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Mike’s Top Ten of 2011

Everyone’s got one. Here’s mine.

Pretty simple — just a list of my ten favorite films of 2011. No arguments, no, “I agree, but I liked this film better,” none of that. This is my list, that’s that, end of story. I do this for me. I do this so I can see, in one year, in three, in ten, which films retain their status with me, and which fade over time. It’s a tough business, making a Top Ten list. Most people are pretty short-sighted about it. I try to put a little thought into it and think, “Will I want to be watching this movie in six months?”

That said — thinking about it with that in mind — it’s been a rough year. I had a pretty tough time coming up with an acceptable list. Of course, within the list of films, there were more than ten to choose from. But, in terms of past years — this one has definitely been the weakest in a while, maybe since 2006 (though last year was a bit tough). I guess the key is just not overthinking it, and going with what I felt I liked the best. So, let’s just get into it.

One quick note to make — this will be the only time I actually rank a Top Ten of the year list. After this, it reverts to a simple list of ten in alphabetical order. I’m only doing it this way now because we’re in the middle of it, and people want to know specifically what was liked. Don’t focus so much on the numbers. I’m simply just listing the films I liked the best. Think of the long game here. That’s what I’m doing.

So, here they are — my Top Ten Films of 2011:

1. The Artist

There was very little doubt about it. Once I heard about this film (which honestly might not have been until late summer/early fall), I had pretty much pegged it into this #1 spot. More so than a lot of people, I am a huge fan of silent films. And the idea that someone went out and made one nowadays (and got the money to do it) was just an inspiration. This film could have been half as good and it probably still would have made my Top Ten list. For me, it’s not so much about the film itself (which is terrific, by the way), it’s about the rediscovery (by the mainstream) of this huge part of cinema’s past. That’s why this (and the #2 film on my list) are where they are. They not only tell great, uplifting, purely cinematic stories, but they also remind the audience of this rich history the medium of cinema has, and how easily it can be marginalized and forgotten. It’s a wonderful movie, and was by far my favorite from this year.

2. Hugo

Everything about this film exudes utter joy. My jaw dropped from the very first image of the film. This film works on so many levels, it’s almost impossible to get through them all in one sitting. First — the obvious. It’s a Martin Scorsese film. A Martin Scorsese family film. The closest thing this man has done to a family movie in his career is — maybe The Color of Money? The Aviator? Stop me when we get to something that’s vaguely child-friendly. So that carries weight. Then we have the fact that it was shot entirely in 3D. And gorgeously. This is a film that uses the tool to its fullest (to this point) potential. Then, there’s the basic story of the film. At first glance — an orphaned boy working on the clocks in the walls of a Paris train station searches for meaning behind his father’s death. He tries to rebuild an automaton his father found in the attic of a museum because he thinks there is a hidden meaning in it his father wanted him to find. What it ultimately is about is cinema. It’s such a beautiful ode to what film can do, and a beautiful example of it as well. Everyone needs to see this film. (In 3D too. The use of the 3D tool enhances everything about this movie’s message.)

3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I saw and loved the Swedish version. And when I heard about this, I had confidence that it would be made right, and that the result would be a good movie. But I didn’t expect it to be quite as good as it was. Here’s a film that, despite having seen a very similar version of this exact same story, I managed to still love as much, if not more, than the other version. Both versions have their strong points — this one’s is in the casting of Rooney Mara, who brings an added vulnerability to the role of Lisbeth that Noomi Rapace didn’t quite have. Also — David Fincher’s direction is brilliant here. This is a movie that will sustain repeat viewings. I expected it to be a Top Ten film (or very close to one), but I never expected it to be this high. I really loved this movie.

4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I had this one penciled into the Top Ten from a long time ago. Everything about this movie appealed to me, not the least of which was the fact that it’s directed by Tomas Alfredson, who made Let the Right One In. The film is so deliberately paced, and manages to tell a story so well that you don’t even know it. All the attention is being given to Gary Oldman, which is great, since he was terrific here. But the real star of the film is the directing. This film manages to not only maintain a perfect pace and build suspense because of that pace, but it also never once talks down to the audience. It never explains anything, and sometimes even makes jumps without really explaining things. I know there was one moment that — while I knew it was coming, I still got confused about what actually happened. They leave things open-ended. This is a film that’s not so much about the mystery, but about the execution. It’s brilliant. It’ll be a shame when this isn’t nominated for Best Picture.

