Well as 2011 comes to an end we look back to celebrate the best films of the year.
Movies, in my opinion, are a reflection of society. Movies can comfort us, scare us, show us other countries and bring into focus the world around us. This year though the movies did this for me more so than other years.
This year has been a tough one for me on a personal level. The two biggest events of the year for me centered on a romantic relationship ending, with a person I thought would be the one and the death of my grandmother, the woman who shared her love of movies with me and turned me into a devoted film buff.
So for me 2011 was a year filled with death, loss, longing for the past and the hope of second chances. And so, in my despair I turned to the movies and wouldn't you know it, that's exactly what the films of 2011 were all about! All of the films which touched me on a personal level, which struck an emotional cord with me dealt with the very issues I was going through.
Death reared its ugly head in films such as "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt.2", where either Harry or Lord Voldemort was going to die. The French film "Sarah's Key" dealt with the Vel d' Hiv round-up in 1942. Another French film "The Princess of Montpensier" centered on the Catholic/ Protestant wars of the 16th Century. The indie film "Another Earth" not only dealt with death but second chances. Martin Scorsese's "Hugo", another look back at the past had a young boy who loses his father. The charming Mexican film "Nora's Will" focuses on death and memories of the past. And I could go on and on with films such as "Beginners","13 Assassins","Dream House","Contagion", "50/50", "Midnight In Paris", "The Artist" and "Cave of Forgotten Dreams". All of these movies were about death and the past, characters which hoped for second chances.
I wouldn't call 2011 a bad year for movies, it wasn't. I don't think it was as good as last year but certainly it was better than 2008 or 2009. Absolute low-points for cinema. Years which I was barely able to make a list of ten films I liked. This year I saw roughly 90 movies and 12 of them I gave four stars. I still have some catch up to do so that number could go higher or remain the same. Either way, 2011 gave us a lot of good movies even if our personal lives didn't always leave us with the best memories.
Here now is my list of the ten best films of 2011 and a runner's up list.
1. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Dir. Woody Allen; U.S.) - In a year where nostalgia ruled at the box-office with movies like "Hugo", "The Artist" and "The Adventures of Tintin" to name a few, here is a movie which I feel best represents the year.
In many ways I am like the main character in Woody Allen's charming, insightful comedy. Owen Wilson plays a man with a great affection for the past. A man who wishes he could live in Paris in the 1920s, where he could chat with his heroes; Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dali and Cole Porter. Through the magic of movies, he gets his chance or does he really?
I too have a great fondness for the past. I grew up with the films of the 1920s, 30s and 40s. I wish I was around then instead of now.
But one of the real reasons "Midnight in Paris" is so special for me, is because it was the last movie I saw with my ex. And how fitting. Here is a movie about longing for the past. A time when things made sense. A time when we feel we had it better. Such a theme resonates with me. It's not so much that "Midnight in Paris" was as emotionally hard-hitting as some of my past choices for "best film of the year" like "The Passion of the Christ" (2004), "United 93" (2006) or "Hunger" (2009) but it was what the movie represents, it's ideas which touched me.
2. THE ARTIST (Dir. Michel Hazanavicius; France) - Since 2011 was a year for celebrating the past, I'd have to include this brilliant film directed by Michel Hazanavicius and starring Jean Dujardin. It is a modern day silent film about the early days of talking pictures and what that meant to silent movie stars.
Last year, at the top of my best of the year list, I placed the restored version of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis"(1927). Here is a movie which could have also been made in 1927. "The Artist" has the look and feel of most classic silent films. It is not a gimmick picture to me. It presents itself in a straightforward way. This is a lovely tribute to the early days of cinema. I hope the film wins a lot of Oscar nominations.
3. THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER (Dir. Bertrand Tavernier; France) - Here is a movie which might have went under the radar for most movie goers but this Bertrand Tavernier (director of such films as "Life and Nothing But" (1990) which I also placed on my top ten list and "Daddy Nostalgia" (1991) is one of the best of his career.
4. SARAH'S KEY (Dir. Gilles Paquet-Brenner; France) - One of the more emotionally draining films of the year. Kristin Scott Thomas stars as a reporter trying to uncover unpleasant truths about the Vel d' Hiv round-up in France. She hopes her actions will bring some clarity to the past and give a family a second chance to move on.
5. CERTIFIED COPY (Dir. Abbas Kiarostami; France/ Italy) - I saw this film back at last year's Chicago International Film Festival where it quickly became my favorite at the fest. I've long been a fan of Iranian filmmaker Kiarostami. This is one of his best films.
6. POINT BLANK (Dir. Fred Cavaye; France) - A roller coaster of a movie. I haven't been on the end of my seat watching a movie this much since I saw "Just Another Love Story" (2009). This is a fast-paced exciting action/thriller movie.
7. THE DESCENDANTS (Dir. Alexander Payne; U.S.) - Here we have a movie about family honor, loyalty and yes, death and second chances. George Clooney has rarely been better. The entire cast shines. Alexander Payne, one of my favorite modern filmmakers, has given us a rich movie. A movie filled with smart characters with distinct personalities. We believe in these people and their problems.
8. 50/50 (Dir. Jonathan Levine; U.S.) - A young boy is told he has cancer and is given a 50/50 chance of living. What to do?
A movie such as this could have go wrong. It could have become a predictable, trite, sentimental weeper. But instead the movie is alive. It deals with its topic with respect. Like "The Descendants" we believe in what we see on-screen. The movie has a wonderful way of balancing comedy and drama.
9. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 (Dir. David Yates; UK/U.S.) - I haven't enjoyed a "Harry Potter" movie this much since the first one. Here is a movie which takes us to another world. It is endlessly creative and magical. I was delighted the entire time watching this movie. Taking every step with Harry.
10. (TIE) CARS 2 (Dir. John Lasseter; U.S.) / RANGO (Dir. Gore Verbinski; U.S.) - Two of the best animated movies of the year. I'm deeply shocked critics are not placing this wonderful Pixar film on their top ten list. Many critics liked "Cars" (2006) also directed by Lasseter, but they were pretty harsh on this one. In all fairness a sequel wasn't really needed. And this story could have been told with different characters, allowing Pixar the chance to create something entirely new. Still I had a great time watching this.
"Rango" on the other hand, is a funny, creative spoof on western which just left me giddy watching it. I love all the movie references and the edge it has. Much different kind of entertainment when compared to "Cars 2" but still entertaining all the way.
1. HUGO (Dir. Martin Scorsese; U.S.)
2. TUESDAY, AFTER CHRISTMAS (Marti, Dupa Craciun, Dir. Radu Muntean; Romania)
3. CHILDREN OF GLORY (Szabadsag, Szerelem, Dir. Krisztina Goda; Hungary)
4. EVEN THE RAIN (Dir. Iciar Bollain; Mexico)
5. MARGIN CALL (Dir. J.C. Chandor; U.S.)
6. THE CONSPIRATOR (Dir. Robert Redford; U.S.)
7. MYSTERIES OF LISBON (Dir. Raoul Ruiz; Portugal)