It took me awhile to catch up and see all of the movies this year but, finally, we’ve got our last list for the year that was 2011!
Pop Bitez Best Films of 2011!
Before we get into the list, let me first toss out the “Honorable Mentions”, who just barely missed the cut. Moneyball, Midnight in Paris, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Crazy Stupid Love, Limitless, The Ides of March, We Need to Talk About Kevin, 50/50 and Arthur Christmas.
11. The Tree Of Life
It’s true Terrance Malick’s flicks aren’t for everyone but, if you can surrender your preconceived notions of what you’ve come to expect from a movie you may find you appreciate the man’s singularly brilliant vision. If you come to The Tree Of Life you should know going in, the plot, (if there truly is one), is told in a non-linear manner and doesn’t make much sense in a traditional sense. It is more a film to be experienced and absorbed than immediately understood. As a young man Malick grew up as a farm hand and, eventually, found his way to Harvard where he studied philosophy, he went on to become a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and spent a good portion of his life teaching philosophy at M.I.T. His ideas are big and deep and his background is at the core of every one of his films. The Tree of Life, in many ways, is the film he has been building towards for years. It is a masterwork from a philosopher come director and, in the future, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it’s being shown in both film and philosophy class rooms equally. Heady stuff to be sure but very rewarding.
10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
First, a disclaimer: This is NOT the film to watch late on a Friday night after a long work week. My first time around I did and I missed the brilliance of both the film and Gary Oldman’s performance. This is not a movie to watch passively, it requires your complete and undivided attention. As far as spy thrillers are concerned, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the best in decades, I was actually beginning to suspect this genre might have completely skipped an entire generation of filmmakers. The cast is literally a who’s who of top notch British talent and the screenplay, adapted from John Le Carre’s classic novel, is dense and perfectly constructed. Trust no one.
9. My Week With Marilyn
I‘m usually opposed to any film featuring actors playing other actors, bio pics have always seemed a bit of an odd affair to me and we often make the mistake of confusing a great impersonation for a great performance, especially during “awards season”. That being said, Michelle William’s take on Marilyn Monroe broke my heart, it’s the best performance by an actress for me this year, hands down. William’s energy and sheer presence elevates the film from your standard bio-pic, while Kenneth Branagh’s uncomfortably odd portrayal of Sir Laurence Olivier tends to weigh it down a bit. It’s not a perfect film but it is on our list this year based in large part on Michelle Williams career defining performance. She alone is more than enough reason to love this movie.
Director/ Writer Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur, winner of last year’s Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize, is definitely NOT the “feel good movie of the holiday season”, in truth it’s as dark and sad as anything on our list this year but man, is it ever great! Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman give two of the strongest performances of the year in this small but deeply effecting film. Considine puts the darkest parts of our humanity under a microscope and explores our failures and frailties with deft precision. It’s a haunting film that stays with you, like it or not, long after the credits have rolled.
7. Young Adult
It’s ridiculous how great Charlize Theron is in Young Adult, after all, it’s long been accepted that a woman this beautiful simply can’t possibly have the acting chops to go this deep, a rumor I suspect propagated by lesser attractive actresses long ago. Let there be no mistake, the Oscar Theron won for her scary portrayal in the film Monster was no fluke, she is quickly becoming one of the best of her generation. The supporting cast is also spot on perfect with strong performances from Patrick Wilson and Patton Oswald. This would easily be director Jason Reitman’s best film to date and screenwriter Diablo Cody more than redeems herself from the dreadful Jennifer’s Body and actually, in my opinion, delivers a much more nuanced script than her previously award winning Juno.
6. The Guard
The Guard is, hands down, the funniest film I saw in 2011. This fish-out-of-water comedy featuring a befuddled Don Cheadle playing off of a hilariously dead pan Brendan Gleeson was a pleasant surprise and had me laughing from the first frame to the last. The script is loaded with smart and quotable dialog, memorable characters and even a moment or two of genuine humanity. You might have missed this one on it’s initial release but I strongly suggest you seek it out now, it’s currently available on DVD and Streaming on Amazon and iTunes.
Between The Ides of March, Crazy Stupid Love and Drive, Ryan Gosling had a very good year. I enjoyed all three of Gosling’s films but this one has to be my favorite. It’s moody (and violent) and reminded me a great deal of the films Michael Mann used to make. The soundtrack is pure 80s electronic kitsch and the camera work is spectacular. Gosling’s quiet but strong performance brings to mind a young Steve McQueen and former funny man Albert Brooks‘ turn as an old school menace is nothing short of a revelation.
4. War Horse
War Horse is, in many ways, like the titles still to come on this list, a tribute to the Hollywood films of yesterday. It’s a beautiful movie, filled with gorgeous panoramic shots of sweeping vistas and epic battle scenes so perfectly staged they put most of 2011’s 3D films to shame. This is grand cinematic opera in a way only Steven Spielberg can deliver, and boy does he. While the performances across the board are excellent, Spielberg is the real star of War Horse. Yes, it’s a little manipulative and, sure, you might shed a tear or two but, isn’t that all an expected part of the experience, especially when Steve’s at the wheel? As for the ending, I’m very happy to report, it isn’t sad! If that was one of the things that might have been keeping you from seeing this movie, trust me, you’ll like the conclusion, it ain’t Old Yeller.
