Under normal circumstances, I might take a page from Vanessa Williams here and say that “you went and saved the best for list” (or, rather, I did, since I drew up the schedule for our Month of Lists), but I’m not so sure that’s the case this year. For those unaware, I have a 14-month old in the house, which if you do the math, means there was a wee, wee one around for the entirety of 2011. As such, my theatrical output was much lower this year than in years passed, with a mere 43 films from 2011 seen. So, you might just prefer to think of this as the “top 25% of what I saw” than your typical Top 10 list.
First up, time to take a page from my partner Kai and hand out some EXCLUSIONS. Of course, in my case, there are at least a dozen films I could rattle off that I thought might have a shot at making the list, but Take Shelter, 50/50, Beginners, Attack the Block and (yes, I suppose) The Artist are the five that stand out
10. THE MUPPETS
Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed The Muppets, but any number of films could have taken this spot. I’ll spare you a list, but suffice to say that there were a lot of movies I saw this year that were just *thisclose* from being something special, each with a significant flaw or two keeping them from that mark. The Muppets win out by virtue of (yes) nostalgia, but also a great soundtrack, topped off by the sight of Chris Cooper rapping.
9. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
TTSS might have placed higher, but it’s not exactly an easy film to watch that first time. That said, you can tell that repeated viewings will clear up any gaps you might have with the complicated weaving of characters and motives. Supremely written and acted, but notable almost even more so for the absence of whiz-bang gadgetry and faux technology that so man spy thrillers must use to “ooh” and “aah” their audiences. This is just the straight dope…tension and intrigue.
8. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
Am I crazy, or does Woody Allen seem to work from a giant bag of tricks? Inside this bag is a number of characteristics, characters, musical choices, locations, genres, etc. For each film, he makes his choices: drama or comedy, New York or elsewhere, Woody-stand-in or not…obviously, he made all of the right choices with Midnight, a nostalgic comedy that has managed to entrance nearly all who’ve seen it. It’s true, and brave, and honest, and real. Or something like that.
7. TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL
As anyone who has seen it can attest, Tucker & Dale is most definitely a one-joke movie. The thing is, it’s a really good joke. More than that, though, is that by the joke’s running thin, you’re endeared to the characters and the set-up, so you don’t even care.
A plot-thin, adrenaline-infused action-thriller featuring veteran actors chewing up the scenery as baddies and a charismatic, actions-speak-louder-than-words lead, all set to some cool tunes. Oh wait, that’s Haywire I was referring to. Soderbergh’s actioner might make this list in a year, but for now, the honor goes to Nicholas Winding Refn’s throwback starring Mr. Badass 2011 himself, not to mention some of the most stylistically-violent scenes you’ll see all year. The cherry on top? Making white satin jackets look cool is no small feat – too bad they won’t look nearly as cool on 99% of the people that are inspired by this to get one.
5. THE DESCENDANTS
The guys on an episode of Film Yarn might have summed this up best for me, when saying (paraphrasing) that this film takes you to all of the places you might expect it to go, but that fact doesn’t bother you because it earns the right to do so. It logically works out the feelings and motivations of the characters in such a way that you absolutely believe that the choices made were true to who they were and feel neither forced nor cliched.
4. SUPER 8
Call it an homage. Call it a ripoff. Call it whatever you want, it’s still damn good. J.J. Abrams’ throwback to early 80s kids’ adventure films is a gripping, funny thrill ride with tons of heart and some solid child acting and one of the best action sequences of the year. All this and I still have yet to watch what many have called the best part of the movie…the footage of the actual Super 8 film that the kids made. Don’t worry, I’m just saving that experience for when I get the Blu-Ray.
3. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Is it a remake? Is it an adaptation? Is it as good as the book? Did you read the book(s) and see the first batch of Swedish films? Swedish accents?!? Was it too soon? Noomi or Rooney? These and many more related questions were ones that seemingly everyone who saw the flick had to answer. I’ll just say this: as good as the “original” was, this was the adaptation that I wanted, however flawed it might be by virtue of its faithfulness.
Joe Wright’s stripped-down action/fairy tale held my number one spot for so long I had to do some real soul searching before placing it at #2. A kickass coming-of-age blended with a worldly feel and the best soundtrack of the year courtesy of the Chemical Brothers came together to forge an unforgettable experience that will have you whistling like Tom Hollander for months.
…And then came Hugo. The trailer looked like an extended chase sequence with a nimble kid narrowly dodging a bumbling, stumbling Sacha Baron Cohen (and his doberman) for two hours. Then came the love from film geeks (especially those lovers of classic films) the world over, doting over Marty for his tossed-in nod, wink, and/or dry-humping of silent films and film preservation. Don’t get me wrong, that stuff is fantastic and indeed a big part of how and why I fell in love with Hugo, but it was much more than that. This is a kids’ movie for kids of all ages, and one that had me wanting so badly to be 10 again myself. I wanted this not only so that it might not seem so strange to dream of myself weaving in and out of the corridors and crannies of the Montparnasse train station like Hugo, but also so that I’d have a whole life ahead to look forward to of growing up with the film. To all you parents who lament the awful cinematic offerings for you and your children to see, shame on you if you didn’t take them to catch this one.
Remember, we here at Man, I Love Films don’t do definitive lists. We do our favorites and we want to hear yours. So, make sure and tell us about them in the comments section below.