Sunday, December 18, 2011

The top 11 best movies of 2011...

Almost every year I've done one of these lists, my pick for #1 has always been a really easy choice. This is the first year where I've actually gone back and forth between my #1 and 2 choice. They're both amazing in their own ways, and I hope people take my #2 recommendation just as seriously as #1. And maybe fuck the rest of the list. Just kidding, see every movie in my entire fucking top 10 list and every single honorable mention, god damnit! Otherwise, you'll be doomed to a shitty life! MANIACAL LAUGH! MANIACAL LAUGH!

Moving on...speaking of The will not be in my top 10 list, though it was a pretty enjoyable movie.

To those who say, "Where's Martha Marcy May Marlene, motherfucker?" my answer is, "Sorry, I missed its theatrical run, fuckface." I found a workprint download of it, but I'd rather wait for it on DVD than to watch that.

Honorable mentions:

Hugo, Incendies, Limitless, American: The Bill Hicks Story, Hanna, Midnight in Paris, Beginners, Submarine, Bridesmaids, A Very Harold & Kumar 3-D Christmas, We Bought a Zoo, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

11. Born to be Wild Imax 3D ****1/2

Yep, I've once again put a 40 minute Imax movie in the top 10. Here's an Imax movie about the scarred lives of elephants and orangatangs who need human guidance, and it's suprisingly quite touching. This movie not only has some of the best 3-D of any movie I've seen this year, but it's also quite possibly the cutest movie ever made! I think this movie might even get "Awww" reactions out of serial killers.

10. Horrible Bosses ****1/2

Here is a movie that shows that when it comes to comedies, casting is everything. Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis as the 3 lovable and mistreated employees who all hate their bosses have absolute perfect comedic chemistry together. Kevin Spacey, and Colin Farrel are great as evil asshole bosses with no morals, but Jennifer Aniston easily steals the show as the horniest dentist of all time; this should be what she's remembered for as opposed to Rachael in Friends. I hope Judd Apatow casts her in his next movie.

Horrible Bosses has a Knocked Up type thing going for it as every single character is funny. There's a nice mix of raunchy, dark humor, but every once in a while the movie will give you those really clever one liners that'll make you grin from ear to ear. Horrible Bosses at times reminded me of the greatness that is "It's Always sunny in Philadelphia" and that's a big compliment.

9. The Ides of March ****1/2

If people are shocked at the non-stop shit show that is American politics, The Ides of March presents a fascianting, cynical political drama that's a behind the scenes look at a race for who will represent the Democrats in the presidential race. The movie begins with optimism, with characters who are so idealistic at how their actions may change the world to a cynical, ironic ending that is bound to send chills down your spine. The usual Hollywood character transformation of going from bad guy to good guy is in reverse in this one; it studies how these politicians full of integrity slowly sell out everything they stand for until they become what they hate.

Ides of March feels so realistic in its depiction of all the mind games, mind fucking and shady deals that go on. It's the kind of movie you watch and wish that everything in it was complete bullshit. I didn't say anything about the acting yet...uhh, absolute top notch cast from Hoffman to Giamatti to Clooney, and Ryan Gosling fucking rules! Nobody steals this motherfuckin movie from him.

8. Moneyball ****1/2

Moneyball is easily my pick for the best baseball movie ever made. It's sort of an inspirational based on a true story movie, but done in a cool indy anti-Hollywood way. Who knew that a movie about the mathematical and nerdy statistical way of putting together a baseball team would be so fascinating? Who knew I'd get so into this GM character that I find myself actually hoping the Oakland A's win a world series so that this real life character will get his moment of joy.

Moneyball is so refreshingly different than every other baseball movie, where the all the backstage stuff is so fascating, fast paced and frequently funny. While I wish the movie could have gone into a little more detail about the statistics behind assembling a cheap, but awesome baseball team, it's enjoyable in every way, crackling with witty dialogue from beginning to end, great comedic chemistry between Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, a really charming father - daughter relationship, and of course those moments of joy and elation when the under dog Oakland A's pull off something extraordinary that had never been done before in its 20+ game win streak. What a nice and funny tongue in cheek metaphor that happens close to the end of the movie.

