Nostalgia: 2011 Cinema in Review

For many years, filmmakers have made it their business to please their audience by getting in touch with that feeling whether it is by invoking a particularly nostalgic place and time, or by having characters that long for life in a better time. For example, many films in Federico Fellini’s filmography are dedicated to nostalgia, such as Amarcord where he longingly looks back to what it was like growing up in his small town in Italy, or 8 ½ where Guido Anselmi, during a time of intense pressure, had nothing but to look back on his life to see what led him to be where he is. In 2011 nostalgia made its self present at the multiplexes more than in the last few years, and it shows not only in what made the most money, but also in what ended up being recognized as the most acclaimed films of the year.

The mother of all nostalgic trips this year is easily Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. Ten years after the premiere of the first film, and 14 since the publishing of the first novel, the story of the boy who lived was finally coming to an end. Many of us grew up reading/watching this story unfold, so of course it was the event of a lifetime. And while I was mildly disappointed with it, it is clear people loved it as it became the third highest grossing film of all time world-wide, and no other film came close to it.

In fact, the only film that came anywhere close to matching it was Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which shows that people still prefer to go with the familiar instead of investing their money on original stories. Just look the the chart for the highest grossing films worldwide. You’d have to go all the way down to number 13 (Rio) to find a film that isn’t a sequel, remake, reboot, or spinoff. And if you expand it to the top 20, there are only four more original films (Thor, The Adventures of Tintin, Captain America, and Real Steel).

Sure, because of the results above we will endure even more sequels, reboots, and remakes, but that doesn’t mean that nostalgia is all that bad for cinema. In fact, many of the best-reviewed films of the year are about nostalgia or were made because of it. For example Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (which actually became the director’s highest-grossing film), is about having nostalgia for a time when you didn’t even exist because the modern world is a disappointment. Michel Hazavanicius and Martin Scorsese made films that looked back to the wonder and magic of silent cinema with The Artist and Hugo, respectively, through different means, and were actually two of the best films of the year. And the year’s biggest cinematic achievement, Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, is about a man looking back in his life during a day that’s significant for him and what led him to be the man he is, as well as having to come to terms with your past in order of continue living in the present.

Speaking of The Artist, I wouldn’t rule out the the need for something familiar and simple (like many of the previous Best Picture winners) is what led the Academy to pick it as the Best Film of the year, with Hugo possibly coming as a close runner up.

Granted, not every one of the most acclaimed films of the year was about or influenced by nostalgia. Drive’s Driver is not led to do what he does by the past (or at least we are not told), and his actions in the film are led by the thought of the future, if not his then Irene’s. Weekend is about the present and the prospects of the future, despite the characters being damaged the the past. We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Help are about the past, but don’t look kindly upon it. And so on. However, 2011 cinema felt like it was driven by nostalgia more than any other in my lifetime. The reason for this is not clear (looking back to simpler times while living in a time when everything is falling apart?), but it is clear that, at least in American cinema, will continue to be driven by nostalgia for a while.

So now, I give you my annual round-up of my picks for the best cinematic achievements of 2011. However, this year things are different. Instead of giving my top ten films of the year,  I decided to do a top 25. In the individual categories I decided to expand most of them to ten instead of five (except for the Animated category). And finally, this year I decided to do away with the Documentary and foreign film categories because I was lazy and didn’t seek any out besides the most talked about.

So, let’s finally get the show on the road…

Honorable Mentions

The Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg) may not have been the greatest film of the year in terms of story, but seeing its director playing around with tools that allowed him to do things he could have only dreamt of when he was starting out was exhilarating

Crazy, Stupid, Love. (Glenn Ficarra, John Requa) refreshed its long-suffering genre with a great dose of unbelievable silliness, sexiness, and a small hint of political incorrectness.

Hanna (Joe Wright) was an unexpected but ultimately great step forward for the film’s director and announced him as someone who will do great things for cinema.

Immortals (Tarsem Singh) may have been just an excuse for the director to set up pretty shots and for Eiko Ishioka to make the actors wear crazy hats, but by doing so they elevate the script to heights the writers probably didn’t expect, and so, it was a success.

The Muppets (James Bobin) may lack refined storytelling and production values, but it more than makes up with a story filled with pure joy and heart.

Pariah (Dee Rees) announces the arrival of two great talents: director Dee Rees and actress Adepero Oduye. The two of them, along with Kim Wayans, make this for one of the most uplifting films of the year, even with the heartbreaks along the way.

