If it's crap ... We'll tell you
2011 went by all too fast and it was no doubt one of the most interesting years for me and the state of cinema. After box office attendence fell in 2010 and even more so in 2011, Hollywood feels as if it's trying to reinvent itself. Sequels to established franchises littered this year, yet most of them underperformed expectations to the worry of big studio executives. Nostalgia was a big theme in 2011 as we had a couple of films that were love letters to the 20's era (The Artist, Hugo) as well as the style of the 80's (Super 8, Drive). We could be on the verge of a new era in cinema as filmakers are looking into the past to try to reignite the spark that the movies had back in the day. What marks the top 10 films of the year is that they do not feel fake in any way. They were not made just to make money nor to pander to their audience. The people who made these movies really cared about their genre, their audience, and the quality of their films.
10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
For the millions of Harry Potter, myself included, the final installment of the legendary franchise was easily one of the biggest landmarks in 2011. These books and movies have defined a generation and no matter how hard that Hollywood may try, nothing is going to replace this series in terms of the impact that it has had on it's fanbase. As for the film itself, this was the perfect way to end the series. Thrilling, cathartic, and masterfully made, Deathly Hallows Part 2 was the high point in big budget cinema this year. The progression from the joyful atmosphere in the Chris Columbus films to the serious tone and powerful performances in this film is what makes this movie so damn magical. I hate using that word in regards to Harry Potter, but it's a pun well deserved. The only reason that this didn't show up higher on the list is that it is only half of a movie. It's a fantastic second-half of a fantastic 5-hour movie, but it's not a complete story. It is however, worthy of making my top 10.
9. The Descendents
As has been mentioned on the reviews, the Oscary movies have been pretty damn weak this year. The most notable exception would be The Descendants, a kind of film that the Academy generally loves while I'm not a big fan of. Of all the family dramas that have been released over the past few years, this is easily the best. Director Alexander Payne knows how to make these kinds of films that deal with serious subjects, such as death in this case, in a way that's not burdening to it's audience yet powerful enough to have a lasting impact. There's so much about this film and this filmaker that I couldn't help but admire. I've grown tired of George Clooney recently, but even though he's not doing anything outside his comfort zone that he's become known for, he's so well used by Payne that even my cold, rusty heart had to feel something for him. The biggest surprise however would Shailene Woodley, whose only real acting credit comes from a recurring role on The Secret Life of the American Teenager (It should be noted I looked that up on imdb, I don't actually watch that bullshit). If I was in charge of the Oscars I'd give a Supporting Actress win, but I'm not in charge nor do I give a fuck about the Oscars
8. 13 Assassins
Easily the most obscure film to make the list (though I'm sure most Spill listeners are well aware of it), 13 Assassins is something that appeals directly to me. I'm a huge fan of samurai lore and the old Japanese films that this is channeling. Yet 13 Assassins stands on it's own as a fantastic film that's modern and visceral. Takeshi Miike, best known for making really fucked-up movies such as Ichi the Killer and Audition that are the reason why many film geeks fear Japan, blew me away with his ambition that is shown in every scene of the film. I've been a big fan of his earlier works, but I had no idea he had it in him to make a samurai epic on this scale. With great performances that go past the language barrier, gorgeous cinematography, and the most dazzlingly intense battle sequence in several years, you need to see 13 Assassins if you haven't already. It also has the honor of being the only foreign language film to make my top 10 list this year and I'd go as far as to say it's my favorite movie I've seen from outside the country since Pan's Labrynth.
7. Midnight in Paris
Every year there is always one movie that I feel bad for not putting as high on the best of list as everyone else even though I loved the film. In 2011, that would be Midnight in Paris. I've never been a big fan of Woody Allen, though everything that I have liked about his films throughout his career seems to be in this movie. His older films had a very unique charm to them that has been noticably absent in his recent films, yet it's back in full swing here. This is the ultimate Allen movie; it's a new film of his that isn't boring like they have all been recently. I also should give credit to Allen for making Owen Wilson not annoying. Everyone is perfectly cast in this film and interacts very well with the atmosphere of Paris that Woody has created. Midnight in Paris is breathing with soul; a film that is personal without being pretentious. It's so refreshing to see a film that does this in a time when no one seems to be able to do it anymore. Midnight in Paris is a piece of art that speaks to the artist inside everyone. At least I'd like to think that everyone has an artist in them
6. The Artist
When a black-and-white silent movie makes the Top 10 list of a shallow 19-year-old geek, you know that that this is a god damn brilliant movie. I wish that The Artist wasn't such a hard movie to sell. I could tell the whole world about how heartfelt the acting is, how cleverly directed it is, and how beautiful it is to look at, and yet nobody is going to see this movie. That's a damn shame because even as someone who's not a huge fan of silent filmaking, I loved every fucking second of this film. This may be a niche film for all the artsy-fartsy snobs who occupy your local arthouse theatre, but you have my word that if you're not a fan of this era of Hollywood you will be once this film is done. This is the most sincere love letter that a director can make; never using its nostalgia as a gimmick, never going astray from what the film is meant to accomplish, and never forgetting what made those films great back in the 20's. I would never have imagined that a movie with no dialogue would get oscar-buzz in 2011, but once I saw The Artist it was perfectly clear why.
