Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Favorite/Best Movies of 2011

Most people do these lists sometime in the first of half of December. I never understood that. A year doesn't end until December 31st. Unless you're a critic who gets special viewing privileges, you can't really say what the best of something in a year was until the year is over. I normally do this earlier, but I got involved in a show, got busy, etc. So, without delay, here's my list of the best and/or my favorite movies from 2011.

Tree of Life
I'm a film junkie. I love movies and even though there's still a huge gap in my film repertoire, I know who Terrence Malick is. Terrence Malick movies might not always make much sense, but at a pure cinematic level, they are works of genius. For a film lover, watching a Terrence Malick movie is like a baby watching the colorful mobile above his crib. There's usually some substance of a plot in a Malick piece, but it gets lost in the visuals; the story in a Malick movie isn't told through the dialogue or even the actions. It's told through the visuals. Tree of Life is his best work, yet. It deals with the grand struggle of life: that of grace (or good or love, if you will) versus nature (or evil or hate).

War Horse
There really aren't very many good movies about World War I out there. The few that exist are from over fifty years ago. Leave it to Stephen Spielberg to make a good WWI movie, but instead of being about humans, it's all about a horse. If you like animals, particular horses, you'll like War Horse. If you aren't a big animal person, you will probably be indifferent to the film.


Soul Surfer
Most movies made with a Christian message nowadays aren't very good. The best Christian movies, aren't really Christian movies (e.g. Signs or The Book of Eli). Soul Surfer is an exception. There is a definite Christian message in the film. The character's faith is central to their story. However, even if you aren't a Christian, Soul Surfer is a movie you could enjoy on it's own just as a movie. Christian filmmakers and those who wish to make Christian movies should take note of Soul Surfer.

Super 8
I'm not a huge fan of J.J. Abrams. Beyond a few episodes, I thought Alias just kept repeating itself. I didn't think Mission Impossible 3 was as good as most people; it had a great villain that was underused. And Abrams single-handedly destroyed the world of Star Trek with his new version that makes a completely different universe; I keep wanting to know what's happening in the real world of Star Trek, but it might be 50 years or more before anyone knows.

With that said, Abrams is a good director and sometimes writer. I might not like many of his previous efforts, but the direction in them is good.

Super 8 is, perhaps, the best example of how good a director Abrams is. In style, it's pure Spielbergian, but it's full of unique twists that make it an uniquely Abrams picture. If you grew up in the late 1970s or during the 1980s, Super 8 is a movie that will probably remind you of your childhood. It's the cinematic equivalent of nostalgia.


Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen is a filmmaker that seems to keep getting better with age. Allen has made some great films, but breaking free from the confines of New York City and exploring Europe, his movies have also broken free from the conventionality that stifled most of his films from the 1990s. Following a man living in present-day Paris who yearns to live in the past, Midnight in Paris was a pure joy to watch. I know there are times I've felt like I've been born in the wrong time and Midnight in Paris is the best film I know of that deals with that theme.

The Muppets
I grew up with the Muppets. I mourned when Jim Henson unexpectedly died in 1990. I watched the last Muppet movie to hit theatres, Muppets in Space, in 1999 in a small theatre in Whitewater, Wisconsin with a group of co-workers from the camp I worked at that summer. For twelve years there was no new Muppets. Sure, there were a few Internet videos and an occasional appearance on the Disney Channel, but that was it. Now, they're back.

I probably would have liked The Muppets regardless of how it was as a movie. However, the movie is a surprisingly good film all on it's own. Many of the film's themes are similar to those in Toy Story 3 (which was the best movie of 2010). However, instead of told through an animated tale about toys, this one takes place in a the real world (mostly) and stars Muppets. Am I a Man or am I a Muppet?


Captain America
Based upon the previews, I wasn't sure what to think of Captain America. It was the movie I was most surprised about the whole year. It's not only just a good action movie, but one that has a great character arc.

The Artist
I'm one of those rare people who actually enjoy watching silent pictures. The Artist is an almost entirely silent movie that illustrates all the great things that can be done in filmmaking, but aren't anymore because of CGI and special effects. You don't have to have a huge SFX budget or an all-star cast to make a great movie. Heck, you don't even need sound. You just need a good story.

Hugo is like watching a fairy tale, but one that's wrapped around a mystery that's tied to the origins of cinema. It's about a boy searching for his place in the world after the sudden death of his father. I can relate to that on so many levels. Added to this are the gorgeous visuals.

Drive shares something with Best Picture winner, The Artist: they are both movies where the protagonist hardly utters a word. It's a movie that the screenplay was probably only ten pages long. It's also an incredibly dark and violent movie. Yet, there is also light. The protagonist of the film sees himself as a modern-day knight, complete with white scorpion jacket for armor and a super-fast car for a horse. The film is stylized like a 1980s Michael Mann movie and moves at the same pace. It's slow and brooding. And, once again it's a tale of good versus evil. I'm not sure why, but I've been haunted by this movie since watching it.

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