Happy 2012! A whole year has gone by and with it all of last year’s memorable and very forgettable movies. But now we enter the televised film award season recognizing the best of the best for your personal viewing enjoyment. But forget the Oscars, the Golden Globes or any other film organization.
I have compiled the Best 11 movies of 2011 (a mix of the finest commercial and independent fare), so that you can buy that movie ticket without having to clutch it to dear life, or, watch that movie on your streaming or DVD player without feeling you wasted your 2 hours of your existence. Why 11? Just to piss off the rest of the people who create Top 10’s and to give a nod to the year that just left us.
So trust me on this. Relax and have some peace of mind that these films will either change you or just remind you why going to the movies can be a soul-satisfying experience.
11. The Help
And we begin with #11. Authentic, visceral, funny, melancholic, disturbing and powerful is how I would describe Tate Taylor’s ‘The Help’. An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s decides to write a book detailing the African-American maid’s point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis. What you need to know is that a best actress award will come out of this film at the Oscar’s and it’ll be between Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer who bring home the gold. The cast ensemble is the second best of the year and it’s ardent, sensitive subject matter of racism is sure to trigger emotions you didn’t think could rise from you in a movie theater.
Talk about a film that came out of nowhere to leave me dumbfounded at how crazy good it was. This crime thriller, full of twist and turns, brought back Matthew McConaughey to a place of respectability again amongst the garbage he’s been starring in since ‘Fool’s Gold’. The Lincoln Lawyer’s plot which is about Mick Haller (McConaughey), a bad-ass, but sleazy defense lawyer who works out of his Lincoln towncar. When a wealthy Realtor (Ryan Phillippe) is accused of raping a prostitute, Haller is asked to defend him. But his client has a foolproof plan to beat the system. It’s up to our protagonist to get over his crisis of conscience and see if he can see the difference of right and wrong in his profession. The reason this film comes in at number 10 is because compared to most movies this year, you can’t seem to unglue your eyes from this engrossing “did he or didn’t he do it?” storyline. It is so well paced and acted that the flaws are almost non-existent. There’s enough action, tension and mystery here to satisfy even the most stubborn of spectators. PS: Look for one of the best scenes in the film with scene-stealing star Michael Peña who goes toe to toe with McConaughey. It’s a memorable one.
9. The Beaver
I have some major beef with those people who have knocked on this film simply for Mel Gibson’s off-camera deeds. If one would just judge the work, one can see that ‘The Beaver’, is by far, the most underrated movie of 2011. The Beaver is a powerful dark dramedy about a man on a journey to re-discover his family and re-start his life. Plagued by his own demons, Walter Black (Gibson) was once a successful toy executive and family man who now suffers from depression. No matter what he tries, Walter can’t seem to get himself back on track…until a beaver hand puppet enters his life. Gibson delivers what I can only describe as one of the most visceral and compelling performances of his career. It is my belief that his performance was as equivalent, if not better, than Michael Fassbender’s in ‘Shame’. This to me is at least worthy of a nomination. Jodie Foster is also on her directing A game too. Her choice of a story is outside of the box weaving it in with a tragic sense of farce that somehow connects with anyone searching for who they truly are inside. If you like first-rate acting and the antithesis of the banal Hollywood fare, then this film must be placed high on your choices to watch.
8. The Artist
Without question, one of the most hyped films of the year is ‘The Artist’. It deserves its label for reviving the obsolete format of silent films with a retro-fresh perspective, and by possessing the most charming performance of any actor this year by Jean Dujardin. But even though a film like this was given the greenlight for cinephiles to indulge in, after the first half hour the novelty begins to wear off exposing the screenplay to a story we’ve seen before. Similarities linger from ‘All About Eve’, ’42nd Street’, ‘Sunset Boulevard’, ‘Veronika Voss’, and most recently, ‘Burlesque’ amongst others – a veteran star sees their success flutter away while the new kid in town embarks their march into stardom. Nevertheless, ‘The Artist’ provides an experience that is unique and unlike anything you’ll pay to see in a theater this year. Will it win Best Picture at the Oscars? Most likely. Does it deserve it? No. Novelty is king this year.
7. War Horse
Yeah, maybe Steven Spielberg lost some of that magic touch since he won an Oscar for ‘Saving Private Ryan’ 14 years ago, but that doesn’t mean he forgot how to make an Oscar worthy film. Enter ‘War Horse’, the closest thing to a dramatic masterpiece we’re going to see from a director all year. The story of a horse and his young owner, which has hues of ‘Gone with the Wind’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’, doesn’t possess the most stellar acting or dazzling dialogue, but darnit, it does possess beautiful cinematography and one hell of a feel good, tearjerker story that will squeeze those tear ducts to oblivion. It starts slow, fleshing out the characters, and builds up to an emotionally rousing crescendo, like a Beethoven symphony. I mean even Whoopi Goldberg (an Oscar winner mind you), said: “Someone needs to give that movie an Oscar”, on her way out of the screening in New York I attended. What must be witnessed here is how Spileberg made that horse seem human!
