Sunday, January 01, 2012

My Top Films of 2011

There have been grumblings that 2011 has been a poor year for cinema. While I admit that the Summer Blockbuster season was less than stellar, overall, there have been some exceptional films released. Sequels may have dominated the box office but 2011 will be remembered as the year directors and audiences really started to embrace what can only called “the other”. Beloved directors such as Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg embraced the world of 3D filmmaking. Acclaimed directors like Terrence Malick and Lars von Trier pushed themselves to new heights and audiences were willing to take the journey with them. Even those who did not like either Tree of Life or Melancholia engaged in meaningful discussions about the films. The biggest surprise in 2011 was the fact that niche films, such as Drive, Hobo with a Shotgun, Hanna, I Saw the Devil, 13 Assassins and Rubber, received mainstream notice. Selecting my ten favourite films of the year is always tough as there are so many films that could easily make the list…just look at the honourable mention section below. As always, I only included films that had a theatrical release in 2011. As a result festival gems that would otherwise be in my top ten, such as The Journals of Musan and Breathing (Atmen), have been relegated to the films you should see in 2012 list. Without further ado here are my ten favourite films of 2011:

My wife, and several friends for that matter, did not believe me when I said that Fast Five would probably make my end of year list. Yes the film is ridiculously over-the-top, not to mention a blatant rip-off of the Ocean’s Eleven series, but I cannot deny that I had a blast watching it. While the highbrow thing would be to use this spot for another more esteemed picture, sometimes going lowbrow is just as rewarding.

Sadness has never felt, or looked, so beautiful. Lars von Trier’s most accessible film to date manages to take depression, which some would consider a weakness, and turn it into a strength. Visually stunning and filled with great performances, Melancholia was a truly wonderful experience. The slow pacing of this film will turn off some, but I found the film mesmerizing from being to end.

8. Hugo
Scorsese’s first attempt at a family film felt more like a university lecture at times, but oh what a lecture it was. The film is a cinephile’s wet dream as Scorsese, a master filmmaker himself, shines a light on one of the directors that influenced his love of cinema. Best of all, for a first time attempt, Scorsese seems to be right at home using 3D technology.

Taking cues from Michael Mann and Brian De Palma, Nicolas Winding Refn offered an action thriller that exuded 80’s cool. From the killer soundtrack, to its protagonist who spoke more with his actions than with words, everything in Drive worked well. I am still amazed Refn was able to create so much tension out of scenes where not much actually happens.

Tales of twisted doctors have been done before, but few have been as riveting as director Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film. Indulging in melodrama is Almodóvar’s specialty, but it has been a while since he has gone to such a beautifully twisted place. If Broken Embraces was Almodóvar on cruise control, then this film is the director in high gear.

As much as I enjoyed Super 8, my kids versus aliens film choice this year was Attack the Block. It was one of the few films of 2011 where I hated the main characters at the beginning, but ended up cheering for them by the end. The great work from the predominantly young ensemble cast, coupled with the fantastic creature design, made Attack the Block one of the more pleasant surprises of the year.

2011 saw the release of many great documentaries that could have easily made my top ten list. However, the one that I keep going back to is director Jay Cheel’s Beauty Day. To some Ralph Zavadil was merely a man who would do crazy stunts on local television, but Cheel presents Zavadil as a man who cared deeply for his family and friends. Through his wonderful cinematography and sweet comedic touches, Cheel creates a documentary that manages to leave a lasting smile on my face.

My experience with Takashi Miike up to this point has been equally divided between hits and misses. 13 Assassins is a film that would definitely go into the “hit” column. Featuring one of the cruelest villains to appear on screen in a while, and a epic fight scene that never gets dull despite its length, Miike’s film was a treat. Delivering both an engaging story and a strong dose of action, 13 Assassins was an exhilarating rush.

A film that focuses on how we invest too much time romanticizing the past may not sound like much, but placed in the hands of Woody Allen the results are truly magical. Owen Wilson delivers his best performance in years and the rest of the ensemble cast does a great job of bringing classic literary figures to life. Blending romantic comedy with elements of fantasy, Allen creates a wonderful film that shows he still can create cinematic gems after all these years.