Project Nim (James Marsh) takes up inside one of the most controversial scientific experiments on animals of all time and shows us how this rather pointless experiment had permanent and damaging effects on its subject.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt) meanwhile, through awesome action scenes and well-written drama shows us what could happen if we continue these silly, God-like experiments on animals.

Shame (Steve McQueen), thanks to its two leads and interesting visual ideas from its director stands out from the addiction genre, even if it has nothing new to say.

We Bought a Zoo (Cameron Crowe) is just a pure and unpretentious family film that gets too your heart without pulling many strings.

Top 25

25. Midnight in Paris

Directed by Woody Allen

From the opening establishing shots of various sites of Paris through what I imagine is a 24-hour period, I knew I was in for something special. And indeed I was, for through Woody Allen’s humor and cunning words and Darius Khondji’s dreamy cinematography we got one of the most magical cinema experiences in many years. Midnight in Paris is a love letter to the “city of lights,” a film that makes long to be there, not only in the present, but also in its past when the city was at the peak of its artistic glory. But it is also a film that tells that longing for a place and a time you do not belong to is just downright silly. But in the end, it’s the best feel-good film of the year.

24. Jane Eyre

Directed by Cary Fukunaga

Having never read the novel, or even watched any of the many cinematic versions that have been made throughout the years, from the moments this starter playing, I was hooked. The first thing that grabbed me was Dario Marianelli’s brilliant score as it played during the opening credits. Then the dark, moody, and gorgeous cinematography drew me in even more. The the story kicked in, and it had me. I was hooked by Jane Eyre’s woeful life, then by the mystery that surrounded her life in Thornfield. Cary Fukunaga’s direction, and the performances from Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender sealed the deal for me. Granted the ending is kind of silly, but everything before it is so freaking great, that I can’t fault it.

23. Martha Marcy May Marlene

Directed by Sean Durkin

As I was watching this, I had a feeling that it didn’t want to let me in. It’s chilly atmosphere, non-linear structure, restrained performances, didn’t let me sympathize with anyone or any part of the story, not even the title character. Yes, it was very intense from time to time, how could it not be? But I just didn’t feel it. And yet, during that last shot, I was at the edge of my seat and filled with dread, and to this day I can’t get it out of my head. All the events that went on, every miniscule detail crawled under my skin, filling me with dread and paranoia as I viewed the life the main character had, not only when she was in the cult, but the difficulties she felt once she left it. I can’t wait to see what Sean Durkin does next. He’s most definitely one to watch out for.

22. Melancholia

Directed by Lars Von Trier

Despite its bleak subject matter (depression and the end of the world), bleak first half, and bleak ending, Melancholia ended up being one of the most beautiful and liberating cinema experiences of 2011. This is because in one way or another I could relate to the plight of both Justine and Claire. As someone who’s had short episodes of depression, I can tell you that Von Trier captured the feelings of anger, confusion,  and despair that this disease bring. And seeing this all come to an end with melancholia literally destroying human life, it left me with a feeling of relief. Because it managed to do that, as well as the overall-excellent production, it deserves a spot on this list.

21. Kung Fu Panda 2Winnie the Pooh

Directed by Jennifer Yuh / Stephen J. Anderson & Don Hall

In a year when animated films tried to tell the stories of lizards with an identity crisis, cats either out to restore his reputation or helping a thief rescue a little girl, and a decades spanning love story between two lovers, the stories of two completely different bears and their adventures put them all to shame.

Kung Fu Panda 2, much like many other films from Dreamworks Animation, suffers a bit from unnecessary comedic, but like How to Train Your Dragon, it succeeds thanks to what its director brought to it. Asian-born director Jennifer Yuh, in her directorial debut brings a freshness and energy to it that no other Dreamworks film has ever had. The fight scenes not only have awesome choreography but they also have an exhilarating and breathtaking musicality . She also handles the emotional scenes about Po’s past and his relationship with his dad really well, and she doesn’t have to shamelessly pull at the heartstrings. And finally, despite my previous comment on some superfluous comedy, it’s actually quite hilarious. I was lukewarm on the first Panda, but this one blew me away.

