Thursday, December 29, 2011

Eimer's 15 Best Movies of 2011 (and then some)

As my kids grow older and my free time opens up more and more, I find myself able to expand my viewing horizons and, ultimately, see more films with my family, which is nice. They've already watched JAWS (last year with their grandmother), so I think I'm about 2 or 3 years away from taking them to R-rated fare a theater. We'll see.

Enough about great parenting. Let's get back to the films.

I've had the opportunity to see a number of great movies this year, which makes it hard to toss them all onto a list. However, I've toiled and contemplated the 15 films that really moved me enough this year to sit down and write something about them.

Keep in mind, due to circumstances beyond my control, I don't get to the theater that often. Thus, I haven't seen some of the big guns such as Mission Impossible 4, The Artist. The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo and other sure-to-be nominated for Academy Award films. Perhaps they'll make next year's list.

That said, you'll see two Academy Award winning movies from 2010 on this year's list as well as a movie from 2001. Again, they were movies I VIEWED for the first time in 2011. (Get it?)

So, here goes - my top 15 list (in no particular order), with links to IMDB for more information.

Enjoy!

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
This was, hands down, one of the best superhero movies to come out in quite some time. And to think that I thought this was going to be the worst super hero movie of the year. From the beginning frame to the final epilogue after the credits, Director Joe Johnston (October Sky, Jurassic Park 3, Jumanji) has given us one of this best outings to date. So, why is this movie a 5-star film? Well, it's one of the smartest superhero flicks out there. It merges a great storyline with fantastic, fun acting and a witty script (not to mention great special effects) for a complete product from start to finish. You can tell the actors had a fun time creating this movie as well. As a testament to this, my wife, who hates superhero flicks, watched this from start to finish and actually asked me to pause the movie when she left the room. That never happens people! But enough about my wife, the film is just solid. Check er out! One of the best superhero movies ever made. Yep, I said it.

CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE
I'm a sucker for romantic comedies. Scratch that. I'm a sucker for smart, endearing romantic comedies that don't insult my intelligence. Films like SAY ANYTHING, JUNEBUG, PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, AMELIE, IN HER SHOES and even last year's EASY A. For me, CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE, falls into that category. A fun, romantic comedy that forces you to take a step back and analyze your past loves of your life, your current relationship and the possible children that you brought onto this Earth. Sure, maybe the intertwining romantic, generational plot points all coming together at the end is a bit of a stretch, but I didn't seem to care. Steve Carell has had a long history of making bad films - minus LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. Hopefully, he's broken the jinx. The rest of the cast including Gosling, Moore, Stone, Bacon and a perky, yet angry, Tomei comes together to make a great film that will make you smile. Just goes to show that all movies don't have to be heart-wrenching to win accolades, this film as well as the THE MUPPETS and BEGINNGERS just may well be the feel-good films of 2011.

THE DESCENDANTS
Solid film through and through. It's just a bit...well...sad. Hey, it's an Alexander Payne film (About Schmidt, Sideways, Election), so I knew there was going to be a touch of sadness, but this is heavy on the sad...and a bit light on the laughs. Just be warned. That said, Clooney does a fantastic job in the lead role. He hits a hundred different emotions in this movie and it's one of his best roles to date. he supporting cast of mostly non A-list actors (minus Beau Bridges) are also on top of their game. A shout out to Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller as Clooney's two daughters in the film. Totally believable performances from start to finish. Also, actor Nick Krause provides the most comic relief of the film as Hawaiian surf bum Sid. Like I said, it's a tear jerker. But, it's worth a viewing. Hell, when it arrives on DVD or Pay Per View, I'll more than likely watch it a couple more times, which is a solid testament to this film. Check er out.

MARTYRS
Wow. Fantastically horrific, yet very beautiful film. It's almost three movies in one with tons of twists and turns that take you, the viewer, on a rollercoaster of emotions. Is it gory? Yes! Is it a disturbing film to watch? Definitely! But, you have to trust me on this, the end justifies the means. This is not simply torture gorno porn a' la Eli Roth's HOSTEL or Aja's HIGH TENSION (both are great films by the way). There's a definite method to the madness with the final 10 minutes an almost ethereal bloodletting of the soul. Nods to Director Pascal Laugier, who I'm going to keep my eye on. Also, someone should get noticed or props for the make-up, editing, cinematography and acting. Laugier definitely kept the actors in check and under control throughout the film. No over-the-top, snarky performances here. Screenplay was fantastic. Kudos to the screwed up mind of Lauqier. Again, check 'er out with reservations. This isn't MARY POPPINS people. However, if you can stomach the 97 minutes, then I guarantee you'll be talking about this movie hours, days, months, years into the future. And, in the end, isn't that what a great film is supposed to do

