Friday, January 13, 2012

The Bearded Bullet's Top 10 of 2011

Hello Internet and goodbye 2011!  You were an interesting year...plenty of surprisingly awesome movies (Attack the Block, Hanna) and some that, well, didn't necessarily get the job done (Cowboys & Aliens, Battle: LA). 2011 was an interesting year in that there were dozens of films that I enjoyed quite a bit.  When I sat down to make my top ten I started with closer to twenty and pared it down from there.  I saw a total of 72 films that were released in 2011.  And these are my absolute favorites.

A quick note before I get to my list:  This is a "favorite" list and not a "best" list.  There were fantastic films that I left off the list that may be "better" then some of my entries.  Films like War Horse, The Tree of Life, and The Descendants are three that come to mind.  These ten films are the ones that I enjoyed the most or had the best time viewing.  There are also several films that I have not yet seen that I wanted to: Shame, Carnage, The Artist, The Devil's Double, Beginners, The Iron Lady to name a few.  Perhaps I'll edit my list after I've seen them.  With all that out of the we go!

10.  Hugo - To be honest I went into this film not all that excited.  I'm a fan of Scorsese's films and the idea of him adapting a children's book didn't get me all that excited.  The trailer came out and I still wasn't all that sold.  Then I saw Hugo.  And my mind was irrevocably changed.  I love every aspect of this film.  The setting, story, characters, music, visual effects, cinematography; everything just worked.  The story of Hugo Cabret is compelling; the mystery surrounding the automaton discovered by his father (Jude Law) was intriguing and a storyline that I became emotionally engaged in.  The film evolves into a love-letter from Scorsese to the first filmmakers in history...all while Martin himself pushes technology and film-making forward through the fantastic used of 3D.  Hugo features the best use of 3D that I've ever seen - its used to enhance the experience and immerse the audience in  1930s Paris.  To say that Hugo is magical is an understatement.

9.  Immortals - This selection may earn me a bit of backlash.  To see my thoughts in their entirety you can read my full review.  I saw Immortals in theaters many times this year, both in 2D and 3D.  Every year I find a good action movie and latch onto it.  Last year it was Tron: Legacy.  This year it was Immortals.  Its a relatively "dumb" action movie that more than delivers on the action.  I think Henry Cavill is great as Theseus and has a bright future as an action star (he's playing Superman in 2013's Man of Steel).  I could talk at length about the incredible action sequences and amazing set-pieces.  With a stronger narrative Immortals could've risen higher on my list.

8.  Captain America - Going into this summer Cap was one of my most anticipated films.  And it turned out being one of my favorites.  Going up against Thor and X-Men First Class is no small task, and Cap came out on top, for me.  I'm in love with history, specifically World War Two.  The setting and tone of Cap is incredible.  The story is fantastic; Steve Roger's arc is fun to watch and is the wholesome hero of his era.  Hugo Weaving's Red Skull is a fantastic villain and a pure joy to watch.  His reveal to Steve about what he really is is one of my favorite moments of the year.  Steve and Peggy's romance just felt real.  It felt natural.  Its certainly more believable than Thor and Jane Foster's.  Captain America is an excellently-made old-fashioned action film with real heart and character.

7.  50/50 -  There is so much to like about this film.  Fantastic performances, a compelling and engaging narrative and visceral emotion.  I'm a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and an even bigger fan of Seth Rogen.  Both are quite likable and great in their roles as best friends.  50/50 seems like a fairly accurate depiction of how a twenty-something would deal with the revelation that they have cancer.  Levitt puts in an intensely believable performance that brings us along with him through the journey of discovery, coping, and treatment.  I could relate to the emotions he was feeling and how he dealt with his relationship to his newbie therapist, played wonderfully by Anna Kendrick.  Rogen brings the funny throughout the film, and not in the usual manner.  It all feels natural for the situation(s) these characters find themselves.  I cried few times in 2011 in the theater and this film has one of those moments.  50/50 is one of the most heartfelt dramadies of the year.

6.  Moneyball - Brad Pitt is near the top of list of my favorite working actors.  And in Moneyball he puts forth one of his best performances to date, if not the best.  Pitt's Billy Beane is a complicated, layered man with a past he isn't too proud of.  I never read the book nor am familiar with the real-life events surrounding the film's narrative.  As a film it is quite fantastic.  Jonah Hill puts in a career-best performance as well, as Beane's right-hand man.  The narrative is compelling; you can't help but route for the underdog Oakland A's and Beane and Brand's new method of player recruitment.  This film screams the concept of the underdog.  The defeated A's are rebuilt using under-valued players that fight against all odds to prove their formula can work.  Moneyball is quiet, compelling, and entertaining.