With a running time of less than 60 minutes, simple animation (by Disney’s standards), and a budget of $30 million, Winnie the Pooh had everything going against it, but in the end it made it all work. The short running time allowed it to tell a tight and fun story without pretension, the animation made it stand out from the pack, and the budget kept the filmmakers on their toes, and pressured them, in a good way, to deliver a great film despite not having much to work with. Winnie the Pooh is one of the most delightful movies of not only the year, but of the decade so far.

20. The Skin I Live In

Directed by Pedro Almodovar

“Demented,” “sick,” “twisted,” and “cold,” are words that Pedro Almodovar is used to hearing about his films. These words also apply to The Skin I Live In, bun under his guiding light, they add up to one delicious cinematic experience. His trademark and unmatched ability to capture sexual energy, cool and surprisingly restrained cinematography, Alberto Iglesias’s furious strings, great performances from Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya, and a fantastic script filled with moments that border on horror territory (you know something’s twisted when a man dressed as a tiger rapes a woman is the least shocking thing in the film) form one of the most enigmatic mysteries in years. Just take my word for it, and watch it without knowing anything about it before hand. It’s worth it.

19. The Ides of March

Directed by George Clooney

While The Ides of March may not offer anything new (yes, we know politics suck), its effect doesn’t come from the story. Much like the day when Caesar died, George Clooney’s film represents the end of an era, particularly for Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling). In his journey we witness the end of innocence, the death of the American Dream, and we see him choose his path in that crossroad we all have to face when we realize that the world doesn’t work in the way we wanted it to. Clooney’s sure-handed direction, a fantastic script, another great score by Alexandre Desplat, and top-notch performances from the entire cast helped the film stand out from other films of its kind and become one of the most eye-opening films of the year, even if we are all too familiar with the themes on display.

18. Attack the Block

Directed by Joe Cornish

Every year a film comes out that reminds us that for a filmmaker with great imagination and creativity the sky is the limit, and no small budget can hold him back. Attack the Block is that film this year. With a small budget, a tight schedule, and a largely unexperienced cast, Joe Cornish made an alien invasion film that bested the films of the same genre that have come out of Hollywood in a long time. Cornish’s script is a clever take on the alien invasion story, but it also works as a put-down of the roles given by society to people like Moses and his friends. As a director, Cornish, in his directing debut, also handled his job like a pro. And the cast brings such an energy to it that no known actor could have given it. I still stand by my statement that this is the best alien invasion film I’ve seen.

17. The Help

Directed by Tate Taylor

The Help is a prime example of the power of performance. Sure, Tate Taylor’s direction is admirable, as it is a finely crafted production, from the cinematography, to the well-paced editing. But the reason why it was the hit that it was, the reason why it got all the awards attention, and the primary reason why it is in my top 25 comes down to the performances. Every single actor delivers outstanding work and, best of all, they have fantastic chemistry together. Emma Stone continues to show why she’s one of the up-and-coming actors; Jessica Chastain does her best work from all of her great work in 2011; Bryce Dallas Howard pissed me off, so she did her work just fine; and Octavia Spencer most definitely deserved her Oscar win. However, the movie belongs to Viola Davis’s raw, emotional, and heart-wrenching performance that deserved to win the Best Actress Oscar from this year’s list of nominees. You may be a cynic who may go into the movie already hating it, but if you don’t fall for her work, then you truly have to heart.

16. Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol

Directed by Brad Bird

Just when it seemed that the Hollywood action movie was going to get stuck being a plot-less and pointless visual effects extravaganza that served to give audiences their weekly dose of shit blowin’ up real good, Brad Bird comes along with his installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise. Although the plot can be at times overwhelming, Bird, making the best live-action debut anyone could have hoped for, Tom Cruise’s charisma and wild energy, and the entire production team overcome that to give us fun and thrilling set pieces that use CGI as support for the human characters, rather than being the driving force, which allows us to get drawn even further into this world. The result the best action film since Casino Royale in 2006, and one of the most delightful movie experiences of 2011.

15. Fright Night

Directed by Craig Gillespie

Fright Night had pretty much everything against it. It was a remake of a beloved cult film, it was made in 3D, it would apparently be suited to appeal to today’s youth, and it was produced by a studio that was in dire need of a hit. And if you were to judge its quality on its box office gross, you’d think it was one of the worst movies of the year. Despite it being everything I mentioned, it had two things that most remakes don’t: passion and a talented director behind it. The combination of these two things gave us a vampire film that is not only truly scary, but it oozes coolness and atmosphere, and most important of all, it’s an extremely fun film. In the end, Fright Night wound up being the best Summer “blockbuster” of the year.

