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.


The 84th Academy Awards Nominations – My Take

Here we are at last. The mother of all award shows released its list of 2011’s best this morning in what many will consider to be the highest honor in film.

So let’s look at some of the major categories and see what were some highlights and other areas where the Academy dropped the ball.

Best Foreign Language Film:

“A Separation” (Iran), “In Darkness” (Poland), “Bullhead” (Belgium), “Footnote” (Israel), “Monsieur Lazhar” (Canada)

There are so many foreign films to look at this year so it isn’t that crazy, but if one were to pay attention to which imports had been nominated at the Golden Globes 9 days ago, they’d notice that only the winner (“A Separation”) from that ballot is seen here.

It is also interesting to note that “A Separation” received a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, which is pretty rare for a foreign film.

Best Original Song:

“Real in Rio” from “Rio,” “Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets”

Most likely due to the Academy’s ever-tightening qualifications for what can be nominated, this year’s category only has two nominees. While fans of Jim Henson’s creations will be happy for its nomination, I hate to see “Rio” of all movies on this list. “Real in Rio” is probably tenth in line in my eyes for deserving songs this year.

Best Original Score:

“The Adventures of Tintin” John Williams, “Hugo” Howard Shore, “War Horse” John Williams, “The Artist” Ludovic Bource, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” Alberto Iglesias

John Williams and Howard Shore are two great composers and Bource won the Golden Globe for Original Score, so their nominations were on lock. However, between Williams second nomination and the appearance of Alberto Iglesias’ work in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (an original score that wasn’t bad, but hasn’t been recognized by other award shows aside from the BAFTA’s), Trent Reznor’s score for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” fell by the wayside.

Best Cinematography:

“War Horse,” “The Tree of Life,” “The Artist,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “Hugo”

This is one of those categories where everything makes sense. “War Horse” won this nomination based on the trailer alone. “The Tree of Life” rests solely on its directing and cinematography and does both very well, so no surprise there. “Hugo,” “The Artist” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” all deserve to be on this list as well.

Best Supporting Actress:

Berenice Bejo “The Artist,” Janet McTeer “Albert Nobbs,” Jessica Chastain “The Help,” Melissa McCarthy “Bridesmaids” and Octavia Spencer “The Help”

While I picked Shailene Woodley (“The Descendants”) to win this category at the Golden Globes, it makes sense that Melissa McCarthy would steal her spot for this show. McCarthy made “Bridesmaids” the movie it was. “The Help” hangs onto its acting trifecta with Spencer and Chastain getting bids here as well as Viola Davis getting a Best Actress nomination.

Best Actress:

Glenn Close “Albert Nobbs,” Meryl Streep “The Iron Lady,” Rooney Mara “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” Michelle Williams “My Week with Marilyn” and Viola Davis “The Help”

There were other great performances this year from actresses like Tilda Swinton (“We Need to Talk About Kevin”) and Charlize Theron (“Young Adult”), but honestly, who can you take off of this final ballot? It’s just one of those years where there are more than 5 worthy ladies.

Best Supporting Actor:

Kenneth Branagh “My Week with Marilyn,” Jonah Hill “Moneyball,” Nick Nolte “Warrior,” Christopher Plummer “Beginners” and Max von Sydow “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”

Jonah Hill. Really? I will never shy away from my dislike for the actor but I’m especially upset that he gets a nomination and Albert Brooks (“Drive”) is left out in the cold. If that switch were made, I’d think this was a fantastic category. Still, between Plummer, Nolte and Branagh, this is a strong ballot.

Best Actor:

Brad Pitt “Moneyball,” George Clooney “The Descendants,” Demian Bichir “A Better Life,” Jean Dujardin “The Artist” and Gary Oldman “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

A lot of people will be upset that Michael Fassbender (“Shame”) didn’t make the cut (and they have a right to be), but the inclusion of Bichir and Oldman amongst this year’s big names is a good thing. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” really didn’t get enough credit for its fine acting outside of the BAFTA Film Awards and Bichir is this year’s Javier Bardem, pointing audiences toward a smaller film that should be seen.

Best Picture:

“Hugo,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” “The Descendants,” “The Artist,” “Moneyball,” “War Horse,” “The Tree of Life,” “The Help,” “Midnight in Paris”

Since the Oscars starting nominating more than the usual 5 films for Best Picture, I have been pretty hesitant to like the idea. This year there is a lot of diversity, which is good for the show I guess, but I still feel like a film or two got the shaft. Without exceeding the nomination ceiling of 10, I would’ve liked to have seen “Extremely Loud” taken off the ballot and 2 of 3 films added: “The Ides of March,” “50/50” and/or “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

Looking at this year’s nominees, I am shocked to see that “Hugo” has more nominations than “The Artist” (11 to 10, respectively). Aside from that and the few complaints expressed above, I think the Academy did a rather good job of picking nominees this year. This time next month, however, I may have something new to whine about when the winners are revealed.

Between now and then, visit Velvet Curtain Reviews for my takes on “The Artist,” “War Horse” and other films as well as my picks once we get closer to February 26.

Happy viewing.