7. The Adventures of Tintin ****1/2

Speilberg has officially been forgiven for raping Indiana Jones (South Park's "The China Problem" episode...look it up if you haven't seen it). Tintin is not only by far the best animated film of 2011, but it's also the best action movie of the year. This is a rare Hollywood movie where the critical/analytical side of my brain just shut off and I simply got completely lost in the movie's world. The action scenes are so full of excitement and exhileration, with so much creativity and imagination to them. The animations, the back drops are simply gorgeous to look at, and sometimes so realistic, you may forget at times that you're watching an animated film. While the two main characters aren't exactly 3 dimensional, the comedic chemistry is very good between them, and having an alcoholic as a main character in an action/adventure movie makes for some great comedy, and very creatively implemented into some of the action scenes. You don't have to be familiar with the source material to enjoy this. I had never heard of Tintin before I saw the movie, and here it is on my top 10.

6. Attack the Block ****1/2

The difference in quality between Attack the Block vs. every other alien movie of 2011 (there were a lot of them) is like the difference in quality between an expensive steak house vs. the grade F dog shit meat you get at Taco Bell. While every other alien movie was content on doing the exact same shit that's been done over and over again, leave it to the Attack the Block to do something refreshingly different. And hey, they had the lowest budget by far of all the alien movies.

Attack the Block is a hilarious movie that instead of doing a global alien invasion, it isolates it to one small location, exploring how street thugs and stoners would deal with an alien invasion. What a concept! In midst of all the alien action is also a really funny stoner comedy.

To that, I have to say, whoever the casting director was that found all these no name actors...give that person a special honorary Oscar. The acting is absolutely top notch from everyone, even the little 10 year wannabe street thugs. If I was to teach how to write good memorable characters for genre pictures, this would be the movie I'd show. The gang of thugs all have such funny, interesting personalities and the comedic chemistry between them is amazing. How much of their dialogue is improvised vs. how much was written is something I'm very curious about. The way the thugs try to make sense of their situation makes for great comedy. For example, how do you fit everything that's transpired into one text message?

The action scenes are fun, and it's interesting that you never fully see the alien, as they're black ominious creatures with really bright teeth and eyes, or as the characters describe them as, "Big gorilla wolf motherfuckers". One of the black characters remarks that the alien is even blacker than his cousin.

For all the alien movies released in 2011, the only one you need to see is Attack the Block. All the other alien movies can fuck off with their unoriginality.

5. The Descendants ****1/2

The release of an Alexander Payne movie truly is an event as opposed to just a movie release. After the wonderful human comedy Sideways, his fans were left in the dark for 7 years and returned with an even more accomplished movie in The Descendants. Let's hope the wait for his next movie won't be when I'm at a "must have a prostate check up" age...which seemed like the average age of the audience in this movie. The Descendants is really heavy dramatic material which is nicely balanced with some wickedly dark comedy.

You can be crying one minute, and that same scene can hit you with something hilarious within an instant. There are certain moments that make you laugh, but cringe at the same time. Certain moments are just downright painful to watch. The Descendants is a great character study, with George Clooney giving the best performance of his career as Matt King which is like a dramatic odyssey about a man's emotional journey and how he deals with life shitting on him in every way. One day he learns that his wife will never wake up from her coma and must figure out how to break the news to everyone including his kids. How does he now handle the task of being a single father? To top it all off, he soon learns that his wife had been cheating on him the whole time.

You see him go from despair and hopelessness to grief to anger and bitterness to acceptance. Through it all, he becomes a better person and better father. Especially his relationship with his daughter (played by Shailene Woodley who really deserves an Oscar nod for this wonderful role) is great to watch, seeing them at each other's throats all the time to becoming a team and helping each other through all the misery. The scene of the two of them confronting the man cheating with their wife/mom is so wonderfully done and very unpredictable.

Hawaii provides a nice back drop for the movie. As Ebert points out, the Matt King character seems kind of closed off from the rest of the land, but the more he embraces where he lives and gets connected to the land, the more he connects with his family. I really enjoy movies like this where the worst imaginable things in life bring out the best in someone and change them forever.

4. Life in a Day ****1/2

This cinematic experiment...people around the world were asked to film one day in their lives (July 24, 2010) and send it in, with an editor going through 4500 hours of footage to put together into a 90 minute time capsule movie of what life is like today around the world. I think this movie is the best piece of editing ever accomplished. Here is a movie that truly encapsulates the human experience all over the world.

To quote kerick08 on imdb, "This film is ultimately about connection; the connection of humans to one another and all of the mundane, regular, everyday things that we share despite our differences in culture, location, and upbringing. The fact that we all sleep. We all wake up in the morning. We all eat breakfast. We brush our teeth. We walk around. We smile. We love. We fear. We breathe. This film is an affirmation of the simple joys and sorrows that we experience merely as a result of living on this earth and being human. It is an affirmation of life at its rawest, truest, grittiest, and loveliest."