14. Beginners

Directed by Mike Mills

Although on the surface Beginners is like any other post-Garden State indies, it goes above and beyond them in just about every respect. Writer/director Mike Mills uses the elements of those now formulaic films (the quirky editing, the non-sequiturs, the precious characters and dialogue, etc) in such a way that aids the film rather than hinder it. In telling the story of  man trying to build a relationship while pondering on the life of his father who came out of the closet after his mom died he used these techniques to create a sort of stream-of-consciousness film that doesn’t have a wasted frame. And props to the cast as well, with Ewan McGregor giving his best performance to date, Melanie Laurent giving a charming and underrated performance, and Christopher Plummer deserved every award he got.

13. Moneyball

Directed by Bennett Miller

Who would have thought that a film about baseball statistics would be one of the most compelling films of the year. Writers Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin took Michael Lewis’s book of statistics, and the story that inspired it, and gave us the smartest and most exciting underdog story in years. But of course, it would not have been as memorable without Bennett Miller’s held-back, but inspired direction. His work might seem a bit too anonymous, but he knows he is working with a great script, and works such as to let that aspect of the movie shine, and only goes for visually striking scenes when absolutely necessary. And of course, there’s Brad Pitt’s great performance. It’s the kind of star performance that we don’t see from many people any more, but he sure would have made Cary Grant and James Stewart proud.

12. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Directed by Tomas Alfredson

After the great Let the Right One In, expectations were high for Alfredson’s follow-up, and he completely delivered. He, and writers Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan, have taken John le Carré’s dense and intricate novel, and condensed it to an equally dense and intricate film, which still manages to be coherent, even if it takes a couple of viewings before you can comprehend everything that happens. With brilliant performances from the entire cast, headed by Gary Oldman’s first Oscar-nominated performance, and with beautiful production design, costumes, and cinematography, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of the best experiences of the year.

11. Drive

Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn

Even after all I had heard about Drive since its Cannes premiere, I really wasn’t prepared for the sucker punch of awesome that this film was. Director Nicholas Winding Reft and writer Hossein Amini took James Sallis’s pulp novel and rather than trying to turn it into a carbon copy of The Fast and The Furious they embraced the pulp aspects, and turned it into one of the most gloriously stylish films in years. Thanks to the cinematography, Cliff Martinez pulsating synth score, the over-the-top violence, Ryan Gosling’s screen presence, that fucking jacket, and Refn’s inspired direction, this film oozes style and atmosphere from every frame, making Drive one of the most memorable films in years, and  thanks to its newly-developed cult, we’ll be talking about it for years.

10. Certified Copy

Directed by Abbas Kiarostami

It’s been nearly a year since I saw Certified Copy, and it still lingers in my mind as it did that summer day. In my mind I still go through what the couple does hat leads me to believe that they have always known each other, but every time I think of that, I see more reason to believe that they are just playing a game. Also, I can’t get out of my mind the great performance by Juliette Binoche, the best of her career, which is saying something. There’s also the amazing work of the cinematographer, with the amazing long takes and tracking shots, and the gorgeous sun-drenched vistas of italy. Just a thing of beauty. Along with The Tree of Life and We Need to Talk About Kevin, this is the most though provoking film of the year.

9. We Need to Talk About Kevin

Directed by Lynn Ramsay

On paper, We Need to Talk About Kevin sounds like it would be just another dark and dreary look at the aftermath of a massacre, but director Lynn Ramsay and co-writer Rory Kinnear do with the story and its source material makes it much more than that: one of the most terrifying films in years. With this film we are not just put in the middle of the events of the film, but rather we are transported to the mind of Eva (brilliantly played by the great Tilda Swinton). By looking at her tragedy through her mind we see it as exagerated, perhaps unbelievable, and even more so with Ramsay’s extremely red, dreamy color palette and heightened sounds, but this is what makes it so terrifying, as what haunts us about the tragedy is not the event its self, but how we remember it after the fact.