At some point along the way films that evoked uncontrollable glee out of an audience began to get dismissed as frivolous cinema. It seems only films that punched audiences in the gut with raw emotion became regarded as legitimate filmmaking. The Artist harkens back to a time where making the audience smile was the acceptable norm. Making a modern day silent film that laments the end of the silent film era is a difficult thing to do, but director Michel Hazanavicius pulls it off wonderfully. Cynacism has engulf many of us film lovers over the years, so it is refreshing when a joyous film like this breaks through and reminds us that “feel good” does not have to be a dirty term.

Honourable Mentions: Tabloid, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Super 8, Rango, Margin Call, Meek’s Cutoff, Source Code, Contagion, Into the Abyss, Wiebo’s War

Films to keep an eye out for in 2012: The Journals of Musan, Breathing (Atmen), Jump Ashin!.


  1. Great list. I haven't seen it, but it's cool to see Fast Five on there as a different approach. Drive and Attack the Block are in my Top 10, and 13 Assassins is right outside it. I still haven't seen some of the others. I really want to see Beauty Day after hearing about it on Film Junk. Nice job.

  2. I'm impressed you pretty much managed to review/write about all of your top 10 (and mentions) during last year. Never heard of the doc Beauty Day, sounds good, you've convinced me to seek out the trailer. I can't wait to see your no 1 The Artist.
    Happy New Year ( :

  3. Great list. Fast Five, Attack the Block, Drive, and Midnight In Paris are amazing, great films.

    I really need to see The Artist.

    -Crazy, Stupid, Love
    -Midnight In Paris
    -Attack the Block
    -Super 8
    -The Lincoln Lawyer
    -Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
    -Harry Potter 7, Pt. 2
    -X-Men First Class

    Honorable Mentions: Rango, Warrior, The Guard, Paul, Kung Fu Panda 2.

    I'm sure that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy would've made my list had I seen it. Still need to do that asap.

  4. Beauty Day? Never even heard of it! I'm going to seek it out. Thanks!

    (oh, link this on the lamb forum, CS!)

  5. Lovely list... great to see the love for 13 Assassins, though I beg to differ on Fast 5 and (to a lesser extent) Attack the Block.

    Sadly we've not had chance to see The Artist yet here in Manchester; hopefully I'll be able to catch it in the coming weeks.

  6. Nice List. I haven't seen 4(Artist, Beauty Day, Attack the Block and Fast Five) from the list. And other 6 will be on my list too whenever I get down to make it. Really hoping to see the Artist. No Idea when can I.
    Happy New Year!!

  7. Happy New Year! I've only seen Melancholia and Midnight in Paris, which I both loved. It kills me every time, that the best films get released here in the following year, I can't wait for Drive, The Artist and many others.

  8. Nice list CS! Fast Five is incredibly fun and so much better than the first four installments combined. I liked 13 Assassins but wasn't as much of a fan as you.

    We do have Drive, Attack the Block, The Artist and Midnight in Paris in common... Not bad ;)

  9. Interesting list CS. I am yet to see your #1 unfortunately (or HUGO and BEAUTY DAY) but I like a lot of these choices. DRIVE was amazing, ATTACK THE BLOCK was fun, the second half of 13 ASSASSINS is unforgettable and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS was a delight. I'm not as high on MELANCHOLIA as most people (I favoured TREE OF LIFE) but 2011 was a top year that's for sure.

  10. Interesting list! I really wasn't much of a fan of Fast Five, but I've never been particularly interested in those type of films. Seeing Melancholia very soon and counting the days until the Artist is out here (and Hugo for that matter!)

  11. @Dan - I believe Beauty Day should be hitting DVD soon if it is not there already.

    @moviesandsongs - It was more luck than anything that I was able to write reviews for all of them.

    @Phips - Of your list I still need to see Crazy, Stupid, Love and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

    @Colin - Beauty Day is not as high profile as other documentaries released this year but I enjoyed it.

