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The Top 10
No top 10 list reflects what the actual best movies of the year were: not my list, not Roger Ebert's list, not even the list of movies that the Academy nominates for best picture. Everyone responds in particular ways to different aspects of movies - that's what makes cinema so much fun to discuss with others. More than anything, a top 10 list is a reflection of the personality of whoever makes it. I have no interest in making a list that contains a bunch of critically-acclaimed movies that were released between November and December and that show up in a bunch of renowned critics' year-end lists, in order to look sophisticated. This list simply contains what I liked/loved the most throughout the year.
Take it for what it is, and most importantly, please don't be one of these people.
Take it for what it is, and most importantly, please don't be one of these people.
"Jordana and I enjoyed a glorious, atavistic fortnight of lovemaking, humiliating teachers and bullying the weak."
The best adapted screenplay of 2011 was co-written by Richard Ayoade, who also directed this sharp, poignant and quick-witted comedy and highly unconventional love story. It often happens to me that, during the first 15 minutes or so of a movie (even one I end up loving), I feel a sense of detachment as I gradually try to start warming up to the characters and their situations... but Oliver had me from minute one, as soon as he started musing over what people's reactions would be if he died. Yes, it does get over-quirky at times, but that's forgivable when it makes the production move at such an enjoyably nimble pace.
"It's already boring ... I hope it's not a silent movie."
This list wouldn't feel complete if it didn't include what I found to be one of the most original and interesting cinematic experiments we witnessed during 2011. When movies break the fourth wall, it seems to turn a lot of people off, but I generally have the opposite reaction, because if it's done well, it can feel like you're being brought into the film. You're no longer a mere spectator, enjoying the safe protection of the screen that divides you from the movie. In the case of Rubber, the fact that the audience is addressed directly is of great importance, because this film's pointedly critical message is squarely aimed in the direction of moviegoers. Weird minimalism is rarely handled as innovatively as it is here.
The Artist (2011)
"Mind your pride, sir. Miss Miller is a good person, believe me."
Yes, the most acclaimed film of the year is #8 on my list. You'll either get over it or you won't. Again, I make my top 10 list so that it reflects my personal order of preference, rather than a dishonest order that will make me look like a "responsible cinephile" (and it's worth noting that this is the first time since 2007's No Country for Old Men that the Best Picture frontrunner has made my top 10 list). The Artist is a ravishing piece of cinema reverence that may initially seem like nothing but a cute attempt at recreating what silent black-and-white films looked like, until it becomes obvious that the film is quite timely in several respects. Like the best picture Oscar winners of the previous 3 years, I predict it'll be forgotten by most sooner than later, but that doesn't make its placement here, at this point in time, any less deserved. While it's easy to get caught up in talking about this movie as the homage that it is, what I was most interested in was the fact that this is a beautiful story about one person who cares deeply for another person who's too full of pride to notice it - those are universal emotions we can connect with, regardless of how much dialogue a film has or which colors we see on the screen.
"See, but... that's bullshit. That's what everyone has been telling me since the beginning. 'Oh, you're gonna be okay,' and 'Oh, everything's fine', and like, it's not... it makes it worse... that no one will just come out and say it. Like, hey man, you're gonna die."
The film that surprised me the most in 2011 was this heartfelt, deeply affecting dramedy. 50/50 glides effortlessly through a labyrinth full of pitfalls, all of which would've easily made it stumble into corny, cliche and manipulative territory. The cynic in me was expecting the movie to fall into any of those traps at any given moment, but it never happened. It might have something to do with the fact that Will Reiser's screenplay is so personal - it's unlikely that something will feel dishonest when you actually lived through it. I've said a lot here about how much I respect people having different opinions on movies... but if 50/50 doesn't emotionally resonate with you, it'll be hard for me not to think you a little stone-hearted. Top shelf performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anna Kendrick.
Scream 4 (2011)
"Look around. We all live in public. We're all on the Internet. How do you think people become famous anymore? You don't have to achieve anything. You just gotta have fucked-up shit happen to you."