MELANCHOLIA
In my opinion, a great movie has you thinking about the plot, the cinematography, the direction and the acting days, months, even years after an initial viewing. Von Trier's Melancholia does just that. The great thing about this movie is that the plot (a planet is on a collision course with Earth) can be played out in a thousand different scenarios. Von Trier decided to focus his lens on a wealthy, somewhat dysfunctional family during and after a disastrous wedding. This movie almost borders on sci-fi, but it's the acting, directing and interesting screenplay that pulls this movie together. In comparing this film with another current existential film, Malick's THE TREE OF LIFE (see my review below), this movie stands at the top. Like Malick's 3-hour opus, in a sense, this movie could be considered Von Trier's 2001: A SPACY ODYSSEY as well. But, that's not saying enough about this film. The great thing about this film, and Von Trier in general, is that he's not worried about critics or reviews. He just churns out interesting, creative films that force you to take a step back and look at your life and ask that proverbial question, "What would I do if this was happening to me?". Again, very enjoyable film. Some people will think it's slow or boring, but I was enthralled from beginning to end. Check er out!

RANGO
Whoa. I just may have watched the 2011 Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature. Fantastic movie by Gore Verbinski and the animated team from Industrial Light and Magic. There's a reason that celebrated cinematographer Roger Deakins was brought on as a visual consultant, and it shows. The movie blends whimsical adult dialogue with not-too-cuddly characters to create an odd ball film. I watched this with my kids and they simply loved it. You know why? Because it's different! This isn't your typical Disney fare, which is great. It's a psuedo-animated western. Visually speaking, this film is a treat. The animation and art direction crew at ILM really put their heart and soul into this film. From the fluid animated movements to the quirky idiocentricities of the characters, I think they really did a fantastic job of creating this very creative anthropomorphic world. Congrats to Verbinski for having the cojones to create and produce this film. It may just pay off come Oscar time.

SUPER 8
A little bit of ET, a little bit of STAND BY ME and THE GOONIES - JJ Abrams gets it. He gets the heart, the soul and the passion of being a naive kid. Better than that, he gets dialogue, cinematograpy, screenwriting and the sense of mystery that surrounds a movie. Who cares if you see the creature 3/4 into the movie when you've got great characters to pull the movie forward? And that's the most important part about this movie; an interesting story, a fantastic plot, witty banter and exception special effects that are used as a compliment to the movie, not the main course. This movie took my back to my 70's and 80's when my naivete and childhood intertwined with nostalgic feelings and the movies I experienced when I was at that age - before I discovered women. Check 'er out!

STANLEY KUBRICK: A LIFE IN PICTURES
If you're a fan of Kubrick, or at least a couple of his films, I implore you to watch this film. It puts to rest, or in some instances reaffirms, the rumors that you've heard - once and for all. Telling his story in chronological order from his time as a photographer all the way through to EYES WIDE SHUT, the 142 minutes slides by like a 30-minute episode. Great inside interviews with top actors and crew who worked side by side with this genius film maker. Highly recommended. Very motivating to watch as well. Makes you want to run out and achieve your dreams whatever they may be.

THE KING'S SPEECH
Great film. I was dragging my heels on this one for one reason or another. The main reason being that I thought SOCIAL NETWORK was going to be the superior film. However, I can now eat crow, because both are on the same level, but for different reasons. This film, the acting totally carried the entire film. Colin Firth is amazing as King George and his stammering seems so real, so lifelike. Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter offer fantastic supporting roles. Director Tom Hooper should also be applauded for making what would at first glance be a dull story about a speech impediment into a fantastic, edge-of-your-seat film. I had goosebumps at the end. Any Director that can suspend disbelief for two hours and actually make you feel that you were in England in 1939 when the King was giving his famous war speech, deserves to get recognition. But, that's not it, the screenplay, the art direction, the cinematography, the editing and the 2 hour length. Everything in this film is simply sublime. And, unlike, SOCIAL NETWORK, this film makes you feel a bit happy about the human condition when the credits roll.

HARRY POTTER & DEATHLY HALLOWS (PART 1 & PART 2)
Unlike Christopher Columbus' direction of the first two films, Director David Yates gets it. He gets the look and, most importantly, tone and feel of the Harry Potter universe. (Of course, Azkaban is my personal favorite of the eight). However, this movie is a great finale of the series. All of the actors take their roles seriously from Daniel Radcliffe and Helena Bonham Carter to John Hurt and Ralph Fiennes (as Voldemort). Fantastic cinematography and special effects meshed with a great storyline, pulls this film out of the three-star dumpster and tosses it into, possibly, one of the 10 best movies of the year. Check 'er out. But watch the first seven first!

BEGINNERS
I dragged my heels on this movie due to the fact that I thought it was a tear jerker bummer of a film a' la PHILADELPHIA. Turns out I was completely wrong. What a great romantic comedy. Yeah, I know. How could a movie about a 75-year old man dying from lung cancer be a romantic comedy. Well, it is and it works spectacularly. All actors are fantastic. The script and direction by Mike Mills works from beginning to end. In a time of stupid romantic movies of 2010 such as FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS, JUST GO WITH IT, FOOTLOOSE and THE TWILIGHT SAGA. It's nice and refreshing to see that someone out there is creating a great romantic film. Check 'er out!