8. Weekend

Directed by Andrew Haigh

Beautiful, moving, sexy, and understated, Weekend grabbed me by my heart and my mind in totally unexpected ways. We live in a world where the sight of two men kissing is still controversial, and yet this film does much more than that and still works as a lecture on why everyone should accept that people are who they are, and does so without any in-your-face moral. Writer/director/editor Andrew Heigh didn’t set out to break any cinematic ground, but rather to tell a conventional “countdown-to-farewell” story that just so happened to be about two men, and it is just that but at the same time made a very important statement about the state of cinema, and what it can be. And he does this the best way possible: by simply crafting a great film.

7. War Horse

Directed by Steven Spielberg

I agree with the film’s detractors in that it is sappy, cheesy, and over sentimental. However, I do not count that as a negative. I know it’s kind of ironic that I defend those traits when I used them to criticize bad films like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, but one thing separates them: War Horse straight-up admits to wanting to pull your heart strings and doesn’t thingk of itself as important. Spielberg and company simply set out to tell the crowd-pleasing unbelievable story about a miracle horse, wrapped around a sweeping epic set during World War I. And if you let your self be swept by the incredible landscapes, the glorious sound design, and John Williams’s nice, if at times over-the-top score, and ignore all the historically inaccuracies and physical improbabilities, you’ll be in for quite an experience, both technically and emotionally. Although I’m a fan of his dead-serious war-related dramas, I, for one, am glad Spielberg decided to take this route with the film.

6. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Directed by David Fincher

The story at the heart of Stieg Larsson’s novel is nothing but unoriginal pulp with an awesome heroine in the lead. But much like Drive, it manages to rise above the story thanks to the unique stylish stamp that is director put in it. Fincher’s icy technical precision has never been more appropriate for another story. And from the first frame, the cinematography, the editing, and the score more or less hypnotized me and I couldn’t peel my eyes away from the screen. Also, Steven Zailian improved on Larsson by weeding out some of the most trivial and superfluous aspects of the story, leaving us with a lean and straight forward narrative. And finally, the cast portrays all the characters beautifully, especially Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, who managed to make the character her own, despite the fact that Noomi Rapace had already given an impressive take on the character.

5. Hugo

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Hugo reminds us of the greatness and magic of cinema in more than one way. First off, it reminds us of what Hollywood is capable of doing whey they take a great story, trust a great director with a hefty sum of money. The result of this is a spectacle unlike any other in years. In fact, I’d be willing to say that this is the most visually outstanding big-budget film since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. And Second, through the George Méliés section of the story it shows how cinema is more than just something to entertain the masses, but also a way of life. It’s something that can give people hope, something that can inspire, and something that makes people dream. Hugo is a perfect example of that.

4. Margaret

Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

In Margaret, Emily (Jeannie Berlin) says that the life of a person should not be defined by its tragedies, but rather by everything good about them. The same can be applied to the film. Margaret should not be defined by its production history, but rather by how it captures the feel of its time. It should be defined by its ambition to not only capture the feeling of being young in this world, but also capture how it felt to be alive in New York City years after the terrorist attacks which changed it forever. It should also be defined by its tremendous dialogue, and the performers who deliver it so well. Yes, sometimes its ambition prove to be too much, and not everything completely works, but just like in life, it’s okay because there is so many more brilliant things to watch. It may be a broken film, but Margaret is still a masterpiece.

3. A Separation

Directed by Asghar Fardahi

A Separation may at first look to be another divorce drama, but after the first sequence we find out that it is so much more. Using the title separation simply as a catalyst, Asghar Fardahi gives us a harsh but subtle critique on the politics and state of life in his country. He doesn’t portray Iran as a backwater country, but rather as one which is growing, which helps highlight how wrong the male domination is, how bad the lower class is treated by the authorities and how rough they have it out there in the world, and how religion can have a negative impact on our lifestyle without actually resorting to claim that it is evil. Thanks to its sharp politics, great dialogue, direction, and performances, A Separation is one of the most fascinatino and fulfilling films of the year.

2. Bridesmaids

Directed by Paul Feig

Bridesmaids wasn’t a runaway hit because it was sold as the female version of The Hangover. And it wasn’t because it showed that women can be gross and funny. It was a success because it told a story about a character that everyone, men and women alike, have meet or have been at some point (the person who has hit rock bottom in their personal life), and injects humor as a method for the character to grow. Thanks to an inspired, Oscar-nominated screenplay by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, and equally inspired performances from the entire cast, particularly Wiig’s, we have a comedy that doesn’t talk down to people, actually has characters worth a damn, and is not afraid to have people shit on sinks. Bridesmaids is the one film from 2011 that filled me with joy the most. It’s a masterpiece of comedy.

