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The Best Films Of 2011

First off, a mea culpa. When I posted my top 10 of 2008 a few years back, I intended it to be a yearly thing. But obviously that hasn’t happened. 2009 was a complete write-off. I kept track of what I watched and compiled a top 10, but never found the time to actually write everything up. (Just for the record, my favourite film that year was Inglourious Basterds.) The next year was a similar story: no write up. But I did manage to preview the Oscars, and at least speak about my favourite films of the year thanks to the very first Slandering Others Anonymously Film Podcast episode ever.

This year, I’m getting back on track. I’m presenting my top 10 below, my Oscar predictions are up, and Matthew and I have done a 2011 wrap-up podcast. Needless to say, I’m really happy to have gotten all of these things pulled together this year.

So, 2011 was a banner year for me as a moviegoer. As of now, I’ve seen 69 films from 2011 – by far my highest total for a single year (the previous high was 51). And yet, looking back on the field, I feel a little disappointed. In the past, I’ve found that my overall feelings about movies tend to line up rather closely with the majority. In other words, what most people like, I like too.

But this year was different somehow. Movies like Hugo, The Descendants, Moneyball, Bridesmaids, Young Adult, Warrior, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and many others were loved by critics. Even The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, my most anticipated movie of the year, was pretty well received. But to me, they all felt pretty flawed in one way or another. Still good movies? Okay, sure. But great ones? No.

But enough of that. This is going to a long enough read as it is without me pontificating about what could’ve been. And for all my complaints, there was still a lot of fun to be had at the movies this past year. Without further ado, my top 10 of 2011.

10. Melancholia – The story of the end of the world, viewed through the eyes of a severely depressed woman. It begins on an upbeat note, with a bride and groom (Kirsten Dunst and Alexander Skarsgard) arriving late to their wedding. As their limo driver struggles to make his way up a narrow, curved road, the two can’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of their situation. But the light mood is only temporary. When the couple finally arrives, family tensions are running high, sending Dunst’s character into a downward spiral.

It took me awhile to warm up to this movie, and there are still things I don’t like about it. In particular, I think the first half is much stronger than the second. Of course, that first act is bolstered by the presence of such veterans as John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling, Stellan Skarsgard, and a hilarious Udo Kier. The second act focuses on a much smaller group of people, and to me this made for a somewhat uneven viewing experience.

Anyway, the acting is uniformly great, and the visuals are pretty unique and interesting (especially in the opening minutes). I’ve always been a fan of Lars Von Trier’s films, and while this one probably isn’t my favourite, it’s worth a look.

9. Source Code – The second film from director Duncan Jones (whose debut, Moon, was number eight on my top 10 from 2009). This is a really cool sci-fi film with shades of Groundhog Day. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, and Jeffrey Wright.

This is one of those movies that’s really more fun to go into cold, so I’ll try to be vague here. But basically there’s an attack on a train and Jake Gyllenhaal’s character has to stop it. There’s a lot more to it than that, but we’ll keep it simple.

Anyway, Gyllenhaal gives a great performance in Source Code. It’s been overlooked, but I think he deserves more credit than he got. His character is thrust into this very confusing situation, and finds himself having to adapt and figure things out on the fly. He plays the confusion very well, but once the film starts switching gears, he gets to be a lot more assertive. And there’s even a nice emotional payoff toward the film’s conclusion. Gyllenhaal gets all the tones just right, and if this movie works for you at all, it’ll be mostly thanks to his performance.

Not all the sci-fi stuff makes a lot of sense (especially the ending), but if you just go with it, it mostly hangs together. The story is structured really well, so even though you get a lot of exposition doled out in big chunks, it’s not all right up front. By the time you start learning exactly what’s going on, you’re already invested in the story and the characters, making everything a bit easier to swallow.

Like he did with Moon, Duncan Jones mixes elements of action, humor, and even romance together. I don’t know if I like this film quite as much as his first, but it’s still a great ride.

8. The Artist – I’ve already written a pretty full review of this one, so I’ll be brief this time around. This is the most critically praised movie on my list, having earned 10 Oscar nominations. The story is simple, but it’s also effective, thanks to great acting from Bérénice Bejo and Jean Dujardin. Watch it, enjoy it.

