2011 has been a pretty good year for film and so far, out of the films that I have seen, quite a few that I didn’t have overly large expectations for really blew me away. Unfortunately, living outside the US means that there are quite a few key films that will be big fixtures in this year’s awards season that I haven’t seen yet.
What this means is that this list probably won’t be my final top 10 of the year, rather, it’s more a top ten of what I’ve seen thus far. That being said, I’ve still seen a large handful of 2011 movies and here’s what I think stood out as my ten favorite films from the past year.
10. A Dangerous Method (dir. David Cronenberg)
Delving into the human mind can sometimes be a tricky topic for film, but David Cronenberg‘s A Dangerous Method does it very, very well. The film explores the topic of psychoanalysis and the effects that the past can have on someone’s future. It does this by taking an interesting perspective on the relationship between history’s two most famous psychologists, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, and there relationships with Sabina Spielrein.
Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen and Keira Knightley are the ones leading the charge here and they all give tremendous performances. Though the film is about the relationship between Freud and Jung, Spielrein is the main focus of the film, as the catalyst and the common ground between Jung and Fraud’s relationship.
Knightley’s performance as Spielrein is really the engine of the film. The young actress is downright frightening as a broken woman who evolves from a patient with severe mental issues to someone in a position to form her own analysis of others. It’s interesting to see the character come full circle and Knightley really does great work with the role, truly pushing the boundaries.
Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen also craft fantastic mirrors of Jung and Freud. Throw in some wonderful supporting performances by Vincent Cassel as a sex addict psychiatrist who has a large impact on Jung and his work and Sarah Gadon, who plays Jung’s faithful wife and you have one very well acted film.
The film’s direction is also exceptional with Cronenberg really diving deep into the minds of all the main characters and exploring the effects that relationships can have on people. A Dangerous Method is a wonderful and at times, very interesting film that left me very impressed.
9. Another Earth (dir. Mike Cahill)
Great conceptual original films are very rare and hard to come by in modern cinema, so when you find one that is not only original but is also a fantastic character piece, you know you’ve got a home run.
Film festivals are great outlets for unknown films, and Another Earth was lucky enough to get its start at Sundance this year. This is a film that merges a backdrop of an incredibly unusual world and adds a raw and intense story to it. It then finds a way to integrate the two to create a strong personal connection. By the film being centred around an obscure scenario, it creates powerful thought provoking questions for the audience.
One of the main reasons for the film’s generally intriguing nature is its star, Brit Marling. Marling is also the co-writer and producer of Another Earth and the film’s brilliance lies largely with her. Besides the fact that she created half the film, her performance is very human and believable. Marling grabs the audience with her wonderful charisma and screen presence, which has now solidified her a place in Hollywood.
I love to see films that were made on little money make it big and Another Earth is the perfect example of that. It just goes to show that you don’t need massive amounts of cash to create a truly special movie.
8. Midnight In Paris (dir. Woody Allen)
This is another film that is built on an incredibly interesting concept. Everyone has thought about what it would be like to travel back in time, especially to an era that you love. Well this is exactly what Woody Allen has done with Midnight In Paris. The film will strike love into the hearts of 1920′s art history fans as the film takes us back to a time where art was in its prime.
One of the many wonderful things about Midnight in Paris is that as our protagonist connects and gains a personal connection to his favourite artists, so do we. For people who are a fan of this era and the artists of the time, Midnight In Paris is a wonderful and a fun, personal, look at the lives of some of history’s most famous artists.
The whole thing is brought to life wonderfully by the fantastic cast that includes Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Carla Bruni, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill. The wonderful selection of actors all contrast each other with a completely different set of characters who you will come to both love and hate. They are all engaging and all of them are just so much fun to watch.
Though Owen Wilson‘s character Gil, the conflicted artist who finds refugee in the 1920′s of Paris, is the film’s protagonist, Marion Cotillard was the star of this film for me. Her fantastic turn as Adriana creates one of the most loveable film characters of 2011. As the fictitious muse of Pablo Picasso, you fall as in love with her as Wilson’s character does, and by the end of he film, you really wish that her character was a real person.
Midnght In Paris is also visually stunning, using the beautiful city of Paris as the film’s obvious backdrop. I find that the setting was a key part of the film’s brilliance, as you find yourself becoming enchanted by this marvellous setting.
Ultimately, Midnight In Paris is a wonderful film and one of Allen’s best efforts. It may also have you on the next flight to Paris.
