Josh’s Top Ten of 2011
10. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
I missed a lot of 2011’s big ticket comedies, but this is definitely the funniest movie I saw this year. It’s a great twist on an old concept. A bunch of dumb, whiny kids go camping, and are haunted by weird backwoods people. Only the backwoods people this time around are innocent simpletons, who just want a relaxing weekend at their lake house fixer-upper. It’s not just the concept, it’s really the performances that sell this one. Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk are a fantastic comedic pair. With clever setups and witty dialogue, this one’s a lot of gory fun.
9. Midnight in Paris
While I might consider Midnight in Paris lesser Woody Allen, it still has enough of the filmmaker’s touch to be charming. As Owen Wilson (playing the usual Allen surrogate) stumbles through the world 1920s Paris, it’s fun to see the over-the-top renditions of everyone from Hemingway to Buñuel. The romanticization of the past is a good topic for Allen, who has probably struggled with this same issue, or else he wouldn’t have made a movie about it. It’s simple in a good way. Michael Sheen gives a frustratingly hilarious performance.
8. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The story of this film wasn’t as labyrinthine as everyone had warned, although there were still a few things I had to work through at the end. I don’t feel as if the story sells this film as much for me. It’s more the moments of tension, and the overall look of the film. A plusses for art direction, costume design, and cinematography. Great performances all around, especially Gary Oldman’s understated George Smiley.
7. We Need to Talk About Kevin
“Tension” can’t fully describe the feeling that this film plants in its audiences. Tilda Swinton seems uncomfortable in her own skin for the entire movie, pointing out how distant she is from what she’s wanted in life. As much as the deviant Kevin tortures her, there always remains the question as to whether she is responsible. There is an eerie but sad connection between the two of them that complicates the relationship even more. Johnny Greenwood’s score builds a sense of dread that perfectly complements the film’s narrative. It all leads to a shocking ending, if you can keep yourself away from spoilers.
The big story about Margaret is how it only had a nominal theatre run, despite some notable praise from critics. But looking past all that, there’s a very deep story about a girl desperate to connect, but only willing to do it on her own terms. Anna Paquin’s Lisa Cohen has a fleeting moment where she connects with a dying woman, and suddenly recognizes something that’s missing in her life. As hard as she tries to find it again, she won’t let her guard down, she won’t open herself to other people. She’s floundering around without even realizing the folly of waiting for everyone to come to her. A little long at times (sensibly cut down from the director’s intended 3 hour run time), but plenty of depth in character development.
5. The Trip
Some might not consider this a 2011 release, as it was shown in England before the beginning of the year. But since it reached our shores this year, and I didn’t catch it until this fall, it goes on my list. The film starts out slow, especially if you’re expecting laugh out loud silly British humor from Coogan and Brydon. It has its moments of silliness, but ends up drawing you in with Coogan’s personal struggles. He portrays what he may feel to be in reality; an actor who’s never quite made it to the top of the pile, who is still remembered for the sillier parts of his career, and who finds himself sadly distanced from all those he’s loved. Paired with Brydon’s simple complacency, it’s a poignant compare and contrast.
I generally see Lars von Trier films begrudgingly, and Melancholia was no exception. I expect his films to be beautiful, but as frustrating as you would expect an evening with a xenophobic misanthropist (misogynist?) to be. Melancholia brings the anticipated technical brilliance, but focuses on ideas more universal than von Trier’s typical quibbles with society. It’s obtuse, but it makes you think. The mere fact that the filmmaker describes this film as a romance is reason enough to take a look.
3. The Artist
The Artist could easily just be a gimmick; a silent movie decades after the genre has been declared dead. But the film goes beyond that. Besides being a lot of fun, it has a lot to say about progress in the film industry, and the artistry in the medium. There’s a beautiful scene where one character decries the “mugging” style of acting inherent in the silents, while another character overhears with a subtle, touching performance. There’s something wonderful about a film where characters’ conversations can entrance me, even though I don’t know what they’re saying.
2. Martha Marcy May Marlene
Martha Marcy May Marlene is about a girl from a world vastly different than yours and mine. As the movie progresses, it fills in the realities of that world until you realize the horrors she’s been through, even if she doesn’t. She wants so badly to come back to reality, without realizing how far she’s drifted from it. The film brilliantly portrays the gripping depth of psychological trauma and paranoia. John Hawkes’ performance is eerily magnetic, which makes him all the more threatening. A psychological drama that really gets under your skin.
1. The Tree of Life
I have to say that I find a great deal of joy seeing how prominently this film has placed on everyone’s lists this year; not just among the BP bloggers, but with critics and now the Academy. This was one of those rare films that I looked forward to for a long time, and exceeded my expectations. You’ve all heard the praise already, but I’ll reiterate. It’s a masterpiece. The story (such as it is) flows effortlessly, the visuals are entrancing, the performances are mesmerizing. I love any film that deals with the big questions in a small, personal way, and this one goes deep if you let it. It is a film that sadly may not have the same gravity on DVD, but it will undoubtedly be one I’ll return to.
All that aside, my list is somewhat incomplete, since several films I expect to enjoy, I still haven’t seen. Among them are A Separation, Certified Copy, Take Shelter, Damsels in Distress, Le Havre, and The Future. Amended top ten list to follow maybe?