The Best 11 of 2011
Is Hollywood getting soft? What exactly is going on in the movie industry? In what seems like a burst of unforeseen, and perhaps much needed sunshine, 2011 was filled with a number of upbeat, feel good, and downright happy films that came from some of the most unlikely sources. Martin Scorsese made an enchanting family film. Guys known more for raunch than mush re-booted the Muppets franchise without tainting it in the least. And Woody Allen made one of his most sweetly sentimental comedies ever. Sure we can expect extraordinary cinema out of Steven Spielberg, but in 2011 we were fortunate to get not one, but two magical stories from the king of heartwarming classics. Whatever the reason, those who feel the movie industry has lost touch with the average film fan or is only capable of excellent fare with an edge can’t use 2011 as an example. Most importantly, many of this year’s films not only had mass appeal, they were superb craft too, proving that the industry is more than capable of achieving both commercial and artistic excellence. Here’s this year’s list, in no particular order:
“Super 8”: Playing like a highlight reel of many of his mentor’s best work, J.J. Abrams crafts a thrilling and touching homage to Spielberg and their shared nostalgia of homemade movies while featuring the best ensemble of young people in recent memory.
“The Help”: Avoiding contrivance and pandering, the story of black housemaids and the young writer who collects their stories, ends up being both emotionally satisfying and effectively poignant with several Oscar worthy performances.
“Midnight in Paris”: For those who haven’t appreciated 75 year old Woody Allen’s five decades of fascinating filmmaking, this sweet, sentimental comedy about a writer who gets transported back to 20’s-era France is the place to start.
“Hugo”: A bright, heartwarming tale of a young boy who works in a Paris train station and desperately wants to make a connection to his late father. In the process, he reinvigorates a disillusioned silent filmmaker. Surprisingly, one of director Scorsese’s greatest films.
“Drive”: The year wasn’t all feel good films, and this gripping story of a driver (Ryan Gosling), who gets mixed up in a deadly syndicate, is a terrific blend of cool style and restrained but chilling violence.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”: Even those who haven’t always loved the previous films or read one page of the books (yours truly) will have to admit, this last film had it all and was a fitting finish to an impressive franchise.
“Take Shelter”: A quietly subtle but ultimately stunning journey of one seemingly normal man’s descent into paranoid madness..or is it? Michael Shannon’s Oscar worthy performance is simply unforgettable.
“War Horse”: In a year of great family films, this was the best, an epic story of a beautiful steed that is sold into military service and touches the lives of everyone who crosses his path, featuring moments of breathtaking drama and Spielberg’s signature emotional wallop.
“The Adventures of Tintin”: The year’s best action film, is a thrilling motion capture adventure by Spielberg (who apparently hasn’t slept the last year or so) and his first attempt at animation is a relentless, gorgeous, almost exhausting rollercoaster ride.
“A Better Life”: A Mexican illegal wants to do right by his son and keep him away from gangs. Before you take a hard stand on the issue, see this simple, compassionate take on the complexities and consequences of our flawed immigration policy.
“The Descendants”: Alexander Payne’s story of a decent if inattentive father, played superbly by an against type George Clooney who tries to balance a variety of issues while his family is in crisis mode. Some tricky material handled with wit and nuance without losing its emotional pull.
Other noteworthy films:
Sports movies for people who don’t like sports movies: “Moneyball,” “Win Win”
See the superhero movies in this order: “Captain America: The First Avenger,” “Thor,” X-Men: First Class,” “Green Lantern,” and “The Green Hornet”.
The best silent film since, well, silent films were popular: “The Artist”
A date movie that will get you talking: “Like Crazy”
MVP actors: Ryan Gosling (“Drive,” “Crazy Stupid Love,” “The Ides of March”) and Jessica Chastain (“Tree of Life,” “The Help,” “The Debt,” “Take Shelter,” “Coriolanus”)
Pixar’s first stumble: “Cars 2”
Best Documentary: A tie, “Wish Me Away” and “Love Hate Love”
Worst Movie of the Year: You only needed to see the trailer to know that “A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas” had crossed an unconscionable line by making small children the target of drug jokes –multiple times. Not funny. Not ever.
Local Hero: Phil Tuckett, Founder and Director of the Docutah Film Festival.