2011 Best and Worst Films of the Year List

Posted: December 28, 2013 in Film

Originally posted on December 31, 2011

I’ve been sending out my best and worst movies of the year list on New Year’s Eve for almost a decade now and I want to thank you all for taking the time to both read my thoughts and share yours with me. I realize that how we perceive films is subjective and that they can affect us all in a different way based on our life experience and interests, and that is precisely why movies are my defining passion. As most of you know, my taste in film and music is wildly eclectic, ranging from the mainstream to the obscure and I’m fiercely proud of it. Going to the cinema is one of my greatest pleasures in life and hearing the projector play a 35mm film is a slice of heaven. If you share my love of 35mm, I hope you find a few minutes to sign the petition at the bottom of my list this year to save the medium. It would mean a great deal to me.

What made 2011 a unique year in cinema for me was how all the films that really made an impression and stayed with me were ones that physically affected my heart, either by making it soar (HUGO), race (DRIVE), break (50/50), or even stop for a few seconds out of sheer terror (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3). Out of the 102 films I saw in the theater this year and 10 that I saw on DVD or on demand, these are the movies that had the most impact.

TOP TEN FILMS of 2011

1. HUGO

Martin Scorsese has crafted a visually breathtaking film about friendship, the birth of cinema and finding one’s purpose in life. As the camera sweeps into one long tracking shot of a Paris train station in the 1930s, you are invited to take a journey into this immersive 3D world that is so magical and overwhelming, that it actually made my heart feel as if it was swelling with joy. The story captures the essence of why we love the movies, how they can make us feel and why each one can be a discovery of its own. HUGO is an imaginative treasure, an experience like no other, and a veritable cinematic feast for the soul.

2. THE RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

A sci-fi masterpiece that was reminiscent of the awe I felt leaving the theater when I was 14 after seeing T2 for the first time. Andy Serkis owns this movie. His Oscar worthy performance as Caesar the ape is extraordinary. He slowly reels the audience in, causing us to care for him and eventually actively side with him and his simian comrades in their war against the human race. Rupert Wyatt’s background as a writer, director and cinematographer are evident in the pacing and subtle build of each scene leading us to the explosive climax, which is filled with tension fueled shots of leaves falling from trees, dark profiles running across a security camera and an epic Golden Gate Bridge battle featuring acrobatic apes scaling cables, cars and even riding a horse. Although the spectacle itself is immensely satisfying, cinemagoers are also given an intelligent, fascinating and genuinely moving story, and end credits that leave us clamoring for more.

3. DRIVE

I fell even more in love with this hypnotic film upon my second viewing. Nicolas Winding Refn frames each scene in DRIVE like a work of art, from the glow of the streets of Los Angeles, to a street fight seen in shadows, to a wounded character lying on the cement in the foreground as we see the perspective of a character slowly dropping to his knees to meet the eye of another in the background. And it is all set to a 80s soundtrack that sizzles and electrifies. Ryan Gosling is mesmerizing as a stunt driver who occasionally takes jobs as a getaway driver for criminals, and Carey Mulligan is beautifully vulnerable as the girl that catches his eye. Albert Brooks is chilling as the no-nonsense villain who won’t hesitate to stick a fork in your eye if you make a decision that is bad for business. This film is graphically violent, stylistic, heart-pounding and gorgeous- it’s all pure poetry.

4. 50/50

A poignant, funny and wonderfully written film which had me at Radiohead’s, “High and Dry.” Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers a layered performance as Adam, a man given a cancer diagnosis with a 50% chance of survival and confronts it with humor, fear and courage. Adam’s sidekick, Kyle played masterfully by the charismatic Seth Rogen, displays such true honesty and friendship that we would all be lucky to have someone like him in our lives in a similar situation. The screenplay is so authentic, warm and touching that it becomes tangible and relatable for the viewer and we start asking the same questions as Adam. What if we’re not ready to die? How do we accept a fate that we have no control over? How do we tell our family and friends? How will they react? As Adam faces chemo and grapples with an uncertain future, we hold our collective breath rooting for him to survive and laughing with him at the absurdity of it all. This is the most humanistic, heartbreaking, insightful and hopeful movie of the year.

5. THE SEPARATION

An edge of your seat thriller set in Iran where accusations of murder, abuse and theft fly. You watch as these crimes unfold but begin to question what you saw and who knew what as you get wrapped up in the lives of two families. As the investigation unravels, we are intrigued by the intricacies of the human memory and how we all can perceive the same event differently. The timeline of this film is fast paced and spellbinding and it provides a window into a world where religion, truth, honor, loyalty, integrity, greed and desperation can be one and the same.

6. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

My oh my, a Woody Allen film with time travel? Am I in heaven? No, but it feels pretty close watching this enchanting film set in Paris with an endearing Owen Wilson playing a man yearning to live in another time and place where the world was more romantic and engaging. All the art history references had me swooning in my seat and I’m sure it’s the same for anyone who loves film, literature and music. Woody Allen takes us on a ride through exquisite Paris providing us with a history lesson, making us laugh and just flat out leaving us giddy as we enjoy vintage Allen.

7. THE ARTIST

Watching this French gem was one of the best times I’ve had this year at the movies. It chronicles the fall of a silent movie star played by Jean Dujardin during the emergence of talking pictures in Hollywood. As Dujardin’s character George Valentin refuses to adapt to the new talkie format and falls on tough times, we see his equally magnetic prodigy Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) shoot to stardom. Both of these actors are a sight to behold but Dujardin is the revelation. He is charming and electric as he smiles, dances and emotes in this black and white silent film which is absolutely captivating from beginning to end.

8. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3

The first two films in this franchise landed on my best films of the year list in the honorable mention category, but I never expected a third installment to surpass the original, let alone be one of my favorite films of the year. Once again, these movies continue to blow my mind. This prequel was bone chilling, had me wrapped in the fetal position in my seat and glued to the screen in fear of what could happen next. The filmmakers that brought us CATFISH, came up with a brilliant conceit for this one by having the main character set up a camera on an oscillating fan so we get to look in on the action as the camera pans from left to right. What we see as a result, coupled with a terrifying game of Bloody Mary, kept me skittish for days. As if the film couldn’t get any better for this die hard horror fan, the jaw dropping climax was set in my hometown of Moorpark, California. Checkmate, guys. Checkmate.

9. SUPER 8

An instant sci-fi classic gifted to us by J.J. Abrams’ astonishing imagination, and inspired by his childhood hobby of making home movies with his friends. This is a nostalgic love letter to movies like GOONIES, E.T. and STAND BY ME– films that shaped a generation, took a hold of our hearts and made us think that anything was possible. The talented cast of kids assembled for this project is each amazing in their own way, and you can actually see Elle Fanning become a star right before your eyes. One noteworthy scene of many has Joel Courtney’s character sharing with Fanning a super 8 film of his recently deceased mother, when she was alive and vibrant with her family. It’s sweet, tender and left me in so many tears, that they were literally falling down my neck. I loved everything about this film.

10. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

Lynne Ramsay fashions an unsettling family portrait centered on a mother, played superbly by Tilda Swinton in what is sure to be an award-winning performance, as she struggles to raise an inhuman monster- or to put it another way, her son. This disturbing character study explores the evolution of a psychopath and is completely unflinching in its candor. It’s a marvel how they cast the three actors that play Kevin from ages 2-16, as they are each riveting and frightening. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN demands to be seen and discussed. It’s powerful, shocking, stunning, but most of all, haunting.

Honorable Mentions: TREE OF LIFE, WIN WIN, THOR, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, HORRIBLE BOSSES,  MELANCHOLIA, PARIAH, THE THING, THE MUPPETS, TAKE SHELTER, CERTIFIED COPY

TOP FIVE WORST FILMS of 2011

1. SUCKER PUNCH

What a complete mess. A gaggle of girls are imprisoned in a mental institution so they decide their best escape is to fantasize about being strippers and call girls. Um, I think I’d rather be locked up in a padded cell than prostitute myself, but maybe that’s me. They also use their imaginations to do inexplicable things, like sneak up behind a sleeping dragon and slit its throat in front of its baby. I heard some misguided souls hail SUCKER PUNCH as a female empowerment/girl power flick when it’s the antithesis of this. It cheapens the genre by using weak, pneumatic and overly sexualized girls from this schlockfest as representatives of independent, strong women when Sarah Connor, the ultimate female empowerment character in film, covered this ground far more effectively. She sacrificed everything to raise the future savior of humanity and I’d love to see her take her machine gun to the likes of Babydoll, Sweet Pea, Rocket and Blondie. Now that would be a worthy sequel.

2. TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON

I mean…why is this movie starting with a girl ascending a staircase in her underwear to a mugging Shia LaBeouf? Well, maybe it gets better. It doesn’t. We are led on a series of pointless job interviews and then to the Decepticons descending on Earth again, to just a series of endlessly baffling and relentlessly boring scenes. But wasn’t the six hour battle of the Transformers clashing metal against metal and obliterating Chicago pretty cool? No, no it wasn’t. I might liken it more to torture. I took off my 3D glasses twenty minutes into this movie and surveyed the nearest exit signs. I even glanced at my friends who drove us to the theater to give them a sign that I was in hell. No luck. So I endured this picture but just for the record, I would rather set my face on fire than sit through another TRANSFORMERS movie ever again.

3. THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN- PART I

I’ll admit I have some interest to see how this odd saga ends. But from the likes of the first half of the finale, it’s going down in flames. This might be one of the most ridiculous and unintelligible films ever made. Some critics may say it’s the source material but I gotta give credit where it’s due with this one: the director, Bill Condon. I can’t imagine a director going to print on a scene in which a pack of wolves are shown against a white background continually glancing at each other from different camera angles having a conversation through melodramatic voiceovers. Or when the heroine, Bella needs to drink blood to stay nourished, the vampires in the house look for something to put the blood in so she won’t see what she is drinking. If you were in my house, I’d grab uh, I don’t know, maybe a mug or a non-see through plastic cup, but these clever vampires who live in the middle of nowhere hand her a Styrofoam cup complete with a straw. And then for the duration of the film she seems to have an endless supply of these cups and straws as if they were running a nondescript burger joint on the side. These are just a few of the random, exasperating and nonsensical details from this tacky, poorly produced, bizarro film.

4. RANGO

I don’t care how striking the CGI is in this film, it wasn’t good enough to get me past wanting to punch the chameleon voiced by Johnny Depp in the face. This movie is filled with unlikable, annoying, ugly characters that thrive on nothing more than their ability to be quirky and weird. The title character natters on and on and often feels sorry for himself. At one point, he meanders into the street on a quest to kill himself. How delightful and strange. Please. This movie was like one long acid fueled trip with the most hideous, insufferable people on the planet.

5. ALBERT NOBBS

I’m not sure this film had a point other than showcasing Glenn Close disguised as a man. It’s never very believable why she chooses to not reveal her true identity, and for the second half of this movie she preys on someone who clearly doesn’t love her, in the hopes of trapping her into a life she doesn’t want. It makes for an unseemly plot and a frustrating and painfully boring cinematic experience. ALBERT NOBBS lands in this category for many reasons, but chief among them may be the fact that I actually considered taking my own life while watching it. Do yourself a favor and skip it to avoid the same fate.

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