Last year was definitely an interesting one for films. A recent poll showed that theater attendance is down four percent from 2010 and that most moviegoers haven’t been happy with Hollywood. Everything has been thrown at audiences with a lot of unnecessary 3D as well as remakes of perfectly good films.
That being said, there were some brilliant moments in film-making this past year. Once again, independent films made their mark, and delightfully so.
Here are my top 10 films of 2011. If you haven’t seen these, do so because I guarantee there will be more and more mention of them as Hollywood heads toward Oscar time.
10) THE TREE OF LIFE
Terrence Malik takes on God! Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain are parents during a time that any adult over the age of 45 can relate to. It’s easy to look back and find fault with life and our parents. Malik tells a story mixed in with the fact that no matter how this short life is seen, there is so much we haven’t.
9) ANOTHER EARTH
If you haven’t had a chance to see this amazing film, do so. The young actress Brit Marling carries this film with her character’s self imposed punishment for a life that doesn’t go quite as planned. The fact that there is literally another Earth is secondary. It is a stunning story with performances worthy of praise.
8) CEDAR RAPIDS
This comedy is just plain out-and-out quirky and hysterical with lovable mixed into it. Ed Helms plays insurance agent Tim Lippe, who not only needs to loosen up, but seriously loosen up. Helms puts in a sweet and hysterical performance along with John C. Reilly, Anne Hecht and Isaiah Whitlock Jr.
This is a film that asks the question: Did William Shakespeare truly write some of the most beloved pieces in the world — or was he a “patsy,” to use a better word, for an aristocrat who couldn’t show his own talent? This film told a tale woven with intrigue and mystery – as any good Shakespearean story should be. Rhys Ifans and Vanessa Redgrave turn in beautiful performances. Ben Johnson is riveting to watch.
Yes, this film is the one everyone is talking about but for all the wrong reasons. Yes, there is nudity that will stop viewers in their tracks. Put that aside and watch a story of pain in a life that most of us will never understand. The performances by Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan are nothing short of striking. It is gritty, raw, and sultry with a performance by Mulligan singing “New York, New York.”
One of the most hilarious “chick flicks” about getting married I have seen. Knowing a few gals who got married this year I suggested they not see it until after their weddings. It gives a whole new meaning to a girls’ luncheon! Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, along with Rose Byrne, bring the lady fun in. This is also the breakout role for the very funny Melissa McCarthy.
4) THE HELP
We have all seen films about this period of time and they have been good, too. But “The Help” is something different and extremely special. Set in Mississippi in the 1960s, Stone’s character is a writer who wants to tell the story from the help’s point of view. Viola Davis as Aibileen is such a maid and Emma Stone as writer Skeeter are two forces to be reckoned with. Bryce Dallas Howard shows a side of the South that needs telling. Octavia Spenser as Minny Jackson serves up more than enough emotion and Jessica Chastain is adorable as Celia Foote.
3) HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, Part 2
It is hard to believe that there won’t be any more Harry Potter films. These are films I actually waited for with excitement. We watched this small boy grow into a man and take on his own fears with love, friendships and loyalties — something we can all learn from. We will miss you Harry, Hermoine and Ron! J.K. Rowling brought reading back to the masses and Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint will forever be a part of the film-going culture.
2) THE ARTIST
This film is beautiful and so extraordinary. Yes, it is a silent film and, yes, it is in black and white but, more importantly, it is a stunning thing to experience! As a member of the San Diego Film Critics Society, this film was voted Best Film of 2011 and I stand by that decision. I was truly able to enjoy the story being told through music, body language and one heck of a cute dog!
1) THE WAY
I have watched this film three times and it still affects me the same way. Emilio Estevez managed to gather an amazing cast and take a journey into the heart of characters. He allowed us to know them, care and relate our own pains and sadness. Martin Sheen plays father Tom who, after disagreeing with his son’s lifestyle, is forced to come to terms with the loss of Daniel. Losing him to a pilgrimage from the Pyrenees of France to the Camino de Santiago, Tom takes over to finish the walk. Along the way he meets Joost, Jack and Sarah, who also make the pilgrimage for their own personal reasons. These four people will start out strangers and end in a whole new place in this life.
The last two films mentioned are the only two five-out-of-five tubs of popcorn rated films for the year. They are so diverse and different from each other but both that are worth seeing.
There you have it, the best of 2011. These films come from all genres and have given audiences something to be hopeful for in 2012.