Looking Back: Ethan Chooses His Own Top 10 Favorite Films of 2011
by Ethan Anderton
December 30, 2011
Well, after tomorrow, 2011 will be yet another chapter in the history of cinema, and while we've already gone over some of the films that disappointed us and left terrible tastes in our mouths, now is the time to reflect on the films that remind us why we absolutely love going to the movies. There are plenty of films that I enjoyed quite emphatically from the epic conclusion of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II to the subtle, quiet but riveting financial crisis drama Margin Call. However, not even those films made the cut to be included in my Top 10 Favorite Films of 2011. So find out what actually tickled my fancy below!
Before dishing the picks for my ten favorite films of the year, I'd like to point out that there are a handful of films such as The Artist, Shame, War Horse and Melancholia that I feel like could have had a solid chance of being featured on this list, but just simply didn't make it to local theaters for me to check them out in a timely manner. So without further ado, here are my personal picks for the ten best films of 2011:
10. The Muppets - It's pretty much the most mainstream, crowd-pleasing film on this list, and while it doesn't make you reflect nearly as much as some of the other films I contemplated putting into the #10 spot, The Muppets left me with a happy feeling that I rarely feel upon leaving movie theaters. If life's a happy song, then The Muppets contains some of the best notes that have ever been played as Jim Henson's iconic characters made a huge return to the big screen that captured the spirit that still lingers from their days on television and meshes it with just the right amount of contemporary comedic sensibilities helped by star and writer Jason Segel, co-writer Nicholas Stoller and director James Bobin.
From the handful of moments where our characters break the fourth wall to the self-aware musical numbers and dozens of Muppet cameos, this film has touched the hearts of young children and nostalgic adults alike, and I found myself feeling like both of them in one wide-grinning man in his mid 20's. Quality movies like this for the whole family just don't come around unless Pixar and to a lesser extent DreamWorks Animation are involved. This is also the only film on the list that I was compelled to see twice in theaters, and felt just as elated and charmed as I did upon the first viewing with my whole family around Thanksgiving.
9. My Week with Marilyn - This is one of those films that looks like it's trying to rake in Oscars, but in reality, the blends the light and dark of Marilyn Monroe's bright shining star during the story time in her life while she was filming The Prince and the Showgirl with director and star Sir Laurence Olivier. Thankfully, the film wasn't simply a tragic portrait of a girl consumed by fame, but also a charming comedy about show business, and a fleeting but real romance that blossomed between Monroe and one Hollywood dreamer who just happened to be at the right place at the right time.
Kenneth Branagh turns in a funny and spot-on performance as the intense, high-strung, aging Olivier, and Eddie Redmayne proves that he's a star in the making as an aspiring filmmaker, looking to make it big at any turn. Judi Dench and Emma Watson round out a fantastic supporting cast, but it's Michelle Williams who lights up the screen as Ms. Monroe, nailing even the most subtle mannerisms and inflections the blonde bombshell exuded decades ago. I love looking back at the years in cinema I wasn't able to witness personally, and honestly, I wish I could've spent an entire year with Marilyn.
8. Attack the Block - Original sci-fi films like Attack the Block are hard to come by, but when they come from across the pond with a paltry $13 million dollar budget with stylized special effects that look better than some blockbusters today, you know they're something special. In its simplest form, this film is like Shaun of the Dead but with Aliens, but even more respectfully, Attack the Block feels like a film that just came out of a time capsule buried in the 1980's. With the same feeling as a film like Gremlins, there's laughs to be had, but plenty of bloody action as well.
John Boyega makes a breakthrough performance as the leader of a rag-tag team of hoodies in South London who find themselves chased by tons of silhouetted aliens with glowing teeth, the kind of creatures that could come straight from your dreams. A mix of practical and a small amount of computer effects brings these creatures to life and make them one hell of a force to be reckoned with on the block. The rest of the mostly unknown cast (plus Nick Frost) feel like a genuine group of friends that easily make you think this is something that could happen right down your block. Trust.
