From Lion Kings to Lethal Lisbeth -- Julie's 10 Favorite Films of 2011
Truth be told, I don't enjoy ranking films -- especially at the end of a year that disappointingly lacked a single title that moved me to tears, gut-busting laughter or some kind of profound existential realization. (However there were quite a few films that inspired hopelessness for the future of cinema. See Just Go With It and Bucky Larson: Born To Be a Star. Actually, don't see them.) But there were some titles I'd recommend and even some I wouldn't immediately regift if they found their way under my Christmas tree/menorah this season. Behold, my fave films of 2011. As always, let me know how much you disagree with this list in the space below.
10. The Muppets
In a year that lacked decent romantic comedies, The Muppets filled the feel-good movie void for me. Jim Henson's fuzzy characters -- who made their long-awaited return to the multiplex in this Jason Segel/Nick Stoller-scripted picture -- have the uncanny ability to make audiences forget their cynicism -- even after paying the $12 ticket price. That special power is priceless, especially when combined with the overpowering nostalgia that Kermit, Miss Piggy and the entire Henson gang induce.
9. African Cats
For the record, I would watch any nature documentary narrated by Samuel L. Jackson because this Oscar nominated-actor's intense delivery could make any non-event seem suspenseful. But this Disneynature release exceeded my expectations. Chronicling the lives of a pride of lions (led by Fang, their grizzly, fearless, snaggle-toothed superior -- the equivalent to The Lion King's Mufasa) and a rival family of cheetahs led by a single mother Sita, this story was at once informative and breathtakingly beautiful. The real-life footage depicted a majestic African savannah so gorgeous that it was hard to believe it was not computer-generated and a tale of death, reunion and fiercely protective paternal impulses so moving that it was difficult to comprehend that it was not scripted. Furthermore, the story of Sita's single motherhood in the majestic African savannah is the most compelling story of single parenthood I've seen all year.
Steven Soderbergh's cautionary virus film is my favorite horror flick of the year, mainly because it continued to inspire fear and nightmares long after my first screening. Any film that can weave together another award-worthy Kate Winslet performance and Matt Damon as an overly protective dad who stages a home prom for his quarantined daughter complete with U2 dance mix is a film friend of mine. In addition to being all of these things (and the best-paced film of the year, in my opinion), Contagion established itself as one of the best-worst cautionary tales for adulturers ever.
7. Crazy, Stupid, Love
Ryan Gosling in a well-tailored suit. Emma Stone playing a head-smart female who can miraculously bait emotionally closed-off men into mature romantic relationships. Steve Carell as a dejected divorcé. Josh Grobin. A brilliant, if totally impractical and unrealistic, scene involving the Dirty Dancing lift. What I could have done without -- in this Dan Fogelman-scripted film -- is every other peripheral storyline including Julianne Moore's romance with a work colleague played by Kevin Bacon, a babysitter crushing hard for Carell and makeshift miniature golf courses. Regardless, this is one of the smartest films to fall under the romantic-comedy umbrella this year.
Full disclosure: I am partial to any film set in Pittsburgh because I am a Steel City native. That being said, Gavin O'Connor's sports drama was not just a welcome dose of nostalgia but a tale of repressed familial feelings and resentment told against the gritty 'burgh backdrop. Although the whole Moby Dick audiobook situation may have been a little heavy-handed for my taste, Nick Nolte's performance as a recovering alcoholic and sinner was crushing. Also, I prefer Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton's portrayal of tragically competitive brothers over Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale's any day of the week.
I was hesitant to see a film branded a "cancer comedy" -- even if it starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anna Kendrick and Anjelica Huston. But when I finally did get to the theater, I discovered one of the sweetest films of the year. One that was able to tackle cancer with a heaping dose of comedy that never felt inappropriate, thanks in part to Will Reiser's touching script and each supporting cast member who seemed responsible for bringing one major component to the movie each: Angelica Huston (sympathy), Seth Rogen (laughs), Bryce Dallas Howard (bitchiness) and Anna Kendrick (hope). Do not be afraid of 50/50 -- it is one of the few films this year that really earned its uplifting ending.
4. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Because of the number of tabloid pages dedicated to him, I always end up discounting Tom Cruise as an actor...until I get into a movie theater and realize again, just why he is and deserves to be a movie star. Tom Cruise has a unique screen presence that demands your attention and ticket money -- and when paired with Brad Bird's impeccable direction and the stomach-churning action sequences in this fourth Mission: Impossible installment, was a sight to behold, and one that I hope I can experience very soon again.
3. Young Adult
In addition to boasting one of the smartest, hilarious and most devilishly complex protagonists of the year, Young Adult introduced the wonderful Patton Oswalt as the kind of unoriginal male lead that thinking movie audiences deserve. Thank you to Juno filmmakers Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody for giving us a fresh female character who can be manipulative, bitchy and yet completely relatable -- in that she understands how dulcet the nasal-y narration of Kourtney Kardashian can be when you are stained sweatpants-level depressed.
So Lars von Trier's epic end-of-the-world endeavor may not be the kind of film I'd rush back to see again anytime in the next few days -- but that is because I am still digesting the dichotomy of the wildly beautiful images and disturbing apocalyptic tale of one depressed bride (Kirsten Dunst) and her improbably tolerant sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who see a planet approaching their own. This is the most nightmarish cinematic screensaver ever -- and I mean that in the best way possible. Also, Kiefer Sutherland's comedic relief contributions are something to be admired. (On an unrelated note, can someone please give me a final bath count for this movie? I've never seen depressives take to the bathtub more eagerly than the bed.)
1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
After reading Stieg Larsson's Millenium series, and then sincerely enjoying the original Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo -- directed by Niels Arden Oplev -- I did not know how David Fincher would improve upon such a solid film released so recently (2009). I should have known better than to doubt Fincher and his new muse Rooney Mara though, who transformed into the film's dark, damaged, kick-ass heroine under the filmmaker's expert care. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is easily the most electrifying and interesting thriller of the year.