7. The Tree Of Life – It’s been six years since Terrence Malick’s last film. For most directors, this is a pretty long time. But for Malick (who took 20 years off between 1978’s Days Of Heaven and 1998’s The Thin Red Line), it’s barely a blink of an eye. And this newfound productivity looks like it’s going to continue. Right now, the reclusive filmmaker has two movies in post-production and another two in pre-production.

I, for one, am excited.

Malick tells two stories in The Tree Of Life. One is a heavily autobiographical account of a family living in Texas in the mid-1960s. Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt play the parents of three boys, with newcomer Hunter McCracken as the middle son. This is intercut with another story depicting the birth and death of the universe, as rendered in a series of stunningly gorgeous images. Visual effects guru Douglas Trumbull (of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame) contributed to the film’s look.

I’ll be the first to tell you that the story here doesn’t always make sense. There’s stuff in there with Sean Penn as the grown-up Hunter McCracken that doesn’t feel necessary. But this film is still incredibly powerful. Malick has a way of filming everyday life that’s fascinating to see. His approach is almost documentary style – very real and organic. If for no other reason than the beautiful visuals it puts together, you must see The Tree Of Life. Preferably on an big a screen as possible.

As much as visuals play a role, The Tree Of Life has more to offer. The performances are wonderful. As the parents, Chastain and Pitt bring two distinctly different performances. Chastain’s character is a nurturer, while Pitt is an old-school, tough love dad. They have both been nominated at this year’s Oscars for other films, but I think the best work either of them did in 2011 is in The Tree Of Life.

As a last note, I love the music in this film. If you’ve seen the trailer, then you’ve already gotten a taste of the classical music Malick employs. It really adds to the sense of grandeur and scope of his movie.

There’s not a lot of middle ground to be had when it comes to The Tree Of Life. Viewers tend to fall into two camps. Some see it as overblown, pretentious, and ultimately too ponderous and obscure to hold real meaning. Others find it to be a deeply philosophical film about the nature of life and death, and what comes after it all. I can understand both views, but would tend to lump myself in with the second group. Again, that’s not to say the movie is without flaws, but what it really comes down to is there aren’t a lot of movies like this getting made. I didn’t see another movie this year that was remotely like this, and it’ll probably be a long time before I see another.

There’s value in putting yourself out there with a unique vision and just going for it, and I believe that’s what Malick did here. I respect directors like him way more than I do guys who are just out to make a buck by copying whatever’s popular in the moment.

6. I Saw The Devil – In the last few years, I’ve been falling in love with South Korean cinema. I started out with Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy. Then after that I saw Mother, by Joon-ho Bong. And finally this year, it was I Saw The Devil, by Jee-woon Kim. All three are set to make their English language directorial debuts soon, and I can’t wait for the world at large to be introduced to their bizarre sensibilities. They each know how to make movies with gripping narratives and they don’t shy away from violence. I’m a pretty jaded moviegoer. It takes a lot to get me squirming in my seat. But these guys do it on a regular basis.

Anyway, getting back to I Saw The Devil, this is a film about revenge. After his wife is murdered, a police officer (played by Byung-hun Lee) goes on the hunt for the killer. But simply catching said killer (played by Min-sik Choi) isn’t enough for him. He wants “a real, complete revenge.”

This is a very disturbing film that’s not going to be for everyone. But in the end, I found myself loving it. Kim has a way of juxtaposing beautiful images with horrific violence. I Saw The Devil has a scene that takes place in a car that still boggles my mind a little. Or another where a search team locates a body (or part of one, anyway). These are images that continue to stick in my mind long after the movie’s over.

On the acting side of things, Lee is mostly playing cold and emotionless for large stretches of the film’s running time, but he does have some nice moments as the cost of his attempts at revenge begin to sink in. As for Choi, he comes out full force – yelling, shrieking, snarling… He pretty much does it all. It’s an over-the-top performance, but he totally commits to it, and as a result he’s one of the year’s most compelling and frightening cinematic villains.

The movie has its share of flaws in terms of plot holes, and the ending isn’t quite as effective as it could’ve been. But it remains one of the most visceral, shocking movies I watched in 2011.

