Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Best Movies of 2011

I was pretty awful about going to the theater this year before autumn rolled around, but I did okay after that and Netflix helped me catch up on a bunch of movies from earlier in the year. This is probably the first year that I've seen at least ten movies I'd consider very good before the year actually ended since... ever. I think it was a solid year, considering I enjoyed all of the Marvel movies and none made the cut.

Best of 2011

10. Source Code

Duncan Jones' second science fiction film is more accessible than his first, and that's not a bad thing when the core idea behind it is still totally solid. The advertising made me really skeptical, but the material ended up working a lot better than expected, and supported a moving human story without overshadowing it. This might be the first time I've seen Jake Gyllenhaal in a heroic leading man type-role, and he does a good job playing a guy who's not perfect but has a good heart and a good head on his shoulders. He carries a movie that's a bit brief but totally memorable.

9. Bridesmaids

Maybe one of the most successfully gender-neutral comedies ever made, Bridesmaids is laugh-out-loud funny without ever forgetting to tell an honest and occasionally really harsh story about a woman gliding through life who starts to see how many things are broken when her best friend gets engaged. The performances are great, and there are very few moments in the film that seem ill advised or that don't at least serve the story. Not the easiest comedy to watch, but a very worthwhile one.

8. Attack the Block

The second best movie about kids trying to survive aliens appearing in their neighborhood this year, Attack the Block combines elements of horror, sci-fi, and comedy expertly to create an experience that is more original and distinctly of a time and place than maybe anything on this list. Some bits are maybe a bit heavy-handed, but the thuggish teenagers are likable, the aliens are scary, and the film succeeds at pretty much everything it attempts.

7. The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is less about really understanding what's going and more about just soaking in an experience that Terrence Malick puts on the screen. I can't claim to understand everything that happens in this movie or how certain parts related to each other, but it's always beautiful to look at and I found myself at times profoundly affected by how well certain elements of life, particularly growing up, were captured, understanding things that I wasn't aware anyone besides me could remember. If you let it grab you, it's hard to get it to let go.

6. The Adventures of Tintin

An adventure film so relentlessly fun and exciting that I almost breathed a sigh of relief once the credits started rolling. There's not a lot of meat on these bones, but what is there is always driving forward with a sense of innocent wonder, asking "why not?" and latching onto possibilities that live action productions just wouldn't have the budget to try out. Steven Spielberg maybe isn't as deep as some of the other famous directors, but when he can still make movies as sharp and enjoyable as this one (along with the help of hundreds of animators, I'm sure), I still can't help but consider him one of the best alive at his job.

5. Hugo

A movie that made me believe in the possibilities of 3D again. Although it's mostly about kids, Hugo is one of Martin Scorsese's most personal movies, reveling in his love of cinema, both overtly and more discretely with the way it celebrates and pays homage to what has come before. The cast is solid, the story is intriguing with a sweet sentimental core at its center, and it's hard to overstate just how nice the movie is to look at, whether you paid for the 3D tickets or not. In case you forgot, Scorsese can do a lot more than gangster movies.

4. Super 8

This was my most anticipated movie of the last summer, and it delivered on pretty much every expectation. It combines the more charming elements of older family science fiction movies with the more visceral thrills of something closer to horror, and does so without either side really getting short shrift or feeling underdeveloped. There's not much here that hasn't been done before, but usually it just isn't done this well, and I had a hard time worrying about small problems when the whole thing was just sitting right with me otherwise. And it's hard to get over just how good the kids in it were.

3. Warrior

The biggest surprise of the year was just how much I ended up loving this movie, despite it resting on material that sounds like a mix of movies made for Lifetime and TNT. The simple fact though is that Gavin O'Connor knows what he's doing behind the camera, and he had three actors working for him who fit their characters perfectly, and were simply great in their roles. It's not the most realistic sports story, and it doesn't have the benefit of being based on anything true. But the human element that drives it makes it work, and it's so spot-on emotionally that the end result is much more powerful than I was expecting.

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Another case of the people behind a film elevating relatively mundane (if notably popular and gritty) material, although in this case it was pretty much entirely expected. David Fincher is able to apply a specific feel and general standard of quality to his work without ever getting too flashy or obvious with it, and that continues with Dragon Tattoo, the first film in a planned trilogy that he actually hasn't signed on to finish yet. I can only hope he does, but I can't imagine having to get through parts two and three done by someone else, wondering what he could have done with it. The two leads give totally magnetic performances, and it's just so well shot and scored that numerous flaws inherent in the story just don't add up to much in the end.

1. Drive

I'm giving you a night call to tell you how I feel
I want to drive you through the night, down the hills
I'm gonna tell you something you don't want to hear
I'm gonna show you where it's dark, but have no fear

There's something inside you
It's hard to explain
They're talking about you boy
But you're still the same

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