7. Martha Marcy May Marlene (dir. Sean Durkin)
The topic of cults is nothing new in cinema, but Martha Marcy May Marlene takes the backdrop of a cult to a realistic, personal and scary new level. The incredibly surprising and amazingly talented Elizabeth Olsen stars in the small independent film about a girl who escapes from a cult, and tries to reintegrate herself back into society.
When the film debuted at Sundance, the reviews were amazing and though I expected great things, the film still blew me away. The writing by writer/director Sean Durkin is superbly realistic and allows us to fully believe the obscurity of Olsen’s characters actions.
As for Olsen, for a young actress (22 years old) to be able to hold that much torture and conflict in her character really is quite amazing. You completely believe that you are looking at someone who has endured the trauma that her character has been subjected to.
Also amazing in the film is John Hawkes, who plays Patrick, the insane murderous leader of the cult whose character scarily mirrors elements of Charles Manson. Hawkes gives a performance that is as lively and obsessive as Olsen’s, to the point where the audience becomes as intimidated by Patrick as Olsen’s Martha does.
Martha Marcy May Marlene is a frightening and powerful film that will stick with you long after you’ve left the theatre.
6. The Ides Of March (dir. George Clooney)
George Clooney has shown in the past that he knows how to direct a film. His previous efforts (Good Night And Good Luck, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind and Leatherheads) were all strong films that were met with mostly positive reviews.
Expectations for Clooney’s next effort behind the camera were high. Throw in the fact that the film is based on a highly successful play and people’s expectations were through the roof, including mine.
Now that I’ve seen it I’m happy to report that The Ides Of March more than met my expectations, it completely surpassed them. It’s one of the most gritty, intense and thought provoking political dramas in years led by an outstanding performance that comes to us courtesy of Ryan Gosling.
Backing up Gosling are seasoned actors like Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Clooney himself. However, for me, Evan Rachel Wood absolutely steals the show. Her wildly impressive performance as a young campaign staffer who gets way over her head is incredibly worthy of an Oscar nomination in my opinion.
The Ides Of March is a great political drama that had me hooked from start to finish. Clooney’s fantastic direction puts an interesting group of characters into an intriguing and twisting story that will have you questioning each person’s motives and just how far they will go for personal betterment.
5. The Skin I Live In (dir. Pedro Almodóvar)
I’m not sure if it was simply the fact that I had never seen a Pedro Almodóvar film previous to viewing The Skin I Live In but this easily the most shocking and disturbing film of the year for me.
Every year or so there are certain films that have people talking due to their provocativeness. The Skin I Live In, is definitely one of these films.
I am a huge fan of European cinema, simply because I find that the films are much more original than what comes out of Hollywood. This is certainly the case with The Skin I Live In. Almodóvar’s direction is interesting and also obscure, with a large proportion of the film taking place in flashbacks of the two main characters. It’s all incredibly intriguing though and as we delve into the character’s pasts, the events that unfold really has to been seen to be believed.
Leading the charge is Antonio Banderas who gives a frightening performance as a madly obsessed surgeon who becomes disgustingly attached to his work and vengeful passion. Elena Anaya‘s character however, shows a level of complexity that will likely be recognized as one of the most original and distributing characters that cinema has ever seen.
This is a truly intriguing and original film that really must be seen to be believed. Almodovar’s brilliance shines through as he gives us one of 2011′s most provocative works.
4. The Ledge (dir. Matthew Chapman)
The Ledge is by far the most underrated film of 2011. The small independent film, which debuted at Sundance, stars Sons Of Anarchy‘s Charlie Hunnam alongside Liv Tyler, Patrick Wilson and Terrence Howard in one of the most emotionally personal films I have seen in many years.
The emotional journey you go through on this film is unbelievable, and I mean that in a good way. Most of this is due to the incredibly real characters portrayed by the four amazing actors that lead the film.
You are instantly drawn the charisma of Charlie Hunnam‘s character Gavin. For anyone who has seen any of Hunnam’s work, you will know how amazing this guy is. From the moment you see Gavin on the ledge, you are interested in hearing his story and as invested in the outcome as Gavin himself.
Tyler’s character Shana is also incredible mesmerizing as the beautiful woman Hunnam falls in love with. Contrasting this character, Patrick Wilson‘s Joe is the film’s frightening antagonist. He gives one of the best supporting performances of 2011 and I’m shocked at how little attention the role has had.