5. The Guard – As with The Artist, I’ve already done a full review, so I’ll be a bit shorter here. This is a really fun film. It’s the classic buddy cop comedy formula, with Brendan Gleeson as the colorful, unorthodox, but surprisingly smart one, and Don Cheadle as the logical, by-the-book one. It’s directed by John Michael McDonagh. It’s a bit similar to his brother Martin’s film In Bruges (which was one of my favourite films from 2008). To be honest, I think In Bruges is actually quite a bit better than The Guard, but I like both movies, and I look forward to seeing what the McDonagh boys do next.

4. Hanna – Not since Natalie Portman in Léon has a little girl kicked this much ass onscreen. Saoirse Ronan stars as Hanna, a girl raised in the wilderness by her father, a former CIA agent (played by Eric Bana). After years of training in isolation, she’s sent to kill another agent (played by Cate Blanchett). Things don’t go as planned, and Hanna finds herself on the run. Along the way, she experiences a world that’s completely foreign to her, and befriends an English girl on vacation with her family.

There’s a lot to like here. The supporting cast is excellent, but Ronan steals the show as Hanna. She’s got the physicality and demeanor of a trained killer, but the movie doesn’t forget she’s still a kid. The world is a huge, confusing place, filled with all sorts of things that are outside of her experience. Ronan conveys all of this this wonderfully.

Director Joe Wright brings a lot to the material, finding clever ways to shoot the action in the film. The best example comes near the midway point as Bana’s character is attacked by several agents. The scene is shot in a single long steadicam shot lasting just over three minutes. The camera follows Bana as he gets off a bus, walks through a terminal, down to a subway station, and finally confronts his attackers.

This long take thing is a trick Wright has used before (and obviously he’s not the only guy out there who does it), but I can’t get enough of it. In fact… Attention other directors (Paul Greengrass, you should listen to this, ‘cause this concerns you): this is the way to shoot action. I know, I know, shaking the camera all around is more “gritty”. It captures the chaos and intensity of a fight better than a steady shot. I don’t care! Actors put in all sorts of work to learn how to fight and learn the choreography. So stop cutting every two seconds, pull that camera back and let me see what’s happening! Thank you.

Ahem… Anyway, sorry for the sidetrack there but shakycam is one of my pet peeves when it comes to movies. Getting back to Hanna, let’s talk music for a second. The score to Hanna was done by the Chemical Brothers, and it’s great. At times it’s very melodic and soothing, elsewhere it’s very deep and bass-y. I loved it.

So that’s Hanna – a coming of age story wrapped in a slick thriller. I had a lot of fun with it.

3. Martha Marcy May Marlene – Interesting that I’m finally writing about this movie. I’ve known about it for about a year (in fact, I spoke briefly about it on episode two of the podcast), but haven’t said much. Well, now’s the time…

This is an excellent film. It deals with a young woman named Martha (played by Elizabeth Olsen). Unsure of where to turn in life, she falls in with a cult, led by the spookily charismatic Patrick (played by John Hawkes). The movie begins with her departure from this cult, and then flashes back and forth, intercutting scenes of her attempts to regain a normal life with scenes of her experiences within the cult.

The film’s structure is vital to its effectiveness. By flashing back and forth between past and present, director Sean Durkin keeps us scrambling to keep up. It gives the viewer insight into Martha’s own confused state of mind. Things that happen in the present are constantly reminding her of things she’s experienced before. Even mundane things like the sound of something falling on a rooftop wind up having huge significance. This information is parceled out piece by horrifying piece.

In the end, Martha’s grasp on reality seems to be slipping away. Or is it? Like Martha herself, we don’t know. We have reason to question what we see, but the film doesn’t give us a definitive answer. That ambiguity is preserved right up to (and beyond) the final frame.

For all its narrative ingenuity, Martha Marcy May Marlene would of course be nothing without great acting. Elizabeth Olsen gives one of the absolute best performances of the year. I love everything about it. She gets all the big moments of emotional turmoil (like the heartbreaking phone call near the film’s opening) spot on, but she also does all the little things. Little nervous gestures and looks, her slow smile when Patrick plays her a song. Truly some great work, and I have to say I’m a little surprised to see Olsen overlooked during awards season. Hawkes too for that matter. He’s only in a few scenes, but he makes a huge impression as the manipulative cult leader.

