Best Films of 2011
178 7.4 7.420. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)
Here's a slightly denser Herzogian documentary that goes in and investigates cave paintings that may be (or at this point are confirmed to be) the oldest known art on the planet. However in true Herzog form that's only the surface. As the film progress' he delves into the very nature of humanity's psychological make up. Again its dense and will have you looking at walls for 75 minutes so it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea. But for those who know and love his work, you won't be disappointed.
1456 7.2 7.619. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Throughout the summer there were a vast number of big budget action pictures that also wanting to try and pull on our heart strings. Unfortunately almost all of them fail because there's no reason to care. BUT to my pleasant surprise 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' makes you at the very least give a damn about Caesar and these apes. The human characters serve their purpose, but the real emphasis is on Weta's meticulously created apes and their story.
By the end of the final act the emotional cords worked, the moments were earned and it all made sense. This is the intelligence and energy that ought to be found in more summer films.
1036 7.1 7.418. The Descendants (2011)
Alexander Payne loves to find complexity within humor and yet again he manages to tell a very emotionally complex story with 'The Descendants'. It's really showcasing an A-team at work. Clooney nails the range of a hurt and confused businessman dealing with a dying wife, two daughters he never quite bonded well with, a huge land dealing AND the icing on the cake the fact that his wife was cheating on him.
34 6.7 6.817. The Robber (2010)
A true story of an award winning marathon runner who's secret hobby was planning and carrying out mid-level banks robberies around city. The escape sequences are some of the most exciting and creative looking sequences of any thriller I've seen all year. Its playing on netflix and is well worth seeking out. Especially for those who love the 'Le Samouraï' type template.
365 6.8 716. Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)
Lovers of old, old school Roman Polanski will find themselves right at home with 'Martha Marcy May Marlene'. Slow and dreamlike the drama works its way attempting to get into your head and take you off guard with some very clever editing trickery. All to tell a cold, somber story of a girl running away from one 'family' and back to another, but the re-integration may not be so smooth.
232 6.6 6.615. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)
There's no easy way to explain viewing 'Uncle Boonmee...' so I won't bother. What you can expect however is a slightly long, but VERY creative film that involves a man in his final days contemplating his past lives. Some of these not as a human as you might imagine. Some of the humor stems from the creativity of the story as you truly never quite know where its headed and likewise why certain characters appear when and as they do. BUT all this said there is no greater piece of work on this list that I can recommend solely for the open minded viewer. This isn't a simple picture or one that will bend over backwards to explain itself, so know going in that you'll be simply taking the ride.
446 7.6 7.614. 13 Assassins (2010)
Takashi Miike honestly had one of the coolest, standout films of the spring that really, truthfully SHOULD HAVE BEEN WIDELY DISTRIBUTED! I can't stress how much of an amazing theatrical experience this would've been on the big screen. Sadly for most of us we had to see it on DVD or Netflix.
This is a straight up and down samurai flick. Bloody, raw, dramatic and never ever boring. The final moments are also a real emotional killer.
1561 6.9 7.313. Rango (2011)
Gore Verbinski's very odd filmmaking career continues with (in my opinion) his best film. THIS is the kind of slightly heady, very funny, witty and smart animated films we should be getting more of. At no point does 'Rango' overtly attempt to make you cry for anyone or fill you up on pop culture references (unless you're a fan of 'Chinatown' or Sergio Leone films). Depp and company energetically voice the various creatures of Dirt with the kind of excitement you'd generally wish all actors performed at. And ILM's animation work here is flooring.
823 7 7.312. War Horse (2011)
Spielberg's 'War Horse' isn't nearly as manipulative as its trailers lead you to believe. It's also more exciting and engaging than his other holiday picture 'The Adventures of Tintin' would lead you to believe.
It's an adventure story to the bone; involving a young man, his beloved horse he raised and the first great war humanity endured. Even at PG-13 Spielberg crafts exciting and harsh war sequences and is always attempting to showcase an atmosphere and an emotion. Does it get schmaltzy sometimes? Sure, but then again what would a Spielberg family picture be if it didn't? Truth be told its just old school. You could program this along side 'Forbidden Games' and it would be right at home. However due to that a lot of people will hate it. I get it, trust me. The film exists without any cynicism or real feelings of motivation to bring about tearful out bursts or without fully diving into any hard-hard subject matter. Well kind of. It doesn't aim at being 'The Boy in the Striped Pajamas' by throwing on a predictable and overly sad finale.
For me it just feels like Spielberg's love letter to films of 40s and 50s in look, style, tone and procedure. I guess I just have a soft spot for that kind of thing.
30 7.1 6.711. Sleepless Night (2011)
Sometime in 2012 the masses will be able to catch 'Sleepless Night' which is quite an impressive thriller that never quite quits. I first learned about it from 2011's Fantastic Fest and managed to dig it up. What I found was an exciting, slightly under valued production wise, club set action thriller that could have the grit and intelligence to bring about a new wave in crime cinema. Heavy praise, but the film is really quite impressive.
925 7.6 7.610. The Skin I Live In (2011)
It's within the final act of Almadovor's psychosexual horror film that I really loved it. Before you have an engrossing, twisty tale of a amazing plastic surgeon, his housekeeper and the woman he keeps locked away in a room. It continues on with rape, heavy sex and a lot of mysterious back story. But within it's final act we get quite an impressive payoff that's made all the better from the classically suspenseful style of it all. Really a great, original piece that's worth seeing a couple of times IN theaters.
