By David Ferguson
OK, I was mistaken. In last year’s recap, I stated that 2010 was a weird year for movies. 2011 takes “weird year” way off the charts! The number of movie-goers was at its lowest level in 16 years (domestic revenue down almost 5%), yet despite the doom and gloom enveloping the movie industry, I have almost SEVENTY new movies from 2011 to recommend (and over 50 that I won’t mention).
Don’t worry … there aren’t 70 “instant classics”. Instead, it’s an eclectic list of movies of which I am confident you’ll find a few that will interest, and hopefully even entertain you.
The year provided numerous dark, art-house movies with ominous themes and style for movie addicts; and also enough popcorn flicks and franchise entries to satisfy any teenager or casual movie-goer. The Harry Potter series reached its highly profitable end; and Twilight will cross the finish line 2012, as will Christopher Nolan‘s final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. Of course, the onslaught of Marvel has just begun!
My “Breakout Star” of 2010 was Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone). This year she was in three high profile films, and won the coveted lead role for The Hunger Games (2012). For 2011, rather than name one breakout star, I am listing the numerous young actors who showed something special on screen: Felicity Jones (Like Crazy), Brit Marling (Another Earth), Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene), Colin Ford (We Bought a Zoo), Hunter McCracken (The Tree of Life), and Shailene Woodley (The Descendants). This list could also include Elle Fanning (pictured left) and Rooney Mara, but I consider both as already established. Ms. Fanning, who turns 14 this year, has 34 projects on her resume, and Ms. Mara’s previous work in the opening scene was the best thing about The Social Network (2010).
We were also treated to the re-emergence of some very familiar faces this past year: Christopher Plummer, Charlize Theron, Gerard Depardieu, Jeremy Irons, Ben Kingsley, Nick Nolte, Sissy Spacek, Mel Gibson, Sam Shepard, and Robin Wright. There is a lot of talent in that group and it’s nice to see most aren’t shying away from supporting roles.
Imagine if there was a 2011 award for the actors who were “Seemingly Everywhere”. The contenders would include: Jessica Chastain, Ryan Gosling, Bryan Cranston, and Michael Fassbender (who took overexposure to a new level in Shame).
Commemorating the past, or paying tribute to the movie industry, came courtesy of: Rango, Hugo, The Artist, Super 8, Midnight in Paris, War Horse, and The Muppets … all of which were well done and are listed below.
More than any year in memory, there were a number of films that focused on spiritual or metaphyiscal subject matter: The Tree of Life, Melancholia, Another Earth, Take Shelter, Martha Marcy May Marlene … leading some critics to call this the year of the “heavy movie”.
At least four acclaimed movies cast DOGS in key roles. In some of these, the dog may have been the smartest and/or funniest character in the film: Beginners, Hugo, The Artist, The Adventures of Tintin.
You will see I have changed things up a bit this year. The list starts with the “Dazzling Dozen”, my favorite movies of 2011. Rather than a “Netflix” list, I have broken out the rest of the recommendations into two categories: “Next Best” and “Worth Seeing” movies. The Dazzling Dozen has links to my full original reviews. For the full review on any others, just go to the site and search the title. You can also see my “Best of” lists for the past few years. Please pass this along to your friends and don’t forget to go to the comments section and let me know YOUR personal favorites of 2011.
* REMINDER: these are not my Oscar picks (those are comings soon!)
Here are my TOP 2011 FILMS, listed in order:
1. THE TREE OF LIFE
The most divisive movie ever to appear at the top of my list. Terrence Malick‘s latest generated Love/Hate reactions across the board. It sent me into deep reflection mode, and had me fully immersed in its complex themes. The sparse dialogue and long running time give you plenty of time to analyze the images on screen. This is not a traditional Hollywood film, and it’s quite possible you’ll be neither entertained nor interested. But if it hits you like it has so many, you will be profoundly moved.
Martin Scorcese‘s tip of the cap to pioneering filmmakers and proof that 3D can be an effective movie technique. There are a few themes running through this one: the impact of movies, pursuing one’s passion, living a life of quiet desperation, and true friendship. The accuracy shown during the recreating of Georges Meiles’ studio and his early short films provide a quick education into today’s science fiction films. The details of the train station and the clock workings are fascinating. There are so many “little” touches to this one, that it probably takes two viewing to do it justice. This was the most fun I had all year watching a movie.
This one is a wild, animated cross between Chinatown and spaghetti westerns. Johnny Depp voices a chameleon that wants to be a hero, but may not have the cattle to match his hat, so to speak. Though it’s not Pixar production, this one carries some of the Pixar touches – fully realized characters, multiple story lines and a combination of humor, drama and action. There is some terrific voice acting here (Ned Beatty, Bill Nighy), as well as some very unusual animation. If you are a movie buff, it’s fun to spot the influences. If you aren’t, it’s just plain fun.
This is a terrific, quiet drama with Christopher Plummer playing a terminally ill elderly gentleman who admits he is gay … after 40 years of marriage. He experiences real joy for the first time and attempts to help his sullen son (Ewan McGregor) open up to the possibilities of a loving relastionship (in spite of his odd up-bringing). This is one of the films this year to feature a dog that may be worthy of a best acting award (this one even speaks, sort of). The film will make you laugh, but you’ll also be touched by the father-son relationship.
5. THE DESCENDANTS
Written and directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways), this is George Clooney‘s best film of the year … and it co-stars Hawaii. Clooney plays an attorney whose wife goes into a coma. He must balance his many emotions while re-discovering his two daughters and dealing with his large, greedy land-owning extended family members. There is also a termendous performance from Shailene Woodley as Clooney’s daughter and advisor, as he tries to learn how to be a father.
