Despite what cinematic cynics may want you to believe, there really is no such thing as a "bad year for movies." Sure, there are more mediocre movies than there are gems — and sure, there are a handful that will make you want to gouge your own eyes out with stale Mike & Ikes in order to escape the sheer torture — but as the year draws to a close, let's dwell not on the negative. Instead, let's celebrate the finest, and give thanks for yet another fantastic year of filmmaking.
Here are my picks for the Top 10 Films of 2011 (in alphabetical order):
There's a reason why you keep hearing more and more about this winner of the Detroit Film Critics Society's award for Best Picture as the year reaches a close — it's amazing. As an homage to the silent cinema of the 1920s, it is flawless; as a modern piece of entertainment, it is refreshing and delightful. This one's a treat you'd be a fool to miss out on.
If I had chosen to put this list in order of personal preference, Beginners would have held the top spot. My favorite film of the year, Beginners is a beautiful balance of tender drama, heartwarming romance, organic comedy and quiet tragedy. Plus it also features perhaps the finest performance of the year, courtesy of the always-incredible Christopher Plummer.
I still can't believe a film centering on a young man's battle with cancer managed to be both as classy and as laugh-out-loud hysterical as 50/50. Sure, the story delves into sex, drugs and the occasional Judd Apatow-inspired laugh, but there is not a cheap or dishonest moment to be found in the entire film.
Hanna is one of the more intriguing and expertly made action films of not just this year, but perhaps the last decade — a movie positively overflowing with unique choices and moments of awe-inspiring craftsmanship. The original score by The Chemical Brothers is the perfect fuel for Joe Wright's directorial flame, and Saoirse Ronan's lead performance is absolutely Oscar-worthy. Gleefully spilling over the top into often mesmerizing territory, Hanna is a real movie-lover's movie.
In my review for Like Crazy, I'm fairly certain I used the word "pure" about 15 times. Well here it is again: pure. Because the experience that Like Crazy provides — in its exploration of the many ups and downs that obsessive love entails — is so effortlessly natural, breathlessly romantic and, just like real love, occasionally frustrating, that the result is simply (oh man, here it is yet again!) pure.
LE QUATTRO VOLTE
A film almost entirely devoid of dialogue, score, or even plot, Le Quattro Volte is like a filmic poem (albeit one without words) exploring the idea of that the soul is a constantly transmigrating thing, moving from humans to animals to vegetable, etc. This theme is so subtle as to be almost invisible during the film's running time, but impossible not to note is the magic woven into this masterpiece's very fabric. When the film was over and I quite suddenly found myself crying in contemplation of it, the film's power was made abundantly clear.
No other animated film this year came within miles of Rango's sheer awesomeness. Not only was this Western brave enough to populate its story with countless adult-themed jokes (though not at the expense of its family friendly nature) and some rather sophisticated plotting techniques, but the movie also featured the finest CG animation I've seen in my entire life. If you skipped Rango, remedy that mistake toot sweet.
Jump out of your seat inspiring, this documentary — celebrating the reunion of a once-famous 1970s high school stage band in honor of their 92-year-old bandleader: Prof — is paced with the brisk, up-tempo energy of a James Brown jam and crowded with huge laughs and even huger heart. I can't remember leaving the theatre more satisfied and fulfilled all year than I did after Thunder Soul.
THE TREE OF LIFE
It's not often that movie theatres have to put up signs in their lobbies warning patrons that they will not be issuing refunds for a particular film. But apparently the completely unconventional approach of this breathtakingly powerful and mesmerizing film received enough complaints from pissed-off viewers that such signs became a necessity. Fair enough. It is, to be sure, a challenging film; but man oh man is it ever a masterpiece...
To come out in the first quarter of a calendar year and still hold strong in the mind of a critic who (for better or worse) sees just about everything (you may have tried to kill all my brain cells, New Year's Eve – but no such luck!) is no small feat. And Win Win remains one of the most vividly enjoyable movies of the year, telling one of the most assured and polished stories of 2011. | RDW