5. Drive

How could you not love this film? It’s a straight B-movie told in the best way possible. This is an example of form elevating content. It’s wonderful. Gosling plays a perfect stoic action here in the Ryan O’Neal/The Driver vein. The soundtrack is so wonderfully electro. Again, the real star here is the direction. This movie is a joy ride from beginning to end. Also, that opening sequence — one of the best I’ve seen in a while. I imagine a lot of people have this on their top ten lists. It deserves it.

6. War Horse

There’s an inherent bias this year. This is the Oscar film that’s gonna get the most backlash. And I understand that. But it doesn’t change the fact that this is a really great film. I love the way it’s structured. The horse is the focal point, but then you get all these vignettes of all the people the horse ends up with along the way. It’s wonderful. I really can’t say anything about this film except that it was a joy to watch. Let me also point out that I love World War I movies. That is by far my favorite war, and anything with trenches in it is something I like. That, plus the interesting entry point of the horse as the “main” character — this was always gonna be here for me.

7. Hanna

I was surprised to see this hold up over the year as well as it did. By the time I got to November, there were really only two films from the first half of the year that had any shot at making my Top Ten list (both of which actually ended up making it on). I saw this film in theaters and fell in love with it. Sure, it has its flaws, I’m not denying that. Cate Blanchett’s part of the story feels a bit underdeveloped, and the ending (I know for a fact, since I read the script) is a bit of a compromise (there were three possible endings for the film that were going to be used at one point, and the one they used made the most sense of the three), but here, the good greatly outweighs the bad. I think of this film like I think of Sunshine, which is an absolutely brilliant movie for 3/4 of it, and then the third act gets a bit flimsy. But even so, the third act doesn’t ruin what the first two are. And I also feel that way about this. The flaws that are here aren’t enough to kill what a great film this actually is. Plus that single-take subway fight was badass. I was going to put it on the 11-20 list, most likely in the top 12 or 15, but I watched it again the other day, and I still love it. If given the choice of this over all of the films in the 11-20, I’d choose this. So that’s why it’s here. It’s not a list of the best films. It’s a list of my favorite. And this was one of my favorites.

8. Another Earth

I’m not sure how well this film will hold up over the next few years. I don’t know if, the next time I review this year, this will still be in my Top Ten. But all I know is that few films affected me as strongly and as profoundly as this one did. And while there were other, bigger choices for this spot (most of which you’ll find in the latter half of the top 20), I ultimately chose this film because it is very small and hasn’t gotten much notice past a core group of people who saw it and loved it. And I think this film (and those like it) need to be celebrated. This is a terrific film. What I liked most about it is how the basic premise — the idea of a second earth being discovered that may or may not (though we do find out over the course of the film) have life on it similar to ours — is not the point of the movie. It’s barely even a major plot point. It’s all in the background. It’s kind of like how, in American Graffiti, the plot point of them being about to graduate from high school is always kind of hanging over the film and informs much of what happens. This is kind of like that, only this is actually hanging over the film, up there in the sky. The film is really about this girl, and how a random and terrible accident changes her life, and the fallout of that. It’s really, really great. This is one of those films I think everyone should watch, simply because, if you let it — it will affect you.

9. Moneyball

This was another one I watched again in preparation for this list. I’m still not entirely sure that I want this to be in the Top Ten, but — looking at my other options, and thinking about how I’ll respond to all of these films in a few years, I feel like I’d go back to this one more than I’d go back to the others. And that, to me, is what a Top Ten should be. I don’t think this film is a masterpiece, but I think it’s really terrific. I think it does a good job of telling a particular story in a very entertaining manner. This is a story that, at first glance, doesn’t sound like something that would warrant an interesting movie (kind of like a story of the guy who created Facebook). But it is. It’s pretty captivating, even if you don’t like baseball. And, like I said, the reason this is here is because — of all the films left on this list, this is the one I’d go back to the most. Which I guess would thereby make it one of my favorites.

