Often on Friday nights Katja, Donna, and I take in one of the week’s newly opened movies, either at the Esquire Theater in our neighborhood (which features indie, art, and foreign movies) or at one of the Rave cineplexes in the suburbs with their 16 screens of mainstream blockbusters. Over the course of a year we see a lot of the important movies that come out. I don’t think this year’s crop has been particularly memorable, though we have usually managed to find a picture we enjoyed. My standards aren’t real high. I’m usually happy if there’s something you can watch moving about on the screen. We haven’t seen some of the most recent holiday movies yet (e.g., Mission Impossible, War Horse), but here’s my current list of most favorite and least favorite pictures of 2011.
1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara. We came to this American remake of Stieg Larsson’s novel with high expectations, but David Fincher’s interpretation of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salanders foray into a corrupt, evil family was even more powerful than expected. I decided it was a near-perfect movie.
2. Midnight in Paris. Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams. Woody Allen created a warm, loving fantasy about a young engaged couple traveling in Paris with her parents when he is transported to the 1920’s world of Hemingway, Picasso, and Gertrude Stein. Woody’s clearly recaptured his form.
3. Bill Cunningham New York. An intimate documentary portrait of the 80+ year old New York Times photographer who has been riding around New York City on his bicycle for forty years, documenting fashion trends on the street by day and New York’s social science at night for his two weekly columns in the Sunday Times. I found it totally inspiring.
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson. As Harry, Ron, and Hermione continue their quest of destroying Lord Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes and uncover the Deathly Hallows, Voldemort finds out about their mission, and the biggest battle of their lives begins (filled, of course, with state of the art special effects).
5. Hugo 3D. Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley. A tribute to childhood, love, imagination and the origin of the movies in which Hugo Cabret, an orphan who lives inside the clock in a Paris train station, encounters a broken machine, an eccentric girl, and the aloof man who runs the toy shop.
6. Moneyball. Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill. The true story of Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's unorthodox but successful attempt to put together a baseball team on a limited budget by employing computer-generated analysis to draft players ignored or rejected by other teams. Exciting movies about statistics are hard to find.
7. Sarah's Key. Kristin Scott Thomas, Melusine Mayance. In modern-day Paris, a journalist commissioned to write an article about the notorious Vel d'Hiv round up in 1942 finds her life becoming entwined with the tragic history a young Jewish girl whose family was destroyed by the Nazis. Reminded me of Sophie’s Choice.
8. Another Year. Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville. A funny/sad/deep movie in which Tom and Gerri, a happy couple in their sixties with a grown son, deal with the emotional upheaval of their friends and relatives over the four seasons of a year.
9. Water for Elephants. Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz. Vet school student Jacob loses his parents, jumps a train and joins the circus, then falls in love with equestrian star Marlena, bringing the wrath of her husband, circus owner and ringmaster August. An old-fashioned romance with tormented love, a hugely appealing elephant, excellent performances by all the stars, and a fun journey with a 1930’s circus.
10. Waste Land. Vik Muniz. Documentary of artist Vik Muniz’s collaboration with the pickers of Jardim Gramacho, the world’s largest landfill outside Rio de Janeiro, as he recreates photographic images of them out of recyclable garbage and reveals their dignity and despair.
11. The Fighter. Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg. A gritty, distressing, nearly documentary-like picture of the early years of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward and his addict brother Dick Eklund who helped train him before he went pro in the mid-1980s.
12. Hanna. Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana. Ex-CIA man Erik raises his daughter Hannah in the wilds of North Finland to become the perfect assassin, then realizes that she needs to go out in the world for the first time to deal with her family’s unfinished business (which she does with aplomb).
RUNNERS-UP: 13. Incendies (Lubna Azabal); 14. Bridesmaids (Kristen Wiig); 15. Super 8 (Kyle Chandler); 16. Buck (Buck Brannaman); 17. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Elizabeth Olsen); 18. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (by Werner Herzog); 19. The Debt (Helen Mirren); 20. The Conspirator (James McAvoy); 21. Biutiful (Javier Bardem); 22. Rabbit Hole (Nicole Kidman); 23. The Ides of March (Ryan Gosling); 24. The Help (Emma Stone); 25. X-Men: First Class (James McAvoy).
MY PICKS FOR WORST MOVIES OF THE YEAR
41. Cowboys & Aliens. Daniel Craig. A stranger with no memory stumbles into an Arizona town and is jailed by the sheriff, only to be called upon when the town comes under attack from powerful space aliens; good action scenes, but this movie appears to have been written by people who’d just ingested Ambien.
42. True Grit. Jeff Bridges. When 14-year-old Mattie Ross’s father is shot in cold blood by the coward Tom Chaney, she enlists the help of a trigger-happy, drunken U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cobgurn, to hunt the killer down; the Coen Bros. successfully reproduce the look and feel of 1950s Westerns, but who wants to return to 1950s Westerns?
43. Blue Valentine. Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams. An arty, emotionally gripping examination of a contemporary married couple, Dean and Cindy, who to try and save their failing marriage – so miserable and despairing, I concluded there’s no redeeming social value.
44. The Adjustment Bureau. Matt Damon. A hokey philosophical conflict between free will and predestination in which a politician meets a beautiful dancer, but, just as he realizes he’s falling in love, mysterious “adjustment” men conspire to keep the two apart.
45. Horrible Bosses. Jason Bateman. Three friends conspire to murder their awful bosses when they realize they are destroying their lives and happiness; occasionally funny, but more often gross, sexist, and juvenile.
46. Breaking Dawn - Part 1. Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson. Bella and vampire Edward must deal with the consequences of their marriage, honeymoon, and birth of their child; we disregarded the critics who claimed that only 12-year-old girls would like this movie, but, in fact, the critics proved correct.
47. Thor (3D). Chris Hemsworth. Marvel Comics superhero Thor is sent to Earth as punishment for reigniting a reckless war, but has to learn how to be a true here when a dangerous villain from his world threatens Earth; accompanied by dull 3D special effects, a non-charismatic hero, and a stupid story line.
48. 127 Hours. James Franco. True-ish story of a mountain climber who saves his life by cutting off his arm after a fallen boulder traps him in an isolated canyon; supposedly inspiring, but only to masochists.
-Phyllis S-S (12-27): Dear Dave, Thanks for the reminder to see the Cunningham movie. What about "Beginners" the Mike Mills movie? I loved it? You? Phyllis
-Tyler W (12-26): Dear David, This is your nephew Tyler -- I agree with some of your choices on this list, I have to say you missed a bunch of the best ones of the year! Not only that, some of the entries were released in 2010:
127 Hours - 2010
Biutiful - 2010
Cave of Forgotten Dreams - 2010
The Fighter - 2010
For some "best movies" I would suggest (before the year is up) to watch:
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Into the Abyss
Tree of Life
One released in 2010: Monsters (one of my favorite films from 2010!)
DCL to Tyler W (12-27): Thanks for the tips, Tyler. You and your dad are my best movie informants. We are eagerly awaiting "The Artist" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy", but they haven't opened here quite yet. I'll also keep an eye out for the others on your list. I enjoyed "Cedar Rapids" a lot, but forgot to include it because I'd watched it on HBO. We saw "War Horse" last night and wept a lot of tears -- a good, old-fashioned tearjerker. I'll see if our library has "Monsters". Happy New Year,