For once I'm not questioning if 2011 was a great year for film. Of course there was a few gems and maybe a blockbuster or two that may have surprised me but above all else... I believe this was a dismal year with dismal returns. I can get into a long diatribe on how the movie industry is still playing it safe with 35+ sequels, prequels, and remakes released theatrically in 2011 but honestly we all don't have that kind of time.
Now what you'll need to know about my top ten is that I'm a geek for film and all kinds of it. How I picked these aren't truly based off my absolute enjoyment... I've actually had quite a bit of fun with plenty of other films that didn't make it on this list solely because it was probably too formulaic and didn't provide anything new. I've selected this films based entirely off my experience and how much is affected me as a viewer. I'm a firm believer that any movie can be successful if you show something new or reach out to me on a pure emotional level.
Every year, there seems to be a least one Korean film that takes me by surprise and this year is yet another one of Jee-woon Kim's latest efforts; I Saw the Devil. This is a movie I can sum up pretty easily... a revenge film to end all revenge films. The story isn't as captivating as say 2003's Korean revenge thriller Oldboy but the violence is ramped up 10 fold and never lets up. At times the acts which are portrayed between the film's two title characters played by Kyung-chul & Kim Soo-hyeon are nearly satirical and I can't help but laugh. If I Saw the Devil is supposed to be taken seriously then maybe I should have myself checked out. Point is, I've watched this film once, about 9 months ago, and I can clearly understand why these actors are Korea's top stars.
This is one of those Redbox rentals that can change your life, or at least it did mine. Last year there was an incredibly well made indie film called Never Let Me Go. There was a element of science fiction hidden within a heartfelt drama and Mike Cahill's directorial debut; Another Earth is 2011's answer to that. Some movies you can forget about as soon as it's over but Brit Marling's performance is so moving, I couldn't help but feel everything. Another Earth is about a girl who does something terrible and tries to discover a way to overcome it all the while there is a nearly identical Earth coming towards us. These aspects are woven together seamlessly like every science fiction movie should in a way the screenwriters Mike Cahill & Brit Marling can only tell.
It's strange to think that there were two movies to come out in 2011 that dealt with a planet being next or near Earth and both actually made my list. Lars von Trier's Melancholia is exactly what it sounds like... damn near the most depressing film I've seen in years. On top of that; it's also the most beautifully shot I've seen in even longer than that. I didn't like everything about this film but it feels very much like two different movies with the beginning taking place during a wedding of confusing interactions. The following is a family clinging to the fact that a planet named “Melancholia” is going to pass the Earth by.... or is it? This is the flick that proves Kirsten Dunst can act with her Tour de Force performance during it's 136 minute run time. I believe the visually stunning prologue and final shots of Melancholia are worth the admission price alone.
A fairy tale about a heroine who lives in the middle of nowhere protected and raised by Jason Bourne. This is Hanna. Imagine a beautifully crafted art house film with some stellar kick ass action portrayed by Saoirse Ronan. The amalgamation of self-discovery, teen angst, and spy thriller are evident here and leaves you feeling good. Joe Wright of directorial Atonement acclaim was able to tell a deep story with little dialogue. It's astounding to think that this movie was able to get made in the first place and resonated with critics and that is why it made my top 5.
If I were to be shocked by any film this year; it would be Gore Verbinski's first animated outing Rango. Though the story is very formulaic, mistaken identity with a bit of redemption... it does a few things better than even Pixar. Every character, regardless of how mundane or irrelevant they are look different and sometimes terrifyingly beautiful. Plus another big plus about this flick... I wasn't wearing a pair of sunglasses that made things pop out. Yes, that's right... an animated film that wasn't release in 3D. I almost forgot how bright films could be anymore and it was extremely welcoming. And oh yeah... of course. Johnny Depp was very weird. That's the only thing that didn't shock me.
To be frank, I'll probably watch and enjoy anything directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. His style is always captivating and stark. He knows how to hold a scene together with the minimalist amount of exposure. He's done it with the Pusher (trilogy), Valhalla Rising, & Bronson. Much like Jason Reitman, he does it again... and nearly topping my favorite theatrical film of 2011. Drive is a spectacular roller coaster of emotion while juggling some of the most split second violently jarring "what the f***" scenes in cinema. Ryan Gosling plays a overly calm stunt driver that doubles as a getaway driver. He establishes a strange relationship with his neighbor played wonderfully by Carey Mulligan. This turns for the worse when her husband returns home from jail and gets caught up with some unfinished business that hits a little too close to home for Rosling's character. I'll just say this... Don't watch the trailer because this isn't Fast Five; this is a slow-burn crime drama with the best 70's exploitation score and cinematography of 2011.
Lastly, Martin Scorsese had more than a few movie buffs scared when he said for his next film based of the children's book The Invention of Hugo Cabret; that he was wanting to shoot it in 3D. That was a lot to take in as a fan of Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, & Shutter Island. A 3D family film? I was one of those movie buffs. Now I can say that this movie worked better for me in 3D than Avatar ever did, this movie did more with 3D than anything in cinema history ever has, and Hugo is the only movie that makes me hate myself for not owning a 3D television. I honestly believe purchasing this on Blu-Ray in weak, standard two dimensions will provide the movie a disservice. Let me explain... Hugo is Scorsese's love letter to cinema by bringing it back to its origins of silent film while providing us with a story meant to be experienced in 3D. I was immersed in this world of wonderment and mystery while destiny seemed logical and magic was real. There was a level of pretension about the film but all is forgiven for how much work went into this piece of art. The boy Hugo played fantastically by Asa Butterfield experiences a journey both terrifying and brave through a multitude of different emotions as he tries to discover a meaning of life. In a way, this movie proves that everyone is always searching and sometimes we have to just embrace what's in front of us and not what's in the past.
Contagion, X-Men: First Class, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, 13 Assassins, The Muppets, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows – Part 2