The Top 10 Films of 2011

Posted: December 30, 2011 by vindanton in Movies

By Shaun Smith

Another year and another fresh crop of fine motion pictures have been created by talented filmmakers and actors alike. As strong of a year 2010 was in the film world with quality works like The Social Network, Inception, and Best Picture Winner: The King’s Speech, 2011 had a lot of catching up to do in order to live up to their predecessors. Even though 2011 wasn’t the strongest of years, there were still ten notable films released during the year that deserve recognition for being the best. Since there could only be ten, a few were unable to make the cut but deserve an honorable mention.

Honorable Mention: Moneyball and X-Men: First Class

 

10. Win Win – Dir. Thomas McCarthy

Win Win stars Paul Giamatti as a failing law practitioner/wrestling coach who stumbles upon the teenage grandson of an important client. As it turns out the teenager Kyle, played by newcomer Alex Schaffer, is a phenomenal wrestler and begins to help the struggling team win. The heart and soul of this movie is Giamatti’s character that is really hard to dislike. There are also a number of good supporting roles by his wife played by Amy Ryan and his co-worker/assistant coach played by Jeffrey Tambor. The film itself feels like one of those quirky yet melodramatic independent films, which technically it is, but with a stellar cast and decent script, Win Win gets the job done as not only a heartfelt film but also as a subtle comedy. Unfortunately since the film was released earlier in the year, the Academy will surely forget this film in favor of newer releases.

9. Shame – Dir. Steve McQueen

Shame has garnered an enormous amount of buzz over the last few months, not because of its fine performances or dark subject matter but because of its NC-17 rating. Acclaimed film director Steve McQueen’s second feature film stars Michael Fassbender as Brandon, a sex addict living in New York City, who is visited by his younger sister played by Carey Mulligan. McQueen shoots this film with an elegant touch, especially the exteriors of NYC. Fassbender’s performance is subtle yet incredibly aggressive at times and is a total commitment of the character. The first 30 minutes of the film run exceedingly slow with numerous long shots and a boring work subplot but things begin to pick up right after. By the time Brandon’s addiction brings him to his rock bottom, we are fully entranced into Fassbender’s subtle yet mesmerizing performance. Make sure to keep an eye on Mr. Fassbender when it comes to Oscar time. If he isn’t a frontrunner he will definitely be nominated for Best Actor.

8. Warrior – Dir. Gavin O’Connor

Many have compared Warrior to a modern day version of Rocky, a feel good story of a no-name athlete who hits it big and wins. Well it kind of is, just replace the boxing gloves with padded MMA regulation gear and a boxing ring with a cage. Warrior stars Tom Hardy as the youngest son of an old former MMA trainer/recovering alcoholic played by Nick Nolte. Hardy returns home and begins to train with his father to enter an MMA tournament for money. Hardy’s brother, a struggling school teacher played by Joel Edgerton, also decides to enter the tournament to save his home from foreclosure. Unlike last year’s The Fighter, Warrior brings you into these character’s lives and uses handheld/fight-style footage to convey the carnage of mixed-martial-arts. Not only does the film look good but the acting is solid, including an Oscar caliber performance from Nolte. The director does the smart thing and makes sure the two brothers never appear in the same scene until the last 30 minutes in order to keep their separation intact. It’s also hard to not have a man-crush on Hardy as the badass MMA fighter.

7. Melancholia – Dir. Lars Von Trier

If anybody checked out Von Trier’s prior film, Antichrist, then you had an idea what you were in store for. Melancholia stars Kirsten Dunst as a newlywed suffering from depression and is being cared for by her sister, Charlotte Gainsbourg, all while a new planet called Melancholia (awkward) is on a collision course with Earth. The film is told in two perspectives, first from Dunst’s character’s view followed by Gainsbourg’s. Dunst gives a tremendous performance as someone suffering extreme depression. She’s so good that at times it’s almost painful to watch. She is accompanied by an eclectic supporting cast including Kiefer Sutherland, John Hurt, Alexander Skarsgard and Stellan Skarsgard. (Skarsgard-Mania!!) Von Trier makes sure to include his new trademark, slow-mo sequences shot at 1,000 frames-per-second. Not only does he include it but to my surprise it was the entire first 8 minutes of the film. Melancholia ends with a breathtaking final sequence that solidifies Von Trier as a real auteur of film.

6. The Artist – Dir. Michel Hazanavicius

Wait a minute, you’re telling me that in the year 2011 a silent black and white film is being released to audiences to rave reviews? It sounds crazy to think that someone would actually make a film with no dialogue and in complete silent film fashion in this day and age. Here’s the real surprise… not only does it work but it works incredibly well. The Artist is set in 1930s Hollywood during the silent picture era. Jean Dujardin (a guaranteed Best Actor Oscar nominee) plays George Valentine, an incredibly successful silent film actor whose career is shattered by the introduction of sound to movies. The film actually relies on title cards for dialogue while the rest of the sound is a musical soundtrack. They do however play around with the concept by including a nightmarish dream sequence filled with ADR sounds. The Artist is virtually a history lesson of old Hollywood and their transition to sound and dialogue. Just on the aesthetics alone, The Artist is the most different film released in 2011.

