Editor’s note: I’ve been meaning to open up Entertainment Maven to other contributors and give readers a little more bang for their…click, and I couldn’t think of a better guest writer than Kirk Haviland to contribute the first piece. I met Kirk this past year at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival and was stunned at how knowledgeable he was when it came to talking about movies, not to mention he’s a pretty decent guy as well.
As a film blogger, it’s my responsibility to be as knowledgable as I can be about the subject matter I’m writing about. If I knew half as much as Kirk, I think I would be in pretty good shape.
When I first sat down to start this list I figured it was going to be easy. I mean 2011 wasn’t an amazing year for film, right? It was when I started going through the list of releases that I realized something, there may have been A LOT of movies I disliked this year, but there were also a lot I loved. I have changed this list about a dozen times in ranking and will probably do so again, but these sit as my top 15 (yeah that’s right 15, never said editing was my strong point). Also, I must add that I have not seen some of the films most critics have listed in their top films lists, such as Melancholia, Tree of Life, The Artist and Take Shelter, so they won’t be included here. That said, here we go.
15- Super 8
A loving homage to the films I grew up on like ET and The Goonies. The kids in the film are all very well cast and deliver strong performances to drive the film, especially the very talented Elle Fanning. So maybe the monster plot line doesn’t work, still ranks as one the most fun movies I saw all year.
14- The Innkeepers
Saw this at TADFF back in October and instantly loved it’s throwback style and belief that simply building tension and creepiness is just as effective at scaring people as gore and jump scares. Sara Paxton is excellent in what I consider a star making role. Miss Paxton you will never get me to watch your cinematic gems like “Sydney White” or “Superhero Movie” but you are now on my radar. And maybe now I’ll watch Shark Night 3D…maybe. Opens in theaters in February, seek it out.
13 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
The concluding chapter to the most successful film series of all time did not disappoint. Grand in scale with strong performances from the three leads, the filmmakers proved they were right to split the last film into two parts, as condensing the two films into one would have left much wanting. Now whoever convinced the Twilight Filmmakers to do the same idea…(have not yet subjected myself to the torture that will be Breaking Dawn part 1, for full disclosure).
12- Martha Marcy May Marlene
The Exceptional performances from Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes drive this film about a cult devotee trying to re-conform to society after she escapes back to the real “real world”. Both shocking and subtle, the film unravels through flashbacks as we are told the story of her immersion into the cult, while we see her struggles after she leaves. Expect Olsen’s name to be a strong contender come awards season.
This highly underrated/overlooked gem is an extremely effective look at coping with a serious issue like Cancer with humor, dignity, forgiveness and strength. Joseph Gordon Levitt and Seth Rogen are pitch perfect here (this is a semi autobiographical film for Rogen as it’s based on the writer Wil Reiser’s own bout with cancer. Rogen, friends with Reiser, then encouraged him to turn it into a screenplay).
This film also encouraged my ever growing “infatuation” with the lovely and talented Anna Kendrick.
10- Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Into the top 10 and I’m leading of with Apes? Yes indeed, RotPotA (for short) was one of the biggest surprises and most effective films I saw all year. Andy Serkis’ Motion Capture performance as Caesar is fantastic and managed to make us feel more attached to the Apes than the humans in this picture. James Franco continues to make interesting choices in his career and this one works like Gangbusters. By Far the best of the “Summer Blockbusters” this year.
9- The Descendants
When I first finished watching this film I was impressed with its tone and the superb acting of the two daughters in the film. I mean Clooney was great, but he usually is strong for the most part, right? It wasn’t until days after and this film sticking with me that I realized that Clooney was perfectly cast in this and delivers one of his strongest and most complete performances of his career. Alexander Payne’s direction is solid once again, and a standout supporting cast, this IS the best thing Matthew Lillard has ever done, help round out the story. Will be a strong contender for the Oscar.