10. The Adjustment Bureau

I wrestled with this one for a while. I kept telling myself, “I can’t put this on. I’ll catch so much shit for this.” But you know what? I’m playing the long game here. I watched this movie again yesterday — it holds up. Really well, actually. This is a film I’ll definitely be watching many times, more so than most of the other films on this Top Ten list. It’s really terrific, and I know for a fact that in five years, if I didn’t put this on the list now, I will then, because I will keep coming back to this one. The reason I love this movie so much is because it’s grounded in the romance. And the relationship between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, to me, is incredible. Their chemistry is just off the charts good. Their exchanges are really great, and they completely made me accept the fact that this is, first and foremost, a sci-fi movie. But good films have the ability (like Another Earth) to make you accept the impossible. They make you buy into that world. And to me, the only real flaws here (if we’re actually going to use the term flaws. I think of it more as — parts I don’t like as much. Since, if you’re on board with the film, you’re accepting it as is, even though you know — yeah, it’s not great in certain areas, but I still love it) are the fact that they show them freezing everyone, with all the gizmos and stuff (just because it felt like the most overt sci-f stuff), and also a bit at the end, with the chases. I’m not a real fan of sci-fi, so if I’m going to suspend my disbelief, I want it to be few, far-between, and at least worthwhile. And I can go with the doors. I really can. I already am down with the organization (and I love that, while they hint at God, they never make it clear. Big fan of that. That was a smart decision). But I just felt like — a lot of the film, they don’t really show you everything that’s going on. It’s hinted at, and you believe it, and it just felt better off in the shadows. I understand why the scene with them freezing people is there — it’s just — it goes against my grain, not liking sci-fi so much. Still, though — I stand by this film being here. It’s gonna go here no matter what. Now or five years from now. So it might as well be now. I love this movie.

– – – – – – – – – –

11-20 (This order isn’t very set. To me it’s just a list of ten without a set order. And the reason I ranked them as such, for the most part, is because there are certain films I’d rather people see over others, if they haven’t):

11. 50/50 — seriously one of the better films of the year, and it was this close to making my Top Ten. The reason I didn’t was simply the idea of rewatching. I don’t know how often I’ll go back to this one. I like the idea that it’s one of those ones that I think very fondly of that’s not on the actual Top Ten list. I think this is the perfect place for it. I loved this film so much, and I really think people ought to go out and find this one.

12. Like Crazy — This film was… something. Another one that almost made the Top Ten list. I almost replaced Adjustment Bureau and Moneyball for it several times. But I ultimately didn’t simply because it’s so low key and so emotionally raw that I didn’t think I’d go back to this as often as I would the other films. I might be proven wrong on that in five years, but for now, I think this belongs where it is. This was definitely one of my favorite films of the year, it just — I don’t think it needed a Top Ten spot. It’s terrific though. I’d out and out tell people to go see it, but I feel like this is one, if I tell people to see it, I’m automatically setting up for them to hate it. And I don’t want that. So I’ll let the ranking speak for itself.

13. The Muppets — Pure and utter joy. That’s what this movie is. It’s not perfect, but it’s damn fun. And that’s all I need.

14. Super — This is a film that, up until yesterday afternoon, was #20 on this list. I remember really liking it a lot when I saw it back in April. And then, after all that time, I still remembered liking it, but I didn’t remember just how much. So, on a whim, I gave it another watch. And — wow. This film shot up the charts really quickly. I almost considered making it my #8 or #9 for a good minute. But I think it works here. This film is so gloriously fucked up. I love all of those “real person superhero” movies. And of the unofficial trilogy that’s come out the last few years (Kick-Ass, Defendor and this), I think I like this one best overall, simply because it goes the extra mile. All of these films play with the issue that the people who do this have some sort of underlying mental issues, and that the consequences for their actions involve real life, horrific violence. This film takes that to a whole other level. It even manages to work tentacle rape into it. It’s a film that will turn off a lot of people. But, if you don’t mind really dark and horrific humor (he literally goes around beating the shit out of people with a wrench, shouting, “Shut up, crime!”), this film does not disappoint. As you watch it, you keep thinking, “There’s no way they can make it more fucked up than this.” And then they do. Over, and over, and over again. It’s so wonderful. Be prepared for this movie, and just go with what happens. Don’t try to reason with it, just enjoy how fucked up it all is. It’s one of the most disturbingly funny films I’ve seen in a long time.

15. Young Adult — I had a feeling this would happen. When I first saw this movie, I said, “Yeah, it’s really solid, and is a top 20 film.” It was almost an obligatory top 20 nod. I had only enjoyed it as like a 22 or 23 overall film. But you know what? Over the past few weeks — this film stuck with me. I found myself thinking about this more than I did with other films that I would have ranked higher than this a month ago. This is a film that is off-putting, but is better than a first viewing of it may suggest. Even if you loved it. I had a feeling after I saw it that it was one of those movies that takes time to work on you. And I was right.

16. The Ides of March — My love of this movie isn’t so much about the actual film, which is very solid, and I enjoyed it a lot, but rather in its ending. To me, the reason the 70s were the best decade for film (outside of maybe the golden age of 1934-1944, give or take) was because they never compromised on the ending. I don’t quite want to explain exactly what I consider a “70s ending” to be, just because I don’t want to ruin it for those who haven’t seen it. But I guess (for those who really just don’t care about ruining stuff) the best way to describe this one is that it’s very similar to The Candidate, which I’m sure was an inspiration for Clooney. I love when films have the balls to be unrelenting in an ending like that. That’s why this film is so high on the list. An ending like that holds up. You’ll see.

