Films in 2011 shared the untold with daring pictures such as Steve McQueen‘s Shame, and depicted the abstract like the experimental The Tree of Life. Early filmmaking was brought back to life on screen in a new era through majorly buzzed-about films like The Artist and Hugo, and even in more fluffy films like Super 8 and its 70s setting. Comedies like Bridesmaids and 50/50 broke all sorts of barriers, such as proving that women can be funny without being catty and that light can come out of the darkest of situations. Of course, the superhero genre continued to exercise power over audiences with the introductions of Thor, Captain America, and Green Lantern and a reboot of the X-Men franchise.
You can tell how much I was digging the motion picture medium as this blog took a significant focus on film this year. (I saw 51 movies released in 2011 — not all of them in theaters but a bulk of them) I still haven’t even went through my watch list since the last film I saw in theaters a few weeks ago, so take this list for what it is and we can talk more right before the Oscars.
This here is a countdown of 11 of my personal favorite 2011 film releases. I would have cut it down to ten like most people do but I couldn’t bear to. I even had to include a few honorable mentions. Check out what made this year’s list and give shout outs to what movies you were loving in 2011!
HONORABLE MENTIONS: The Ides of March; Captain America: The First Avenger; Midnight in Paris; We Bought a Zoo
11. Young Adult
Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody created more magic together with another comedy-drama full of sharp dialogue and a story of a darkly funny and unexpectedly moving personal journey. Charlize Theron is remarkable in the lead, playing a person that we all fear becoming as we grow older: A Young Adult. Along with Patton Oswalt‘s honest portrayal of Theron’s equally troubled former classmate, performance, writing, and simple movie-making combined give this picture of unfulfillment a unique funniness while keeping bitterness at the core.
10. Crazy Stupid Love
Featuring a lovable ensemble cast consisting of Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, and Kevin Bacon, Crazy Stupid Love showed that romantic comedies can indeed be smart, multidimensional, and genuinely hilarious. While plenty of films in the genre pack in A-listers just for namesake, this movie made good use of all of its cast and put them in an actual, surprising storyline. It also dealt with many relationships that come along with the term “love”—long marriages (though on the verge of divorce), bromances, puppy love, transitioning from free-swinging bachelor to committed lover, a father’s adoration for his children. Who says romance is dead?
Although the Oakland A’s didn’t make it to the World Series in 2002 when this story took place, their road from being a broke and struggling baseball team to a successful underdog franchise that year was one of incredible spirit. Moneyball excels in capturing this spirit through an intelligent and business-minded yet emotionally charged script, breathtaking stadium action, and Brad Pitt‘s winning performance as the A’s coach Billy Beane. It’s a film that testifies to why baseball is America’s favorite pastime and even more importantly, it shows how you can do more with little, and by embracing what is generally seen as undervalued.
8. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was the most chaotic, frightening, and intense of this summer’s epic films. It’s had so much of an impact in 2011 that Andy Serkis is becoming a legitimate contender for a Best Supporting Actor nod—for playing the lead ape. But it makes sense because after all, humans and apes are close, as this film portrayed with brilliance. But also, humans and apes are capable of clashing. This sci-fi actioner brings both ends of the spectrum—A genetic engineer (Played by James Franco)’s friendly relationship with Caesar (Serkis), an ape he looks after since its birth, and much later in life, how Caesar’s view of humans becomes tarnished after assimilating back into his species. In spite of excessive special effects, the legitimate story makes this installment in the Apes franchise quite intelligent and powerful.
7. X-Men: First Class
After the last couple of dud X-Men films, it was hard to haul ass to catch this semi-prequel with an all-new cast—except it was actually a must-see as arguably the best X-Men film so far. Slick, masterful, and fascinating, the origins of Professor X, Magneto, and other mutants were uncovered, with the Cuban Missile Crisis set as the leading event. History buffs appreciated the authenticity of the 60s backdrop, slashers rejoiced with how friendly Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) were with each other in their young sexy days, and superhero fans cheered at the thrills and that once again, the adventures of the X-Men were cool and captivating. First Class produced a very well-thought out and interesting perspective of what once was and could have been for the familiar characters.
Cancer? Funny? Never. But 50/50 took a less than typical approach to the subject with a little optimism, while reflecting the realistic and more negative aspects of it. Penned by Will Reiser and co-starring good friend Seth Rogen, the film is based on scribe and actor’s true-life ordeal, demonstrating that sometimes the best way to deal with a tragic situation is through laughter and creativity. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives one of his most stellar career performances as a young man suddenly stricken with cancer, and how he and his loved ones deal with it. Between his inappropriately hilarious best friend (Rogen), his reluctant girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), his overbearing mother (Anjelica Huston), and an awkward hospital-issued therapist (Anna Kendrick), Gordon-Levitt’s Adam begins to see his relationships with others change as well as his perspective on life. Incredibly moving yet sprinkled with humor, 50/50 fully touches the heart and the funny bone.