8- Attack The Block
Joe Cornish’s directorial debut about a juvenile street gang fighting aliens in London’s West End was the only film that left me visibly giddy as I left the theater. Where Super 8’s weakest point was the aliens, Attack the Block’s creatures are excellent and the reason why they are stalking the children throughout the movie unfolds as the movie progresses. The film also gets serious in the third act, showing that there are consequences to all actions and sometimes it’s the ones around you who pay the price.
A film about statistics, and it’s GOOD? That’s right, Moneyball delivers what is probably Jonah Hill’s finest performance and while Brad Pitt doesn’t completely disappear into the character of Billy Beane, his swagger does him well in the role. Moneyball is one of the most plain fun films of the year.
Martin Scorsese’s film may be polarizing among critics, but I found it to be the best advertisement for 3D film making outside of Avatar. But where Avatar fails (script anyone?), Hugo does not. A perfectly crafted story of a orphan finding his way into the adventure of a lifetime. And getting to see George Melies’s “La voyage dans la Lune” in high def 3D doesn’t hurt either. A loving tribute to the earliest pioneers of film.
Paddy Considine’s film contains my choice for best male performance of the year as well as best supporting female, with Peter Mullan’s brilliance on full display and Olivia Colman stealing scenes left and right. The film, which I saw at TIFF in September, is a character piece as Mullan’s Joseph is the titular Tyrannosaur, a widower who leads a solitary life and likes it that way, until Coleman’s Hannah comes crashing in. This film deserves more attention as it gets slowly released in limited theaters this January.
4 – Some Guy Who Kills People
My biggest surprise of TADFF 2011 was Some Guy Who Kills People. Going into the fest I knew my friend Christian Burgess, a programmer at TAD, had been hyping this for a long time. The trailer left me underwhelmed, but the movie was FAR from underwhelming. Filled with humor and a lot of heart, this black comedy is one the most refreshing tales I have seen in a while. This was my favorite film of TAD, which is saying something as it was a VERY strong line up. Seek this film out, do whatever you can to see it, it’s worth the effort.
3 – Shame
Shame is one of those films it’s hard to say “I Love that movie” about because of how damn harsh and unrelenting it is. Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan are superb as a brother/sister dealing with the issues surrounding the addiction(s) they both try to cope with everyday and how it leaves them incapable of truly being emotionally invested in anyone. Powerful movie, but I’m not in a rush to see it again.
2 – Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
When I first heard that they were going to do this remake I was dismayed. I had watched the original Swedish films and was in awe of Noomi Rapace’s performance as the enigmatic Lisbeth Salander. Then they announced David Fincher as the director. Fincher manages to create a film with great depth and with a sense of dread hanging over most scenes. Daniel Craig is excellent, much better in the Mikael Blomkvist role than his Swedish counterpart, and the supporting cast superb. Rooney Mara does an amiable job filling the role of Lisbeth. I certainly hope the studio will back the two follow-up films with all the major players intact, including Fincher, as I feel the two novels can produce better films than what the Swedish films delivered. I am almost always against remaking films just so the north american audiences don’t have to read subtitles, but in this case the film is an achievement on its own.
And finally at number 1
No other film this year has stayed with me longer and made me keep going back to it than Drive. Be it the stoic lead performance of Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan stealing scenes in yet another film this year, the phenomenal supporting cast with the likes of Albert Brooks, Ron Pearlman and Bryan Cranston, or the score which has been in regular rotation on my I-Pod since. Nicolas Winding Refn’s film delivers in so many ways. Is it violent? Yes. Does it earn the violence? Also a yes. By the time the infamous elevator sequence occurs you’re totally invested in Gosling’s character’s journey and quest for redemption. The Blu Ray, when released, will be a welcome addition to my shelf.
Rarely do you do these lists without leaving off other deserving films and this list is no exception. Honorable Mentions go to :
The Raid (TIFF 2011) – brilliant action film, Great ZomComs Juan of the Dead, and TAD’s Deadheads. Also from TAD the gripping Lonely Place to Die and brilliantly understated Midnight Son. Jason Eisner’s awesome Hobo with a Shotgun. Jason Reitman’s Young Adult and my favorite documentary this year Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest.