Top-10 lists are mandatory! There are no exceptions!
Nevertheless, I'll admit that they're also kinda fun. It's neat to compare notes with fellow film buffs and see where we differ. That's the great thing about any type of art - every opinion is valid, no matter how agreeable or contrarian you tend to be. Anyway! Here, in ranked order, are my top 10 films of 2011, a year with some seriously great cinema.
Midnight in Paris
In a true return to form, Woody Allen brings us a lovely tale of fantasy, romance, and nostalgia. Witty, adorable, and beautifully shot, Midnight in Paris is delightful viewing. Goes great with a background in art history and modern literature, but otherwise still incredibly enjoyable.
Markus Schleinzer's Michael is a horrifying, bone-chilling look at a pedophile who keeps a small boy locked up in his basement. Schleinzer is Michael Haneke's protégé, so be prepared to hold your breath. This film is the definition of slow-burn, not unlike Gus Van Sant's Elephant. Not to be confused with Ribhu Dasgupta's Michael (also 2011), a film about a completely different subject.
The Kid with a Bike
The Dardenne duo have crafted an honest film that is one of the most realistic I've seen in years. Despite an initial viewing that inspired me to give this film a rating of AB+ (3/4), a reconsideration (and second viewing) has me convinced: The Kid With a Bike is undeniably a beautiful film of innocence and longing.
Director Alexander Payne is truly the master of character development. In this charming (albeit slightly Oscar-baity) dramedy, George Clooney delivers one of the best performances of his career. To say these characters are multi-faceted is the cinematic understatement of 2011, and The Descendants should be the new standard in this recent wave of "human" films. Funny, heartfelt, and thought-provoking.
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Mary-Kate who? Consider the Olsen twins outdone: their sister Elizabeth has officially commanded our attention. Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene is a scarily-bizarre look into a communal nightmare that Elizabeth's character can't seem to escape. "Did you ever have that feeling where you can't tell is something's a memory or if it's something you dreamed?"
Pardon my language, but fuck the phrase "chick flick." (It's a shame that one of the Bridesmaids posters included the expression to attract skeptical male audiences.) I've read one too many articles about what Bridesmaids proved, and these trashy, lazy pieces usually argue the shocking realization of "Wow! Women are actually funny!" Bullshit. Women have always been hilarious, and it's more than a little embarrassing for us in the film world to finally "figure" this out now. All Bridesmaids proved was that truly funny movies do well with audiences, and Kristen Wiig and her co-writer Annie Mumolo wrote a script that is one of the funniest in at least a decade. Wiig, who has delivered what I believe to be the strongest female lead performance of the year, deserves a Best Actress nomination. Bridesmaids is the real deal, and let's hope Wiig and co. have opened some minds.
Easily one of the most eminently watchable films of 2011, The Artist is a wonderful homage to cinema and its roots. The film's polish is on a level rarely seen, and as a result The Artist is difficult to fault. The silence here is (Oscar) golden, and director Michel Hazanavicius has a lot of accolades to look forward to. Don't miss this unique slice of originality.
It's a damn shame that Drive did so poorly at the box office, and while I have numerous theories as to why it failed, the film is still excellent. Ryan Gosling redefines cool, Cliff Martinez's score has us bobbing our head along for the ride, and Nicholas Winding Refn's direction is artistic in its brutality and style, and Hollywood in its sheer adrenaline-pumping awesome. Also, Albert Brooks.
The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick's masterpiece has me utterly under its spell. If I had the ability to convey exactly what I feel when I see this film, I would. The Tree of Life is cosmic and gorgeous; a celebration of life and all its dichotomies. The combination of the universe's wonders make The Tree of Life a cinematic experience that has the unreal ability to reduce you back to your inner child.
Finally, my number one movie of the year is Take Shelter, a deeply-rattling drama with Michael Shannon as Curtis, a blue-collar construction worker who is plagued with apocalyptic visions. In what is easily the best male performance of 2011, Shannon's Curtis will make you a believer in his nightmares, which range from disturbing to shocking to world-ending. Take Shelter is truly gripping, and the feeling of dread this film exudes will get under your skin and attach itself to your very core. Kudos also go to director / writer Jeff Nichols, who has the imagination of a brilliant madman, and the always-wonderful Jessica Chastain playing Curtis' wife, who tries her very hardest to accept him and his premonitions. Hold on, breathe deeply, and Take Shelter.
Runner-ups: Starbuck, Certified Copy, Attack the Block, Moneyball, Gerhard Richter: Painting, The Guard, Carnage, Project Nim, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Shame, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
And that's it! It's been a wonderful year for movies, and if 2012 brings a similar level of quality, we could only be so lucky. To those of you who have read this blog through our first year, thank you very much. To everyone else, I hope you enjoy our humble hobby of writing about films. Thank you, Happy New Year, and we'll meet back to compare again in ~365 exciting, film-filled days!