It is that time of year again, to round-up the top films of 2011 not based on box office numbers, but rather on my personal opinion of what films had me talking when I left the theatre and made me believe in the value of cinema as a true art form.
Here is my list of my top ten films of 2011. I know that there are a lot of great films that have been released this year that are not on the list, but I created this based on what I have seen. I did not want to include films based on reviews I have read or things I have heard through the grape-vine.
This was the first movie I saw this year that actually made me feel rejuvenated by the possibility of great writing, story telling, editing, cinematography, and mise-en-scene. Everything was visually perfect and Saoirse Ronan gave an unbelievably bad-ass performance (sorry for not being able to think of a more creative term, but seriously, that is what it was).
9. Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen made a triumphant return with this beautiful love letter to Paris. Becoming his highest grossing film to date, Midnight in Paris is unlike any other film he has made. Yes, it has the stylistic signatures that occur in all his films, love, a voice over narration, high-profile celebrities, foreign location, witty banter, and much more, however it differs in that everyone can appreciate the simplicity of the films message: nostalgia. We can all relate to this and envy the idea of traveling back in time to meet our literary idols. This is what movie magic is supposed to be!
This film not only combines three brilliant actors, Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurent, and Christopher Plummer, but it also brings to life the true story of a simple man who lived his whole life as a lie without complaint. Once Plummer’s wife has passed, he comes out as his true self, a flamboyantly hilarious and entertaining homosexual, living his life to the complete fullest and finally being honest with himself. Plummer is undeniably brilliant in the role and deserving of his Golden Globe nomination. He pulled a Sean Penn and made me believe that there is no way on earth that he is straight.
7. The Skin I Live In
The latest film by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar is visually stunning and the narrative is eerily intense, shocking, and unexpected. He definitely has a knack for creating alluring sets with vibrant colours that contrast the harsh and vulgar events in the narrative. How someone can make a film so beautiful centred on a motif so twisted and deranged is beyond my comprehension, yet he manages to do it with ease and you never question his direction.
6. Crazy Stupid Love
This film was not your traditional romantic comedy because of its self-reflexive nature. The story was engaging, honest, clever, frustrating, awkward, cliché, and entertaining, but you could not predict where the story would eventually head, which is why it is one of my top films of the year. That and Ryan Gosling’s sex symbol status was secured by his role in the film (yes, I had to let out my girlish instinct, sorry if this detracts from my credibility).
Roll on the ground, laugh out loud funny, this nontraditional chick-flick broke down the invisible barrier that seemed to relay that women were not funny and could not create a bachelorette style film that could compare with The Hangover. Boy, did this film prove everyone wrong! It was a little weird for me at first to see Melissa McCarthy play anyone but the sweet Sookie on Gilmore Girls, but she definitely destroyed that innocent persona. Then there are the SNL stars, Kristen Wig and Maya Rudolph who somehow managed to be beautiful and graceless at the same time, while making you cry in agony over how horrid their food poisoning dilemma was. This was definitely a girl power film that catered to men and left your tear ducts dry, while simultaneously giving you a rigorous abdominal work-out. Who needs P90X when you have this beauty on DVD? Not me, that’s who.
Martin Scorsese struck gold again when he ventured into childhood territory, paying an homage to cinema and those who paved the way for him to be a successful director. I had little to no expectations of this film and was not even swayed by the fact that Scorsese directed it, but let the theatre feeling overwhelmingly satisfied that I made the time to see it. Seriously though, this film has none of the traditional narrative traits that Scorsese is known for. There are not gangs, brutal killings, or betrayal, rather it is a beautiful story that documents one’s little boys various encounters with people in a train station in Paris. The imagination is revived in this film, but it also serves as a mini-history lesson for those unfamiliar with Georges Méliès or the origins of the cinema. Everyone must see this film, I command it!