1629 7.5 7.69. Hugo (2011)
Leave it to Scorsese to make a family adventure/drama about a boy meeting an innovative french filmmaker during world war II. 'Hugo' maybe one of the most beautifully designed and photographed films of the year. Its use of 3D is smart and different from most of the films to use it prior. Scorsese really plays with depth and framing a lot more than many others (although I feel Tarsem did this too) and Robert Richardson's photography is superb. No dimming or anything.
How much for kids it is per-say is up for debate. Personally I feel like kids of a certain age, even if they don't get the whole film, will recognize the visual beauty and style and may remember it when they get older. For adults however it can offer a bit of youthful humor and legitimately engrossing storytelling.
560 7.8 7.88. I Saw the Devil (2010)
Probably the best serial killer thriller I've seen a few years. Jee-woon Kim ('The Good, the Bad and the Weird') switches gears in a big way and churns out a starling and methodical piece of work that ought to be sought out.
1112 6.3 6.77. Contagion (2011)
The directing & writing team of Steven Soderbergh and Scott Burns ('The Informant!' and upcoming 'Bitter Pill') again pull off a highly intelligent piece of work. 'Contagion' works for those who want a little more realism with their pandemic story. No zombies or city sized mobs of people rioting; instead a series of small scale stories told during a 'world ending' viral outbreak. Soderbergh goes for a more stationary film style that works quite well with the tone of the story and Cliff Martinez's score is highly atmospheric with a slight electronic flair that also makes for entertaining listening.
However for me the biggest display of skill is within Burns' lean and brainy script. Here is one of the few science related films that doesn't lighten the mental load, but will allow the audience to realize the importance of certain things simply through context. Just that little something to reward attentive viewers.
29 8.4 7.66. Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe... (2011)
The general zeitgeist of rap and hip hop has changed and evolved much since artists like De la Soul and A Tribe Called Quest first came around, but their legacy and how they affected the genre can still be seen today. Michael Rapaport and company display their true love for it in a stylish and nicely introspective doc.
598 6.2 6.35. Young Adult (2011)
Proving yet again that you don't require comic actors to pull off a very funny comedy. Charlize Theron does a great job of playing a character that's sad, funny, dark and truthfully crazy. Diablo Cody shows more of writing strength (even if you didn't dig "Juno", I urge people to watch her former showtime series "United States of Terra") and Jason Reitman again does a fine job of putting it all together in a smart and original way that places its cast in the forefront and allows them to perform at their best.
TIE WITH Errol Morris' "Tabloid".
1482 6.9 6.74. The Tree of Life (2011)
The best way anyone has explained Terrence Malick's masterwork is it's a story told from the perspective of God. Which truthfully is a great way to explain all of Malick's work. However 'The Tree of Life' might be his most experimental and dynamic to date. It's incredibly non-linear, but simply because that's the way in which the story should be told. Year in and year out are a dozen and a half intimate family stories, but none ever seem to have the vision to take things to another step. A headier step.
Now, what does a Texas family in the 50s have to do with the creation of the universe? Does it have anything to do with it at all? Hell I'm not sure it's even the point to speculate Malick's meaning. I think its a piece of art that asks YOU what do you see. What do you feel.
596 7.3 7.23. Beginners (2010)
'Beginners' is the rare sort of indie dramedy that flows effortlessly and without pretension. Along with that it's equally as intelligent, dramatic and emotional as it is funny, charming and witty. Writer-director Mike Mills takes heavily (although how much is up for debate) from his own life and dealings with his elderly father finally coming out as a gay man and experiencing that along side his last days.
Christopher Plummer gives probably his best performance of his recent work (which is saying a lot as he's been pretty top notch all along) and Mills inserts a lot of style that pleasantly blends with the substance. Beautiful work.
940 7.1 7.62. Moneyball (2011)
More films should strive to be designed like 'Moneyball'. Here is a drama that can double as a comedy as well as a sports film AND a intelligent topic starter for people with an interest in business and money management. It's no wonder Zallian & Sorkin have been winning so many awards for their work on this. Wally Pfester's photography is crisp and Bennett Miller directs every actor as if their all grasping at awards, but without any pretension.
Brad Pitt turns out another strong performance, easily channeling a sort of contemplative Redford-seque character. And Jonah Hill stepping up and really, really impressing as the straight laced, innovative thinking Peter Breen. Honestly more dramas ought to take a cue from films like this and 'The Social Network' for their ability to tell stories that resonate without having to be solely confined to one genre of film.
I know little about baseball and far less about stats. Yet, like any good story it can make you give a damn anyway.
2031 7.8 7.81. Drive (2011)
Refn's "Drive" is just plain and outright fucking cool. It's a throwback to those great, simple-yet-complex crime pictures of the 70s and 80s and yet feels very modern. Ryan Gosling plays the slight, thinking man hero in one of the best ways I've seen it in years. Always he feels and we feel for him. We feel his emotional destruction, his fear and his slight desires.
'Drive' is also a prime example of a film that thought simple, is great strongly through style. We've seen similar films to this before yet 'Drive' feels fresh and new. Its exciting, daring, cruel, suspenseful, cool and artful. Is it something for the mass populous to fully embrace? Of course not. But for those who search out pictures that are truly dynamic and engrossing, this one takes it.
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