If I had to pick at any flaws, I’d say the transitions between past and present aren’t always done in the most narratively consistent way. And the score gets a little heavy-handed here and there. These minor flaws aside, this is fantastic and troubling stuff.

2. Drive – One of the year’s coolest films, this is director Nicholas Winding Refn’s art house rendition of the “wheelman” movie. It stars Ryan Gosling as a mysterious character known only as “Driver,” a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver. So yeah… Basically, if you’re not already sold, I don’t what else to tell you.

As plots go, they don’t get much simpler, but it’s the execution of the story that makes Drive so memorable. The brilliant opening scene takes you along for a ride with the Driver as he takes police on a wild chase through Los Angeles following a job. You get a lot of long silences as the tension builds, punctuated by loud, fast action beats as he makes his escape.

It should be noted that this movie, like I Saw The Devil, won’t be for everyone. There’s some pretty crazy violence at times. And unlike in Jee-woon Kim’s film, which tends to build up the madness gradually, often times these images come out of nowhere in Drive. Refn seems to favour a “slow, then fast” approach to action. You’re almost lulled along as things seem to be going smoothly, and then suddenly you’re confronted by a shockingly violent image.

Another unique aspect of Drive is its lack of dialogue, especially from the main character himself. Driver is virtually mute throughout the film. It’s an interesting choice and something of an acquired taste. For me personally, I tend to like very “talky” movies. Lots of back and forth, lots of witty exchanges. This movie has almost none of that, but its tone is so consistent throughout that it still worked for me.

One of the things I like most about Drive is its sense of deliberateness. Everything in the movie – every shot, every song – feels like a calculated choice by Refn. I don’t necessarily always like the choices, but this isn’t a guy who just keeps rolling and hopes to cobble something together in the editing room. Every scene is carefully assembled, and structured for maximum impact.

Like I said, the movie isn’t perfect. There’s a love story between the Driver and a character named Irene (played by Carey Mulligan) that doesn’t entirely work. Again, it’s hard to convey these things without having much interaction or dialogue between the actors. But the movie keeps finding ways to win me over. Albert Brooks being cast a villain is pretty ingenious, and Bryan Cranston as Driver’s hard-luck, likable boss is one of the few sympathetic characters to be found.

1. Midnight In Paris – I gave this movie another look just prior to writing this, and I’m very happy to have it as my number one for the year. Woody Allen continues to knock it out of the park. I know a lot of people are partial to his earlier work (stuff like Manhattan, or Annie Hall, or The Purple Rose Of Cairo), and while I think those are perfectly good films, I really like what he’s been doing lately. I had a lot of fun with Match Point, I loved Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and now this.

Even now I’m a bit hesitant to talk too much about the plot here, because a lot of the fun with Midnight In Paris lies in its surprises. The first trailer set things up perfectly without giving away too much. Basically you have Owen Wilson as Gil, a Hollywood hack trying to write a novel. He’s in Paris with his fiancée Inez, played by Rachel MacAdams. They meet up with friends Paul and Carol (Michael Sheen and Nina Arianda). Rachel likes Paul, but Gil refers to him derisively as “a pseudo-intellectual”. Gil starts taking walks at midnight in an attempt to gain inspiration for his writing, and it leads him off on a series of adventures.

This is a movie made for arts majors (which, for awhile anyway, I was). Midnight In Paris is crammed with references to paintings, literature, sculpture, music, and movies. Some of these little nods are more obscure than others, but the great thing about Midnight In Paris is that even if you don’t get all the little throwaway jokes about Djuna Barnes or Luis Bunuel, there’s still a lot of fun to be had.

Wilson makes a great stand-in for Woody Allen, capturing his somewhat bumbling, neurotic personality, while being slightly more credible as a leading man. MacAdams is intentionally cast against type as the self-absorbed, shallow Inez. Michael Sheen doesn’t have many scenes, but he definitely makes an impression as the arrogant and pretentious Paul. He’s a character you’ll love to hate. The movie also features great supporting performances from the likes of Alison Pill, Marion Cotillard and Adrien Brody.