7. Crazy Stupid Love - Fantastic romantic comedies are hard to come by but are just as plentiful as generic horror films. Few measure up to the greatness and originality of films like When Harry Met Sally or Annie Hall, but every now and then the subgenre gets a golden goose to shut naysayers up for awhile. Crazy Stupid Love is that film with a fantastic script from Dan Fogelman and phenomenal direction by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, this film is witty, hilarious, touching and heart-wrenching. Whether you're a young couple in puppy love, an experienced couple heading towards engagement or a long-married pair of soulmates, this film has something for everyone.
The film contains just one of Ryan Gosling's three spectacular performances this year (you'll find one higher on this list and the other, Drive, barely missed the cut), and it's just a perfect example of why this guy is going to be on the big screen for a long time. Steve Carell turns in yet another great performance with just the right blend of drama and comedy, and the same can be said for Julianne Moore and Emma Stone. In addition, unlike most romantic comedies, there are actually a couple of interesting twists you might not see coming, and make certain scenes that much more funny.
6. Submarine - Few countries do dark and twisted humor better than the United Kingdom, and comedy actor Richard Ayoade has mastered the art quite well with his directorial debut based on Joe Dunthorne's novel of the same name. With a style and tone reminiscent of Woody Allen, Ayoade's storytelling commands your attention and takes you back to a time in adolescence when wooing the girl of your dreams was the most earth-shaking task in your life. Combine that with some signature dry humor from across the pond, and this film is one of the best coming-of-age tales to hit the big screen in a long time.
Craig Roberts turns in a stunning breakthrough performance and his romantic opposite Yasmin Paige plays mysterious, manipulative and secretly melancholy so well that your teenage self would have had a crush in a heartbeat. British name talent like Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins and Paddy Considine turn in great supporting performances surrounding our adolescent main characters, and I'm thankful that as a producer, Ben Stiller was smart enough to throw his weight behind this film (even making a short but sweet cameo that doesn't take you out of the story) and let Ayoade make a truly fantastic film.
5. 50/50 - Dramas try to make you feel sad, comedies try to bust your gut with laughter, but it's a rarity to have a film that can do both so successfully and effortlessly. Writer Will Reiser draws upon his own experiences and survival of cancer to craft this wholly funny and emotional story about a young guy in his 20's who has his life turned upside down when he's diagnosed with cancer. It lacks melodrama, but still brings a tear to your eye. It makes light of a touchy situation, but doesn't have to force it. Reiser and director Jonathan Levine accomplish something truly special in a film that is simultaneously harrowing and hilarious.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt proves yet again why he's still around after acting as a child in Angels in the Outfield and "3rd Rock from the Sun" and his chemistry with Seth Rogen makes this friendship and the hardships it endures that much more genuine and difficult to handle. Anna Kendrick and Bryce Dallas Howard both shine playing two different sides of romance in Gordon-Levitt's life as he struggles with illness and a worrisome mother played wonderfully by Anjelica Huston. For anyone with a family member who has had or currently has cancer, this might be just what the doctor ordered.
4. Midnight in Paris - The best way to experience Woody Allen's most recent comedy is with as little knowledge about the story as possible and you'll find yourself getting lost in a whimsical, fantastical world just like Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris. Taking the best bits of culture, comedy and Paris, Allen has crafted one of his best films in years (and considering he makes one every single year, that's saying something). Allen has had his hits and misses over the past 20 years, but when Allen gets it right, he completely nails it, and Midnight in Paris just proves that Allen is still in his filmmaking prime.
Wilson comes through magnificently in a simple but captivating performance and the supporting cast around him that includes amazing work from actors like Corey Stoll, Alison Pill, Tom Hiddleston, Kathy Bates, Marion Cotillard, Lea Seydoux and an awesome but brief role for Adrien Brody, make this a fantastic ensemble piece. Notice that I haven't revealed the plot information for the film, and I would even go so far as to tell you to steer clear of any trailers or reviews of the film before sitting down to watch this magnificent, vibrant comedy. It's better if you let yourself get lost in cinema and the City of Lights.
