Spotlight: Top 12 Films Of 2011

This was probably due a couple of weeks ago, but with a vacation over the new year and a car accident that took up all my free-time recently, I am just now able to sit down and put together my list of favorite films this past year. It was kind of a funny year, as I spent most of my time moving to California and getting my new life straightened out. But in the process, I was catching most of the new films that came out as well as some oldies that I had never seen. Though I have tons of 2011 films to see yet (some of which that could eventually make this list), I did a good job of seeing most films I was excited about and therefore I present:

MY TOP 12 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2011
11. “The Help” – Tate Taylor
No film this year quite surprised me like “The Help”. Never did I think I would love this film as much as I did (I only saw it in theaters because the girl I was interested in at the time wanted to see it and I never turn down a chance to go to the movies). With superb acting across the board, “The Help” is one of the best surprise films this year. The depth of the script carries this film from regular drama to extraordinary storytelling. Emma Stone nails the film down with her presence, but is out-shined by Viola Davis, who completely impresses, Bryce Dallas Howard, who delivers the best villainous performance that I have seen in quite some time, and Jessica Chastain, who won me over and became my favorite portions of the film. (matched wonderfully by actor Mike Vogel). Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are amazing, Octavia Spencer delivers a Mo’Nique/”Precious”-like performance. The first draft of my list did not include “The Help”, but after viewing it again, I found it contains absolutely every element a film should have and provides it in a truly entertaining package.

10. “Super 8” – J.J. Abrams
What can only be described as the love-child of Spielberg and Abrams, “Super 8” grazes all the best parts of the 80’s and 90’s films we loved while growing up. With tones of “Stand By Me”, “E.T.” and “The Goonies” meshed with “Cloverfield”, “Jurassic Park”, and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, this film delivers more in one sitting than all the blockbusters of this summer thus far. Abrams proves his sensibility, which is apparent from the earlier scenes in the film, displaying a mastered directorial hand that steers away from the brash and blatant brush strokes that we become accustomed to in this sort of setting. The kids are the stars of the show, as our empathy evolves for them, along with the relationships at play throughout the film. Elle Fanning exhibits an acting prowess far beyond her years and captures the center of attention in the midst of a  horror, monster movie. Though I feel the nature of this film will miss certain audiences, “Super 8” hits home for those who grew up entertained by this mild-natured, yet truly extraordinary, style of adventure.

9. “The Ides Of March” – George Clooney
The Ides Of March is one of the most engaging dramas I feel I have seen in quite some time. Having been promoted as a dramatic thriller, the thrills come completely out of human interaction rather than an element of stress or time-crunch placed on the characters. Gosling is brilliant in his role, owning this part wholly. George Clooney commands attention in his brief but significant role (having been in the director’s chair for most of the film). There is no small role in the film and each separate actor/actress brings something specifically unique and enthralling. The writing is award-worthy, along the lines of “The Social Network”, which is apparent in the selling of a political based drama to a viewer who has zero sense of the world of politics. Evan Rachel Wood is absolutely fierce in her role and her performance completely blew me away, delivering a performance I feel that no other actress could have. Gosling has become one of my favorite actors of all time, and surrounded by such greatness it is hard not to love this film.

8. “Beginners” – Mike Millis
**coming soon**

 

7. “Buck” – Cindy Meehl
One of the best and most inspiring documentaries of the year, Buck shows a side of human compassion that is rarely seen these days, which is emotionally moving while entertaining. I hope Buck has enough steam to come away with an Oscar this year, because it is definitely my top pick of the year. With a stellar soundtrack and a natural production quality, no matter what your stance on horses or cowboys, everyone should see this film.

6. “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” – Brad Bird
By far the best film of the series, “Ghost Protocol” drives furiously from mission to mission, with each standing out in their own significant way and each leaving a lasting impression. The chase sequences are some of the best I’ve ever seen, the graphics are surreal, and the performances rival most any action film to-date. I wholly consider this franchise the next generation’s 007. Definitely the best use of IMAX I have seen since “The Dark Knight”.