1. The Tree of Life

Directed by Terrence Malick

For a while there, I toyed with the idea of other films taking this spot, but when it came down to it, there really was no other film that could occupy this space other than Terrence Malick’s masterpiece. The Tree of Life is everything that cinema should be: it’s aesthetically brilliant (easily one of the most beautiful films of all time), it has a great story, it’s entertaining, but not in a traditional way, and most importantly, it doesn’t spell things out and challenges the audience to give it meaning based on their own life experience. And at the same time you can see that this film is a vessel for the director’s own questioning of his place in the universe and a deep personal story that is meant to capture his own feelings towards his youth. With this film Malick not only captured his feelings towards life, but also turned it into a timeless and universal piece of art that not only is the finest film of the decade so far, but also one of the best films of all time.

The Superlatives

1. Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

2. Asghar Fardahi, A Separation

3. Martin Scorsese, Hugo

4. Tomas Alfredson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

5. Andrew Haigh, Weekend

6. Lynne Ramsay, We Need to Talk About Kevin

7. David Fincher, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

8. Abbas Kiarostami, Certified Copy

9. Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive

10. Jennifer Yuh, Kung Fu Panda 2

1. Peyman Moadi as Nader in A Separation

2. Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in Moneyball

3. Gary Oldman as George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

4. Ryan Gosling as Jacob Palmer in Crazy, Stupid, Love, Stephen Meyers in The Ides of March & as Driver in Drive

5. Tom Cullen as Russell & Chris New as Glen in Weekend

6. Matt Damon as Benjamin Mee in We Bought a Zoo

7. Michael Fassbender as Rochester in Jane Eyre, Magneto in X-Men: First Class, Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method, and Brandon Sullivan in Shame

8. Michael Shannon as Curtis in Take Shelter

9. Joel Edgerton as Brendan Conlon and Tom Hardy and Tommy Conlon in Warrior

10. John Boyega as Moses in Attack the Block

1. Kristen Wiig as Annie Walker in Bridesmaids

2. Tilda Swinton as Eva Khatchadourian in We Need to Talk About Kevin

3. Viola Davis as Abileen Clark in The Help

4. Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

5. Adepero Oduye as Alike in Pariah

6. Juliette Binoche as Elle in Certified Copy

7. Anna Paquin as Lisa Cohen in Margaret

8. Glenn Close as Albert Nobbs in Albert Nobbs

9. Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady

10. Kristen Dunst as Justine & Charlotte Gainsbourg as Claire in Melancholia

1. Ben Kingsley as George Mélies in Hugo

2. Christopher Plummer as Hal Fields in Beginners

3. Max Von Sydow as The Renter in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

4. Nick Nolte as Paddy Conlon in Warrior

5. Phillip Seymore Hoffman as Paul Zara in  The Ides of March

6. Ezra Miller as Kevin Khatchadourian in We Need to Talk About Kevin

7. Brad Pitt as Mr. O’Brien in  The Tree of Life

8. Benedict Cumberbatch as Peter Guillam in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

9. Niels Arestrup as Grandfather in War Horse

10. Jamie Bell as Esca in The Eagle

1. Sareh Bayet as Razieh in A Separation

2. Carey Mulligan as Sissy in Shame

3. Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote in The Help, Samantha in Take Shelter, and as Mrs. O’Brien in The Tree of Life

4. J. Smith-Cameron as Joan in Margaret

5. Janet McTeer as Hubert Page in Albert Nobbs

6. Kim Wayans as Audrey in Pariah

7. Amy Ryan as Jackie Flaherty in Win Win

8. Mélanie Laurent as Anna in Beginners

9. Octavia Spencer as Minnie in The Help

10. Melissa McCarthy as Megan in Bridesmaids

1. A Separation by Asghar Fardahi

2. Margaret by Kenneth Lonergan

3. Weekend by Andrew Haigh

4. Beginners by Mike Mills

5. The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick

6. Bridesmaids by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig

7. Certified Copy by Abbas Kiarostami

8. Attack the Block by Joe Cornish

9. Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen

10. Crazy, Stupid, Love by Dan Fogelman

1. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan, based on the novel by John le Carré

2. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lynne Ramsay & Rory Kinnear, based on the novel by Lionel Shriver

