It’s that time of year! Once again, I’ll point out that these are not necessarily the movies that I’d say were the critical best, but they’re the movies that I enjoyed the most. Also, the order is roughly from favorite to most favorite, but it tends to vary pretty widely with my mood. So don’t read too much into it. In short, these are movies that got to me in some way, shape or form, and that’s why they’re on this list. So, with that disclaimer, here we go!
Writer: Kyle Killen / Director: Jody Foster
This film really seems to split audiences. I don’t know if I was helped going in by the fact that I’d read the screenplay, since it was being marketed as a dark comedy instead of the drama that it is. Some have argued that the puppet concept made the profile of a man with severe depression too outlandish to be taken seriously. For me, it put enough distance between real life and fiction that I was able to connect with it like a fable — I could immerse myself in the story in ways that might have been too uncomfortable otherwise. The truth is, people with depression all cope in different ways — many times destructively. The puppet was just that — a coping mechanism. I thought the film was an accurate and heartbreaking examination of depression, not only how it affects those who suffer from the condition but also how it might affect family and friends. For that reason, I for one am very grateful it exists.
FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS
Writers: Keith Merryman & David A. Newman and Will Gluck / Director: Will Gluck
OK, let me preface this with the fact that I am a fan of the Romantic Comedy. I fully acknowledge that most of them are less than great. I still see most of them, because I’m always hoping for the next Great One. This year’s FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS was the best traditional romantic comedy I’ve seen in a long time, and by traditional, I mean it’s not cross-genre or an indie, and it hits all the beats you’ve seen before and expect. The difference here is that this one does it whilst poking fun at itself, focusing on character and heart, and with the incredibly important benefit of great chemistry between the leads. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s sweet, and its characters are people I care about and root for.
Writer: Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo / Director: Paul Feig
People seem to think this movie was unique because it was an R-rated comedy featuring a cast of mainly women. What really made it unique was that it was a female-driven comedy with loads of character development and heart. The fact that it was R-rated really had nothing to do with what made BRIDESMAIDS special. Kristen Wiig turns in a delightfully cringe-worthy and surprisingly heartfelt performance, Melissa McCarthy walks away with every scene she’s in, and Chris O’Dowd wins over not only Wiig’s Annie but the entire audience with his charming Irish brogue, dweebish sweetness & dry sense of humor. In a year filled with comedies that seemed to be more interested in raunch than anything else, this film went for heart first — and that made it the best of the bunch.
CRAZY STUPID LOVE
Writer: Dan Fogelman / Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
While the ensemble isn’t as large as, say, LOVE ACTUALLY, this here is an ensemble romantic comedy that really, really works — or at least it did for me. And I’m not just saying that because of Ryan Gosling. Or Emma Stone. (But let’s face it — they’re both fantastic.) While it veers a little wacky and even a little uncomfortably inappropriate at times, CRAZY STUPID LOVE still managed to tug my heart strings enough to make me break down in copious tears whilst sitting between two strangers in a theatre. Awkward. Seriously, though, you’ve got Steve Carrell doing what Steve Carrell does best — playing a socially awkward but totally sweet magoo. The supporting cast is excellent, featuring Julianne Moore and Marisa Tomei. And it has one of the best twists I saw all year — in a romantic comedy no less! So, if you’re a fan of the genre, or of Ryan Gosling’s abs, do check this one out.
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
Writer/Director: Woody Allen
I love Woody Allen. I love Paris. I love literature. I love bohemian philosophy. There’s pretty much no way I wasn’t going to love this film. Whimsical, dryly humorous, existential in a down-to-earth way, and sneakily hopeful… It’s what Woody Allen does best, in my opinion.
Writer/Director: Michel Hazanavicius
I knew I’d love this film from the moment I saw the trailer. A silent, black & white film about a silent film star who reaches the height of his career just as the silent film era is coming to an end, THE ARTIST is a gorgeous, clever exploration of a man’s downward spiral — and whether or not he can find redemption in a new medium and in life. It’s fascinating watching silent film acting, as everything must be said with expressions instead of with words. As a writer, it’s a good reminder that film is first and foremost a visual medium when it’s easy to be lazy with dialog. Show, don’t tell and all that jazz. Another thing it forces, though, is for the audience to really look at a character. You have a chance to become immersed in what’s happening, to fill in the silence with your own understanding, and that’s a really cool experience in this day and age. I’d love to see more silent films, to be honest, but the key (like 3D) is using it to serve the story rather than as a simple gag. THE ARTIST does it well.
THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU
Writer/Director: George Nolfi
This movie broke my heart and then put it back together. It is also the movie I discussed most for a good six months after it came out. The chemistry between Emily Blunt and Matt Damon is electric, and it’s the romance between their characters that really makes this movie memorable more than the sci-fi/fantasy elements — though I found the philosophy behind them really interesting as well.
Writer: Brit Marling, Mike Cahill / Director: Mike Cahill
This microbudget film was one of the most compelling of the year. When another earth is discovered, a young woman who made a terrible mistake several years ago, ruining not only her life but several others, too, has a chance to see if her life on Earth 2 turned out differently. What follows is a heart-wrenching story of the search for redemption, forgiveness, and purpose. Also worth noting, this film has my favorite last shot of a film all year long, if not in the past several years.
Writer: John Logan / Director: Martin Scorsese
There’s no doubt that this is a film for film-lovers, but there’s so much more to HUGO than just that. If you go in expecting the fare you get from most children’s films these days — bombastic, gag-filled, superficial “entertainment” — you’ll either be disappointed or thrilled depending on how you feel about such movies. Fair warning, not all kids are going to love this movie if that’s the sort of thing they’re used to seeing. But it’s the kind of movie all kids should be growing up on, in my opinion. In some ways, this film’s whimsy and wonder reminded me of AMÉLIE. It features rich characters and beautiful cinematography. It is the only film where I’ve ever thought the 3D was worthwhile. If you have the chance to see it in 3D, I highly, highly recommend it. Even if you don’t, movies like this deserve to be seen, and I highly encourage you to do so.
Writer/Director: Mike Mills
I talked about this movie in more detail over at the No-Name Movie Blog, but here’s a quick excerpt:
“Beginnings are always hard, because in each of them, we are always cast as beginners — inexperienced, unknowing, and even fearful. It’s entirely understandable that we want to avoid them. The idea of having to start over is often scarier than clinging to the vestiges of something long gone by. But it’s the beginning again (and again, and again) that really defines the act of living.
And this is the message BEGINNERS delivered to me, in its quirky and light-hearted way, at a time when I needed to hear it. It’s a good message no matter where you are or what you’re dealing with in life, because sooner or later, things do end, and it’s nice to remember there’s magic in beginning again.”
(in no particular order)
Jeff, Who Lives At Home
(I’m almost positive this will make my Top 10 list next year. I didn’t include it this year since it technically doesn’t come out ’til 2012. I was lucky enough to see it at the Austin Film Festival.)
We Bought a Zoo
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Attack the Block
That’s the list! I still haven’t seen a couple of contenders, like THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and WAR HORSE, which I have a feeling will have a shot at at least being added to my honorable mentions. What about you all? Favorite movies of 2011, GO!