As promised, here is my list of the top films of 2011, in alphabetical order (and excluding my number one film, which I already discussed at length):
Bridesmaids-I thought Bridesmaids was a perfect comedy. It was funny, yet it had a story and characters that you cared about. I felt like the characters were put into ridiculous situations, but they didn’t become ridiculous and unbelievable themselves. I thought Melissa McCarthy’s nomination was entirely deserved and I thought the Kristen Wiig was excellent too. I always think of the moment when she learns her best friend is engaged; she does a great job of conveying someone who is reacting like they are supposed to, but secretly feeling the opposite. It was the little moments like this that helped ground the movie after some of the more elaborate comedic set pieces.
The Descendents-I was excited by the collaboration between Alexander Payne and George Clooney, since I am big fans of both, and this film did not disappoint. It’s a great character driven film, as all of Payne’s films are. It also has his perfect blend of humor and drama. The film deals with very serious subjects, but the humor keeps things from ever appearing too bleak. George Clooney does an amazing job of portraying the complex emotions of his character and is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast. Even characters that could have been stereotypes, like the daughter’s goofy friend and Clooney’s father-in-law, are revealed to have more to them then meets the eye.
Drive-That Ryan Gosling’s Driver is a fascinating character is due to the strength of his performance. He manages to carry a movie and make you feel for a character who speaks very little and whose history is completely unknown. His nameless driver is enigmatic, yet you find yourself on his side. Yes, there is some graphic violence, but I felt that it blended into the narrative. Albert Brooks was excellent, playing against type as the man behind most of the violence. The opening escape scene pulls you into the world immediately, but the film never relies on mindless action to tell its story.
Martha Marcy May Marlene-This was a film that really stuck with me. I loved the way that the film had a mounting sense of dread; it just gradually built up over the course of the film until its ambiguous ending. Is Elizabeth Olsen’s character a reliable narrator or is she still struggling with facing reality outside of the cult? I have my own theory, but the film itself offers no easy answers. I also enjoyed the development of the relationship between the two sisters. The actresses manage to create a complex relationship between the characters that feels as though there really were past experiences that were still influencing the way they interacted.
Meek’s Cutoff-This was either a love it or hate it film. Since it’s on my list of the top films of the year, you can guess which camp I fell into. Michelle Williams gives another great performance in this film in which very little actually happens. It’s all about subtle shifts in relationships and the balance of power. The basic plot is that a group of settlers are lost and need to get to water soon. They capture a Native American and the more desperate they get, the more tensions mount. Should they trust their guide to continue leading them, or should they trust their captive? I’m guess that some viewers were frustrated by the film’s ambiguous ending, but I thought it was perfect.
The Skin I Live In-As a fan of Almodovar’s work, I know that this was not his best work, but it was a wild ride. Once again, he manages to take premises that sound outlandish and unbelievable and manages to pull his audience in. His reunion with Antonio Banderas did not disappoint. By gradually revealing more about the characters as he goes he creates a puzzle of a film that keeps your alliance shifting. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on what has transpired, Almodovar reveals a new piece of the puzzle that changes the way you view all that came before.
Young Adult-This film features an amazing performance from Charlize Theron (as well as one from Patton Oswalt). Her character, Mavis, is so self-absorbed and deluded that it would have been easy to dislike her. However, Theron does a great job of gradually revealing the insecurities under the surface that have pushed her into her current state. This makes some of the later scenes in the film almost painful to watch, as you know what the outcome of her increasingly deluded actions but you feel sorry for her. This is another film that didn’t take the easy way out. This story is not one of a woman on a journey of self discovery. The film ends without much having changed, despite all the events of the film, for any of the characters.
I know that’s a top 8, but I had a really hard time choosing just two more films for my list. I’d probably go with 50/50 and A Separation, but here are some of the other films I enjoyed this year:
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Our Idiot Brother
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
My Week with Marilyn
The Ides of March