Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Best of 2011

I have been busy busy busy this past holiday season, but that does not mean that I forgot about that staple of the year's end.  Another year over and a new one just begun, and that means it's time for the film critic's most anticipated (and sometimes dreaded) annual obligation - the top ten list. A yearly look back at the hundreds of films seen throughout the year and a frenzied shuffling around to narrow your list down to just ten films (or in some cases, trying to find as many as ten films deemed worthy enough). I for one love this annual ritual and wait with giddy baited breath for it to come around, so without further ado, especially since I am kind of late in bringing this to you (but fashionably late dammit!!), I give you my choices for the best films 2011. 

1. The Tree of Life - When I first saw this stunning film up on the big screen (the first of three such visits to the cinema in order to behold this spectacle of light) I knew there would be no competition for the top spot on my eventual best of the year list - and boy was I right.  Resting the proverbial head and shoulders above all other takes, Terrence Malick's brilliant new film is not only the best film of 2011, but also an early candidate for the best film of the decade.  My review can be read here.

2. Hugo - An adventure-filled fantasy film about the birth of cinema, using the most modern of technological moviemaking advances, this 3D motion picture experience from Martin Scorsese is a thing of such cinematic romanticism, with such an audacious love of film and its inherent history (a paean to film preservation if you will) that I defy any true cinephile to either condemn or ignore it.  My review can be read here.

3. Melancholia - In all his hate him or love him glory (or should that be infamy?), Lars von Trier's latest film, taking on the subject of depression hidden in plain and brutal sight, smack dab in the middle of an end-of-the-world scenario, is a nerve-wrangling, twisting, turning, vituosic work of audacious, bullying cinema - and who could ask for anything more.  My review can be read here.

4. Super 8 - Evoking the type of cinema that Steven Spielberg was putting out in the late seventies and early eighties (back when Mr. Spielberg still know how to make us believe) yet still full of the post-millennial chutzpah that is J.J. Abrams, this quaintest of monster movies, replete with those Abramsesque blue lens flares and a camera that seems to never stay put, is the best Summer blockbustery movie that Hollywood has put out in many a year.  My review can be read here.

5. Drive - Ryan Gosling as a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver for hire is one of the best genre pieces Hollywood has put out in a long long time.  Cool and aloof, this film by Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn, is a work of sheer subversive beauty.  Toss in Carey Mulligan as the Driver's only possible salvation and Albert Brooks as an against type small time mob boss (he should win an Oscar) and you have the makings of one damn fine motion picture.  My review can be read here.

6. The Skin I Live In - Creepy and exotic, this psychological thriller from Almodovar is the Spanish auteur at his most dangerously Hitchcockian.  A loose adaptation of Franju's Eyes Without A Face (though based on the French novel Tarantula), this strange creature of a movie is at times hilarious and at times harrowing.  I dare even call it a brilliant psychosexual game of smoke and mirrors.  My review can be read here.

7. Certified Copy - Iranian master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami has made his first film outside of his native country.  It is a twisting, turning, whirling dervish of cinematic bravura and storytelling audacity.  As we watch Juliette Binoche and William Shimmel make their way through the winding streets of Tuscany, Kiarostami takes us deeper and deeper into his meta-manipulative world of filmmaking, where nothing is ever as it seems.  My review can be read here.

8. Meek's Cutoff - Trudgingly beautiful, this film by the methodically melodic filmmaker Kelly Reichardt, and featuring the director's Wendy and Lucy heroine Michelle Williams in the central role, pissed a hell of a lot of moviegoers off this past year (though perhaps not as many as the number one spot on this list) but what they could not get behind, what they could not understand, was the inherent understated beauty of such a seemingly difficult film (it wasn't really difficult people) as Meek's Cutoff.  My review can be read here.

9. Moneyball - The best damn sports movie ever made.  Yeah, I know that is a pretty bold statement but there you have it - and I am sticking to it.  Looking at the game of baseball from both a statistical mindset (the nerd in me loves that) and a romantic viewpoint (the sentimentalist in me loves that), Moneyball is, and I am going to boldly say it again, the best damn sports movie ever made.  My review can be read here.

10. Attack the Block - Take John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 and replace the never-ending onslaught of nonspeaking L.A. gang members with equally non-speaking (though not non-growling) creatures from outer space and you pretty much get the gist of Attack the Block.  This hit genre piece from the UK is a deliriously fun cinematic ride.  My review can be read here.

11. The Artist - There are some quite remarkable shots in this film, many of them done as homage to either specific classic Hollywood works or a generalized silent era style, and it is in these shots that director Michel Hazanavicius brings such vibrant life to his black and white silent film.  The current frontrunner to win the Best Picture Oscar, The Artist definitely has the visual audacity to pull off such a unique victory. My review can be read here.

12. A Dangerous Method - David Cronenberg somehow manages to take the already strange relationship between Jung and Freud and makes it even stranger.  Of course this is what Cronenberg does best, so one should not be surprised.  A psychosexual (that is at least the second time that term has been used on this list) mindfuck of a movie, hiding behind a supposed analytical period piece - and we get Michael Fassbender to boot.  My review can be read here.

13. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives - Many say Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul is an acquired taste, but when the director makes a film that involves ghost monkeys, ghosts of dead wives and a talking catfish who goes down on an ugly princess, how can you not fall in love?  Seriously though, I have always been a fan of Joe (the long-named director's choice of nicknames) but this may very well be the auteur's best work yet.  My review can be read here.

14. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - I must admit to not being much of a fan of the original Swedish films, finding them to be at times thrilling but mostly middle-of-the-road, but put David Fincher behind the wheel and you get a whole other thing entirely.  With the director's more in your face style of moviemaking, this US remake does something not many other remakes have done, and that is improve the product.  My review can be read here.

15. Midnight in Paris - This is Woody Allen as we have not seen Woody Allen in decades. Perhaps his latest film does not quite match up with many of the films from the director's Golden Age (1977-1992) but with its often biting dialogue and obvious nostalgic set pieces (showing a love for a lost Paris that nearly matches his love of the New York of his childhood) it comes closer than anything he has done since.  My review can be read here.

16. Source Code - With more than an air of Hitchcock in it, Duncan Jones' deceptively brilliant Source Code (the director's more visceral, less moody followup to the equally impressive Moon), loosely based on Chris Marker's La Jetee, is one of those rare mainstream Hollywood movies that forces its viewers to stop being mindless automatons, and to think things out.  My review can be read here.

17. Hanna - With Joe Wright's weaving, obtrusive camera, Saoirse Ronan's killer-diller, cold-blooded performance and a visual and aural in-your-face middle finger to the conventions of cinema, this calculating, visceral man-eating movie starts off slowly but once it gets going it does not stop until the abrupt bang bang credits roll.  My review can be read here.

18. Shame - The harrowing story of one man obsessed with sex.  From hard drives stuffed full of porn to old school girlie mags, from paid escorts to random sexual encounters with strangers, from constant masturbatory trips to the rest room during work to desperate and seedy club hopping, Michael Fassbender's sex addict is one of the finest performances of the year, in one of the most dangerously obsessive movies of the year.  My review can be read here.

19. Kaboom - Gregg Araki's sci-fi/thriller/sex farce/comedy hybrid thingee from another seeming planet is a refreshing and unique look at the genre film - several genres at that.  A mysterious movie that combines elements of David Lynch with moments of balls-out sex romp lunacy, this nearly uncategorizable film was one of the surprise highlights of the year.  My review can be read here.

20. The Arbor - Half documentary, half experimental film, have self-referential stage play (yeah yeah I know - math has never been my strong suit), this quite subversive, quite harrowing biopic about late playwright Andrea Dunbar, is probably the most unique film of the year in its use of real life people (Dunbar's actual friends and family) blended with actors lipsynching the actual words of witnesses.  A play within a play within a MacGuffin.  My review can be read here.

21. Beginners - A sobering yet romantic look at one man's journey through the long and laborious death of his newly uncloseted elderly gay father.  And as coolly written and directed as this film is by first timer Mike Mills (no, not the R.E.M. bassist), it is Christopher Plummer's spectacular performance in the film (one that may win the veteran actor his first Oscar) that puts it on this list.  My review can be read here.

22. Rango - Take one animated lizard, give him the voice of Johnny Depp, the wardrobe of Hunter S. Thompson and the demeanor of Don Knotts, and place him smack dab in the middle of a Spaghetti Western styled remake of Chinatown, throw in a wild menagerie of supporting mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds, and you have the best animated film of 2011 - hands down.  My review can be read here.

I suppose some runners-up would be appropriate right now, so here they are, in no particular order: The Guard, Take Shelter, Rubber, Hobo With A Shotgun, The Ides of March, Le Havre, Cracks, Drive Angry, Troll Hunter, Super, Horrible Bosses, Weekend, Higher Ground, Tuesday After Christmas, Another Earth, The Future, Terri, We Are What We Are, Cold Weather, I Saw the Devil, The Muppets, Tabloid, Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, Footloose, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes and X-Men: First Class.

Well that is it for 2011.  Coming soon will be my most anticipated films of 2012 list, so stay tuned.


Unknown said...

Great list! Glad to see Melancholia so high, and also lovely to see a mention for Rango, which I fear is being overlooked.

Page said...

You have been busy! A great list. We had a great year for films. I would say one of the best in awhile. I've manage to see 99% of potential award nominees.

Kevyn Knox said...


I suppose I have been pretty busy.

Several of these films (Rango, The Arbor, Hanna, even Beginners outside of Plummer) have been getting pretty neglected.

ilovethatfilm said...

Great list, your top 3 are from 3 truly amazing directors but I felt the top 2 were not eithers best work. And I still need to see Melancholia! Very glad to see ATB, The Artist and Rango in there!

Kevyn Knox said...

@Pete - You are right about Hugo not being Scorsese's best work. That honour belongs to Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Raging Bull (take your pick) or even Mean Streets or King of Comedy. But as second echelon Scorsese (New York New York, Casino, Shutter Island, Cape Fear) it is the best. My sixth or seventh favourite of the director's.

AS for Tree of Life, I do think that is the director's best work - and I love every film Malick has made.

MP said...

Great list Kevyn!

I must admit I haven't seen many films of 2011 this year. I concentrated myself on the 1000 Greatest films list more and I was busy myself too... (got married, change of jobs, just bought a house). However, I'm trying to catch up on 2011 before the Oscars!

AFD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AFD said...

Great list. Not sure about "Super 8" at #4 though I liked it. And certainly don't think "Moneyball" the best sports movie ever made. Off the top of my head, how about Nicholas Ray's "The Lusty Men"?

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