5. “The Tree Of Life” – Terrence Malick
This is a film you only see once in a lifetime, proving that there can still be art in the film medium, despite what Hollywood would have you believe. Tree of Life is not for everyone (you can ask the 6-8 people that walked out during the screening in which I partook). The film is raw, naturalistic, and poignant, displaying some of the most gorgeous imagery I have ever experienced in a movie theater. Landscapes, human emotion, and the basic essentials of life, Tree of Life delves into what it is to be in a family through the ponderings of Sean Penn, as he reflects on his childhood, growing up with two brothers, a lovely mother (Jessica Chastain), and a strict father (Brad Pitt). You could mistake this film for a character study at times, forgetting that these are actors and feeling as though the audience is peering into the real lives of real people. This film is a stroke of passion from Malick and I could write on this film for hours, with so much more reading and researching about the film and its creators.

4. “Shame” – Steve McQueen
Michael Fassbender displays one of the most subtle performances of the year. The subject matter is fresh, Carey Mulligan is gorgeous, and the cinematography was eloquent. Another perfect contemplative film this year.

3. “Crazy Stupid Love” – Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
One of the best romantic comedies I have ever seen. Perfect performances, a rigamarole of emotions, and surprises until the very end of the film. This felt like an appropriate portrayal of reality in the best possible ways. I am usually not a Steve Carell fan, but he finds his place in this film. The dialogue is striking, providing for some of the funniest moments, as well as the saddest and heartbreaking moments in any film this year. Ryan Gosling, once again, nails his performance, proving to be one of the most impressive actors, not just of the year, but of all-time. I could list every actor in this film and how great their performances were for different reasons, but I will simply state that the acting in the film is top notch. Also, the soundtrack is superb, creating a mix of emotions rarely felt within the same film, topped off with one of my favorite songs this year: “Blood” by The Middle East. If I were to watch one film everyday for the rest of my life, “Crazy, Stupid, Love” would be a perfect pick.

2. “Melancholia”  – Lars von Trier
The sheer intensity and exquisite visuals make Melancholia a stunning masterpiece with von Trier’s fingerprints all over it. Kirsten Dunst turns a corner with a righteous performance, finding a balance between lovable bride and deeply disturbed sister. The payoff combined with the overwhelming orchestrated score induces chills and the revelations continue even after the credits rolls. The visuals in this film are undeniable and had von Trier not turned people off so much with his choice of words, “Melancholia” could definitely had a big presence at this year’s Oscars. Though this film may not transfer well out of the theater setting, I cannot wait to own and re-watch this film.

1. “Drive”  – Nicolas Winding Refn
Smooth and calculated, Drive delivers the full package as far as borderline-action-dramas are concerned. Ryan Gosling is nothing short of perfect in this role along with Carey Mulligan who epitomizes everything desirable without having to barely bat an eyelash. The scenes present in the trailer were just as (if not more) impacting in the film and having gone into this film expecting it to be my favorite film of the year, it did not disappoint. The only element of the film that kept it from being a “five star” film was the gratuitous gore and violence visible on screen, which did not leave much to the imagination (which I much more prefer). The supporting cast was one of the best I have ever witnessed, it represented Los Angeles perfectly, and the score was chilling and genuine throughout. The cinematography reminded me of a symphony, with crescendos and sustains, making this film utterly beautiful with so many moments lingering long after the credits roll.

1. “Like Crazy” – Drake Deremus
From frame one, it is hard not to fall in love with these actors. Yelchin and Jones form the key to any engaging love story with chemistry that drives into the end scenes of the film. Style and meaning exude out of every frame of this film and each selected moment with this couple appears both thoughtfully structured, yet carelessly organic. Like Crazy takes a step away from the standard Hollywood romance and brings to life a painfully truthful and touching glimpse into a couple’s life. There is always something so enriching when a film evokes from you an entire spectrum of emotion in such a short period of time and this film does just that. Like Crazy lived up to my high expectations and so much more.
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Keep your eyes on Ryan Gosling, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Fassbender, who were not only the busiest actors/actress of the year, but also the most impressive, most entertaining, and most consistent performers of the year.

Honorable Mentions
“X-Men: First Class”
“Transformers: Dark of the Moon”
“Hesher”
“Hanna”
“Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part Two”
“Captain America: The First Avenger”
“Contagion”
“50/50”
“In Time”
“Cowboys and Aliens”
“Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows”
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
“Beginners”
“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”
“Cracks”

Films I Need to See (That Could Make This List)
“Take Shelter”
“The Artist”
“The Descendants”
“Moneyball”
“Hugo”
“A Dangerous Method”
“Rampart”
“My Week With Marilyn”
“We Need To Talk About Kevin”
“Martha Marcy May Marlene”
“I Melt With You”
“Young Adult”

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