5. The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo
It hasn't been too long since I posted my review of this, so if I have any regular readers than you should all be well-aware of how much I loved this movie. In a way, The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo is to David Fincher as Midnight in Paris is to Woody Allen. This is a director who has made a noticible and gradual change in his filmaking style that has gone back to his roots and combined everything that I've loved about his career into one film. I'm a much bigger fan of Fincher than I am of Allen, so it makes it higher on the list regardless of what all the people who haven't seen Midnight in Paris yet are sucking it's dick because of what the Spill Crew thinks of it might say. Anyway, this adaptation of Steig Larson's popular novel is one of the most beautifully haunting films to be released this year. Rooney Mara gives what might be the best performance of anyone male or female that has been seen this year. Adding that to the chilling cinematography, sinister atmosphere and Fincher's direction, you have a movie that makes the Top 5 of the year.
4. The Muppets
Anyone who has read my Girl with the Dragon Tatoo review should have figured out that I have a rather pessimistic view of the world. However, when a film comes along with a quirky fun attitude that is able to cheer me up and still feel sincere about it, that's an instant Better than Sex from me. Such is Disney's reboot of The Muppets, a delightful return to form for Jim Henson's beloved characters. While the Muppet Show was before my time, I was big fan of the older movies and re-runs of the show whenever I was lucky to stumble upon them. Of all the films that have relied on nostagia this year, this one was the most touching to me. You probably already think I'm a bitch for using the word "delightful", so I'll man up and tell you that this is one of the few movies that made me cry. Everyone has some property that has become a symbol of thier childhood; for many of my friends it's Harry Potter and for me it's The Muppets. Director James Bobin and screenwriters Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller deserve my thanks not just for making a hilarious and heartfelt movie, but for not fucking up the franchise. Mr. Henson would be proud of this.
Several great films went under the radar and never got the praise that they deserve, but none more so than Hanna. I fucking love the hell out of this movie; every time I watch this thing I love it even more. As a matter of fact, I'm listening to the amazing score by the Chemical Brothers as I write this and that also only gets better every time I listen to it. And I've heard it at least 20 times! Joe Wright's stylistic espionage thriller released earlier this year has been forgotten by most critics at this point, but not to me. I've been thinking about everything that this film did right throughout 2011. It's masterful balance of several tones; the creative use of tropes from many different genres, hyper-editing that's not distracting like it is in every other movie like this, the terrific cinematography and action sequences, this movie has grown in my mind and gotten better the more I think about it. Saoirse Ronan breaks out as the most unlikely action hero this year; she's damn terrific in this thing. Between her and Chloe Moretz as Hit-Girl, maybe preteen girls should be who Hollywood turns to for action films rather than the charisma-less meatbags that you can find in your latest Expendables movie.
2. Attack the Block
Words can not begin to describe how angry I am at how few people have seen this movie. Apparently just because a film comes from Britain and all the characters speak in accents no one in America willl go see it. Sadly the studios might be right, but if you get any kind of enjoyment out of genre films than I can't imagine you not liking this film. Attack the Block is fucking awesome and the most fun I've had watching a movie in a theatre this whole year. If you haven't seen this movie and you're a fan of Spill, what the hell are you waiting for? There's a reason why every movie blog is jizzing on this. Joe Cornish's instant classic restores every thing that made these kinds of movies great before Hollywood stopped taking them seriously and gave them to directors who didn't know what the fuck they were doing. It also humanizes deliquent kids and taps into an urban area that is almost never explored in this sort of way. Turns out you can make sci-fi horror films that are actually about something in our society. Who would have thought?
1. Transformers 3
FUCK YES! This movie had 283 explosions in it, far more than any other movie this year which averages out to about 1 explosion every 30 seconds. Michael Bay has delivered again, it's a shame that so many people went into this expecting to see Casablanca. People came here to see giant robots and this movie had fucking giant robots. Now that makes it the best- okay I'm not fooling anyone here. I'm just fucking with you all. But before I move on, I should note that Dark of the Moon is a MUCH better film than The Tree of Life and has a much stronger narrative than Terrance Malick's borefest. So now that you're all pissed off, please scroll down.
Every few years a movie comes along that feels as if it was made specifically for me. That movie almost always makes my #1 spot on the top 10 list and Drive is no different. I fucking love every single frame of this film. While I'm far from the only person who has put this as their best movie of 2011, much less in their top 10, I doubt that any one got the same joy from watching it as I did. Usually I hate it when my #1 is the same as so many else's; I'm the kind of guy who likes being different. With Drive however, I not only don't mind it but I love it. Usually movies like this don't get as widely recognized as they should because they have such limited appeal. Director Nicolas Winding Refn has created a piece of work that personifies every thing that makes American cinema, both old and new, such a marvel. All the performances are excellent and yet this is a movie that never relies on their actors or the dialogue. Remember the time when movies used pictures to tell the story rather than words like they say in the textbooks? Well that's Drive and holy shit does it work wonders.
2011 has been quite a year. If anyone has been following my reviews throughout the year, thank you for reading. I'll continue writing reviews in the summer, but until then any compliments or criticism of my works are welcomed and greatly appreciated. I wish I could write a worst of the year list, but I hate it when critics who avidly avoid movies that they think will be shit write Worst lists when they haven't seen nearly enough bad movies. I did however seek out tons of good movies this year, many of which didn't make the list. Warrior, Captain America, X-men: First Class, and Rango round out the honorable mentions this year. Hope you all had a great 2011 and have an even better 2012!