If you're a big fan of horror movies, you shouldn't necessarily take this as a recommendation. I concede that Scream 4 isn't that scary. Actually, I take that back. The film is quite scary and extremely thrilling if you compare it to the dreck that gets released nowadays and tries to pass as horror. But my reasons for loving this movie don't have so much to do with its merits as a horror film, but rather, with personal bias and with a wicked appreciation for the sharp criticism it imparts. First of all, I grew up with the Scream films, so this movie was like a reunion with old friends. I'm unashamed to reveal that the mere opportunity of getting to see Sidney, Dewey and Gale unlock another ghostfaced mystery was enough to make me ignore a lot of the movie's flaws. What makes it earn its place on my personal list, though, is the fact that I share its contempt for the 21st century craze with reboots and remakes, and that I highly enjoyed the movie's self-referential attitude (which turned most people off). Scream 4 is deeply aware of the changes that have occurred in the 11 years since we last saw Ghostface, and so, the film feels more frenetic than its 90's predecessors, but that's because today's world of tweets, IMs and texts is much more frenetic than the 90's. And the final act's social commentary on unearned fame is absolutely spot-on.
Take Shelter (2011)
"It's hard to explain because it's not just a dream. It's a feeling."
The dramatic mastery of Take Shelter lies in the fact that it takes something that seems to be out of this world and/or emotionally foreign to us and places it into a relatable domestic context. We may not know exactly what the main character is going through, as he himself isn't even sure whether or not what he sees is real, but when his affliction starts having devastating, real-life consequences for him and his loved ones, the film exerts a searing impact. The climactic scenes of Take Shelter are incredibly suspenseful, and not because of cheap terror, but because of everything that's at stake. Michael Shannon's work as the protagonist marks 2011's best performance.
"I'm not quite sure what your game is here, son, but this is the fourth funeral I've seen you at this month, and either you are the world's unluckiest boy, or you are a disrespectful little prankster."
I'll fess up. Restless may be #4 on this list, but this is the most fun I had at the movies this year. By that, I mean that this is the movie that made me laugh and smile the most. It was my feel-good movie of the year. The hardest movies to review are comedies, because humor is obviously highly subjective. In my case, I go bananas over dark humor when it's handled as brilliantly as it is in movies like Restless. Superficially, the movie is as sweet as any romantic dramedy, but the fact that it has the balls to use death and grief to elicit laughs and that it does it so seamlessly makes it a winner in my book.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
"If I were just a kid who got an A in Geometry, you guys would be switching your channels."
This is gut-wrenching, horrifying stuff. We Need to Talk About Kevin hardly gives you any breathers from its grimness or from the malevolence of the title character, which feels like it even seeps out of the screen at times. But most importantly, and in spite of the title, this story is really about a character who is drenched in feelings of helplessness and guilt, and that's what elevates what may have just been a high-toned horror movie into a damn fine, profoundly disturbing drama. As expected, the spectacular Tilda Swinton gives a performance that's beyond courageous, oozing distress and vulnerability at every turn. If you're looking for something that'll make you feel good, stay the hell away from this film.
"He's a good guy. You know, he walked into my shop here about 5 or 6 years ago, right out of the blue asking for a job, so I put him to the test, see what he can do. Kid's amazing. So, I hired him on the spot, boom, at about half the wages I normally pay. He didn't blink an eye. And I've been exploiting him ever since - don't tell him."
What an addictive film this is. Like a fucking drug. I saw it twice in theaters, and a few weeks ago, I was staying at a hotel and paid an obscene $12.99 to rent it. I was on the bed while watching it, but I was sitting up throughout the entire running time, my eyes glued to the screen, enthralled by the film's freaking divine pace and absorbing soundtrack. Ryan Gosling's rendition of an ostensible sociopath who lives in the shadows but suddenly finds two people worth caring about is a prime example of bravura acting. If there were an award for Best Scene of the Year, the scene featured in that picture above would win it ten times over. Drive's plot is nothing special, but there's something about the way every scene is allowed to breathe that makes this a hypnotizing experience, and an experience is exactly what it is. It may be style over substance, but what style. It's the best American cinematic production of 2011.
A Separation (2011)
"What's wrong is wrong. No matter who says it or where it's written."
With incredible nuance, a stellar script, jaw-dropping performances and a relentlessly complex moral framework, A Separation is one of the finest, most intelligent and emotionally intense dramas I've seen in theaters in recent years. Rarely have I questioned so much during a movie who's side I'm on, and rarely have I actually wished that one could use a rewind button at the theater in order to examine a detail that seemed unimportant at first but suddenly takes on transcendental significance. When faced with situations of desperation, we're naturally predisposed to save our own skin... but the short run decision to do that can have horrific consequences for you and for others in the long run. A Separation is kitchen sink realism combined with ceaseless dramatic intensity and moral debate; for that, it's without hesitation that I name it my favorite film of the year.
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