Did you see a lot of movies last year? What were your favorites? Here were mine.
1. Drive. The spirit of David Lynch is alive and well in Nicholas Winding Refn’s hynoptic masterpiece. Featuring a stellar lead performance by Ryan Gosling, and a juicy against-type turn from the great Albert Brooks, Drive is a passionate love story, a turbulent road movie, and a creepy horror film, all wound into one. Every scene is dazzling, every moment is memorable, the directing and cinematography and editing are all brilliant. And that gorgeous, unusual music score! Wow. There’s no way around it: Drive is the best film of 2011.
2. Shame. Michael Fassbender had an incredible year, with terrific performances in Jane Eyre, X-Men: First Class, and A Dangerous Method. But he gave his best performance, as well as the best male performance of 2011, in Shame, a riveting drama about a lonely, angry New York sex addict. Carey Mulligan, as his drug addict sister, gives a raw and devastating performance. It’s not an easy film to watch, but it’s absolutely riveting, from its emotionally charged early subway scene, to its chaotic final montage.
3. Win Win. Tom McCarthy is a national treasure, a subtle and talented writer and director who’s given us the great The Station Agent and The Visitor, and now Win Win, which tells an unusual story that’s rich with family drama, clever comedy, and honest performances. McCarthy makes timeless films, the kind that could have been made last year, or in the 1970’s, and Win Win is his best yet.
4. Take Shelter. In a year of over-looked performances, none was more so than the amazing Michael Shannon in the disturbing, unexpected Take Shelter. Jessica Chastain, who keeps getting nominated for The Help but did her most searing acting last year in this, plays his understanding but worried wife. The movie carries a near tangible sense of dread, building and building until its melancholic climax and cathartic final scene.
5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. After ten years, the Harry Potter film series finally came to a close, and it did so in epic, dramatic style. All of our favorite characters take their final cinematic bows, and we couldn’t be prouder. While the final twenty minutes of Toy Story 3 provided the most tearful movie moments in 2010, the montage of Snape’s memories rung the most tears out of this author in 2011. The Harry Potter film series will forever remain an astounding achievement.
6. Hanna. This early-year release was all but ignored at Oscar time but didn’t deserve to be. Like Drive, it blends various genres, moves along at a rapid pace, and goes places we don’t expect. Director Joe Wright escapes from the melodrama of Pride and Prejudice and Atonement to give us an ultra-cool action flick, one so kinetic it has a score by the Chemical Brothers. Saoirse Ronan and Eric Bana give memorable performances, but the most delicious turn comes from Cate Blanchett, as the icy villainess.
7. Bridesmaids. It’s always refreshing when a comedy receives acting and writing nominations at the Academy Awards, but voters could have even gone one step further with Bridesmaids by giving it a Best Picture nomination. The year’s best comedy, it features not just one or two funny scenes, but several—almost the entire movie has laughs. Melissa McCarthy is amazing, the screenplay is well-constructed, but the movie works as well as it does because of Kristin Wiig’s stellar performance.
8. Super 8. The best event movie of last summer besides Harry Potter was J.J. Abrams’ enormously entertaining and nostalgic Super 8. Newcomer Joel Courtney gave the best debut performance of the year, and Elle Fanning continues to impress in one movie after another. The monster at the center of the plot is the least interesting aspect of the film; what makes Super 8 so special is its focus on all the young characters and their intense love and affection for filmmaking.
9. Insidious. Possibly the scariest PG-13 movie ever made, this magnificent horror film, from director James Wan and producer Oren Peli, starts with a creepy tracking shot that passes a smiley old lady, and never lets up for the next hour and a half. The terrific cast, comprised of Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, and Lin Shaye, add to the fun, as do the shocking surprises and eerie music score. It’s always refreshing to find a good horror film, and Insidious was the best genre movie of 2011.
10. Midnight in Paris. In a year of movies that road the wave of nostalgia, one of the best was Woody Allen’s fortieth film Midnight in Paris, a whimsical ride that takes modern day Owen Wilson into 1920’s Paris. With a winning supporting cast that includes Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, and Corey Stoll, the film is pure joy from beginning to end, and proves that Allen, now in his seventies, is still a relevant filmmaker with the ability to reinvent himself every time out.
#11-20 (in Alphabetical Order)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The Tree of Life