    @Multiplex Slut - I knew including Fast Five would rub some the wrong way. More people really need to see 13 Assassins though.

    @SDG - The Artist is a must see. Though try to go in with reasonable expectations.

  12. @Mette - I think you will really like Drive.

    @Castor - Four films in common is not bad at all.

    @Andy - I liked Tree of Life for the most part but Melancholia had a greater impact on me.

    @Ruth - I am still waiting for We Need to Talk About Kevin to open here. Really looking forward to that film.

  13. I cannot wait to see The Artist. This seems like a really interesting list but until I see 5 more of these I should not comment. However I really want to see them and at least liked the ones I have seen. Great list! Expect my own sometime around December 2012 probably!

  14. @Pete - The Artist should be opening a lot wider in the coming weeks. Be sure to see it on the big screen.

  15. Regarding 'Hugo', while I was delighted by Scorsese's use of 3D, I was genuinely invested in the story. The two kids were incredible, especially Chloe Moretz and the emotions hit me for real. This is a film I'd show me own kids in the future.

  16. I really enjoyed most of your list, especially Attack the Block, Hugo and Drive. I hadn't heard of Beauty Day, so I will have to check that one out. Nice post!

  17. Great list, I sure did not expect to see Fast Five on there. I also still haven't seen The Artist, but I hope to rectify that sometime this week.

  18. @edgar – Oddly enough I did not like Chloe Moretz’s performance in Hugo as much as you did. She was not bad per say, I just found her to be the least interesting of all the characters. While I will definitely show Hugo to my son in the future, I will probably wait until he is around 11 or 12 years-old. I just cannot see younger kids being wowed by the film. Of course I could be wrong.

    @Eric – Beauty Day is a small Canadian film which is why it has not gotten huge publicity worldwide. Regardless, it is worth checking out on DVD.

    @Bonjour Tristesse – I will most likely be in the minority in regards to giving Fast Five top ten status but sometimes you just have to go angst the grain for films you really enjoy.

  19. So glad to see you list Beauty Day in your Top 10 Courtney. It made the number 3 spot on my list (uh, hopefully I'll put it up later today or tomorrow). For those who haven't seen it, please seek it out - I believe it is already available via iTunes. It is easily worth several repeat viewings...

    We definitely disagree on Fast Five though - not because it's a blockbuster, but because I couldn't care less about any individual in the entire film. No doubt there's some cool stunts, solid CGI, etc. and I have no problems with it being "lowbrow" (or however you might want to term it), but I found myself not caring about whether Vin and the boys were successful and that made the set pieces so much less compelling. Ocean's Eleven worked because the characters were fun (on top of the elaborate schemes) and the actors had charisma. For me, Vin Diesel has all the charisma of, um...(wait, let me look around my workstation here for a good example) - OK, all the charisma of this dry erase whiteboard. I still think his best role was Hogarth in The Iron Giant.

    I still haven't seen Melancholia, The Skin I Live In or Hugo - I need to fix that as soon as possible...

    Oh, and all the best in 2012! Thanks also for your link back to me in the previous "Blogging Love" post...B-)

  20. @Bob – Looking forward to seeing your list when it is posted.

    I had no idea Beauty Day was available on iTunes. Thanks for the info! I can now steer a few more friends that way.

    As for Fast Five, while I agree Diesel’s best work to date is the Iron Giant, I do think the F&F series suits his acting style perfectly. I was far more invested in the characters than you were but I think that is due to the fact that I have followed the entire series closely. Similar to Ocean’s franchise, you know the characters are going to pull off the heist but it was entertaining seeing everything came together.

    I definitely think you should see Hugo, Melancholia, and The Skin I Live In as they all lead to rather interesting discussions afterwards.

  21. Just posted my list.

    You bet I want to see Hugo, Melancholia and The Skin I Live In - it's just a matter of when...

    As for Fast Five, I was much more invested in the cars then the characters...B-)

  22. Man, I've run into Fast Five on a couple lists. Apparently this is something I just can't ignore any longer. Will have to check it out! Love seeing Attack the Block in here, anguished over whether or not to put it on mine...


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