Cinema had a pretty good year in 2011. The summer saw an onslaught of costumed hero flicks, which to my great surprise were all pretty good. Hollywood has turned off the cheese factor on comic adaptations, lining up great directors and better actors. The biggest surprise of 2011 was the remarkable success of The Artist, a charming silent film by French director Michael Hazanavicius. Since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, it has been a critical and awards favorite. The Artist should be a lock to win the Best Film Oscar.
My favorite film of 2011 is Gavin O'Connor's Warrior. I had no idea what to expect when I saw this movie in September and was completely blown away. A brutal fighting film, the fisticuffs pale in comparison to the gripping family drama. Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton play two brothers, long separated by the childhood abuse of their father - Nick Nolte, who find themselves facing each other in the championship of a mixed martial arts tournament. Their reasons for fighting, and their father's attempt to heal the wounds he inflicted on his children, are powerfully moving.
One of the casualties of awards and 'best of' lists in general is the focus on a singular body of work. 2011 had two individuals that were fantastic across multiple genres. The first is Steven Spielberg, a household name, who in the last week of December released War Horse for Disney and The Adventures of Tintin for Paramount. Both of these films are excellent and in my top ten. Spielberg is on another planet to have two high caliber films - utterly different - in the same week. This is an epic achievement and why I chose him for Best Director. His prominence and success will no doubt eliminate him from the top awards, but he must be praised for his work this year.
The second is actress Jessica Chastain. I had never heard of her before this year. But her coming out party might be the best we've ever seen. In 2011, she was the female lead in The Debt, Take Shelter, The Tree of Life, and had supporting roles in The Help and Coriolanus. Not only are these all good movies, but each character she played was dramatically different.
I believe Michelle Williams will sweep the actress awards for her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn. I think Michelle is great, but Jessica Chastain took the year by storm and is my choice for Best Actress for her body of work.
Top 10 of 2011
Two brothers (Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton) face each other in the $5 million dollar championship match of a mixed martial arts tournament. Champion wrestlers in their youth, their family was torn apart by the abuse of their drunkard father (Nick Nolte). One scarred by war, the other a high school teacher with a sick child; these brothers are thrust into an emotional and physical conflict that is magnetic on screen. Director Gavin O'Connor delivers an unflinching, powerful story of a devastated family's reconciliation against the backdrop of a brutal competition.
#2: War Horse
Steven Spielberg has his best film in ten years with War Horse. Adapted from the Tony Award winning Best Play and famed children's book, War Horse is the tale of a stallion called Joey, and its journey through the horrors of World War One. A tragic tale, War Horse is a parable on the folly of war and how innocents are lost foolishly in conflict. Bring a hankie to this one.
Ryan Gosling has his finest acting performance yet as 'The Driver' in Nicolas Winding Refn's film noir masterpiece. This highly stylized and hypnotically musical thriller will have you glued to the screen. A stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver gets in over his head when he falls for a beautiful neighbor (Carey Mulligan) and her son. Albert Brooks will win the supporting actor Oscar playing against type as a ruthless crime lord.
#4: Win Win
Director Thomas McCarthy scores again with his comic and touching tale of a middle class family in suburban New Jersey. Paul Giamatti stars as a struggling lawyer/father/wrestling coach who ends up parenting the lost grandson (Alex Shaffer) of a senile client he's been ripping off. The new edition at first worries his wife (Amy Ryan), but changes her tune as their family develops a deep bond. They find themselves at odds with the boy's awful mother (Melanie Lynskey) as she attempts to get her son and father's money back.
#5: The Descendants
Losing a loved one is a heartbreaking experience, especially when the decision is made to terminate life support. Director/screenwriter Alexander Payne returns after a six year absence with this wonderful tale of a family coming together to deal with tragedy. George Clooney stars as a father who always played the second parent. With his wife brain dead after a boating accident, he comes to terms with his rebellious teenage daughter (Shailene Woodley) and her precocious sister (Amara Miller). The process is that much harder with a million dollar land deal and the discovery of his wife's lover (Matthew Lillard).