As if all that weren’t enough, Midnight In Paris looks gorgeous, thanks to cinematographer Darius Khondji. I’m not an adventurous person, and I don’t really think about travel all that much, but this movie certainly makes Paris seem like a great place to visit. Gil is obsessed with nostalgia, and the visuals of Midnight In Paris make a pretty compelling case for him.

Oh, and let’s not forget the film’s delightful soundtrack, featuring the jaunty acoustic guitar of Stephane Wrembel.

Midnight In Paris made me laugh, it made me think, and ultimately it transported me to a different world. That’s everything I go to the movies for in a nutshell, and that’s why this film is my favourite from 2011.


That pretty well wraps it up. Not the best year for movies, but not too shabby either. As I said, Matthew and I also did a 2011 wrap-up on our most recent podcast episode. We talk about a ton of stuff (including everything listed above). I talk about some of my favourite overlooked performances of the year, and Matthew chimes in with a few of his favourite films too. So that’s it. If all goes according to plan, we’ll be back again next year to do all this again!


4 responses to “The Best Films Of 2011

  1. michaelwalls February 26, 2012 at 2:21 am

    Very nice list. Haven’t seen I SAW THE DEVIL, or MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE but really, really want to. HANNA definitely came close to the top, and SOURCE CODE is really good as well. I’d put my top ten, according to Criticker, as:

    10. 50/50
    -Wonderful buddy-comedy that has some stinging dramatic moments. Joseph Gordon-Levitt brings real pain and emotion–especially in the last third of the movie–and Seth Rogen pulls out some of his best work in his supporting role. A wonderful overlooked film.

    9. WARRIOR
    -Is there a movie released in 2011 that packs more cliches into its running time and actually makes it work? Hell on. This film is led by two monstrous performances that threaten to be dragged down by relentless backstory(abusive father, war hero, deserter, sick child, poor teacher, high school sweetheart, etc.) but end up soaring above because of it. The centrepiece of the film is a chill-worthy performance by a broken, beatdown Nick Nolte.

    -Another overlooked film during awards season, I think partially due to a misinterpretation of what the film was trying to accomplish. The film spouts of standard liberal views and catches flack for being obvious with its politics. The film has nothing to do with that, and George Clooney–the director, co-star and co-writer–knows this. Clooney’s supporting role in this film is better and more nuanced than his nominated work in THE DESCENDANTS by darkly using his own style and persona against the audience. Ryan Gosling continues to knock it out of the park in 2011 and Phillip Seymour Hoffman does fantastic work as usual.

    -A deep, stylish, novelistic spy movie. This movie has an almost pretentious disinterest in allowing the audience to understand what the hell is going on, and it works in its favour. It’s Cold War setting allows for deep costumes and sets, little background touches that are barely noticed consciously but work so well to transport you to the inner workings of The Circus. Every great, modern, male British actor seems to have a role in this and they all do great work with little. Gary Oldman’s quiet meditation is peppered with small character bits–along with a wonderful drunken monologue–that layer themselves wonderfully into a full portrait of George Smiley. Benedict Cumberbatch is also amazing in the film as Smiley’s man friday, Peter Guillam. This movie earned Oldman his first nomination in over three decades of top-tier acting and its well-deserved.

    -This film tries to romanticize taking the romance out of baseball. And I think it does that well. It’s filmed and acted in a very down-to-earth, utilitarian way. In my mind, Pitt does amazing work in this and should be getting way more Best Actor buzz than he is. He’s better than Clooney’s nominated role and on par with Oldman and Dujardin. Pitt becomes Billy Beane in the movie and I pretty much forgot that that he’s Brad Pitt, which is a hard thing to do. I also love the way he handles Aaron Sorkin dialogue and I hope he gets to tackle some again soon.

    -This is the most fun I’ve had watching a movie this year. It’ll most likely the the one I end up revisiting the most as well. The first time I watched it I ended up seeing it two more times almost immediately after. It’s just such a great, slick action film that surprised me. It’s got the slickest revolt story this side of the Old Hollywood sword-and-sandal epics. Caesar is one of the most complicated, sympathetic and badass protagonists of the year. The live action cast is bland–James Franco apparently taking a year off after 127 HOURS–with the exception of John Lithgow, but nobody saw the movie for the people. The primate characters in this film are where it’s at, and the Caesar/Maurice bromance is my favourite relationship on screen in 2011.

