Saturday, January 21, 2012
Dusty's Top 10 of 2011
Full Disclosure. There are 3 films that I have not seen that I think could very easily make this list. They are "Shame", "Hugo" and "Take Shelter". I will update this when I finally get to see those movies.
*Originally, "Warrior" was ranked at number 10, but Another Earth is a much more deserving film. "Warrior" has now become the first in what will be many honorable mentions.
1. Melancholia - Directed by Lars von Trier
This film had a great impact on me. The subject of depression is very personal to me and Melancholia does a disturbingly accurate job of portraying the condition. Disturbingly accurate is actually a good way to describe the entire film. It's impossible to tell how the world would react to an impending apocalypse, but the film convinced me that it's characters behaved exactly as their real-life counterparts might have behaved.
2. The Descendants - Directed by Alexander Payne
This movie is as tragic as it is heartwarming. Matt King (George Clooney) comes from a historically wealthy family. He spends much of his time away from home while his wife does the hands-on raising of their two daughters. However, when the movie opens his wife has been in a boating accident which has left her on life-support. Not only does this thrust Matt King in to the unfamiliar role of single dad, but he learns secrets about his dying wife that leaves him in a emotional state that is indescribable. This is Clooney's finest acting in years and its directed with a caring touch. This film is on the level of Million Dollar Baby in terms of emotion and quality.
3. The Artist - Directed by Michel Hazanavicius
You don't need to know anything about silent films to enjoy this piece of art. Everything about this film feels authentic. The movie sets look like they have been frozen for 80 years and recently thawed just so we can get a glimpse into the past. Jean Dujardin gives the performance of a lifetime as George Valentin. He plays a silent film star who is left behind when the "talkie" era begins. Dujardin's facial expressions tell stories as well as any dialogue. He's such an animated and lively talent that I became absorbed in every scene. Besides that, every other aspect of the film is top-notch as well.
4. 50/50 - Directed by Jonathan Levine
Here's a film that has been well received but hasn't had any Oscar buzz. It stars Seth Rogan and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Like the aformentioned The Descendants, 50/50 is a tragic drama that is handled with humor, warmth, and care. Gordon-Levitt plays a very young cancer patient (Adam) who has a tumor wrapping around his spine. His odds of living are 50/50 which his best friend assures him is "better odds than any game in Vegas." If that weren't enough, Adam has just found out his long-time girlfriend is cheating on him. The drama is intense at times but everything feels genuine, not forced.
5. Drive - Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Ryan Gosling is a lot like Brad Pitt. He's good looking and has a huge fan appeal, but he is also undeniably talented. In Drive, Gosling plays a getaway man who dreams of being a professional race-car driver. He takes a uncharacteristic interest in a beautiful single mother who shares his apartment building. Naturally, his feelings for the girl lead him down a destructive, violent road that begins with the murder of her husband. Carey Mulligan is Gosling's equal in terms of talent and beauty and this film finds a nice balance for the two thespians. Refn is known for unique films and while Drive may be his most conventional movie to date, the soundtrack and visual style set it apart from any car movie ever made.
6. The Tree of Life - Directed by Terence Malick
I struggled with where to rate this film. I've came to the conclusion that whether I rate it 1 or 10 I can't be wrong. The Tree of Life really defies film criticism in a conventional sense. Most people who have seen it have powerful emotional responses. Unfortunately those responses sometimes include demanding a refund. This is not a film that you watch, it's a film that you experience via osmosis. All you can do is try to absorb every frame and feel what Malick is saying about the universe. I enjoy films that promote serious introspective discussion and this one certainly fits that bill.
7. Midnight in Paris - Directed by Woody Allen
This is Woody Allen's most financially successful film in many years and its easy to understand why. As a comedy the dialogue has what we've come to expect from Allen, unequaled wit. The whimsy, scenery and intellect set it apart from his lesser works. The (not so) big secret of the films plot involves the lead character accidentally going back in time. Here he meets some of his personal heroes such as Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter, Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel, Gertrude Stein and many others. The central theme revolves around the fallacy of nostalgia. Owen Wilson's character is nostalgiac for the 1920's, but those he meets in the '20's are nostalgiac for other eras. Though hard to explain, this film is one of the year's best.
8. The Help - Directed by Tate Taylor
The help is a simple film about common people making a difference. Skeeter Phelan is a young white author who gets the notion to write a book about "the help". "The help" were what middle class white folks called there black maids in Jackson, Mississippi during segregation. Skeeter decides to interview these women but finds that they are less than excited to share their secrets. It wasn't just a fear of losing their jobs that kept the mouths closed, it was fear of losing their life. At the very least, one angry "employer" would keep a maid from ever working in that town again. Though they were called maids, the were responsible for cleaning, laundry, cooking and raising the children. Even with all of those responsibilities they still weren't allowed to use the restrooms in the houses where they worked. It's a shame to think it wasn't that long ago when all of this was happening.
9. Hanna - Directed by Joe Wright
Saoirse Ronan has a breakout performance in titular role of Hanna. I think this is the best action film of the millenium thus far. The camera work here has none of the laziness and shakiness of Bourne-style action. Instead the director opted to capture long, well choreographed takes that resulted in pure visual ecstasy. Hanna is a unique character that evokes a sympathy from the audience. She lived with only her father in a vast frozen wilderness for 15 years, training everyday to be an assassin. When she reaches civilization she's certainly dangerous, but helpless in social situations. Hanna is an action masterpiece with memorable heroes and villains.
10. Another Earth - Directed by Mike Cahill
Another Earth lacks star power but that's not a detriment. Having less recognizable actors allows us to connect more with the characters which is a big deal in this film. The movie begins with a young woman driving drunk. She notices an object in the sky, but not the car she's about to hit. The inhabitants of this car are a mother, father and child of which only the father survives. After her prison sentence, the girl wonders what might have been if she made better decisions. With a duplicate planet in the distance she may get the chance to find out how life could have turned out better. This is unique and challenging material that deserves more publicity than it's gotten.
Warrior - Gavin O'Connor
There really isn't anything surprising in Warrior. The plot unfolds as you expect it might, but the you can tell everyone involved put forth maximum effort. Legendary mixed martial arts trainer Greg Jackson was a consultant on the film and his expertise is seen in the authenticity of the fight choreography. The drama is thick but acted so well that you don't mind. The story concerns two estranged brothers that end up in a winner-takes-all tournament. If you've seen the trailer its no secret that they end up fighting each other. Nick Nolte plays their father who spent most of their formative years in a drunken stupor. Even drunk, he's still a premiere trainer and his son reluctantly seeks his knowledge. The three main actors seem to have been born to play these roles. Nick Nolte is at his absolute best as a deadbeat dad trying to make amends. This is the best MMA movie to date.
Posted by Dusty