The experiment went well as the movie has plenty of great footage with such a wide range of human life from pain, grief, despair and fear to moments of exhileration and excitement to some truly hilarious moments.

Despite many poignant moments, this is one of the most life affirming movies I've ever seen. Chance is, the movie may change your mood for the rest of the day. Life in a Day will make you feel fortunate for the life that you currently live, maybe not take things for granted so much. It may also make you feel like a whiney bitch for bitching about the trivial aspects of your life.

3. A Separation ****1/2

Kudos to Roger Ebert for making a great pick for #1 best movie of 2011. I had never heard of this movie before and wasn't all that excited to watch it. What I got is one of best foreign language films ever made. It's a movie that is amazing, but so hard to describe in words what makes it so great. It has so many layers to it. Repeated viewings of this movie is definitely necessary, as there's so much to wrap your head around. I think for the upcoming Oscars, there will be no upset. Without having seen any of the other nominees, A Separation will take the best foreign film Oscar, no doubt about it.

Here is my best attempt at doing the movie justice with my words. A Separation is one motherfucking intense movie. Once the inciting incident takes place, I found myself fully involved with every twist and turn of the story. It's a part mystery, telling a story, but hiding certain details from the audience. When more is unraveled later in the movie, our perceptions of the characters shift as we slowly learn the truth. We see the same events from different eyes.

A Separation starts off with a wife wanting to divorce her husband. She wants to move the family to Europe out of Iran to live a better life, especially for the daughter. The husband can't do this, his dad has Alzheimer's and he feels the need to stay and look after him. They both have good points, and this is just one of many moral conundrums the movie has to offer.

The movie revolves around one big incident which I won't reveal. The mystery is interesting, but the movie's more about exploring these very well written 3 dimensional characters and how the incident and the following court case affects them. The characters are so realistic, and flawed. We get frustrated with some of their decisions, but we can understand why they act the way they do; it's often out of principle and stubborn emotion. However, soon the main character's stubbornness gets the worst of him. The court case fully consumes his life to the point that he's blind to how much everything is hurting his daughter.

This movie takes place in Iran, but it's a movie any of us can watch and constantly ask ourselves, "What would we do in this situation?" When is it time to swallow your pride and forget about being right? It's a movie that's morally complex, intense, very subtle with its character observations, and interesting in its study of Iranian culture and the role of Islam in their lives, but also at times emotionally devastating without cheap Hollywood trickery. The movie never loses sight of the separation of the parents and the affect it has on their daughter. Although she's not the main character, she really becomes the heart of the movie, and unintentionally the biggest target of pain as this young girl's idealistic view of life is shattered. There's a court room scene where she breaks down into tears, and it is so hard to watch; odds are anyone in the audience with a pulse will cry for her too.

2. Cold Weather *****

"God damn it, dude! How much Sherlock Holmes you been reading?"

Cold Weather is the ultimate testament to low budget filmmaking. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes you don't need hundreds of millions of dollars...all you need is a good script...sorry typo there, a brilliant script, and great actors who are just so natural in their roles, it never feels like they're putting on a performance. The movie's big climax is a car chase and despite a lack of explosions, car crashes and special FX, I found myself far more absorbed and at the edge of my seat in this low key car chase than 90% of big budget Hollywood movies. Most of all, I have so much respect for the comedy writing in this movie. Once again, it feels so natural and a lot of humor is found in the eccentricities and quirks of the characters and their relationships with each other. This is a movie that should be studied for how to write 3 dimensional characters. Even indy writers should study this for figuring out just the right amount of quirkiness to put into a character.

I love the film's transition from mumblecore to a low key detective mystery. Just like other mumblecores, we get a slacker characters who seem to go through life aimlessly with no real direction; In Cold Weather, we get a protagonist who seemed driven to get into forensic sciences, but soon dropped out, went from random job to job then moved in with his older sister, sleeping on her couch. He puts very little effort into a job search, but finds work at an ice factory. However, he is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and dreams of being him one day. It's unfortunate that impatient viewers will get restless for the first 15 minutes that depict the characters' aimless lives, but it's very necessary for the rest of the film.

Soon enough, the protagonist's ex-girlfriend mysteriously disappears and he's thrown into a mystery. He finds himself playing the role of a slacker version of Sherlock Holmes. For a change, we get a detective movie that's so grounded in reality and where the detective really isn't larger than life. He requires his sister to drive him from place to place to find clues, stealing books from the library, or even to take him to buy a pipe to see whether smoking it like Sherlock Holmes will make him any wiser.

