As we are all sharing our favorites films of 2011, here are some of my own off of the top of my head that stayed with me:
1.) Hugo (Directed by Martin Scorsese)
Of all of the films I’ve seen this year, Hugo was the only one that felt more like an Event than just watching a story. The story of a young boy who inherits an automaton from his father and is looking for a way to fix it, it’s simply a beautiful story of discovered paths, creative endeavors, and lost dreams. What makes the movie great is that the story centers on the birth of cinema. Any movie lover, once they see where the story moves is bound to end up with a smile on their faces. Strong performances by Ben Kingsley, Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz help to move Scorsese’s film along, and the vibrant backgrounds are just beautiful. Hugo happens to be one of few live action motion pictures that really demands to be viewed in 3D. I’ve never seen a film use it better, and that statement actually includes James Cameron’s Avatar. Scorsese makes you believe he has a grasp of what the audience needs to see and it’s conveyed so well that I can imagine studios not making Hugo a Thanksgiving re-release next year. It truly is that good, and is my Best Picture Pick, though if Shame won, I wouldn’t be upset.
2.) Shame (Directed by Steve McQueen)
We all have our addictions (be it something that hurts or helps you) and it’s because of this that Shame hit a personal note with me. Sometimes you go into a film just expecting to see a story, only to find what you’re seeing has more to do with you than you previously thought. Last year, Black Swan was that film for me. Right now, with the exception of Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I can’t think of a better Best Actor nomination than Michael Fassbender. His Brandon Sullivan is a tortured soul who on the surface appears to be “normal” in every way, but is driven by his desires. The life he’s built for himself is thrown into turmoil with the arrival of his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan, in an equally strong role), who suffers from issues of her own. Brandon’s sex addiction drives him to different avenues, and the hopes you have that he’ll somehow make it through are picked away by every instance where he falls. McQueen pulls no punches, as the NC-17 rating explicitly displays the life Brandon leads, doing so in such a way that the audience can’t feel any sort of amorous feelings over what’s on screen. Not since Requiem for a Dream have I felt so hurt by a film. Both films show just how far people can fall. Case in point: When the credits came up in the dark on my showing of the film, no one in the audience moved for nearly 3 minutes, and sit in silence. That was the impact it had. Long tracking shots carry the audience with the characters, and I find that McQueen didn’t care about lighting. There is one point where characters speak but the lighting is dim, but it comes across as just real. Other situations have locations that I’ve been to from time to time, so it was easy to relate to. You’re not even told how Brandon and Sissy got to where they are. It’s not necessary for this particular story. The movie basically says, “This is the important part, deal with it.” and damn if that’s not cool. Overall, it’s Fassbender who carries the film and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more films from this pair in the future (note that I haven’t seen Hunger, yet).
3.) Melancholia (Directed by Lars Von Trier)
I’m not sure how to describe Melancholia. I could say that it’s simply a beautiful story about a girl suffering from depression. I could also say that it’s an artful tale about the end of the world. When I really think about it, Melancholia is about reactions (to me, anyway). Kirsten Dunst’s Justine suffers from Melancholia and because of it, her wedding isn’t going as well as her family would like. On the surface, it appears that she is the one the biggest problems, but when a small planet (also named Melancholia) also threatens to collide with the planet, Justine becomes the grounding individual when everyone else around her appears to be losing it, and I found that to be mesmerizing. The one person who everyone seemed to have a problem with (save for her most patient sister and loving fiancée) becomes the person you’d want by your side at the end of all things. The opening of the film may seem a little off-putting with it’s slow motion overture, but these are the moments that as a viewer you should be paying the most attention to. Ironically, it isn’t until the end of the film that you may realize you want to remember what you saw in those opening moments. An easily recommended film that stays with you long after it’s ended. I saw it last week, and it’s still on my mind.
4.) Tinker Tailor Solder Spy (Directed by Tomas Alfredson)
Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy teaches us that the spy game really isn’t full of the fancy James Bond gadgetry. It lacks the Jason Bourne Jujitsu and freerunning. During the Cold War, we knew who our enemies were, they knew us and everyone moved like pieces on a Chessboard. Not willing to risk a third World War (which would undoubtedly be atomic), moves were quiet. Taking place in the early ‘70s, a botched mission that has the potential to reveal a mole within the upper echelon of a British Spy Network brings former spy George Smiley (a remarkable Gary Oldman) into the fray to find out who among the top four members could be the mole. While the film doesn’t move at a great pace (and given the time period, it really shouldn’t), it really deserves a viewing. Although Oldman’s Oscar worthy performance is bound to be noticed, I think that Benedict Cumberbatch also did really well here. Cumberbatch, who I never heard of before until the recent announcement that he’ll be in the next Abrahms Star Trek film, carries his own with the likes of Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds and Oscar Winner Colin Firth with ease, and I’m sure he’ll be a picking up an award or two somewhere down the line for a future role. The film itself is a great thriller, but requires a lot of patience to be really appreciated.
5.) 50 / 50 (Directed by Jonathan Levine)
I already wrote a review for this film. The only thing I’ll add to what I said there is that for as simple as the movie is filmed, 50/50 gets its message out to the audience. The actors keep the film moving forward and Joseph Gordon-Levitt will have you alternately smiling and maybe tearful at some of the emotions he goes through. There’s very little I can say on that. This was just a great film to see.
6.) Sucker Punch (Directed by Zack Snyder)
Sucker Punch is one of those unfortunate films where for some, the hype for it exceeded what the film gave the audience. I believe that this is partially due to the nature of the story. I think perhaps the audience may have been expecting to see girls kicking ass 24/7 throughout the movie but never run into any actual problems. The real world problems that the women in this movie endure are why the fantasies are made. The near rape sequence in the beginning of the film bothered me to the point that I couldn’t effectively write a review, but scenes like that and others helped to drive home the dangers the characters faced. This (their handling of things) was one of the elements I also loved about Sucker Punch. Viktor Frankl once stated that regardless of what happens to a person, they can choose how they react to a given situation. You can choose to let something hurt you, or choose to hold on your happiness. In Sucker Punch, Baby Doll chooses to hold on to her strength by using her imagination to her advantage. That’s all the fantasy sequences are really about. If it were shown without them, you’d basically have Escape from Alcatraz. Sucker Punch is stylish and in your face. No complaints here with that.
7.) Drive (Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn)
Drive is another movie I reviewed, and while I stand why what I said in that review, I have to note that based on Valhalla Rising, Drive is a stronger film than I previously mentioned. I’ll admit that I’m excited to be able see it again, knowing the tone of the film.
8.) Captain America: The First Avenger (Directed by Joe Johnston)
If you told me that Captain America was worth seeing, especially after I just walked out of seeing The Wolfman, I’d have laughed in your face. Truth be told, I saw Captain America twice in the theatre, I liked it so much. It was a great popcorn movie that didn’t take itself too seriously, yet cemented itself in the Avengers storyline stronger than all of the previous films before it (and that includes Thor). Green Lantern could have definitely learned something from this film.