17. The Descendants — George again. This is a film that I used to have in the Top Ten, until I realized — why? Sure, I liked the film a lot, and I liked the performances a lot, but there wasn’t really anything here that would make me want to rewatch this over and over. To me, it’s a short term Top Ten film and not a long term one. And since I feel like Hollywood doesn’t play the long game enough, that’s the way I’m going. I know that if I watched all 20 of these movies in five years (hell, even two years), I’m not sure this would automatically be a Top Ten for me. It could very well be, and if that’s the case, next time I update this list, I’ll put it on there. But right now, I simply liked those other films better for all those reasons. (The Top Ten. Not so much the 11-16, since those numbers are mostly arbitrary. To me, 11-20 is just like when I do it on my Top Tens of the Decade lists. I’ll forget the numbers here in a week.) This is really good, though. Clooney is terrific, and Shailene Woodley steals the show.

18. The Tree of Life — Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. This is a film you could very easily put in the Top Ten and no one would argue. To me, it was a bit too abstract to put in my Top Ten. I’d rather not automatically place it there. I’m really trying to put those films I really love on the Top Ten. This definitely feels like one I talk about right below it. One of those films that’s really great that I won’t watch too often, but when I do — wow. Kind of like Enter the Void. That film is just incredible. This one too. Stunning. If you ever have the opportunity to see this in a theater — take it. Trust me.

19. Shame — Holy god, what a film. Not that it was a masterpiece or anything, but this shit’ll stay with you. There are some powerful images in this film. And what I liked best about it is how much both characters need one another. There’s a great relationship there. And I’m not even necessarily talking about in the film. I just mean, in general, those two performances need one another in order to be what they are. And I love that. Fassbender and Mulligan are terrific. And while this wasn’t exactly a fun time at the movies, and while I won’t be rewatching this a whole lot — it was a really strong film. And honestly, who the fuck needs me to put Harry Potter here? Don’t we already know what that is by now?

20. Midnight in Paris — Gotta say, when I like a Woody Allen movie, I really it. I just love how it’s nothing more than a simple fantasy. It’s not trying to have philosophical discussions, it’s not psychoanalyzing everything — it’s telling a fun, uncomplicated story. That’s it. And it’s just delightful.

– – – – – – – – – – –

The other thing I like to do is break movies down into tiers. I think of the Top Ten and 11-20 as the first tier.

Then, the second tier is comprised of all the other movies I really liked. Emphasis on the italics. And the third tier consists of the films I liked more than just a passing regard. Like, Cars 2 — I liked it, but I liked it as more of a, “Well, that was okay and was well-made.” I’m talking about the films that made me go, “Wow, that was actually really entertaining.” That’s a tier three movie for me. Stuff that wouldn’t normally make a top ten list, but was entertaining enough to me where I want to show it some love.

If I had to put ratings on it, the second tier are all 4-star movies, while the third tier are 3 and 3.5 star movies, by and large. I like to give shout outs to the films that really impressed me, especially when almost no one else is doing so. That’s really what this is about.

I’ll do it in alphabetical order so as not to show any preference.

Second tier: The Big Year, A Dangerous Method, Drive Angry, Friends with Benefits, From Up on Poppy Hill, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, The Help, Henry’s Crime, In Time, J. Edgar, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, My Week with Marilyn, Real Steel, Red State, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, A Separation, Take Shelter, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Winnie the Pooh, X-Men: First Class.

Third tier: The Adventures of Tintin, A Better Life, The Beaver, Burke and Hare, Carnage, Contagion, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Kill the Irishman, The Lincoln Lawyer, Margaret, Melancholia, Our Idiot Brother, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Rampart, The Sitter, Source Code, Submarine, The Three Musketeers, Tyrannosaur, We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Coincidentally (no so coincidentally, but enough. All I really needed to do was add on one more I was indecisive about), this all actually comes out to a Top Ten, plus 50 more films. That feels nice and compact.

And that concludes our 2011.

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2 responses

  1. It looks like we match on 11 films when it comes to our Top 20’s. I also have The Adjustment Bureau (#12 on my list), The Artist (#15), Drive (#2), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (#5), Hugo (#4), Like Crazy (#10), Midnight in Paris (#8), Moneyball (#13), The Muppets (#18), Shame (#20), War Horse (#17). I still need to see 50/50 because I have heard great things.

    April 15, 2012 at 4:39 pm

  2. Mike Morrison

    Overall bad year for movies

    February 13, 2013 at 12:26 pm

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