You’re really going to enjoy ‘The Ides of March’. It’s such a satisfying political thriller, that it will from now on be discussed in the same breath as ‘A Few Good Men’, ‘The Firm’ and ‘All the President’s Men’. You’ll see an all-star cast in George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman giving us first-class performances that will leave a lasting impression on you long after you leave the theater. This is arguably the best ensemble of actors of any movie this year, and boy, do they deliver the goods. The characters they inhabit are placed during the frantic last days before a heavily contested Ohio presidential primary, when an up-and-coming campaign press secretary (Ryan Gosling) finds himself involved in a political scandal that threatens to upend his candidate’s (Clooney) shot at the presidency. This movie is all about skillful acting, astute plot twists (this one had three!), cerebrally stimulating dialogue and an enthralling story. Clooney, who directs it, is now officially a bonafide helmer with a reputation of creating artistically-crowd-pleasing movies. All in all, you will not be dissapointed with ‘The Ides of March’, a piece of cinema that is a must see for anyone looking to see the best of the best films this year.
Martin Scorsese’s ‘Hugo’ is probably the sleeper surprise hit of the year because you expect one thing and end up getting something better. How often does that happen for the price of your ticket? It also somehow manages to linger in the crevices of your mind for days. The more you think about it, the more you end up loving it. The catch here is that ‘Hugo’ is a fairytale for adults, but one that doesn’t ignore the kiddies. The 3D experience is absolutely sick and one of the year’s best. You only have to see the opening sequence to understand how masterful Scorsese truly is. If you’re a film fanatic, one who appreciates silent films and the importance of film preservation, then you are in for a treat that you’ll cherish for a long time.
Just when I thought animated films couldn’t get any better, ‘Rango’ had to go out and prove me wrong. This odd and eccentric project, led by the voice of Johnny Depp, was challenging to be, arguably, the best film of the year upon its release in March. The opening sequence, where Rango performs a brilliant and audacious acting monologue, a la Sanford Meisner, instantly set it apart from any other computer generated movie ever created in its genre. It began to play above the level of any Pixar before it. Here is its plot – after a car accident, the chameleon Rango winds up in an old western town called Dirt. What this town needs the most is water, but they also need a hero and a sheriff. The thirsty Rango instantly takes on the role of both and selfishly agrees to take on the case of their missing water. Also credit to the writers for injecting a Latino flavor that was palpable right from the beginning. ‘Rango’ is not for kids, it is really adult fare with a nod to children. With a script that is cerebral, original, accompanied by highbrow humor, and splendid voice performances from a top notch cast, this movie is one of the best animated films I have ever seen.
And you thought he had lost it. If ‘Matchpoint,’ ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ and the underrated ‘Cassandra’s Dream,’ weren’t enough to get you to believe in him again, then perhaps ‘Midnight in Paris’ will. Allen is in rare form, back to the man that created the seminal films ‘Annie Hall’ and ‘Hannah and her Sisters’. This is one of his finest works, an ode to the most romantic city in the world, Paris, where Allen seems re-inspired. He stupefies us with an ingenious and simple plot full of love, nostalgia, and of course, wit. There are no outstanding performances, or awe-inspiring directing, just actors who are able to breathe life into the words of Allen’s brilliant script. This tale centers around Gil (Owen Wilson), a successful Hollywood writer who is struggling on his first novel. While in Paris with his demanding wife Inez (Rachel McAdams), his obsession of 1920’s Paris comes to life every night at midnight where he befriends the greatest writers, artists and legendary figures of the 20th century. This is a beautiful film that will capture your imagination, seize you in its philosophical message and have you buying a ticket to Paris as soon as possible!
I have to go back to Louis Malle’s ‘Elevator to the Gallows’ from 1958 to know what it feels like to experience the coolest movie I have ever seen. ‘Drive’ is not just cool, it’s uber-cool. It’s a sophisticated action movie drenched in sexiness and artistic violence. Have you seen a man get sliced up to classical music or a protagonist without a name? The hardcore boys will love it and so will the sassy girls that will beg to go see ‘It’ man of the moment – Ryan Gosling. After a slew of fantastic performances this year (Crazy, Stupid, Love, The Ides of March), this film consecrates him as the new Brad Pitt in Hollywood, and, director Nicolas Winding Refn as the new Quentin Tarantino. Also watch for Albert Brooks’ (Broadcast Network), supporting performance, as it should strongly compete with Nick Nolte for the honors at the Oscars. The plot revolves around a Hollywood stunt performer (Gosling) moonlighting as a wheelman who discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist gone wrong. I would catalog this film as an instant cult classic you’ll be talking about for years.
Since no one has the balls to say it, then I will. ‘Warrior’ is the best film of 2011, with ‘Drive’ right on its heels. It possesses the best combination of drama, humor, plot intrigue, superb acting and relentless fight action for your movie ticket. I swear I almost broke down in tears THREE times! No other movie has the privilege of boasting that this year. It’s the mounting, rousing crescendo towards the end that gets to you. Nick Nolte should get a nod for Best Supporting actor at the Oscars and win it. The movie is about the youngest son (Tom Hardy) of an alcoholic former boxer (Nick Nolte) who returns home, where he’s trained by his father for competition in a mixed martial arts tournament — a path that puts the fighter on a collision against his older brother (Joel Edgerton). Mark Wahlberg’s ‘The Fighter’ has nothing on this film. Don’t believe other critics who say that this movie isn’t all that. It’s a crowd pleaser. If you’re looking for strong acting, a gritty drama, a good dose of movie violence and desire to shed a tear or two, then get ready to titillate your senses.