Well, it’s that time of year again. The moment when all us film critics and cinephiles lay out the best films of the year. This year, I want to do something different. This year, I chose my list based on many factors. One factor I left out intentionally was critics’ opinions. In years past, my list of best films of the year has really aligned with the greater film-critique establishment. I’m done with that.
This year, I’m going to focus on the films that really blew me away. Just to make things a little more articulate, I will include my top five favorite films at the bottom. I’m also going to include the five worst films, as my tastes drove me to some truly awful films this year. All in all, this should be a list unlike many critics, but one that is void of lofty expectations. The films included are chosen by their merit, not the political machine that determines what is great. Yes, George Clooney was brilliant in The Descendants. But is the film great on its own or is it perceived even greater because of the great performances. It’s a difficult question to ponder, so I’ll leave you with that as I jump into my picks for the best films of 2011.
This movie has to be included without question. When I first heard about the reviews for this film, I was really excited. As a huge fan of Tom Hardy, I was anxious to see him on the big screen. As the film reached its climax, I couldn’t help but sob. Here was a movie with as much heart as Rocky that drove me to tears. I’ve haven’t cried like that in a movie since I saw Stop-Loss.
This snuck up on me. I’d heard great things and was looking forward to seeing Christopher Plummer play a recently out of the closet gay man. What I got, however, was a much more enriching story. Beginners is an absolute must see. I found myself having a lot of trouble shaking this movie off. It lingered with me, warping my mood and causing me to have an entire week of personal gloominess. But this isn’t a bad thing, as any film that causes such a visceral emotional reaction is one I can’t help but love.
After Hugo, I may never watch another 3D movie again. The environment and story were so eye-popping that I may never find a 3D movie that bests this. Beyond its gimmick, director Martin Scorsese paints a family-friendly world that is almost too enchanting to be real. This simply must be seen, and it must be seen in 3D.
4. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
My hats off to cowriter/director Eli Craig. I have never seen a horror comedy as funny or brilliant as this. Instead of having the hillbillies be murderers, Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine are just ordinary shmoes who find themselves surrounded by scared teenagers. This is destined to be a classic, as it should be.
5. Fast Five
No one expected Fast Five to be as big as it was. From the budget to the box office to the returning cast, nothing about this film was small. And it worked. Vin Diesel and the gang reignite a franchise by adding a heist angle. The result is one of the best and smartest summer movies of the year.
6. Captain America: The First Avenger
Speaking of smart and well-executed summer blockbusters, Captain America had both in spades. Besting even X-Men: First Class, the final Marvel movie of the summer was pure brilliance. Its mix of WWII nostalgia and comic book superheroes made it one of the most fun 3D movies I saw all year.
Director Joe Wright can do no wrong. After breathing life into period pieces again (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice), he takes a stab at the world of an assassin child. Combining elements of great classic films, he delivers a one of a kind story that will be studied and analyzed for years to come.
8. Margin Call
Zachary Quinto centers a fictional account of how Wall Street came to be so desperate for help. With a cast that is stronger than most ensemble movies this year, the story goes through one night when things that to hit the fan. A tense and exciting drama in the vein of Aaron Sorkin or David Mamet.
I’m so glad I went to this movie alone. Just the idea of a simple virus spreading so rapidly freaked me out. This was way more intense than Outbreak. The opening shot is a black screen and the sound of a cough. From there, director Soderbergh takes germaphobia to a realistic and disturbing precipice. I felt so dirty and gross after this film. It may not be considered a horror movie, but it should be. It’s truly unsettling.
10. Win Win
Thomas McCarthy films wow me. The Station Agent blew my mind. This one, his third, is one of the best films about family dynamics. Another rich performance by the always-amazing Paul Giamatti as a struggling lawyer and failing wrestling coach who finds a boy who turns things around.
Worst films of the year
1. Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star– How the f— did this movie ever get made? This insults anyone who gives it a chance.
2. Season of the Witch– God bless Ron Perlman for finding work to do while on hiatus from Sons of Anarchy. There is absolutely nothing worth saying about the movie. Even watching the trailer made me wish for my time back.
3. Like Crazy– I had high hopes for this film considering it had Jennifer Lawrence and Anton Yelchin, what I saw was a gigantic piece of heavy-handed romance pandering. If you are really in love, why are you seeing anyone else? (Not an actual spoiler if you saw the trailer)
4. The Rum Diary– My appreciation for Johnny Depp has waned a great deal since Pirates of the Caribbean made him a household name. Here, he stars in another film based on a Hunter S. Thompson book. Unfortunately, it is nowhere near as fun or zany, or even as interesting, as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. When Depp blamed the film’s failure on stupid people in Wichita, I wrote him off completely.
5. Cowboys & Aliens– Here’s a movie that’s concept is its title. Another tally mark in Harrison Ford’s list of horrible films. It makes me weep everytime Ford makes crap like this.
Top Five Favorite films of 2011
1. The Trip- Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon traverse Northern England, tasting expensive food and getting on each other’s nerves. The films thin story allows for some truly inspiring improv. In fact, this movie succeeds because of the combined wits of Coogan and Brydon constantly upping the ante.
3. Our Idiot Brother– Instead of getting a simple comedy, Our Idiot Brother explores siblings and family. The movie is filled with heart and warmth. The scene with the family playing charades really sucks me into the film and shows a whole other depth to the story.
4. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol– I’d seen it three times on IMAX screens before it was out a week. Tom Cruise rockets back to stardom and brings a perfect cast of Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner, and Simon Pegg. The best in the franchise by far.
5. The Bang Bang Club– Ryan Phillippe leads us through the world of photojournalism in Apartheid Africa. The story and the rich details of the true story make for a compelling ride. This film was so intense and interesting, I wanted to pick up a camera and start learning photojournalism. This film and Breach made me a big fan of Phillippe’s. I hope he continues to make great films in years to come.