This weekend the Indie Spirit Awards and Academy Awards will be bestowing their trophies upon some of the best movies from 2011. It is due time that I presented my highly subjective, personal list of favorite films from 2011.
- Beginners | Read the full review
The first time I saw this film, I enjoyed it but I couldn’t completely grasp why. It follows the relationship of Oliver (Ewan McGregor) and Anna (Mélanie Laurent) by mixing in Oliver’s memories of his recently deceased father (Christopher Plummer), who announced he was homosexual late in life. With subsequent viewings, I understood that this movie is masterfully pieced together in the same way our memories function and our mind reprocesses our experiences. It captures the essence of an idea without directly expressing it. Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Instant Video.
- Midnight in Paris | Read the full review
The pairing of Woody Allen’s wit and nostalgic longing with Owen Wilson’s positive whimsicality is a pure cinematic delight. Add to that great cinematography of Paris and a supporting cast of classic literary and artistic characters and the movie becomes 94 minutes of pleasure. Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Instand Video.
- 50/50 | Read the full review
This is a feel good movie about a serious and grave topic, the diagnosis of cancer. It is a solid balance of realism and Hollywoodism. The emotions and the solitude of dealing with the disease are combined with juvenile, male humor. And Seth Rogen played a character that seems to typify how his acting skills are viewed – annoying but amusing. Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Instant Video.
- Incendies | Read the full review
Upon the death of their single mother, a pair of French Canadian twins is given the task of discovering their father and unknown brother. This sets them off on individual journeys of great distances and wide emotions to understand their mother’s past, culminating in a gripping and unforgettable ending. Available on Blu-ray/DVD and Instant Video.
- Take Shelter | Read the full review
This is a well-crafted movie about a man who has images and hallucinations of a dreadful, impending storm. He spends his money and time building a buried storm shelter in his backyard, causing his family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors to question his sanity. Michael Shannon gives a stellar performance as the man who is trying to make sure that both his family and his mental stability are safe. Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Instant Video.
- The Artist | Read the full review
An homage to a bygone era of Hollywood, The Artist is a silent film that follows the dwindling career of a silent film star and the rise of a talking film starlet. The uniqueness of its production, combined with the sheer, detailed quality of the movie, makes it an indulgent pleasure.
- The Guard | Read the full review
This dark comedy pairs Brendan Gleeson, as a brash Irish Guard, with Don Cheadle, as a professional FBI agent, as they investigate a rumored large shipment of drugs that are being trafficked through a rural, coastal Irish town. Gleeson’s character says and does inappropriate and rude things, but you still find yourself rooting for and relishing him. Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Instant Video.
- Cave of Forgotten Dreams | Read the full review
The enigmatically incomparable filmmaker Werner Herzog is among the few people allowed to enter the Chauvet Cave in Southern France, home of the oldest known paintings and drawings, dating back 30,000 years. This documentary explores the cave paintings, which utilize the contours of cavern walls, and demonstrates the best use of 3D cinematography ever visualized. Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Instant Video.
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy | Read the full review
Tomas Alfredson’s first English language film is capped with a strong cast including Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hands, Tom Hardy, and others. The plot is thick and specific, but what makes this movie palpable is its focus on the analytical, intelligent side of the spy world. Coming soon to DVD, Blu-ray, and Instant Video.
- Attack the Block | Read the full review
A gang of teenagers becomes the best hope to save South London from an alien invasion in this movie that competently balances action, special effects, humor, and memorable characters. Using a baseball bat, knife, samurai sword, gun, fireworks, and their bicycles to battle these space creatures, the gang member’s humor, cockiness, and energy drive the story. Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Instant Video.
- The Interrupters
During a year when Chicago was in the headlines for a string of violence, documentary filmmaker Steve James followed a group of CeaseFire workers. These Violence Interrupters dedicate their time to preventing violence, intervening in incidents as they escalate, mentoring young people, and standing up for and providing moral support to the families of victims. This movie displays how public role models can enhance and save a community. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.
- Hugo | Read the full review
Martin Scorsese’s first immersion into 3D is at its best when it deals with the magic of Georges Méilès’s silent film masterpieces. Mixed with that cinephilic legend is an engaging, family-oriented story about an orphan boy trying to survive on his own. Once the movie gets past its slow start and focuses on a mystical story of film’s first great craftsman, Hugo becomes very good. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.
- Griff the Invisible
There have been a handful of movies about amateur superheroes. Griff the Invisible is an original take on the idea and, ultimately, seems more realistic than any of the other movies of its genre by making the characters more human than herculean. Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Instant Video.
- Win Win
The third film from writer/director Thomas McCarthy combines great performances with strong characters. Because he needs the supplemental funds, lawyer and high school wrestling coach, Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), becomes the court-appointed guardian for one of his clients. This leads Kyle (Alex Shaffer), a skilled wrestler, into Mike’s care and onto the struggling wrestling team. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.
- The Beaver
I was misled by this movie, perhaps because of its trailers. Expecting a comedy about a man who uses a beaver puppet to deal with some marital problems, I was thoroughly surprised by the seriousness of this film. It has its comedic moments, but the use of the beaver as a metaphor and coping tool for depression makes this one of the better cinematic representations of mental illness. Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Instant Video.