I Swear I’m Not Dead (My Favorite Films of 2011, Part One)

Let’s call this post “The Honorable Mention” list.

I try to not use the word BEST because this stuff is so subjective already and that way I can leave out your favorite movie without finding a horse head in my bed the next morning.

So let’s take a look at the movies I thought were good, but just fell short of my Top Ten.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

I know certain people will hate me for not making this the No. 1 movie of all time, but I can live with that.  I was a late bloomer on this series, as I hadn’t seen any of the movies until last year and I still haven’t read a page of the J.K. Rowling books. That being said, I enjoyed this movie more than any of the others in the series and it felt that director David Yates and the entire production team put out a fitting end for the series that coincided with many people’s childhood.

A Better Life

This one flew under the radar for many in mainstream audiences since it didn’t have any big names attached and came out this past summer when most people were thinking about “Transformers” or “Super 8.” I believe one of the most powerful dramatic elements of film is the family. We all identify with family one way or the other and there are a lot of different angles to take. This film focuses on the relationship between a father and son and really hits home at its emotional core. Some people are angry about Michael Fassbender not getting nominated for an Oscar for his role in “Shame” (and they should be) but I’m really glad the Academy remembered Demian Bichir at the time of casting ballots.

X-Men: First Class

This was not a perfect movie. There are questions about continuity with the Hugh Jackman franchise, a horrible performance by January Jones and confusing character motivations to say the least. However, the film was able to somewhat revitalize a franchise that I myself wanted to bury in a dark, unmarked hole after the mistakes of “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender also nailed there parts in my opinion. The latter finally gaining the mainstream attention he deserved was icing on the cake.

Rango

I have always hated how quickly the Western was thrown under the bus after the Clint Eastwood years in America. “Rango” was a great introduction to Westerns for the younger generation as well as a good animated movie. It may not have been Pixar-ian in its ability to connect with everyone on the same level but it was certainly better than that studio’s release, “Cars 2,” this year.

Mission Impossible 4

Action movies tend to be overlooked during the awards season with the exception of technical categories. While I’m perfectly fine with that 90% of the time, I do feel that its worth at least mentioning when a blockbuster does everything right and delivers a film better than the average cannon fodder.

Super 8

Despite his constant upstaging of my name on Google search results, I really like JJ Abrams. His work here did seem to unravel a bit as the film progressed, but it was a great homage to both monster movies and the kind of early start filmmakers had back in the day. In a different era and with a completely different tone, seeing the kids work with cameras and make-up reminds me of other movies this year that were about the filmmaking process.

The Ides of March

I don’t want to say this film is a disappointment (it is, after all, on my list), but given the cast it had (George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, etc.), “The Ides of March” could have been a grand slam. Instead it was a nice home run.

Well, that’s all for this post. Check back later this week when I’ll have the final list of my ten favorite films of 2011. Feel free to agree/disagree with my choices in the comments below.

Happy viewing.

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Golden Globes Preview

On Sunday, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will present the 69th annual Golden Globe Awards, a ceremony celebrating 2011’s best in TV and film.

Second only to the Academy Awards and Emmy’s, the Globes let us know what the overseas critics and correspondents think of our yearly entertainment output. So let me share my picks for this year’s best in film, given the nominees that the HFPA announced back in December.

Best Original Song

This is actually a pretty competitive category this year. The musicians range from Elton John to Madonna to Chris Cornell from Soundgarden and Audioslave. My favorite isn’t one of those three, however. My choice is “Lay Your Head Down” from the film “Albert Nobbs.” Given his amazing career, I see Elton John possibly stealing this award, but we’ll see.

Best Original Score

Variety is the spice of this category as we see new and old school collide. The last time Nine Inch Nails musician Trent Reznor did a film score (last year’s “The Social Network”) he took home Oscar gold. His competition is found in two celebrated composers (Howard Shore and John Williams) and a relative newcomer (Ludovic Bource). Although there are some great talents and bodies of work here, my money is on Bource and his film “The Artist.” The silent, black and white film has been receiving accolades all over the place and when its only audio component is a musical score, you know its a good one.

Best Screenplay

Some great writers can be found on this ballot. Alexander Payne (“Sideways”), Aaron Sorkin (Oscar winner for “The Social Network” last year), Woody Allen and George Clooney (with only his second writing credit) all make strong submissions. Michel Hazanavicius from “The Artist” also makes an appearance here. I’m betting on Alexander Payne, as his films always have a strong core of writing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if “The Artist” ended up inside the envelope.

