Sunday, 1 January 2012

The 10 Best Films of 2011

Better late than never, the final 10 Best Films of 2011 list from the We Bleed Movies team. 


2011 was a year of personal highs for me. I had the opportunity to interview producer Daniel Goldberg, participate in a roundtable interview with Jason Sudeikis and was able to obtain an Industry Networking pass for the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. I have easily seen more new releases in theatres this year than I have ever seen before, and as a result, here is my personal rundown of the best films of 2011.
#10
Hanna
Joe Wright manages to balance action with meaningful character development in Hanna. The action sequences themselves offer an uncut and suspenseful view of fights and flights that most action films avoid due to a lazy over reliance on increased cutting to increase speed. Cate Blanchet specifically shines as Marissa Wiegler, a CIA operative actively searching for Hanna Heller (Saorise Ronan) and her father Erik Heller (Eric Bana). The amazing score by The Chemical Brothers also helped pushed this film to #10.
#9
The Raid
Another action film that relies largely on uncut sequences to demonstrate the actors' physical abilities, The Raid was the opening night film of TIFF 2011's Midnight Madness program. This Indonesian film by Gareth Evans follows the a SWAT team who become trapped in an apartment complex housed by heavily armed drug dealers and killers. Despite the amount of guns in the film, characters often must rely on their own physical strength in what feels like non-stop action. The film is to be distributed in 2012 by Alliance Films in Canada, and U.S. distributor Sony Pictures is currently shopping around the (in my opinion unnecessary) remake rights.
#8
You're Next
(via Phantom City Creative)
You're Next is the best horror film I've seen in theatres in what feels like a very, very long time. Writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard have created a film that extends beyond "another home invasion story". Lead Sharni Vinson kicks ass in the film and creates some genuine laugh- and shock-inducing kills at the expense of the invaders. Lionsgate picked up the film, meaning they and Canadian distributor Alliance Films will most likely aim for an October 2012 release.
#7
Hugo
I will admit to being a proponent of 3D as a filmmaking tool and between Pina and Hugo, renowned directors proved the problem isn't with 3D itself - it's with who is behind the lens. I will admit to having problems with the children actors in the film - Asa Butterfield as Hugo and Chloë Moretz as Isabelle - but I found the film's true star to be Ben Kingsley as Georges Méliès. Hugo and Isabelle function more as narrative tools to bring forward the 'magic' and awe of the early cinema of Méliès. Seeing not only a  dramatization of Méliès' directing style and the post-converted footage of surviving Méliès films in 3D caused my jaw to drop in the theatre and helped raise Hugo to #7.
#6
The Adventures of Tintin
Despite the shift from a two-dimensional animation style to the third-dimension, Steven Spielberg has captured the heart and soul of the Tintin from my youth in a ninety minute epic spanning gorgeously constructed locations and events. Jamie Bell as Tintin and Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock, both vocally and in performance, made me occasionally forget the film was even animated. I anxiously await the next instalment in the series.
#5
50/50
Director Jonathan Levine (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane) expertly combines comedy and drama in a film based on screenwriter Will Reiser's battle with cancer. Despite being a last minute replacement for James Mcavoy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt fits naturally in the film and frankly I can't even imagine any one other than Gordon-Levitt in the role. Anjelica Huston also delivers in what was this year's biggest tear-inducing scene I am unashamed to admit.
#4
Melancholia
As a proponent of the theatrical experience, Melchancholia blew me away. Quite literally. It was my first film of TIFF 2011 at 9am, and the opening five minutes and ending five minutes cemented it as one of the festival. I did have problems with certain cinematography choices, but I certainly did not leave the film shaking from the lack of Steadicam. T.S. Eliot was wrong. This is the way the world ends, not with a whimper but with a bang.
#3
Take Shelter
I was turned away from Take Shelter at TIFF (my pass allowed rush access only for press screenings), and my alternate choice was not very good. I procrastinated and did not get a chance to see Take Shelter until December, and that is probably my biggest film-related regret this year. Michael Shannon plays a man who seeks psychiatric help after experiencing a series of life like nightmares that affect his relationship to his friends, wife (Jessica Chastain) and deaf daughter (Tova Stewart). 
#2
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Whereas Take Shelter was a film I was turned away from, Martha Marcy May Marlene was my back-up for The Artist, which I was also turned away from. Despite opening only a month after the festival, I am really glad I had the opportunity to catch it in September because it has quickly become one of my favourite films. Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes give haunting performances that I truly wish earn them recognition by the Academy. At the very least, editor Zachary Stuart-Pontier deserves to win the Academy Award for Best Film Editing at this year's ceremonies.
#1
Drive
What can I say about Drive that hasn't already been elaborated by my colleagues Jake and Nick? The last film to have such a quick rewatch from me was my favourite film of all time, Rian Johnson's Brick. Every popular film has an inevitable backlash, and for me the sudden backlash in the past month for Drive is much too baffling for me to comprehend. Best film of the year, hands down.

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I have to give three quick, non-obvious runner-ups to some of the films I caught at TIFF that will have an unspecified 2012 release (or perhaps no release at all). 

In The Oranges, a man (Hugh Laurie) falls for the daughter (Leighton Meester) of a good friend (Oliver Platt), resulting in a massive upheaval for all the families involved. Catherine Keener, Allison Janney, Alia Shawkat and Adam Brody round out the rest of the cast in this predominantly Christmas-set film which features an uncomfortable and kind of creepy chemistry between Laurie and Meester. ATO Pictures has the North American rights; expect a Christmas 2012 release.

Damsels in Distress is Whit Stillman's first film in thirteen years, and was also the first Whit Stillman film I have seen. I found it charming and witty in a way that I was not expecting. Damsels has been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics in the U.S. and Mongrel media in Canada; expect a release sometime in 2012.

Think of Me stars Lauren Ambrose as a struggling single mother who must decide what she is willing to do - and to give up - in order to get by as her life unravels. I've always been a fan of Lauren Ambrose, and I found her performance in the film to be powerful. Clearly I am not a single mother living in Nevada, but nevertheless, the film and Ambrose's performance made a connection with me that I have not felt in a long time. It is the only film on this list that does not have distribution as of this writing.

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