3. The Beaver - For the longest time, this film, which has a Black Listed script from writer Kyle Killen, was my favorite of the year, and I had a hard time figuring out my Top 3 films because of it. If I could, I might proclaim a tie for first place with the top three films, because The Beaver surprised the hell out of me when I saw it way back in April. Coming from an unlikely group of creative talent including Jodie Foster in the director's chair and star Mel Gibson, working without much favorable publicity and no big movies to his name lately, I was blown away by how this film resonated with me and just struck all the right chords both dramatic and darkly comedic.
This was a film that was once said to star Jim Carrey and even Steve Carell, and while each of those comedic actors can stretch their dramatic chops rather well, Gibson brought some gravitas to this role that would've been difficult to see beyond the comedic aspects of a man using a beaver puppet as therapy for himself. Even the subplot romance between Anton Yelchin and Jennifer Lawrence hit me hard, and made this drama a truly pleasant, low-key surprise from 2011.
2. Like Crazy - This film first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival at the beginning of the year, and the buzz was more like a roar. Therefore, I was wholly disappointed when I was unable to get into the final screening, on the final day of the festival. However, the 10 month wait was well worth it, and the heart-wrenching indie romance lived up to the hype. This might not be a film you've heard about much yet because it only got a limited release, but however you can get ahold of this film (as long as its legal), do yourself a favor and watch it. But don't expect to feel all that well afterwards.
Hailed as the Blue Valentine for a younger generation, this romance will lift your heart up and slam it to the ground. Oh, and it also does that about three or four times. It may not make you want to see the movie, but this harrowing love story will make you feel like you've just been broken up with in the worst way possible. Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones show that they're some of the finest young talent working today, and really make you feel like you're watching two of your best friends endure the most difficult relationship of their lives. Don't watch this one alone.
1. The Ides of March - George Clooney previously delivered one of my favorite politically centric historical dramas (it's also simply one of my favorite films of all-time) in the form of Good Night and Good Luck at a time when fear-mongering and the exploitation of insecurity was high and patriotism was a scary buzz word driving a lot of poor decisions. This time Clooney is back, and while he doesn't have much to say about politics that hasn't already been said, it comes at a time when political ideology is everything, and no matter what your political beliefs, hope is pretty hard to come by. Sadly, this dark look into the world of campaigning doesn't offer much solace, but it does bring a well-written, directed and acted drama that will serve as a milestone for all involved.
Ryan Gosling delivers the performance of his career (yes, I think it's better than Drive) as a hopeful but somewhat naive campaign manager looking to take his candidate straight for the presidency. Gosling's intensity, especially in lingering, absolutely silent but menacing gazes show the actor's range and have shot him to the top of my list of favorite actors. Meanwhile, Clooney plays the face of that campaign, a face that just might be too good to be true. The film contains some of my favorite monologues of the year, and makes great use of Philip Seymour Hoffman (unlike Moneyball) and Paul Giamatti. Regardless of your political ideals, this is a film that doesn't take aim at any particular party, but rather puts politics itself in the crosshairs and pulls the trigger without hesitation.
Honorable Mentions: Win Win, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Drive, Margin Call, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey, Warrior, Hugo, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II, Super 8, Moneyball and Take Shelter
So there you have it. 2011 seems to have come and gone rather quickly, but looking back at my favorites while putting this list together, there was a fine assembly of films to be seen this year. Some people are saying the lack of frontrunners for awards season seems to indicate otherwise, but I like the idea of a level playing field where one film doesn't clearly seem to be better than the other. This list in itself was hard to come up with, and filling my #10 spot was a real chore in the decision-making process. But now comes the time to hear from all of you. What are you favorite films of 2011? Do you agree with my choices?