    -Lots of people took issue with the overlong wedding, but it was the best wedding on film I’d seen since THE DEER HUNTER. Lars Von Trier’s examination of depression and its effects on people and their families is bold and shocking and impressive. I preferred his last film, ANTICHRIST, but this movie definitely matches it striking-scene-for-striking-scene. Von Trier has his requisite ‘tortured women’ in this movie and Dunst does an amazing job playing his stand-in. Her portrayal of a sufferer of deep depression is pretty spot-on and tough to watch. Her transformation in the two sections of the film is wonderful. The final image of the movie makes me wish I had seen it in the theatre.

    -A meditation on the working class in these economic times. There are two powerhouse performances by Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon. Shannon’s Oscar snub is an egregious oversight. His role in this movie is a hard one and he makes it entirely sympathetic and impossible to look away. TAKE SHELTER is a product of its time, showing the struggle of the lower-middle-class and how even the slightest upset in their lives or budgets can completely destroy them emotionally and financially. The closing shot in this film is so incredibly powerful it’s impossible to shake. Between this and MELANCHOLIA it was a hell of a year for closing shots.

    I don’t know all the words to some of my favourite songs, and I don’t pretend to fully understand everything going on in Tree of Life, but I fucking love this film. Malick is one of my favourites. He’s never put out a bad film, ranging from Great to Classic. His latest is a culmination of themes he’s developed since BADLANDS. The narrative is improperly dismissed as unimportant when it’s just too narrow-and-simultaneously-expansive to adequately nail down. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain(another performance that’s worthier of attention than THE HELP) play the father and mother and they just get it. They nail the feeling that they’re supposed to, and that’s what Malick’s all about: feeling. Also, frame this fucking film. Every beatiful second of it.

    1. DRIVE
    -The elevator scene is one of my favourite scenes ever put to film. This movie also has at least five other moments that could argue for a spot. I could talk about DRIVE for hours, so I’ll just say that its exclusion from all the major Oscar categories(should at least have been represented in Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Director, Score and Cinematography) is a sad state of affairs. Also, I’ll argue that Bryan Cranston’s insanely nuanced and sympathetic performance deserved more awards buzz than Albert Brooks.

    HONOURABLE MENTIONS(Going into more detail because they’re not going to hit any lists):

    LOUIS C.K. LIVE AT THE BEACON THEATRE: Louis C.K. is the greatest working comedian, bar none. He exists outside of mainstream comedy and alt-comedy and yet reaches the top of both. Amazingly, this may be his weakest set in the last three or four years. (As is known by most interested parties, Louie is rare among comedians in that he writes a brand new set of material each year.) Louie’s set has his own particularly weird and honest view of the world. What this set does, which sets it apart from previous works, is show the affects of fame on Louie’s psyche and actions. Since his explosion in recent years, thanks to his work-horse attitude towards stand-up and the critical success of his TV series “Louie”, he’s been able to live comfortably. This shines through in his work. Possibly his best joke stems from this: his ability to leave rental cars wherever he feels like it. It’s an amazing, honest and hilarious piece of work and it flows wondrfully from Louie, whose evolution–thanks to his attitude towards new material–is always evident. He discusses God, but he’s not George Carlin. He discusses air travel, but he’s not Jerry Seinfeld. He discusses parenthood, but he’s not Bill Cosby. He’s Louis C.K.

    TALKING FUNNY: Speaking of Louie… This HBO special was something I was completely amped about when I first heard it was going to air. A roundtable discussion, hosted by Ricky Gervais, of the greatest living standups? Yes please. Ricky Gervais is joined by Jerry Seinfeld, Louis C.K. and Chris Rock to talk about comedy. That’s as simple as it is. They cover a range of different topics and it’s easy to see the different personalities shining through. Seinfeld is still sly and devilish, but his clean act has evolved into a sort of conservativeness in his later years. Rock is professional, hard-working and hilarious and it shines through. Louie is the epitome of detached cool, keeping things on the rails by almost playing second host. And Gervais: his excitement at being in this room with these people talking about comedy is infectious. All of these men are top performers, though some may have arguable relevance, all have unquestionable influence. Hopefully more ‘Talking Funny’ specials can be filmed and aired, because I loved it.

