We start the Top 7. You finish the Top 10. Or in this case, I give you 14 films.
Two themes seemed to keep popping up in 2011; nostalgia and forgetting. The forgetting specifically came in the form of Alzheimer’s disease. Friends with Benefits, A Separation, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Descendants, and 50/50 all had a key character with Alzheimer’s. On the flip side, nostalgia seemed central to many films. The Artist is an homage to silent films, while Hugo pays tribute as well. The Muppets and Winnie the Pooh told stories that could have existed when those timeless characters were first created (tapping in to our nostalgia). Young Adult exists because of high school nostalgia. Super 8 is the nostalgia of Steven Spielberg through the eyes of J.J. Abrams. Midnight in Paris is most-definitely an obvious nostalgia for Paris in the 1920s.
Don’t forget to remember. That seems to be what the film universe was attempting to tell us. Yet, I don’t feel that is completely the case here. While there were many good films, I don’t think “greatness” was achieved all that often. With that being said, remember not to forget my TOP 7 Films of 2011.
7 Films That Just Missed
14. Super 8
13. Midnight in Paris
12. Winnie the Pooh
11. We Need to Talk About Kevin
10. Martha Marcy May Marlene
9. Win Win
8. The Muppets
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Cast: (voices of) Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty
Recap: A chameleon (Depp) who wants to be a hero finds himself in a Western town desperate for water, and he’s forced to play the role to protect them.
Reason: I’d like to say Rango has stumbled onto something new, but with Gore Verbinski, Johnny Depp and Industry Light & Magic there’s no stumbling. This is a group of professionals tapping into core cinematic elements and hitting them out of the park. The underdog, the Old West, a hero, a villain and finding a moment to rise up and become “the guy who goes back.” Simply from a visual standpoint, it’s a film you can’t look away from.
Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anna Kendrick
Recap: Adam (Gordon-Levitt) thinks he is happy and healthy until the 27-year-old is diagnosed with a rare cancer that has a 50 percent survival rate. His dysfunctional friends and family try to help him through his treatments.
Reason: This (thankfully) isn’t a story about getting cancer and finding the true meaning of life, sailing around the world, or a writing a best-selling book. It’s about dealing with a tragic situation. Rogen supports Gordon-Levitt just like a great supporting actor should. He brings a nervous, happy energy when dealing with the tragedy. We want to see Gordon-Levitt happy and Rogen is the best at making him smile, though the whole cast is truly great. Life is hard. Cancer is hard. Relationships are hard. Family is hard. 50/50 managed to find the power in all of those things and give us plenty of laughs so we’re not simply in a ball crying.
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Cast: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain
Recap: The story centers around a family with three boys in the 1950s. Tradegy strikes and parents, and the oldest brother look back on their lives and how it intertwines with God and the universe.
Reason: It overwhelms. Mr. (Pitt) and Mrs. O’Brien (Chastain) lose their teenage son. They look back to his childhood. Jack (Penn) is the grown brother. He looks back to the moments they shared. The film looks back to the beginning of time. Seriously, the beginning of time.
The film is compromised of voiceovers, half sentences and quick images. We don’t even learn the details of how their son dies. It’s like 80 percent slow montage, and if you’re a regular reader, you know I like my montage. Fourth of July, dinosaurs, a new baby, the big bang … they all blend together in The Tree of Life.
4. Young Adult
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Cast: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson
Recap: Former prom queen turned ghostwriter Mavis (Theron) returns to her quaint homeland of Mercury, Minnesota to win back the high school sweetheart who got away and then got married, Buddy Slade (Wilson).
Reason: You know My Best Friend’s Wedding with Julia Roberts? Remember she was viewed as king of mean? Not even close. Young Adult is the real-life romantic comedy gone horribly wrong. Theron plays Mavis, who attempts to win back Buddy even though he’s married with a child. The small town, the dialogue and the feel of the film are all brought to life through Reitman’s director and Diablo Cody’s script. It’s painful, raw and funny. Theron and Patton Oswalt will hopefully win awards for their work.
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston
Recap: A stunt driver (Gosling) also does a little dirty work on the side. He gets tangled up with the mafia and just wants to make sure a woman (Mulligan) and her child are safe.
Reason: In other hands Drive would already be forgotten. After all, it sounds like another Jason Statham movie. A driver has a job go wrong, now he has to rescue a girl and go get the bad guys. It sounds like Statham, but it doesn’t feel that way. In fact, that’s because it makes you feel.
Drive has a unique voice and tone, from the slow pace to the shocking violence to the brilliant sounds. It’s addictive just like being able to get behind the wheel of a car and punch it.
Directed by: Mike Mills
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent
Recap: Oliver’s (McGregor) life takes a big swing when his father (Plummer) makes two announcements: he has terminal cancer, and that he is gay.
Reason: There is a personal story being told here, with Mills relating the facts of his life, but allowing fiction to take place so McGregor and Plummer can put their stamps on this story as well. I love the originality with the art, the subtitles and narration. It’s a romance where you actually feel the internal struggles and hope for those involved. Christopher Plummer will be contending for Best Supporting Actor.
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen
Recap: A historical fiction, set in 1930s Paris, about a young orphan boy (Butterfield) who lives in the walls of a train station. He believes that if he can fix an automaton, left behind from his father, his life will make sense.
Reason: Hugo is filled with magic even if everything can be explained.
This film is like a marriage of Avatar and A.I. Artificial Intelligence, but in that marriage, Scorsese was able to perfect what James Cameron and Steven Spielberg were not. This is a wonderful blend of a sweet story about a child searching for his place, with such gorgeous visuals. The acting, the set design and the 3D take me away.
Scorsese loves movies and gets to play with that in Hugo. If you don’t know the story of Georges Méliès, good. Keep it that way. This historical fiction breathes life into Scorsese’s passion, and as a film critic, mine as well.