Throughout the film there is the underlying question of if God really exists, a question that haunts every character in one way or another. This is one of the great devices that personally puts you in the situation by connecting the audience with their personal answer to the question. For me, there is nothing better than a film that has me asking what I would do in a certain character’s situation, and The Ledge does this on a serious and frightening level.
3. The Tree Of Life (dir. Terrence Malick)
There simply is no film like The Tree Of Life. When people have asked me what it’s like, the best way I can describe it is as conceptual art. If you are going into The Tree Of Life looking for a structured film, you won’t like what you see.
The main purpose of The Tree Of Life, like all art, is for the viewer to take away whatever meaning they themselves find in it, through personal connections to the piece.
For me the thing that pulled this film together and created a human connection to this piece of obscurity, and that is a compliment, is the amazing performances by Hunter McCracken, Brad Pitt, and for me especially, Jessica Chastain.
As the film tells us, there are two ways you can follow life, the way of nature and the way of grace. Brad Pitt‘s character perfectly depicts the way of nature in the hard hitting 1950′s America while Chastain’s performance is the polar opposite, giving us what can only be described simply as grace. Her captivating performance was astounding and probably the most methodical out of any performance I have ever seen from an actress.
Hunter McCracken, the young actor who played, Jack, the eldest son of Pitt and Chastain’s character, was also fantastic. He perfectly embodied the mix of both nature and grace and the struggle he has growing up in 1950′s society and trying to find his place in the world. This is perfectly mirrored by the older Jack, played by Sean Penn, who also depicts the same constant struggle for a place in the world.
Terrence Malick‘s direction here is precise, passionate, eloquent, and unlike anything I have ever witnessed before. The cinematography was stunning and the beauty on screen perfectly symbolised the beauty in the world.
The Tree Of Life is a deeply moving motion picture experience that really, should be seen by everyone.
2. Melancholia (dir. Lars von Trier)
If you like beautiful films that create compelling, conceptual and conflicting stories which double as fantastic character pieces, you can’t get much better than Lars von Trier’s utterly amazing Melancholia.
Melancholia is a two part story that deals with the major theme of depression in two completely juxtaposing scenarios; a wedding and the potential end of the world. What really makes this story so interesting, in both parts, is a protagonist who doesn’t care about the outcome, which makes for a very interesting and unique perspective on life.
Like all of von Trier’s films, this has a visual beauty that only he seems able to create. The beauty resides in the fantastic scenery and the symbolism behind it. It also conflicts with pain and fear, in the scary setting, to create a wonderful balance. For a film to make you feel this array of emotions is unusual, but Melancholia does it in an amazing way.
While Charlotte Gainsbourg provides a wonderful character and gives a fantastic performance, nothing quite compares to what we get from Kirsten Dunst, who provides something so surreal that it’s almost scary. Dunst connects to the audience in an astounding way, completely allowing you to see the events from her point of view.
The array and conflict of emotions that von Trier makes you feel is indescribable and makes for a film that must be seen.
1. Hugo (dir. Martin Scorsese)
You just can’t beat Martin Scorsese. He is the master. The brilliance of his latest film Hugo lies in every aspect of this incredibly well done motion picture. From Scorsese’s perfect use of 3D, the engaging story, the beauty in the mis en scene, the score, everything, it’s all perfect.
An amazingly talented cast supports the director’s latest effort as he molds each of these incredible actor’s fantastic performances into wonderful and diverse character, which work perfectly in this unique setting and story.
Scorsese pushes the bar with Hugo, and steps into territory which is unfamiliar for him, a children’s film. However, even though this is a children’s film, it is still very much a film for all ages. It follows a compelling and heartfelt story and crafts a beautiful homage to the history of cinema, delving into the past of silent films and the early days of movies.
Hugo is a film that everyone will enjoy and find brilliance in as they engage in this moving story. It’s simply just perfect. Hugo stands on another level from any other film I’ve seen this year and and has my vote to sweep the Oscars.
Honourable Mentions: Drive, Warrior, Carnage, J. Edgar, 5 Days Of War, Texas Killing Fields, The Rum Diary
Films That I Liked Alot But Thought Were A Bit Overrated: Moneyball, The Help
Fun Movies That While They Won’t Win Any Awards, Gave Me An Enjoyable Moviegoing Experience: Fast Five, No Strings Attached, Crazy Stupid Love