Sunday, May 6

Best Films of 2011

This past year was a great year for film.  Large studios found success in past products and independents pushed towards in depth character studies that offered breakout performances from new actors. Technology influenced narratives with intellectual concepts typically found in science fiction films, 3-D found a way into my list more than once (a feat in itself), and mainstream market summer blockbusters which usually don't make my list have found their way into the top 15. There is something for every taste here, so enjoy. 

*On a side note, I don't know why I didn't put this list out a long time ago, so for those that asked awhile back I apologize. On the plus, most of these films are available in some form of rental or streaming capacity. Enjoy. 

Honorable Mentions
Fast Five
Meeks Cutoff
A Brighter Summer Day
Cave Of Forgotten Dreams
The Help
Mysteries of Lisbon
Le Quattro Volte
Detective Dee and the Phantom Flame
The Descendants

15. The Muppets
Who doesn’t like a film that makes them smile? Well, I can think of few of my film loving friends that would rather be pummeled with drama but I don’t mind films made for the sole purpose of happiness. For anyone that grew up with the Muppets returning to them feels like meeting an old friend, at first it’s a little awkward but then it’s like they never left. I smiled from start to finish, laughed loud at PG jokes, and tapped my foot during the music numbers. I can promise you The Muppets was the only film in 2011 that I did those three things.

14. Rise of the Planet Of The Apes
Andy Serkis deserves to have a special category for the kind of acting performance he does. This film had the best special effects and best makeup effects of any film in 2011. I’ve loved the Planet of the Apes series since the beginning, but you don’t have to in order to enjoy this film. Besides the overt action of apes taking over a populated city, it also transgresses into a look at oppression, humanity, and freedom…social commentary for our time.

13. 13 Assassins
This could be one of Takashi Miike’s best films. The man who boundaries have no bound remakes the 1963 samurai film of the same name with well placed homages to the original and innovative updates that heighten the gravity of the journey and action. Everything in this film is leading up to one thing, and epic fight scene that could have been confusing in the hands of another director but is handled expertly by Miike. This is how action films should be made.

12. Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene
Elizabeth Olsen is fantastic is this film. The execution of the film relies heavily on her performance as a damaged, dependent woman who escapes the grasp of a cult. Olsen’s subtle mannerisms that quietly display confusion, fear, anxiety, and anger perform well with the slow moving nature of the story. The reliable John Hawkes plays the demented cult leader Patrick, who manipulates young people into joining a free-living community through acts of physical and mental violence. The film, as the title implies, manipulates the concept of identity; there is a grasp of understanding that is never achieved with the title character, a well conceived concept in which the audience and the characters are constantly being led into blind corners.

11. Another Earth
Another Earth left me with unanswered questions not directly related to the narrative but more the concept. The idea that there is another earth that could be a mirror of the earth we are living in lends much to the mystery of this film. Lead actress Brit Marling co-wrote the script for this film with director Mike Cahill and handles the performance well. Although the film doesn’t concern itself with actually science fiction beyond the concept, it does explore the nature of relationships and existence, and achieves an effect of asking indirect questions of the audience.

10. We Need To Talk About Kevin
This films title would be better suited as a question considering Kevin is never talked about with anyone. The fact that this film decided to forego the typically “evil child” formula of scenes involving school counselors, psychiatrist, or religious involvement, but instead focuses on the perspective of Kevin’s mom. Tilda Swinton has been steadily moving up my list of favorite actresses and as Eva, Kevin’s mom, she shines throughout this film. The film spends much of the time on Eva’s frustrations, regrets, confusion, and ultimate anger towards her son and family, and it's crushing to watch her self destruct through all of this. This is a scary film that doesn’t rely on jump scares or clever editing, but rather well written characters and a clear focus on matters of the mind.

9. Midnight In Paris
Woody Allen is a director that never seems to slow down work production. It seems like he has a film come out every year, if not numerous films. Allen’s talent as a writer is well-known and very much respected, look no further than my personal favorites Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Match Point for some examples. The past ten years Allen seems to have focused his intentions on exploration and concept with varying results; however Midnight In Paris is a fantastic example of what Allen is capable of and serves as another example of my favorite films in the Woody Allen catalogue.

8. Drive
This is a severely underrated film. Nicolas Winding Refn creates thick atmosphere, dredged in a “lost in time” mentality. The characters, however simplistic, are fully realized and establish a complimentary mood for the film to surround itself in. The 80’s influenced synth pop soundtrack accommodates the film but doesn’t date it strangely enough. This film has the best soundtrack of 2011. It’s the kind of film that lends itself to numerous viewings and will undoubtedly garner a strong fan following.

