the better movie (by the way, when is the fourth movie in a series ever the best one? Well, now I guess) Having Brad Bird on board, and making a fun spy movie, with some of the best action setpieces that have been seen in a while. In a weird sort of way, it feels like a throwback in the best sense of the word. Let's hope the James Bond producers are watching. I included Fast Five because what it has in common with Mission Impossible is basically that it is an action movie (duh) which allows itself to be ridiculous in the most over-the-top manner. The setpieces are fun, and here, is this word again, totally ridiculous, with toughguys stealing cars and beating eachother up. My common complaint, personally, has been that these movies are ridiculous enough. In that, if you are going to be dumb, just go all the way with it, and Fast Five delivers in spades. Mission Impossible is also over the top in a different, yet equally great way.
3) Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest
One thing about Michael Rappaport's documentary, not only is it about one of my all time favorite groups, but it is also giving the same grand, rock-doc treatment, finally, to a hip hop group that have been given to countless rock bands. Plus, it's really enthralling and really entertaining. And, yes, if you must know, I did tear up at a couple parts.
People can poke holes in this one all day but it really resonated with me. I will also point out that Cliff Martinez's score got unfairly snubbed by the Academy. And to me the biggest snub of all was Albert Brooks' snub, he should have at least been nominated for his turn as the villain here. A pretty daring bit of stunt casting that paid off in spades, at least to me.
A straight-up great entry in the Apatowian school of comedy. It was truly funny and truly heartfelt without it ever feeling like it was forced, pretty much in the vein of the best Apatow tradition. But he only produced here, and I think a lot of the credit should go to Kristen Wiig, who cowrote the screenplay, and Apatow/Freaks and Geeksalum, director Paul Feig. If there is justice this movie should make the likes of Kristen Wiig a star, but I have to point out the turns of Melissa McCarthy and Chris O' Dowd, who are both great here. McCarthy, in particular, rises above what could have been just a stereotypically raunchy role, to reveal a certain depth, and that she is actually one of the most well-adjusted of the bridesmaids. It doesn't matter, and it shouldn't, that this movie is a women-centric one, the truths here about friendship and finding oneself in the world are universal.
Just missed: Cedar Rapids, Rise Of The Planet Of the Apes, Insidious, The Ides Of March, Source Code
Haven’t Seen: The Adventures of Tin Tin, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Artist, Moneyball, Midnight In Paris, A Dangerous Method, Young Adult, Bill Cunningham New York