I spend the entire year culling a list of movies I’ve seen in order to craft a near-perfect Best and Worst list. Unfortunately this year I was unable to see a few movies I know would be on this list. Films like The Artist and Shame haven’t hit my town yet so couldn’t make this film. Regardless, I’ve come up with ten movies that I consider the best of the best. This year was interesting as the range of genres is diverse and every movie could have been number one in its own way.
There were a few honorable mentions I want to throw out there first. Most people would say this is cheating, throwing more names in because I couldn’t narrow it down, but these mentions are movies that made me happy in a geeky sort of way. Jane Eyre satisfied my love of costume dramas, Gothic English literature, and Michael Fassbender. 50/50 almost made the main list and is still one of the funniest heart wrenching comedies out there. Tabloid is an amazing documentary about sex, celebrity and religion. The Devil’s Double boasted an awards worthy performance from Dominic Cooper and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil are up there with Shaun of the Dead as a delightful horror/comedy. Now on to the Top 10 Best Movies of 2011!
Who knew an animated film about a lizard that enjoys acting would be one of the best animated kid’s films that came out this year. PIXAR dropped the ball with Cars 2 but in its place we got Rango. The film tells of a lizard that ends up in the desert and becomes the sheriff to the small town of Dirt. With a script filled with Western references, Rango was an homage to the spaghetti Westerns with a quirky kids feel. Adults will love the Western elements, complete with Timothy Olyphant voicing the Spirit of the West (essentially Clint Eastwood), while kids enjoyed the bright colors and loveable lizard.
This was where I debated with 50/50. While I loved Jonathan Levine’s cancer comedy, I kept returning to Steven Soderbergh’s epidemic horror film. Maybe because I’m a hypochondriac who always carries hand sanitizer but I found Contagion to be a smartly directed, heart-pounding horror film. Not only to the characters deal with the effects of the illness, but the film looks at the pharmaceutical red tape that would abound during an epidemic like this, adding an extra layer of horror. Soderbergh also kept audiences on their toes by saying that not every character was safe and while I won’t spoil it, let’s just say Gwyneth Paltrow wasn’t the only high-profile death in this movie. Gotta love a film that plays with the audience’s expectations before ultimately trampling them.
8. Margin Call
I’m a little sad Margin Call isn’t getting the attention it should because it’s got the best script out there! Revolving around a Lehman Brothers-esque firm on the eve of the housing collapse, this is the film that Wall Street 2 wished it was. If anything Margin Call had the finest ensemble cast there is consisting of Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, and Jeremy Irons. Most people would assume this film is all talk, and while it is the script is filled with darkly comic moments that make you laugh amongst the seriousness. A particular monologue Paul Bettany gives about whose to the blame for the current economic system (lets just say blame can’t be wholly attributed to the banks) is worth the price of a rental. I’d call this the dark horse of the year.
7. My Week with Marilyn
I know our own Daron Taylor said nothing new is really gleaned about Marilyn Monroe in this film but regardless the performance by Michelle Williams is Oscar caliber. Her portrayal of Marilyn mixes vulnerability, sexuality, and fear in a woman that was considered the epitome of feminine beauty. With equally top-quality performances from Kenneth Branagh and Zoë Wannamaker, this was an unbelievable look at Hollywood (again haven’t seen The Artist). The world of Hollywood never looked so beautiful, and ultimately so shallow, as seen through the eyes of a young man who desperately wanted in.
6. Midnight in Paris
As an English geek Woody Allen crafted a film for me. Telling the tale of writer Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) who mysteriously travels to 1920s Paris and meets the “moveable feast” of writers and artists who populated the area. I’ve read the works of Fitzgerald and Hemingway throughout my college career and Allen presented the authors with their known flaws, but also as people who didn’t appreciate the world they lived in. The typical “grass is greener” story never looked as beautiful as when it was shown through the rain-soaked streets of Paris.
5. X-Men: First Class
2011 had a dearth of comic book movies, with the majority all being set-up for the Avengers of 2012. The one that stuck out the most was Matthew Vaughn’s prequel on the X-Men. Now I know comic fans are divided on this film because of the story’s divergence from the comics but having never read the source material myself I found myself wrapped up in the 1960s world of the X-Men. From the Mad Men elements of the Hellfire Club, to the verbal sparring on philosophy and tolerance between Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Eric Lensherr (Michael Fassbender), X-Men: First Class was more than just a “comic book movie.”
Bridesmaids restored my love of comedy in a year that proved the R-rated comedy was on the skids. The story of a woman, whose life is on a downward spiral, trying to keep it together to be maid of honor for her best friend showed women as not only crazy, but painfully loyal to their friends. Kristin Wiig became my hero as the normal; slightly nuts, but lovable Annie and the script showcased the motivations of all the characters, including Helen (Rose Byrne) who could have been a stock villain. This emphasis to show people as they are even extended to love interests as Annie realized how much of a douchebag her super hot f-buddy (Jon Hamm) was in favor of the loveable and average looking Officer Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd).
3. Martha Marcy May Marlene
Critics everywhere have placed Sean Durkin’s debut somewhere on their Best Of lists and I’m no different. The story of Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) and her time spent in a cult is a haunting, harrowing experience that contains an exceptional debut from Olsen (sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley). Olsen is beautiful, vulnerable, and a bit damaged before meeting cult leader Patrick (John Hawkes), but after escaping she’s forever tormented and unable to acclimate to normal society. The performance from Hawkes continues his streak of amazing roles as his Patrick is charismatic, charming, and dangerous.
2. The Descendants
Families have never seemed as dysfunctional as in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants. With George Clooney being touted as Best Actor material this year, his performance is The Descendants is more subtle than his other leading man roles. Playing Matt King, a man whose wife not only cheated on him, but is in a coma, he had to bring every emotion to the table. Alongside him is a stellar big-screen debut from Shailene Woodley as Matt’s rebellious daughter Alexandra. The story of a family going through turmoil is melded with the problems of Hawaii itself showcasing a country that is branded as an escape as being anything but.
I knew Drive would rank high on this list, but I never pegged it for my number one until I went and saw it for the third time. The silent Driver (Ryan Gosling) and his journey through the underbelly of Los Angeles still resonates in my head alongside its electronic score from Cliff Martinez that is on replay in my car. Director Nicholas Winding Refn has topped his ultraviolent Bronson with a tribute to the lone samurai/cowboy. Gosling’s Driver is a man who doesn’t speak often, but when he does you better be listening or expect a hammer to the face! With Los Angeles as his playground, Driver’s care and resonance with his cars, and his lady love played by Carey Mulligan, built to a shocking crescendo. When Drive comes out on DVD you can expect me to get it on Blu-Ray and play it at every get-together.
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.