Wednesday, June 29, 2011

So Far, So Good: The Best Films of 2011 (so far)

While common knowledge states that the best films of the year are released at the tail end of the year, sometime between late October and December, to the seasoned film goer who is willing to test the waters the other nine months of the year, there are a wide number of films that stand out as wheat among the chaff. 2011 has given audiences masterpieces such as Big Mommas' House, Hop, and Michael Bay's latest explody-fest, but has also provided audiences with a terrific assortment, like the films that you will see on this list. Will my list remain the same until December? Probably not, but judging by how much I enjoyed these films, I can look forward to even more masterpieces in the months to come.

10. The Trip
In what can only be described as the vacation from hell, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are a quick-witted and perfectly matched pair, playing themselves while traveling around the British countryside for a restaurant tour. The set up is smart, simple, and allows plenty of room for creativity and spontaneity. The comedy does not feel forced or over the top, mainly because the two look like they are having such a fun time together. I really appreciated the dark ending, which speaks wonders to one of the characters' inner torment and desire for success. The impressions are worth the price of admission.

9. Bridesmaids
Jon Hamm deserves an Oscar of his own for his role as the douchebag fuck buddy to Kristen Wiig's Annie. Hamm's scene stealing performance is just one of the many highlights in this smartly written movie, which is surprisingly deep when dealing with the subject of deep friendships and moving on. It's not a female Hangover, in that the only thing they have in common is being rude and funny. No, Bridesmaids is much more than that. It lets its characters develop, even treads the line between funny and sad at some points. In the end, its a film that reminds people that women actually possess funnybones. Well, duh.

8. Project Nim
One of the most fascinating documentaries of the year, Nim details the harrowing story of a monkey who was taught to grow up like a human. However, after years of studies and experiments, Nim's cuteness wares off, and he slowly turns into a savage beast, which he was all along. It's worth watching because it's so compelling, and at times, frightening, and the viewer is never sure which side of the argument is right. Nim reminds its audience of the dangers of tampering with nature, and shows us when an experiment stops being just that.

7. Jane Eyre
Cary Fukunaga's adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel was the first adaptation of the story I saw, and I was able to watch the film with the book fresh in my mind. This meant that I remembered every moment, every scene, every flirtation that made me adore the book. While this adaptation cuts out the bulk of the minor, but charming, details and sticks to the meat of the story, it succeeds because of its cast, its visuals, and its atmosphere. Mia Wasikowska is the Jane Eyre I pictured while reading the book, and it goes without saying that Michael Fassbender is both talented and drop dead sexy as Rochester. Rumor has it that a longer cut exists, which I am curious to see, for the hopes that it includes more details and background.

6. Certified Copy
What is this film about exactly? Do these characters really know each other? While I will not say too much, I can tell you that it features two of the strongest performances of the year and is filmed with an acute eye for detail by Abbas Kiarostami. It's a mystery, one that requires your full attention and your own theories by the very end. I loved the scenery, and how the background players interacted with the two leads, one of whom(William Shimell) isn't even a professional screen actor. Also superb is Juliette Binoche, but that's a given. See it, and make your own guesses, you won't regret it.

5. Bill Cunningham: New York
I did not know anything about Bill Cunningham before watching this film, but as soon as I saw this, I felt charmed, enthralled, and without a doubt, moved, by the man whose spark makes The New York Times Style Section more than just a piece of paper. For a man who has such a strong eye for fashion, Cunningham is modest in both his wardrobe and his lifestyle, and these provide some of the film's best moments. It's not a shocking expose about the cutthroat world of newspapers, nor is it a scathing commentary about Fashion. Bill's attention towards his subjects is admirable, and is a breath of fresh air in a world dominated by drama. Seeing people through Cunningham's eye is an experience I will not soon forget.

4. Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen's newest film is so good, so fun, and so wonderful, that I actually saw it twice, and both times, it was packed. It's easily his best since Vicky Christina Barcelona, and it has a terrific cast, as always. Owen Wilson does a great job acting at the west cost Woody, with his awkward comments and love of things old and nostalgic. While I won't spoil much about the film in relation to the title, I will say it's the perfect summer movie. It's an escapist flick that is smartly written, and is just so damn enjoyable that you'll be taken away, along with the main character.

3. Kaboom
Gregg Araki is not one for going easy on his viewers, case in point every film he's ever made. It's hard to describe his newest film, except to say that it's an apocalyptic sex comedy that has a gorgeous cast, great music, and some really radical visuals. It's fast and very freaky, plus it's really well written. Thomas Dekker is engaging as Smith, our horny protagonist who gets pulled into an underground conspiracy that only he can stop. That is, when he isn't too busy fucking everyone in sight or gawking at his beefcake of a roommate. Kaboom is not for everyone, and I would not be surprised it a wide number of people end up hating this film because of it's tone and content, which can come across as vapid and way too crazy. In short, you won't forget Kaboom, regardless of your opinion. It's the kind of film that requires you to turn off your brain cells and just watch and enjoy the action.

2. Poetry
Mija is an elderly woman who is losing her memory. Working day in and day out for an ungrateful grandson, she tries to find time to enjoy her life and be happy. As such, she enrolls in a poetry class, where the goal is to write a poem. In a lesser film, this plot would be silly and overwrought with emotion, but in Chang Dong-Lee's quiet but gorgeous film, Mija is a compelling and strong character. The darker elements of the story are also very powerful, and though I won't say what they are, the way the other characters at as a result is both unsettling and entirely believable. I loved this film because it was sparse, shot with a plain camera and full of gorgeous nature shots, and has one of the year's best performances by Jeong-hie Yun, who embodies Mija with a subdued grace. It's easily the most obscure film on the list, but if you know me, you know I love to honor small, but mighty films. And this is exactly that, powerful despite its simplicity.

1. The Tree of Life
Without a doubt, The Tree of Life is an awe inspiring film, one that cannot be fully explained, described, enjoyed without one sitting down and watching it. It's a film that is unlike most anything I've seen in ages, and is the first film in a long time that I left the theater completely rewarded. The different parts, ranging from the creation of the planet, to the 1950's, are quite simply breathtaking, and even though the scenes involving dinosaurs and jellyfish are not entirely explained, I had no problem watching them unfold, and once witnessing their encompassing power, was able to sit back and appreciate the different elements, the different ideas, that director Terrance Malick was setting in motion before me on screen. The story involves the growth of a boy into manhood, all the while exploring the pain, the love, the anger, and the ugliness that exists in human life. The young boy playing Jack is truly talented, and carries a good portion of the film. Brad Pitt is also strong, and takes the 'Father Knows Best' ideal and sticks by it, even if it's not always true. The real burst of fresh air is Jessica Chastain, an unknown who portrays the mother of the family with such insight and beauty that I found myself drawn to her in every scene she was in. While the film isn't perfect, its flaws resting in the Sean Penn scenes, which traces the adult life of Jack and his reflections of youth. While these scenes are important, they are not as interesting in my opinion. Also, the film could have been trimmed a bit towards the end, but minor quibbles aside, I cannot speak more highly for The Tree of Life, and am more than glad to give it the number one spot on my list.

Films I'm Looking Forward To (In Order): Melanchola, Tabloid, The Skin That I'm In, A Dangerous Method, Drive, Shame, and The Ides of March.

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