  2. Mike Lake February 26, 2012 at 3:28 am

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments! I’ve seen everything on your list except for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Some thoughts on your picks:

    Obviously we’ve gone back-and-forth about 50/50 so I can’t add much. It mostly does work for me, I just found a few things about it didn’t really connect with me (the main character’s parents, for example). Still a solid film that surprised me quite a bit.

    Warrior, we’ll agree to disagree. I didn’t dislike it, but it felt overlong and stuffed with half-developed side plots… I didn’t particularly like the fight scenes either. As an avid UFC fan, watching the fights in Warrior gave me new respect for the great job the UFC’s camera guys do. Real Steel was a better film, IMO. Maybe not in terms of acting, but the narrative was a lot cleaner. That said, both films take potentially interesting female characters (played by Jennifer Morrison in Warrior and Evangeline Lilly in Real Steel) and reduce them to cheering from the sidelines at the end. Sigh…

    I liked The Ides Of March, and it’s probably one I’ll revisit soon. The cast is certainly phenomenal, and I agree Clooney made a better impression here than in The Descendants (I think his work in that film is hugely overrated). I just tend to have trouble with movies that devolve into a series of double-crosses, which I think this one kind of did. Then again, a second viewing would probably help clear up some of the confusion, so it’s probably my fault for not being smart enough to get it in one sitting. 🙂

    Moneyball was another miss for me. Again, didn’t dislike it, but felt a bit… bored by it, I guess? I didn’t really like the way they incorporated flashbacks of Billy Beane’s career, and I left the film feeling like I didn’t get that much insight into his personal life. The family stuff with his ex-wife and kid felt like it was just kinda put in because it was expected to be there, but it didn’t really reveal anything for me. And the explanation of how his whole moneyball idea worked was oversimplified. I get that they have to do that for a two-hour movie, but I thought they really dumbed it down.

    I can’t really say anything too bad about Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. I guess I was more bothered by the boring humans than you were. Especially when they’re played by people like Franco and Pinto, who I’ve seen do great work in other things. That said, I liked Lithgow, and Serkis was incredible (as usual). If they make a sequel that focuses more on the apes, I will definitely watch it.

    I’ll skip Melancholia since we both liked it. 🙂

    Take Shelter… I’m of two minds about this movie. I loved it (or 99% of it anyway), and I found the performances and just about everything else about it to be great. That last shot though… Very visually compelling, but I can’t figure out how it’s meant to be taken. If it’s another hallucination, then okay, I can buy that based on what we’ve already seen. The movie is relatively unambiguous about Shannon’s character having some sort of mental illness. But if it’s actually a real storm, (which is implied, since the rest of his family seems to see it too) then… what the hell? Shannon’s character is psychic then? Or it’s just the biggest coincidence ever? It becomes kind of a cheap, “gotcha” moment tacked on the end of a fairly compelling film. That’s my feeling anyway. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the ending.

    And obviously I liked The Tree Of Life and Drive quite a bit. I think both movies have their issues (all the Sean Penn scenes in Tree Of Life, and the weirdly developed relationship between Gosling and Mulligan in Drive, to name two examples). But I recognize that these are the result of deliberate stylistic choices by the directors. Mallick and Refn made two of the most unique films I’ve seen in awhile. They might not be perfect movies in my eyes, but I know both directors executed their visions as best they could.

    And I haven’t seen either of your honorable mentions, but I did watch the first two seasons of Louie recently (and am eagerly awaiting the third) so I’ll probably check ’em out.

    Thanks again!

  3. michaelwalls February 26, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Even though it wasn’t a stunner of a year (the last huge year in film was probably 2007) I thought there were enough really solid films that it ended up being a tough top ten. There were easily six other films that could have taken my bottom two spots(THE ARTIST, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, CONTAGION, HUGO, HANNA, WIN-WIN) so overall it was a fairly successful year in my mind. And I still haven’t been able to check out a few movies that may have shifted my list around greatly–I SAW THE DEVIL and MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE which were on your list, and SHAME and WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN–so I probably have a cheerier outlook on 2011 than you.