3. The Tree of Life
How this film did not get nominated for Best Picture at the Golden Globes, or even Best Director, is beyond me. It seems that every time a filmmaker, in this case Terrence Malick, attempts to move beyond the viewers expectations and tries to create a unique experience that most uneducated viewers do not understand, they get shafted by the Academy. This film was groundbreaking on so many levels and did not make it easy for you to understand what was going on. You had to work for information, but unfortunately America prefers their narratives simple and handed to them on a silver platter. Where is the fun in that? It is really difficult to sum up this film, let alone explain what happens exactly, which is why my only advice is to tell you to see it for yourself, make your own judgment, and do not let others opinions sway yours. If you love it, make it known! If you despise it, well that is your prerogative.
All I can say about this film : LOVE. Director Nicolas Winding Refn went above and beyond the call of duty in this masterpiece. At first, you are really unsure of where this film is going to go. It creates this overwhelming calm with the lack of dialogue and the simplistic development of relationships between characters. However, every silent moment makes you tense, and as you are placed in the same position as the driver (Ryan Gosling) waiting for your ‘friends’ to return to the car, you can feel his anxiety and the unsettling feeling of what will happen next. When ‘next’ does come, you do not know what to do. You question whether or not that just happened, why did it happen, and oh my lord please do not happen again. The gore is so unexpected that you feel at times you are watching a beautiful romantic film that focuses on family and friends because of the carefully planned cinematography and the eclectic mix of upbeat electric music. Yet, we are always proven wrong when these enigmatic moments are juxtaposed with horrific acts of violence. This is a film that needs to be watched again and again, and I hope for your sake that whoever you watch it with does not get twitchy and talk obnoxiously through the long silent moments in the film where all you can hear is your steady breath and the slow increase of your once stable heart rate.
My number one film of the year can only be this film. Why? Because it has kept me talking about it since I first watched the North American premier of it at the Toronto International Film Festival. I had no idea what to expect before watching this film and left in a state of awe, admiring the bravery of both Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender to tackle such a stigmatized subject, sexual addiction. To make the audience feel Fassbender’s pain and struggle, and not judge him as a man addicted to sex but tormented by it, is a true achievement. This could have been an extremely tacky and volatile film, but McQueen humanized the condition and made you feel sorry for his protagonist. You want to cry for how hard his daily life must be as it revolves around the same thing day in and day out. It is like any other addiction and kicking the habit it beyond difficult. I must add that this film is not for underage viewers or for people who are easily offended because it is very graphic and does not attempt to shroud sexual addiction in the thick flannel blanket that has been tightly wrapped around it for so long. The veil has been lifted thanks to McQueen and we are so very fortunate to witness his talents as they bring this dust on the rug topic to fruition in a tasteful manner.
So those are my top 10 films, but I know that I would have included more if I had the time/means to see them. These films would have been:
2. The Artist
3. Let’s Talk About Kevin
4. Take Shelter
5. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
6. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
7. The Adventure of Tin Tin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Also, here are my picks for top performances.
1. Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn. I have yet to see any other depiction of the troubled starlet, Marilyn Monroe, in the manner that Williams captured her. Every little tick and nuance was expressed, leaving the audience in a state of awe as you are drawn into her seductive, innocent, gentle, and unintentionally harmless, yet troubled personality. If she does not win something for this role, then I will be extremely disappointed.
2. Michael Fassbender in Shame. Provocative, raw, fearless, and emotionally gripping, Fassbender’s performance as a man struggling to get a grip of his sexual addiction that plagues his every thought is nothing less than Oscar worthy.
My pick for Top Director: Steve McQueen
How this man was not nominated for a Golden Globe is beyond me, but he is not getting the recognition her deserves for his film Shame. I know prizes are not the reason we make films, but it is frustrating when a brilliant visionary is neglected by the Academy for easy choices like George Clooney for The Ides of March and Alexander Paine for The Descendants. These choice are safe and the public likes them, but McQueen is better than all of them.
And so another year comes to an end, now we wait to see what 2012 has in store for the movie industry. I have nothing but high expectations after this year!