Best Director

Not too surprising, this category shares 4 out of 5 nominees with Best Screenplay. Martin Scorcese takes Aaron Sorkin’s place as the “Hugo” director can’t seem to make a bad movie. There isn’t a bad film, or director on the list, but I think “The Artist” director Hazanavicius will edge out Payne’s “The Descendants.”

Best Supporting Actor

With the exception of Jonah Hill, who I will forever be hesitant to enjoy, supporting actor is an old man’s battle. Ranging from 51-year-old Kenneth Branagh (“My Week with Marilyn”) to ripe old man Christopher Plummer (“Beginners”), the nominees are of a professional caliber and put out some great performances. Albert Brooks (“Drive”) had one of my more favorite roles, but I think Plummer and Branagh will be the top contenders.

Best Supporting Actress

Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain both did well in “The Help,” but I think this will be one of those times that two nominees from the same film cancel each other out. That leaves Janet McTeer (“Albert Nobbs”), Berenice Bejo (“The Artist”) and Shailene Woodley (“The Descendants”) to vie for the award. All three have a fair chance at winning, but Woodley has extra power as a newcomer who almost shows up George Clooney so I’m siding with her.

Best Animated Film

The fact that “Cars 2” is even nominated shows that this is a weak category this year. “Rango” and “The Adventures of Tintin” are the only worthy films up for the award. I like “Rango” more, but I think that the foreign press will be more inclined to pick “Tintin.”

Best Actor – Comedy/Musical

I loved Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “50/50” and Owen Wilson was much less annoying than I usually find him in “Midnight in Paris” but I think that Jean Dujardin from “The Artist” has this category on lockdown. I’m always up for being surprised though.

Best Actress – Comedy/Musical

Sadly, I haven’t had the chance to catch “Carnage” yet. The film has two nominees in this category with Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster, but I think they will again cancel each other out. Kristen Wiig was a hit in “Bridesmaids” and Charlize Theron has been making some noise with her performance in “Young Adult” but Michelle Williams was incredible as Marilyn Monroe in “My Week with Marilyn.” If the HFPA doesn’t choose her, I would be shocked.

Best Picture – Comedy/Musical

Unlike some years where this category is filled with mediocre comedies and lackluster musicals, there are five great movies here. That being said, I don’t think “50/50” or “Midnight in Paris” have a shot at beating the juggernaut that “The Artist” could be this awards season.

Best Actor – Drama

I always felt that “Drive” was a better role for Ryan Gosling than his nominated one in “The Ides of March” and Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance was overshadowed by mixed reviews for “J. Edgar.” Brad Pitt does pretty good with Aaron Sorkin’s material in “Moneyball” but it doesn’t feel like an award-worthy role. This leaves George Clooney (“The Descendants”) and up-and-comer Michael Fassbender (“Shame”) in the race. Although great things have been said of Fassbender, his film is rated NC-17 so it may not have been hyped as much as it could have been. That, combined with the fact that the HFPA loves big names, tells me that George Clooney walks away with this award.

Best Actress – Drama

This is another strong category this year. “The Help” has been very popular with mainstream audiences as well as critics this year, so a nomination for Viola Davis was inevitable. Meryl Streep as the “Iron Lady” also makes sense as she delivers a great performance. Although Tilda Swinton is always great, I think “We Need to Talk About Kevin” was seen by almost no one. Best Actress will come down to Rooney Mara (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) and Glenn Close (“Albert Nobbs”). Both are unconventional roles, one by a longstanding name, the other by someone most famous for a 5-minute scene in “The Social Network.” This is somewhat of a gamble going against Swinton, Streep, Davis and Close, but I think Rooney Mara will pull off the upset with her great portrayal of Lisbeth Salander.

Best Picture – Drama

This one is for all the marbles. Best Picture has six nominees fighting for the crown of top dog. I think this award will come down to who is voting. In this case, its the HFPA which is made up of people who may not identify with America’s pastime (“Moneyball”), American civil rights (“The Help”) or American politics (“The Ides of March”). Also, I feel like “War Horse” limped into this competition on the name of Steven Spielberg. It’s not a bad movie, but certainly not his best. As much as I loved “Hugo,” I’m not sure that was a universal love for voters. With strong writing, fantastic acting and good cinematography, I think “The Descendants” will walk away as the best overall film in drama.

If you feel differently about my opinions, your comments are welcome below. At least we can all be happy that Morgan Freeman will be given the Cecil B DeMille Award.

Follow @VC_Reviews on Sunday night for more coverage. Happy viewing.