Moody, hypnotic and explosively violent are just a few ways to describe Nicholas Winding Refn’s second masterpiece in his young directing career; the other was the little seen but brilliant Bronson.
Drive has a smart, simple premise: a loner takes gigs as a driver for criminals. The driver as Ryan Gosling’s strong silent character is known, hopes that his set of strict rules will shield him from the criminals who employ him but as his rules get broken he finds himself in a whole world of trouble, one he never expected to be in.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Among a crop of incredibly divisive films that dotted the 2011 film landscape; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has divided critics between those who fought tears and those who felt the film tried to suck the tears from their tear ducts by force. Count me among the group who’s tears flowed freely at this incredibly touching 9/11 drama. It’s an amazing film and one that deserves to be on this list.
Hugo is an astonishing departure for director Martin Scorsese. Known for his often punishing dramas, including Oscar winners Raging Bull and The Departed, Hugo marked a rare drift into the world of childlike wonder that has long been the territory of his fellow 1970’s wunderkind Steven Spielberg.
Midnight in Paris
Is Woody Allen lost in the past? Yes, but that’s not such a bad thing. Midnight in Paris is Woody and Owen Wilson getting lost in 1920’s Paris and we’re lucky enough to be along for the ride as the duo explore a romanticized literary history of Paris in the ‘20’s that includes brief interludes with Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and the Fitzgerald’s. I don’t care if Woody ever comes back to the present if Midnight in Paris is what he can do while stuck in the past.
I am a broken record on Moneyball but I will say it again: Moneyball is more than a baseball movie. Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane is an everyday underdog that everyone can relate too. He’s a take no prisoners man’s man and a loving, nurturing father to a lovely teenage daughter. Pitt’s Beane is arguably the culmination of a man finding the balance between the John Wayne manhood of the past and the sensitive, some would say feminized, man of the future. If you don’t believe me; see the movie.
There are a number of impressive things about The Artist. I am impressed by the daring of director Michael Haznavicius to release a black & white silent film at a time when movies are using technology to leap off the screen. I am impressed with the acting duo of Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo and their ability to communicate so effectively without words. And, I’m impressed with that darn dog. With that said, The Artist is a bit of a sugary dessert for my taste. There’s nothing wrong with lighthearted movies but up against weightier fair, The Artist comes off as a little to lightweight.
Alexander Payne is a critical darling; for us he can seemingly do no wrong. The Descendants is maybe the best example of how much we critics love Alexander Payne. The film is a dark comedy that audiences have been wary of but most critics have hailed; including me. The Descendants has deep sadness to it and yet there is a warm humor to the film as well that comes out of George Clooney’s willingness to be the butt of the joke.
The Help is among the rather large group of divisive movies in 2011. Critics were divided between those who found the film emotionally involving and thought provoking and those who found it racist because they felt Emma Stone’s character was somehow placed above the characters played by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Me, I loved The Help. I found the performances deeply touching and the story compelling and resonant.
The Tree of Life
There was no more divisive movie in 2011 than Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. The release of Tree of Life was marked with audience walk outs that led some theaters to post warnings that the film may be unsatisfying for some.
I found Tree of Life breathtaking. Terrence Malick is arguably the finest artist working in film today. The story he tells in image and word in The Tree of Life is a heady mix of after-life theology and evolutionary science and all of it is presented in one dazzling image after the next.
War Horse is a fine movie… if it had been released in 1945. Released today, War Horse is a pretty yet painfully nostalgic exercise. There is no denying Steven Speilberg’s skill but War Horse is really only appeals to those who really love horses and very, very old movies.
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