#6: The Artist
Director Michael Hazanavicius love poem to a lost era of cinema is truly original. A silent movie set in 1927; The Artist is the story a silent film star (Jean Dujardin) who sees his glory fading, while a young upstart (Bérénice Bejo) soars with the advent of talking pictures. I sincerely hope that mainstream audiences will find this film as enchanting as critics did.
Woody Allen continues to astound. His proclivity is unparalleled, releasing a new film almost every year. Most are mediocre, some are bad, but every once in a while he comes up with a gem. Midnight in Parisis Allen's cinematic ode to the splendor of Paris and its lure for the twentieth century's greats. Owen Wilson stars as a screenwriter on vacation in Paris with his banal fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her parents. He goes for a midnight stroll, only to discover he's gone back in time to Paris of the twenties. His midnight walks lead him to meet Hemingway, Dali, Gertrude Stein, and the Fitzgeralds to name a few. And to discover love with a fetching muse (Marion Cotillard). A film this entertaining without sex, violence, or vulgarity is a rarity.
Filmmaker Dee Rees tale of a black teenager (Adepero Aduye) struggling with her sexual identity in an urban environment ends 2011 on a high note. Released the last week in December, this story of lesbian teenager awakening in Brooklyn, New York avoids all stereotypes. From her relationship with her parents, to her desire for intimacy - with comical results, the travails of Alike is a must see. Black female characters and homosexuality are seldom portrayed with such sophistication.
After you've had a good cry in War Horse, grab your 3D glasses and prepare to cheer for the second serving of the 2011 Steven Spielberg double feature. The Adventures of Tintin is a stunning motion capture, adventure extravaganza. Belgian cartoonist Hergé would be applauding if he could see how Steven Spielberg and co-producer Peter Jackson have brought his work to life. Jamie Bell stars as intrepid cub reporter Tintin. He and his trusted dog Snowy find themselves in a race with cutthroat criminals to find a lost treasure at sea. Motion capture king Andy Serkis also co-stars. Gollum, Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Captain Haddock here, Andy Serkis is simply the finest actor to embrace this technology.
#10: Attack the Block
Director Joe Cornish's debut film is a clever take on the standard alien invasion premise. A gang of teens and their intended target for thievery find themselves fighting off a horde of vicious aliens in their poor neighborhood. What makes this film work, apart from being very entertaining, is its theme of redemption. Gang leader Moses (John Boyega) is a thief and drug dealer, but when the tables are turned and a hero is needed, the hood has its man. The same leadership traits that he didn't understand as a criminal are used for good and selflessness to save his friends.
The Worst Film of 2011
Every Warner Brothers studio executive, writer, Director Todd Phillips, his cast - Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, anyone involved creatively or financially, should hang their heads in shame for releasing this awful, insulting film. The Hangover Part II is the textbook example of what is wrong with Hollywood. These people had a huge hit with a truly funny film, The Hangover. Instead of exercising one ounce of creativity and respect for their audience, these folks decided to remake the EXACT SAME MOVIE, to dupe the public out of their hard earned money. I watched this film STUPIFIED by what I was seeing. Painfully unfunny, The Hangover Part II is what happens when the bottom line becomes the top line. It's a dialed in, hack attempt at best; or a conniving, shrewd money maker at worst. Whatever the case may be, The Hangover Part II sucks harder than whoever holds the gangbang record.
- Best Director - Steven Spielberg, War Horse, The Adventures of Tintin
- Best Actor - Ryan Gosling, Drive
- Best Actress - Jessica Chastain, The Debt, Take Shelter, The Tree of Life
- Best Supporting Actor - Albert Brooks, Drive
- Best Supporting Actress - Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
- Best Screenplay - Alexander Payne, The Descendants
- Best Cinematography - Janusz Kaminski, War Horse
- Best Editing - Michael Kahn, War Horse
- Best Score/Soundtrack - Drive
- Best FX - The Adventures of Tintin
- Best Documentary - Marathon Boy
- Best Animated Film - The Adventures of Tintin