Jack’s Top Ten of 2011
2011 has been unusual because it’s my first year as a film critic thanks to Battleship Pretension, yet I’ve only seen one or two of this year’s big movies. The list of 2011 films I’ve missed includes glaring omissions like Hugo, Moneyball, The Descendents … and so many more. So what did I see? Thanks to David and Tyler it’s an odd mix of independent and foreign films with a sprinkle of mainstream fare. What follows may not be a comprehensive 2011 list, but you might find a few smaller and odder films that are worth seeking out on DVD in 2012.
10. The Help
People are trashing this film for being historically hollow and perhaps even racist at its core with hints of the “magical negro” and “Mammy.” Still, it’s the performances from Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Jessica Chastain that make this film so very entertaining. This may be the glossy Disney version of Ghosts of Mississippi, but while some may be correct in their racial criticisms, The Help does provide a positive mainstream studio movie rarity: a big budget movie with a bang-up, all female, cast.
9. Page One: Inside the New York Times
This documentary about The New York Times, unlike the implication of its title, isn’t merely an explanation of how “the Old Gray Lady” works. Instead filmmakers Kate Novack and Andrew Rossi captured one of the most iconic parts of modern media, as it deals with a series of events that attack its foundation and its future. This film is an amazing look at one of the world’s most famous newspapers as it deals with WikiLeaks, the iPad, the Jayson Blair scandal, Twitter, Judith Miller and Gawker all at once.
8. A Trip to the Moon
I didn’t see Hugo, but I did catch a screening of this Georges Méliès classic. A restored hand colored print debuted at Cannes this year, and it recaptured my imagination. This film showed the world just how imaginative cinema was, back when the moving picture was as cutting edge as it got. The art direction in Trip is wonderful, the story is fascinating, but the thing that I love (spoiler?) is this film’s use of umbrella. There’s something curiously wonderful about landing on the face of the moon, in a giant cannon shell, navigating a psychedelic landscape with insectoid aliens, and then fighting them all off with umbrellas. It’s fantastic, amazing, a fantastic reflection of the time in which it was made, and it’s worth watching again.
7. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
It’s a remake, a sequel, a reboot, another job for James Franco, and a dozen other things no one thought they needed. Yet this movie brings new life to something I was certain had died. Rise reminds me of how I felt watching Tim Burton’s Batman after having only ever seen the Adam West in the cowl. This film left me excited for a franchise and it reminded me of what I enjoyed about this series the first time around.
6. The Conquest
I enjoy political dramas, especially those that shed new light on real events. The twist here is that Conquest introduced me to a political figure I knew little about, French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He went from being a person I was barely aware of, to an intricate person I’m now desperate to know more about. If you know French politics you’ll see a new side of Sarkozy here. If you can’t even find France on a map, I guarantee you’ll still be entertained.
Much like with The Conquest, Outrage is a fun film that not only entertains but also educates. This Japanese gangster flick is gruesome, funny, and it exposed me to a different side of Japanese culture. I’m not even talking about the criminal side that most Japanese might not wish to glorify. This movie is a piece of contemporary Japanese Pop-Art directed by and starring Japan’s answer to Clint Eastwood, “Beat” Takeshi. The gangster part is fun, but the cultural commentary is entertainingly clever.
4. Viva Riva
I love intricate crime dramas coated with dirt and flecked with grit and gristle. Viva Riva is a gritty and dirty crime flick straight from the Congo. This film has a strong noir element, twists and turns, takes a few surreal risks, and it’s also a first feature for director Djo Tunda wa Munga and star Patsha Bay. This is a flick that fascinates and reinterprets classic film techniques with a foreign accent and a modern spin.
3. Beyond the Black Rainbow
Each of the movies on this list is here because they readjusted my expectations for what I could get out of a film. They challenged me, or entertained me, or just surprised the hell out of me. This movie did all of that … but mostly that last bit. I saw this film on a Wednesday morning in a mostly empty theater, and I felt like I traveled back in time and snuck into an “R” rated horror flick circa 1983. This movie is visual, and daring, and challenging, and possibly more than any other movie on this list I have the burning need to watch it again.
2. Attack the Block/Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
These films are listed here together for the same reason. They’re both genre films, and they both turn their respective genres down new avenues. They both use humor effectively, have great casts, and both are perfectly set up to give us franchises. Oh – and (spoiler) neither is afraid to kill kids. If you’re a horror or sci-fi fanboy, you really shouldn’t miss either of these movies.
1. Leap Year (Año Bisiesto)
If you haven’t guessed by now I’m a sucker for the odd and the unusual, and this movie has that in spades. A Mexican film, directed by an Australian journalist (Michael Rowe) in his feature film debut, this no-budget movie uses a single location, silence and tension to build up one stunningly compelling film. It surprised me, it shocked me, and it thrust my mind places I never expected. This is not a film for those with standard and immutable sexual boundaries, but hardcore film fans shouldn’t miss it.
So that was my 2011. While I spend the next month finally catching Drive, The Artist, Another Earth, The Skin I Live In, Midnight in Paris, Tree of Life, Margin Call, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Terri, and Melancholia (yeah) – do me a favor and watch at least one of the above, and let me know if you think my 2011 at the theater was well spent in the comments below.