2011 in Review: My 10 Favorite Films

After a few days of putting this off, I thought it was about time for me to name my favorite movies of this past year. Better late than never, right?

Without further ado…

10. Barney’s Version

This movie REALLY went under the radar, as it was put into limited release during the Oscar season last year. For whatever reason, “Barney’s Version” got buried. It’s a shame because this movie was incredibly well-acted by Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman and a host of other supporting characters. What probably didn’t help the movie was a horrible trailer that made it look like a weird romantic comedy instead of the lifelong character study of Barney Panofsky. Although the actors are spot on and the writing is enjoyable, the one thing that kept this from being higher on my list was that the film, based on a novel of the same name, just felt waaay too long. Still, “Barney’s Version” ended up being my sleeper favorite of 2011.

9. Attack the Block

There’s something to be saild for filmmakers with real imagination. Although writer/director Joe Cornish shouldn’t be considered an elite director yet, this little sci-fi film of his was a real surprise. The story follows a group of young hoodlums who must band together when an alien species lands in their government housing area. For a genre that has seen pretty much everything, it’s always nice to experience a fresh take. A strong protagonist and some imaginative creatures make the premise work.

8. Margin Call

Another surprise favorite of mine was this take on the Wall street crisis which stars Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany and Simon Baker (tell me that casting list doesn’t give you goosebumps).

At the end of a long workday, an analyst at a financial firm discovers certain discrepancies that threaten to bring down the company. This begins a mad dash to fix the company’s bottom line before business resumes the next day.

What I loved about “Margin Call” was that its incredible cast was able to live up to the hype. Most times when a film like this comes along, big-name actors tend to get in each other’s way and the film feels a little disappointing. Each of this characters are fleshed out and everyone gets their time to shine. Combined with great pacing and a smart script, it’s a real winner.

7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I was wondering whether or not to include this since it’s a remake of a recent film, but I think its quality makes up for that fact. Besides, everything these days is based off a book, video game or TV show.

What made me love this one so much was the duo of Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. They really sold their characters from the Stieg Larsson novel. Throw in some great directing from David Fincher and a good score by Trent Reznor and you’ve got yourself a great movie.

6. Warrior

I’m not sure if there was another movie this year that surprised me as much as this one did. I went in expecting something marginally better than 2008’s “Never Back Down,” but found myself loving this film.

What on the surface appears to be a movie about mixed martial arts unfolds to be a compelling family drama. The scenes in the ring are great, but what really sells the film is the family dynamic. The recovering alcoholic (Nick Nolte, whose performance is an Oscar nominee) and his two estranged sons (Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton) steal the show in what could have been a very forgettable movie.

And now for the top 5…..

5. Drive

Some people found this movie very slow and boring. I am very glad to not be part of that group.

Is it a little slow? Yes. Boring? Not in the least. The film had my attention by the end of the first car chase. What I really liked about “Drive” was the way each scene was shot. It seemed like everyone took their time and milked each moment for what it was worth. Films these days can be in too much of a hurry and I appreciate the careful craftsmanship of director Nicholas Winding Refn.

On top of that there are some great performances in the film. Most notably Ryan Gosling, Bryan Cranston and Oscar nominee Albert Brooks.

4. The Artist

Yes, it’s supposed to win all the Oscars and I have it at number 4. I don’t really care. Even though I gave the film a near-perfect review myself, I still wouldn’t say it was my favorite movie of the year.

“The Artist” checks all the boxes for award material and it IS a great little film. However, I don’t think it hit me at the core like any of the films in my top 3 did.

3. The Descendants

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I wasn’t too interested. It looked it was trying too hard to be quirky and George Clooney films are often overrated. The film turned out to be a bit of a surprise for me when I left the theatre, though.

I’ve said before that family is one of the most powerful elements a film can have and this film really explored the family dynamic. Clooney does a great job of playing the patriach trying to keep his head above water after his wife falls into a coma. Between hospitals, visiting family members and trying to raise his daughter his character is given a lot of wiggle room (which he does very well with).

Alexander Payne is also a very gifted writer/director and the film works wonders with him at the helm.

2. 50/50

I almost have to call the decision between this film and my number one a tie. They are both great and really made an impact on me.

“50/50” is about a twenty-something (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is diagnosed with cancer and everything that comes after this revelation.

The film dances on the difficult line of mixing comedy and tragedy and walks away unscathed. Part of how it does this so well is the smart script by newbie writer Will Reiser. The rest can be found with the film’s very good cast – Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston and Philip Baker Hall.

And for my top choice….

1. Hugo

If you had told me a year ago that my favorite movie of the year was going to be a 3D movie, I would have laughed in your face.

Some people say it feels too long or that it can’t decide what it’s about, and I get that. There are few times that a movie actually feels magical and this was one of those times for me. I was swept away by pretty much every minute of this film.

Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz are great together onscreen and the supporting performance by Ben Kingsley is fantastic. His scenes in both the present and his early filmmaking years are probably the best parts of the movie.

As for the directing, Martin Scorsese delivers a well-crafted love letter to cinema which can be enjoyed by anyone who has ever fallen head over heels while sitting in a theater chair.

That’s it for my ten favorite films of 2011. Did I miss your favorite? Let me know.

Check back on Sunday for my Oscar picks and follow along on Twitter as I’ll be covering the show at @VC_Reviews.

Happy viewing.


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