5. 50/50 – Dir. Jonathan Levine

50/50 is hands down the best comedy of 2011. Not only does the film have emotion and heart throughout but it’s also damn funny. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Adam, a regular 27 year-old guy who ends up diagnosed with cancer. Levitt is accompanied by an unusually calmer Seth Rogan as his best friend and Anna Kendrick as his counselor. First things first, the real life screenplay written by Will Reiser is perhaps the best screenwriting to be found this year. Every character seems to have a purpose in the film as the narrative continually flows without skipping a beat. It also helps that there are some real laugh-out-loud moments throughout the film. It sort of has that Judd Apatow feel where there’s a balance between straight comedy and drama. 50/50 balances these two well which creates a compelling narrative.

4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Dir. David Fincher

This was personally my most anticipated film of the entire year. Following a solid job with The Social Network and one of the best trailers ever cut, Fincher follows up with a remake of the original Swedish film of the same name based off the book of the same name. As expected, the film is shot beautifully and displays the power of the Red Epic in Fincher’s hands. The stand-out of the film is Rooney Mara (yes Vin, deceased Giants owner Wellington Mara’s granddaughter) as the girl from the title. She gives the role total commitment and is to me the front runner for Best Actress this year. Daniel Craig gives a good performance as the journalist investigating the whereabouts of a missing girl from the 60s. The film reminds me a lot of a previous Fincher Fight Club. The scenes are cut at a quick pace to keep the audience off balance the whole time, similar to Fight Club.  The film is also extremely brutal with rape being a main subject throughout. The only thing that holds the film back from being in the top 3 is its length. The film clocks in at almost 3 hours, which is a lot of rape and torture to handle. Not to mention the film suffers from the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King ending(s) problem. Hopefully Fincher is able to return with remakes of the two Swedish sequels but only time will tell.

3. The Ides of March – Dir. George Clooney

This is yet another surprise of 2011. After Good Night and Good Luck and now The Ides of March, George Clooney is cementing himself as a really good director. Set during a fictional presidential election, Clooney stars as a state governor running for office while his campaign advisor, Ryan Gosling, guides him throughout. Rounding out the all-star cast includes Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Even Rachel Wood, and Marisa Tomei. Clooney is exceptional as the governor, playing both the warm-hearted husband and the vice, relentless businessman. Gosling is also superb in his role as the overworked manager. Another gem is Giamatti as the rival campaign manager. All three actors are deserving of award recognition come award season. Watching the film gives you a sense that Clooney has a real appreciation of film and knows how to weave a narrative while creating a mood through camera shots and music. My initial thought was that this film was going to be a run-of-the-mill political film but to my chagrin The Ides of March turned out fantastically well.

2. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Dir. Tomas Alfredson

Probably the most inventive title of the year, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a remake of the original British TV miniseries of the same name. Gary Oldman stars as George Smiley, a retired espionage agent who is brought out of retirement to hold an investigation to find a Soviet mole in British intelligence during the 1970s. Tinker Tailor includes another all-star cast featuring Colin Firth fresh off his Best Actor Oscar win, John Hurt, Tom Hardy, and Mark Strong. A portion of the story is told in flashbacks including all the major characters/suspects. Alfredson shoots the film brilliantly and creates a unique mood to the film. With the stellar camerawork and brilliant acting, every scene flows perfectly to the next. The only reason why this film isn’t the best film of 2011 is due to the reveal by the end lacking some excitement. The film also has a good amount of re-watch value which is hard to find in most spy thrillers.

1.     Drive – Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

Sometimes when judging if a movie is either good or great, you depend on your level of engagement. People talk about movies that every time they see them on TV they’re forced to watch them all the way through to the end no matter what. If you become sucked into a scene or shot of a film then usually that constitutes greatness in your eyes. To me Drive is that movie this year. Drive is bound to be one of those classic films that everyone remembers. Ryan Gosling gives a very quiet yet strong performance in the lead role and is supported by great acting from Bryan Cranston, Carey Mulligan, and Albert Brooks (who will most likely be nominated for an Oscar for his role as Bernie Rose). Drive is the best shot film of the year which judging by Refn’s eye from previous work is no surprise. The film also contains a killer soundtrack that suits the film perfectly and many scenes that are bound to be iconic. And the jacket! Gosling is not only a complete badass but makes the role his own. At times the film turns from a crime/heist film to ultraviolent revenge film and can be slow in the first act but once that second act begins its nonstop and in-your-face.

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