Honorable Mentions: Midnight in Paris, 50/50, We Bought a Zoo, Shame, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Help, The Ides of March, and Super 8
More of the Best of 2011: Top 10 Comedy Movies / Top 10 Action Films
9/11 changed everything and most filmmakers and studios have refrained from using the devastating events of that terrible day as fodder for feature films. It's a very delicate tightrope that must be walked in telling the story of a family's grief following the loss of a loved one in the Twin Towers, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close does a brilliant job of knowing just how far to push every element of the story.
Beginners came and went without hardly anyone - other than critics and Ewan McGregor fans - taking note. But when awards season kicked off and Beginners began to make it onto prestigious 'Best of' lists, it suddenly became the little film that could take down studio productions. Of course, I welcome all you late-comers to the party having been a fan of this film since catching it at a press screening days before it opened. It's remained on my Top 10 list since June, only giving up its position at the top of the list when Extremely Loud screened in December.
Christopher Plummer's been generating the most attention for his performance, however the entire cast is terrific in this little gem of a romantic tale that also includes one of the best performances by a dog in years (dog lovers are going to want to adopt him long before the credits roll).
Maybe Warrior never caught on because everyone looks at the synopsis, sees "Mixed Martial Arts," and discounts the film without giving it a chance. But those who are judging a book by its cover - or, in this case, a film by its synopsis - are doing themselves and Warrior a disservice. Directed by Gavin O'Connor (Miracle), Warrior is an intricate family drama that just happens to play out in a MMA cage.
From my review: "Warrior avoids most sports movie cliches and delivers a powerful one-two punch of heart-wrenching drama and some of the most astounding fight sequences on film (although to be honest I watched many of them through the slits between my fingers as they were incredibly, realistically brutal). O'Connor and his cast have created something special with Warrior, making what could have been your standard inspirational ho-hum sports movie into something much more significant and meaty."
Muggles could not have asked for a better film with which to say good-bye to the Harry Potter film series. This last Harry Potter movie is the perfect blend of heart-stopping fight scenes, lighter, more character-driven moments, and emotionally wrenching scenes.
The young cast matured in front of our eyes, turning out to be fine actors as well as decent people. Special kudos go to director Christopher Columbus for making the right choices while casting Harry, Hermione, and Ron way back in 2000.
5. 'The Artist'
Who would have ever thought that in 2011 a nearly-silent black & white movie would turn out to be a top contender for the Best Picture Oscar? The Artist is simply beautiful, a touching tribute to classic Hollywood that takes the audience on a joyful ride. The actors are charged with completely telling the story without the use of dialogue, and their combined efforts make The Artist one of those films you'll never forget having watched.
As I said in my review, Drive isn't a car chase film. It's also not simply an action movie. It's an intense moviegoing experience with crisp, to-the-point dialogue (not a word is spoken that's not absolutely necessary).
"There's so much going on under the surface of Drive's unnamed main character (played with simmering intensity by Ryan Gosling) and so much left unspoken - when other directors would have chosen to fill the air with dialogue - that Drive does something films rarely do: it makes audiences think. Who is this strange man who parcels out his words as though he's being made to pay in blood for their usage? So much is left up to the audience to interpret that Drive is less a film you passively watch and more of an experience you must engage in."
2011 was another very good year for George Clooney. The Oscar winner produced, co-wrote, directed and starred in the critically acclaimed political drama, The Ides of March, and The Descendants is garnering an impressive collection of awards following its November 18th release in theaters. The 2011-2012 awards season has Clooney's name written all over it.
The Descendants is part an examination of a husband's need to reconnect with his daughters following a tragic accident, part a story of betrayal and outrage, and part the tale of a desire for financial gain at the high cost of the destruction of the environment. And yet with so much going on, the film never feels rushed and every aspect of the story comes to a satisfying conclusion.
8. 'Win Win'
Back when Win Win was released by Fox Searchlight in March 2011, I predicted it would be overlooked come awards season in lieu of more promoted end-of-the-year theatrical releases. And this is one instance where I'm sad to say I was right. Win Win is a delicious comedy/drama about a high school wrestler and the family he becomes a part of due to bizarre circumstances. And, like Warrior and it's Mixed Martial Arts angle, Win Win may have been overlooked for being a 'wrestling movie' when in fact it's so much more.
In our exclusive interview with writer/director Tom McCarthy, we talked about selling a movie that features high school wrestling to audiences. "As a writer, when you have that moment where you're like, 'Wrestling...we never see wrestling in films. That's interesting.' Just like when you find a great location or discover a great actor or a little story turn, you're like, 'Oh, I've got to remember that,' said McCarthy. "We've seen one - Vision Quest - and the wrestling in that wasn't very good because Matthew Modine didn't really wrestle, and it was just sloppy at times. Some of it was interesting; some of the practice stuff was good. But it was also like a whole other level, it was like collegiate level at the high school. This is the kind of wrestling where you go out and you do the whole music and you circle, there's 20 people in the stands, and you can hear everything because it's not a marquee sport. It's a sort of like the bastard child of high school sports."
Oscar winner Martin Scorsese makes his first foray into the world of 3-D and in doing so creates one of the most beautiful movies of 2011. Scorsese's 3-D isn't gimmicky but instead draws you into the onscreen world of a young boy living on his own in the walls of a Paris train station. Hugo's a family-friendly film but also one for cinephiles as Scorsese's gorgeous drama lovingly looks back at the roots of Hollywood filmmaking.
10. 'War Horse'
Steven Spielberg is back in the director's chair with this epic drama based on the bestselling novel by Michael Morpurgo. And while it's not everyone's cup of tea (some say it's too sentimental and sappy), I'll root for a film involving a heroic horse any day of the week. Sure, there are scenes that are over-the-top schmaltzy, but when the film focuses on the horse's journey rather than the boy/young man who owns him, it's a moving, majestic tale that tears at your heartstrings.