5.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - You can find the majority of my thoughts in my review.  I absolutely loved this film and what it brought to the table in terms of changes to the source material.  David Fincher is a perfectionist and master craftsman.  And that comes through brilliantly with Dragon Tattoo.  You can tell that every shot, every angle was meticulously planned out and executed to a T.  Tattoo comes with some flaws, but at the end of the day its a supremely entertaining thriller that has some lasting, haunting imagery.

4.  Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol - Again, you can find my complete thoughts in my review.  GP is the quintessential action film.  I wouldn't change a thing about this film..except for a more memorable villain.  That said, Protocol is one helluva thrillride across the planet with a bevy of memorable action set-pieces that I still think about to this day.  The section in and around the Burj Khalifa hotel still boggles my mind and stands as the highlight of the action-film-scene of 2011.  Considering this is his live-action debut, Brad Bird has promising action-film career ahead of him.

3. Warrior - This film is absolutely fan-friggin-tastic.  There is so much that I love about Warrior.  The characters are interesting and compelling; Nick Nolte, Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and Jennifer Morrison put in great performances all-around.  You feel for Nolte, a former drunkard who destroyed his family with his addiction.  When his son, Tommy (Hardy) comes back into his life you see that Nolte has changed, yet has done irreversible damage to their much that Tommy wants virtually nothing to do with his father.  Edgerton and Morrison's plight is one that we are all too familiar with and can sympathize with more so than most protagonists.  The two brothers start training for an MMA fight of the century; a single-elimination, two-night tournament for a prize of five million dollars.  Each brother is fighting for their own reasons; the revelation about who Tommy is and why he's fighting is fascinating and quite intriguing.  The parallel between Captain Ahab and his obsession with the white whale (the audio book Nolte continually listens to) and Nolte's own white whale (Tommy) is one of my favorite aspects of the film; Tommy comes in and out of his father's life and when they finally come together as a team (for the Atlantic City tournament) Tommy's whale drives his father to self-destruction over their failed relationship.  The outcome may not be all that surprising, but the journey is incredible.  The actual fights are well-choreographed and feel very real.  I was on the edge of my seat more than once during these amazing brawls.  I didn't think I could like a film like this more than 2010's The Fighter...but I think I do.

2.  The Ides of March - 2011 had quite a few great thrillers.  Ides was one of the finest.  George Clooney continues his directorial (and actorial) domination.  I can't speak highly enough about this film.  The stand-out is the cast: Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood.  All put in strong, believable performances.  Gosling is mesmerizing as Clooney's Governor Mike Morris' right-hand man.  The plot is laden with political intrigue and back-door-dealing and is fascinating to watch.  One wrong step or meeting can lead to (political) suicide.  Clooney's Morris is strong, imposing, yet warm and likable at the same time.  You want to vote for the man the first time you meet him.  Then you want to toss him out to sea by the end.  To me this feels like an accurate depiction of how real-life politics operates.  Hand-shaking and smiling on the outside, while campaigning, with career-ending secrets and mistakes lurking in the background.  The Ides of March is a compelling and highly entertaining political thriller.  A must-see.

1.  Drive - Full review here.  For me there was little debate over what was my favorite film of 2011.  I knew very little about Drive going into it.  And that was a good thing.  I was blown away by every facet of this well-crafted action-thriller-drama.  Drive combines the best of those genres into an amalgamation of brilliance.  Drive has some of the most brutal, visceral action scenes I've ever seen.   Yet it also features some of the most interesting character-work in recent memory.  To juxtapose the extreme violence are calm, quiet moments between Ryan Gosling's Driver and Carey Mulligan's Irene.  Intense silence.  Yet so much is said during those moments of intense silence.  Arguably more is said during those scenes then when the characters actually speak to one another.  Drive's soundtrack is one of the most memorable I've ever heard.  I listen to it on an almost-daily basis.  I can count on one hand the number of soundtracks/scores that I can listen to and pinpoint where exactly in the film they lie.  Songs like "Nightcall," "Under Your Spell," and "A Real Hero" perfectly compliment what's transpiring on screen.  All of these words cannot accurately express how I feel about this film.  Its very, very early to determine, but I have a feeling Drive will end up in my all-time favorite list, up there with Saving Private Ryan, The Dark Knight and many, many other fantastic films.

And there you have it.  2011 was a pretty great year for good films.  Here's to hoping that 2012 can live up to it!

The Bearded Bullet is off to wait for the Drive bluray...