3. The Ides of March by George Clooney, Grant Heslov, & Beau Willimon, based on the play “Farragut North” by Beau Willimon

4. Moneyball by Steve Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin, based on the book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis

5. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steven Zaillian, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson

6. The Skin I Live In by Pedro Almodovar & Agustin Almodovar, based on the novel “Tarantula” by Thierry Jonquet

7. Drive by Hossein Amini, based on the novel by James Sallis

8. Jane Eyre, by Moira Buffini, based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë

9. Winnie the Pooh by Stephen Anderson, Clio Chiang, Don Dougherty, Don Hall, Brian Kesinger, Nicole Mitchell, Jeremy Spears, & Kendelle Hoyer, based on the works of A.A. Milne

10. The Help by Tate Taylor, based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett

1. Winnie the Pooh / Kung Fu Panda 2

2. Happy Feet 2

3. Rango

4. Puss in Boots

5. A Cat in Paris

1. The Tree of Life

2. Hugo

3. Melancholia

4. We Need to Talk About Kevin

5. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

6. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

7. War Horse

8. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

9. Martha Marcy May Marlene

10. Water for Elephants

1. Hanna, The Chemical Brothers (Outstanding Track: Container Park)

2. Last Night, Clint Mansell (Outstanding Track: Not at Home)

3. The Skin I Live In, Alberto Iglesias (Outstanding Track: Los Vestidos Desgarrados)

4. Attack the Block, Steven Price & Basement Jaxx (Outstanding Track: The Ends)

5. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Alberto Iglesias (Outstanding Track: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)

6. Jane Eyre, Dario Marianelli (Outstanding Track: Wandering Jane)

7. Contagion, Cliff Martinez (Outstanding Track: They’re Calling My Flight)

8. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Alexandre Desplat (Outstanding Track: Piano Lessons With Grandma)

9. The Ides of March, Alexandre Desplat (Outstanding Track: The Campaign)

10. The Adventures of Tintin, John Williams (Outstanding Track: The Adventures of Tintin)

1. “Life’s a Happy Song” from The Muppets

2. “Pictures in my Head” from The Muppets

3. “The Backson Song” from Winnie the Pooh

4. “So Long” from Winnie the Pooh

5. “Think You Can Wait” from Win Win

6. “The Living Proof” from The Help

7. “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets

8. “Star-Spangled Man” from Captain America: The First Avenger

9. “Coeur Volant” from Hugo

10.”Gathering Stories” from We Bought a Zoo

1. Hugo

2. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

4. Kung Fu Panda 2

5. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

6. The Tree of Life

7. Jane Eyre

8. War Horse

9. Water for Elephants

10. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

2. Immortals

3. Hugo

4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

5. Jane Eyre

6. The Tree of Life

7. Shame

8. Drive

9. The Eagle

10. Beginners

1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

2. The Tree of Life

3. The Adventures of Tintin

4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

5. Hugo

6. We Need to Talk About Kevin

7. Moneyball

8. Martha Marcy May Marlene

9. Attack the Block

10. Contagion

1. The Adventures of Tintin

2. Super 8

3. The Tree of Life

4. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

5. Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol

6. War Horse

7. Drive

8. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

9. Certified Copy

10. Transformers: Dark of the Moon

1. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

2. The Tree of Life

3. The Adventures of Tintin

4. Hugo

5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

6. Transformers: Dark of the Moon

7. Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol

8. Real Steel 

9. Super 8

10. Attack the Block

1. The Iron Lady

2. Immortals

3. Green Lantern

4. Fright Night

5. The Eagle

6. Hugo

7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

8. Hanna

9. Attack the Block

10. Albert Nobbs

1. The Help

2. Bridesmaids

3. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

4. A Separation

5. Beginners

6. The Ides of March

7. Attack the Block

8. Margaret

9. Midnight in Paris

10.  Super 8

1. Jennifer Yuh, Kung Fu Panda 2

2. Joe Cornish, Attack the Block

3. Sean Durkin, Martha Marcy May Marlene

4. Dee Rees, Pariah

5. Richard Ayoade, Submarine

Other Categories

Biggest Surprise

Fright Night

Like I said in my entry above, it had everything going against it, but it blew my mind at how awesome it was.

Biggest Disappointment

Captain America: The First Avenger

All the pieces were there: a capable director-for-hire, a great lead, and a great character. But a shitty script is will most of the time make a shitty movie.