7. Rango
The theater I watched this movie in was full of kids; I don’t think they quite got the humor. Rango is an adult cartoon pretending to be a kid’s film. There is heavy emphasis on adult aspects of humor and the American western genre throughout the entire film. There are numerous odes to film in Rango, some obvious while others are meant for seasoned film buffs. Johnny Depp is inviting as the hero Rango, as are the other seasoned veterans that compose the supporting voice cast. A great decision by the filmmakers was to get the amazing Roger Deakins (cinematographer for at least one of your favorite films) to sign on as a visual consultant. In animation, the realm of a cinematographer is infinite and nothing is impossible.

6. A Separation
About half way through A Separation I realized that I had invested myself in the film in a rather unusually way. Although the film composes a mystery of sorts, the mystery doesn’t exist in the traditional sense. The facts are all present, however they are portrayed from a realm of logic that makes sense to the audience but still seems unjustified to an extent. If that sounds confusing I promise you it’s not, A Separation at its’ core is an analysis of religious law and how people fall into dissonance when trying to live in accordance of those laws. Nonetheless, this film crafts an inviting mystery that this viewer was mesmerized by.

5. The Artist
Who would have thought that a black and white, silent film would have made such an impact on the film scene this year? Many of the qualities that make this film so good are so simplistic it seems too easy. But I assure you; every piece of this film is a calculated step in filmmaking. Director Michael Hazanavicius utilizes space and set design so well, actor Jean Dujardin conveys more emotion with expressions than a majority of actors in Hollywood today. This is the film that was simply fun to watch.

4. Take Shelter
Michael Shannon has always been one of my favorite character actors; he is able to embody so many different kinds of characters with a natural ease. Take Shelter is a simple premise for a film, however Shannon and the supporting cast elevate the narrative into something spectacular. Paranoia, along with elements of survival, desperation, and confusion play an important role to each of the characters in the film and how they deal with each of those components. Predictability typically ruins films that focus on apocalyptic themes, however, Take Shelter feels ambiguous, the viewer is never sure footed in their assessment of how the film will end, and that’s great credit to the film.

- This year's top 3 found themselves in three way tie for the number one spot. These three films each have reason to be my favorite of 2011, and since I wouldn't want to influence The Coda's audience into watching only the number one movie, you now have reason to watch three fantastic films. Enjoy.

1. Melancholia
It’s interesting to watch the multilayered themes that Director Lars Von Trier tries to portray in his films. Themes of loss, despair, tragedy, and conflict abound through family, relationship, and personal dynamics, all this while also telling a story of Earth’s imminent apocalypse. Von Trier weaves a story that translates into the coping mechanism and structural recovery of severe depression expertly. Kirsten Dunst should have been nominated, if not have won, an Academy Award for her portrayal. Melancholia is a deeply personal film that is crafted with calculated and methodical execution. This is the best depressing film of the year.   

1. Hugo
Scorsese’s passion for film is displayed in every frame of this film and is as much a letter of love to the genesis of filmmaking as it is a story of his own life. The film plays in two parts, showcasing the adventures of the young boy surviving in the train station and the career of the great filmmaker Georges Méliès. The combination of fantasy and reality is played upon and executed masterfully in both the reality of Hugo, who see’s the world as a great fantasy, and the life of Méliès who succumbs to reality but embraces peace in the fantasy of film. The treatment of CGI and the element of 3-D, which I am always hesitant and concerned with, are utilized to enhance and invite the viewer into the experience instead of bombarding and overwhelming the story and the viewer. The use of archived footage from original films of the silent era adds an authentic feel, just as the recreation of some of Méliès films add a touch of fantasy through the use of CGI and 3-D applications. This aspect of the film is an extremely difficult part to execute, but it does so seamlessly. Ben Kingsley embodies Méliès with subtle confidence, and Asa Butterfield portrays Hugo with wide-eyed fascination and a mature mentality.  The supporting cast is fantastic as well, particularly Sasha Baron Cohen as the train stationmaster and Chloë Moretz who plays Isabelle, a sort of muse for Hugo’s journey. This movie embraces the magic found in movies.

1. Certified Copy
The battle of authenticity and imitation has been explored in films before, however not with the passion and depth that director Abbas Kiarostami exhibits with Certified Copy. The story follows two somewhat unlikable characters as they journey through the streets of rustic Italy discussing issues of copies, weaving through art, architecture, emotion, and ultimately humanity. What is real and what is manufactured? Are people simply copies of what is needed for survival? Are emotions constructed as a mechanism for self-guidance or self-destruction? Certified Copy is a puzzle of subtle intrigue, composed with brush strokes so finely precise that staring at the picture will only further reveal how beautiful it actually is. This is an absolutely amazing film! 

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