Aronofosky does it again, and in a completely different genre - horror. Some may argue that this is a drama. However, I would put it in the same realm as SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and ROSEMARY'S BABY. Smart horror. Aronofosky is a talented director who pushes his actors to their finest levels. It's no wonder most of his film have actor nominees when the dust settles. Portman is on top of her game. I truly cannot imagine anyone else taking this role. But that's not all. The screenplay. The grainy mixture of 16 mm and video cinematography create a muted, somewhat ethereal tone to add to the already darkened mood of the film. The handheld camera movements makes the movie feel like a documentary at times. Top it off with a great supporting cast and a fantastic script and you've got one helluva entertaining, original film. Check er out!

RESTREPO
One of the best documentaries of 2010. A fantastic, intimate look into a platoons point of view of the conflict in Afghanistan. Im not sure Ive ever seen such an up close, personal look of the soldiers in a documentary before. Fantastic cinematography and direction by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington. But its the soldiers interviews that really packs a powerful punch. Powerful, powerful stuff. Highly recommended.

EIMER'S 2011 WAS IT GOOD? WAS IT BAD? PICK
THE TREE OF LIFE
Could be considered great, or not so great, upon a second viewing. As I stated above with Von Trier's Melancholia, in a sense, this felt like Malick's 2001: A SPACY ODYSSEY. The acting was fantastic. Brad Pitt is having a banner year for acting jobs. The supporting cast, in particular the young son is top notch as well. I'm just not sure if I really like this movie because the critics and reviews say I'm supposed to, or if there is a deeper meaning to all of this. I understand that Malick is a very nature-specific guy filming loads and loads of natural elements to intersperse with the actors. Seems to me that Malick chose this family as a tiny snippet of the big kahuna that is life. I'm just not sure how that affected me including the 15-plus minute 'The Earth is Born' sequence at the beginning of the film Sometimes it seemed to take away from the movie altogether. Sometimes I found myself wondering why was this all necessary. Sometimes I found myself asking 'Why in the Hell did Sean Penn take this role?' Was there a lot more that they shot of Sean Penn as the grown-up son? Did Malick leave it on the cutting room floor? I guess I would like to hear what Malick's intentions were before I toss the movie into the realm of greatness. Which begs the question, if I'm asking so many questions, does it make it a great movie? Well, at the very least, I tossed it on this list stars mainly for acting and direction - and the fact that it's still making me think about it a month and a half after I've viewed it.

The Rest of the Pack
Below are some films that were almost considered as top views, but didn't quite make the cut:
  • The Muppets
  • 127 Hours
  • Midnight In Paris
  • Horrible Bosses
  • X-Men: First Class
  • Bridesmaids
  • Puss in Boots
  • Contagion
  • Biutiful
  • Win Win
  • Limitless
  • The Way Back
  • Rio
  • Never Let Me Go
  • The Fighter
  • Last Train Home
  • Let Me In
  • Enter The Void
  • Exit Through the Gift Shop
  • Dogtooth
  • Easy A
 LOOKING FOR MORE TOP MOVIES?

4 comments:

Carrie said...

I have stuck to my Tree of Life guns all summer/fall. No one wants to look like a simpleton by saying that they didn't like it, even though, really, more people didn't like it than did. Well I'll say it--I didn't like it. An hour in, I started looking at my watch every 10 minutes or so. It's visually stunning, but that wasn't enough to keep me from being bored. By the way, I read a couple blurbs from Penn, and he didn't get it either. Not once he saw the final cut. He said it was one of the best scripts he ever read, but that the final version left him asking why his role was ever included. I'll see if I can find the article.

Your Finest Eimer said...

Thanks CARRIE, much appreciated. I'm 50/50 because I really enjoyed the acting and the look and feel of the film. It seems as though someone is pointing a gun to the critic's heads saying 'If you don't like this movie, you are a turd of a critic.' I don't like to get bullied into thinking something's grand.

Carrie said...

Brad, I hear you on the acting. I guess I would put Tree of Life in the important-movies-that-film-buffs-should-see-but-that-you-might-never-be-compelled-to-see-again category. I'm also with you on the critics. I probably read 10 reviews of this flick after it was shown at Cannes, and I think only one person gave it a "meh" sort of review. I got the impression from the other critics that they didn't want to be caught sitting at the "squares" table. Oh well. Perhaps I'll revisit the film in a few years, better able to look at it with a critical eye, as opposed to judging it solely on level of enjoyment.

Your Finest Eimer said...

That's the thing. I probably won't watch it again. Had the 15 minute interlude not been there, maybe so. But, I'm with you on this. I think, in the end, it's an okay movie. Melancholia is much, much better. (In my opinion). Thanks for your thoughtful prose.