3. The Artist
A black and white silent film, really? In the age of digital film, 3D super heroes and IMAX epics? YES, and if you ask me, the timing couldn’t be more perfect! “Mash-ups” have been a popular part of the music world for quite some time now but a film mash is definitely a new concept. The Artist is a perfect combination of Singin’ in the Rain, Sunset Blvd. and A Star is Born and while you might not think we have the attention span or capacity these days to appreciate a black and white silent flick, you’ll quickly discover, when it’s done right, we more than do. Given the technical aspects, the film has been in limited release for most of it’s run thus far, relegated almost exclusively to art house theaters, that’s a real shame as I suspect this distinction has intimidated the masses from going to see this one but, trust me when I tell you, this is pure populist entertainment and it doesn’t have a pretentious or “arty” bone in it’s body. In terms of sheer charm and entertainment value I’ll put this one up against anything else that came out this year, The Artist is, once again, proof positive that less is often much more.
Yes, this is probably the biggest surprise on my list this year, of course the surprise for me has been that Warrior was largely ignored by the critics lists and award nominations, it still remains unclear as to why. The film scored a solid 82% on Rotten Tomatoes which, when compared to The Help at 76% and War Horse at 77%, should tell you something.
Last year, The Fighter got a lot of attention and, by a long shot, this is a much better flick. Some have even gone as far as to compare it to Rocky, I’m going to take it a step further and tell you, in my useless opinion, it is actually a better film than Rocky ever was. All three of the film’s stars, Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte, gave Oscar worthy performances and, as example, make the attention given to Clooney’s work in The Descendants and Pitt’s work in Moneyball almost comical, clearly there’s a bit of star fucking going on here. Nolte in particular, who normally get’s more attention than he did this past year, is outstanding and heartbreaking and has rarely been better. The film was lost and buried amongst the big summer popcorn movies when it was released in July and struggled to perform at the box office, in spite of mostly rave reviews.
I also have my suspicions that the box office failure of Warrior may have something to do with the pussification of our modern world, after all, this is most definitely a “real man” movie, the kind Hollywood used to make before we surrendered our testicles to the ill-informed idea that women were looking for more “sensitive” men, a concept that, when put to the test, holds as much water as an old G.I. Joe helmet. Our big screen heroes were once MEN like John Wayne, Steve McQueen, Stallone and Willis, they were kicking ass and taking names, today we’ve got Tom Cruise and Matt Damon who, let’s be honest, on their most virile day wouldn’t intimidate today’s average third grader.
I think some moviegoers may have skipped Warrior due to it’s UFC storyline but I have never watched a UFC fight in my entire life and I LOVED this movie. Warrior isn’t really about UFC fighters, it’s about brothers and the ghosts of their past and, I predict, when more people discover this film on cable and DVD, it’ll become a much talked about classic that will be remembered long after many of this year’s other films have been forgotten. The Descendants? Moneyball? Midnight in Paris? Please. Warrior!
I seriously struggled this year with these last three titles, from week to week and day to day, I juggled The Artist, Warrior and Hugo with the number one spot. After watching all three a second time, Hugo, by a nose, won the Pop Bitez pick for Best Film of 2011. Years from now when people are reviewing and rediscovering Martin Scorsese’s filmography Hugo will be right up there beside Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas.
As is the case with both Warrior and The Artist, Hugo has struggled this year to find it’s audience and has under performed at the box office, I can only hope with the Oscar nominations right around the corner, these films will finally receive the attention they deserve, (this will be the case at least for The Artist and Hugo, I fully expect them to continue to ignore Warrior).
If The Artist is a love letter to Hollywood, Hugo is the sonnet for filmmaking itself. The Artist explores the old fashioned story telling of a bygone era, Hugo tells the story of the art form in it’s youth and explores the origins and history of the greatest form of expression in modern times. Granted, you wouldn’t know any of this from the extremely misleading marketing campaign for Hugo, which was sold around the holidays as a family fantasy film about a little robot, a sneaky conceit designed to compete with The Muppets and Arthur Christmas but in truth couldn’t be farther from what the film is really about. One review I read observed that Hugo is as much about a little boy as Cinema Paradiso which, if you’re familiar with that classic Italian film, (an all time favorite of mine), you’ll understand immediately.
Hugo is about the early days of filmmaking and the repairing of broken people, as well as the importance of film restoration, (a subject close to Scorsese’s heart). The performances are excellent and inspired and are sure to charm for generations to come. Ben Kingsley in particular is outstanding and deserves to be acknowledged this year amongst the many names being tossed about. The awards folks really strain their already dubious credibility when they embrace Brad Pitt in Moneyball and overlook people like Kingsley and Nolte in Warrior.
The real question when looking over the films of 2011 is this; will I own this movie and watch it more than once as the years go by? I knew before the credits had even begun to roll, I will be purchasing Hugo the moment it’s available and I know I will watch it many more times, it is what we often call “an instant classic”, a major triumph of love from one of the greatest American directors of all time.
Thank you, Martin Scorsese, for your dream, your gift and your vision.