The Playground of Hollywood

The Playground of Hollywood

Sunday, February 5, 2012

My Top Ten Films of 2011

I still have a few to catch from last year, but I don't foresee any of them really making a big enough splash to knock anything off. So here it is, my Top Ten Films of 2011.

10. MONEYBALL -- (dir. Bennett Miller)
(Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in "Moneyball")
Six years after "Capote", Bennett Miller returns with his sophomore effort, and again hits the target dead in the center. 2-for-2 for Best Picture nominees. In one of the few sports movies that is truthfully about so much more than sports, Brad Pitt delivers a career performance as Billy Beane, with fantastic support from the entire cast, especially Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the surprisingly good Jonah Hill. The script is it's own star here, with the Sorkin/Zaillian dialogue cracking throughout the story. A behind-the-scenes look at an organization that tried to go against the grain and highlight a fact in that is well-known but little discussed in sports...that it's easy to "buy" a championship, but it's much harder to "earn" one.

9. BEGINNERS -- (dir. Mike Mills)
(Melanie Laurent, Ewan McGregor and Arthur in "Beginners")
One of the least seen, most overlooked, and most wonderful films of 2011, writer/director Mike Mills' "Beginners" just may be the best love story of the year. A brilliant script highlighted by fantastic performances from Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurent, and this year's Best Supporting Actor frontrunner, Christopher Plummer, in a career-defining role. The emotions of love, pain, truth, and honestly resonate with each frame. The story is semi-autobiographical from Mills' own life, and it shows on the page and on the screen. This is what love feels like...

8. CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE. -- (dir. Glenn Ficarra & John Requa)
(Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling in "Crazy, Stupid, Love.")
A mountain of great performances in a heartbreaking dramady, led by Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling. The shopping scene, hilarious. The bar scene(s), painful. The "Dirty Dancing" scene, sexy. The backyard scene, epic. And in one of the most clever scripts of the year, you can't say you saw it coming, cause you didn't. Just admit it. If there was any better movie about "the one" this year, I didn't see it.

(Ralph Fiennes in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2)
How to you finish the most successful film series in history? With possibly the best film of the bunch (toss up with Prisoner of Azkaban for me). Epic in its grandeur, heart-wrenching in it's quiet moments, and delivering some of the best performances in the entire series, I was rejoicing in my seat when I quickly realized that the filmmakers were going to send the HP series off with a bang. In a year where we saw big-budget releases disappoint over and over, how refreshing was it to see the climax of one of the most epic stories in history, and see it done right.

6. DRIVE -- (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
(Ryan Gosling in "Drive")
Lighting up the screen with the some of the most beautiful and stirring shots of Los Angeles since Michael Mann's "Collateral", "Drive" is the best debut film for a director this year. Nicolas Winding Refn is a force to be reckoned with, and I can't wait for his next project. I've heard this film described from the "popcorn" crowd as slow or boring. And that crowd couldn't be more wrong. I can think of a few better words. Try..."outstanding"..."poetic"..."brutal"..."tense"...oh, and "brilliant" works too. Inspired casting doesn't hurt either, with Albert Brooks giving the biggest and best "against type" role he's ever had, and Ryan Gosling giving his best performance of the year, in a role where words are few and emotions are high. This isn't "The Fast and the Furious". It's not about the cars, it's about the driver. Know that going in.

5. HUGO -- (dir. Martin Scorsese)
(Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz and Helen McCrory in "Hugo")
Hugo suffered from an inability to market itself properly. What seemed like a child-adventure film ends up being about something completely different. In short, it is Scorsese's version of a love letter to early cinema and the pioneers who created it. While a bit plodding in parts and a bit too long as a whole, the majestic view of the beginning of this industry, through the eyes of a master filmmaker, is a wonder to behold. It is technologically brilliant (hello Art Direction Oscar), and once you settle into what the story is really about, in my opinion, is where it turns from entertaining to amazing. And having Ben Kingsley and Christopher Lee never hurts a film either.

4. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS -- (dir. Woody Allen)
(Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson in "Midnight in Paris")
I was cautious going into Midnight in Paris. Hearing "Woody's best film in years" makes you set the bar pretty high. But shortly after the film started, I found myself enthralled, enraptured, and enchanted. The most original story of the year (and only Woody's 3rd Best Picture nominee ever....RIGHT?????), everything is superb here, from the ensemble cast of famous characters, to the B-roll footage of the glorious Paris in the rain. An interesting study of the position we all find ourselves in from time to be happy in the time that we exist in.

3. THE ARTIST -- (dir. Michel Hazanavicius)
(Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo in "The Artist")
A black-and white, silent (mostly) film, shot by a French cast and crew, and released in 2011 = brilliance. It's another love-letter to early cinema, and it's also one of the best films of the year. Proof that good actors can tell any story without much dialogue, and also challenges the audiences to pay attention and follow the story on their own merit. That may be one reason audiences have loved it so much. Nothing is dumbed down or given to you, you have to go with the story and draw out your own thoughts, your own ideas. Wonderful turns by Dujardin and Bejo (who is a LEAD, not supporting, come on), directed with a flourish and a love by Michel Hazanavicius, and you get one of the most enthralling, enjoyable pieces of work put on film this year.

2. 50/50 -- (dir. Jonathan Levine)
(Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen in "50/50")
50/50 was almost completely shutout of the awards season this year, besides the screenplay, which did manage to score a few mentions. But the tale of a 27-year-old man (Gordon-Levitt) who discovers he has cancer is easily one of the best, most moving, and most true films of the year. JGL shines in a role that can't have been easy to play. Going through every emotion in a person's mind in one film is admirable, if not downright amazing. Fantastic supporting work from Anjelica Huston and especially Anna Kendrick, who gives the film's unsung hero performance. Few films moved me more, or made me laugh as hard.

1. THE DESCENDANTS -- (dir. Alexander Payne)
(Shailene Woodley, George Clooney and Amara Miller in "The Descendants")
In his first film since 2004's "Sideways", Alexander Payne has created a masterpiece. It's hard to imagine Clooney giving a finer performance, with best-of-the-year (and snubbed) support from Shailene Woodley, among the entire cast. It's a film that is all at once heartbreaking, hilarious, and passionate in it's storytelling. And when the credits started rolling, the first thought in my mind was "Nothing has made me feel real emotions as closely, painfully, and directly as this. That was the best movie I've seen this year." And it still rings true.

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