    -WARRIOR: The fight scenes also didn’t do much for me either, aside from the final fight, but that didn’t matter much to me. I guess I just bought into it enough that everything clicked for me. And it didn’t feel overlong to me, in fact I was shocked that it was around 2 and a half hours long. I did love REAL STEEL though–that last fight in that movie almost had me cheering in the theatre–and I’ll agree its story had a better throughline. I also agree that the women in both films were greatly underutilized, which is sadly endemic.

    -IDES OF MARCH: definitely check it out again. The multiple double-crosses were almost too obvious–and pretty ancillary to the themes of the film–that I didn’t mind them too much. But Gosling and Clooney put in some really subtle work. I also read the script, originally titled FARRAGUT NORTH, and it’s awesome as well. So check it out, if you like reading screenplays.

    -MONEYBALL: seems to be hit-or-miss with people. I’m a sucker for Sorkin so I was automatically into it, and I’m not a baseball fan so maybe some of the more egregious oversights and oversimplifications were lost on me. I will agree that a lot of Pitt’s family stuff fell flat–mostly the ex-wife, his daughter worked fine for me–and the flashbacks didn’t work at all.

    -TAKE SHELTER: I’ll just tell you what my reading of the ending was. The ending proper of the film was Michael Shannon, through the help of his wife, opening up the shelter and walking out. It was his acceptance of his problem and it showed his trust in Jessica Chastain to see him through it. The beach scene, at least to me, is a hallucination, but this time Chastain sees it too. I think it represents the fact that they’ll work through it together. Now his wife is on his side in these hallucinations instead of being alone or having her actively work against him in them. That’s the way I like to look at it. There are some holes–her face during the oily rain scene, however it could represent her shock at how deep his troubles are, and their final look at each other is a really pleasant, comforting one–but it works with the way I looked at the film. I agree completely though, that if the storm is real and he’s some kind of prophet it becomes a really dishonest “Gotcha” moment. So I don’t read it like that.

  4. Mike Lake February 26, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    Yeah, I’m not sure why I’m not that keen on 2011… Maybe I’ve just been spoiled in recent years? In 2010, I loved The Social Network and True Grit. The year before that, Inglourious Basterds was a joy to watch. For me personally, these three top anything I saw in 2011. I guess this past year just wasn’t a great one for dialogue-driven movies, and those are always my favourites.

    Anyway, I’ve got a lot of hope for 2012 (barring the end of the world, of course)… The Cabin In The Woods, The Avengers, Prometheus, The Bourne Legacy, The Dark Knight Rises, Looper, The Hobbit, Django Unchained, The Sound Of My Voice, Argo, Gravity, Stoker, etc. It certainly promises to be a great year for action movies/thrillers.

    All that and maybe The Master as well (though I don’t think that has an official release date yet). Any year where Paul Thomas Anderson puts out a film is a good year in my books. And who knows, maybe Terrence Malick will even finish up one of the many projects he has on the go… Okay probably not, but still.

    And thanks for your interpretation of the last scene in Take Shelter. I’m sure it’s another movie I’ll see again eventually, so maybe a second viewing will help clear things up. I guess I just don’t see why Chastain would be hallucinating (and I believe the daughter saw the storm as well?).. It works thematically, because it reinforces the idea that they’ll all be facing the struggle together, but logically it seems questionable. I mean, maybe the main character’s madness is rubbing off on his family, but that’s pretty iffy.

    I wondered if maybe it was another dream? It would serve to underscore the notion that his struggle is going to be ongoing, but as with your interpretation, he and his wife will face it together. The only problem there is the style of the last scene didn’t seem like some of his other dreams that we’d seen previously. So I’m not sure if that makes sense either.

    The ending scene is really the only thing I take issue with in the entire film, so that’s why it bugs me. If they had done the exact same ending but had just the guy seeing the storm while his family remained oblivious, that would’ve made more sense. I mean I guess there wouldn’t have been as much to talk about, but I’d rather something that’s final and makes sense versus something that’s ambiguous and (seemingly anyway) doesn’t. I’d love to ask the writer/director what they thought about it…

    On the subject of We Need To Talk About Kevin… That’s a tough movie to watch. It’s basically relentlessly unpleasant and awkward. It’s very well directed though, so it kind of makes me want to see some of Lynne Ramsay’s other films.

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