Superhero films never go out-of-style and this year was full of great ones, but Super is the best one of 2011 that you probably haven’t seen yet—although you can argue about whether or not it really is a superhero film. It’s more like Kick-Ass where regular people don costumes and fight crime quite illegally yet violently on their own terms. With its twisted storyline and brutal (But still a little bit on that comic side) beatings and killings, Super is not a movie for everyone. However, for those who dare to watch, the film is a nice small-budget surprise with blockbuster-level entertainment and references to many of the big-name heroes and comic book cliches. Super follows The Crimson Bolt, also known as low-life Frank (Rainn Wilson) who goes after a drug lord called “Jock” (Kevin Bacon in the third film he appears in on this list—the second, if you don’t know, is X-Men: First Class where he also plays the villain) when he and his gang abduct his wife Sarah (Liv Tyler). He catches the attention of a comic book store cashier named Libby (Ellen Page), who takes on the alter ego Boltie and anoints herself as The Crimson Bolt’s kid sidekick. From that moment, fighting crime gets even more zany and wickedly hilarious. Fun, dramatic, and action-packed in rare ways, Super is a true treasure waiting to be found in the 2011 vault of films.
4. J. Edgar
Speculative? Sure. Exaggerated? Your call. But with riveting performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer, a fine script by Dustin Lance Black, and by capturing pieces of history quite beautifully, I am still in awe and admiration of Clint Eastwood‘s biopic of J. Edgar Hoover. Though he was known for awful things in real life, J. Edgar presents the first director of the FBI (Played by DiCaprio) as more enigmatic, putting together moments from his career as well as showing what may have went on behind closed doors. Whether or not he was a Mama’s boy or in love with his long-time right-hand man Clyde Tolson (Hammer), the film opens viewers up to these questions and more, but mostly to “Who was J. Edgar Hoover?”. Despite its flaws and too-long running time, J. Edgar is a gorgeously shot, provoking, and engaging period drama, and DiCaprio and Hammer are beyond convincing in their roles, whether as individuals or with each other.
Bridesmaids doesn’t deserve its praises just for its strong female cast—it deserves its praises because it’s really funny and at the same time, a film that a lot of people can relate to. Who hasn’t felt down-and-out while they see their friends and peers finding success and happiness? It’s that part of the story that gives this film humanity and that it’s basically more than a screwball comedy. However, when it brings on the comedy, it brings it: Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Helen (Rose Byrne)’s engagement toast-off, the bridesmaids getting food poisoning in the bridal shop, the airplane mishap, Annie and Helen attempting to catch the attention of Officer Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd), and the entire character of the rough and eccentric Megan (Melissa McCarthy) make up the most unforgettable comedic moments of 2011, all from just this film. And of course, it’s definitely wonderful to see women in the spotlight without being objectified or being overly violent with each other. That, plus its heart and humor, truly makes Bridesmaids one of the most distinguished films of the year.
Yeah, yeah, these “fighting” sport dramas are nothing new. But with its intense cage fight sequences, underlying battle of family versus honor, and gripping cast performances, Warrior is the “fighting” sport drama that’s worth ten knockouts. It’s completely and beyond mesmerizing, and it presents a story and ways of making you truly feel what the characters are feeling—anticipation, anger, spite, hurt, regret, determination, and the desire for a change. The fights will put you at the edge of your seat but more significantly, the heartbreaking and ultimately uplifting story is where much of the magic is. Warrior is the fictional story of the Conlon brothers—they only share a rejection for their father and the will to fight for the things they believe in. Brendan (Joel Edgerton) will risk it all in the cage to ensure his family has a home. Tommy (Tom Hardy) will lay it down for a fallen comrade. A new opportunity will have them at odds with each other and with their father Paddy (Nick Nolte). While the entire cast is phenomenal, the standout is Nolte in what should be hailed as a comeback performance. Every time you see the tears in his eyes, your heart will be punched right out of you. From beginning to end, Warrior will have you entrapped with its complicated and soaring plot and tense action.
Like Super, Shame is a film that’s not for everyone. With its extreme sexual content (And a particularly upsetting scene involving violent content), it takes boldness to see it and appreciate it. But for those who do take the chance (And I really hope a lot of people do), they’ll be rewarded by experiencing the single best film 2011 had to offer. Shame is stylish but fearless and doesn’t take what it’s about lightly at all. Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender are simply unbeatable in their second director-actor collaboration. McQueen takes to the scenic streets of New York and completely fucks them up to create a beautiful disaster with the character Brandon (Fassbender), a 30-something office professional with a severe sex addiction. He could get his fix anywhere, from the porn on both his home and work computers to calling up prostitutes. But when his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) moves in, his world turns completely upside down. Never mind about both Fassbender and Mulligan exposing themselves—What’s even more jaw-dropping is how they completely expose themselves on a substantial level. Their characters are ruined beyond belief and there’s something in their story that’s unsaid, but felt. Whatever it is, the pain they feel is agonizing, and it’s more than enough to make the audience feel that agony. The actors and McQueen meet the challenges—and exceed them—of making a highly complex and courageous film. Shame is a tragic documentation of a downward spiral—one that isn’t spoken about often, but it happens. In a general sense, it’s a portrait that reminds us of how our personal demons can destroy us and our relationships with those around us.