Sunday, January 1, 2012

Favorite Movies of 2011

There are lots of films from this year that I haven't seen yet--The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Take Shelter, for two--but I did see quite a few, and here are my picks.

1. The Tree of Life. This is a love it or hate it movie. I loved it. I was sometimes frustrated by Sean Penn stumbling about the city, looking up at the sky for unknown reasons, but everything else in it--even the dinosaur scene!--is perfection. I can't remember the last time I saw anything so profoundly moving and beautiful. I love that it's nonlinear and image-driven and music-driven. What images, and what music. And I think it's incredibly brave to make a film that asks questions about God and grace and nature in a time when so many choose apathy and mindless entertainment over true thought. Favorite moment, among many many such moments: when the mother floats.

2. The Artist. Magical, and the production design is incredible. I love the dog-love-story, especially. And the scene where the actress slips her arm into the jacket of the man she's pining for is maybe my favorite movie moment of the year. And I especially loved the dance scenes. Go in knowing that the melodrama is intentional and you'll love it, too.

3. The Descendants. I'm usually not a huge Clooney fan but I really loved his performance, and especially that of Shailene Woodley, who plays his teenage daughter, giving the most realistic performance I've seen all year. I also loved seeing Hawaii as a place where people live instead of simply being shown the tourist version of it.

4. Beginners. This movie is sad and charming (Melanie Laurent!) and stars some of my favorite actors . The performances of the dog and of Christopher Plummer are worth the price alone. I love the way it looks at the complexities of parenthood and being someone's child.

5. The Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This was the biggest surprise of the year. I went into it for my daughters, thinking it would be a fun escape movie. But I found it to be a deeply moving, intelligent, and profound look at animal--and human--rights. And the special effects are pretty amazing, too.

6. Of Gods and Men. Another movie that not enough people saw is this French film based on the true story of a group of priests who choose to stay in the Algerian village with the community they have come to love despite their knowledge that they will certainly be killed by approaching fundamentalist terrorist. It's a brave movie that looks at what faith is and how fundamentalism distorts--and destroys--true belief. This is a quiet, slow movie that movies like a meditative prayer.

7. The Conspirator. One of the least-seen movies of the year is also one of the best. This fact-based story of Mary Surrat's role in the Lincoln assassination is just as timely now as it was when the real thing happened in 1865. Robert Redford directs and explores the way the government can distort the truth for their own gain and how guilt and innocence are more complex than they might appear. Robin Wright deserves and Oscar for her unflinching and deeply moving portrayal of Surrat.

8. Jane Eyre. I loved every brooding, shadowy, and decidedly British moment of this underrated film featuring incredible cinematography and great performances from Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska.

9. Midnight in Paris. Woody Allen movies are either totally hit or miss for me but this is one of his best.

10. Hugo. Another Paris-set movie, and just as magical as Allen's. I loved the book and thought the movie was a beautiful adaptation.

And, in no random order, other films I loved this year:

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part II concludes my favorite film franchise ever, but my favorites of the lot are The Order of the Phoenix and Deathly Hallows Part I.
-Sarah's Key brings new life to a movie we think we've seen before.
-The Ides of March. Ryan Gosling is great, and I can't help but love that so much of it is set in Kentucky...could have been a truly great movie if released ten years ago, when it was more timely. Felt very dated.
-Crazy, Stupid Love. But why did none of the character react to situations the way people do in real life? That bothered me. But I still loved a lot about it, especially the actors, and the twist at the end.
-Contagion looks exploitive and manipulative in the trailer, but is actually moving and terrifying.
-Bridesmaids is laugh out loud funny, even if it is sometimes completely infantile and crude (do I need to see a woman defecate in the middle of the street in a wedding dress? No, but I couldn't help but laugh).
-Young Adult could have been great, but isn't. Charlize Theron, however, IS.
-Rio. My favorite animated feature of the year. Very, very funny and intelligent.
-Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud. A little pretentious but still moving and insightful.
-And my biggest guilty pleasure of the year: Paranormal Activity 3. I wasn't crazy about the first two. In fact, I thought they were boring and lame. But this one was genuinely scary, inventive, and smart. Don't judge me.