2011 is wrapping up folks! That means it is time to reflect on what the best movies of the year were. I must say that I enjoyed my time at the movies this year. Sure, a lot of terrible movies came out this year, but they were obvious. If the previews looked bad then the movie was bad (notable exception: Rise of the Planet of the Apes). But everything that had potential was at least respectable. The year opened slowly as they usually do and got a bit more exciting once summer hit. The season of sequels and special effects delivered enough spectacle to warrant all the money I spent. The fall had some nice highlights and the holidays really delivered as usual. I will say however, that the pure awards movies were easier to pick out last year than this year. But enough babbling here is mu top ten for the year. I will say though that as a college student I am on a limited budget and missed a few that other critics have cited as the year’s best. These include Moneyball, War Horse, and Mission: Impossible 4.
Movies tend to reflect our culture more than most people realize. The fight for LGBT rights made some serious headway in 2011. Beginners reflects that fact as its plot revolves around an elderly gay man, played by Christopher Plummer, who comes out once his wife dies to explore another side of his life. Plummer’s performance is one of the best of the year but the film also features solid work from Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent. The film ends up being a very intimate meditation on loneliness that penetrates the saddest aspects of our lives. Beginners shows us that everyone feels lonely sometimes but if we embrace who we are we can find great companions to help us through the tough times in our lives.
9. The Descendants–
Here is a film that should only appeal to a certain crowd but ends up having something for everyone. This is because of the fantastic performances by the entire cast and perhaps even the gorgeous on location sets in Hawaii. Speaking of the performances, George Clooney is fantastic but you know who is better? Shailene Woodley, who plays his daughter. Woodley’s character feels incredibly real and will remind every viewer, no matter what age, of a daughter, sister, or even themselves. Beyond that, what The Descendants asks of its audience is to see a family in an incredibly difficult moral situation and see how even in the darkness they push through and see the paradise they have in their own homes.
There were to films this year that were ambitiously abstract while harshly intimate. Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life lacked focus where Lars von Trier’s Melancholia did not try to directly mesh these two wildly different styles of filmmaking. The first half of Melancholia is a wedding gone horribly wrong. The second half is the end of the world. Kirsten Dunst gives the performance of her career as the haunted bride and sister. Filmed with such beauty, this film will leave many moviegoers scratching their heads of what it all means. I am not going to pretend to know every bit, but I will say that I liked how I felt after watching it. This is one of those films that you simply must experience yourself.
In my Fall Movie Preview I listed this film as what I thought would be the top movie of September and quite possibly the best movie of the year. Usually when I make bold claims like this I am way off, but having seen only six better films this year my hat goes off to, well, myself for calling this one. This movie combined comedy and drama flawlessly. There was never a moment where I felt as if my emotions were being jerked around. Comedy would flow effortlessly into heartbreaking drama and vice versa. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is becoming one of the most talented people in Hollywood and his experiences built perfectly to this film. I cried. I laughed. Sometimes I did both. That is what movies are all about.
6. Midnight in Paris–
Woody Allen is one of the most famous directors in the history of cinema, but as of late his films haven’t gone down as classics as often as they used to. 2011 changed that with this delightful film showcasing the beauty of Paris, the 1920s, and culture. The plot sees Owen Wilson channeling Woody Allen as the lead who is unsatisfied with the present. But he finds a link to the past at midnight that takes him back to the 1920s to meet such big names as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. The fun here is waiting to see who will pop up next. However, Allen does not shy away from the problems that come with excessive nostalgia. No matter what we will always see a time better than the now, so why waste the present?
Another legendary director who delivered in 2011 was Martin Scorsese. Hugo was devoid of the typical gangsters, foul language, and blood that Scorsese’s films usually include. No, this was a kid’s movie. It starred a little orphan boy trying to figure out a mystery that his father left behind after his death with a eerily human looking robot. But once the plot got moving, this kid’s movie turned into something really special. Scorsese injected his passion and love for cinema as the film turned into a celebration of movie history. This was a beautiful movie, that also featured the best 3D of the year. The sincerity on screen was incredibly real and heartfelt. It was just like dreaming during the day…
4. X-men: First Class–
I have said it before and I will say it again, I’m a sucker for superheroes. It is customary that every summer we get at least three movies starring men in tights. But in 2011, even though Thor and Captain America were good, it was the X-men who rose from the ashes and came back with their best movie yet after two awful sequels/prequels. Character development is a part of what makes every great superhero movie tick. First Class not only developed one hero but several. We see Xavier grow from a partying college student to the crippled leader of the X-men. We see Mystique grow from an insecure girl in hiding to a strong woman not afraid to show off the blue. We see Magneto go from a ruthless Nazi killer to a man who no longer relies on his anger. The performances were unforgettable as these vivid characters graced the screen better than ever.
3. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo–
David Fincher proved once again that he is one of the best directors of modern cinema. When Columbia gained the rights to this Swedish bestseller, after seeing films like Se7en and Zodiac, they knew Fincher was the right man for the job. This dark story of sexism and murder was lifted to greatness with Fincher’s signature style. But the real star here is Rooney Mara, who plays one of the greatest, most fascinating characters in the last twenty years. Lisbeth Salander is truly unique and Mara gives an unforgettable performance that I hope and pray the Academy recognizes.
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2–
You knew it was coming. The only reason this magnificent film is not in the number one spot is that despite my personal love for it, it is far from perfect. But these flaws cannot take away from the fact that this franchise goes out with all the emotion and action of the seven that preceded it combined. The final film doesn’t waste any time getting started with a fantastic sequence involving a bank robbery and a dragon. Shortly after the battle begins. I dare you to try and hold back tears during the memories of Alan Rickman’s Snape. Same goes for the epilogue. This franchise will go down with Star Wars and Lord of the Rings as one of the best sagas ever brought to the screen.
1. The Artist–
Some movies are indisputably great. Last year The King’s Speech was the movie that everyone agreed was the most well made film of the year, but it didn’t really push the boundaries of cinema or try anything unexpected. This year we got The Artist, which takes us back to the silent era and successfully tells a great story without dialogue. The film never feels wrongly outdated, which is why it works. It is a timeless masterpiece that people from any generation will enjoy. Humor and emotion blend flawlessly here with two amazing performances by French actors Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo. No matter how the film speaks to you will leave the theater with a great big grin on your face.
Do you like my top ten films of 2011? To be honest I had a lot of trouble not including Rango but I think Beginners stuck with me more. Any other movies you would have liked to see on this list? Sound off in the comments’ section! Happy New Year!
photo credit: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1532503/