This year I had several movies that stuck with me from the early part of the year. A few movies that I saw this past March at SXSW seemed to be the ones that had the most lasting impact on me personally. For me, this top 10 list is about the films that I was able to make a personal connection to, and each film made a connection for a different reason. However, it seems there just aren’t enough days in those last few months of the year to watch all of the movies I wanted to. Several key films have still gone unseen, such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Take Shelter, We Need To Talk About Kevin, War Horse, A Separation, and A Dangerous Method, but as of midnight on December 31, 2011, this is what my Top 10 looks like.
10. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – When I was finally able to see the original Swedish film, I was amazed that a film with such a simple murder mystery structure had been the film that everyone had been talking about for so long. I was entranced by Lisbeth Salander, but I felt like she wasn’t given enough screen time. David Fincher’s adaptation adds a few key scenes that develop Lisbeth into an emotionless character that is beginning to find a way that she can trust people again after all of the horrible things that have happened to her. For me, the murder mystery is the side plot. Lisbeth is the glue that holds The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo together, thanks to Rooney Mara’s excellent performance and Fincher’s flawless direction.
9. The Beaver – Before seeing The Beaver myself, I had heard all of the controversy around it due to Mel Gibson’s personal actions over the past few years. Critics would praise his performance but give the overall film a bad review because of their opinion of him as a person. I tried to view it with an open mind, and was completely blown away. The Beaver gives such a raw look inside depression from both sides of the story: the person suffering from it, and the person trying to help. I feel like The Beaver does a better job than (the also amazing) Melancholia of expressing what it’s like to live with depression. Mel Gibson’s performance in this film is truly unlike anything you’ve ever seen from him, same with Jodie Foster. The Beaver is a brilliant film that should get more recognition than it does.
8. Super – Since first seeing Super back in March at SXSW, I have emphatically recommended the film to everyone I knew and I discovered that not everyone sees this film the same way I do. If you haven’t seen it, Super is a vigilante film about a man named Frank (Rainn Wilson) who loses his wife (Liv Tyler) to a drug dealer (Kevin Bacon). Frank decides to stop crime in his town and win back his wife by becoming a vigilante superhero called The Crimson Bolt. He enlists local comic book store worker Libby (Ellen Page) to help him, and she becomes his kid sidekick Boltie. Many people have come to me after I’ve recommended the film to them and said they disliked it because of the violence (spoiler alert: there’s a lot) or because they found the entire thing to be mean spirited. I watched this film several times and this is what I get out of it every single time. Frank is a very sad, very lonely, very depressed man who at the beginning of the film says that he has only had two great moments in his life. When his wife leaves him and his world is turned upside down, he does the thing that he thinks will make his life right again. He fights for her with the intention of getting her back. What happens at the end is that he realizes that her life is better somewhere else. One of the final shots in the film is of Frank staring at his bedroom wall that is completely covered with drawings of new good moments in his life because he saved his wife. Sometimes in life you do things – and you might do them with unrelenting fervor – in order to achieve one specific result, but then you find that the best result wasn’t the one you thought it would be; it’s something much better entirely. I think Super is much more deep than it appears on the surface.
7. Midnight In Paris – 2011 was like Woody Allen school for me. The year marked the first time I ever watched Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, and The Purple Rose of Cairo. The Purple Rose of Cairo instantly shot to my list of favorite movies of all time, and I saw it not long before seeing an advanced screening of Midnight in Paris. Both films are Woody Allen at his most fanciful and hopelessly romantic, and it’s always a good year when we get a Woody Allen flick like this. Owen Wilson stars as a struggling writer vacationing in Paris with his increasingly annoying fiancé. He escapes from her one night, and precisely at midnight, is picked up and transported into the 1920s where he meets Josephine Baker and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others, and gets writing advice from Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. Every night at midnight he returns to the same spot so he can be transported all over again, and he begins to gain confidence in himself as a writer and as a man. The script is just so delightful, the performances are incredibly fun with a very clever supporting cast, and the film looks so beautiful. Midnight In Paris is Woody Allen at his crowd-pleasing best, which probably means he will grow to hate it.
6. Hugo – Hugo will probably be the best family film this year that almost nobody took their families to see. While I don’t particularly recommend it to little ones because of the running time and slow-moving pace (think Taxi Driver pacing for youngsters), what other chance are you going to have to introduce your children to Martin Scorsese? While Hugo is absolutely stunning to look at, it’s also an introduction for kids to the early days of cinema. Ben Kingsley plays Georges Méliès, a French filmmaker who made over 500 films in the late 1800s/early 1900s and it’s a joy to watch his films recreated onscreen. It was also a joy to watch my two kids’ faces as they saw the technological marvels that Méliès created come to life. While the nod to old cinema might be the reason many adults love the film, the reason that I like the film is because of Hugo Cabret himself (played by Asa Butterfield). He is an orphan, hard-working and determined, but very lonely. He finds a sweet friendship in another orphan (played by Chloe Moretz), and one night while pondering their place in this world, Hugo makes a very thoughtful comment. He says that machines never come with any extra parts, they always come with just enough to make it work. He says that if the world is a machine, that means there aren’t any extra parts; he isn’t an extra part. Hugo is incredibly touching and definitely worth seeing with your children.