Most Interesting Failure

The Beaver

There was a great character study in there, but it didn’t know whether it wanted to be a dark comedy or a dark drama, and that hurt it a lot.

Most Wasted Potential

The Whistleblower

With a story as powerful as this one, with a great cast made of some of the best actors working today, including career-best work from Rachel Weiz, you’d think this would be one of the best movies of the year. But no, a lame script and direction no better than what you find in your average “CSI” episode ruined it.

Most Overrated

By the critics: The Descendants

It’s a nice distraction for a rainy sunday afternoon, but that’s it. Sure, the performances are great, but besides that it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.

By the public: The Hangover – Part II


Most Underrated

By the critics: Green Lantern

Green Lantern is pure B-movie goodness, and the filmmakers knew it. What did the critics expect other than that?

By the public: Fright Night & Winnie the Pooh

People flock to shitty horror movies all the time (The Roommate made $37 million!), and when a great one comes along they decide it looks too shitty to spend their money on. COME ON!

As for Pooh, well, at least it will stand the test of time as opposed to the other animated films of the year, and it will have a long shelf life.

Best Scenes

1. Creation from The Tree of Life

2. Train Station from Weekend

3. Bridesmaids dress fitting from Bridesmaids

4. Airplane Anarchy from Bridesmaids

5. The Train Crash from Super 8

Best Shots

1. Morocco chase from The Adventures of Tintin

2. The last shot of Martha Marcy May Marlene

3. Closing in on Mrs. O’Brien from The Tree of Life

4. Berlin Arrival / Subway fight from Hanna

5. Wedding photos from Certified Copy

Best Lines

1. “Catch you on the flip side, mother fuckers!” as spoken by Kristen Wiig in  Bridesmaids

2. “I just missed your heart.” as spoken by Saoirse Ronan in Hanna

3. “She ruined my wedding! I will not look at her!” as spoken by Udo Kier in Melancholia

4. “Ever had one of those days when you just can’t win, Eeyore?” as spoken by Jim Cummings in Winnie the Pooh

Best Single Costume

Best Poster

Best Trailer

Best Soundtrack

Worst Films of the Year

1. Like Crazy– Stupid people doing stupid stuff and we are supposed to sympathize with them?

2. Cowboys & Aliens– Proof that no matter how much money you spend on the best visual effects in the world, the greatest cast, or the rights for an awesome source material, you can’t have a good film without good filmmakers behind it, or at the very least a decent script.

3. Sucker Punch– Until I saw Like Crazy, I had never been offended more by a film. It’s as if it was written by a horny 12-year-old who has been taught to hate women. The ugly aesthetic doesn’t help.

4. Battle: Los Angeles– Nothing but loud and obnoxious propaganda.

5. Red Riding Hood– Honestly, I don’t remember much about it other than the guys having perfect hair despite all that goes on and that Gary Oldman pretty much chewed up all the scenery.

6. Heartbeats– Precious for the sake of being precious

7. London Boulevard– Boring, ugly, and pointless. At least Anna Friel was trying.

8. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides– I enjoyed the first three films, with Curse of the Black Pearl being in my top 50 of the last decade. This one is just a bunch of nonsense leading to a whole bunch of nothing.

9. J. Edgar– Clearly the writer and the director didn’t have the same intentions. Disjointed, ugly, and downright silly.

10. Captain America: The First Avenger– The biggest disappointment of the year. Much like Pirates 4, it is a whole bunch of nonsense that leads nowhere.

So, that’s it for 2011! Please do share your thoughts on my article, as well as your thoughts on the year that was on the comments section. 


3 thoughts on “Nostalgia: 2011 Cinema in Review

  1. Great list. Glad to see we agree on Malick’s The Tree of Life. It’s one of the few films that I think about daily. It shakes me to my core with each viewing. Not too crazy about Bridesmaids. Other than that I agree with most of your choices. Still need to see Margaret.

    You should check out A Separation once you can get your hands on it.

    • Oh I will most definitely be watching A Separation. I actually thought about waiting another month before publishing this, but in the end I just wanted to get this out there. But if I like it enough, I’ll be updating this post.

      And thanks.

  2. Note: Updated on 8/24/12 to include A Separation and Kung Fu Panda 2, kicking The Adventures of Tintin out of the top 25

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