6. MARGIN CALL
One leg of a three-legged full spectrum movie view of the 2008 financial crisis. The other two must-sees are Too Big to Fail and Inside Job. This one give us the perspective of a singular (unnamed) investment firm and the reaction of its management team once pending doom is finally acknowledged. This can be viewed as a character study of the individuals involved or a commentary on the system that got out of control. Jeremy Irons stars as a firey CEO that helps you understand how much ego was involved during the crash.
7. WIN WIN
Paul Giamatti at his best as the financially struggling attorney who makes a couple of life-changing decisions under pressure. The decisions impact his family, an elderly client, and a star high school wrestler. It’s easy to ask “how could he?”, but it shines a light on just what we are capable of when feeling desperate … and how things can spin out of control in the blink of an eye. From the director (Thomas McCarthy) of two other excellent indies: The Station Agent (2003) and The Visitor (2007).
8. THE WHISTLEBLOWER
Powerful movie based on the real life story of Kathryn Bolkovac, who became a UN Peacekeeper and crusader for human rights. She pulled back the curtain on corruption and cover-up of sex-trafficking of minors in Bosnia. So just who can you trust? How strong are your principles and will you stand up to authority … no matter how difficult? Rachel Weisz in her best performance to date. It’s a tough movie to watch, but a reminder that you can always choose to do the right thing.
Enjoy some life lessons from the real life Horse Whisperer, Buck Brannaman. This documentary shows how he overcame his own personal life challenges to become a renowned horse trainer … or more accurately, trainer of horse owners. His lessons and words hold true in all walks of life. This is a real cowboy offering advice and guidance with a strong, yet gentle lead.
10. CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE
This movie was mis-marketed as a slapstick comedy, when really it’s an insightful ComDram with intertwining stories focusing on relationship complexities in two generations. The cast is terrific: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Julianne Moore. And while there are plenty of laughs, you can’t help but notice the realities we all face in building and maintaining personal relationships.
A unique action film featuring Saorise Ronan that requires you to accept the premise of a 16 year old girl raised in the wild to become a highly trained assassin. Once you get past that, the action sequences are outstanding, and the high-speed cat and mouse game between Ms. Ronaan and Cate Blanchett (as a CIA agent) is quite a lot of fun. Despite the breath-taking stunts in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, this was my favorite action film of the year.
12. BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK
This documentary provides a fascinating glimpse at the ubiquitous New York photographer who has documented fashion for many decades. We travel along as he bikes (yes, on a bicycle) his way around the Big Apple and never misses a shot of the newest must-see shoes or hat. This is rare footage of a craftsman at work. We even meet the last of the Carngie Hall residents, of which Mr. Cunningham is one.
50/50 – cutting cancer comedy
Bridesmaids – ground-breaker by Kristin Wiig and the ladies
The Guard – bellowing performance by Brandon Gleeson
Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen love letter to 1920’s Paris
Another Year – British gem from late 2010
The Artist – only B&W silent film with Oscar hopes
The Help – excellent adaptation of the best-seller
Super 8 – kids in love with movie making
Crime After Crime – thought provoking personal story
GasLand – must see if you drink water or eat food
Project Nim – academic world runs amok over a chimp
Another Earth – heart stopping tragic sci-fi/drama
Blackthorn – catching up with Butch Cassidy in Bolivia
Jane Eyre – strong screen version of Bronte’ novel
Like Crazy – realistic long-distance love story
Martha Marcy May Marlene – don’t join a cult
Melancholia – artistic and stylish end of the world
Take Shelter – emotional instability or spiritual visions?
Warrior – rare family drama centered around men who MMA fight
Drive – cool, sleek and violent, neo-noir
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Fincher’s American version
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – story of real spys, the anti-Bond
War Horse – WWI is backdrop for one brave horse
The Hedgehog (Le herisson, France) – tender connections
In a Better World (Haeven, Denmark) powerful drama
My Afternoons with Margueritte (La tete en friche, France)
A Better Life, A Dangerous Method, The Adventures of Tintin, The Beaver, Captain America: The First Avenger, Cave of Forgotten Dreams (doc), Cedar Rapids, The Conspirator, The Debt, The Devil’s Double, Forks Over Knives (doc), The Future, The Ides of March, Insidious, J Edgar, The Last Circus (Balada triste de trompeta, Spain), The Lincoln Lawyer, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Moneyball, The Muppets, Page One: Inside the NY Times (doc), Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Real Steel, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, The Skin I Live In (La piel que hatito, Spain), Source Code, Tabloid (doc), Terri, Water for Elephants, We Bought a Zoo
Although I see 2-3 new movies every week, there are MANY movies that I purposefully avoid. Because of this, I miss some of the worst movies each year. However, my method certainly doesn’t guarantee movie bliss every time. For those who thrive on the misery of others, here are the five worst movies I personally sat through in 2011:
Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 – skip the movie, read the book
Battle Los Angeles – worst action, war, and alien movie all in one
Hall Pass – so bad, I couldn’t bring myself to write a review
One Day – a chick flick to bore chicks
The Sitter – “fat guy” comedy that rips off far superior Adventures in Babysitting
Double Indemnity (1944) – a Raymond Chandler/Billy Wilder screenplay based on the novel by James M Cain, this classic is one of the few movies I rate as a perfect 10. Often listed as the prime example of Film Noir, it features pitch-perfect performances from Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G Robinson. In 2011, I saw it on the big screen for the first time. Here is my full review:
You are encouraged to go to the comments section and let me know your favorite films of 2011. And make sure to pass this on to any movie lovers you know … and don’t forget to sign up for email notification on the home page:
See you at the movies!