I have not been able to see every single film released this year, so forgive me if this short list does not include any of your favorites. With that out of the way, here are my picks for this year’s top 11 theatrically released feature films, and they are ranked from lowest to highest.
One of the best “super soldier” films in Hollywood history. When I talk about super soldiers, I’m not referring to The Terminator or Robocop or Predator, I’m talking about human beings who are just extremely gifted in physical and mental skills, just like this particular girl whose story is reminiscent of the stuff that fairy tales are made of. Great acting, action, music (brought to us by the Chemical Brothers), masterful cinematography and smart art direction help elevate an exciting story, which may have a few plot holes, to first class entertainment.
10. Source Code
While there are sure to be some questionable plot points in this film, Source Code succeeds as a smart, thought provoking and very well made sci-fi film. It may not be as great as Duncan Jones’ Moon, this is still another hit from the director, and the ambition really does show. Jake Gyllenhaal carries this film with the help of a good supporting cast, and he does a magnificent job playing a soldier who is used in a government project to literally go back in time to the scene of a crime. This film, like Moon, takes science fiction back to its roots and proves that the genre is indeed a genre about ideas. One might consider the possibility of an alternate universe by the end of this film.
9. Red State
Kevin Smith has redeemed himself after the failure that was Cop Out (seriously, why didn’t he just rewrite the damn script?), with a new and very unique film that mashes together wit, religious ethics and morality in a film that illustrates the danger that extreme fanatics can bring on society. Michael Parks is by far the best actor in this cast, but that is because he gets the juiciest role: of that of a scary preacher. The film is at the very least an entertaining and novel twist on film conventions, which echoes From Dusk ‘till Dawn to a certain degree. This needs to be seen by every movie lover out there.
8. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Hell yeah, just like Casino Royale, Batman Begins and X-men: First Class, this new take on the Planet of the Apes mythology does what the previously mentioned films did: it gives you pathos for the characters and the world they inhabit, and constructs a solid story. Sure if may have its flaws, but the simplicity of the story gives the film a stylistic flavor where actions truly speak louder than words. The moral of the story has been told countless times before, but in short: do not screw with nature. These apes are properly pissed, and their rage drives the story. With Caesar, an ape born within the labs of an evil corporation (aren’t they all?) receiving harsh treatment and brutal punishment from humanity, other than the young and brilliant scientist, played by James Franco, who truly wants to help people and animals alike, uses his scientific induced gift of heightened intellect to inspire the other apes to escape their prison and start a revolt…or invasion. All I can say is Rupert Wyatt, the director, and his cast and crew did a great job in making me and millions of people fall in love with this film and I hope that the franchise sees nothing but critical and commercial success. Also, I hope they do not have to use the word “planet” in future titles.
7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Ah yes, the final Potter film. If 2010’s Part 1 was combined with this part, then the full feature would probably have made it to my top 5 of the year. Still, this is truly a great film. Everything is resolved and things get pushed to the edge of darkness. True, some characters did get overlooked in this film and may not have given us the full closure I felt they deserved, but that is all nitpicking. I mean, come on, wands look cooler than swords in this film! That is not easy to pull off! Every actor gives 110 percent in this film, and they capture the intensity of the story. Seriously, this is epic.
I truly do not know anything about baseball or sports management, but thanks to Aaron Sorkin, I have been able to appreciate the industry a little better, and may actually consider doing a little research someday. The strength of Moneyball is its characters – Aaron Sorkin knows how to write his characters very well. Brad Pitt’s character is an unsuccessful ex-baseball player who is now operating a small baseball club, and just cannot seem to find the break he needs for them to progress and join the big leagues. Upon discovering a genius accountant (played surprisingly well by Jonah Hill), Pitt’s character begins to draft and employ players on a fixed budget based on computer-generated analysis that Hill provides. Knowing about the games is not needed, but it helps, as almost the entire film takes place behind the scenes, and is a character study about how one man wanted to do things differently and how he learns from his experiences. I truly enjoyed this film and consider it one of the top “sports films” of all time.
As I am writing this article, I do wonder: how the hell did this film make it to my top 5 of the year? How? A chameleon, voiced by Johnny Depp, is having an existential crisis, cannot seem to find himself and does not know his purpose in life. When he accidentally stumbles upon a “Wild West” type town, which is filled with various creatures of the American wilderness, and where water is scarce and is treated as gold, he adopts the name “Rango” and earns the town’s respect after killing a terrorizing eagle (well, accidentally killing it, but the townspeople did not know that then). Rango then uses his new identity to help the town reclaim its goods and try to catch the culprit(s) behind the theft of the stolen water. Surreal, dry, dark, witty and thoroughly engaging, I do not see why this film should not be this high on my list. It may not be as great of a film as some of the ones previously mentioned, but for now, this where I am placing it. Watch out for very brief cameos from Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo.
This truly came out of left field and proved itself to be both a terrific sports film and an interesting look at the world of Mixed Martial Arts. This film truly deserves grand recognition compared 2010’s The Fighter, where for my money, the acting was but the only redeeming part of the feature. Warrior is about 3 character arcs merged into one story, with the recovering alcoholic father, his youngest troublesome son and his elder son who wants not much to do with his father but cares about his brother. The chemistry is one of the key successes in bringing the story to life, and this truly gives a very unique portrayal of a dysfunctional family. With great performances from Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte, and of course the rest of the cast, some good writing (I can’t stress on how good the relationship between the dad and his two sons is woven), great action (which does not go overboard either) and some very inspiring music, Warrior will make your heart pound like hell.
3. Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen truly is a romantic. All his films have a touch of nostalgia, whether it refers to a certain period, aesthetic or subject, and the primary theme of this film is pure nostalgia, in its full glory. An unhappy screenwriter finds himself struggling to write a novel, a task which he finds more rewarding than all the glamour that Hollywood can provide, and that his rich fiancé, her snobbish friends and family cannot understand. At midnight while in Paris, and while walking on the streets on his own, the writer discovers a very old fashioned car whose passengers tell him to come in, and they take him to a party. At first he does not know what is going on and seems to be very confused about the people he begins to encounter. He finds out that these are not just people, but they are all people from the past whom he idolizes and admires like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and later on, even Picasso, Dali, Cole Porter and Luis Bunuel! You see, the writer has actually ended up in the 1920s in Paris, through some weird magical time warp, which allows him to visit the time period he loves, and to later meet a beautiful woman from that circle of intellectuals who turns out to be the key to understanding the wonders and pain of nostalgia. I love this movie, and it may not be the most overtly funny film out there, but its wit and charm is enough for me. My only complaint, really, is that some of the characters do not get enough time to truly evolve beyond the typical caricature we get, but it could be easily argued that the writer just did not get to spend too much time with them, since this is his story after all. Owen Wilson does a good job playing the typical Woody Allen character and probably gives one of the best performances of his career. All Woody Allen fans must check this out if they haven’t already.
How does one deal with life after they find out that they have cancer? Well according to films like The Bucket List, if you’re really old and/or fat, please, do what you must and embrace the magic that is naive Hollywood dumbassery and start skydiving and going on safaris and all sorts of exhausting crap, because obviously cancer is not something that causes any physical pain but is just something that you may think is somewhat inconvenient. 50/50 takes a different and more realistic approach, in my opinion, and is a far superior film because of it. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a young chap who discovers that he has a rare case of spinal cancer and has to come to grips with it. The clever thing about this film is that it truly makes you feel everything Levitt’s character goes through: happiness, sadness, pain, anger, betrayal, fatigue, irritation and a few others that you can probably think of. A very versatile actor as he already is, I feel that Levitt gives his best performance of his career so far here. You get to witness a great character study unfold throughout the film as the guy has to deal with not just his disease, but his family, friends and girlfriend, and how each of them react to the news and how they handle it afterwards. While I hated Seth Rogen in The Green Hornet, I thought he turned in a good performance in this film where he balances the role of being the comedic relief with the serious and determined friend, who looks out for Levitt and truly cares about him. Actually, I cannot think of anyone who gave a bad performance. Everyone shines in this well written and very honest film about a troublesome topic, where by the end, you will feel good about everything.
A driver who moonlights as a mechanic and Hollywood stunt driver works as a freelance getaway driver for criminals who hire him based on his excellent reputation and brilliant sense of timing and strategy.
I think Drive manages to succeed at everything it does. From a narrative perspective, the screenplay is written very well. It plays with clichés we have seen and somehow brings something new to the table in the process. I actually do not have too much of a problem with clichés or retold stories, I just have a problem with a film abusing them; that is, they use them in such a manner where these tropes do not fit into the construction of the story and do more damage than good. Drive avoids this trap and in fact, it does not even seem to have too much reliance on plot as it does on character and style, which honestly works fine for me, and more importantly, works fine in the film. The driver is a man of few words. He begins to have a very weird and extremely subtle romance with his neighbor (played by Carey Mulligan). They barely speak to each other, but they stare at each other constantly and longingly. For some reason, it seems to be just the right chemistry some people can have. Things get weirder when her husband, known as Standard is released from prison and is sought after by debt collectors, to whom he owes money. The driver decides to help him out, and this is where things get messy.
The film could have easily taken place in the 1940s/1950s as stylistically and tonally, it belongs in the world of film noir, which is a great thing. The film is dark, and when it needs to be, it can be darkly comic. It also seems to solve a serious problem that most Hollywood action films seem to fail to recognize: the action is used to further the narrative and not vice versa. The action scenes are very intense, and are also very well timed and well placed. Everything happens for a reason, and all the characters have motivations. This is also a gritty and grimy world, as any noir story would establish. Extreme violence does occur at times, that just catches you off-guard, and damn if it’s not extreme (the director Nicolas Winding Refn apparently consulted shock-master Gaspar Noe on how to make some of the violence look as realistic as possible).
The actors give fantastic performances. I mean you’ve got Carey Mulligan, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaacs and Bryan Cranston, who have all shined before in various projects, and now they get to play alongside each other in the same film. Ryan Gosling and Albert Brooks give my favorite performances though, with Brooks, in particular, playing one badass MO-FO! I really never cared for much of his work before, but he stole the show, even more so than Cranston and Perlman, and I love those guys. No one is really portrayed as black or white; almost everyone’s morality is a shade of gray. For all these reasons and even more, I chose Drive as the best film of 2011.