While this seems like an annoyance to her at first, she soon finds herself just as involved in the mystery as her brother and they work together amazingly well to solve all the clues. While the mystery is interesting, it's the interactions between the two siblings which is an absolute joy to watch. Both characters are very eccentric, but brilliant in their own ways. When the movie ends, you get a sense of a bond between the brother and sister that's never seemed stronger, and perhaps a clear sense of what the characters should be doing with the rest of their lives, conveyed with such subtlety. As I type this, I'm struggling to think of any detective mysteries that I'd pick over this one. Where mumblecores are concerned, I pick this one movie over In Search of a Midnight Kiss. (Note to everyone, seek out In Search of a Midnight Kiss as well. It's one of the funniest romantic comedies ever made.)

1. 50/50 *****

I debated giving #1 to Cold Weather for a little bit, but I decided to stick with my initial gut feeling of giving it to 50/50. It's a perfect example of how to tackle a subject matter as depressing as cancer with integrity, authenticity, and lots of humor. It's unfortunate that the screenwriter Will Reiser had to battle cancer at such a young age, but he survived, and turned his experience into one of the most powerful dramatic comedies in a long time. It's interesting to find out that Joseph Gordon Levitt was actually not the first choice for the role and had stepped in last minute. Looking back, who knows if the movie would have been this good without him?

Laura Linney discussed the role comedy on the daily show, calling it a form of catharsis to battle the worst shit in life. Sometimes the best you can do when steaming piles of shit are thrown at you is laugh at it. 50/50 finds just the right balance between comedy and drama. The first half of the movie is absolutely hysterical, and this movie makes you want to see Joseph Gordon Levitt and Seth Rogan paired up more often. Rogan does some of his funniest work since Knocked Up, but Levitt is a great straight man to make Rogan funnier.

There's also the relationship between Levitt and his rookie shrink played by Anna Kendrick which strikes just the right balance of comedy and drama. Kendrick is really charming playing the young therapist, and I like how the movie covers the stress that therapists have to endure. It's tough knowing that they can easily fuck someone's life up if they don't do their jobs properly. It's the fact that she's so young and inexperienced in her job that makes her relationship with Levitt's character believable and not feel like bullshit. There's even some room for stoner comedy where the main character enjoys the joys of medicinal marijuana with other fellow cancer patients.

While the first half of the movie makes a great comedy, it's a few key dramatic scenes in the 2nd half of the movie that really stuck with me moreso than the humor.
The scene where Levitt is sitting on the bed, about to be operated on and realizing he may never wake up is unforgettable and the single most powerful moment of any movie this year. He breaks down in tears, and grabs on to his mom, and various people at imdb's messageboard who also went through cancer have all admit to reacting in the exact same way as the character; no matter how old you are, you turn back into a little boy and need the comfort of your mommy.

50/50 is real tearjerker, but not a single minute of the drama feels like emotional manipulation. The drama is handled in a very raw, non-mainstream Hollywood way and the tears are well earned. It's the authenticity that makes the drama work, as the movie depicts all the physical, emotional, mental pain and feelings of hopelessness so well. Cancer doesn't just affect the sufferer, but everyone around him too, and the relationships with his best friend, his mom, and therapist are very well handled. His ex-girlfriend...okay I can see where some people have issues with this, but I didn't think it took too much away from the movie.

There you go. 50/50 is my pick for the best movie of the year. As a comedy it's one of the funniest of the year and as a drama, no other film was more moving than this one.

Other Misc. Awards:

Trippyest movie:A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas 3-D (isn't it nice that a stoner comedy is also the trippyest movie? Other honorable mentions are: Enter the Void and Limitless.

Best ending to a movie:Life in a Day (simply one of the most poetic endings I can ever remember and a great existential speech that any of us can relate to) Runner up: We Bought a Zoo (absolutely beautiful ending). Other honorable mention: The Ides of March.

Best Opening Credits:Many might say Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. I'll go with The Adventures of Tintin with honorable mentions to: Limitless and once again...Enter the Void.

Best duo:
The brother and sister teaming up as detectives in Cold Weather. The chemistry between these two actors is simply amazing! It's one of the best sibling relationships ever in a movie.

Best 3D: Most will say Hugo and it was very good, but I have to go with Born to be Wild 3-D. The 3-D turned a cute movie into the cutest movie ever made.

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