For me 2011 seemed like a pretty solid year for movies, not spectacular or anything, but solid. It does seem like the harder-to-see indie films continue to be generally more impressive while the big budget films appear to be getting dumber and lazier. Yet at the same time, I found many of the more heralded indie films to be a bit overhyped, so my list for the most part falls somewhere in to that middle ground between the indies and the studio pictures. Saw 32 movies this year, by the way.
Comedies tend to get overlooked on these kinds of lists, so I felt like I should give some love to 50/50. I mean this after all is a “cancer comedy”, which should not even be a thing, but somehow 50/50 manages to be very funny while also capturing the tribulations of dealing with cancer in a way that for the most part feels completely believable. Also, I cherish any opportunity to see Philip Baker Hall. The fact that he’s always playing characters who are sick/dying worries me.
Honestly, Drive should be on this list, but I already have a few too many movies in common with John’s list, so I subbed Drive out for this movie about gay British dudes. Weekend is a very simple but nonetheless engaging series of conversations in which we see these two strangers connecting romantically over these very small moments. These moments run the gamut from explicit, to funny, to psychologically revealing, but I always felt fascinated by these characters and their conflicting lifestyles.
|8. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
I think I’m starting to find that I enjoy films that are so intricately plotted that they practically demand that you pay attention to every detail. Tinker Tailor certainly does not do the audience any favors by making John Le Carre’s source material easy to digest, and the film is made even more inscrutable with it’s detached but seductively cool nature. Regardless, I was very surprised by how wrapped up I was with this film by the time it reached its conclusion, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again.
|7. The Skin I Live In
Ever since I saw Pedro Almodovar’s masterful Talk To Her, he’s basically become my favorite contemporary foreign director. The Skin I Live In shows that Almodovar still has the ability to shock viewers with some very lurid subject matter that plays off of Almodovar’s signature themes of gender identity. But more than anything, this is a captivatingly taut thriller that just seems to become more engaging as the story reveals itself to be pretty crazy and disturbing.
I was among the many people who thought that making a movie of a number-driven book like Moneyball would be quite difficult, though not impossible. Of course when you hand the job to two veteran writers like Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, it’s not nearly as surprising that the film is as good as it is. Tonally, director Bennett Miller finds just the right mixture of stat-nerd savvy and underdog sports movie, and subsequently knocks it out of the park (stupid baseball pun!).
|5. The Artist
As many of my colleagues know, I’m a sucker for things that are old and classy. The Artist therefore was just a movie that I couldn’t really help but fall for, and I’m still surprised that it’s still playing in about ten theaters nationwide despite being the Oscar favorite. Just because it’s in black and white and has no sound doesn’t mean audiences are too dumb to enjoy it! Then again that stupid Mark Wahlberg movie was #1 at the box office last week, so what do I know?
And then there was also that other movie about silent cinema which also managed to be pretty damn charming. At this point, I did not think Martin Scorsese would be able to pull off a 3-D children’s film, but I think as long as Scorsese has some sort of personal connection to his subject matter, he can still do pretty great things. Hugo not only has that personal element but finally gives the director to create a love letter to cinema’s past while using the visual techniques of the future. Not an easy feat.
|3. The Descendants
It’s a shame there was such a huge gap between Sideways and The Descendants, since Alexander Payne’s films just seem to be getting more and more fully realized. The Descendants shows once again that he’s got a great feel for setting and communities, while imbuing them with characters that are always entertaining to watch. Honestly, I don’t think I would even mind if he continued making more dramatic films like this as long as he continues to flourish with his distinctly un-Hollywood depictions of American life.
|2. Midnight In Paris
In the past year, I feel like I came to really realize how obsessed I am with Woody Allen and how much his films mean to me, and Midnight In Paris may have had a part in that. With some of the other films on this list, I talked about directors’ abilities to surprise us with their versatility, but there isn’t really anything surprising about Midnight In Paris. It’s just pure Woody, and that’s alright with me. Still, he manages to really tap in to something kind of magical with this movie and I think I’m going to force myself to see every Woody Allen movie that comes out from here on out. I think I owe it to the man.
|1. The Tree Of Life
I’m not sure that there’s ever been a film that has caused me to look at life as a whole differently, but if there ever was one, it’d probably be The Tree Of Life. After seeing it, I just remember coming out of the theater in a daze, not really sure of why I was put on this planet, or what the hell I had just sat through, but I knew there was something monumentally profound about it nonetheless. And on the surface it seems pretty silly, considering I spend so much time watching movies that you’d think I would be completely desensitized from having such a revelatory experience watching a film, but somehow The Tree Of Life did that for me, and I’ll never forget it.