5. Drive – There seemed to be an abundance of movies this year that featured a self-destructive main character, but none had a more worthy cause than Ryan Gosling’s Driver in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. The unnamed Driver gets involved with what he believes is a single mother (Carey Mulligan), but he discovers that her husband is in prison. When he gets out of prison, the Driver gets caught up in a whirlwind of illegal activity. Ryan Gosling’s performance in the film is determined and unstoppable. He’s quiet and reserved, but when he needs to be, he’s a total badass. The film is a love letter to car movies of the ’70s, but has a distinct ’80s vibe from the bright pink scrawl in the opening credits, to the music that plays throughout the film, to Gosling’s satin jacket. Drive is just a lot of fun.
4. The Muppets – Hasn’t it seemed like we’ve been waiting forever for The Muppets to finally arrive in theaters? Their clever marketing campaign that included movie trailer spoofs and funny one sheets kept America’s attention so we would never forget that they would be returning. Finally the big day arrived, and we all flocked to the theater in droves. I don’t remember a time when so many people of so many different backgrounds went to see the same movie, and loved it. While the film had a few flaws, they are so miniscule compared to the joy that The Muppets bring, the flaws aren’t even worth mentioning. The film has excellent cameos, wonderful songs, and a great story about bringing the Muppets back together, it’s the most fun I’ve had in the theater all year.
3. Bellflower – When I first saw Bellflower at SXSW this year, I knew I loved it but I just didn’t know why. For some reason, the film just wouldn’t get out of my head. I’ve watched this movie more times than any other this year, and every time I watch it, I discover something new about it that I had never seen before. Writer/director/star Evan Glodell begins the film as a shy, sweet, lovestruck man, but slowly transforms over the events of the film into this vengeful monster. It’s not his fault though, as the woman he has fallen in love with warns him in the beginning of their relationship that she will hurt him; and hurt him she does. The film is an extreme, played out version of what goes through our minds and our hearts when we are in a bad relationship. It shows the mean-spirited thoughts, some of the most dark places that we can go, and the film bursts into flames right in front of our faces. It can be a very difficult film to watch, but I still can’t get Bellflower out of my head.
2. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – During the year end wrap up, film critics usually do two things: their top 10 of the previous year, and the movies that they are looking the most forward to in the coming year. Last year for me, the movie I was most looking forward to was the adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I was a huge fan of the book, several times while reading it, I would erupt into uncontrollable sobs. What holds the book together is the story of Oskar, a nine-year-old boy who has lost his father in the 9/11 attacks. Oskar is a unique little boy, with qualities of Asperger’s and OCD. His father knew about his quirks and would devise games that would allow Oskar to interact with people and help him develop his social skills in a way that he would accept. After his father’s death, Oskar finds a key in his father’s closet that he is certain will open something and reveal something that his father has left him. The film version sticks to the book more than I ever dreamed it could, with the exception of leaving out a side story about the old man that Oskar meets. My biggest concern about the film was the casting of Oskar, as the story is dependent upon him. Thomas Horn was cast to play Oskar and he couldn’t have done a better, more convincing job in the role. He took my breath away, quite literally, on several occasions. The story is so moving, so emotional, I knew within the first five minutes of the film that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was going to be one of my favorites of the year.
1. The Artist – To borrow a line from Travis Leamons’ top 10 of the year, it seems the theme this year was “everything that was old is new again”. I am typically not a proponent of 3D, and my kids prefer watching old movies at home to seeing new ones in the theaters. Perhaps that’s another reason why I loved Hugo so much, but I know that’s one of the reasons why I fell head over heels in love with The Artist. Relatively unknown director Michel Hazanavicius pays homage to early cinema in a very different way from Scorsese, he has made a black and white silent film starring two relatively unknown French actors, and you’ll never believe it: the movie is amazing. George Valentin is a silent film star who begins losing his luster upon invention of the talkies. He meets a dancing girl when filming, and the two have an undeniable connection. But when she becomes a famous star of talking pictures, he loses confidence in himself and falls into a deep depression. If you think a silent film can’t tell a compelling story, then you must see The Artist. While the two main characters are virtually unknown, especially to American audiences, you’ll recognize the supporting cast. John Goodman, Missi Pyle, James Cromwell, and Penelope Ann Miller all provide familiarity. But it’s Jean Dujardin, who looks uncannily like young Gene Kelly, and Berenice Bejo that are truly captivating. The Artist is something to celebrate.
Tags: Asa Butterfield, David Fincher, Drive, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Hugo, Jason Segel, John Goodman, Martin Scorsese, Midnight in Paris, Ryan Gosling, Super, The Artist, The Beaver, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Muppets, woody allen